Mama Abiose was my… neighbour. I’m not certain ‘neighbour’ quite describes it though. I mean, technically, she lived in the same compound as me but I never considered her a neighbour. Perhaps, in the same way most people do not consider the security man a neighbour. You know, that kind of thing.
I was a little younger when I knew Mama Abiose but even then, I knew the woman was peculiar. She cleaned the gutters in our compound - that was her job. I guess making “tea” for her husband in a large plastic jug was her job as well. I had never seen Mama Abiose drink any tea. Maybe when she did drink, she locked herself up in their tiny closet-sized apartment away from the rest of the world. Maybe she didn’t want to steal Baba Abiose’s thunder.
We nicknamed Baba Abiose “Jug of Tea”. At every meal – breakfast, lunch and dinner – Baba Abiose drank a jug of “tea”. Mama Abiose made his “tea” with a small sachet powdered chocolate mix, some powdered milk and a lot of tap water. It was the most interesting “tea” you’d ever see.
I never really liked Mama Abiose, but I liked her a lot more than Baba Abiose and Abiose. Oh yes, Abiose. A very funny character, that one. But I never saw her drink any “tea” either. Well, there was this one time when Baba Abiose had been sitting in front of their house, swallowing large balls of Fufu[i] with Okra soup. His jug of tea rested beside him on the floor and he took large gulps each time he swallowed. It appeared as if he needed the tea to push down the Fufu balls, which I’m pretty certain was the case considering the size of those balls. Anyway, Abiose had just come in from church in her knee length jeans skirt, t-shirt, headscarf and the faded white rosary she wore around her neck. Her slippers made the flip-flop sound as if to prove beyond any doubt that it indeed was a flip-flop. She had drunk her father’s tea that day. I had seen her myself. It was something I’d never seen before - another human drink from Baba Abiose’s jug of tea - but then, if anyone was ever going to, it would have been Abiose. She and her father were the closest.
I remember one time when Mama Abiose had had a quarrel with Baba Abiose. Abiose had just come in from church in her knee length jeans skirt, t-shirt, headscarf and the faded white rosary she wore around her neck. Her slippers made the flip-flop sound as if to prove beyond any doubt that it indeed was a flip-flop. She had beaten up her mother that day. I had seen her myself. It was something I’d never seen before – a child beating up her mother – but then, if anyone was ever going to, it would have been Abiose. She and her family were the weirdest.
I’m not sure the fight had been about the jug of tea but what I’m pretty certain of is that Mama Abiose had “accidentally” kicked Baba Abiose’s jug of tea while she was struggling with Abiose. Immediately, the fight had stopped.
“Mommy, ihufugo[ii] tea daddy!”, Abiose had cried as she let go of her mother’s tiny body.
Mama Abiose had become even more indignant and had kicked the jug into the gutter. I remember her panting loudly, her red eyes darting from her husband to her daughter, waiting for whom would dare come at her. Neither one of them had. They had both stood quietly staring at the spilled tea.
Mama Abiose’s eyes had darted around as if it were trying to say; Look at this TEA. Look at it! I will take you down the way I took down this TEA in its prime. Try me!
Neither one of them tried her though. After a few minutes of mourning Baba Abiose’s jug of tea, Abiose had stormed off. I remember because I had been standing in my balcony watching the fight. I remember the way her slippers made the flip-flop sound as if to proof beyond any doubt that it indeed was a flip-flop.
Baba Abiose had thrown away his fufu and okra soup, and had walked quietly towards their tiny closet-sized apartment. He had turned around just as he was at the entrance and had said to Mama Abiose, “M ga egbu gi”
“M ga egbu gi” is Igbo language for “I will kill you.”
The thing is, Mama Abiose and Baba Abiose were actually Igbo. Their children, however, not so much. I really cannot tell you how but what I can tell you is this:
Mama Abiose and Baba Abiose were Igbo[iii] Nigerians who grew up in the east. They moved to Lagos in search of greener pastures. I do not know whether or not they had had all their children here in Lagos or how many children exactly they had, but this I can tell you for sure: Mama Abiose and Baba Abiose let other people name their children. Have you ever heard of such a thing in your life?
