For the past two weeks, I’ve been sharing the same room with my mom. I sleep next to her on the same bed. I only have one job, that’s to ensure that she’s alright and she doesn’t do anything funny to herself. She hardly sleeps. She might close her eyes and pretend she’s sleeping but I see through the pretence. When she sleeps she snores gently. When she’s pretending to sleep, that snore is absent. Instead, she’ll turn around and around until morning. Some nights, she sneaks out of the room to the hall and cries. I see her going out but I don’t follow her because there’s nothing in the hall she can use to hurt herself. She would be there, sobbing and calling out the name of my father.
There are two reasons why she cries. My dad is dead and he’s in the morgue as I write this. They’ve been married for thirty-two years and I’m their first child. I have two other siblings.
According to my mom, their marriage was arranged. It was their families that came together and decided that the two of them should get married. My dad loved my mom from day one. My mom didn’t love him. According to her, there was already a man in her life. A man that she loved with all her heart. So when her family came with that arrangement, she protested. She fought it with all her heart until her dad told her, “We are not forcing you to marry him. We are only saying he’s a better man for you. He’s one of us and we’ve seen his progress but if you say no, we won’t force you.”
My dad at that time was madly in love with my mom so he was left to fight for her. My dad dressed up every evening and went to see my mom. Because of my mom, he changed his church and attended my mom’s church just to be closer to her. The other guy my mom wanted to marry was also in the same church. It became a competition between them. The other guy at some point felt threatened and started accusing my mom of cheating. She told him, “No, I’m not cheating on you. He’s just someone who wants me but I’ve told you I don’t want him.” The guy asked, “If you don’t want him then why is he always around you?”.
My dad’s strategy was simple. “Just stay close to her. Don’t push it. Don’t force her into it. Closeness usually does the magic.” So he stayed close to her until the other guy walked out of the relationship with my mom. It took two years to succeed. At that time he had become a friend to my mom. My mom said she accused him of breaking up her relationship. My dad answered, “I only came for what I want. If he really loved you as I do, he wouldn’t be the one to walk away.” So my mom fell for his effort and later fell in love with him.
A few months later, they got married in my mother’s church. My dad was free to leave the church on his own but he said, “This is where I found her so this is where I will stay. Before he died, my father was the church elder, a position he held for over ten years.
A year after their marriage, I came along. Three years after I’d arrived, my junior brother came along. They went on a break for six years before the youngest of our siblings also came along. Growing up, dad was there for us. Our mom was the tough one so we ran away from her often. Dad never hit us. He’ll scream and threaten us but will never throw his hand. Mom will throw both her hand and her words at us. Break a plate and she’ll break your skin. Go out and don’t come early and you’ll come and meet her with a cane in front of the door. The only one who came to our rescue was our father so we always wanted to be in his presence.
I never heard my dad raising his voice at my mom. You only have to see my dad looking at my mom to see the kind of love he had for her. When my mom was in a bad mood, that’s where my dad would start playing with her. He would tease her with old stories; “Thess, you remember the day your mom fell down when she was climbing the stairs?” That story never left his mouth. We were not there when it happened but if you ask anyone of us, we’ll be able to give you all the details as if we were there. That’s because dad never stopped talking about it. Mom would get defensive and say, “That’s not what happened…” She’ll go ahead and narrate exactly what happened.
There was love in our house—I mean love in abundance. That kind of love was reflected in my parents’ lives wherever they went. While dad was serving as the church elder, mom was also the president of the women’s fellowship. When it came to marriage issues, my parents’ marriage became the yardstick for all the youth in the church. Both my mom and dad were on the counselling committee of the church. A committee responsible for counselling couples who are about to get married. Because of my parents’ position in the church, we were treated with respect and a lot of kids looked up to us.
