By Obadiah Mailafia
WHERE do mothers come from? I have always pondered this question. All humans come from planet earth, of course. But, what of mothers? They have this uniqueness about them that makes me wonder if they could only have come from earth like everybody else. For one thing, everybody that breathes on earth came out of a mother. Even the Pope, the President and the most powerful men and women on earth – all those men and women of pomp and pageantry.
Everybody must have done their plus or minus nine months in the womb of a woman. Every individual was nursed as an infant in the warm arms of a mother. Whenever you were hungry, mother was there. Whenever you felt fear, mother was there. Whenever you were in perplexity, mother was there. Mother was the one who would sacrifice everything to make you into a person of worth.
My own mother was barely out of her teens when she married my father, a much older man. Mother was 19 when her first child was born. She said she was preparing for the Christmas festivities when I decided to kick her womb with my legs in attempt to get out. I had my way on a Saturday, December 25. That was decades. She surprised everyone by choosing the name of Obadiah (Avadiah in Hebrew and Obaid’Allah or Abdallah in the Arabic) during my christening. In the Old Testament Obadiah means “servant of the Most High”. I was, therefore, born to be a servant. “And Obadiah loved the Lord greatly”, we are told. He was the prime minister who shielded the 70 prophets from persecution for seven years – a very wealthy and influential personage.
I am mother’s firstborn child out of nine. Mother was a tall and beautiful woman; as slim as a gazelle in her younger days. But she did not take nonsense from anyone. If you tried to hurt her child she will fight you like a lioness over her cubs. And yet she was Bible-believing Christian. Her father, my maternal grandfather – Baba Anchegah Omukama – was well over six feet tall, with long white beard like the Biblical prophets of old. He lived on his farm with his family and his cattle, sheep, goats and a stable of horses. He never went to school. But he was a bright man who taught himself to read and write English. In fact, he taught me to read and write even before I started elementary school. It is rather unfortunate that grandfather did not believe in education for his daughters. Mother dearest later went to school as a married adult, earning a Diploma in Theology.
Father and mother spent all their adult lives serving in the Lord’s vineyard as evangelists with the former Sudan United Mission, now re-christened the Evangelical Church of Christ in Central Nigeria, ERCC. We grew up with white missionary children in the old Benue-Plateau State. We had no television. Our only form of entertainment was the radio and the old Grundig gramophone – His Master’s Voice. We read lots and lots of books during the long vacation months. We played football, climbed mango trees and frolicked as children were wont to do in those days.
When I turned 13 and was being sent off to Mada Hills Secondary School, a rather snooty missionary boarding school in those days, I noticed that mother’s eyes were bloodshot. It had been quite a struggle to get them to pay up the rather expensive fees. Mother would bake akara; work on the farm and do everything to assist father to pay for our education.
I was almost derailing in my junior years, having come under the influence of some bad boys. Whilst home on vacation mother dearest sat me down. With eyes burning with the fire of a thousand suns, she decreed: “My son, you will be a man of ‘aminchi’ or nothing else, do you hear me?” In total fright, I answered in the affirmative. That day was my day of all days – my day of destiny. My fate had been sealed. The Hausa word ‘aminchi’ has no English equivalent. It is a combination of virtues such as wisdom, knowledge, honesty, character and grace all combined. It was a combination of virtues you would only associate with Biblical characters such as Joseph, Daniel, Shedrach, Meshach and Abednego.
Being a firstborn son, mother treated me like an adult even from my boyhood years. We loved each other deeply but always maintained a formal courtesy reminiscent of high royals. Father was the laid-back type. With him, you could get away with boyish pranks. Mum was the Law!
When father passed away in December 2014, the light faded in her eyes. She rarely spoke of him. But it was clear that the world had changed. Mother dearest was never given much to emotions, but she was a woman who loved greatly and forgave greatly. She never would look upon or dwell upon the faults of those she loves. Only a few days ago she remarked the Lord meant the heart to be soft that’s why he made it totally devoid of any bone tissue.
Over the last few months mother dearest had been in and out of hospital. Nothing serious, really. We brought her to stay with us in Abuja for an entire month. We tried to make her as comfortable as we possibly could. When she started complaining about her goats and chickens I decided to drive her back home. Strangely enough, when we arrived the goats and chickens and the dog lined up as if to greet her. I got the housemaids to clean up the house. Her bedroom was tidied up. The bed linings were changed and some electrical work was done. She joked to me that, “tonight I’m going to sleep in heaven.”
At dawn of Sunday, April 7, we experienced a heavy rainstorm that seemed to rock our Abuja home to its very foundations. Unbeknownst to me, those were the very same hours that mother dearest was fighting for dear life. She had apparently been gripped by a fever. A nurse had been called in and drip was administered on her. By 5.30 am our kid sister called to say mother dearest has gone to be with the Lord. I thought, No, I’m dreaming. But then I was awake. I went on my knees and prayed, “Dear Lord, let it not be true; oh God of Smith Wigglesworth, please bring mother back to life”. I hoped against hope that some miracle would occur and my sister would call back to say the whole thing was just a bad dream – and that mother dearest has woken from her slumber.
Now I know where mothers come from: they come from heaven and sooner or later, they go back to heaven.
Mother was a pilgrim and a stranger on this earth – on this Nigeria where innocent women and children are being mercilessly slaughtered day in and day out – where grand larceny and ritual murders define the character of those who call themselves our rulers. In a manner of speaking, we are all pilgrims on this earth. What I will miss, above all, are her prayers, wise counsel and her unwavering love. There things I wanted to tell her, but it’s too late. She will be buried on Saturday, April 13. “Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord” (Psalms 130 v. 1).