My Mother’s Maiden Name

by Ifeanyi Paulinus Ekpunobi

I stepped into the air-conditioned cool of the banking hall very early in the morning with a disturbing sense that the day wouldn’t end well, that inexplicably unusual paranoia that makes you feel like the hair on your skin is standing erect. Even more, my mouth was filled with the rancid taste of adrenaline. I was not at ease with my feelings, so my gait started to sway, I felt it.

“You are welcome to Fidelity Bank, sir.” The uniformed guard by the automated sliding door flung a toothy smile at me. His uniform evinced a history of previous whiteness, now indecisive between brown and grey. Had he ever thought of washing it, or had he washed it until it faded?

“Thank you sir.” I said, I hoped I did sound courageous. I strode towards the customer care unit, keeping a straight face. I would have laughed myself to scorn if I had stepped outside my skin to watch my parade of ‘gentleness’. Not that I was not a gentle man, but this particular gentleness was a little rehearsed, wished, fantasy-inspired.

So finally I had entered a banking hall for the first time. I had lavished massive admiration on bank structures when I moved past them in a vehicle or on foot: the fleets of neatly parked cars parked in stately garages, spilling outside the gate and sometimes stalling the traffic. But today, my mother had told me to go to the bank and send some money to my elder brother who was studying at the University of Ibadan.

He had called recently and sounded worried, his voice tinged with anger, the sound of a receding grunt. Mother had dug out some newly minted notes from her purse and gave me to send to him: “Bia, Make sure you send this money to this account number, Ifeanyi,” her voice whined through my ear as usual. I had mixed feelings about this errand: my nervousness about the possibility of embarrassing myself, and a sense of pride for having earned such prestigious errand from my mother.

I stood in the queue, behind a dangerously overblown backside of a woman “Oh my goodness! Could this be a real butt or plastic surgery?” I felt my eyes bulging out from its sockets as I gawked at the monster bum. My lids parted widely as if to allow my eyes feed on the sight before me.

“Sir, you may go to this other customer care unit, the Attendant there is back on seat.” A prudish voice of a female attendant suggested to the man standing behind me.

He gazed around him and saw that he was the last, “and why must you talk to me in such way, what guts!” the man snapped. My heart leaped against my chest, the simple instruction wasn’t worth his reaction. I waited for a comeback from the lady who seemed to be in her mid-20s. She gave him a courteous and professional “I’m very sorry, Sah” and strode  towards the bulk room. Why should she be so timid! My fists tightened and I felt like blasting the man’s pipe-holed nose that looked like a broken oja – flute. That was what the system had turned us into, where you believed that appearing professional was to assume a westernised etiquette, which I considered demeaning.

“Welcome Sir, Welcome to Fidelity. How may I be of help?” the fair lady seated behind the cabinet said to me as I approached. The lady before me had deprived me of her endowment when she left with a man I supposed to be her boyfriend – poor me. The Attendant was everything beautiful; I lost my stare on her face and gradually imagined her glossy kiss-inviting lips leaning close to mine. “Helloo, Sir,” her voice pulled back my straying imagination.

“Hi. Well done,” the words had dribbled unconsciously from my mouth. I allowed my admiration to sprinkle smiles over my face. “I …I want to open a savings account.” I wanted to take back my words but it was already spilled.

She skimmed through a pile of papers on the desk and gave me a form to fill. I looked at her outstretched arm and saw the radiating smoothness of her skin. Her lashes flickered, and her face, dosed in layers of makeup, unwound the stiffness that had grown in my heart. She was the kind of beauty many establishments placed before their customers to get them always coming back.

“Please, what do you mean here -” I pointed at a column that requested for my mother’s maiden name.

“Oh! That’s the surname of your mother before marriage.” Her words seemed to swell of shock and ridicule. Perhaps she was professional enough to keep her emotions at bay.

I stood there, lost in thoughts: Does it mean all these while I had never bothered to know my mother’s maiden name? Can I skip it? I wanted to ask but something restrained me. I hesitated and finally gave in to the fretting sensation that had now accompanied my nervous question: “Can I skip …ignore it?”

“No, it’s required,” she said emphatically. She stopped her scribbling on a rough sheet and bored an inquisitive face on me, it ruffled me. My ego now stayed on a slippery precipice, awaiting a nudge to send it crashing.

“Ehmm …sorry, I think I might have forgotten my Mum’s maiden name.”

“Seriously?” a foul frown dirtied her face, “but you know your surname, your faather’s name?” The stress she applied to “father” sliced through my chest.

“Yes, of course.”

“So your Mum’s never mattered to you simply because she is a woman, and her maiden name has become obsolete because she’s now bearing your father’s own?”

