You might have heard the thunder and lightning that lit up the whole of Stale Orange Road, Sudan in the early hours of last Thursday morning, as it clapped angrily in the distance. Perhaps Ibo’s mother, Blessing could’ve heard it too, had she not been sound asleep that night. Blessing was known to be a heavy sleeper; no wonder nothing shifted her during the ordeal. One time, a pack of twelve ravenous savages descended upon their home, hungry, temperamental, and screeching at each other in the exchange of inaudible high-pitched dialogue. Yes, Blessing found a way to sleep through Ibo’s sixteenth birthday party.
The thunderbolts caused the lights to blow out all around the house, so everywhere was engulfed in darkness; it was a sight to behold. Ibo was afraid of the rapid flashes which came thick and fast and almost consumed her, and worst of all, she couldn’t avoid seeing them because her bedroom windows were pointing south – directly into the path of the fleeting electricity that danced in eyeshot of their house. It was a pity that Ibo hadn’t thought of it before; otherwise, she would have taken the mirror off the wall so that it didn’t reflect the thunderbolts into her bedroom.
The entire commotion of what was happening outside the house had shifted the skies from dark grey to pitch black. It lit up like huge fireworks, and the looming black clouds had filled Ibo’s eyes so that nothing was visible around her. She could have sworn on her mother’s life that something unusual had taken place in her bedroom, but she wasn’t sure what it could have been. At first, she thought that the velocity of the bolts had shifted the red and blue curtains in her bedroom; but the truth would be revealed in time.
She’d gradually eased herself out from underneath her blanket and mustered up the confidence to remove the mirror from the wall – ending the lightning bolt duet. Now, feeling courageous, Ibo decided to confront the commander, a chief of her discontent. Peeping out of the window she was horrified at the indiscriminate catastrophes Mother Nature had inflicted onto herself. Branches blew off trees and fell to the ground while their trunks endured constant battering. Twigs and debris blocked once gushing flows of water – now they trickled monotonously and seeped into dried gullies before teasing the oceans with less than satisfactory deposits.
Similarly, when Ibo and her friend Twi were little, they’d sit at the edges of the gullies, dangled their feet into the free-flowing water and let it soak their sandals. Most of the time, they would carry sticks with them, which had broken from collapsed branches; sticks long enough to reach the bottom of the gullies – clanking and jingling as they clashed against discarded tins, bottles, and other junk nestled in the water. She and Twi would track the gullies for miles, and watched as the water seeped further away from them until it became too dangerous for them to keep up with it anymore. Older and a little less frivolous, Ibo now convinces herself that there are more valuable ways to spend her rainy days.
But now she had far better things to think about, especially as Blessing was not always up to seeing the house was watertight to secure against the rain bawling down, anytime whether night or day.
Ibo called Blessing to her bedroom, but she was always busy that time of the morning, and went when it was convenient for her.
“Blessing, there’s something I’d like to speak to you about,” she said.
But Blessing couldn’t hear her because she was still fast asleep.
“Blessing,” she uttered again, in a louder voice.
She heard her this time, but only faintly. Ibo wanted to poke her in her side to get a quicker response, but she rid herself of the urge.
“I’m coming, Ibo.” And she jumped out of the bed and limped into her room, with her untied-dressing gown still dragging underneath her feet. “Sweet Nazarene,” said Blessing.
“What next?” Ibo said. “My window curtains, the bolts are coming through them,” Ibo said.
“Goodness, you aren’t hurt?” Blessing asked.
“It’s alright, Blessing – I’m fine,” replied Ibo.
“Glad you’re okay, Ibo,” said Blessing.
“Didn’t expect anything, did you?”
“How could I?”
“Just asking.” Ibo pressed the palms of her hands to the edges of the windows and checked for draughts. “None, Blessing – I mean, Mummy,’ she said. No matter how hard Ibo tried, she couldn’t stop herself from calling her mother Blessing. It was nearly three days since she’d said Mummy, and it worried Ibo a little. “Sorry, Mummy,’ Ibo said. Deep down she felt guilty that her mother felt she had lost respect for her, but she would hang on to the hem of her long skirt if that was what it took to reconcile and allow her mother’s hilarious spirit to remain – no matter what happened, like when Ibo had a bad day at university, when she encountered something terrible, Blessing attempted to find out what made her sad. No time was ever a good one, as far as Ibo was concerned, for Blessing to know the ins and outs of her thoughts and make a conscious effort to put them right for her.
It surprised Blessing when Ibo said Mummy, and immediately her stomach was ripped in all directions with roars of joy; and her face was filled with dimples all over. Her love for Ibo was rising and falling moment by moment.
“Oh, Ibo,” said Blessing, and with that, she threw her arms around her daughter and hugged her tightly; seeping love drenched her like a lantern in a dark tunnel.
