Grandma is coming today, we are all happy, all of us except for mummy. They don’t get on well. Mummy said grandma still doesn’t recognize her membership in the family much less than she did when she was newly married into the family. We didn’t know what the problem between the two women was or rather, we didn’t bother to know as long as it was a subtle war between two women dear to our young hearts. We girls have gotten to like grandma for her many folk tales she told us before we slept, but we sensed how mummy always kept a safe distance from grandma. Knowing how stern mummy was, we grown girls knew that if not for the fear she had for daddy, she would have declared an embargo on even the scent of grandma’s self. It had been some time we last visited grandma, but she was visiting today and we were excited.
Grandma arrived, late that evening in daddy’s car and settled down pleasantly into her room and the urban life of the household. The first day came and went, so did the second and third days, and then things started becoming dramatic.
On that Friday night, we watched many episodes of an interesting Mexican soap opera. Olamma curled up comfortable like a cat in the sofa was nibbling at a pack of her favourite Digestive biscuits. We had arrived at a consensus to pause the movie at that stage when most of us had started getting drowsy to continue the next day being a Saturday and a holiday. We made to retire to our shared bedroom while Olamma fetched a broom to sweep away the crumbs of biscuits scattered on the tiled floor for fear of an invasion of ants before morning. She was sweeping when grandma silently entered the sitting room for reasons we couldn’t explain.
“Taa! Stop that!” she ordered, startling us girls.
“Why would you be sweeping at this time of the night?” she queried
“Mama, I’m sweeping away crumbs” I answered on Olamma’s behalf for she didn’t seem fully recovered from the shock to be able to speak.
“Weren’t you children trained? Don’t you know that it is a taboo to sweep at night? That you are sweeping away the wealth of this household?” She asked alarmed
We were dumbfounded. We didn’t know what next to say or do and then sensing our dilemma, she advised we sweep together the crumbs at a corner of the house only to dispose of them by daybreak. That night, we shared her bed while she regaled us with stories of when daddy was still a boy in the village, weeding her farm, carrying her wares to the market and getting into scuffles with other boys his age.
The next incidence happened two days later when Dr Nnorom, daddy’s friend came to examine grandma. He came accompanied by an elderly nurse who took grandma’s blood pressure while Doctor Nnorom asked grandma some questions about how she felt and grandma in her most characteristic exuberant manner explained in detail every unusual digression of her body from its youthful mechanic making the doctor and the nurse laugh in amusement. We were all in the sitting room with daddy watching the drama and sharing in the fun except for mummy had gone to the hairdresser’s to gossip on the pretext that she had gone for a hairdo. We knew she was keeping as much distance as she could from grandma. Even daddy knew, but he would prefer the normalcy to an all-out war with himself caught in between loyalty to mother and wife.
Doctor Nnorom had asked to take a look at grandma’s medication and Ugonnaya had immediately scuttled off her perch on the sofa to go fetch grandma’s drugs in her room.
“Stop there!” grandma ordered Ugonnaya, surprising everybody with her sudden change in mood
“Don’t you know you are in your nso, unholy period? Don’t you know it is sacrilegious to go into my chambers when in your monthly menstrual period?” she queried a shame-faced Ugonnaya who stood transfixed where she had been halted crippled by shame at the exposure of her monthly period to the men present.
“It’s okay mama” Dr Nnodim soothed grandma in his calm but assuring doctor’s voice. “you see, these are children that live in a modern world. The modern culture as we know it recognizes no taboos and sacrileges. I even I’m just getting to know now that it is a taboo for a menstruating woman to enter an old woman’s chambers not to talk of children just born yesterday”
“That is the problem with you people. You have come to the townships and now behave like people who never had enough of breast milk. You behave like you don’t have any culture whatsoever. I don’t know for certain, but I have a feeling that the white men you people try to copy have a culture. Look at my son, Ebere” she said gesticulating at daddy. All eyes followed her hand to daddy’s face which looked truly the son being chastised by his mother .
