Daddy no! Please daddy, it’s Nnena! Nnena! I said in tears as he held on to my neck as though about to strangle me. He jerked his face away from where I sat at the edge of the King-sized bed into the dark emptiness of his bedroom. Mother came to my aid with her voice calling out to me “nwam, ke me ni (my daughter, what happened)?” All I did was ask her to take me out of the room back to the bedroom that I shared with my sister and so she did, carrying me on her back. She laid me on my bed where I stayed curled up in the best possible fetal position. My siblings came around a few seconds later to stay with me while my mother sent Aunt Blessing to go put on the generator. And after the light came on, they began to bombard me with questions like “What happened? Why were you crying? Did daddy beat you?” But still, in shock, the only words I could utter were “I don’t ever want to speak with daddy or sleep in the same room with him. I am scared of him.”
I grew up shuffling between sleeping with my father or mother on the nights I was frightened. While my mother and father have always slept in separate rooms for as long as I began to interact with my environment. Not as though they did not love each other. In fact, they were best of friends from what I could tell but I guess they loved to have their own privacy.
“Nne come to daddy, take a few more steps and you will get to where I am”, my father said with a smile of triumph stamped on his face. His arms gesturing me to walk towards him. Even though he was very much aware that I had no understanding of what he said. My mother sat on the long brown sofa in the living room. At the other end of where the television set stood with her buttocks sinking into the soft foam. Her palms curled into each other between her thick thighs watching me as I took my very first steps. My siblings were already away at school and father decided not to go to work. Once I got to my father where he remained squatting with arms both opened wide in separate directions, he swept me off my feet. He threw me into the thin air a couple of times, which made me laugh so hard.
Later that evening of the same day, father stepped out to see some friends. My siblings returned home from school. They were in good spirits. Despite the fact that Dike, my older brother broke a small part of his tooth because they were running away from a stray dog that lived in the neighborhood. The only reason I know all these is because my mother kept reminding of what a blessing I was.
My mother and father fell in love in Delta State, where they lived together with my older siblings for eight years before moving to Lagos State. My father, Sunday Amaka-Chukwu was of an average height. Handsome with a well-chiseled face. And eyes as dark as the midnight sky, brunette colored hair mixed with few strands of gray. He had a round stomach like that of a proper Igbo man and was neither fat nor slim. He was a very good man, strong, passively-aggressive, and too kind. He was in love with his wife regardless of their fights and arguments. His wife and my mother whose real name was Obiageli Amaka-Chukwu is fondly called ‘Mama Nnena’ by her friends and family. She was the best mother any child can ask for, supportive, caring, enduring and a hard worker like father. Her appearance was very attractive. She was some inches taller than father, light skinned with her veins almost popping out. And she had a hour-glass shape. Unlike father’s eyes, hers were designed with long lashes and her hair same with father’s.
Years later, I was all grown-up, strong on my feet. I had become more troublesome and cheesy as ever with my legs everywhere. And my buttocks hardly sticking to a particular place. Father treated me like his pearl. Showered with love from all sides as people called me the ‘Chinese baby’ for some reason I cannot figure out. Anyways, on a particular evening when father returned from work, he did not seem as jovial as he always is. I could tell from how he patted my back and how weak his voice sounded. He sort of staggered his way into one of the brown sofas in the living room with his face dismayed. While mother wore a worried look as she immediately approached father. “Nnari Nnena, ke di ke? Why are you looking gloomy? What has happened again?” asked mother with all sincerity and curiosity. She rested her arm on father’s shoulders to ease him up and provide comfort. Father heaved a very deep sigh before going ahead to speak in a hush “my sister called from Benin City to inform me that grandma is dead” “Jesus!” Grandma let out, only to cover her mouth when she noticed I had walked into the conversation. She raised me up onto her fleshy thighs covered with her hollandaise (wrapper). And squeezed me into her fallen arms. Even though father cried, he tried to comfort mother and mother tightened her grip.
When everything had died down, my siblings came out one after the other. They tiptoed towards mother and father to ask what had happened. Mother urged them to take a seat down on the longer brown sofa. Then Aunt Blessing joined them a few seconds later. I let myself out of mother’s arms to join my older siblings on the sofa. Father took mother’s palms into his and drew her closer. The whole room fell silent and its temperature dropped. “I don’t know exactly how to put this into words but…” father said as he broke into tears. “What your father wants you to know is that your grandma loved you very much. More than you can imagine but she was called home a little earlier than anyone expected”, mother said. She buried her face into her palms and wept. Father immediately took control of his own emotions to console her. My older sister whom I was not too sure understood what mother meant sat still. They muttered four words “mother we are sorry” while Aunt Blessing wailed. I was too young to grasp the situation. So I got down from the sofa, walked towards where my mother sat and hugged her. I had no reason for doing what I did as it was a reflex. While father patted my shoulder as he still pressed mother’s body towards his.
Aunt Blessing is father’s niece and our favorite relative. She is the only one mother truly acknowledges among all father’s relatives. Apart from his brother, Tony of course. Aunt Blessing lost her mother at a very young age to an unknown cause of death. And ever since she had been living with us until she got married to a lazy man, whom I call ‘Uncle Chukwudi’.
A few moments later, mother got herself together. She withdrew her closure from father and at once said “dinner is ready. I will go right ahead to serve the food”, she wiped away the tears. And catarrh that drooled from her face with the vintage wrapper she tied around her waist. Mother is always fond of tying hollandaise (wrapper) around her waist with a simple blouse to match it like an Adamma from the village. I held on to her wrapper as she walked away from the living room into the kitchen to serve dinner. But, she was in a bad mood after the shocking news she had received from father. She brushed off my tiny hands from her wrapper and asked me to go take my seat on one of the dining chairs. She called out to Nneka and Aunt Blessing to join her in preparing the table for dinner.
I did not take my seat on the dining chair. Instead, I trailed my steps back to where father sat on one of the medium sized sofas and forced my way onto his thighs. I saw tears crawl down father’s face and his eyes red. It frightened me as it was the first time I ever saw father that way. So, I used my hands to wipe the tears away and laid a soft peck on his cheek with my tiny luscious lips. He smiled at me then drew me closer to his chest for an embrace as he took in a deep breath. He stood up from the sofa and threw me up in the air like he had always done, which made me burst into laughter at such an odd hour. And father said as he stared me in the eyes “this will pass also nne” but I kept laughing without a clue of what he meant.
Photo Credit: Unsplash.
Bibiana Ossai© 2017