“Don’t do this.” Those were my mother’s last words to me on our last phone call ever on Easter Sunday 2014. She died a week later.
I should have died too. The guilt.
For a long time we had not been on the best of terms. The fight –or should I say struggle –was initially between my older brother and me. Somehow, along the line, like we say in these parts, my mother borrowed the fight.
The house I now live in belonged to my mother. She had wanted to put it up for rent with my brother, being her next of kin, as her agent/de facto landlord. They lived in Lagos, I lived in Abuja where the house is. It did not make sense then that I should be a renting when my mother owned a vacant property in the same city where I lived.
My brother saw only the loss of income that would largely go into his pocket. He also considered selling the property altogether without my mother’s knowledge.
Our different interests brought before our mother, she chose to take my brother’s side for three reasons. One, being a stickler for tradition, she considered him the man of the house, and had been deferring to him ever since our father died in ‘97. Two, she also rued the loss of income but on the other hand I had been giving a monthly stipend and would continue to do so whether I lived in the house or not. The house had lain empty for a number of years so it was not a complete loss anyway. Three, still based on tradition, she did not think I should be living on my own or in charge of a property as a young unmarried woman. She wished I would act my gender and my position in the family by remaining beholden to her and my older brother. But we were women of different generations and time; so it was a struggle all around.
Eventually, it took the intervention of my sister, the middle child, to get everyone to come to an agreement on the house. I got it, but my brother insisted on collecting a payment for repairs he did on it prior. We both knew it was a payoff/blackmail. The words unspoken were, “If you don’t give me this money, I’d make you regret ever daring to claim what should rightfully be mine for yourself.”
I complained to our mother who rather than call him to order, worried she might not get her share of the payoff. I was furious because despite making me pay, albeit, a largely discounted “lease” for the house, she still expected to get a monthly allowance from me. This allowance, like the monies she got from her pension and rent from other properties, she would end up spending on my greedy brother who still lived with her.
The unfairness of it all galled me to the point I stopped taking her calls. As her daughter, I had no right to her personal property –not even one she shared with my late dad –but the burden of her upkeep should be placed largely on me and my sister rather than the one who stood to inherit the gains of all of hers and my father’s hard work over the course of their lives? The one who gave back the least. All that set him apart for this grand reward was his sex.
For the Easter break, rather than go home to Lagos to see her, I chose Enugu instead where my sister lived. Despite all that happened, I had seriously contemplated spending the break with her. I had enough time to book really cheap flights, and they were pretty cheap. But each time, I started to press the pay button, I thought of seeing my brother too in Lagos there with her and I’d close the browser.
On that Sunday, she called me twice. The first time, I ignored the call. When I picked on the next ring, I was abrupt, I was cold, hence her plea not to do this.
When I went back to Abuja, I made no moves to call to reconcile with her. She’d probably given up because she didn’t make any more overtures prior to dying the following Sunday.
I should have died. The guilt.
Once I was given the news, I threw myself on the floor, wailed and hated myself for my unforgiving spirit. But then a voice came in my head. It was loud and sounded like it came from outside.
“No, don’t do that,” it said. And that was all. But I felt the message long after the voice faded. Don’t blame yourself. Don’t hate yourself. Don’t worry, I forgive you.
That was when the first stirrings of hope came. I could do this; I could live a life without my mother.
You see, I was very much dependent on her for love, succor, comfort. She was the one who held me through a heartbreak even though the night before she had “disgraced” me for getting into a car with a boy. She invested in my education even though she had planned to use the money to start a business or maybe even go back to school herself. Back when I was living with her, when I could not sleep at night, I would stretch my hand from my single bed to hers and at just the touch of her skin, I would feel alright.
I may have regained strength to remain in this life, but then I lost all purpose, all reason. Who was I working hard for? Who would I share my millions with when I finally made them? Who was there to repay, to spoil?
During the period of that our terrible fight, on one of the rare occasions I took her calls, she’d called demanding money –my brother had stiffed her on the money he collected from me. I was angry not just because she dared to ask after supporting my brother’s blackmail but also because I didn’t have enough to spare; I was still renovating the house. I felt guilty. I was thirty with a Master’s degree she had sacrificed for and still nowhere near the millions I had hoped to spoil her with.
In my guilt, I snarled at her, “I owe you nothing. People sacrifice to send their kids to school all the time. Stop draining me. Everything I do is for you. I want to get married; I want to have kids. I can’t keep giving you my all.”
Hurtful words I hope never to hear from my own kids if I ever have any.
She forgave me everything, of course. But then she was gone from me.
For years now, I have been surviving and not living. I don’t do much. I don’t put in any effort. I do the barest minimum and just wait. The only thing that keeps me alive is the thought of my sister losing every member of her initial immediate family. Yes, my brother is gone too.
So what gives me hope in this hopeless seeming situation I have painted? The thought that I am still alive through no effort of my own, the thought there still some purpose for me. Maybe.
Maybe, it’s coming tomorrow, maybe it’s just after a minute and if I stay long enough maybe I’ll live again.