“Look at him closely. Doesn’t he look pale? From eating all those nonsense he calls food which that township woman feeds him; tea, bread, eggs, and vegetables like he were one of his father my late husband’s sheep. He doesn’t any longer eat food befitting of a fully fledged man, no cocoyams, akpu, ji-mmiri-oku, ofe oha and all those foods that sustained many of his ancestors before him. chai” she shrugged her shoulders in regret “only if my bones were what the used to be in my hay days, I would have made him good food and revived him into a man he is meant to be, the man his fathers were and the man I dreamt he would become”
“Mama….” Doctor Nnodim was about to say something, but grandma wasn’t done with her drama, instead his intrusion seemed to divert her attention to him
“Even you onye dibia bekee – English doctor -I see you are very friendly with my son. Do you mean to tell me that you have no culture from where you come? You are nwa afo Igbo – an Igbo son of the soil – I see it in your face, I feel it in the rhythm of your blood flow. Are you also guilty of disbanding your culture for none? How would you tell me that you don’t know of the sacrilege of a woman’s monthly flow? That is why me of nowadays are weak like the ndi ocha,- white men – they try to imitate; the sleep in the same room, on the same bed with their wives all the days of their productive years. In my time, it wasn’t so; a man would have his own room, his obi and his own bed to himself, while his wives as many as they may be would have their separate huts to themselves. When the woman was sound, the man invites her to his obi or goes in to her when he desires. That way, men of old lived stronger and healthier than you now do”
“Mama, your blood pressure is very high. If you keep up like this, you might suffer a stroke and be bedridden for a very long time” Doctor Nnodim warned. That seemed to shut grandma up because even though she wagged her tongue fearlessly at anybody, she feared death so much. I remember when she had visited some few years back. That morning she had asked to bath and was directed to the bathroom. On seeing the gleaming white tub and directed to crawl in, she let out a scream, threatening to go back to the village to bear the news to her kinsmen that her son had conspired to lay her in a white coffin while she was still breathing. It took daddy’s calm intervention to calm her down, but still yet she refused using the bath tub and daddy had to call in a plumber to dismantle the tub and a shower was installed instead.
On the morning of the fifth day, we sat on table for breakfast, mummy at the head of the table and we girls three to two on either side. Daddy had gone off early to work in his usual fashion, he usually had tea for breakfast prepared by his secretary in the law office, grandma hadn’t stirred from her bedroom yet, so we sipped our tea and ate our bread with eggs and lettuce, chatting amongst ourselves except for mummy who sipped her black coffee in silence, mumbling only a few words in reply to Nwanyibunwa whose childish exuberance failed to decipher the hint that mummy preferred not to be bothered. She was the last child, pampered and favoured, a lovely child that couldn’t keep quiet for a second except on the rare occasions when she was down with fever.
Grandma walked labouriously into the dining room, wincing at the pain in her arthritic ankle.
“Good morning grandma!” filled the air as we all tried to surpass each other voice in greeting grandma, except for mummy of course. She waited until the greetings had ended before offering a ‘ibola chi?’; have you awoken?
“eee” grandma replied walking around the table and sitting down on one of the dining chairs from across Nwanyibunwa
“Chineke ekwela ngwere gbaa aji!: God forbid the lizards to grow hairs” grandma exclaimed. “The world has really turned upside down”
“What is it?” mummy asked a bit alarmed, snatched from her prior detachment
“What are you feeding these children?” she asked, peering into Nwanyibunwa’s plate. Mummy was at a loss at what grandma was talking about, her lips quivered but no words came out.
“What is that I see in your plate Nwanyibunwa? Eggs?”
“You want some?” Nwanyibunwa asked innocently, reaching out for her knife to divide her boiled egg in half for grandma, “but you will have to brush your teeth before eating” she added as she went about the task of halving her egg.
