"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
February 4, 2014
My Mother's Many Attributes
by Imo Eshiet

When she heard my voice, my mother dropped her hoe and machete and turned wide like an aircraft. Her muscles were stiff and sore, it was obvious. Years of laboring hard at weeding and bushwhacking in an oil palm estate had seen to that. Decades of asthma had taken quite a dreadful toll on her too.

She appeared bent over like a giant lobster. To pull herself erect she placed both hands on her waist and willed herself with effort to straighten up. She scrubbed me hard with her eye scanning for signs of trouble. She had seen so much of that in her life that she was always alert.

She had been afflicted by all sorts of trauma from frequent deaths in her family, which robbed her of parents and all her siblings, uncles and aunts. The torments of a devastating civil war had reduced us to a state of frightening destitution.

When I disarmed her with a reassuring smile, her furrowed brow lost some of its tensions. She extended her gnarled hands and wrapped them like a liana in the rain forest around my neck when I got close enough to her. She clung to me like a long-lost lover.

When I returned the gesture by sweeping her off her feet and giving her a bear hug, she exclaimed, “Not so tight or you’ll crush the old bones and I will join my ancestors and leave you here alone.”

She was featherweight, so I had no problem holding her in my arms for a while before gently letting her to the ground. She smelled of sweat, earth and vegetation. I had no problems there for that is what paid my way through college.

When we loosened up and caught some breath, she asked, “What could possibly bring a professor to this jungle?”

“The mother of the professor; that’s what,” I said.

“Hmm, the small woman that gives birth to a king,” she replied.

I asked her why she insisted on doing the killer job even with the allowance my siblings and I sent to her monthly. If she stayed at home, she claimed, her chronic asthma would corner her and kill her there. Besides, work was the only recreation she knew. Staying away from it, she said, was something she couldn’t contemplate.

The money we gave her went into feeding the many orphans left behind by her dead relations, so she needed to supplement it with earnings from the job.

I asked her to sit under a shade while I did the rest of the work assigned to her that day. Though it was evening, the tropical sun was still firing fusillades of prickly needles into the bare backs of the workers. As soon as I picked up mom’s machete and swung into action, my pores opened up and drenched my body with sweat.

Soon, blisters just a bit smaller than ping-pong balls formed on my hands and made it a torment holding the long knife.

As I stopped often to wipe the sweat off my brow, Mom remarked how city life easily turns some folks into fat cats. Her co-workers chided her for allowing me to do such work in the first place. In Nigeria, college graduates never dirty their hands. Besides with more than 40 million unemployed youth, even the poor can afford a retinue of servants to pick their teeth, cook, launder and keep their houses.

When I was done, Mom looked at me and then turned her gaze at an old woman struggling unsuccessfully to finish the portion of work allotted to her. It was a nonverbal command that I should cross over and help out the poor worker. I understood. Grateful, the woman gave me a basket full of giant snails and tasty mushroom locally known as “tinapa.”

I made to turn down the gift, but Mother winked discreetly at me in a manner suggesting my action would be interpreted as rude. The woman said she would have prepared and brought home a meal to me but she heard city folks ate half-done foods, which her parents never train her to cook. When Mom countered that I was a city man with rural roots, the woman remarked it was a rare combination.

I had watched my beautiful mother physically degenerate over the years. Those who knew her from childhood called her “Kposi.” It was the name by which her father called her. She was the cat because she not only was athletic but walked with a certain grace and bounce peculiar to that animal only.

She was supple and lithe like a tendril. Though plucky, she could bend with ease as if she was made with substance as pliant as rubber. Even when she was not dancing her waist teased and rolled like an Ethiopian dancer’s.

I guess her adorable physique and resilient character set Dad’s heart ablaze when he courted her. It had to be, because when it was time for me to look for a wife, I stopped at nothing until I found a girl who had similar feline dispositions. As kids, I and my siblings teased her to no end when her abilities began to wane.

We would sit amused as she tried in vain to thread the needle of her sewing machine. She would use soap to firm up the loose end of the thread, all to no avail. A determined and forceful woman, she would not let us help her.

When we taunted that she was a blind bat, she would reply that life was like a table fan that turns and blows in different directions. She was a bat-blind to us, she said, but in our own time our children would not only call us stone blind, but stone deaf as well. Of course we would explode in mockery at the suggestion, not knowing how well she anticipated our day.

Mom’s lean features belied her feisty nature. One day a policeman had come to the village to arrest a woman. The woman’s husband had sold the wife’s land without her consent and planned to use the money to get himself another wife.

The man had had some drinks too many and carelessly left the money around. The aggrieved wife got hold of it and rushed to pay the fees of her children who had dropped out of school.

When the man woke from his stupor and realized what had happened, he went to the police. Along with the woman, the cop arrested fowls and goats he could find in the village as well. One such goat belonged to Mom. When she got wind of it she went and wrestled her goat from the thieving cop.

When someone whispered to the cop that Mom had children in the city that could make trouble for him, he let go of the goat. To save face, he told Mom he was letting the goat alone in the hope that he would be invited at Christmas for lunch. Mom retorted she never invited rogues to her home.

When I asked her how she got the audacity to confront a cop, she replied, “So in all your learning no one ever taught you that I am a cricket and never bat my eyes for sandstorm?”

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About Imo Eshiet

Imo Ben Eshiet was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Raised in his village, Uruk Enung, and at several cities in his country including Nsukka, Enugu, Umuahia, Eket and Calabar, Eshiet is a detribalized Nigerian. Although he was extensively exposed to Western education right from childhood in his country where he obtained a PhD in English and Literary Studies from the University of Calabar, he is well nurtured in African history, politics, culture and traditions.

Imo is currently a teacher in the high priests group in the Summit Ward of the Greensboro North Carolina Stake.

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