THAT NIGHT

Some of you from Facebook already know that we were expecting Kollins’ mum.

So Kollins returns from work, bringing his mum and a friend (hers) along. He had called me several times to tell me she was coming with someone else, as though what would I do by 8:45pm? Boil another cup of rice and throw into the coconut rice I had cooked?

I delay my bath until I hear them, then I try to dash into the bathroom. Kollins waylays me.

“Mum, see Pearl. Pearl meet my mum.” Useless Kollins, there are two women and he’s not telling me which of them is his mum. Idiot. I pick the one most likely to… well, I pick one and make her Kollins’ mum whether she likes it or not. She does because she smiles at me. She’s exhausted from the climb upstairs and can barely speak, which suits me.

I make it into the bathroom, planning how I will escape into my room and hide there until we all sleep, but I hear her yelling, “Uwem, mmor flatmate fo?” and over-eager to test my Ibibio (why does this look like libido?), I yell back, “Mmor mi ke bathroom.” She laughs. I can’t then go off to bed.

I don a Tshirt-ish nightie and check myself properly; on sighting ni**les, I drape a sheet around my body and make my way to the living room. I had heard Kollins showing her around the apartment with special emphasis on, “Mum, this is Pearl’s room,” just in case she thought, you know. . .

Anyway, as I stand beside her, she flings an arm around me in a hug and her hand lands on my back, drops… drops… drops and lands on my ass where I am pantyless. It rests there for many awkward moments where I see the thought clear as day in her head, brains whirring, “Hmmm, so she struts around the apartment pantyless, o Abasi mbok, nim eyen mi, eyen atam emi aku yomo ke’ibot esie.” (Oh Lord, keep my son let this girl from Northern Cross River not get pregnant on his account). I chuckle before I can stop myself, thinking dafuq!

“God bless you my daughter, she says. Well done.”

“Thank you Ma,” I say, “welcome.”

We smile and smile until I escape to my room. When I come out later to get drinking water, they are still watching TV so I tiptoe and escape before anyone can catch me and invite me to join the party.

NEXT MORNING

My alarm rings and I begin to snooze it. I really don’t want to go running but I am spurred by one thought, “ESCAPE.” That’s what gets me out of bed finally after snoozing the alarm five times and giggling to Murder She Wrote, ‘all pretty girls have bad character…’ Ha! I don’t want to be here when she wakes. Don’t ask me why I’m skittish, I don’t know!

Turns out she’s already awake; I hear her talking with her friend in the room. I have to go get tissue from storage – the top of Kollins’ wardrobe (he’s got far more space, OR maybe he’s got far less junk. . .whatever), so she sees me. I hurriedly make my coffee and yank my socks from the clothesline outside, hoping I would make it before…

She appears, grabs me and Kollins by our wrists and proceeds to speak with Kollins about something. “Shit,” I think. She wants to join us in unholy wedlock or something… (actually, I thought she wanted to drag us off to pray). I’m wearing a towel, holding it with one hand. I don’t know how to retrieve my hand without being rude. Kollins tries to pass between us, “Mummy nsinam amum’de ubok esie ntoro, sana yak.” Why are you holding her hand like that? Leave it – and tries to pass between us.  She ignores him, her fingers around my wrist, a vise; Kollins gives up and leaves me to my fate. She releases me unexpectedly and I fair skip to my room, so so relieved.

Not so fast! She follows me. My door slams behind me (meaning in her face but that was a frank error, didn’t know she’d followed me damn). She raps on the door, “can I come in?” Shit.

“Sure.”

I have to dress, so I drop the towel to my waist and wear my sport bra. I must tell you at this point that one of the (one million) things that bothers me about having babies, the omugwo aspect of it that is, is this stranger’s hands (yes, I know she’s now my mother-in-law and thus my mother blah blah blah) on my body. I have seen my friends who have had babies tended to by their mums and mums-in-law and I’m like how can you stand it… I’m sorry, I know how that sounds, and I suppose when you have a baby, you are so stressed and need all the help you can get that that would be the least of your concerns. Still.

