“We live in a universe devoted to the creation, and eradication of awareness. [I will] die after dueling with human consciousness, a victim as you will be – of the universe’s need to make and unmake all that is possible.” – John Green, The Fault in our Stars.
Mommy died three weeks ago.
That sudden intermission has assumed a whole new dimension much like a moment stretched out on Procrustes’ bed. Suddenly, a moment of silence has become inadequate. Perhaps the trickiest matter to deal with at the time was adjusting to her passing – that she is gone forever and her humanness has been revoked. What once was is simply no more, if only it were that simple.
Hitherto, there was some fine poetry to immortality in my book, but now it’s that one dead woman in the pit –food for the worms, and all the platitudes the world had to offer kept rolling like water off a swan’s back. Now, I have arrived at that juncture of brusque self-remonstration “Get over it Wole. People die all the time. Suck it up!”.
Woody Allen it was that said he was not afraid to die; he just doesn’t want to be there when it happens. I don’t know how feasible this is but I sure don’t want to be sitting idly when Death breaks through the door in my friend’s home. I’ll go to my death bravely but I won’t be waiting in the wing with a wreath and offering my cheek for a friendly peck when Death comes visiting my friends.
The subject of death and dying fascinate me as my friends would attest to. I bubble with a Vesuvius delight when Shakespeare made Romeo drink from that poisoned goblet in the throes of his grief, I’ve mused over Marc Anthony’s exquisite ode at Caesar’s funeral many times over and it’s just as fresh each time, John Green made an eternal fan of me with The Fault in our Stars with his protagonist’s devil-may-care attitude with which they embraced their own deaths. I fancy myself as that guy with an unlit cigarette between his lips when Death comes calling. I want to meet his fiery eyes with a twinkle in my eye and a spring in my step when I ride out into the sunset.
But the day Mommy died, I wasn’t standing defensively at her door with an eye out for Death, I had my back to the ground from a personal disappointment. I was beaten and my reflexes numb. And so, I did not plant my hand on my head and bellow like a mad man when the news found me. Even though I had planned to visit her at the hospital the following day, what I felt was shockingly tepid in the light of the dire severity of the news. It is puzzling now that my heart still burn so three weeks after that dreary day. Suffice to say, I couldn’t be touched by any news that day.
But I swear, I do love that woman. She was sweet and bold and lively and she regaled me with tales of Mushin and Isale Eko in the 70’s. She told stories like no one I know could and in some other life she might have been a celebrated raconteur. She would enthused amidst Ebenezer Obey’s Baby mi jowo with an effusive mi o ti gbo ( gimme more!), as her voice floated into the ethers of an era where today’s flabby breasts were pointed mounds of supple flesh and Obey’s afropolitan vibe made them jiggle to the delight of every middle age men of that era. Ha, Wole a ti jaiye koja (gone are those days, Wole), she’d quip, jauntily wiggling her waist to the music, her arms dramatically splayed in typical old school dance.
Her exuberance was infectious and my mood could never stay low around her. Even when her brown ebony skin began to take on an ashen parlor in her last days, she never let down. It was all sunshine and roses and gilded stars with her.
Beyond her liveliness, she was tough too – a hell-raiser; born and bred in the inner slum of Mushin and Apongbo. She never failed to tell anybody who dared to cross her where she came from. Omo eko le mi o, she would say proudly, and that often set her contenders straight. She was a good person to have on your team. But somewhere inside that rough, rabble-rousing up-bringing was a woman who was charitable as she was tender. If she offends, she knows to conciliate with genuine warmth and her many mouth-watering cuisine.
Ah, she was the best! She was a master with every delicacy. Her moin moin elemi meje was to die for. She could rouse up anything in a moment’s notice. That was Mommy, no rumbling belly around her except for a gluttonous over-fill.
Everytime Asa croons Mama mi o roju ri and that is why I’m loving you, I am always transported back into that warm tender spot of motherly fuss that she embodied. I am convinced now more than ever that the un-shed ocean-tears of my grief are mirrors with which her stunning image will always be reflected.
I suppose even emptying that fistful mound of earth over her swathed body in her freshly dug grave the next day at the cemetery didn’t quite shake off that stupor of surrealism.