Ibo had realised of late that her mother was a little pale. She wasn’t ill with fever at all, nor did she have rapid weight loss from excessive loss of bodily fluids that came with diarrhoea, but that niggling worry remained after having bouts of happiness. She kept that hidden from Ibo, like a concealed gift box that deserved opening on special occasions. She never once said what it was; so it was assumed to be a natural part of her biological composition. Having a long face in the morning was a common trait that threw up all sorts of complications between her and her mother.
She had to think about whether it was something she’d said that could have made Blessing look sad, and feel so mad at her and the whole world. Long gone were the days when her mother would wake up early in the mornings and get her breakfast before she went off to University.
“So, what could be bearing down so heavily on Mummy? I’ll speak to her about this and get to the bottom of it all,” thought Ibo. If it was not Precious and her son Twi, it must be Father Paul trying to reincarnate her from the thick volumes of St Luke The Great, that failed to appeal to her unworthiness.
The least that Blessing could have done was to tell Ibo that she was capable of making her breakfast, rather than sulking at eight o’clock each morning for her. Another fault that Ibo noticed about her mother was how she sneaked into the kitchen, like only a mouse would. Ibo had once thought that she was tiptoeing on the tiled floors to avoid her knowing that she was there in the kitchen. Remarkably, not even the pots or pans on the draining board rattled to make her aware of her mother’s presence.
How Blessing silenced the pots and pans while she was cooking was a miracle.
“Where’s mine?” Ibo would ask her mother when she caught her unaware in the kitchen one morning.
“It’s over there,” said Blessing.
“It isn’t,” replied Ibo.
But Blessing would have turned her back to Ibo and walked out of the kitchen for no apparent reason.
“Uh-uh,” she muttered.
“What then?” Asked Ibo.
“Err,” she growled.
“Teasing me, are you?” Asked Ibo.
“Get off it, rubbish,” replied Blessing.
“Rubbish?” Ibo asked.
But she would repeat her mistakes more than once without noticing the effects it was having on her young daughter. It eased when she chewed sunf lower and pumpkin seeds and did not eat for days.
Father Paul’s presence at Ibo’s house made up for Blessing’s lost family, who she had not seen for the last fifteen years. He arrived uninvited after an impromptu wedding at his church that went badly wrong. He was pretty disgusted about the whole thing going ahead for one; he had to cancel his appointment with Mahmood to discuss plans to extend his travel agency; and secondly, the couple were more than two hours late for the wedding, but instead of showing his wrath, he pretended to have everything under control and carried fake smiles throughout the ceremony, then sipped champagne with the bride and groom afterwards.
Blessing ignored Ibo the whole of that evening in favour of her guest, and she shut her bedroom door to stop Ibo from becoming inquisitive into her and Father Paul’s adult discussions that she must shield from the ears of young Ibo.
That evening, Ibo pleaded to get Blessing’s attention, because several things were fogging her mind and slipping and spitting at her fragile temperament that often frothed before it spilt out heaps of rags, but not riches. Well, that didn’t upset her as much as she thought it would. So, she gently excused herself and went to Gutters Creek in Nile Valley, where Precious and her son Twi lived.
You’d think that Blessing would be upset when she couldn’t find Ibo anywhere; not in the least! And when she returned and called out to her mother to tell her the reasons why she didn’t open her bedroom door when she was calling her, Blessing told her it was none of her business, and indeed nothing to do with her. Her mother’s responses inf lamed Ibo so much, she sparked off anger everywhere, throwing kitchen towels, plastic bottles and sponges all over the floor.
Blessing’s temper was as fragile as a drinking glass and her door was still locked tightly during their conversation. But no one could think that Blessing would have locked herself in her bedroom for so long, certainly not Ibo. After about half an hour of pleading and yelling for Blessing to open the door, she decided to take matters into her own hands and climbed up a ladder to see if Blessing was unconscious or something was drastically wrong with her.
“Mother, Mother! Get up at once,” she said.
“In a second,” Blessing replied.
Did she? Ten, fifteen and twenty minutes passed but nothing.
“Mummy,” Ibo said, “I’m waiting.”
“Give me a moment,” Blessing replied.
Blessing pulled the door handle back and forth as if she expected it to swing open.
“Keys… keys… where are they?” said Blessing.
Ibo stamped her feet in annoyance and hurt her toes. It was agonisingly painful, and she slumped on the sofa and yelled loudly for Blessing to hear. Astonishingly, Blessing was a woman possessed; she’d found her bedroom keys and demanded Ibo be quiet as she inflicted the pain on herself.
“Here is plaster,” she said.
“Ointment?” shouted Ibo.
Blessing soothed Ibo’s toes; she rested them and after a while went to the kitchen and opened the cupboards to see what she could find to eat.
“Surprise, surprise,” she said.
The breadbin and the new black biscuit tin with red and green roses had nothing except crumbs. Little did she know, Blessing was testing her acumen, and since she was at university for over year, Blessing was gasping to know what a thinker she was going to be like when she left university, which were several months away?
Despite their squabbles, Blessing was ecstatically proud that Ibo was settled and had made new friends at university. Nothing to worry about, for the time being, at least, and Ibo showed maturity by listening and giving others mouthfuls every time she quarrelled with them; much to Blessing’s delight, in knowing she wasn’t one to turn the other cheek, sit and watch her mates become unreasonable with her.
