MEMOIR ENTRY 6
I was six when Nnaemeka was born, eight when they brought Nnamdi home, red faced and bawling. Then my father died, leaving my mother with a nine year old, a toddler and a baby. My mother put aside her grief and her fear and she chose the hardest path. I respect her strength but I have never envied her.
Nnaemeka and Nnamdi are in a way as much my children as Irene and Adeolu, the ones I will bear myself. I brought them up, they fed at my breast. I bathed them, washed their soiled nappies, cleaned their cuts when they fell and comforted them when they cried. My mother was hardly ever there, she was too busy being a breadwinner and the role of surrogate mother fell to me. Nnaemeka was a quiet child, he never cried if he didn’t have to, always thoughtful and polite. Sometimes I think he and I are cut from the same cloth, like little emotional thermometers. Nnamdi was my little rebel; loud, arrogant, full of pride, the reincarnation of my father.
I gave up so much for them. Some things I gave gladly, others were taken before I could decide if it was mine to give. I lost two years of schooling because of Nnamdi, so my mother wouldn’t lose her job as a receptionist at the district hospital. Twelve hour shifts but the pay was decent and she was brought up never to complain. He cried all time and sometimes I’d cry with him, frustrated because after Nnaemeka I didn’t have an inkling on how to deal with this new bundle of terror. Then he got over our mother’s absence. It was such a sudden thing, no preamble. At first I feared he was ill but when he showed no symptoms, I accepted the realization of what had happened.
Each day, I watched in terror as my bond to him grew and hers weakened. This wasn’t the plan, I was only playing house, a dull imitation of the real thing. He couldn’t tell the difference. He would cry if he couldn’t see me from where he played with the other children in the neighborhood. Then when he started talking, he took to calling me mama, and the other children would laugh at the absurdity of a child calling another mama and he would laugh with them, completely unaware of the importance of his utterings.
I still remember the first day Nnamdi called me Mama in our mother’s presence. She’d come home early from work and called her sons to sit on her lap. Nnaemeka ran to her, happy to see his mother. Nnamdi hesitated and I pushed him gently but firmly towards her. He began to cry and she tried to comfort him, he wailed and pointed at me, screaming that he wanted his mama. She blanched and I unconsciously stepped out of reach. She tried to comfort him with songs and bribe him with sweets but he wouldn’t stop wailing. She finally let him come to me, rage and betrayal simmering in her eyes. I lost my right to be a child that day.