How did you hear about death? Your father came back one evening, sat on his favorite chair in the living room, threw his head back, and went cold.
Death is not measured by the life you’ve had, or by age. Death does not take permission; it doesn’t select its victims; it is not partial; it simply strikes. As quietly as it struck your father.
When your mother was tired of calling him from the kitchen with no forthcoming reply, she came over, touched his face, and turned to you.
He is not responding, she said.
You began to sense the gradual rise of panic in her voice.
He is not responding, she said again.
This time, beads of sweat appeared on her forehead. You could smell the okra soup burning in the kitchen.
She shook him violently. John! John!
You sat with your brother, staring in silence, until your mother released a loud wail. It was as though every opening in her body released fluid at once. Her hair, her voice, her wrapper, the one people called your father, came loose. Woman-wrapper was his moniker.
That was when it began to feel like loss, and you hugged your brother. Your mother made several phone calls, blowing her nose with her an end of her wrapper, until the ambulance arrived with your father’s brothers.
In the days that followed, your mother was subjected to humiliation and false accusations. Her in-laws insisted that their son must be washed and she must drink from the water or eat a kolanut dipped in it. She must sleep in the same room with his corpse, cut her hair, wear black dresses for a year, and cut down her social engagement—all to ensure she was properly cleansed, not guilty of their son’s death.
Everyone blamed her.
You poisoned him, wicked woman! your Grandma said. You could only give him two children, and now you have killed him!
You didn’t understand how your mother could poison your father; she was the one who ensured he got his present job at the State Secretariat. She only had to contact her old secondary schoolmate, who gave your father a job as senior personnel.
He once worked in a biscuit factory at Oshodi but was sacked after he was accused of molesting his colleagues. He left bad records everywhere he worked, records that haunted your family, why you relocated to Enugu.
There were times when your mother could have poisoned him. Times when he brought home women who used your mother’s things—lipsticks, face cream, perfumes, hair bonnet, body wash. Your mother usually brought down hell, threatening fire and brimstone. One day, he grabbed her by the neck, trapped her against his armpit, and beat her face to a red pulp. That was the only time he ever put his hand on her, once. Just once. The other days, he left and returned after everyone, except your mother, had gone to bed, vomiting all he ate and drank, making your home reek of cheap alcohol. There were days when they fought because he either squandered his money on a Ponzi scheme, bought an irrelevant property, or wasted money on his girlfriends. Your mother called them ants, leeches.
They will kill you someday, she said, We shall see!
Obiageli, I will not die, and if I die, you will suffer, he retorted.
After such exchange, she would still assure you that your father was not really a bad man, that he had a terrible temper. But you knew he was a bad man. He lied about losing your tuition right after you were freshly admitted into Queen’s College three years ago. That was when you began to detest him. You knew he gave the money to one of those women who wore heels, who stole your mother’s lipsticks. You knew he chose those women over his family, and you also realized he never wanted you to go to school.
When he lost his job at the biscuit factory over a rape case, the court ordered him to pay damages. Those damages swallowed your mother’s savings, and things got bad at home, so bad that you had to move again.
Your mother worked for everything, but your father took credit for them. She would save from her income and give it to her husband, who bought properties in his name. You wished she would poison him and set your family free. But she never did. She nursed his ego, lied to protect his reputation, gave up her savings to make him look like he achieved anything, endured his infidelity to keep her family. And now she had to prove her innocence over his mysterious death, which you wouldn’t say, but we all know he deserved.
His brothers fought for who would inherit your mother, even before your father’s burial was arranged. You felt deep pity for your mother, whose eyes shrunk from the weight of her sadness, her hair disheveled, nails overgrown, her dress stained. She didn’t have to prove her innocence, but she was born to please. She wanted to please these people who would never be pleased. She didn’t see the need to speak up because, after all, it is her husband we are talking about here—her precious John.
She could have called powerful people who she usually called for jobs, and alerted them to her situation. She could have made a viral video, posted it on those social media handles she shared selfies in which she smiled like a new bride, her beauty overwhelming just like her silence.
They cut her hair and you hid at the back of your house, where your father used to park his Mercedes, and cried your eyes out. Her long hair was shorn with blades you knew were not even sterilized, those women circling her like meat on a butcher’s table, her eyes vacant.
On the day of his burial, she finally washed herself and sat on a mat at the entrance of the sitting room, where mourners went to look at his corpse. Your father’s family refused anyone to come near her, not even her children.
Everything caused you unrest: the noise of the women who watched your mother, her tears, your father’s casket placed on the decorated high table in the middle of the room, his framed photographs leaning against the table. The piercing eyes of your cousins and their mothers. The smoke wafting in from the out-kitchen. The dirty children running around the front yard, probably the children of those women helping with the cooking. Your mother, sitting on that mat, her bald head catching the sun. It all caused you turmoil, so much that your spirit felt wrung out. They all knew it was not a healthy tradition, but you wondered if they cared, because they shared other stories of women they subjected to such treatment, women they accused of killing their husbands.
Killing. It sounded heavy, as if your mother had taken a knife to her husband’s chest. It didn’t happen that way; it didn’t even happen in any way they could have imagined. It made sense to them—the false accusation, but it didn’t make sense to you because you knew an autopsy could have been carried out; your mother could have refused that treatment, but she was powerless because death renders one powerless; the death you saw hovering around your father that day he sat cold on his favorite chair could render even the mightiest powerless.
You knew you would write about it someday, when your mother had grown back her hair, when she would sue your uncles for encroaching on your father’s properties, when the stigma had worn off and she set up committees to end such abuse of women who death pays visits.
About the Author:
Chizitere M. Nwaemesi is a modern prolific writer,who relates coexistent stories in a fictional manner. She believes that stories is a very important instrument used in addressing salient issues in our present society. She is a lover of arts and all that arts contains. Chizitere M. Nwaemesi is of the view that every story needs to be told, just the way it is.
Feature image by blauthbianca/Pixabay