The way she readied her mouth told me that she was out to unleash her anger at me. She was being defensive about my mother like she knew my mother so well. But on a second thought, I discovered that her concerns were legitimate and worthy. My father neither easily allowed us to go to our maternal home, nor have any familial bond with my mother’s people. He always gave this flat excuse of having paid heavily for my Mum’s dowry and so didn’t owe them anything. I had always seen my father’s remark more as a simple joke rather than a tangible reason and I thought my siblings did so, until now. Standing before this pretty woman who sounded feminist, I wondered if she actually knew what feminism was. Maybe she didn’t need to know it; she only needed to act it.

“Well, I don’t think you will understand,” I said dismissively. My brother also didn’t know it, and I didn’t want to risk calling my mother over the phone, it would be embarrassing. I needed to …then I remembered, “Excuse me, let me first make a transaction.”

“Okay, you may queue yonder.” She pointed with the tip of her pen.

I backed disgracefully and joined the queue from behind. “Can you imagine someone doesn’t know his mother’s maiden name?” I heard the attendant whisper to her colleague.

Faces began to glare around me, they must have heard her. One lady giggled and tapped her feeble fingers on the shoulder of her friend who also mumbled something into her ear that provoked laughter between them. My countenance flung to the neatly tiled floor that had since gathered specks of sands from customers’ footwear, my eyes groped around hoping not to meet any eyes. How could I not know the person I claimed to love the most – Nne m oma.

When it was finally my turn, I shamefully raised my face, scanning the hall for any remnant of impending ridicule; none. I quickly filled the necessary information in the deposit slip I had drawn from the rack on the marble stand; I paid in the money and dashed out immediately. Outside, I puffed a heave of relief, the air was musty. The weather was dimming, I entered a taxi and there I imagined my sister’s child not knowing her mother’s maiden name. I tried to ward off the thought by peeping out through the window. I looked at the sky trying to drown my worry in the lazy pacing cloud that had started to mass. Suddenly, the sky cracked and the rains came down. I would tell mother that I sent the money successfully, but I wouldn’t tell her that I did not know her maiden name.

 

Ifeanyi Paulinus Ekpunobi is an emerging writer. A graduate of philosophy from the University of Ibadan. He is a young man who loves digging into life to see what connects and makes us human. When he is bored he turns to watching the best of Mess and C. Ronaldo. He is currently in Ibadan to further his studies in the Humanities. He blogs short stories at www.chroniclesofpaulinus.blogspot.com

SWEET MA’ALE

by Blessed Abraham

“It can’t be! I broke into tears, my knees giving way as the curtains fell off my eyes. I woke up to a blotch of tears on my pillow. I am that spoilt brat and that lovely pitiful woman is my Mother. So hard did I tremble in regret as tears kept streaming down generously. I messed up. I need to fix things, I need to say “I am sorry”.”

My eyes scan her stout but plump unkempt figure, her hair riddled with suffer induced grey hair. It was anything but silver. Her once chocolate skin now mud-hue. My eyes studied her aged frame and fallen heroes with loathsomeness, her pathetic and lowly appearance nudging me into disgust. The sheer thought of walking in the public with her, and hearing chants of “Mama Blessed” was thousand yards away from appealing.

“Blessed,” Her gentle voice, reeking of pity – a noun I hate calling out to me whilst brewing anger in my bowels. “Bikonu, follow me go market. The load go too much for me, make you help me carry some abeg.”

“Abeg! No even bring that leg. I can’t follow you, I am tired. So don’t bother me.” My voice laced with the anger. Stomping hard on the concrete floor, I walked out. Her pitiful voice followed behind me, but I was in no position to care.

Abbie’m, Nna’m bikonu.”

I entered my room and shut the door, hoping to shut off the nuisance at the other side of the door. Laying on my ill-arranged bed, rage kept gyrating in me, regrets of the words I didn’t say. Of the words I wish I said. Slowly the rage turned ruth and topped with regret as sleep ebbed me away.

•••••••••••••••••••

In a dream, I stand before a house. A column of single rooms, unpainted but designed with masterful art of plastering. Something about it felt nostalgic, but frustrating enough, I couldn’t place a finger on it. A little boy caught my attention, probably between the ages of three to four. He walked to his mum who was cooking on firewood under the violent sun, the sun highlighted her melanin popping skin like a Belle X6 highlighter would. She glittered in the sun, her skin daring the solar god. The kid tugged onto the hem of her wrapper annoyingly.

“Mommy, Mommy. Gimme tea and bread.”

“Nna’m, there is no tea and bread. But I will give you plenty fish if I cook finish, you hear?” The woman sang out, as she went back to her battle with the fire, blowing to keep it. She’d take breaks to shut her eyes from the burn and sting. The smoke trying to cut her resolve.

