Mother died two days ago. I stood there helplessly watching her as her breathing gradually slowed down and her heart stopped beating. A strange calmness came over me, everything seemed to be in slow motion, and I took stock of the scene before me. Everything around me was chaotic; everybody was suddenly playing a role in this bizarre nightmare that had suddenly become our reality. Mother was on the hospital bed, suddenly looking like a peaceful child who had fallen asleep, her hair woven to the back in the exact same hairstyle I had on, her wrapper tied loosely around her waist, she had no blouse on. On her right side sat my sister Agnes, pulling at my mother’s hands, crying hysterically and asking her, imploring, demanding of mother, all at once to wake up so we could go home.
Mother’s older sister, Aunty Helen instantly became a shadow of herself; she jumped up and slammed her head hard on the marble floor, twice. I remember thinking at the time that it would be very bad indeed to lose both my mother and aunt on the same day. I calmly walked to my mother nd began to arrange her clothes. I felt it would be wrong to cross to the next world with her wrapper tied on her waist, without even a blouse. I reached out and picked her blouse from the bed and set about wearing it on her body. I reached out to my sister and held her close to my bosom as she wept hot bitter tears.
Its 5 am, we are all gathered outside at the Military Hospital Yaba.
We have come to take our Mother to the village to bury her. Agnes and I as the first two are responsible for dressing our mother. Before we enter the Mortuary, the mortuary attendants ask that we wait while they go in to make sure “they” are ready for us. They knock three times and pause for some minutes before proceeding inside. We huddle together, cold and shivering as much from the morning air as well as the close proximity to the dead. After a short while, my sister and I are ushered in. We step into another world.
All around us are people who have departed this world; many are naked, men, women and children of different shapes, colours and sizes. They are naked, their faces frozen forever in death. I am frightened, shaken to my core, but I know that being the Ada, I have to be brave and strong, even if inside me, I am shaking with fear and screaming for my mother to wake me up from the nightmare which I have found myself. We approach the slab where her body lies, and I stare and stare. The person who lies here isn’t my mother.
The body is hers, the hairstyle is hers, but her face is not my mother’s face. It has the same frozen frown, the look the dead wear. I touch her skin, and it feels icy cold, no longer soft and supple as I remember it to be, I try to lift her arm, but alas, it is terribly heavy. I am greatly disturbed. Up until this moment, the reality of her death hadn’t hit me. To calm myself down, so I can function, I start chatting with her, as though she can hear me. I believe in my heart, that she can. We finish dressing her up, I apply makeup on her face and by the time we were through, her face has a smile on it! In wonder, I turn to my sister and ask her “Is that a smile I see on mother’s face? Or am I imagining things?” To which she answers, “It is indeed a smile”