Even now as I begin to come to terms with her passing, I realize that only time can offer an escape from the solid fixation of experience. Mommy was not a random subject of an obituary to me; she was life and blood, a petite pound of energy and neurons. And whatever science says of matter, she was and she was not. She was more, more than an alluvial deposit, more than some scientific law of thermodynamics; of energy changing shape but not losing size. She just couldn’t. She couldn’t be in the same league as those bottled reagents in Prof’s laboratory with an expiry date that must be carefully disposed off at their expiration. She rocked the world, big bang and more! She was a walking, breathing, vivacious goddess who has to be more than a giant headstone. She should be here now but she is not. Mommy is not. She is undone. They say she has returned to what she was, earth.What a shame!
I know her, Jemilat Adunni Sanusi. Now I have to un-know her because she is no more, throw away the pod and keep the kernel as a keepsake, so they say.
Where is selfishness when you need it- that orbit of self-containment? Why this much grievous imposition over another? I am still here, bobbing up and down on the sea of life. What is this chain of affection that so tightly shackles us to another and rid us of our singularity, extends us beyond our self, beyond blood, beyond physical contact? Our stories, our thoughts are so replete with other people with such defining roles. Their fluttering wings send a jolt down our spines in telepathy. Even our memories are not secluded; they are of shared experiences, our ideologies processed in the churning mills of these interactions.
It looks like we don’t feature solo in this space after all. Our lives are a panorama of duets and dialogues and conferences but hardly ever a monologue. Even a soliloquy speaks to something ultimately. Life simply is impossible without others. Our loved ones are the parentheses that give meaning to our complexities and allow us to grow in the nurturing nest of their association.
That wintry Saturday, as we drove away from the cemetery, I couldn’t help thinking that we had left Mummy behind, shoved her in a hole and covered her swathed body in that hole forever. It didn’t matter that she’d been pronounced dead more than 24 hours before and she’d had ample time to scream her protest.
Dying, that infernal word – the anti-thesis of “being” has made a mince-meat of a goddess, a few months shy of seventy. It’s so hard to grasp the gravity of that word until something like this happens to you. Evolutionists would have us believe that it took fourteen billion years for man to emerge from that first primordial denseness, why did it take a snap to return Mommy to it now?
Mommy who would have been just seventy in October has now been cut off, deprived of her humanity.
Even in my Elementary Science class as a boy of six, I couldn’t have classified my long dead grandmother as a non-living thing, immersed in that list comprising of stones, stick, catapult, pencil, sand etc in my wobbled, hardly-legible hand writing. I wouldn’t present that assignment to my class -teacher if my Mom ran out of suggestions for non-living things and made me include my father’s mother on the list. Now as an adult, I’ m supposed to include Mommy on that list, stick her in the soil and walk away?
As the car winded through the bushy path that led out of the cemetery, I suddenly needed to breathe. I felt for the door handle and jumped out of the moving car and promptly retched my guts out. I felt like a man buried alive – lonely, asphyxiated and denigrated. I wanted to scream for mercy on Mommy’s behalf, angry at all the people around me who were carrying on like we hadn’t just planted a human being.
My eyes misted up for the first time, threatening to break through the glazed wall of my eyes.
That was three weeks ago.
I understand now that she’s beyond human compassion, no more than the clod of the earth from which she came.
While the human race might have witnessed a lot of deaths through famine, pogroms, wars, epidemics, natural disasters etc through the ages, the experience of even one death can be overwhelming for one man. To a bereaved man death is not demystified in the confounding statistics of years gone by or in the shared mystery of evolutionary advancement. There is no paradise to be gained in the dark dinghy depth of ancient tombs.
The Psalmist capped it all nicely in Psalms 144:4.
Man is like to vanity: his days are as shadow that passeth away.
That wizened English bard couched it in more words. Hear, hear:
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
The truth is, people die and maybe that ought to be enough for the living. Regardless of what Mommy’s death certificate must have said, Mommy had only lost a lengthy battle with human consciousness. Alas, a victim – no more than you and I will be!
Rest in Peace Mommy!!!
NB: Mommy wasn’t my biological mother but she was a mother in every other respect. My family and Mommy’s have been family friends for about two decades now. My darling mom is still very much alive and kicking.