Sometimes a child grows having up to ten big mommies. This may include your mother’s best friends, those ones who never ‘mind their business’ and allow you enjoy your teenage years in peace. “Mama Peace, have you noticed Peace’s walking step has changed? Her bumbum has started shaking o. So check her very well! She has started knowing man. The other day I caught her talking to that Okoro boy, when you sent her on an errand. Put eye on her o!” They’ll pull their ear as they warn your mother sending panic into her spine.
Yes, it was common to be summoned to a gathering of stern-faced women, each time you were naughty. A gathering of your mother’s biological sisters, Christian sisters, close friends, neighbours and even landlady; each threatening to deal with you in one way or the other if you dared to misbehave.
As a teenager, you secretly loathe these “Aunties” and wish your paths never cross. As you grow older and begin to understand that they meant well, a strong bond begins to form and you find yourself calling them “mommy” out of respect because they have earned it. As a young woman preparing for your wedding, they are the ones who will spend months beforehand planning and praying for the success of the event, counseling you and even fussing more than you the bride. It is of one such big mommies that I wish to share her story.
Aunty Joan (not real name) was all that and more. She was married to my mother’s eldest brother and was the funky Mommy who loved to be more like us teenagers than the koboko-wielding and bad-mouthed ones. She lived in Lagos and would be the first to tell you what was latest in fashion and makeup. In the 80s when neon eyeshadows and blushers were in vogue, she never failed to apply a generous amount on her eyelids and cheeks. I first saw hair extensions in the 80s on her head, when she fixed them in tracks in between her permed hair.
Fast forward to 1998 during my wedding preparation, my mother conveniently sent me to her for the shopping because she was a typical ‘Omo Eko’ and knew where to find everything. She got all the laces we wore for the wedding, fabrics, and even my wedding ring. I remember her throwing gold rings on the floor at the goldsmith’s, to determine its weight from the sound as it hit the floor. Then she warned the goldsmith in fluent Yoruba to make sure my ring and that of my husband hits the floor with a heavy thud or else he was done for. She owned a big restaurant in Lagos and boasted of bringing ‘Agoyins’ to Warri to cook for my wedding. Every family member knew how much I loved her.
Fast forward again to 2011 when I was pregnant with my fifth child. It was a difficult pregnancy. I suffered pre-eclamsia (pregnancy induced hypertension), my feet were terribly swollen and on July 13th close to my due date, my blood pressure had shot up to 230/160. My doctor later told me my placenta had disintegrated in my body as he spent hours during my emergency caesarean section trying to pull every piece out. I returned home feeling so empty with a lack luster look to life. My other kids told me I was acted strange throughout that period; that I hardly smiled and was so disconnected from them. It could have been signs of post-natal depression; or it could also have been that my sprit knew something I didn’t know.
Weeks later as my strength and mood began to pick up again; I received a call from my Mom. I thought she was calling to apologise for coming late to Abuja for ‘Nkok Uman’ (Omugwo). After our usual gossipy banter, she said she had something to tell me because she didn’t want me to hear it randomly from another family member. Aunt Joan had died. When? I managed to mutter after recovering from my initial shock.
“29th of April, 2011,” She said.
“What??? Three months ago???” My shock and pain heightened. “Why wasn’t I told?”
“You were ill, Ubong and in no condition to receive such devastating news. We all know how much you were fond of her. Nobody had the courage to tell you even now.”
“When will she be buried?” I asked, still managing to sound strong.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, my daughter. She has already been buried.”
“Ahhhhh!!!!” I exclaimed in pain. I couldn’t bear it again. I broke down and started crying.
Apparently I was the last in the family to know. Mom said Aunt Joan had called her the same afternoon she died. It was the same day Prince William and Kate Middleton got married. They were watching the wedding on TV and gushing about the beauty and modesty of the bride’s wedding dress. Then she mentioned she needed a new set of plates to serve customers at her restaurant. Her old plates were worn out and she didn’t have enough money to buy the quality of plates she would have liked. My mom told her a friend had just gifted her with beautiful sets of plates she bought from the United States. She was willing to send them over to her since she had greater need for it. Aunty Joan was so happy.
Later that same evening, her son called my mother. His mother had suffered a sudden heart attack. He quickly called a taxi to rush her to the hospital. She died in the taxi.