-the funloving, but hardworking single parent
By Treena Kwenta
Hi Readers! It takes a lot of courage to sleep when there’s so much sorrow in the house, so, needless to say that I found it difficult to go to sleep in Tayo’s room to which Liz, Boma, Becky and I had retired for the night.
A female relation stayed with mama in her room, while Tayo, her brothers and the two doctors, were with papa in his room, keeping vigil. Seb slept in the boys’ room next door.
Around 1 a.m. I heard hurried feet in the corridor, then wailings. My heart sank. Had papa passed on? Since I had not slept a wink, I was the first to leap to my feet. I rushed out toward’s papa’s room. It was filling up with people; Seb, the two young wives, relatives, etc.
“What happened?‘ I heard Seb ask.
“Papa’s gone to join his ancestors,” announced a mature man, who seemed a close family friend, or relation. “He tried. He would have been 88 later this year. My dad, his childhood friend, left us before he turned sixty, many years ago.”
Tayo was on the floor, rolling over and over. Two of her brothers had their arms and heads on the wall, sobbing silently. Their doctor brother was with papa’s doctors, tidying him up. Oh my God! I sank to my knees to join Tayo on the floor. The gals rushed in to join me there.
She was sobbing uncontrollably. Mama, we learnt, had suddenly come in just after mid-night, as if on intuition, to throw herself on the husband, trying to cradle him in her arms, and was calling his name. He tried to get up as if in response, and then he fell back, shook slightly, and stayed still. Mama fainted rightaway, and was carried to her room. The other two wives were hovering in the corridor, wailing.
Before we retired for the night, I had had the foresight to ring up mama’s two nephews and a niece; students, who reside with Tayo, to tell them to come to Abeokuta, first thing in the morning; that they might be needed. I was surprised when one of Tayo’s brothers told me that they had driven down post haste and had arrived shortly after mid-night, and were around when papa passed on..
“They’re with mama in her room,” he added, when we had got Tayo safely to her room, and a doctor had seen to her. She fell asleep almost immediately
“I’m so sorry about papa passing on,” I told her brothers, when we returned to the sitting room.
“Thanks Treena, sis,” said the eldest. “He was the oldest in the community. He returned from Ibadan to live here permanently about five years ago. He told us he had just one age-mate left, and it was time to relocate to his roots. That age-mate passed on in October last year and papa was distraught. Hm! The final curtain has fallen. Papa!”
News of papa passing on spread quickly throughout the village that night, and those who could, came to stay with the family till daybreak. Soon, there was a crowd.
Apparently, papa had made it known to all and sundry that he wasn’t to be put in the morgue whenever he passed on, but must be buried within twenty-four hours, with prayers said by the priest of his local church. He said after three months, the family can then make merry with thanksgiving.
The priest had been at the alert, and he was told immediately papa breathed his last. He came with another priest and some church members, to hold a short wake-keep. The solidarity was incredible. People came with their chairs and sat around.
“What do we serve them after the service?” Becky, the events planner/hospitality manager among us, asked.
“At four o’clock in the morning?” asked Liz. “Any need since the gathering wasn’t planned for?”
“It’s a wake-keep, all the same, and guests should be served. The mere fact that they left their beds to come honour the family is enough reason to give them something to chew and drink. It’s what Tayo would have wanted had she been in a position to handle this.”“
“That’s true, Becky,” I agreed. “But what can one serve? It’s too early for soft drinks and what snacks can one get at this time of the morning?”
“Sandwiches and tea fit the bill,” said Becky. “It would be most welcome since it’s a bit chilly this night. I’ll ask where we can get sliced bread that we can make into sandwiches.”
“That’s a good idea,” I said. “I’‘ll go ask who runs a store, and if we can get tins of sardines, bread , tea, etc.”
People were only too glad to help. What could not be got in the village, was got from the other villages around. It was a good thing that Tayo’s two drivers came from Lagos with us. It was easy to dash around the villages, assembling what was needed. Soon, huge cooking pots were filled with water and set on the fire to make the beverages we got.
I was wondering if it would be in order to ask the guests if they could please help bring their own cups, when I saw one of papa’s young wives. She told me that they had stacks of plastic cups, spoons and trays in the house.
I told her I was sorry that papa had passed on, and that she should take heart.
