I felt like an alien from Uranus whose flying saucer crashed over the earth. I felt strange, so surreal like a character in Salvador Dali’s paintings. Who am I? I asked myself silently, my brain going on overdrive trying to find an answer to the puzzling question. The answer did not seem within reach, but my mind kept probing for it.
I turned my head slowly to the left. I could see a woman… my mother? I began to recollect slowly. She was my mother. She was holding me on my left arm and shoulder. She had this perplexed look that puzzled me, dipping me more into this chasm of confusion. In her face, I could tell that she too had a question needing an answer in her mind. I turned slowly away from her, this time turning to my right. I knew it was Norbert, my fiancé, the moment I saw him. He didn’t look strange like mother had looked when I first saw her. Norbert was holding my right arm with his left hand while his other arm held a brown silk bag. I could see a dress…my dress…haphazardly stuffed into it, like it was done in a rush. Looking at Norbert’s face, I could tell that he looked baffled, but his masculinity hid it like a black cloth in the darkness of the night.
Who am I? The question screamed again in my mind. None of the faces around me seemed to have the answer I craved. I tried to talk. I opened my mouth, but no words came out. Just air.
Have I forgotten how to talk?
I tried again, this time I heard a word filter out from my voice box.
“Mother,” I heard myself say. After saying it, I began to recall.
So I can talk. I can speak a familiar language.
I felt other words filling my brain in more multitudes than I could count.
These guys are trying to hide something from me. I’m sure of it.
“What is wrong with you guys?” There was no answer.
“Tola,” it was mother’s voice that rescued me from my reverie.
“Yes ma,” I answered and turned to her, “Please what is happening?”
“Tola,” she called again. This time she was holding my arms, shaking them as she started to repeat my name.
“What is wrong mummy?” my voice shook as I spoke because she was still shaking me. She released me as soon as she heard my reply.
She burst out in praise song and married it with a delirious dance steps.
“Jesu mi seun seun, Olorun mi seun …”
I turned left. Norbert wasn’t dancing, but he was also singing the song, not lip-syncing like he used to do when we attended church on Sundays.
It is a bad thing when one is submerged like a submarine in an ocean of mystery, veiled by darkness while breathing uncertainty, trying hard to swim to an uncertain future. This kind of state can make someone go mad.
Mother stopped dancing and set her gaze on me, holding me like she did before she broke off with the song and dance. “Tola,” she called again.
This time, my voice was intertwined with a mixture of tiredness and bewilderment, “Yes ma.” I released myself from her grip. “I don’t understand all of this.” I looked at myself. I noticed I was wearing an oversized blouse and wrapper. I quickly recognized them to be mother’s. It was one of those old faded dresses she stopped wearing about six months ago.
What the heck am I doing wearing Mother’s old dresses?
I watched Mother’s excited face fall. She must have seen me looking at the oversized dress.
“Tola, it is nothing,” she said slowly.
“What do you mean by it is nothing. I’m wearing one of your old dress, and you say it is nothing.”
I hadn’t noticed till now that we were in a church compound. “We are in a church on a ….?” I tapped my forehead trying to remember the day of the week. The answer wasn’t forthcoming, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t a Sunday because we were the only ones in the compound.
“Em…em…em…Tola…em,” Mother babbled, obviously trying to conjure a perfect lie that would soothe the situation.
“What is it mum?” I swirled round in slow motion to Norbert’s face. “What is wrong with me? Why am I dressed like this. Why are we in a church?”
There was an eerie of silence. I watched Norbert and mother as they exchanged eye signs.
This people know something I don’t know. Something bad I suppose.
“Tola, you passed out,” Nobert said. I had known Norbert to always speak English like that man in the House of Representatives who loved using big words.
“What are you saying… passed out. From where?”
He smiled, obviously trying to build his confidence. “The passed out I meant is fainting.”
Faint. My mind travelled back to my modern biology textbook. Fainting occurs when there is no supply of oxygen to the brain.
But what does that has to do with Church and mother’s old dress?
“You mean I fainted. So the next thing is putting mother’s old dress on me and bringing me to a church! You know how ridiculous that sounds.”
My last sentence caught Norbert unaware. He made to talk, probably in defense, but he opened his mouth and no sound came out. He must have processed my last sentence in his mind and saw that his explanation wasn’t valid for someone of my age.
“Your fainting was out of the ordinary.” Mother said slowly, rescuing Norbert from his perplexed jail. “You fainted for a very long time, and we thought you wouldn’t wake up again. We were bringing you to the church when you woke up.” I could see a tiny stream of tears flowing a downward course on mother’s cheeks. Norbert began to console her.
While mother’s explanation coupled with her emotional breakdown made sense, she didn’t explain why I was wearing her old dress.
Maybe all my dresses were dirty or maybe mother didn’t want me to wear jeans to the church, after all, I didn’t have the skirts or roomy blouses she always wanted me to wear. That explanation made sense.
I sauntered towards mother and joined Norbert to console her.
After the fiasco at the church compound two week ago, I noticed that Mother still kept close watch on me. Not once, not twice, did I catch her tip-toeing to my room at night, like a voyeur, to watch me while I sleep. Sometimes during the day, I would catch her staring at me for long periods. She didn’t allow me to go out. She ran all the errands herself. Maybe she was being over-protective because she didn’t want me to fall into that deadly faint again. She also took a short leave from work.
By the second week, she had stopped been over-protective and let me be. She resumed work on the third week.
