The grief is total; complete in its wrecking of our bodies, souls and entire lives. We forget to eat, to sleep, to take baths, to soak up the rivers coursing their way down our faces with tissues or cloth or hope. We totally forget how to be.
Someone takes Jaiyejeje. I don’t know who but I am thankful to whoever it is. My heart feels like it will never love again. I know that this isn’t true but for now it is what it is. Olagbade walks around with eyes that see nothing. Our eyes are still stuck on the past and the “should haves, could haves, would haves” so that we can’t see how the current present could ever point into any future. We are definitely in no shape to care for a little child.
We bury Koku on an ordinary day. There are no signs in the skies, no quaking underneath our feet; only our faces and hearts seem to bear the brunt of her leaving. There is a hole in our world bigger than the grave we put her little body in but the universe seems to take no notice. This is how I know that nothing will ever be the same again.
Someone clears out her room. They do it the night Olagbade convinces me to sleep in our bedroom instead of Koku’s room where I have slept since the day I left her behind in the hospital, never to come home again. I do not know who is responsible for this outrage and so I take it out on the closest person to me- Olagbade. How dare he? How could anyone have thought it right to try to wipe out the little that I have left of her presence? I cannot stop the dry sobs that shake my body or the keening that escapes my mouth. Someone calls the family doctor who arrives with something to put me to sleep. I do not speak to Olagbade for days after.
I wake up one day to find Jaiye back in our lives. He appears the same way he disappeared. I am taken aback by how different he looks. When did those pajamas get too small? When did his hair get so bushy? Why are his eyes shaped like almonds and his eyelashes like a girl’s? Who is this child? Whose is this child?
He is turning three in six months; the age his sister will always stay. It makes me think of her last birthday party, how she had laughed endlessly every time she saw a balloon, and fresh grief overtakes all the recovery I might have made in the three weeks since she died.
2 year olds however have no time for grief. Jaiye is like a whirlwind; he shakes us up out of our lethargy with his demands, his presence, his essence. Suddenly there are baths to be had, meals to be cooked, and many other good examples to be made.
Olagbade returns to work a week after Jaiye comes home, a month after Koku emptied our lives of her laughter. He has taken all the time he can from the family run business. I heard him argue about it on the phone three days ago.
“Ame needs me with her. She is not doing so well.” He said to which ever member of the family had been given the onerous duty of demanding his return to reality.
“Go,” I told him when the telephone conversation ended.
He starred at me for a while before kissing my forehead and heading to the garage where I knew he went to weep daily for his daughter.
The morning he is to return to work, I try to make breakfast but I keep staring out the window to the garden where I helped my little girl plant seeds for her first flower bed. The eggs burn.
The cook usually turns up at 9am every day, too late for Olagbade to have breakfast if he is to make it to work on time. Besides she had requested a week off; a break from all these sadness. I envy her; I wish I too could take a break.
Gbade’s eggs are my first attempt at normality but the tiny flower bed I dug with Koku and her purple toy spade is now overrun with weeds and I don’t know what to do. A slight breeze blows in through the open window and that is when I smell something burning and hear Olagbade calling gently to me from the doorway of the kitchen.
He has Koku’s favorite cereal, Lucky Charms, for breakfast instead, eyes fixed on me, asking every other minute if he should stay home one more day. He is a wonderful husband and an even better father. I count what is left of my blessings as he goes upstairs to kiss Jaiye one more time before heading to work. He returns with tear filled eyes. I don’t acknowledge his tears, at least not with any words but I hold onto him a little longer than usual before he walks out the door.
Jaiye wakes up with a shout at 8.30. It occurs to me that it is our first day together alone since he was born. I realize then that our interactions have always involved someone else- mostly Koku, and many times, Olagbade. I realize that I have always looked at my son through the same lens I looked at his sister. Now that those lens are blurred, I see that I have left him to be more of his father’s son while Koku was my daughter.
It is why I have looked at him these past few days and sometimes felt anger. Why her and not him? Why my beautiful baby girl who looked exactly like me and not this rambunctious two year old that laughed too loudly and made a mess no matter how much I cleaned? Why my first born child? Why was it the child that opened the door and led me by hand into the future that had to leave?
“Mama” Jaiye says to me when I enter the room he has called out to me from. He rubs his eyes and looks at me skeptically, as if he can read my thoughts.
“Hey little guy. Did you sleep well?”
“Mama” he says again, as if to convince me that I am still someone’s mother.
I walk to his bed and lean in him for a hug and my son holds on tightly.
“Koku?” he asks after a while and I am taken aback.
He has not said her name since he came home. I and Olagbade have been thankful for this respite of not having to explain his best friend’s whereabouts. How do you tell a child that he is mortal? How do you explain that people die? That he will die someday? That the people he loves will die eventually?
I don’t know how to answer his incomplete question and I wish Olagbade was here. The tears start to fall and I am ashamed. I had failed to keep one child alive and here I was failing to keep the one child I did have left untouched from the sorrow and pain that life sometimes bring.
I don’t remember Jaiye ever being so gentle and so I cry even harder when he takes off his favorite Superman pajama top and uses it to wipe my face .
“Blow Mama,” he commands as he places the cloth over my nose.
I start to laugh. It is a strange sound. One I haven’t heard in a long time and don’t recognize anymore. I accept that my laughter will never be as full or as hearty or as real as it was before I lost a child. I accept that I can still laugh. I accept that I can still be a mother.
I obey and blow and then kiss my little boy. He is nothing like Koku. He will take two or three kisses but not anymore so he wiggles his way out of my grasp after a few more kisses and scrambles out of bed, ready for a new day, ready for the future.
“Mama, come” he says to me, his hand outstretched to take mine. It takes me a few moments to respond; I am surprised to find that I am afraid to contemplate where we are going, where he is leading me to.
But then he smiles Koku’s smile, a smile I didn’t know he had.
“Come Mama, come now now” My little boy demands. He is in a hurry to live and excited to be. How can I deny him?
I take his hand and let him lead me into the future.