“Thank you, ma. It was bound to happen sooner or later, ma. When I told my parents that papa proposed to me, and that I like him and had accepted to marry him, they told me I should remember that I could be a widow any time, granted his advanced age. I always had that in mind, he was a kind and responsible husband and father, so, his passing on will bring much hardship on me and my two young kids. They’re both under ten, and in primary school. The two by my other mate are a bit older.
They’re already in secondary schools. She’s my junior here, but I didn’t conceive early. I don’t know what I’‘ll do now. Sisi Tayo gave us money to trade with, which was very kind of her, but without extra help, I can’t adequately bring up my children on that. Business in a village doesn’t yield much. Maybe I’ll return to Ibadan, my home town. But my parents are old now, and won’t be able to help, except provide a roof over our heads.”
I felt sorry for her, but I felt helpless. Maybe she was subtly telling me that I should appeal to Tayo on her behalf so that she would continue helping her financially.
I murmured my sympathy, collected the cups and trays from her, and got the kids around to help wash them.
Meanwhile, Becky, Boma, and Liz were busy, making the sandwiches.
Mama could only stay a little while at the service, and she was led back to her room. The transformation in her was astonishing! In a matter of hours, she had changed from the awesome lady, issuing out threats to her husband’s wives, to a broken old lady who was grieving her beloved husband. So sad!
Tayo put on a brave face and she and her siblings, and the two young wives sat in the front rows.
The priest handled the service well. It was brief, but not sad. He told the gathering that the angels were glad to receive papa, and we should be glad for him. He led a good life, raised worthy children, and God allowed him reasonable length of days.
“My brothers and my sisters, let’s not darken his path with gloom. He lived a good life.”
This was received with grunts. The air was a bit chilly.
Soon the service was over and refreshments were served. As I cradled a steaming cup of beverage in my hands, I gave silent thanks to Becky for insisting on the refreshments. It revived the gathering.
When the crowd began to disperse, I found my way back to Tayo’s room and lay down to sleep. Liz, Boma and Becky followed suit. When I woke up a few hours later, it was almost mid-day, and I found myself all alone in the room. It took me some seconds to remember where I was. I went to the balcony to see what was happening. People were rushing around, doing one thing or the other.
At the back of the house, close to the garden some men were cutting up a cow. How come? When was it bought and slaughtered? Women were cooking in another corner. In another corner drinks were being stashed in drums and chunks of iced blocks were being placed on them. I moved to the end of the balcony to look at the front part of the house. Canopies have been set up and chairs arranged neatly.
Serving points had even been marked out. Wao! People had been busy while I slept. I felt a bit guilty that I was standing idle. I was trying to decide what to do when Boma came from the next room to join me on the balcony. She to ld me all the arrangements that had been made by Tayo and the brothers.
“How is Tayo, by the way?” I asked.
“I’m fine, Treena dear,” Tayo’s voice answered behind me. Startled, I turned round and we hugged. I told her how sorry I was that papa died.
“Well, that’s the lot of every human being, isn’t it? It’s bound to happen. It’s just that I wasn’t expecting him to leave us so soon. He looked so well and strong when I saw him in January, and we spoke on telephone two days before Seb brought us here. That’s four days ago, actually, though it seems a month ago. He told me he was feeling some cramps in the stomach, but that his doctors had given him some settlers and had taken samples to the lab. He sounded so cheerful. Then to come find him in a coma! Now, that wasn’t fair. He didn’t even say ‘goodbye’ to any of us. I’ll miss him forever.”
I held her close as she was about to start sobbing, and Boma came to put an arm around her. She soon calmed down and she discussed the programmes for the day with us.
Church service at four, interment on the church premises, and then refreshments at home for family and friends.
“It’s after the three months that papa mentioned that we shall invite guests from everywhere to come help celebrate papa’s life,” she explained. “I haven’t announced his death to anyone yet. Oh, thanks Treena dear for sending for mama’s nephews and niece. They’ve been most useful in helping put these together.”
A mini bus drew up outside the house and I was surprised to see nanny, Coco and Belinda alight from it. “Seb must have told them to come.” said Tayo. “They’re welcome. Nanny, especially. We shall need her special snacks. Can you both please see to that? Liz and Becky are preparing some special dishes for the clergy and others. Sorry, I must go back in now.”
Boma and I went to welcome the new arrivals, including Seb’s odious lady.
I had no choice.