Hello, Story tellers and welcome to another installment of the Parent Project. Today, we have for you, a beautiful story about a mother, her grief and her hope, given to us by the amazing Kiah. So, sit back, relax and enjoy!
“Can a mother forget the infant at her breast,walk away from the baby she bore?But even if mothers forget,I’d never forget you—never. Isaiah 49:15
She wakes up to the song that played in her dreams. It is a song she never thought she would hear again but here it is, filtering through the gauze of dreams into reality.
She has a new house mate and she guesses that it is through this medium the song has found its way back into her life. The girl moved in yesterday so Ropo cannot fault her. It has only been 24 hours after all, too soon for house mates to become friends, too soon to know each other that well.
Ropo doesn’t really need the rent money as much as she needs to fill the house with the presence of another living being. It has been almost a year since she shared living space with anyone. She is allergic to cats and doesn’t have it in her to love another dog as much as she loved Hamper, the dog of neighbors that had moved away last year. Plants were useless as housemates-they don’t move and live for the sun. Ropo hates the sun; she keeps the blinds in her bedroom closed and sunglasses on as often as she can.
She had placed an ad on sublets/temporary housing section of Craigslist a week ago:
“Seeking quiet housemate on a monthly basis for house in Dorchester. Close to subway station. Female preferred. $300 per month. You will have your own bathroom and small living area. Welcome to share massive kitchen and garden.”
There were no photos attached to the ad but the responses had been innumerable after about thirty minutes and Ropo had wondered if it had been a mistake to use Craigslist. She had heard such horrible things after all.
She was going through her email and deleting the responses one by one when one had caught her eye.
“I am not sure if this is for real (the price is so low!!!) but if it is, I am interested in renting this place. I am on a tight budget so $300 works but I was also wondering if you would consider $200. I am a student working a couple of jobs to get by but also a photographer when I am not working or schooling. If you need some photos of your house or yourself or something, we can come to an agreement to make up the rest of the rent as well. Please let me know.”
Maybe it was the simplicity of the response, maybe it was the honesty; it was the only email Ropo ended up responding to.
Three days ago, they had met for the first time at the Starbucks closest to the house. Her name was “Sallie”.
“Sallie with an ‘e’. Like Sallie Mae,” the girl had informed Ropo as the barista took their orders.
“Everyone calls me Ropo,” Ropo responded, all the while taking in the girl’s tattoos. There was one of an angel on her left wrist, another of a dove on the side of her neck and she noticed the cross on her hip just before they sat down. Sallie wore more rings than Ropo had ever owned in her life and had a ring in her nose as well. Her hair fascinated Ropo too, the Afro and curls reminiscent of someone she once knew but couldn’t seem to place a finger on at the moment.
“I am a Christian,” The girl suddenly announced in between sips of her café frappuccino.
“Great!” Ropo answered, unsure of how to respond. That explained the cross and angel, she thought to herself.
“Are you?” the girl asked.
“Am I what?” Ropo answered, her mind still focused on how much it must hurt to have your nose pierced.
“Are you a Christian? Do you love Jesus?”
“Oh!” Ropo said. It had been a long time she thought about religion. Her mother had made her go to church often as a child but she had not thought about the church or Jesus or anything in that vein in a while.
“I am a Christian by birth I guess. As for loving Jesus, I am not sure what that means. It also seems like a rather personal question so how about we move on to more pressing matters like how long you want the room for?”
“I will be sharing a house with you. What could be more personal than that?” She retorted, her eyes turning a shade wary.
Being married. Making love. Spending 9 months in my belly. Another 9 months latching onto my nipple…
Ropo had many responses for the girl’s rhetoric but she was suddenly too tired and even though Sallie seemed like a handful with her tattoos and rings, Ropo felt strangely comfortable with her so she kept her mouth shut and said none of the things she wanted to say that would have scared the girl away.
And so Sallie moved in yesterday with one duffel bag and a case that contained her photography equipment.
Ropo made her some tea and shared some of her rules:
“No sudden loud noises”
“Absolutely no sleeping over of male friends.”
“Female friends are welcome but they must be respectful.”
“Cleaning lady comes twice a week but please clean up after yourself as much as you can”
“You are welcome to share my groceries but not the Greek yoghurt, that brand is hard to find.”
After they had gotten the rules out of the way, the girl had asked, “Are you African or something?” At which Ropo had laughed and said “Or something?”
“Sorry. I mean you have a lot of African art around the place is all.”
Ropo marveled that the girl even knew what African art was.
“I was born to Nigerian parents and spent most of my childhood in Nigeria and Ghana. I came here when I was 12 but lived in Sweden for an exchange year when I was 20,” She answered.
“Oh wow! That is so cool. I love Nigerian Yoooruba music – it is so danceable. We have so much in common!” Sallie announced.
Ropo had laughed at the “so much in common” bit and spent the rest of the evening trying to teach her how to say “Yoruba” properly.
