IN CONVERSATION WITH THE DEAD | PECULIAR C. ENE

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There are times when thoughts of mother come flashing in my head, but all they bring are empty memories of undocumented history.

I miss those times you appear in my dream and disappear before I reach you.. Those nights it rained and you come to me by lightning. I hear the stories they tell about you and I try to picture your face through the face of aunty Ladi; the only living sister earth still nurtures for you, or rather, for me, for my sister Patricia.

My heart gets heavy sometimes that it fees like breaking through my chest especially when my new mother lays the foundation. There’re days she makes me cry and wish you’re still here. There’re also times I wish I died in place of Shedrach.

Growing up and not hating her was something I had to struggle with especially when she’d lie just to have my father punish me. I still remember the night I was flogged mercilessly by father because she told him I slapped her. I wish I did. Somehow it would have helped me bear the pain I suffered from the cuts I incurred from the wipe.

I’d never seen father furious like he was that night. What broke me was the fact that he believed her. Nothing could hurt more than that. Not even the wounds. Of course, it wasn’t the first time I got punishment for committing an offense I know nothing about, neither was it the last. How she could lie and cry at the same time surprised me. Not anymore. I’m used to it already.

What’s that thing that hinders the dead from visiting the living? I see in a movie where the dead and the living gets to party once in year and it makes me wish life is but a fairytale.

I’m mad at you for dying on me, for dying on father and my sister. I guess Shedrach was lucky to have died too. Yes, he was lucky to have escaped all the wickedness earth would have served him without you. May his soul find rest. For sure, he’s resting. For what does God have against a baby less than a year old? Nothing.

I still tell people I don’t wish for your return with the excuse that you never existed to me. Well, that’s the only way I manage to escape the suffering and emotional illness your demise brought me.

It’s over a decade since you slept and I’m still here wishing you’d wake up in an old photograph lacking colour and a three letter word written in red ink on your forehead “RIP” just like the ones I see in Uncle’s pictures. Even that of my stepmother. I think it is a thing with the older generation to inscribe R.I.P(Rest In Peace) on photographs of their deceased as though it’ll attorn for their sins and grant them free admission into heaven. Perhaps, it is a conscious way of announcing an obituary or telling of the death of friends and family members to anyone who cares to flip through old copies of bleached looking photographs that smells of death itself. The look of the people in it to their long forgotten wears tells you they’re not of this generation. We call it Old school. I hardly see insignias like that on my friend’s pictures. Somehow they find it easier to shove your emotions with death stories orally than leaving their wishes as insignias on photographs of dead relatives and friends. Countless times, I find myself crying listening to people share stories of how they lost a relative. I’m that emotional. Father jocularly told me once that I have too many tears in my eyes, reason I cry about almost everything. Sometimes I wish I could just live and not feel.

How did you do it? I mean the food flask containing jollof rice you brought for my sister and I after your death. Was it part of your plan or it was a coincident Patricia almost died from eating your food?

I can’t remember why I didn’t eat with her but I remember not having a good feeling about you that day. I was three but sensitive.

Did you hate the paster that organised prayers and fasting for Patricia commanding your spirit back to where it belongs or you just left on plans to return as you did when it rained heavily that night I was wrongly accused, flogged and sent outside to cry, shivering from cold and scared of the dark, I held on to my sister before you made us run like mad dogs into the house.

The lightning was quick as usual and accompanied by a resounding thunder that sounded as if the heavens was falling that I almost jumped out of my skin, I was terrified to my toes not to have noticed anything but I can’t be wrong about what I saw, it was you standing there in the rain watching us. I don’t need to remember what your face looked like to know it is you whenever I encounter you. My spirit tells me. I guess you didn’t mean to scare us. I don’t know if Patricia saw you too but we both ran.

Was it my imagination or it was really you I saw standing at the corner of aunty’s one room apartment somewhere in Mararaba, Nasarawa State that afternoon Shedrach died from convulsion while stretching his hands towards your direction?
No, they didn’t see you. And no, I wasn’t just seeing things. Well, somehow they knew it was you; they knew you took him. We all believe so, especially me because I saw you.

I still remember aunty, mindless of her near-nudity when the wrapper covering her body decided it could no longer cover her as it fell to the ground while she was trying to revive Shedrach leaving her upper body bare of any clothing as she cursed in tears calling your full name, accusing you of wickedness for taking her son, sorry your son from her.

I wonder how I managed to believe they are no true ghost stories when my encounters with you are still fresh like the cakes I now bake. I prefer to believe what my Bible says, “It is appointed unto a man once to die and after death judgement.”I guess it is another escape route for me to cure myself of my longings for you.