When Mama Abiose and Baba Abiose moved to Lagos, they had had a Yoruba landlord. I can tell you this for sure because Mama Abiose had told me herself. We had been sitting in front of her tiny closest-sized apartment and I had asked her, “why do your children have Yoruba[iv] names?”
She had begun telling me the story of her Yoruba landlord and how he named her daughter “Abiose” which means “born on the first day of the week”. Before she had Abiose, she had had another child, Abiodun. Abiodun means “born during a celebration” and was also given to her child by the Yoruba Landlord. Mama Abiose had told me everything but why, which was the entire point of the question.
I had gone into my house feeling very irritated with Mama Abiose. The woman had a thing for being unable to answer simple questions. It was her thing the same way having children on special days apparently was. I remember how she could never just say yes or no.
“Mama Abiose, did NEPA[v] bring the light?”
“This NEPA people she like wickedness too much. Very wicked person. Tomorrow now she’ll come and cut light. I don tired for this NEPA people”
Oh, did I forget to say how Mama Abiose loved the pronoun “she.” It was her favourite word. You could call it a grammar deficiency but I prefer to think of it as some kind of radical feminism. Her most interesting use of “she” was when she used it after a noun.
“The tap she has stop running.”
I always wondered why. But then, with Mama Abiose, there were never any answers.
I never found out why Mama Abiose let her Yoruba landlord name her children but I can tell you this for free, insanity leaves you no choice. Insanity does what insanity wants.
I cannot tell you the genesis of Mama Abiose’s insanity but what I can tell you is this:
At one point, she served ten years in prison. Don’t ask me why, I do not know. The day Mama Abiose told my mom about her time in prison, she had come into my house asking for onions to cook her beans. I remember her sitting on the floor in our sitting room, surrounded by empty couches. No one had invited her to sit on the couch; the floor seemed just right for her. She had begun telling my mother how she had spent ten years in Kirikiri prison. In different circumstances, that might have been an extremely touching story. Even now, it’s difficult for me to tell. But that day, on our sitting room floor surrounded by empty couches, we only saw Mama Abiose telling one of Mama Abiose stories. I feel ashamed saying this now but somehow, back then, we never really considered Mama Abiose a… person.
Mama Abiose lived a very hard life. You could tell from her body. She was extremely scrawny and small. Her palms were as coarse as leather. The lines on her face looked like they had been drawn on with a screw driver. She gave new meaning to the word “chiselled.” Just from looking at Mama Abiose, you could tell she had lived a hard life. Too bad she had to deal with a husband who was obsessed with large jugs of “tea” and a daughter who beat her up, to add to all her troubles.
And her troubles seemed to know no bounds. I knew this for a fact when her oldest daughter, Abiodun, moved in. I don’t know where Abiodun had been all the while, but what I do know is that when she moved in, we had actually thought she was a better person than Abiose. Until the day Abiodun had walked into the compound wearing boot-cut jeans. You must be thinking “fashion blunder!” but no, this happened in 2005 when boot-cuts were still cool. The problem with that particular boot-cut jeans was the patch at the hem. And also the fact that it belonged to my sister.
Mama Abiose had a lot of troubles; a husband who was obsessed with large jugs of “tea”, a daughter who beat her up and another daughter who steals. It seemed like Mama Abiose troubles knew no bounds.
I remember the day we had moved to Little Road, Mama Abiose had received us at the gate. She had assisted us in unpacking and even helped clean up our new house. I do not know if Mama Abiose had helped us out of genuine good intentions or if she had been building up to ask for a box of matches to light her kerosene stove. The woman was always asking for something. It was her thing the same way having children on special days and being unable to answer simple questions apparently were.
To be fair though, she only asked for little things; a box of matches, onions, pepper or some washing soap. I always wondered why she couldn’t just buy these things since she always had need for them. Well, I guess her husband’s obsession with tea must have really been doing a number on their finances. Poor woman.
