It is women’s history month, and the beauty and magic of mother-daughter relationships is on our minds. A few days ago, Nigerian media personality Funmi Iyanda posted a heartbreakingly beautiful piece on her mother who she hasn’t seen for the past few decades.
The essay is built around the uncertainties surrounding her mother’s absence in her life. Her mother left the house one day and never came back. She may have died in a road accident, but no one really knows. Decades later, as you can imagine, Iyanda is still grappling with that moment of loss.
In the essay, staged as a conversation between herself and her mother who now lives in some kind of ancestral sphere, Iyanda explores questions of life, memory, loss, death, and becoming. She layers her memories of her mother and the impact of her passing on to her experience with raising a daughter of her own.
Heads up. You may want to grab a few tissues before you begin reading this. The essay is tear-jerker, not because it is sad or sensational, but because Iyanda draws on images, yearnings, and memories of childhood that are devastatingly beautiful because they are familiar. The writing is so honest and heartfelt it will sink hooks into your heart.
Funmi: So, Did you die?
Funmi: That’s a relief; I spent too long thinking you may be lost.
Yetunde: Lost, how?
Funmi: I knew you would not have abandoned us but since we couldn’t find your body and l didn’t want you to be dead, l imagined you lost your memory and was wandering the streets. I would look closely at those unfortunate souls led around in chains by white garment church healers checking that you were not one of them. I learnt the word amnesia, which was a big word for a skinny girl in primary four to carry around.
Yetunde: It must have been hard.
Funmi: It didn’t feel so initially, everything came later.
So, how did you die?
Yetunde: l was just, no more.
Funmi: Do you remember the events of that morning?
Yetunde: Do you?
Funmi: I have no recollection of that day other than after dark when people started to gather and chatter around our house.
Aunty mi Toyin told me years later that she had ironed your dress for work and you’d had a little quarrel with Daddy mi who didn’t think you should be returning to work so early after a difficult pregnancy and birth. She wished for years that she had somehow stopped you. Daddy must have beaten himself up about that too. I envied her memory of your last day alive.
Yetunde: What memories do you have?
Funmi: Only little snap shots, the clearest of which is you sitting outside our house in Onabola examining my bag after school to be sure there was nothing in there that didn’t belong to me. I was scared of you, you were the one with the cane. I also remember your laugh, your dance and that scar on your forehead from the accident in Ijebu. I allowed no memories for decades until recently when l started recalling moments of your tenderness. One of the most vivid is of you moisturising your skin and my fascination with the stretch marks on the stomach and buttocks of your lithe body. You‘d had eight children by age 39. I used to be sure l’d not make it to 40 either so l did everything like time was ticking away.
Anyways, l’m talking too much which is strange because l hadn’t kept a picture of you for 35 years, l did not want to see you.
Yetunde: So, how are you Aduke.
Funmi: I don’t know Maami. I killed Aduke early on but kept Mary for a while, then I adopted Funmi until l discovered recently that Aduke hadn’t died. I’m trying to persuade her it’s safe to come out to play again. She’s pretty cool, that one, Aduke, so fragile. Why did you call her Aduke?
Yetunde: Because you were considerably loved, I already had four daughters from two marriages; l wanted a son for your father. You were not a son but you were so lively and beautiful, everyone fell in love with you so we called you Aduke. You are the only one of my children we called by her oriki because your oriki is your reality. Why did you become Funmi?
Funmi: I guess Aduke seemed to represent everything l wanted to leave behind, what l perceived to be my vulnerabilities and weaknesses. It wasn’t conscious. You and daddy had registered me as Mary for school so l was one person at home and another in school. School came to represent an escape so l preferred Mary till l got to university when l no longer felt like a Mary. There, one of my friends asked what my other names were, l said Funmilola, so we both adopted Funmi as l didn’t want anyone but daddy and aunty mi Toyin calling me Lola in that affectionate way of theirs which is too much like love. Not that l realised all this at the time. I just became Funmi, which my 20 year old self thought was funky, distant and safe. All my certificates are still to Mary Aduke. Anyway I am digressing. How did you die maami?
Yetunde: What does it matter?
Funmi: It does because it drove me mad imagining how you may have died. That madness didn’t abate till l became Funmi. Through my teenage years l wondered what it was like to be burned alive, seeing so many lynchings on the streets in Lagos didn’t help. I used to stand by and watch mobs set some randomly accused young man ablaze , l never saw them lynch women. I would watch the doomed man struggle then go limp as he loses the futile plea with the flames. The gnarled blackened corpse always seemed to point upwards accusingly.
Yetunde: What does that have to do with my death?
Funmi: No one ever explained what may have happened to you. Everyone thinks children are stupid, l did something similarly thoughtless. I did not allow my Morenike out of school for her aunty Remi’s burial. Remi was a mother figure to both of us. She later told me how bad she felt about that and how sad she was to loose Remi, I do let her talk and laugh about her Aunty Remi’s idiosyncrasies. I also let her talk about Daddy mi whom she called Grandpa Badagry, and Mama Seun our housekeeper. They all died one after the other and rather unexpectedly, although one really must think death a constant expectation. l let Morenike talk about everything she wants, I hope what l do suffices, you never know with children.
Yetunde: Why did you call her Morenike?
Funmi: I didn’t, her father’s father did, he was blind which helped him see everything. I gave her a name in resignation to the entrapment l had allowed myself into at the time. She likes the name because it seems choppy and modern. Boluwatife, as God wills. She likes Bolu or Tife , which seems very androgynous and cool but she is a Morenike, one to pamper and cherish. I think she’s happier with it now, Mo is an abbreviation that suits her personality. She doesn’t like small talk and girly stuff that fries the brain as she calls it. I have explained that intellect is not male or female, it just is. I told her that it’s ignorance or deliberate mischief that make people assign masculinity to clarity of mind and forthright speech in women. I let her know that intelligence is taught, as is ignorance.
Yetunde: Why did you have just the one?
Funmi: I actually didn’t want any, it felt like l had spent my life being a mother to many, l also didn’t trust life enough to bestow it upon anyone else. Does this make sense Maami?
Yetunde: Yes it does
Funmi: The irony of it of course is that what you run from becomes you as l went on to become mother to too many but we can talk about that later.
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