Now Ropo wonders if the girl knows the meaning of the song she is singing softly along to. When she and Todd had bought this house three years ago, it had made them giggle to imagine the sounds of their love making echoing through the thin walls to their children’s ears. Todd had wanted to rebuild and put in sturdier walls but Ropo loved the old house the way it was. It reminded her that growing old didn’t mean one had to fall apart, she told him. “Speak for yourself,” he had answered as he kissed her round belly and she ran her hand through his graying temples.
Later when they brought the baby home, Todd had thought it great that the walls were thin after all. It meant they could hear every time Sally cried or fussed in her nursery.
The day Sally died, they had been woken up by Hamper’s barking (Hamper had been so named because he was found abandoned in a gift hamper). Hamper was not a dog that barked often. Sally was not a child that let anyone else beat her to the waking up of her parents. That was how they knew something was wrong; the thin silent walls that were no longer animated by Sally’s cooing or crying or calling for “Papa”!
Sally died and life moved on. Except Todd didn’t. No matter how much Ropo tried to get him to, her husband couldn’t seem to reconcile himself with life as a father who had lost his child. One day Ropo came home from work to find him gone.
“I love you but I cannot be here Ropo. I cannot see past a future without Sally. Not in this place. I cannot forgive this world that moves on like nothing happened, like Sally never happened. I cannot forgive but like the world, I can forget. So like a coward, I am running away so I can forget.
I will never forget you. I will love you till I die. But everything else, I must forget.
The song playing now, “Oro Oluwa” was by some Nigerian gospel singer that Ropo’s mother, Maami loved. When Sally was born, Maami had taken the first flight from Lagos and showed up at their door without asking anyone if she was welcome or not.
Todd didn’t mind and neither did Ropo. It meant they could make love at odd hours without their newborn’s interference, as well as in odd places. Like the closet with their moans stifled so Maami wouldn’t hear. Like the downstairs bathroom with the water running to drown out the joy of their love. Like the guest bedroom downstairs because while noises filtered down, they never did up. They would make love as Maami sang along to “Oro Oluwa” playing on her iPad to the delight of Sally who joined in with coos and bubbling noises.
Maami finally went back to Lagos when Sally turned 4 months old. Every time she called, she would sing the song over the phone for Sally who would immediately stop fussing and start cooing along:
“Oro Oluwa, ko ni lo la ishe
Ife Oluwa ko ni lo la ishe
Imo oluwa ko ni lo laishe”
In the dream she had been dreaming before the song woke her, Ropo had been trying to get Sally to say “Mama”, a word she never got to say while alive but Sally kept saying “Papa”.
The tears start to leak from Ropo’s eyes now even though she has them closed and her womb contracts with loss and love. Her mourning is silent at first and then it finds a voice and she starts to wail loudly.
When Sally died, Maami had taken the first flight from Lagos that she could find.
“Aderopo, it is alright to cry, you know,” Maami said to her the very first night she arrived.
But Ropo ignored her mother’s advice and stayed dry-eyed.
No one comes to console her; not Sally, not Sallie, not Todd. When the tide finally stems, she goes to the bathroom and washes her face. The song is no longer playing but Ropo can still hear it in her head. She opens the blinds in the nursery where she has slept since Todd left and lifts her face to the July sun.
Ropo knows Sallie is gone before she knocks on her door. She is not surprised. Sally died at 9 months. Sallie is 19. Sally loved to mimic the cooing of the doves in the park they visited ever so often. Todd said it meant she was going to be a singer. Sally slept in a room covered with angel wallpaper. Sally wore a gold cross pendant Maami had brought all the way from Nigeria for her. They had buried her with it.
Ropo sits in the room Sallie just vacated for the rest of the day, looking out the window. She doesn’t call in sick to work. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.
There is nothing left of the girl in the room but Ropo finds that she can finally remember everything she thought she had forgotten about the child she lost. When afternoon comes, she hears the neighborhood children noisily returning home from school. When Sally died, sounds like these had tormented her. Now she finds that it isn’t so bad.
Evening comes and she gets on Orbitz for a one way ticket. Sally’s first vacation had been in Oslo. They had actually been headed to Todd’s hometown of Karlstad but the airline had somehow mixed up their destination with Oslo. At first, Todd had been livid but Sally had chosen to say ‘Papa’ that first night in Oslo as they waited for the airline to get them new seats. They had stayed on in that city, choosing to remain in the place where their child had finally recognized her father for who he was.
A one way ticket to Oslo because even though Todd said he wanted to forget, Ropo knows that more than anything that what he really wanted was to remember. Just like she had needed to. Just like Sallie had helped her to. She wonders if Sallie has been to Oslo too.
Tomorrow she will call the agent that Todd always used and ask that the house be put on the market.
She goes to sleep before the sun because it is summer, a time for falling asleep with the light in your face. She dreams that Sally says “Mama” with a smile wide enough to swallow sorrow and yet remain a smile.
Ropo wraps her daughter in an embrace sealed with kisses for a long time. Sally does the pulling away, a kindness really because no mother knows to do this thing gracefully. She starts to walk away and Ropo watches her go, duffel bag in one hand, camera in another, wings poised for flight.
Grief mourns for the future it will never know. Ropo finds she can let go of grief now that she knows what Sally would have been in the future. An angel. A Sallie with an ‘e’.