The kid went into a wailing fit. “I want tea and bread.”

Slumping on the floor, his wail increased into a disturbing level. I got mad, the sight of the spoilt brat’s tantrum fits erupted new flames of rage in me. I should spank him and give him something to really cry about, but fortunately for him – I can’t interfere in the unfolding events.

As I watched on, I noticed the wailing brat’s wailing reduce to a whimper, a rather disturbing whimper. Then sharp distorted inhales as he started gasping for breath, with each sharp inhale he stretched. His life forcefully getting snatched from him by a force he couldn’t match. I let out an earth piercing shout but my chords didn’t register them, all my effort to draw the woman’s attraction to her baby failed. The sight of the convulsing child’s tugs with death, the woman’s world splitting and crashing with it made my eyes burn as warm moist filled it.

I watched as she took a taste of the beautiful looking egusi soup and nodded in satisfaction, scattering the fire, oblivious of the events going on behind her. She carried the hot pot of soup whilst singing melodiously to a song I know too well – A certain woman’s favorite song.

The best friend to have is Jesus,

The best friend to have is Jesus,

The best friend to have is Jesus,

The best friend I have is Jesus.

He will hear you when you call, He will help you when you fail,

The best friend to have is Jesus.

The song, the event playing before my eyes, the unconfirmed nostalgia in the air all teamed to betray me as tears welled up in my eyes and with just a blink to relieve the burn, they trickered down.

In slow motion, I saw her turn and suddenly her body froze. Her eyes shot out of its sockets as the sight of her baby, her world – though spoilt, losing to Death’s grip. She let out a heaven piercing scream as the hot pot of egusi soup slipped and fell, kissed the concrete floor and rebounded splashing on her legs.

“JESUSSS!!!” The earth’s frame would be shocked. I knew the scream wasn’t because of the hot egusi soup scorching her legs but the sight of her baby struggling with Death. With the scorched leg, she raced forward stomping on the spilled egusi soup in her first three steps, pulled her baby to her bossom and raced to the streets. Her wails drawing the neighbors, her wrapper fell off her chest. She cared less, her speed on barefoot and just shorts and bra were remarkable. She wouldn’t trust any cyclist or man to race faster enough to bring her baby to salvation.

The sight was too nostalgic, then it hit me.

My mum had an ugly burn on her legs, very similar to those that will eventually surface on those woman’s legs. It can’t be!

I broke into tears, my knees giving way as the curtains fell off my eyes. I woke up to a blotch of tears on my pillow.

I am that spoilt brat and that lovely pitiful woman is my Mother. So hard did I tremble in regret as tears kept streaming down generously. I messed up. I need to fix things, I need to say “I am sorry”.

Rushing out into the kitchen, she wasn’t there, madness tailed behind me.

“Once I see her, I don’t care about anything. I will rush and give her the deepest hug ever, I will kiss her forehead, her arm and bow before those legs. I will cry out to her begging for forgiveness. I will change her wardrobe this month’s end, I will spoil her. Let me just see her.” This I proclaimed in between tears.

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

It’s now 7:48pm, Mum left since 4pm. She doesn’t stay this long at the market, maybe she branched to the church. But today is Thursday, the only thing we have in church is Youth’s fellowship – something I last attended before I gained admission five years ago.

I took a glance at my siblings watching Music videos on Galaxy TV, they were too engrossed in the videos to care about their mum’s late return, they will when by 9pm they’ve still not had dinner. My eyes fell on the news bar just beneath the videos.

The first passed, then the second. I noticed its the same news being repeated, an emergency news?

“Tanker falls in Omoku main market creating an inferno, no words or details on the number of casualties.”

A sharp javelin pierced my heart, “Omoku main Market”? That is our market, where mum is. Something gripped my heart, squeezing it. The burn was intense, my head tripled in size, my legs gave way as I slowly fell to the ground. I couldn’t rely on my nasal cavity with the huge task of breathing, so I opened my mouth to aid it. I couldn’t scream or do more than slowly die.

‘God please, I beg you! Don’t take my mum away from me. I still have a lot to say and do for her.” I prayed, hoping someone somewhere is hearing.

Knock! Knock!! Knock!!! I freeze waiting for the voice. As I prayed.

“Make Una open door for me na.” Mum’s voice, never been so beautiful and delightful to my ears in my entire life.

Blessed Abraham is a budding writer, an Electrical Engineering student from Akwa Ibom state. Loves movies and having intriguing conversations. You could reach him and read more of his short stories on his Facebook wall:facebook.com/edidiong.inemesit.7. Also read Blessed’s other story on Afreecan Read, The Awakening