The sun rose as though nothing had happened.
I was not awake to watch its lazy climb over the tall fence surrounding the ba-shiga we resided in. I’d finally fallen asleep around 5a.m, in a pool of snot and tears, just before another day made a show of its consistency.
No matter what happens, the sun will rise again.
Who said we wanted sunshine? I lay there on my flattened mattress staring at the stitches in my mosquito net unseeingly. My breath was measured – I took in and released air very slowly, knowing any sudden enthusiasm for sustaining my life would simply remind me of the one that ended yesterday.
Biting my lower lip, I turned and reached for my phone. It was only 7a.m. The chickens and goats outside my room fussed about nothing and everything. I could hear the heavy silence – dried bamboo for a fire was retrieved from the store in front of the latrine beside my room and stones were restacked in readiness for the cauldron that would soon sit upon them. They were going to make tuwo to sell for the day. No chatter between the two wives wafted to my ears and the children kept their squabbles to a minimum. Even when one began wailing in her signature tantrum format, I didn’t blink. I had no plan to pick my cane and scare her into silence for daring to disrupt the stillness of the morning with her pettiness. She could bawl till kingdom come. I didn’t care.
Maria gave a stern instruction to someone and then there were no voices again, save those of the other corpers. They exchanged idle bits of gist and gossip, making remarks and comments on the happenings of yesterday. Loudly. Carelessly. I inhaled, shook my head and unlocked my phone.
Do not take offence.
Immediately I went to the chat I’d had with Emeka. He’d tried to cheer me up yester night, awkwardly attempting to send comfort over the phone as grief threatened to suffocate me. He had succeeded for a bit – but as expected, the moment I saw the name in our text boxes, I saw the face. And with it came vivid pictures of every cough, every gravelly wail, leathery skin straining against bones…
I buried my face in my wrapper and screamed.
I was not just upset that he was gone. I was upset that he suffered so much. That there wasn’t enough done to keep him breathing, that I hadn’t done enough…
I stood up. I needed to fetch water to bathe. I hadn’t bothered bathing after Maria brought the news to me yesterday. I had gone and lain with his corpse for an endless stretch of hope, whispering his name over and over and instructing him to make his mother smile again. But it’s hard to be obedient when you’re dead. His father had come eventually, driving me away with rough assertions of the pointlessness of my actions. There were no words. Babangida was rolled in a mat like a pile of dirty clothes and taken away from me. From Rashida. From us.
Once outside my room, I blinked at the brightness. The sun never gets when to take a hint. The sudden silence from across the courtyard told on the curious eyes on me. Maria called out a greeting and I mumbled a reply. The children followed closely behind with needlessly energetic shouts of: “Malama, ina kwana!” “Malama goodu monee!”
They were ignored.
The corpers were looking at me too, just like the visiting villagers. I nodded to no one in particular as I crossed from my room and made my way to the well. I could feel their collective stares…silly people. They couldn’t guess I was irritated with the lot of them- the former for their snide criticisms of the bereaved mother, the latter for their useless prattle and distractions. I wanted quiet – to focus and emote. It may have been misconstrued as unhealthy wallowing but grieving remains therapeutic. Yet apparently nobody was about to let Rashida get a moment of peace to properly weep. Perhaps they expected similar comportment from me.
I picked the rope and shook off the goat manure from it, setting the half of the jerican over the well facedown. I released it and waited for the splash, refusing to look up. I knew I looked like a mess. My hair was matted and my eyes were probably only slits with swelling. My lips felt chapped. I didn’t care. One of the corpers had joked before that I acted like he was my baby with the way I fussed. But what child isn’t everybody’s? Really.
I moved the rope to my left hand and tugged to see if the jerican was full. Using the free one, I roughly attacked the catarrh threatening to leak into the brown pool beneath me. The chatter began again. I heard some of the women address Rashida and the word Malama sounded a few times. I concentrated on my task and willed the tears back.
All of you should just shut up and leave. With your fake comfort and empty mutterings. The show is over. Shut up and leave.
I couldn’t stand the sound of their voices. They were chafing my senses. Where were they as the symptoms held hands with the demons piling Babangida’s back as he fought for over four weeks in that one-year old frame? Where was all the money from the cows they sold then? Where were they!? Muttering throat-shallow prayers, hoarding aid and giving God credit for the problems we create?
They were ignorant, the lot of them. So I couldn’t even release my anger in full force on any of the people proximal to me because I knew they didn’t know better. It didn’t make their actions any less annoying; it just gave me less justification to suffuse them with hostility.
The corpers blamed her in their strings of narrow thought.
“The woman no just get sense…”, “After she go still open leg for am, born another one….”, “Make she no kill the two wey remain with her mumu oh!”
The villagers blamed God.
“It is His mighty will”, “It is judgment”, “Nothing could prevent it…”
I clenched my jaw and listened to the water slap at the plastic. It irked me most because the people I blamed indirectly were too far away. Their bloated egos and agbada-straining midriffs cocooned in shrill convoys or in offices tucked within rocks that would be of better use crushing them instead of providing elevation. Their carelessness and disregard enthroned the ignorance that rocked baba baby to his grave and it hurt that they yet skirted theirs because maybe if some of them died there’d be room for decency to breathe. It wasn’t the fault of the doctors from the hospital in town who wouldn’t pay me any mind until I made it rain naira; nor was it the fault of the callous friend who told me to leave hope alone and patiently await death. It wasn’t the fault of Babangida’s father who in exasperation claimed he didn’t care if his own child was alive or dead, it wasn’t the fault of Rashida or Maria who drank and fed their children with water from a well brimming with bacteria and spirogyra –
It was the fault of a system fenced with wickedness and enthroned by injustice. And it made me sick to my stomach.
I tugged on the rope again and the weight informed me that I could return to the solemnity of my room. As I pulled up the vessel someone mentioned Malama again and I looked up this time, eyeballs armed with daggers whetted on anger and grief.
But my eyes met Rashida’s instead; the daggers fell into the well.
I thinned my lips and inclined my head. “Ina kwana.”
The air seemed still so there was no one to carry my whispered greeting. But she saw it. I watched her lips curve into a sad smile.
“Lafia lau.” she mouthed back.
I hefted my filled bucket to my room, feeling like we’d both lied. What good was the first morning void of another chance to see Babangida’s dimpled smile? What was “fine” about a broken heart forcefully denied acknowledgment at the mercy of tradition? As I shut my door I let out a breath. The thing with those who get left behind is we have no option but to hope, calling each morning good even when the sun’s glow is shaded with soot from our souls. I glanced at the spot on my mattress where he’d lain two days before, stooling away the last dregs of life left in him, and let a small smile make irony of the liquid beating paths on my face. At least I got to meet him before his end dawned; at least he wasn’t hurting anymore…
Maybe the morning wasn’t so bad, after all.