I dreamt about my mum today. In the dream, I'd walked into her room, to get my son, who had run into the room to avoid having a bath before school.
She was laying in bed, looking a little tired. She started to get up and was already gathering his uniform, which was somehow on her bed. I told her not to worry, that I had him covered. "Are you sure?" She asked, pausing halfway between sitting up and laying down. "Yes, I am" I replied, "you should rest." "I should", she said, pausing to look into space, before adding "I'm actually very tired, I can't remember ever resting, but I feel obligated to get my grandson ready for school." "Don't worry, mummy, I've got this."
My mum didn't talk a lot about her childhood, and coupled with how protective she was of us, her children, I guessed that growing up wasn't very pleasant for her and as such tried not to remember it. She lost her dad really early in life, the one time I remember asking her about it, she couldn’t remember much, besides the fact that he was a chief in the village. Both my maternal grandparents were subsistence farmers in the village. My mum, I gather was eventually shipped off to Benin City to live with an uncle there, where she did domestic chores, until her mum, my grandma got terminally ill, and she was sent back to take care of her mum. After spending sometime in the village with her mum and realizing she wasn’t much help, she decided getting a job and earning some money was more useful and somehow ended up getting a job at a supermarket across the country all the way in Sokoto, where she moved to, and where she met my dad.
That sort of determination was to become the central theme in her life.
She was someone who never let her own circumstances, or the circumstances around her determine her lot in life, and she didn’t take NO for an answer and was always ready to grab anyone, or situation by the scruff of the neck and move it to wherever she thought it ought to be. Even though she was the second of 6 kids from her mother, she became the defacto defender and leader of the pack. Every single one of her younger siblings went through her house at some point. She fought for us and them always, and was never not ready to put herself in the line of fire for our sakes.
There are many stories about just how determined she was, but perhaps my favorite is one that happened long before I was born. She had been training as a teacher when she had my two older siblings. At some point, my eldest brother was ill and had to be treated at the hospital. He was injected and couldn’t walk for a couple of days as a result. My mum was so upset that she quit her training and applied to get into nursing school, to ensure that no one ever injected her child like that again.
She was pregnant with me through nursing school, and never failed to remind me whenever we had an argument or a falling out, that she was forced to repeat a year, not because she failed, but because they found out she was pregnant with me in nursing school, and as a result, I was supposed to perpetually extend grace to her for that episode.
True to her word, if you discount immunizations, only one other person (my Aunt) has ever injected me since birth. And my aunt only happened because I was in faraway Lagos and fell ill at her house.
She (and my dad, who also grew up in very similar circumstances) ensured that we grew up not lacking for anything, material or otherwise. She gassed us up so much that we all grew up confident. It didn’t matter that we were born in Sokoto, she raised us to be exceptional achievers and never failed to remind us that we were greater than whatever circumstance we found ourselves in. She would always say things like “Don’t worry, you will be fine”, “You will turn out great,” “You’re brilliant etc. She had an absolute belief in the fact that her children were extraordinary, and I often wonder if our achievements were because we were actually so, or whether she willed it into us. We didn’t have a choice, whether we believed it or not, whether we could see it or not, even when we seemed to be going in the opposite direction of what she was “speaking into existence,” one way or the other, we arrived at the destination she had pre-announced.
She never gave up on us and would never accept that anyone was beyond repair, regardless of how much trouble we got into. She always believed in us and saw (and willed) us into better behavior. Her house help was a thief that stole everything, she could lay her hands on, but my mum always made a case for her to stay.
She loved to laugh and as a kid, as soon as I discovered I tried to make her laugh at every opportunity. The one nickname that ever stuck to me was one she exclusively called me, after an 'Allo 'Allo routine, I did as a kid that cracked her up. Now that I think about it, I wonder if it was truly funny or it was just her way of encouraging her young, extremely reserved child to come out of his shell a little.
My mum prayed. Actually, I can’t think of any other thing she dedicated that much time to. Outside work, it seemed like she was always praying…in the day, and at night when most people slept, she prayed. Worried that she wasn’t getting enough sleep, I’d often try to get her to pray less and sleep more, but her response was always the same. “Sanusi, I don’t have a father or mother, nor do I have juju. God is all that I have, that’s why I pray.”
She was also always so in tune with us in a way, that I could never explain. She had a knack for knowing when something was wrong and stepping in. In secondary school, when I was at the verge of being suspended from school over god knows what, she showed up one evening while I was playing basketball and happened to meet my house master right as she walked in. Last year, while honoring a DSS invitation (which I hadn’t told her about just to keep her from worrying or trying to do something about), she randomly called me as I walked into the premises to ask what was wrong. It was almost clairvoyant, the way she just sensed that something was wrong, even though she was a thousand miles away.
She showed up like that for all her children, and my mum had many children. 5 biological, but a few hundred that she physically birthed as a nurse and midwife and kept in touch with, tens of people who went through her house, and maybe a few hundred from all the churches she attended and supported. Her arms were always open, and she was always ready to help. A street or so away from where she lived, she had a signboard up asking for people who needed help or needed someone to talk to with her personal numbers. I drove past that sign for years, before discovering that it was her actual number. Mortified, I raised it up with her and explained the dangers of having her number up. She shrugged it off, and told me that given the number of people and marriages she had “saved” it was well worth the risk.
That was the kind of mum we had.
I never get bad news at home. When my dad called to inform me of my younger sisters’ passing many years ago, I was on a Bus, heading back home from work. The look on my face must have distorted so much, because the driver immediately asked me if everything was okay.
When my dad called to inform me that my mum had passed roughly a month ago, I was at the train station with my family, heading back home after a rather long holiday. She had passed the night before in her hospital bed, at some point on our flight back.
In all, I’m thankful that I won the lottery in the choice of a mum, I’m thankful for all the times we shared, I am thankful that for the most part we were very close and maximized the times we shared, she didn’t lack for anything under our watch and we indulged her as much as we could afford to.
I miss her, and her Sunday check-in calls, but the memories I have of her are all happy ones.
I am a man of faith, so I know she’s in a much better place…but I can’t help but wonder what she’s filling her time up with these days, or whether she’s still praying.