|Print | Back||June 25, 2013|
African VoiceThe Day I Earned My Mother-in-law's Respect
by Imo Eshiet
Hauling the unconscious two hundred and fifty pound-woman on my back as I clambered up a ladder leading to the airplane, I remembered when she first called me, “My son.” At the time, she neither knew how prophetic she was nor was I sure she meant what she said after our disappointing and upsetting first meeting.
When I asked to marry her daughter, she profiled me with tribally demeaning stereotypes. Assuming I did not understand her tribal language, she snidely warned the daughter with a wispy, sinister curl on her lips that my folks were shiftless, good-for-nothings. Only her daughter’s scream stopped the tirade.
Warned I heard the entire harangue, she did an about-face and said, “Good to meet you, my son!”
Living and schooling in her tribe, I had picked up its language and spoke it fluently with her daughter in our courtship. I knew the common mistrust and tribal enmity between our people. Unknown to my fiancée and mother, when I broached the idea of marrying from that tribe my family patriarch had been just as acerbic.
He demanded to know when I would “make enough money to ever satisfy those money sharks.” That tribe, he said bitterly, were Shylocks and loved money more than their souls. He riveted his point with an anecdote.
One of his neighbors, an itinerant tailor, he said, made a lot of money from his business but would not dare spend it on quality food or medicine. One day he collapsed. Neighbors failing to resuscitate him searched his house and found a fortune.
As they prepared him for burial, a village wag decided to determine if the man was truly dead. The rascal placed coins in a shaker and shook it; hearing the jingling sound, the supposedly dead man instantly sprang up and to the shock of all, screamed he hoped his thieving neighbors had not touched any of his money.
Funny as his wit was, the fallacy in Uncle’s logic scarcely dissuaded me from my heartthrob.
When I met my fiancée’s mother, I was too smitten to allow her words to dampen my passion. Such was my love for her daughter that all she said simply rolled off like water off the back of a duck. Thanks to fate and the binding power of language, our relationship soon took a sweet turn. Recollecting her words as I pushed her up the stairs, I smirked though her crushing weight. I had to be careful not to slip, for a fall would have been disastrous for both patient and her mule.
Our airports, as other facilities, have scant provisions for those with disabilities. Where we embarked was an international airport. Apart from the tag, the only thing that thus qualified it as international was that a plane hopped from it once every long while, to a tiny island nation some forty five minutes into the Atlantic Ocean. In a very real sense, it was a tattered affair with toughs milling around to extort and steal from unwary travelers.
The toughs did not bother me. We shared the same neighborhood. Most were my “friends.” Blighted economic policies and our chronically unstable our political system stunt growth and churn out great numbers of folks living in extreme poverty. National statistics shows that 120 million Nigerians live without electricity; 40million are jobless while 7.3million kids die of hunger yearly.
I wisely befriended the socially rejected for the safety of my wife and kids. To reassure them, I sat at weed dens, smoking and inhaling the stuff with them in my wayward days. I would pull a shirt off my back and shoes from my feet and toss them their hustling hands. That gesture bought their loyalty and guaranteed I was neither burgled nor members of my family assaulted. It was an effective security arrangement, for even the police were so scared of these men that they acquiesced to their lawlessness. Some swore they worked for the police and shared their rip-offs with them.
The petty favors paid off handsomely the morning my wife Livina and I flew her mom to Lagos for neurosurgery. The old woman had slipped on a banana peel, and a blood clot blocked vital brain centers.
The day we traveled, my wife (who before now chewed me up for associating with those she disdained as “scum”), was for once grateful that the dregs of humanity stood between life and death for her mom. At the check-in counter, a pilot strolling by ordered my mother-in-law not to board his plane. He was sure she would pass once he took off into the skies. All pleadings fell on deaf ears.
It was then the toughs who were hanging by like sniffing dogs descended on him. They assured the pilot that they knew where he passes his nights and the addresses of his consorts. If the woman passed during the flight, it was none of his business since her son would take care of that. If he failed to fly the sick woman (who they assumed was my mother), well, he might as well forget about landing his plane at that airport.
Their threats worked. The pilot not only agreed, but to please the toughs, he called Lagos and booked a wheelchair ahead of our departure.
Getting to Lagos after a bumpy flight, our plight, like the sorrows of Satan, was unending. Doctors had told us there were only three C-T scan machines in the country. The one at Enugu, though closer to us, could not be accessed because the road connecting there was one long swampy pothole and in her condition, the old woman could not survive the stress.
The one at Ibadan was broken, and the only one left was the one at the University Teaching Hospital in Lagos. Only upon our arrival did we learn that this one, too, was out of order, so we were referred to the Military Hospital. The problem though, was that hundreds of patients had already booked it and it would take months before it could get to us. I decided to try all the same. It turned out that the health technician was my former student and that shot us right up front.
When all was done my wife swore that no matter what happened between us she would always be by my side. Regaining consciousness after surgery and a big tear rolling down her eyes, her mother called me, “Imo, my son.”
This time, I was positive she meant every word of it!
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