I remember my mother of blessed memory. Maami as we fondly called her passed on a few years ago from a guilty conscience. That’s the only thing I think could have killed my physically strong mother.
Maami was a devout Christian woman; a woman diligent and hardworking. She had just three of us, for a man who cared nothing for his children. We lived in a 12 X 12 one room at Olorunsogo at Mushin. My mother worked and my father drank himself to stupor.
Maami was an alabaru or a carrier of load at mile 12 market in Lagos. She would wake up as early as 4am, get our stuff ready for school and head out; she has to leave at the latest 4.30am, so she can get to the market to off load farm products brought in from the north. Farm products brought in by huge lorries- yam, tomatoes, potatoes etc. That’s her job, hers and a few other men and women in the market. They would offload the produce so that those coming from markets far and near can come, buy in bulk and take them to their various markets across Lagos. So Maami’s job was very important. During the holidays, I often go with her, that’s how come I know.
Once this is done, she then begins to solicit buyers to carry their bulk purchases on her head to their vehicles. She has a big aluminum basin she uses to carry the items that buyers come to buy from the market and when it rains and the market is muddy, Maami has boots to help her trudge.
Maami would often return home at about 7pm to take care of us; she did this every day except Sundays when we go to church and spend virtually all day there.
Ok so now, on the days we go to school, Maami would have told our neighbor, Iya Taofiki to give us breakfast. Iya Taofiki sells rice and beans in front of our house, she too lives in a one room in our house with her children but she has no husband.
I have often heard Iya Taofiki tell Maami that having no husband gives her a better life because no man is eating her hard earned money. But they are friends, so when Iya Taofiki comes to knock on our door to wake us up for school at dawn, we bathe outside the house by the gutter, like several other children in that house because adults would have queued for the one bathroom we all shared and they usually take so much time bathing. We finish bathing and brush with charcoal that Mama Taofiki uses to cook her food.
Many times, we don’t bathe well; because when we get to school, our teacher will pull me out of the class that I have not taken my bath and that I should leave the class. Sometimes my sisters too get pulled out by their teachers. The three of us, my sisters and I, we go to the same school.
In our school then, it is a government school, the cleaners would take charge of several of us who did not bathe well or brush their teeth well. They would send us to the school’s toilet to bathe, we would assemble behind the toilets, they would give us water and soap and we would take our baths and use one of the many toothbrushes in a basket to brush our teeth. Once done, we wash the brushes and put them back; dress up and go back to class.
You know I said my mother works and my father drinks. When mother comes home, my father would be waiting, he would force the money she makes out of her wrapper because mother usually ties the money she earns every day in her wrapper. He would take some of the money and go out to drink with his friends. He would usually return very late at night. And many times, it would be another round of fighting with my mother. That must be why Iya Taofiki tells my mother she is better than her.
So one day, as usual, mother left the house to go to work. Father began to touch me. I was just 8 years old then. Father would touch me in places a father should never touch his daughter. At first, I did not know what to do. I couldn’t tell Iya Taofiki, I wanted to tell Maami but Maami was always too tired in the evenings. I really didn’t want to bother her.
Father began to do it every time…until one day, when Maami suddenly came back to the house, she forgot her oshuka, the clothe she uses to balance the load on her head. She just opened our door and gbam, saw father on top of me.
I don’t know if she had suspected, I don’t know if she was caught surprised, I just know she screamed and she just descended on father with blows, biting him, hitting him with everything she could see.
Maami ran outside to pick one of the burning logs from Iya Taofiki’s iron stove. She came back and began to hit father with it several times.
That was when father ran out. He ran out and the neighbours came to hold Maami. It was the last time we saw him, our father. We heard he was badly injured. He called his brother to take him to the hospital; he died from his injuries because we heard he had other hidden diseases that manifested when a big injury came upon him.
Maami too did not recover, she kept blaming herself. She said she should have paid attention to us. She said she is also responsible for our father’s death and as Christians, the Bible says we are not to kill.
I think Maami too had other hidden diseases in her body; she was an alabaru, worked like that for five years, maybe she had other disease we didn’t know about. She died in her sleep, three years later…just like that.
As for me, I am glad she killed him but I miss my mother; we have been living with my grandma since.
(Series written and edited by Peju Akande and based on true stories)