The Silence Within: Reflection (Chapter Two)
The death of my father caused mother many sleepless nights. She had emaciated and had a bad shape. She too had been asked by the elders to remain at my father’s personal hut all nights for a whole one year, to keep the fire smoldering with logs of wood. That was her duty to the man she loved. To serve compulsorily those periods of mourning in a show of love to the man she married. I watched mother as she observed her one year compellingly tradition of mourning in respect for my dead father. Our compound, that lonely place which we lived was to us another world. It was a gated area with restricted entrance which was so dull for my liking. Only birds and other domestic animals roamed freely and litter everywhere with their droppings. But it was my home and to me I believed that no matter how good outside home is, there could be no place like home – my ancestral home. The thought of being the first son was the last thing to ever come up in my mind. I was too young to think that way. My feelings were sure to be short-lived, for I had been made to know that the large compound would be mine forever.
For that one year period, she dressed in black from hair to toe, ate little and sometimes nothing. She did not bath for that whole year. For those many nights, she cried like a child and we were worried that mother soon would develop a sickness that would cost her life. That would be bad. Women suffer more in mourning than men.
For the next seven days after the burial of my father, she wept and waited, calling his name loudly all night when everyone must have slept. During these periods, older women came to show their sympathy. At night, she cooked my father’s favorite meal and kept them in his locked room that had been restricted only for her and grandfather. It was believed that they communicate with him at those early days of his death. It was also believed that his memory had not decayed and he(father) could still communicate with the living until the first six months when rain must have made his brain and body decay.
These believe kept me thinking. In the middle of the night, rats would swarm on the food and eat from it, an indication that the spirit of my father was at rest and that he was happy at death with my mother. When she slept, which was seldom, she called and whispered fathers name in her dreams, she smiled too and then she would wake up to start crying again.****************
My mother told me that the fact that the rats ate the food showed she was free from any accusation connected to his death. When I asked mother why they ate only a little of the food, considering that father was a man and men eat heavily, mother told me that father (meaning the rats) did not eat much because he was not happy that he had left us. I listened and believed since I was convinced that mother would not lie to me.
Some nights too, my mother, despite breastfeeding my younger sister would raise her voice in lamentation, calling his name repeatedly. Young Mma and my two younger brothers would wake up many times and cry with vigor until mother lured them back to bed again. I was considered too old to disturb mother, so at these nights I only helped her as much as I could. My mother’s incessant cries had caused me anxiety and many sleepless nights. Sometimes in the night, I would leave my bed to sit closer to her, saying my sorry.
I remembered closely in my mind when the going was good. My father loved his wife like his own soul and never wanted to see her sad-faced. His last living night also came to mind frequently at these times. That night as mother was crying, I began digging deep my last memory with father, the night we talked the way a father talked to his loving son – his first son.
It was a dark and silent night, during the early planting in the year. The moon was in the sky above and glittered to the earth. He was very sick and had been tied to his bed all through the planting season. He had only been told that it was severe iba which had come as a result of long neglect. It was true. Father never believed in the power of medicine. I was told that he used to say that only cowards die young.
I walked with mother into his room to see how he was faring with his sickness. Mother had not been lying close to him since the sickness began because she had been two bodied and lately had put to bed. My father was laid speechless and awake even at that strangest time of the night. He was fully dressed upon his bed; looking as well as he ever looked. His eyes were open, but he was so still that I did not know if he was dead or alive. He was breathing slowly and in pain. Though I was too young to know many things, I knew he was critically sick. I could see his effort in looking in our direction as my mother called and tenderly torched him. He quickly put on a cheerful face and called my name. I put a broad smile on my lips and looked steadily in silence at his face. Excitement built up in my mind and at those times my fears suddenly disappeared. On his sick bed, no one recalled a moment when his face and whole body had been full of joy and life. His age reappeared. He was such a young man, too young to be my father. If it were in the olden days, we could have been blood brothers. As we sat, we looked as though were of the same parents. As the only son, he had married mother so early in his life to keep the family lineage going.
His face suddenly changed. One who had long been sick becomes normal the moment he would die. The battle to belong to the world of the living or the dead was before him. He would have loved to continue. At least, it was better to be sick than to die. My father did not look up to mother again. His attention grew more on me than on my mother. She was a woman and he once challenged mother in my presence that a man become older to his mother the day he comes into the world. No matter how useful mother was to him, I was preferred to her. He must have reasoned that way. He took a fatherly glance at me and squeezed my hands tenderly. It was a good time; he had set it aside to transfer the burden of headship to me. He would not have talked because, he was very weak. My mother picked her way carefully and quietly to answer my younger brother’s call. Her leaving gave my father pleasure, for he could now explain the details that had burdened his mind.
He began to speak slowly and in pain and in an unusual manner. He said many things to my young ear; his sorrows, trials, woes and the hardships that he had endured from the age of four after his mother’s death. He had lost his mother and two sisters on one cold harmatan night during a fire outbreak while his father was away for night hunting in a far distant place from home. He told me how his mother threw him out of the inferno when she could not hold onto life any longer and how he cried the next morning when the body of his mother and two sisters were recovered from the fire burnt and blackened beyond recognition. He also told me how he lost his left eyes at a very tender age after his mother’s death to a very deadly fever and about his fears that his life might soon be cut off.
These stOries were too difficult for me to understand. I was only four or more. I do not know exactly for we did not know how to count with years, but with the rotation of farming in our lands which usually came up every four years or more. I was too young to comprehend the details of his story, but I loved his quiet voice and soft touch. I never imagined I would hear such words from him. He was silent again and when I wanted him to speak more, he could no longer countinue. He was sobered by death’s approach. We were too young to be left with just our mother and my aged grand father. That was his sadness. They were years, when we were too young to be left alone without a man to call our father.
I grew intensely hot with a variety of feelings running through me. I moved closer to him and held him closely. I wanted to hear more. He gasped for breath because he never wanted to die. He wanted to continue with us. So, he fought for air and wanted to say more, but could not. His voice died with him.
A cockcrow suddenly ended my reflection.
By: Emmanuel Ugokwe
To be continued…