After the robbers attacked our vehicle that hot Sunday afternoon, we stood by the roadside for hours flagging down vehicles, begging for a ride to Port-Harcourt which was still many miles away. The driver of our bus had run into the bush the moment he sighted the robbers and had he not taken the car key with him, one of the passengers, a taxi driver himself, would have driven us to our final destination.
Finally, a rickety bus stopped in front of us. It was nothing short of a miracle because it was already getting dark.
‘Port-Harcourt.’ The passengers shouted and ran into the almost empty bus.
‘700 naira.’ the man said. His breath reeked of alcohol and his eyes were red.
The passengers began to explain the unfortunate situation they had found themselves but he cut them short and with his fat lips turned upward said,
‘Shey I go come carry una for free ni?’
I was irritated by his attitude and just one more word from him would have unleashed the frustration stored in my stomach. How could this man still demand for money after all we had gone through?
He refused to start the car and instead began to whistle and impatiently drummed his fingers on the steering while the passengers raised their voices, ranting, cursing, shouting, begging.
When he wouldn’t still move his jalopy, an old man seated beside him clasped his hand together, hoping his grey hairs would at least soften the man’s unyielding stance. That didn’t work. Finally a woman retrieved 4,000 naira from her bra and handed the money to him. We thanked her and finally the driver, grumbling that his money was not complete, started the engine and pulled his bus into the road.
It stopped three times before finally crawling into the beautiful city of Port-Harcourt. It was almost 8 p.m when we got to the park.
I climbed down from the bus and stood there confused. This was an unfamiliar territory and I didn’t know anyone except for mum’s secondary school mate who had agreed to accommodate me but how was I supposed to locate this woman when my phone was gone?
I tried not to cry as I approached one of the men in the garage.
‘Please sir, can I use your phone? I’m stranded and I need to call my parents.’
He handed me his phone. I dialed mum’s number. It rang several times but she didn’t pick up. I tried Dad’s line and then remembered he was not back from the medical mission trip to a remote village where the network was horrible.
Oh God, what do I do now? I don’t even know where to go. Please help me.
With my hands firmly holding a small box, I began to walk down the street. It was as if something was pulling forward. I kept walking until I heard a voices coming from a church in front of me. I stopped and relief swept over me when I realised it was a branch of the church I attended back home.
‘Oh God, thank you.’ I said, laughing. A man was standing on the pulpit leading prayers when I sneaked in and sat at the back.
After the service, I approached the Pastor and explained my predicament. The Pastor, a small man with receding hairline, was willing to take me in except that his house could barely even contain his family of six. He introduced me to a woman, a professor and also a deacon in the church whom he believed would gladly welcome me into her house. True to his words, she not only agreed to accommodate me for the night, she said I could stay for as long as I wanted.
After speaking to my mother and assuring her that I had found the perfect place to stay, I reclined against the car seat, laughing so hard as I listened to funny stories from this beautiful professor.
In my excitement, I decided that after the interview, I would stay back to scout for jobs and spend more time with this woman who had held my attention from the very first time I set my eyes on her. I love too easily, I know but It never occurred to me that anything painful could come out of this. Big Mama, as she was fondly called, would be just like my mum. Sweet. Loving. Warm.
But I was wrong. A week later, with tears welled up in my eyes, I began to pack my things ready to leave the house. How could I ever forget those words that left me sleepless. I picked up my small mirror and ran my fingers over the bags that had begun to form under my eyes.
‘You know you are very useless. What man will marry you with the way you are cutting onions like this. Give it to me jare.’ she had said one day when I helped out with dinner. I had smiled and even though it hurt, I let it pass but it got worse by the day. No matter what I did, she was never satisfied.
The last straw that broke the camel’s back was the day some visitors came to the house. They had just started eating when Big Mama quickly pushed her plate away.
‘What nonsense did you cook? Why do you act like a fool sometimes. Who is your mother? I need to know her because she must be flogged for doing a bad job on you.’
I wished the ground could swallow me. I stood there chagrined, my lips trembling. Everyone had stopped eating and were staring pitifully at me.
‘But the food is really nice.’ A young handsome man who had caught my attention the moment he stepped into the house rose to my defence.
‘How can you say that? There is no salt in this food!’
Yet the Professor finished her food and quietly walked to the kitchen to serve herself another round.
I had reached my limit. All I wanted to do was run into my mother’s arms. Just as I threw my shoes into my box, Big Mama’s husband, a gentle man who rarely talked came into the room. He smiled sadly and sat at the edge of the bed. How did he end up marrying a woman like Big Mama.