On her better days, Ibo cooked and cooked to feed five thousand and beyond. It was a habit she picked up from her friends at university. Blessing’s favourite pastime was to sit with her on weekends and talk about the things she and her friends got up to. Taking turns to cook each other’s meals wasn’t uncommon. When Ibo told her that the foods were different from what she was used to, and that her friends burnt the Chinese, Greek and Italians’ foods till they became charcoal, Blessing laughed until she cried. Afterwards, she’d dried her eyes and asked Ibo for the recipes and cooked the meals some other time.
“Recipes, Ibo?” Blessing asked. “None, I see. Expecting any soon?” she said.
“Might well be, in a few days,” Ibo replied.
There were days when Ibo was not the most helpful around the house. It wasn’t a surprise that she adopted some of her mother’s qualities. Hunger was her enemy and friend, especially when it tightened her ribcage and there was nothing in the house for her to eat. Several times she growled at Blessing when her mouth was dried and her tastebuds were left without flavour. Blessing’s persuasions for Ibo to eat sufficient meals a day to stop dizziness and eventual anorexia fell loosely in the trees and plants that surrounded their home. Blessing was the first to deny she was rationing the food stocks in the house to help Ibo lose weight, as she was always clamouring to rid herself of her huge buttock and oversized thighs. Girls with slim waistlines were the latest ‘in thing’ at university, and Ibo refused to give up until she was their style. Skinny was glamorous, so Ibo and her friends dressed themselves in leotards and denims that sucked their bodies like crabs’ claws with false eyelashes and lipsticks to match.
One morning when Blessing was in one of her moods, hunger teased Ibo to open the bags with the shopping her mother brought back from the supermarket. She’d dropped them on the kitchen f loor when the heavy bags were squeezing and blistering her fingers after the long walk from the bus stop to her home.
Ibo ripped the bags opened like a wild dog and tins and foodstuff flew everywhere; baked beans, tomatoes, yams, okras, sweet potatoes, carrots, condensed milk, cheese, bread, and biscuits; some rolled underneath the tables and chairs and into the lounge, and angry Ibo left them where they fell for Blessing to sort out. Shortly afterwards, she went to the fridge and ravaged through frozen vegetables, fish, and meats, until she came across a single plastic container. She opened the lid and on top of Blessing’s chicken and rice dinner were the two baked chickens she was looking for. Ibo had presumed that Blessing stored them there days before for their dinners on the weekend.
“Goodness me, here it is,” she said. “I’ll put them back for the next time.”
It was cold, so Ibo went to her bedroom, but she was still not happy with her mother’s approach to life. Ibo shut her thoughts away from her and lay still on her bed until she dozed off and fell asleep. Time after time, that morning, she popped her gauntly face from underneath the blanket and wondered whether the lightning would cease so she could get to university. But the wind kept howling its mighty objections and fear at her windows, which tempted her into constantly throwing the quilt to cover her from head to toe, but it kept on sliding off her.
“Are you okay?” asked Blessing.
“No Mummy, I’m not,” she said.
Blessing got out of her bed where she was watching the branches close to her bedroom window being attacked by the storm, swaying madly and hitting the roof of the house, and marching in time to the drumming of the wind.
“Oh! I see. It’s the quilt,” she said.
Ibo’s mind wasn’t far away from Twi’s mother, Precious, who she hadn’t seen for days, well before the storm came. There wasn’t a certainty that she would see her today either. To get to Gutters Creek where Precious and Twi lived was going to be tricky for Ibo, especially as there were large potholes as wide as Blessing’s mouth on a good day, which often filled up with water in the rainy seasons. The roads would become like rivers and filled up with f loating tree roots and branches that sailed in the water like reservoirs had burst their banks. The thing that Ibo needed to be mindful of was not to allow another downpour before she set out to see Precious.
Apart from the winds whistling in the trees and breaking them into pieces, there were houses like Blessing’s that stood in the gateways for the winds to growl at them, like the tsunamis that peppered the coastlines in times past. Blessing witnessed several of them in her lifetime. There were frequent signs of when the rains were coming; the clouds would race across the skies and flashes of lightning came, then the heavens opened with floods of rain.
We prayed it didn’t rain for forty days and forty nights, so there would not be any need for Noah’s Ark to rescue us. The river ushered away everything in its path and dumped tons of debris and carcases of dead animals that could not sprint and didn’t manage to stay clear of the approaching monster.
It was imperative that Ibo got to Gutters Creek to see Twi and Precious. She and Twi were always slim, and she never grew older than 35. Most days she wore huge blue aprons with pockets that she carried bits of cloths and needles in, to patch up Twi’s ripped trousers.
Hours afterwards, the sun came out and veiled the morning skies with pink and yellow hues. The skies were usually plain on an autumn’s day in Nile Valley, but not today; fluffy clouds hung loosely like candy f losses and the postcards we sent when we were on holidays.