My mother tells me her mother used to always smell of menthol. As I rub some liniment over my inflamed knee, I imagine her. I never met Mama Loje, but stories of how fierce she was motivates me today. When my prognosis said I was going to deal with chronic pain, my mother said it again. “Mama Loje was always in pain, but never showed it. I only knew it was bad because she mixed the liniment into her body cream and that was how come she always smelt of it.”
They said a few months to her death, she fasted everyday, not wanting to die while owing days. Mama Loje was Muslim. They said she had never really been or looked sick. Sometimes when I think of death, I think of her and how she started doing her missed days at the time she did. She knew. Would I know too? I imagine her walking around bidding time and working to leave fond memories behind. Was that all she left behind? It must be a good way to die.
I complain of pain in the neck as I feel a migraine progress from prodrome to full-blown, and my mother walks up to me. “Let me do something my mother used to do for me after I was done filling our barrels with water.” She then cradles my head, chin in one palm, occipital in the other, and tells me to slump my shoulders. “Whenever I was done fetching water, Mama Loje will let me sit down and say ‘ah, o ti ṣe daradara, you have done well, let me ease the tension’, and she will do this,” my mother continues, as she turns my head to the right, then to the left, repeating the routine. It must have taken her way back. I smell of liniment yet again. Perhaps, I remind her of her, and as she turns my head here and there, she imagines I am her and now that she knows how much pain I am going through, she tells me to relax as she eases the tension.
There are many questions I want to ask, but never do. Story after story, Mama Loje becomes superhuman and I yearn to ask. What about days when she was just not strong enough? What about mistakes she may have made and lies she may have told and scars she may have left? What about that scar, Mama? Was she the one who left it? Was she the one who carried you there, as a little girl, held your legs apart and watched them cut you where you were going to grow to bleed? You do not want to remember her like that, do you? Is it because she is an ancestor now? This must be what forgiveness is like….almost superhuman, Mama…but you are not.
Last night, I dreamt that like Enoch I was there one day and then I was not. And when I got to heaven and sat down, relief flooding me, Mama Loje became God and walked up to me.
“Ah, o ti ṣe daradara. You have done well,” she said,
and I woke up.