A WAY OF ESCAPE (SHORT STORY)
“No, Mama, not again!” Nneoma wailed. “I just cleaned you up less than an hour ago and I’m set to go to church.”
“And who is keeping you from going?” Mama spat back. “I don’t recall asking you to come here.”
“I just wanted to let you know I was leaving but look at you!” Nneoma said, going into the adjoining bathroom to get water and towels. “And how do you manage to produce so much waste when you hardly eat?”
Nneoma meant that as a joke but Mama was not returning her smile.
“Are you insulting me?” she asked. “Have we become such mates that you can talk to me disrespectfully?”
“Easy, Mama! Why are you so uptight these days?”
They continued the exchange as she wiped Mama’s loins with disinfected water and changed her clothes, Nneoma doing her best to be cheerful but failing to lighten up the old lady’s mood.
When she eventually left for church, she wondered what she would do with her mother-in-law as she walked the one-kilometre distance. Her level of incontinence was becoming alarming. She couldn’t afford adult Pampers which would have made everything easier. She was running out of old wrappers to pad her with and the cleaning/washing was wearing her out. But what really made matters unbearable was that Mama had lost her good nature.
At first, she joked about her condition and wouldn’t stop blessing Nneoma for taking care of her, something her own children were loath to do. The irony of the situation was not lost on her because she had fiercely fought against Nneoma’s marriage to her younger son simply because the families were from different parts of Igboland. This misjudgment she apologised endlessly for.
It was not quite two years into the marriage before she realised that Nneoma was worth more than ten daughters to her. She was the one who remembered her during Christmas and Easter and once she had kids, she made sure they came to visit their grandma at least once a year. She brought her expensive clothes and food stuff from time to time. Mama was smart enough to know that her son, Chike, would neither think of blessing her so often nor pay for all that she got without prodding.
But as her condition deteriorated over the past year, she seemed to have begun to take out her frustration on Nneoma. When Chike, a workaholic businessman, slumped and died five years ago, his mother’s diabetes and hypertension were still under control and she averted the mistreatment that would have been Nneoma’s fate culturally as a woman whose husband died suddenly and “mysteriously.” She also ensured that Chike’s cash and assets went to Nneoma and her three children.
To ensure that greedy relatives did not harass the family, she moved in with Nneoma and her kids earning her the nickname, “Mama Police.” Chike’s older brother and his sisters, angry at how Mama sided with Nneoma after his death, said they’d washed their hands off the old lady like they’d done any substantial thing for her over the years.
By prudently managing her husband’s business, Nneoma was able to see her kids through secondary school and pay Mama’s hospital bills. But as two of her children entered university and Mama’s medical bills continued to grow, Nneoma began to be hard up. And Mama, who she vowed to love like the natural mother she lost at birth when she got married, was becoming increasingly cantankerous.
Nneoma did not blame her because Mama was tired of being sick, saw herself as nothing but a burden to the family and constantly expressed the desire to die. Nneoma’s attempts to encourage and assure her of her irrevocable commitment to care for her were met with brusque replies and disconsolate weeping. It was a battle to get her to eat, take her drugs or get out of her room.
Nneoma’s business was also suffering as she was hardly at her shops giving her sales boys room to pilfer stuff. She reviewed the situation for the umpteenth time, at least to know how to pray today. She couldn’t ask that Mama should die. Deciding who ought to die and when were solely God’s prerogative, she believed. She didn’t have the faith to demand for her healing either because Mama was already in her 80’s. She also wondered how Mama’s ceaseless griping and melancholy could be dealt with.
So despite her constant attempts at sprightliness when talking to her mother-in-law, it was a physically and emotionally fatigued Nneoma that walked into church that Sunday as the choir sang Frank Edwards’ “Chukwu ebuka.” They followed it up with Alvin Slaughter’s “God can.” The songs seemed to have been specially chosen for Nneoma, the first one reminding her of God’s mightiness and the second telling her, “When you can’t see your way through, just remember this my friend, God can, God can.”