And so, to a lesser degree, here is Mummy Kollins staring at me in my altogether and I’m like shit, this is a sign of the times – show you how desperate I am to get away. So I dress, showing off the apparently jogging outfits, flinging them in her direction like, see? Jogging, I am going jogging, and I neeeeeed to hurrrrrry. She looks at me amused and says what she wants to say. Which is

What is your name? (I’m really expecting the usual, don’t you have a native name?) Pearl, hmmm, a precious thing. Yes I agree enthusiastically. That’s me. Pearl, I have heard so much about you she continues.

Mmmm, I respond.

Thank you so much for taking care of Uwem. I choke on this. I am so amused, Kollins would be so fuckin’ mad at this. She looks around.

You are a designer I am told.

Yes. And like a kid, I show her my latest work, two Ankara jackets hanging way up with my curtains. She tells me she used to sew till her legs started to hurt too much. I sympathize. We grin and grin. I am strung like Odysseus’ bow.

I am going jogging, I explain, in case it is not yet obvious. I dash to the balcony to get my running shoes and take many deep breaths. I know it is still coming. When I return, she grabs me.

“Are you engaged?”

Wow. Didn’t see that one coming.

Yes, I say. I make up this fantastic young man from a nice Christian home who works in Mobil and is very respectful and happens to love me…

Okay, actually, I don’t.

No I respond sadly. She looks so sad and that’s what makes me sad. This nice Valentine’s morning, I would love to gift this woman with a fiancée for me, for her personal gratification, but nothing doing.

She holds me to her chest (I am taller than her by at least half a head and I know I have got coffee on my breath) – I wish she would stop (Kollins sorry but you would squirm too, shut up, I know you).

Then it begins.

May God bless you my daughter and give you the man of your dreams. I have heard so much about you and I can see with my eyes that you are well brought up, and I have seen the signs of a virtuous woman all around (she weeps my room to encompass my sewing machine and the jackets, deftly passing over the home theatre – I suppose virtuous women don’t play loud music and indeed for a panicked moment, I scanned the row of CDs lying on the floor in case one has a title like, “Big Dick Brother…” Not that I would have any of that stuff but who ever knows what people visit and leave lying around.) Okay fine, I know how that sounds. There is no hope of such a thing lying around my room. Not a chance. Mostly because I have this Porn Stash that is eating into my computer memory in huge hungry bites but that’s another story.

Anyway, she blesses me and wishes me all kinds of wonderful stuff, hug-hugging me so many times I start getting used to it. I remember to say Amen, though I would normally – and indeed for the longest time I did say – Thank you.

I, in turn, thank her for all the food she brought us. My God. The food. It is worth it all – it would be, if she made a tub with anointing oil and soaked me in it.

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She asks me to take care of Kollins (Notice; before, she acknowledged my ‘taking care of Kollins’, but now it’s official, a trust). I try to imagine what this care-taking entails, and I surmise that it must run the gamut from cooking healthy food, to keeping him away from rough, over-ambitious, unChristian, poorly brought up Lagos girls. No fear, I am equal to the task.

I suppose it is okay to commit Kollins to my tangible hands since me, she has committed to God’s rather incorporeal ones. I sigh. Aunty Imoh came and asked me to take care of Kollins. Even if my Dad came, he would ask me to take care of Kollins. Pearl the caregiver. All women will appreciate this. Doesn’t anyone find it curious, this absurd supposition of bumbling incompetence bestowed on men and the corresponding or maybe resulting infantalization of that sex? When will anybody say, “don’t mind Pearl, she likes to form superwoman, take care of her. Ehn?” ‘Pearl’ here being every woman.

Anyway, I ask her if I will meet her when I return from my run. She says it’s unlikely since she’s leaving with Kollins as he leaves for work. I ask if she will come back before leaving Lagos, which she again says is unlikely. I look appropriately saddened by all this bad news.

I will miss her. Honest, I will. True.

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