There were things Mama Abiose always had though. Strangely they were always small, sharp objects. Mama Abiose could never not have a razor blade or a sewing needle. If you ever had a need for one of such items, Mama Abiose was the one to ask. The first time I asked Mama Abiose for a razor blade, I had run out of options and I had seriously needed to cut something. I really cannot remember what it was but I’m certain it must have been urgent. She had been sitting in front of her tiny closet-sized apartment humming a rhythm-less tone. I dreaded having to speak to Mama Abiose because it almost always turned into a longer conversation than planned.
“Mama Abiose, please do you have blade?”
“Ehen Chioma, how are you?”
“I’m fine. Do you have blade?”
“Wait, it be like say I can get… Did you know this song I’m sing?”
“New money don come, tikpakpa tikpa
Naira and Kobo, tikpakpa tikpa
Give am to Owerri girls, tikpakpa tikpa”
“That is the song we are sing in Owerri girls.”
“Okay, please do you have blade?”
“Ehen blade blade blade blade… Wait make I check it inside house”
She had eventually given me the blade but not after I had been to Owerri Girls and had seen the new money myself. I’m telling you, the woman was a walking-talking menace.
You have not had a laugh until you’ve heard Baba Abiose call his children. Being an Igbo man with an Igbo accent, pronouncing Yoruba names was a struggle. I remember how Baba Abiose would put down his jug of tea, lick the film off his moustache, lean back slightly in his chair and scream “ABUOSI!”. I always thought, if “Abiose” was too difficult to say, why then did he not just call them by their Igbo names. Yes, they did have Igbo names. Abiose was Ezinne and Abiodun was Ugochi. But Mama Abiose and Baba Abiose preferred calling their children by Yoruba names. Perhaps, they enjoyed the challenge.
It’s funny thinking about it now, but we never learned Mama Abiose and Baba Abiose’s last name. Heck, we never even learned their actual names. I guess it was probably because we never really considered them as people.
We eventually moved out of our house on Little Road and lost contact with Mama Abiose and Baba Abiose. But I did learn that Abiodun had become pregnant and had moved in with her baby’s daddy in a tiny closet-sized apartment not far away from Little Road. Abiose had moved in with an older woman who lived on Little Road, and Mama Abiose and Baba Abiose had died. Tragic.
Now, to that. Remember in the middle of the story when Baba Abiose threatened to kill Mama Abiose? Well, he did kill her. “Allegedly.”
About two years ago, Mama Abiose had gotten very ill and had relocated to the village to get traditional medical treatment. Soon after, she had died. When I heard, I couldn’t believe it. I never thought Mama Abiose could die. Perhaps, because I never really considered her a… person.
It gets even more interesting. Shortly after Mama Abiose’s death, Baba Abiose had fallen ill too. He had relocated to the village to get traditional medical treatment and soon after, he too had died. Rumour had it that they had both died of HIV/AIDS.
I do not know how they contracted the disease but I’m pretty certain the answer lies somewhere between the Yoruba landlord and Mama Abiose’s obsession with sharp objects. Oh, and of course, prison.
My favourite theory, however, which is also the most popular one, is that Baba Abiose had contracted the virus from one of his sexual partners and had infected his wife. I mean, he did say he was going to kill her.
The only problem with this theory is that I sincerely, honestly, cannot accept that Mama Abiose had had sex in her tiny closet-sized apartment on Little Road.
No, nope, no and no.
She might have had some procreative sex in her youth and that is working with the assumption that Abiose and Abiodun were birthed the conventional way. I mean, you can never tell with these people. But the thought that Mama Abiose and Baba Abiose had had actual sexual intercourse in their tiny closet-sized apartment on Little Road literally causes my stomach to churn. Who would have thought? Between the two of them, their daughters’ idiosyncrasies, and their tiny closet-sized apartment, you’d think that the ‘area’ was closed for business. Taped off, sealed and demolished. But then, you can never tell with these people.
There were a lot of ‘maybes’ with Mama Abiose and Baba Abiose. No one could really say they understood them.
We do not know why Baba Abiose had had an obsession with large jugs of “tea” or why Abiose had beat up her mother. We do not know why Mama Abiose and Baba Abiose had let another person name their children or if Baba Abiose had actually killed Mama Abiose. What we do know is that, in all the land, no one was ever as insane as the insane neighbours of Little Road.