The waves come in familiar gushes, pushing you away from your mother at the edge of your bed. Her eyes are full of the anguish a mother feels because of their young one. The same type of darkness that took the light out of your eyes when it happened.
She is not calling your name anymore. Her eyes are dry but her head rests on her palm, tilting to the right as if she is weeping. You let the familiar waves in: to take you to that place where apathy takes over.
You were seventeen when the walls first closed in, breaking down the last cube of strength you had left.
Bode had just left you with a two month old that cried to be fed constantly. Months passed before news swept you off your dainty feet. Bode had started seeing your best friend, Tania – the girl you were raised with – who played dolls with you as your mothers plaited each other’s hair into neat straight braids and sometimes, experimental curvilinear corn-rows. She was nearly four years older, so she’d stepped into a sisterly friendship with you in your teens.
The pain you felt knowing he wasn’t coming back hurt your chest and made your eyes water. But losing your best friend was what hurt most. It shattered your heart into fragments that would never be whole again.
They were students at the same university. She had introduced you to him as “my cute little sister” the afternoon that you caught the coach down to UEC to see her. You remember now how a smile flirted with her eyes as she introduced him as the BME Society’s President. But because he kissed you in front of her and all the other girls a month later at his birthday bash, you assumed it was as he said, they were just friends. And because you gave him everything he wanted, tainted with innocence but with the tenacity of someone that would gladly give more, you thought he would always be yours.
Your mother gave her blessing when he proposed to her. She said, “You should have closed your legs. If you had, he would be marrying you not her.”
“Thank God your father is not alive to see this.”
Thick walls hit you in the face, making you almost deaf to your baby’s cries. The silence in your flat when your mother took her out was no longer disquieting. It soothed the new you.
Your mother tried to hide your condition from the outside world but Bode saw the signs. He noticed that your eyes would not brighten anymore. Not even for your daughter’s first step. Not when she called “Mama”, her innocent eyes lacking the anxieties of adulthood, her lips spraying ketchup with each syllable.
Perhaps because guilt is a strong emotion that grips the heart with inflexible fierceness, he drove you to your doctor’s surgery and picked up your first prescription of pills. Slowly, they trimmed the edges off those feelings.
But it was watching your precious daughter paint a yellow blob with two large red circles she called ‘Mama’ that brought back a smile. A small fleeting smile that lit your eyes and brought your mother’s singing voice back. She sang Oh, Lord I am Very Very Grateful in the bathroom and cooked pots of jolof rice, moi–moi and peppery grilled fish.
She started to act normal around you; bother you about the gas bill and your daughter’s school dinner money. She did, because the pills had numbed that part of you that needed to be suffocated so that you could live again.
You chose to live, getting a job at Asda and reading Eze Goes to School to Kanyi every time she asked for a Disney book. Familiarising your eyes again with the printed words from your favourite childhood book.
“Eat this or I will call Bode.”
Your mother is back in the room with a tray. You didn’t hear her leave. You resist the urge to remind your mother Bode has a life of his own: a family of two sons and a wife with a clear mind.
You try not to look into your mother’s eyes: brown eyes brimming with tears. She hasn’t slept since yesterday. She holds the tray tightly: as if holding it tight will dissolve what has happened into tiny fragments of a nightmare that didn’t come to pass.
Buttered slices of wholemeal bread sit on a plate next to a bowl of tomato soup and a cup half filled with water. She puts the tray on the dressing table and passes you the cup of water.
“Please, omo mi, it’s time to take your tablets. You know how important they are. I’m not going to wait until you start talking to yourself again.”
You watch her reach for the packed medication tray on the side of the table and pop a blister into her palm. A disparity of different colours of big and small medicine falls out. They look like nothing significant. Not like the suppressants they are. The magic pills moulded into beckoning shades by drug makers to make you feel nothing: to gloss over sour and bitter hands dealt by fate.
You take them from the curve of her palm and slide them in your mouth. She leaves after watching you take the cup to your lips.
She is on the phone when you spit them into the purse that Kanyi bought with her allowance last Mother’s Day. The tablets drops in the middle of others like them. Colourful, round ones and plain-coloured square ones. The purse is filling up now, bloating at the waist like a recently fed mouse. Slowly, but bloating.
When you put the purse back in your bag, the bowl of soup catches your attention. The redness of it sucks every breath out of your lungs. It makes you wonder if that is what the blood that drained out of her looked like.
They hadn’t let you get close.
By the time they allowed you and her grandma to see her, she had been washed, so that she looked like your baby again.
Your darling baby.
She was fourteen.
How could anyone hurt her? She was an angel. A well-behaved child who loved doing the dishes for her grandma. The patrol leader of her Guides’ unit.
You had asked the policemen and women questions you didn’t seek answers to. All you sought was for your little girl to come back.
They told you the shooting was a gang conflict between yobs from the SE15 and SE16 postcode area. Your daughter and her friend were at Luscious Chicken at the wrong time. Three teenagers were injured but yours – the only one you had – was the one that paid with her life.
“Did I not warn you never to stay out past six?”
“Why did you not come straight home from your Girl Guides meeting?”
The thick, cold air in her bedroom refused to talk back. Eventually the questions stopped leaving your mouth. Your grief birthed an answer one day and you decided to stop living. Stopping your medication would ensure that. You cannot take your life because that will kill your mother. She needs you. The shallow fragment left, at least.
Your mother is on the phone to your doctor. By the time the doctor sees you and refers you back to the psychiatrist, your mind will be gone.
Your sanity will have ferreted away, past timeworn buildings, aged chimneys and degenerating trees because you don’t want to lie in your body to feel your grief.
© Olajumoke Omisore
Image by Hartwig HKD