Princess: “Mama it is me, Princess.” I said, scared.
Matilda: “you killed my husband, you. You witch!” she said, coming towards me.
Chief Dominic staggered up from the floor, moaning in obvious pain. He looked at me and I could see the lines that the broomstick had left on his face. It was spread around his eyes, over his nose and lips. It hurt him, I could see that.
Chief Dominic: “I am not dead but your daughter has to be…” he jumped back.
Mama had blinked at him, her eyes wild.
Matilda: “you people have come again abi? You want to kill me like you killed my husband abi?” she asked, stepping towards Chief Dominic.
Her towel, which she had on her shoulder, fell from her body, but she didn’t mind this. I gasped and rushed to cover her up but she snatched my hand away and gave me a backhanded slap without even look at me. Chief Dominic stepped back, fear in his eyes. But even with the absurdity of the situation, his eyes coveted Mama’s body. I groaned and stood up. I picked the towel and threw over Mama as she snatched at Chief Dominic. He back pedaled out of our house and disappeared. Mama was intent on going to meet him outside, naked but i grabbed her from behind and begged her, tears in my eyes. I could not understand what was wrong. She struggled at first but I did not let go. Suddenly I felt the strength leave her. She sagged and fell to the ground. She turned to look at me then she burst into tears. She knew me again, I was glad. I wept as I crept into her embrace.
Matilda: “my baby, I am so sorry. I don’t know what is wrong with me. I don’t know what is wrong?” She said, weeping into my neck.
Princess: “there is nothing that cannot be fixed. We will go to the hospital. I will call Uncle Jonathan; he will be able to help.” I replied, cradling her shaking body in my tiny arms.
She nodded her head on my neck as we wept, alone in our pain.
At the hospital, the doctor there ran several tests and scans. He prodded and questioned then he prescribed certain drugs for Mama to take but he never did say what was exactly wrong with her. Mama knew what the drugs did though, and she seemed not to be happy about it but she took the drugs diligently. For a while, things were better. I even postponed calling Uncle Jonathan. Whatever it was that disturbed her, was gone. But that was a lie. Barely two months after she started taking the drugs, it happened again.
I came back home from school and met Mama on the floor in the sitting room. She had a pot placed on the centre table. She had placed pieces of wood under the table and was trying to strike a match stick on the wood. There was water all over the table and on the pieces of wood, but she seemed not to notice. She was muttering to herself as she struck match stick after match stick on the wet matchbox.
Princess: “Mama what are you doing?” I asked softly, my hands gripping my bag tightly, trying to push away the alarm I felt.
She looked at me and smiled. “I wanted to make lunch, love, but the gas is finished. This kerosene is not a good one. I am sorry; maybe you will eat a snack. I am having this headache, I want to go and bathe and sleep a little. How was school?” she asked.
Princess: “okay, go and have your bath and rest. I will clean up and get better kerosene. Then I will make lunch and we will eat together, ehn?” I replied, holding the tears back with all my strength.
Mama nodded, got up from her knees and walked into the room. I fell on my knees and wept. I could hear my heart breaking. After some time, I got up and cleaned up the sitting room, then I prepared lunch. When I went to her room, she was asleep; the drugs given to her by the doctor was scattered on the ground. I picked them up and arranged the room to the best of my ability without waking her up, then I called Uncle Jonathan. He picked the call after three tries
Jonathan: “hello, Matilda long time.” He said.
Princess: “uncle good afternoon, it is me Princess.” I replied.
Jonathan: “ha! Princess, how are you? Where is your mom?” he asked excitedly.
Princess: “uncle, Mama is not fine… Mama is not fine.” I burst into tears as I told him what had been happening.
When I was done speaking, he did not say anything for a while. I even thought the call was disrupted and I spoke into the phone;
Jonathan: “I will be in Benin this week. Don’t tell her that I am coming. I need to see this for myself.” He suddenly replied.
I breathed a sigh of relief and thanked him. He told me to take care of her and our call ended. I went about doing my assignment and making dinner, feeling lighter than I had felt in months.
Uncle Jonathan came two weeks later, late one evening. The weather had changed; trees bowing, clouds rumbling in the sky and restless winds lashing at everything around. The sky was dark like it was midnight. Nepa had taken the light as soon the clouds started gathering. I had lit the lantern and several candles to light the kitchen and the sitting room. Mama was in the kitchen preparing a quick stew that we were going to eat with yam and I was seated on a couch, doing a class assignment, when the knock came.
He grinned when I opened the door. I nearly fell into him in my excitement on seeing him. I had not seen him since Papa’s burial years ago; it felt like several centuries. I had grown in the interim and was now close to his chest. He hugged me laughing. Mama screamed happily when she saw him. They hugged and we brought him in from the incoming storm. He was like water in the lips of dehydration; he was like life in our home that night. As the storm raged outside and fat drops of rain threatened to pierce the roof and fall on us, we sat in the sitting room cradled in the warmth of the lantern and the candle’s meager heat, as Uncle Jonathan shared stories of his life in the Kano. We laughed, we gasped in fear, argued deep into the night. It was a happy night. Mama was happy and so was I.
The next day, I woke up to find Mama and Uncle Jonathan deep in conversation in the sitting room. I stood by my room door and listened in.
Mama: “I don’t understand it myself; this moment I am fine and going about my business, the next moment I black out. When I come to, I will find myself somewhere else, doing something else; sometimes I am naked. Sometimes I wake up with Princess crying over me. It is terrible weight in my head. The hospital gave me drugs but they are not helping, just making me sleep a lot.” She said.
Uncle Jonathan: “hmmm… this is serious. I know someone at Uselu Psychiatric Hospital who can have a look at you. She will be able to determine what…” he stopped when he saw Mama’s widening eyes
Mama: “I am not insane. I am not mad. Why do I need to go to Uselu?” she asked, her lips trembling.
Uncle Jonathan: “no, no, I am not saying that you are mad. These psychiatrists are the ones trained to understand the working of the mind. It is not necessarily madness they treat there. There are different mental issues people face and not all of them is madness. It is at Uselu, we can get an idea of what is wrong with you? Or do you want to remain like this…” he stopped talking
I had heard voices outside, so I left the door and walked to the sitting room window. Mama’s mouth opened to ask me something but no words came. I pushed the curtain aside and stared at the people outside. Deep inside me, I had been expecting this but with the time that had passed, I had become hopeful but I was coming to the realization that hope was a figment of my imagination. I turned from the window and looked at mama, then at Uncle Jonathan;
Princess: “Chief Dominic is here, Mama, and he is not alone.” I said softly.
Question: Do you think it is a good idea for Matilda to go to the psychiatrist hospital? What do you think Chief Dominic wants so early in the morning?
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