My dad fell and broke his leg when he was fifty-five years old. Old bones take time to heal so my dad was down for a very long time until he started walking again. He walked with staff at first until he could learn to walk without it. The bone was healed but anytime the weather was cold, he complained of pains at the place where he broke his leg. My mom teased him about suffering from rheumatism. She couldn’t pronounce the word very well so it sounded like “Romanticism.” When my dad was down in pain, my mom would scream, “Eiiiii Mr Romanticism. You won’t stop worrying our ears with this niggling pain.”
After that, she would be around him, going up and down until my dad would get better. One day he complained of the same pain. He received the same level of teasing from my mom. My mom tried all the tricks she had learned over the years to heal him but it got worse. He was rushed to the hospital one dawn and dad never came back again. He was sixty-one years old.
The whole community was thrown into a state of mourning. The church mourned him every Sunday and for one week straight, people rushed to our house to come and mourn with us. It was difficult looking at my mother. We had lost a father. That was all we lost but my mom lost a husband, a friend, a companion in the journey of life and a soldier who led with a shield to protect her. She never stopped crying but she never made an attempt to hurt herself. She could go to bed alone and wake up the next morning and mourn. I didn’t have any reason to sleep next to her because what she was going through was a normal reaction. Love fills us with joy but when it’s no longer there, its place is occupied by severe pain—a pain it would take a lifetime to heal.
The pain was manageable. Each new day brought a balm that tried to slowly soothe the pain away.
It was my dad’s one-week rite when a woman walked to the family table and started talking to the head of the family. My mom was seated right next to the head of the family so she could hear what was being discussed. The discussion was getting serious so the family head told the woman to wait until the rite is over so they could talk about what she brought.
The family heads sat with the woman while my mom was in the room trying to catch some sleep. The woman’s mission was simple. She said, “The man we are mourning today is also the father of my first child. I came here today to tell you about it so he wouldn’t be a lost seed.” Everyone called her a liar. My mom was called into the meeting and her first question was, “Who sent you here today to desecrate the memory of a good man? Who sent you?” .
They were all shouting and calling the woman a liar until the child she was talking about walked in. Everyone went quiet. My mom walked slowly toward him and touched his face and beard. He was like the ghost of my father. My mom asked him, “How old are you? He answered, “I’m thirty.” My mom retorted, “You’re older than my first child? How come? What happened? What went wrong?” My mom burst out crying while walking out of the scene. I was right at the corner watching proceedings. I burst out crying too and started questioning the integrity of the man we had always known as the hero of our story.
The rest of the affair was handled by the heads of the family. We were later told the woman had been asked to go and come after the funeral. A week later, another woman resurfaced. She came with a lady. The lady is twenty-seven years old. She also had a striking resemblance to my dad. If she stands next to me, we would be called twins. My mom had had enough so she packed her bag and left the house. I followed her trying to bring her back home. She was crying. She was breaking down bit by bit but there was nothing I could do. She kept saying, “No, this is just a dream. This can’t be true. Nooo, I’m dreaming.”
Nothing I said could bring her back. She picked up a car and landed in her hometown. The following day, I travelled with my other siblings to our hometown to be with her. We’ve been here since. The family had called her to return. They had sent delegates to convince her to return but she tells them, “That man isn’t the man I married. My whole marriage to him was a lie so let his death also be a lie. I’m not coming today or tomorrow. How do you expect me to face the world after everything? How do you expect me to face the church which held us in high esteem? How do you expect me to be at peace knowing what I know now? He’s your family. You can bury him without my presence. I’m not coming anywhere.”
My mom had been here since, crying herself to sleep every night, trying to commit suicide twice at our blindspot. It’s the reason I sleep next to her. I can’t do much to reduce the pain in her heart but I can watch her at night so she doesn’t do anything bad to herself. When she cries I asked myself, “What is she crying for? For the death of her husband or for the embarrassment she has to face? It’s only her who can answer the question. Our father’s funeral is in three weeks. Our job now is to get her to attend the funeral because all of us have to be there to mourn the man who made everything possible including this grand deception.