Fiction ~ The Strange Case of Mother ~ Aso Salisu


Pic: Aminu S Muhammad

Before Daddy returns from work, there would have been broken plates, torn curtains, a rumpled bed and the settees turned upside down. Sometimes, there would be soup stains all over the walls. I thought it was all fun but Daddy didn't think so. He would return to the usual screaming matches with mother, raging and throwing things all over the place. Most times, I ended up receiving the beating of my life from either him or mother. I was always the victim of their altercations. Sometimes, I wondered if they were forced on each other, I never saw my friends' parents act like that.

Baban Indo, as my Daddy was called, was a good man, always helping me with my homework, lifting me to the backseat of his bicycle and teaching me how to operate my toy computer. He also bought sweets and popcorn for me, especially when Mama beats me. Until the Easter of 2003 when he suddenly disappeared and nothing was seen or heard of him again.

Mummy was a good woman too. She always prepared my food, bathed me, washed my clothes and told me bedtime stories to lull me to sleep. She too, was known as Maman Indo. I'm not the Indo. I don't even know her. I only learnt that she was born, but had returned to the womb of Mother Earth three years before I came.

***
That night, my uncles came home and talked about lots of things I can't remember now, as they mourned. Most of them did not cry the way people cried when our neighbour, Baba Yola, passed away. Some of them left the following morning, others waited till days later. A wizard who did a display of tossing cowries and wagging of a horsetail was brought to the house. He made some incantations and gave us assurances that his charms would work. In doing so, he said, “Insha Allah.”

Some of my uncles said, they wanted to move Mummy to another house – a smaller house for only me and her and our property. A particular uncle said, for my widowed Mummy to continue to live in the house – her house, our house – she must agree to marry him. I couldn't imagine Mummy getting married to that wicked uncle Tama, even though he didn't look much different from Daddy, and especially me.

The whole thing looked like a scene from a movie to me. But, I didn't hold the remote control to fast-forward, pause or stop it. I was a statured audience. Mummy and I wept and wailed; when we couldn't do so anymore, we went on with our lives.

***
The police came and went away, came back again and left, but couldn't unravel the mystery, apart from asking questions and noting down answers on a piece of paper like those newspaper people. They behaved like Mallam Tanko, our headmaster who anytime he stood before us on Mondays and Fridays at the assembly ground would ask many questions. The policemen were not putting on white glasses like the doctor I once met at that big hospital, Mummy called “General Hospital”. But seeing the way the policemen took notes in their jotters made me wonder why they were not headmasters. They acted more like teachers than the police I watched in movies.

I didn't know what one of the officers asked or wanted Uncle Sabo to say. I only heard three thunderous slaps twai-twai-twai. Uncle Sabo knelt down, covered his face with his palms and made some incoherent noises. I didn’t know that elders too could be beaten. I didn’t also know that they could cry like us, children. I thought the only thing that could make them cry was when they lost their mother. I had watched my father shed tears when his mother, Inna, passed away, but he didn’t use his mouth to moan as Uncle Sabo did before the police officers.

'You liar,' the stony-face officer said, his bloodshot eyes filled with fury. Uncle Sabo, who was now on the ground like a sack of ripe tomato held his black chin which had turned red, whimpered like a child and began to beg. I didn't know if I should have begged the police officer to forgive him or asked to know his house so that I could go and call him to slap uncle Sabo for me anytime he beats me. But I was terrified by the monstrous look Uncle Sabo shot at me.

***
Rumour had it that my Daddy's corpse was found in a dumpsite some villages away. While another claimed he faked his death to get away from his numerous creditors and nagging wife. So many stories were speculated about his death or disappearance. I thought he committed suicide to be free from Mummy's endless troubles. He probably jumped into a big river like River Kuspa and was eaten up by a big shark or mammy water.

They said Mummy was mentally unstable; others called her a witch. I know she had strange characteristics but couldn't be a witch. She's my mother after all, and couldn't be replaced by anyone.

When I was seven, Hajjo, the girl down the street, said my Daddy left us because I was short, wide-mouthed, flat-nosed, bulbous-eyed and ugly. I had never seen Mummy as angry as she was that night after I told her.
'Where does she live, my son?’
I told her.
Hajjo didn't show up in school the following day and the school was closed the day after.
We relocated to another town a week later.

A few days after my eleventh birthday, a boy named Ashiru pulled my dreadlocks at the playground, pushed me over and injured my elbow. Again, Mummy asked where he lived. I told her. He, too, disappeared and we had to move again.

Later, that year, Uba, the boy who sat next to me in Elementary Science class copied my test and got us both punished for cheating. I was angry. I had practiced for hours in preparation for that test. I told Mummy what happened when I got home. I told her it wasn't fair that our teacher wouldn't listen that it wasn't my fault, and that the olodo, Uba, refused to admit he copied my work. I raged all night, even after Mummy left the house in the middle of the night. I was only beginning to calm down when she got back before dawn and told me not to worry, that Uba would never copy my work and put me in trouble again. I was so happy even though I didn't know what she had done to him. My happiness was short-lived when the following morning I didn't see Uba in school. No one saw him, I mean, ever again. I then became suspicious of mother but didn't mind saying anything to her.

Soon my classmates started looking at me in a strange way and stood away from me as if to say, you got scabies, don't even try to come near. I would go close, hold and try to play with them. They would struggle to be free from my grip and run away to report me to our whip-wielding Labour Master. Sometimes, they cursed me by saying the foul words, wawa or shege. I would sulk and later report to Mum. Some of them whose names I remembered to tell her disappeared forever.

When I was twelve, my best friend, Binta, called me mumu and other bad names because of a small disagreement we had while playing together. She even said we were only friends because her mother told her to be nice to the freak with a single parent. It hurt my feelings. I came back home from school that afternoon with dried tear-marks on my cheeks. Mummy asked where Binta lived. I refused to tell her. I didn't know how she found Binta's address. She jumped into her blue Mitsubishi car and left, despite my plea against whatever action she was intending to take. I didn't sleep that night. I couldn't. When morning came, I just knew Binta too had already disappeared.

***
The police came and took Mummy away; they finally found a link to the too many disappearances. She used to show up, always in her blue Mitsubishi at the doorstep of the children's houses with watery eyes and clenched fists. She would warn their parents before making the children disappear if the parents did not oblige to her instantly. Binta's parents told the police that she warned them last night to keep a close eye on their “little monster” else the girl would be punished for their own good. When they asked her to leave, she got enraged, turned her back and like a passing wind, Binta disappeared.

It didn't take long for the police to find the skeletons in her closet and the ones in the basement after carrying out a thorough search of our house. Five mummified corpses, all lined up, moved from one house to another as we moved across the country. I learnt a sixth one was also found somewhere in the garden in our backyard. I wish I saw it. The policemen didn't allow me to go near it, saying children are not allowed to see corpses. God! Could there be father’s among them? I wish I could ask but I was afraid of both Mum and the red-eyed police officer.

A stoutly-built officer among them grabbed Mummy and took her away.

They promised to get me new parents, and indeed they got me lovely foster parents who never asked where my bullies lived nor visited them in the middle of the night.

I pity Mummy. She is now in a rehabilitation centre, from where she would be moved back to the police station, from there to court and then to prison.

I'm here under the sweet care of a kind-hearted mother and father. But no matter how hard they try to make me happy, I know they aren't my real parents and I look forward to when I'll unite with my mother again.

*******


Aso Salihu writes prose and teaches English at the Niger State College of Education, Minna, Niger State.

                                             


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