One evening, I took the grocery basket to run some market errands because mother was getting late in arriving from work. If she were around, I knew she wouldn’t approve my going to the market, but since she wasn’t around, I thought I had better use the opportunity to leave house for the first time in three weeks!
The road to Sabo market looked similar yet strange. There were few deviations from what I remembered—an on-going road constructions and a new Promo billboard for Borila’s food seasoning.
Something felt odd about going to the market. Everyone kept staring at me like I was wearing a provocative dress that showed my bum and cleavage, or as if I had feces stained on my dress. I looked at myself trying to find out why they were staring at me. Unable to find anything out of place, I ignored them. But my mind didn’t. It kept throbbing for answer in a way that reminded me of the day mother said I fell into an extended faint.
The market felt different even though nobody stared at me. Everyone went about business, making a cacophony in the process.
I looked at my ‘to-buy’ list. My regular pepper and tomatoes seller’s stall was at the next bend.
Iyawo’s stall loomed ahead. People called her Iyawo because she was yet to prove she was a woman even after four years of marriage. People talked. Some said she had aborted all the babies inside her when she was younger. While others claimed her mother in-law was a witch and that she had tied Iyawo’s womb because she didn’t like her. They added that she wouldn’t have allowed the marriage had it not being for her son’s headstrong attitude. The most absurd of the theories about Iyawo’s childlessness blamed it on her being a gossip. While it was true that Iyawo told gossips better than Linda Ikeji, I didn’t believe that was why she hadn’t been able to give birth to a child. The explanation reeks of stupidity to me.
I arrived at her stall. She was attending to another customer, so she might not have noticed me. It wasn’t until the customer left that she looked at me. I noticed the change in her face.
“Iyawo is everything alright?” I asked, waving my palms over her face. My waving seemed to jerk her from her reverie.
“What is it? You looked disturbed.”
“No… em…” I caught her observing me keenly like she had seen a ghost
“It is me Tola,” I stressed the ‘Tola’, hitting my chest with my hand as I did. “What is wrong with you?”
“Nothing Tola, don’t mind me.” I could hear the sanity in her voice. She sounded balanced.
“You scared me,” I exhaled, then I used my right hand to fan myself as a relief. “I thought you were running mad.”
“Mad ke. Olorun maje.” She snapped her right fingers together and threw it over her head. “May we never experience it, and those who have experienced it, may they never fall back into it.”
“Amin.” I guessed she would follow her prayer with a gossip, so I quickly gave her my orders to keep her busy. “I want pepper and tomatoes…N150.”
“Do you know Bisi,” she started, “that tall, slim girl that looks like a stick?”
“You will know her. She lives in last house on your street.”
“Yes I do.” I answered, not wanting to appear rude and negligent.
“I heard she has HIV.”
“What!” I exclaimed, my right hand covering my opened mouth.
“So you are surprised. Don’t you know she is an olosho?”
“Iyawo, na you go know everything.” I used my hands to beckon her to hasten up with the pepper and tomatoes she was picking. I moved to help her.
“Don’t worry Tola, I’m through.” She wrapped the pepper and tomatoes inside a black plastic bag and handed it to me. “Here take.”
I paid, collected my balance, greeted her goodbye and moved to continue my shopping. I was almost at the meat stall when I noticed that I couldn’t hear the clanging of my keys in my pocket. I was surprised at first when I rummaged my pocket, and I didn’t see it. I checked the grocery basket, but I didn’t see it there too. It occurred to me that I must have forgotten it on Iyawo’s stall. Without further thoughts, I made my way back to her stall.
Iyawo’s stall loomed ahead, so I quicken my pace. There were about three women in her stall. As I got closer to the stall, I could hear their conversation.
I hear a clap of hands. “Ehn en Iya Risi, shebi you know Tola? That girl that lives near chief Akintoye’s house.” The voice was unmistakably Iyawo’s.
“Tola…Tola…Tola… I don’t know her o.”
“You do. Let me remind you. She is slim and tall. Ehn en, she is the fiancée of Norbert, that Igbo boy that lives close to the canal.”
“Now I remember her. I even saw her today sef.”
By now, I had stopped moving, listening attentively to the gossip Iyawo was about to tell about me.
“Didn’t you notice that she disappeared for about a month now?”
“You are right. But I thought she had travelled.”
“Travel nibo. She ran mad!”
“No Iyawo, iro ni o. The Tola I saw today didn’t look mad.”
“Siddon there. It is true that she got healed miraculously when they took her to a church, but madness never truly cures. Better warn your children not to get close to her should in case she falls back to her episodes and bites them.”
I didn’t wait to hear the rest of their conversation. The floodgates in my eyes opened and a flood of tears flowed down my cheek.
Reality is hard to swallow. I remembered Mother and Norbert’s explanation, and at that moment, I felt betrayed like Samson after Delilah tricked him into cutting his hairs.
I felt as if I were being thrown back to Uranus. I felt surreal like a character in Salvador Dali’s paintings. I felt like I was wearing mother’s old dress again. I felt tangled.
Post image by Art Gallery ErgsArt – by ErgSap via Flickr
About the Author:
Kay Greins is an eccentric storyteller who likes thrillers, mysteries and conspiracies more than the way prostitutes like sex. He is currently working on the compilation of short stories alongside doing the research of his debut novels. His world have appeared in Al-fahm magazine, magazine, Naijastories, Elsieisy, amongst many others.