“Go and rub some cream”
I told him in Igbo language, “jee tee ude” while pointing with my left hand towards the direction of his room.
At that moment, I saw her, in my mind’s eye.
She was pointing with her left hand too, dressed in a simple dark green patterned Ankara blouse and wrapper, (iro and buba style) holding the curtain with her right hand and also indicating the direction I should go with her head while looking sternly at a younger me.
My Mum and her mannerisms; she was stern enough to discipline and command respect but soft enough to give me my space to vent when I disagreed with her decisions as a young adult. Though her decisions stood anyway.
I can’t ever remember her calling us names. The most I can remember was she complaining that I was slow while doing house chores (rolls my eyes).
She had her expressions though and we would later turn them to jokes. She would usually ask;
‘a ga akpo gi onye isi di nma ka o onye isi n’adiro nma?
Which meant; based on your actions, would they call you someone who is sane or insane?
And if the person was feeling bold, they would say; someone who is sane, “onye isi di nma” even though you obviously qualify to be called the latter.
She also doesn’t expect you standing around when work is being done especially in the kitchen, she would usually ask;
“i kwu akwu?” Are you standing?
Spoken without looking at you, nooo, she was too busy preparing three different pots of soup; uzo ofe ito but she would say it with enough subtle threat in her voice to make you find something doing or explain why you were idling away at that moment.
I remember her standard instructions while going out, it changed over the years.
While we were much younger she would say:
“Zachakosisia, fichakosisia, kpochakosisia ebe nine”
That’s telling us to clean the entire house and make it tidy.
She said this with her eyes wide open for emphasis, her head turning round and her right hand holding her white hanky; just taken down from the cloth hanger, gesticulating to indicate the entire flat we shared with her then. Four large bedrooms, a huge dining room and a sitting room, let’s not include the corridors that qualify as rooms in modern day Lagos buildings. Thankfully, my Dad’s adjoining flat was cleaned by his umu boyi; the boys learning trade with him.
Later on, when we were much older, it would be her announcement as she locked her room door;
“I am going o!”
Said in English and then she would take measured steps which you could count by the sound of her fancy slippers; carefully selected to match her outfit, as they hit the floor. She would then stop by the room door of whoever was home at that time and ask;
“O nwee ife di mkpa?”
Is there anything needed at home that I should buy or sort out…
As I walked away from telling my older son to put some cream on his body this morning, it dawned on me how often these flashbacks have been occurring since she passed on. I’m certain my siblings experience them too.
Memories of her reactions, her mannerisms, her gesticulations, triggered by even the slightest, seemingly unrelated things.