September 15: Of pain, hope and existence

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I SPENT the last weekend in Lagos. I hadn’t been back in that eternally vibrant city in a long while and as is my wont, after the more serious business pursuit, I went out to catch a whiff of its nightlife on Saturday. That is a story for another day. I was to return to Abuja on Sunday, but didn’t! September 15has a very special emotional ring about it for me.

Last Sunday, September 15, marked the fourth anniversary of my mother’s death. But it was also Zainab’s eleventh birthday. Zainab is my second child and was actually named for my mother; and it was one of those incredible coincidences of the life process, that my mother died on her seventh birthday, four years ago. I’ve lived with the double, of joggling the pain of death with the joy of a life just finding its own way through the experience of existence.

Four years ago, my mother had been terminally sick in hospital and I had taken a day’s break to return home to Abuja, with the plan to return to her bedside in a couple of days, after the short respite of a break, from my exhaustion. Zainab told me on the eve of her birthday, that she didn’t feel like a celebration the following morning; it was, with hindsight, almost like a premonition of what would happen the following day.

I reminded her that her cake could be kept away for the day she felt like a celebration. The following day the kids went early to school and at 8am, a call came through, that my mum had just passed! It was a most painful and poignant moment; that realisation that we had arrived at a closure, which leaves a chasm forever in our lives.

For me, each time I think about my mum, I recall her incredible generosity; the lived life of service to community and her remarkable mastery of PULAAKU, even when she wasn’t Fullo! These attributes sat with a keen sense of history and the lucid ability to teach its lessons. My mum was lucky, being amongst the earliest generations of women to attend Western school in Northern Nigeria.

Women’s programme

There was a sense in which choices she made in life went on to influence my own life. She was the first woman to present a women’s programme on Radio Nigeria Ilorin, and I recall that in the early seventies, her scripts were always on the table in her room.

I would sometimes read them, but in those innocent acts, I was probably beginning to build the blocks of feeling that took me into broadcasting. I know that it was from her that my linguistic ability drew directly from, because she spoke so many languages, excelling particularly in Hausa, Yoruba,Nupe and English.

The English she would refuse to speak because it was considered a form of immodesty to show proficiency in the language in those early days of Boko learning in the North.

I was farmed out early in life, to live with her uncle, and because they were not Fullo or royal, I learnt lessons ordinarily out of the frames that might have imprinted upon my growing consciousness, as a pre-teenage kid, in a different setting.

The greatest attribute I took out of that phase of my life was the independence that has marked my choices and decisions ever since! I was not really close to my mum; and in Fulbe culture, a mother DARES NOT call her first son’s name, nor even look at him in the eye. She spoke to me in the third person and would direct requests to my cousins or siblings, if ever she needed a thing from me, as a good Fullo must do! Those culturally nuanced attitudes were points I miss about her.

But the dialectic of death and life envelops us all through our existence on earth. The young Zainab reminds me of my mum in her compassion and very motherly attitude. And as I watch her grow and make the efforts to feel her way through life, there just is so much about my mum that she somehow reproduces.

As the years have rolled by, she has come to be a representation, even if unspoken, of those elements of a mother’s presence in our lives, that we keep longing for. And it is in that remarkable coincidence of being named for a grandmother, who then dies on her birthday, that we find an affirmation of the continuum of death and life; of coming into being, growing and passing.

May Allah forgive Hajiya Zainab M. Kawu her sins and grant her Al-janna; and may Allah give the young Zainab a long and useful life of service to humanity!

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