The first time I ever saw my mother was on a Saturday morning, the 6th day in the month of May, 1998.
It was my 11th birthday.
We were in Grandma’s garden, picking mangoes that had fallen with the morning dew; Grandma and I and Aunty Bose, when she came through the old wrought-iron gate that demarcated the garden from the rest of the house.
The first thing that stood out was her hair. It was styled in one of those permed curls of the 90s: few twists framing her face and a little pencil-like thing that seemed to hold up the rest of her hair stuck out at the top. I have always had a deep love, sometimes jealousy, for people with long hair seeing as mine refused to grow more than a handful no matter how Grandma took care of it. Now it’s a wild mass though.
I still recall the clothes she had on. I would later learn that Mother was more than a little obsessed with the finer things of life. That day, her outfit was exquisite. Yes, it was an outfit. I cannot simply call her impeccable apparel a dress, worse, a cloth.
She was dressed in a baby pink skirt suit that rode up her thighs as she walked towards us, and she had a gold brooch pinned over her chest to the left. And there were definitely high heels involved, because I remember thinking that they were in imminent danger of acquainting her with our garden floor.
When she came closer – with a rather graceful walk – I saw that her shoes were gold rather than the cream I thought from afar and encrusted with something shiny that looked like a mix of pearls and stones and it was in that moment I decided that she must have missed her way and was only here to ask for direction to wherever it is she was going to. Such a high class woman could not be here to visit grandma. Not like Grandma was the lowest of the low, but really, what would they talk about? The weather? Or the neighbour’s daughter’s wedding that held last weekend?
However, absolutely nothing prepared me for the shock of seeing this beautiful woman go down on her knees in greeting. And I mean both knees!
She knelt on the rocky dirt ground and I looked at her as if she had sprouted horns, my mouth slightly agape. It was still a struggle for me to kneel in greeting to Grandma and Grandpa every morning-on a smooth tiled floor, talk less kneeling in greeting for a stranger in a dirty garden floor filled with stones and what not.
Her voice was soft, very soft as she greeted Grandma.
“Good morning Mummy.”
Now it wasn’t strange for her to call my Grandma “Mummy”. In my neighbourhood, everyone called Grandma “Grandma” or “Mummy” or “Mama”. She was quite popular in the area, and well-loved too. Well she was always baking cookies and frying chin-chin to share with the neighbours. She also babysat regularly for them, so go figure. They definitely love her.
But Grandma’s face was a picture of shock. I thought she was going to keel over. It was as though she saw a ghost and I kept wondering what’s with the guilty look on the stranger’s face. I wanted to say,
“Hey Pretty Stranger, It’s not your fault, don’t look so gloom.”
Grandma just doesn’t handle surprises well at all. Even if it was a movie with an unexpected plot twist, her look of shock is always priceless, like Grandma! It’s only a movie.
And really, considering I was the only one that noticed her arrival since I was eating mangoes instead of being bent over and picking them, her reaction was not unexpected.
“Omolareni? Is that you?” Grandma said.
Okay, pretty lady wasn’t a stranger after all, judging from the vigorous nodding for her response. Maybe Grandma knew her as a child and that could explain the shock, Maybe she was just stunned to see her all grown up.
I get that sometimes too, whenever some of Grandma’s friends see me, they go, “Aduke! Your grandchild is all grown o. I remember the last time I saw her; she was still crawling all over the place and picking crumbs to eat from the floor.”
Pretty lady responded, still in her soft voice,
“Yes it’s me, mummy.”
She held her hands together in front of her, wringing them together in a very familiar manner; a motion I do all the time when I’m nervous, while my overactive brain struggled to figure out what was unfolding.
And as I turned back to look at Grandma to see tears pouring from her eyes like a dam let loose, she went forward, tentatively, slowly, she and pretty lady Omolaraeni inching together till they met in a fierce embrace, sobbing so heavily while I remained terribly confused, wondering what was causing the waterworks.
However, when compelled, she puts pen to paper and tries to make magic. Connect with her via Instagram @miwa_odujay