AUNT MARIAM by Olatunji Uthman
by Olatunji Uthman
July 10th, 2019. 2:28 am.
Son… She died!
The Kids? When?
No… She! About an hour ago.
I have always disputed what I deem an infamous notion which recklessly prioritises the value of children over parents—Children are the Leaders of Tomorrow. It has quite an appeal, I suppose, but its deeper context is totally flawed. This became evident when I wondered if it was possible to become a leader of tomorrow when your journey towards tomorrow-land is not guaranteed.
But much more, I hurt for what was, what there is and what could have been. I wept as I framed a mental picture of what she’d looked like in an obituary; definitely better than how she looked while alive. Of course, I knew there was no way an obituary was going to be possible. A picture of the infant twins she birthed two hours prior to her date. But already distanced by the sacred minutes of 11:59 pm and 12:00 am. Birth and death, two hours between, and still a day prior. Death, they say, works in mysterious ways. But the story does not start here, it started a lot earlier, around 2012.
Aunt Mariam though, was not really my aunt. She was the spouse of my uncle, was not really a Mariam, because she used to be a Mary, not really a wife, but a girl-who-got-pregnant and maybe her ordeal with the situation brought another side of her to surface. This episode of hers was beyond rebellious.
Aunt Mariam was the daughter of the ruling royal family of Auchi, Edo state. In the snaps of memory that I have of her, I would suggest she never went beyond the age of 25. And probably had her first child when she was 18. Aunt Mariam died a mother, but not a wife. She died, contradicting all laws set for her by society and family. I know this much about her because we were quite close, if close would define the relationship between a sportsman and his spectators. If you would remember how much you know about your favorite footballer, punctuate it with the possibility that you could have intimate conversations with them once a while. Maybe with also the fact that you happen not to decipher which emotion to feel for them. I mean, I can only tell, what I know.
Sometime around 2012, mum paced around, the usual pacing if your sibling gets pregnant, or gets someone pregnant. Her younger brother, whom she fostered, had got a girl pregnant. Usual proceedings and a few weeks later, she would come to live with us till she put to bed, a bouncing baby girl. Then she had moved to a one-room apartment at the dilapidated family house. Life is not a bed of roses as they say, I believe this was one of the first talks we had, when she told me how incessantly her family had been pleading her, right from when she got pregnant, to abort the baby, and after she gave birth, to come back home and divorce the invincible marriage they never had. The way she described life and the tastes she had though not extravagant, nevertheless classy, suggested that she was never raised to endure such conditions, so it was easy back then, even though I never told her, to assume that she’d go back soon.
Assuming we attribute the sprouts of thorns to the absence of wealth then she would be described as the epitome simulation of a living cactus, remember she now lives in a family house, so you’d picture the what the “usual proceedings” between a family full of steps would look like. She would always say, the royal family she came from, even though they fought under the theme of power, never got the concept of a family this flawed. The one-sided fights that happened, one-sided because she could never afford to be active, one-sided because she was not built for small fights. In the wake things as it could only get worse, financially and emotionally. She began to break down to build a new self, she went through what could be described as an emotional mutation. She began to reply to the gazes, she began to care less about the stigma. I remember the day she approached my mum that she’d love to start a business, and the day she started to hawk assorted homemade flour products such as meat-pie, egg-rolls, and fish pie. Her first days make little or no sales, and she would give me and my siblings the leftovers. With the absence of her family support, I guess she did much more than expected, she dared to make decisions and stand by them. This went on for ages, unlearning rather than learning, changing rather than growing—she dared to push beyond the comfort zone. But the story never changed, the regression continued, her soul continually oppressed, till I realized that no matter how hard we fight sometimes, some sins are never forgiven. She had taken a step not meant for her age, and the price was to be paid.
So, about the same year, I had to leave Lagos, she also did. She had to move down the scale again. She had to move to Oyo state, so her husband would be bearing the cost of a more average life so that maybe, things would get better.
And while she never went back to the royal life, she always had the opportunity to go back. I guess the relationship between her, and her mother-in-law never worked out. Nobody expected it to. Her relationship with her family got worse of course and during these ‘bad times, she got pregnant again. By now, we had started having these conversations about her dream wedding, and I remember vividly, she had always said: “I would be wearing a blue dress, a black shoe, and a blue head-tie”. But here was the woman in her dreams, struggling with another baby. And about two years later, another one. Six years into the journey of motherhood with three children to fend for, it was now impossible to turn back, and I guess that’s what she did. Full on.
With different goals to cater to, we grew apart and the discussions stopped. But about a month ago, I heard she got sick, I called her and she told me “I am not sick, I would be putting to bed in a month, the doctors said I might be giving birth to twins”. With such a voice that lacked the happiness of a potential mother of twins. I guess the princess in her had finally broken. But life goes on, as her mother-in-law also got sick and mum and all her children had to go visit her. Turned out Aunt Mariam had contraction issues during the night and she was taken to the hospital and a Caesarean session later, she birthed twins. It was a celebration for the family but I’m not sure for her or her husband. When I would later hear from mom, she said she died as anyone would sleep, probably taken for a sleep session, until she refused to wake up when she was approached to breastfeed the babies. The way human behavior changes when their fellow dies, left, right and center, I watched how everyone praised her, even though they never shared a true smile with her while alive. I wondered how everyone was able to gather the money required by her family to pay for her dowry. I wondered how they were still able to smile at the children she left behind.
Someone had to nurse the infants, turned out to be mum, and one way or the other, they found a way to transport them down here. And these days, as I watched the kids retain their ability to grow despite the absence of mother’s milk. I wondered if life really had a fate. If life could be so significantly lived, yet insignificantly spent. With dreams and wishes hanging in the air. I wondered if the kids would ever know they were only fostered by mum. I wondered what I would say to them if they ever ask about their mother. Would I tell them, your mother died on the night I burned the midnight oil for my GEM106 exam, and even though I was pained, It didn’t stop me from maintaining focus, it did not stop me from skipping the bus queue the next morning, it did not stop you from growing up. That while your mother lived a noticeable life, she never had any impact. Would I tell them that, though your mother was birthed Mary, she died Mariam? That she was raised a princess but died otherwise. Or that I met her as a young girl with chubby cheeks, but she died with a sunken face. And even though she was naturally fair, she died dark. How would I tell them that the day your mother died, atop the cabinet inside her termite-infested wardrobe, we found, a specially wrapped polythene bag containing, a royal blue wedding gown, a pair of black six inches shoes and a blue gele.
Source: From the Rebel Issue (October 2019)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
OLATUNJI, UTHMAN OLAIGBE is a novice writer visioning on multi-genre ability. He is a student of Agriculture at the University of Ilorin. He was shortlisted for publishing in the recent Students’ Union anthology. He became the first freshman to win the Agric Writes essay competition inspired by logic, art, and science. He is a lover of fitness and beautiful, absurd music.