Mother never chided us in public. She simply said, “your space is almost full Abinla”, “This is your fifth entry Doubra” or “you are my fifth candidate for the month Ebitari”. She had a log, a big brown book with gold specs and red rims on it. She documented each of our offences by date and presented them to Baba at the end of the month.
Baba was in the armed forces, a soldier serving in Ibadan at the time. He only came home for three days at the end of the month – the day he arrived, the day after and the day he left. During these days, our house was full of laughter and energy because Baba radiated life whenever he was around. He had a way with children. I remember him tossing me round our house when I was little and doing the same to Ebitari years later. He would buy gifts for anybody whose names appeared in mother’s book more ‘’you little miscreant eh! I see you have gotten your mother’s attention this time’’. Soon enough we started competing for the position of highest troublemaker. The twins always came out on top because they were specifically made for trouble. But our offences started numbering up to 20 so Baba said he would keep on rewarding us as long as our name appeared on the good side more. Mother didn’t react to any of this so we thought that she wasn’t aware, but that evening she made Baba’s favorite meal, Pounded yam and Genger soup. Baba liked Yam to a fault and he was the only one that enjoyed dinner that night.
The rest of us preferred mother’s delicacy which she cooked every weekend at the fireplace at the back of the house because it took too long to cook. She would sing while cooking, native songs of war and love. Her voice was beautiful and different. Mother said she used to sing with the other girls in the village when she was much younger. They would sing for the soldiers passing the village for supplies. Their voices, soothing their wounded souls. Soon it became a ritual and we started soloing during the weekends with mother. Abinla had the first Saturday of the month, I had the second. The twins got every third Saturday, but only Ebiye sang; Bide refused because he believed singing was for girls. Ebitari was the only one who didn’t have a stable Saturday because Baba always came home at that time of the month, then mother would have to cook Tiv dishes so there was no need to do the singing. Tari was constantly clingy towards Abinla and she complained about it until mother said “you are becoming too old for such things anyway, maybe you should be removed so the others can have more space”. My sister kept her mouth shut afterwards. We craved mother’s attention and if Saturdays were the only day we could have it then no one was willing to let go.
Mother was a Kebbian beauty whom Baba “won as a trophy when he served in Gwandu”. That was what he said to the Sergeant at the roadblock when he had him beaten in jail for wooing mother. Mother said she fell in love with his charm and big stature. Of course she didn’t tell us such things, it was all in her big book. But when Baba asked for her hand in marriage, her father turned him down. Times were rough in Kebbi and the land had lost many of her sons in the brutal war. He didn’t lose his legs in the war only to have his daughter lose her husband and the father of her children and he had seen enough bloodshed. Her father told Baba that as long as he (Baba) was remained in the army, he couldn’t marry his daughter. Mother gave herself to Baba without the consent of her father. When grandfather found out, he got furious so she fled to Baba’s camp where he married her secretly because she was already with child. The day Abinla was born, there was merry in the camp. Abinla was the first baby girl to be born in a long, long time. “A girl born by Zara would wow heads”, they said. “She would surely fetch a lot of money”. Baba was drunk with joy so he named her Abinla, a name befitting a princess. But when mother took the baby to grandfather, he said to her “come back when you have a son, Zarau”. I was born the following year and mother cried because a baby boy would restore her starined relationship with grandfather. Baba christened me Disemi meaning Gods work, but mother called me Doubra meaning desire.
Baba was deployed that year to Benue, but his people did not receive mother well. They had prepared a Tiv wife for him already, “a nice girl from a good family, not this Hausa scag”, his people said. “What were those things clutching to her? Ha! Not even a son….Baba ought to do a paternity test and send this thing away”. Baba took mother quietly and came to Lagos so as to find peace. When I was two, mother gave birth to a set of twins, a boy and a girl. Her joy was boundless and this time Baba let her choose the names. The boy she gave Ebide meaning I am now successful and the girl was called Ebiye meaning A good thing. When the twins were three months old she sent a telegram to grandfather.
* I have Baba a son now*
* His name is Ebide*
He is three months old
The reply came a month later from her brother, Samad.
Baba is dead
He died in April
Why didn’t she send the letter earlier? Baba would have heard before he died. She shouldn’t worry anyway because what is done is done. Grandfather died happy because Anaette his wife from Senegalese had a bouncing set of twin boys before his stroke. Maybe mother should come for their birthday in November. Mother didn’t acknowledge the letter and she didn’t go in November. She took in the next year and gave birth to girl. Baba called her Ebitari because he hoped the baby would bring good love back into their lives, but something died in mother with her father’s death.
By the end of the year, Baba was transferred and started coming home once a month and when I was in SS1, he stopped visiting regularly. I didn’t miss him too much. Maybe because I was concerned with other things, like the boy in my class Bolu who always complained that I was too tall for a girl my age or because I had just started my period and the joy of becoming a woman was no longer a thrilling idea because it was frustrating to live like that for the rest of my life, but when I didn’t see it the next time I ran to Abinla. Pregnancy wasn’t included in my agenda and I couldn’t tell such things to mother, one embarrassing report was enough. Abinla allayed my fears and they subsided soon after that. However, Baba’s infrequent visits worried me when the duration started increasing. I worried that he would leave us because he was tired of the family. I had heard stories about divorce and broken homes. I didn’t want to be an example of such for people. These fears drove me to mother’s room when she was not around, that was where I found her book, the one she wrote her story. I found letters from Baba as well. I didn’t finish the book that day, but I read it through that year. It changed things in our lives so when Ebiye had her tubes tied and Bide decided to become a Catholic Priest, mother didn’t ask questions but we knew. Baba didn’t leave us, he kept coming back month after month till he retired. He died a year after retirement of a heart attack. At the funeral, Ebiye said mother killed him. Tari countered her, it was simply his time, but that was the last time mother saw Ebitari. She went back to England and didn’t come for Abinla’s wedding.
Ebiye told me a year later that she and Ebide still said mass for Baba in America. I was the only one that stayed in Nigeria. I didn’t leave when Bolu got that teaching job in America, the one he called his dream job. I didn’t leave when he advised that I have the baby in America. ‘’for someone as tall as you are, being scared of flying is a strange thing. You see things a little higher than every other person don’t you?’’ Bolu asked once.
‘‘But you are taller than me, does it seem that way when you are in the plane?’’
He chuckled, ‘‘but you are still the tallest girl I know’’
‘’Not too tall for my age I hope’’
‘’Goodness no! You are just perfect’’.
“Being tall has nothing to do with flying you know?”
‘’True’’ he sighed and left it at that.
It was easier to let Bolu believe that I was scared of flying. Maybe I couldn’t leave because of the tie I had with mother or because Baba was in the solid earth behind our old house and I was waiting for mother’s approval before I could leave.
“She has been gone for a year!” Bolu yelled when we had that argument.
“You need to move on Doubra” He said when he filed for divorce months later, but I signed the paper without a glitch because I knew that even If I thought about it, I couldn’t leave mother. Not yet.