Grandma ignored her, “in my time, children never ate eggs, it turns them into thieves. Thieving is not in our blood nwanyi a (this woman), it is too serious a blight to inject into our blood line” she said referring to mummy.
Mummy just got up and left, visibly infuriated. We exchanged looks amongst ourselves, even Nwanyibunwa knew that mummy was on her elastic limit on averting a war. We knew that grandma had offended our mother and we were torn in between the two people we love, reluctant to take sides. Nwanyibunwa, being the child she was couldn’t mask the dilemma from her countenance, she stared hard and long at grandma in indignation.
“Why is your face as rough as though it was used as a shield to separate two warring housewives?” she asked Nwanyibunwa
“Grandma, you shouldn’t always be at war with our mother” I broached the matter in the most diplomatic manner I could without stirring a hornet’s nest and at the same time not make light of my aim.
Grandma exhaled sharply, looked us all in the eyes in turns, “My children” she said in a surprisingly benevolent tone, “I have to tell you a story”, and there at the dining table, she told us the story of Ezeonyeagwalam, a story whose interest gradually wiped out the indignation from our hearts and face.
“Ezeonyeagwalam was a very powerful king and proud” she began “so powerful and feared was he that he was widely known far and wide, but then he had a flaw; he hated being advised. He had killed many a man that offered him advise or so much as suggested anything to him, and so he was never advised nor was anybody suicidal enough as to suggested anything against his whims.
One day, Ezeonyeagwalam led a delegation of chiefs to Umuabiam, a village across on the other side of the forest known for their wrestling contests, he was to be the guest of honour. He summoned a large entourage of chieftains and musicians to give sway to the procession as they journeyed through the footpath. Ezeonyeagwalam of course was at the head of the procession dressed in one of his finest flowing ceremonial robes, swaying in a swagger to the flute player who sang his praises and extolled his many feats.
Halfway along the bush path, Ezeonyeagawalam needed to defaecate. The procession waited patiently for him while he ran into the cover of the bushes to empty his bowels.
Unbeknownst to the proud king, a mound of faeces rested precariously on a cocoyam leaf, and so when he stooped near the cocoyam plant to defaecate, he disturbed the leaf and it bent over, depositing the faeces onto the defaecating king’s back.
Ezeonyeagwalam, satisfied of a free bowel, joined the patient delegation aghast with surprise on the mound of faeces saddled onto their king’s back. The flute played, the drums beat and Ezeonyeagwalam swayed in pride, oblivious of the cargo on his back. The musicians saw it, the delegation saw it, but nobody wanted to die and so nobody told him as he danced to Umuabiam with a mound of faeces on his back.
He got to Umuabiam, dancing to the wrestling square. The people of Umuabiam wrinkled their noses in disgust at the king dancing with a mound of faeces on his back. They thought it to be a culture among his people, but they refused him a seat on the square, and so the proud Ezeonyeagwalam was disgraced and returned home to his place without the drums nor the flute singing his praises.
“Why didn’t you tell me I had a mound of faeces on my back?” he finally asked his chiefs
“We know you to be proud, we have seen what you have done to the many who tried advising you and none of us wanted to share in their fates”
From that day, Ezeonyeagwalam became a changed king that welcomed advises from even the lowliest in the land” grandma rounded up her story. We all remained silent and wide-eyed digesting the moral of the story.
“You see, your mother is an Ezeonyeagwalam. She wouldn’t like my suggestions on anything having to do with her nor with this family. She can’t bear my son a heir to the family name because she can’t bear anymore children, so the doctors say, and yet she wouldn’t let my son have a second wife.’’
Then we got let in a secret of the bone of contention between the both women, just as we known on grandma’s last visit that Doctor Nnorom’s wife had been daddy’s sweet heart in their early years.
We loved grandma, but with every of her visits came tension and revelations that jolted our innocent perception of our parents. Nothing has still changed. We them all still.