My father was a career diplomat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For four year periods he was posted to different countries. In the beginning, we followed him; my mother, two older brothers, my older sister, and myself, traipsing to places which I mostly remember from photographs and stories about the time when my mother used to wear hot pink lipstick and miniskirts so short my father’s colleagues had to call him aside and warn him she would get away if he wasn’t careful. The story I heard many times as my mother paced around the house in anger, or cried in her room, at something my father had done, was that he came home that night and told her she needed to stop wearing them and she told him, “Isn’t that what you like? Isn’t that what all your girlfriends are wearing?”
After the beginning, for stability in our schooling we stayed behind in Kaduna while he went and came during his leave, or every three weeks to two months when he was back in the country, working in Abuja where the Ministry headquarters was based. While he was gone, the house became drier. There were no cornflakes or yam or anything except rice in the store. My siblings began to seem leaner, slower, preferring to stay indoors to read or watch TV, while I went out to play. I also added flesh, gained weight.
A few years later, in boarding school in Abuja where the family had also moved to a few months back, the matron rushed me home in the middle of the night where my mother immediately took me to the National Hospital. She told everyone I almost died but I remember looking at her and my siblings around the bed and relatives and friends coming to pray for me and not feeling particularly sick. Not worse than the malaria I had every few months. After I was discharged, crammed in the back of our Mazda 504, I gathered that I had been there for a month and a week before I began to get well, a doctor had told my mother if she knew anyone back in the village, it was time to call them to see if there was anything they could do.
I was posted to Kaduna for my national youth service corps. I was 21. Around the same time my brother, Musty, got a job at the Standards Organisation of Nigeria. We moved in with my mother’s sister who had a reputation for being difficult. She was constantly in a fight with everyone. She called my mother many times in my presence during fights with her husband. When we moved in with her we began to suspect it wasn’t “difficulty”, it was an illness. She thought the housemaids and her neighbours were in a secret cult, trying to kill her for not joining them. She vomited the “poison” they had given her in the night. She heard them in the next house plotting their next move and asked if we couldn’t hear it also. We pitied her so we were nice to her, even the day we came home from work and she made my brother and I stand in front of her and accused us of incest in her parlour and kitchen and bedroom when she left the house, I still pitied her. My brother immediately packed his things and left to a friend’s house, while I remained behind despite his insistence because I felt bad that she would be alone with all my cousins away in school and it really wasn’t as bad as he was making it out to be because we knew it wasn’t true. He called home and my older sister called that night and shouted over the phone for me to come back immediately. “You always do this,” she said. “When things are hard you won’t complain, you’ll just stay there. You better come back now before I come and carry you myself.”
After she hung up, I sat with the phone in my hand thinking she wasn’t entirely right. I didn’t withhold things when they were bad, I just rarely noticed they were until much later. It was a double edged sword which I liked and hated. I would survive most things simply because they didn’t seem so terrible, but I would also endure most things for the same reason. ✚
Omaki is an alumnus of the Purple Hibiscus Trust Writing Workshop. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, The Short Story UK, Ake Review, Brittle Paper, and others. She is currently studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.