My mom was always a pacifist, especially when it came to issues regarding her marriage. She chose to overlook a lot of my dad’s irresponsible behavior, and his temper as long as we had peace or at least some semblance of it. Our peace was a fragile and tenous truce, fraught with the possibility of breakdown whenever we ran into our father in our small house. The only way to sustain it was to stay out of each other’s way which we were more than happy to do.
Deep down I suspect mother had no regrets about her marriage. Not because there wasn’t cause for regrets, but because she’d become so conditioned by her belief in the traditional interpretation of what it means to be a wife, a belief reinforced by the church she chose to attend. The church was one of the more narrow minded versions of the Nigerian pentecostal church, the type that made sure all the women understood the need for them to be submissive and told them to leave domestic abuse up to God. My mother’s favorite phrase in fact had been “God knows best.” She used to drive my brother Chidi nearly crazy whenever she used it to sidestep a tense situation.
As I watch her casket being covered up, I try to blink back tears and be strong. If she was here by my side, she would have told me to wipe my tears while gently reminding me that I was the first daughter, the Ada. She would have told me “People are looking up to you nne.” I can’t help but think about how it seemed she only lived to give, to give all of herself for us. She’d only been interested in our success, mine and my brother’s. Whatever it took to bring about said success was a fair price as far as she was concerned.
In fact the only time she’d stood up to our father it had been on our behalf, when he threw a tantrum because we didn’t want to study the courses he’d planned for us to study. My father was the kind of man who’d plan out your life immediately you were born and expect you to stick to his plans like they were law. He was an angry, violent, sorry excuse of a father and husband (and pastor) but we’d long learned to simply act like he didn’t exist and that worked. Until it was time for Chidi and I to go to university.
Chidi had always wanted to become a journalist but father believed he’d make a fine engineer. I on the other hand wanted to be the engineer, I loved figuring out ways to fix stuff, but father thought that it wasn’t a female profession and fought against it. He wanted his daughter to become a doctor not caring that I couldn’t even stand the sight of blood.
My mom could only defer to him so much. She was determined that we would be whatever we wanted to be, unrestrained by any person, bias or ideology. My father threatened to stop paying our fees if we didn’t accede to his wishes, my mum said no problem. She worked herself to the bones to send us to school in the UK where Chidi and I got the best of education, subsidized by numerous scholarships over the course of our study. We got jobs and settled down in the UK while my mom remained in Nigeria basking in our success, and bragging about her kids to anyone who cared to listen back home.
Chidi tried relentlessly to convince her to get a divorce, an idea she refused to even consider, it was against her faith. When he saw that he couldn’t get her to leave our father, he tried to convince her to relocate and come live with one of us, but she turned down this suggestion too, “Who’ll take care of your father?” She’d ask much to Chidi’s chagrin. It was fun watching them spar. My mom had was no longer her skin and bones self, she was a new person – radiant, glowing.
We could never have guessed anything was going on with her. Other than living with her husband of course.
It came as a shock then, the day I got the call from my aunt asking me to come home. She was distraught as she broke the news of my mother’s death. When I hung up I was sure some mix up had occurred, I checked the public telephone directory to see if someone else had the same name as I did. No one did. Still in disbelief I took the next flight home. There had to be a mistake, I’d spoken to her just two days ago and she was talking about retiring from her long civil service career to rest; an idea I liked very much.
I got home expecting to find mama at the door like always. She’d always wait for me, pull my cheeks and call me nma before gathering me into her arms like I was a five year old. Today I just wanted to tell her how someone who sounded like aunt Evelyn had told me she was dead. We’d laugh about it and go prepare our favorite soup for dinner just like always.
However, when I got home there was no mama at the door. There was no mama in the house either. There was no mama anywhere anymore. Just my father and Chidi staring daggers at each other.
Looking at Chidi now with his head hung low, no doubt weighed down by grief and tormented by thoughts of how things might have turned out differently if he’d done something, it’s not hard to see why he has such a fierce hatred for any form of organised religion whatsoever.
We found out that our father was having an affair with his secretary at church, and when my mom found out and confronted him about it he told her it was god’s will that he sleep with his secretary. She tried to get one of his fellow pastor to reason with him, but he was only interested in sleeping with her. She’d then taken the case to the council of elders, but they stood by my father their pastor – affirming her own mantra that the wife ought to submit to her husband. When the news had come to light, my father had done such a good job brainwashing his members that they immediately hated my mother. They’d hassled her, circulates rumors, even tried to lynch her one time. Exhausted, unnerved and shaken to the core by the religion she’d been so loyal to all her life, she’d taken her own life in the quiet of the night.
Chidi had banned any of her church members from coming to the burial, threatened to shoot anyone who so much as mentioned Jesus at the ceremony, and told my father (who was planning to preach the sermon) in no uncertain terms that he’d have to sit down all through and say nothing or risk getting thrown out, and he’d meant it. My father obviously got the message, he was a very subdued man through out the funeral.
I watch the guests trickle out and sigh. I really do not understand what kind of god people like my father worship, the only things he has ever brought us have been violence, broken relationships and now….. death.