‘I’m sorry about everything.’ he started. ‘ That’s how she is. She has a good heart, it’s just her mouth that is her greatest problem. My daughters have refused to come home because of the way she treats them. I know she loves them but every time they come around, she pushes them away with her words. Now that they have graduated from the university, they have completely stayed away from home. You won’t believe one of them lives in this town but she refused to stay here even though this house is big enough to accommodate more than ten people.
I didn’t know what to say. I just stood there.
‘Please don’t leave. My wife will be travelling to Abuja for a conference this afternoon and my daughters are coming over this evening. I want you to meet them. We could even hang out and have fun. What do you think?’
I nodded and smiled shyly. He tapped my shoulders lightly and left the room.
That evening, Cynthia and Pearl came as he said. The two ladies were so excited to see their father that Pearl burst into tears after hugging him. I saw that there were tears in his eyes as he reached his pocket for a clean handkerchief. We danced, watched TV and went out to get suya. It was the best evening of my life. When we returned home at about 10p.m, we found Big Mama sitting in the living room, her legs crossed and a frown on her face.
‘Oh no! I thought you said she was going to Abuja.’ Pearl faced her father. She was clearly upset
‘The meeting was cancelled.’ Big Mama said, her voice slightly raised. ‘I am ashamed of the two of you. Cynthia, even if Pearl does not have sense, I expect you to be mature. You don’t call and now you show up at my house when I am away? Can’t you ladies just lick your wounds and move on. Wale, what kind of miscreants did you put in my womb?
Wale, her husband stared at her, loss for words. She was obviously enjoying herself as her eyes moved from one person to another.
‘Why should I call you? Every time we speak on the phone, you leave me depressed.’ Cynthia’s voice was shaking.
‘I’m going home.’ Pearl announced and marched into the room they had lived for a little over twenty years. Cynthia followed.
I wished I could muster the courage to rush to the guest room, pick up my bag and follow them but instead I stood there unable to move. Big Mama was now ready for her husband but as she opened her mouth to speak, the stony glare he gave her shut her up. He left her angrily and walked into his room.
I made up my mind to leave for Lagos the following day. As I lay back on the bed, reading a novel Pearl had given me, the door opened.
‘Are you leaving me too?’ I raised my head to find Big Mama staring at my box that leaned against the wall. I had never seen her sober before. She was always confident and in control. She sat on the bed.
‘But what is wrong with my mouth? Why is everybody running away from me. My own children do not even want to be with me again after everything I have done for them.’
I wanted to hug her but instead I sat beside her and took her hand. ‘ I think you are a wonderful woman. But it’s just that your words hurt. If you can just-‘
The professor scowled down at me. ‘Shut up your dirty mouth! Did I ask for your opinion. Ode.’
She hissed and marched out of the room.
I can’t wait to be back in my mother’s arms, I muttered
When I had lowered my tired frame against a pillow fluffed up for a backrest, I imagined how mum would smile and tickle me the moment I step into the house. I couldn’t wait to be with my best friend again. Surprisingly, my experience at Big Mama’s house made me see my mother in a new light. I realised that I hadn’t really valued her words of encouragement and prayers even when I didn’t deserve them.
That night, I woke up a couple of times checking the time and greatly upset that daylight was still far away. When I couldn’t sleep again, I grabbed my phone from under the pillow and send a text message to my mother.
I love you mum. I can’t wait to see you again.
Shortly before I posted this story, my sister showed me a recent trend on one of the social media pages where grown adults lamented on how badly they had been treated by one or more of their parents as kids and teenagers and I discovered that this has also crept into the church.
In an attempt to compel a child to conform to church doctrines or coerce them into meeting our standards, negative words and curses uttered out of anger have been ingrained in their minds and trees of bitterness and resentment with roots thick and strong have taken up permanent space. Kids who are now adults dread going home and even if they do, it is usually just for obligatory purposes.
True, many of these adults have forgiven their parents but the closeness that should have been seem impossible to find expression now that they are in their mid-twenties or early thirties. The question many of them ask is, Where do we start from?
We can either give excuses for the way some of these parents have acted or we can deliberately decide to change the trend as young adults and see that we leave our kids(biological or spiritual) beautiful memories that will stay with them even when they become adults.
It starts by filling their minds with graceful words even in their formative years. When we allow the mind of Christ dominate, we’ll discover that our lips will produce words that edify even when we are frustrated with their rebellious attitude. What could be more annoying than mere men spitting on Jesus’ face and yet on the cross, he asked God to forgive them.
When a friend greatly offends you, what comes out of your mouth? Does your words destroy people rather build and help them? Watch out for your reactions when you are under pressure for it is only at such time the real you shows up.
..Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt…Colossians 4:6
…Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers…Ephesians 4:29