I didn’t cry when you died. Do people cry when they don’t know about the death of their dear ones? I believed father when he said you travelled. I waited for your return only for you to start appearing and disappearing like the ghosts I see in movies.

I didn’t cry even when the children in our neighbourhood corrected me that you my mother didn’t travel to the village but had died. I ran to ask father. I can’t remember the answer he gave me. I only remember sitting at Uncle Turuna’s drinking place with father and Patricia eating goat meat pepper soup with 25CL Fanta. Mortuary standard like my friend David would say.

Then father brought a woman to the house announcing the arrival of a new mother. They said he had married her. I was at their wedding but what did I know then?

I looked at her and didn’t find you in her so I told father in her presence that she’s not my mother. I was too young to pick my words. She herself was less mature mentally to know I was but a child. I guess it is one of the reasons she doesn’t like me till date. I said one of the reasons because I remember always reporting her to father each time she treated me harshly. Like the time she used a spatula to hit my mouth for saying what I can’t remember and the morning she woke us(my sister and I) from sleep by hitting our heads with an iron bucket. Heaven knows I screamed on top of my voice just to alert father. Well, she denied doing anything like that. Father didn’t know what to believe, but he knew I wasn’t lying.

* * *

You stopped appearing when I believed them. When my inquisitiveness had me sitting at your sister’s feet listening to the stories she told about you__ your life and death.

Your death is still a mystery to me. It wears my mind like a helmet of confusion. Aunty has her own story similar to that which her relatives tell; pointing accusing fingers on father’s mother while father and his relatives tell their own story accusing your father for your death. I’m drunk in confusion so I’ve shifted the blame from neither granny nor grandpa and wear it on death.

If you could talk to me, I’d love to hear your own side of the story just to be sure. Not just that. There’re a thousand and one questions I’d love to ask you. One of which is to why you didn’t try to take me with you like you did with Shedrach. Not even an attempt like you did with Patricia. Am I your least favourite? Did you like me less? They told me about the many times I’d cry for no good reason just to get your attention from Shedrach. Did it offend you tha much that you didn’t want me with you in the after life? or you were worried I’d be a headache with my endless cries.

It’s fine. I shouldn’t be saying these things but the fact that you didn’t consider taking me with you sometimes makes me want to think you didn’t like me as much as you did with my siblings.

You didn’t come for father as well. I heard how he begged severally to see you again even in his dream but you know how to keep your distance from those that really love and desperately wish to see you.

Did you know my stepmother once accused me of killing you and Shedrach because I wasn’t careful enough to watch my kid brother, her son. He fell and injured his mouth and I became a witch that caused your death, that of my brother with plans to kill her own son. That day, I was beaten with iron hangers by her and Ada, her apprentice. Like expected, she denied it when I was able to talk to father about it and I became a liar. I believe you understand how I felt. I was a child but I can never forget these things. How would I when she wouldn’t stop lying even now that I’m grown and about to get married. Just last month, she attacked me with her fingers and almost blinded my right eye for spanking her son for not obeying her when she sent him on an errand. I thought I was helping her. She told me not to help train her children and told father I slapped her and pushed her to hit her head on the wall when she demanded to know why I was beating her son. She claimed I was chasing him round the compound and beating him with sticks and stones. She’d pass for the devil’s apprentice when it comes to lying.

* * *

I still can’t remember your face. You know how to make me forget what you look like each time you come to me. You disappear with my memory of what your face looks like same way you made sure there’s no photograph of you after your death through means humans consider natural__ like the roof of our house flying off when it rained heavily destroying all our pictures including yours. I’m blaming you for it because mysteriously, no one has a picture of you and when I found a photograph I believed was yours in father’s wardrobe, I said I was going to show it to him on his return from work but I couldn’t find it again. I know you were behind that too. I guess you prefer not to be remembered, but please, if you ever get to travel this path which the living trails before I sleep forever, kindly toss me a picture of yourself smiling. I really love to see the resemblance they say we share.

PECULIAR COMFORT ENE is a poet and a short story writer with several publications. Born and brought up in Benue State. A Lover of Art and admirer of Science. Emotional. She loves to travel especially for tourism. At age six, she dropped her real name “Clementina” for “Comfort” for a reason she now see as childish. Aside writing, she’s a baker, seamstress, and a make-up artist. She’s a graduate of English and Literary Studies, Benue State University Makurdi. A member of SEVHAGE Literary Development Initiative, Performance Artist at Benue Poetry Troupe (BPT) and a humanitarian at Hope Space Initiative. Nature and emotion inspires her writings.

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