By the time the pastor began to speak about God’s ability to turn any situation around, quoting Jeremiah 32:27, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?” and 1 Corinthians 10:13, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it,” Nneoma knew that an answer was in sight. She knew exactly what to pray for – a way of escape, some relief to help her cope with the situation. She didn’t know how it would come but she was so confident as she left church that morning that she couldn’t stop singing, “Omewo ya, Jehovah Jireh emewo ya, Isi iyi nke ndu emewo ya, Omere ya n’oge ya.”*
During the week, her sons came on holidays and pitched in with taking care of Mama and the shops. Although she was glad about this, she knew it was just a reprieve, a pledge from God to assure her that bigger, more permanent help was on the way. And when it showed up, it came from so unexpected a quarter that she knew it could only have been the doing of God.
It was on Saturday of that week. An SUV (Lexus 330) pulled up in front of their bungalow and the driver confirmed from the nearby auto mechanic that it was the residence of Chike Ayalogu’s family before a gray-haired man in his late sixties or early seventies alighted from the owner’s corner. Nneoma had been spreading clothes by the side of the house but came to the front to admire the car. Chike had been meaning to buy an SUV but opted to complete the house instead and what a wise decision it turned out to be! But Nneoma still dreamt of owning one someday.
She was thus in front of the house when the old man came out and she could not believe her eyes for joy.
“Uncle Clem, is that you?” she asked. When he turned towards her, there was no doubt about it and she bounded into his arms like an adolescent, nearly keeling the old man over.
“You must be …,” he began.
“Nneoma”, she supplied.
“That’s right, Chike’s wife! But how come you’re looking like you’re in your twenties? Something’s not right here,” he teased. “We hear stories of bomb blasts and falling oil prices and think people here are just about done in, only to come back and see you guys looking so fresh.”
“Uncle, it’s the Lord’s doing oh!” she responded. “I am sooo glad to see you. Let’s go inside.”
Clement Izukanne, the visitor, was Mama’s younger brother who lived in Germany. He stopped visiting Nigeria ten years earlier after he was robbed on his way from the airport in Lagos but ran into an old family friend in Hamburg a few months ago. The man who was on a business trip from Nigeria extracted a promise from him to visit his family in Enugu sometime soon. He kept his word and decided to surprise his sister in the process.
What would have been a joyful reunion turned into a tear-fest when Clem, as he was called by Mama, saw his sister’s condition. He had no idea that she was having such a terrible time and could blame no one but himself since he hadn’t kept in touch. His sister’s surviving children had always been self-centred, he admitted, and he planned to give them a piece of his mind when the time was right. He furnished Nneoma with his contact details in Germany and his Nigerian cell number. He then offered to find a nursing home where Mama could be relocated to but Nneoma and her sons would not hear of it.
After some arguments, they settled for Clem to pay for a professional caregiver to attend to Mama full-time. That way, she would remain with the family but Nneoma would be free to run her business and have some personal time. Clem wired some money from his account with a local bank to help Nneoma make the arrangements. He added N200,000 to help with the children’s education and promised to come home biannually.
As Nneoma thanked him profusely, he said he was the one to thank her for doing what he and his family weren’t available to do, recounting how Mama took him in after the death of their parents and funded his education and his trip to Germany. He asked for her forgiveness for all the years of neglect and Mama said she was happy now knowing he was alive and well.
Mama is still sharp-tongued and cranky but at N50,000 per month with room and board thrown in, the nurse Nneoma hired says that the old lady’s barbs are music to her ears. Nneoma, on her part, remains grateful to God for making a way of escape for her on Mama’s case and tries in various ways to bring laughter and comfort to this woman who is the only person she has had the privilege of calling mother.
– The end-
Ⓒ Edith Ugochi Ohaja 2016
*”Omewo ya, Jehovah Jireh emewo ya, Isi iyi nke ndu emewo ya, Omere ya n’oge ya”‘is Igbo for “He has done it, Jehovah Jireh has done it, the Fountain of life has done it, He did it in its time.”
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