Walking on Broken Glass
I was ten when Mama went completely mad.
I remember how, before that day, we were becoming very concerned about her queer dispositions. Like when she was done cooking every meal, she will dish her portion out, go into the toilet, sit on the bowl and then begin to eat.
There were nights when she would burst into a loud and ominous laughter when everyone was sound asleep. Then she had this knack for cleaning out the house all the time. We didn’t dare to drop a piece of paper or else Mama will spend the whole day sweeping, dusting and scrubbing.
Things took a dramatic turn for the worse when Mama refused to go to work but will rather stay at home, cleaning and cooking. When my dad called her elder brother to come talk to her because she wouldn’t listen to him, I sensed that something bad was about to happen.
Uncle Dele arrived early on Saturday morning in June, 1992 having taken the night bus from Lagos to Kaduna. I could see the sadness in his eyes even before he spoke a word.
“Ife,” he addressed my mother, “what is happening? Do you want us to go see that priest again?”
Mama kept mute and didn’t even look up from her cleaning bucket. When Uncle asked for the second time though, Mama flared up.
“What is wrong with you people? Why can’t you leave me alone? Did I kill your child? Did I eat your food? Stay away from me!”
At that moment, Mama began to jump and howl and ran out of the compound. Then she began to pull off her clothes as she laughed hysterically. It took four men to catch Mama more than ten streets away some two hours later. She was tied up and taken to the village to be with her parents. That was the last time I saw my mother. We heard that she ran away one day and was never found.
Although strangers and neighbours who pointed and whispered as we walked pass, did not fail to spread rumours of how Mama had been sighted in different cities in the country, walking around in her birthday suit and feeding from dumpsters.
Somehow, as my sister and I grew up, we found it hard to talk about Mama so we never did. We pushed her to the back of our memories as we tried to repress her. This was really the only way we could find to cope with a loss that we didn’t envisage. A loss we could never truly understand.
Auntie Jumai and a few other maternal relatives would, however, from time to time ascribe my mother’s bad luck as being the handiwork of my father’s people who didn’t want her to marry their son. So they used juju to chase her from the house. To what end? I wondered, considering that Papa remained single until he passed away two years ago from Diabetic foot ulcer.
As the years passed, I realised that society has a grievance against the children of mentally challenged individuals. They did everything to ensure that we paid for the “crime” of our mother. People were warned to not befriend us because they stood a high chance of “catching the disease.” When my sister, Sarah wanted to get married to her long term boyfriend, his mother screamed a big NO.
“That girl has madness in her blood. She will give you nothing but crazy children! Please don’t bring disgrace to our family,” she told her son.
For months I watched Sarah soak her pillow through with tears every night. I was angry at her for mourning the loss of a man who couldn’t stand up to his own mother. A coward who couldn’t fight for the love of his life.
I was just seventeen at this time so it was easy for me to sit in judgment. To look at my forlorn sister and feel nothing but disgust at her pathetic display.
At twenty-five, however, I fell in love with Mike. He is a tall and intelligent medical doctor and he told me from the second date that I will be the mother of his children. We got engaged about a year later and the wedding date was fixed. This was after Mike and his family had come to “dobale” for my people.
One week to the wedding, I got a text message from Mike:
We need to talk
He was out of the country for a short medical conference and I was so anxious for his return. I wasn’t for the life of me expecting what I got.
“I don’t think that this marriage can happen anymore,” he said to me after eating the finely prepared jollof rice I had set before him with a glass of Five Alive.
I could hardly speak.
“My people said they just found out something and they can no longer support us.”
“What did they find out?”
“About… about your mother.”
“But you knew about it all along,” I countered.
“I didn’t think it will matter… I’m so sorry. My people are resolute in their decision.”
“Mike… I expect you, being a medical doctor, with a John Hopkins certificate, to know better! What is this you are saying? What is this you are saying like a child?!!”
“Calm down Fisayo. You know I will always love you. No one can take your place in…”
“Shut the fuck up and get the HELL out of my house!” I was seeing red.
“It has not gotten to this, Ayo…”
I reached for the glass of juice and threw the contents in his face. I watched the alternating exhibition of anger and shock on his face as he stood up and walked out.
I kept screaming at him until he drove away from my house.
“Don’t you ever come back here again!”were my last words to him.
That afternoon I went shopping for groceries and drove round Lagos. Whenever I saw a schizophrenic person, I would stop and give them a bag of groceries. For hours, my face was flooded with tears as I continued on my mission.
I did not know if I was seeking out a familiar face from among them or if I was finally saying good bye.
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