By Francis Ewherido
Friends, like family members, come in different shades and colours. Among mine is a “mischievous” and witty friend (family more like it) of 34 years, Emma Esinnah (pronounced “a sinner”). Ever since he found out that my mother’s Urhobo name is Powder (what an irony?), he has latched on to the name.
Anytime he sees me, he asks after Mama Powder. The few times, he spoke with her, he said, “Mama Powder, migwo. How are you?” Unknown to Esinnah, Urhobo people take English or foreign names, and appropriate, or is it indigenize, them.
So Mama’s Urhobo name is actually Poda (a corruption of Powder). Her English and Baptismal name, Paulina, was not spared. It had been indigenized to “Iponina” since the white missionary priest baptized her almost 70 years ago.
So, when in the early 70s, one mischievous woman, Aginesi (a corruption of Agnes) had a brainwave that one of Mama’s boys has had carnal knowledge of her daughter, she stormed our parlour, where I was eating with my two older siblings, Tony and Pius, and said: “Iponinaoo.” “Yo,” Mama answered. “Omow’ovo du’omome” (one of your children has had sex with my daughter). “Een, k’ovo?” (Is that so, which one?), Mama asked calmly. Logically, Aginesi should have pointed at Tony, who at 12 years was the oldest, but she knew if she did, she would be stoned because the whole of Otovwievwiere St., Ughelli, Delta State, where we resided then, regarded him as a good boy destined for the priesthood where he finally ended up.
So she pointed at Pius (my late brother, Sen. Akpor Pius Ewherido). That one was a tiger from the womb. He immediately sprang up and stood up to Aginesi screaming, “omevwee?” (meee?). Aginesi lost her nerves and retracted, “ejo” (no); “onana” (this one). You cannot believe it; she was pointing at me. She accused Flamingo (yeah, that was what they called me as a child) of having carnal knowledge of a fellow six-year-old, an act I did not even understand (then o)! I was humiliated that day and my only crime was that, as a child, I was as meek as a lamb. I will not tell the whole story here to avoid digressing, but you will read it as a fiction very soon.
All through the drama, Mama Powder was as calm as a cucumber. She allowed the drama to play out to prove her children’s innocence; she knew what she raised. In those days, you would think that only women who had only girls were tormented, but no; there seemed to be a conspiracy against mothers who had all or predominantly male children. Mama Powder had passed through that road before, and this incident was not the last of the dramas that she went through as a result of her eight boys.
Also, on countless occasions, they taunted Mama that she would suffer in her old age because she did not have a daughter who would take care of her. Unknown to her tormentors, she had a secret weapon: Mama had trained and domesticated her boys to cook, clean and do other house chores. We also learnt how to care for her at an early age in those heady days in the 70s when she was gravely ill. All through these harassments, she was always calm and self-conscious; a woman of great carriage, great wisdom and enormous knowledge even with her limited formal education.
Every first week of September brings me good feelings and a profound gratitude to God. My mind goes back to the mid and late 70s when we had to face the harsh reality of losing Mama. It was a very trying time for us. The prognosis from both orthodox and non orthodox medical personnel was not good. They all predicted her impending death. They said she was living on borrowed time and hanging on to life by a thread. That was before God’s verdict manifested. Over 40 years later, she marches on.
Like many old people, Mama has seen a lot of nonsense and experienced heart breaks in her lifetime. She has been “afflicted in every side, but not crushed; perplexed,but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (II Corinthians 4:8-9). In spite of all the adversities, she trudges on.
These days, when I call to check on her, I ask: “Mama, mavo, how far?” “Mero, ehu n’ovo… ( I am fine, but I am having a lot of waist pains). I will encourage her and say, “Mama, don’t worry’ you’re doing great.” Then I will jokingly tell myself, “your youngest child is over 40, you hit menopause decades ago and your husband died 30 years, so nothing serious will ever trouble that waist again. Just hang in there, as Fr. Tony will say.”
Mama’s influence in my life looms large, especially unconsciously. In my bachelor days, I always preferred natural looking girls. That was how I ended up with one as a spouse. I remember, on our traditional marriage day, I could barely recognize my wife. “What is this,” I asked. She said her aunt insisted she was made up.
I then insisted she should clean it off and it has remained so almost 20 years after. I still find her extremely beautiful and attractive, so it will continue to be so. Mind you, I do not have issues with anybody who makes up. Sisters must look fine. I am just exercising my God-given freedom of choice just as everybody exercises his/hers.
Looking back now, Mama unconsciously influenced my idea of an ideal wife (physical appearance and otherwise). I grew up to see her natural. Surprisingly, when I asked her, she said she used to love makeup (tiro and the other stuff they used in those days).
But my father was itinerant in the early stages of their marriage and she had to stay in the family compound. When her in-laws saw her with makeup, they felt, it was a tendency of a wife who would cheat on their son. To avoid trouble she stopped and that was how her interest in makeup died. Anyway, mama looks great in her natural looks. At 85, her skin glows. For her, a beauty regiment is superfluous.
Happy birthday, Mama Powder, as you turn 85 this Wednesday. May God continue to bless and strengthen you; we pray for your continuous health of body and mind. We love you endlessly.