Inheritance is Accidental

Ovbiemwen, Lahor, bring the children to see me, the end is near.

Those were the contents of the text message Ivie received a week ago from her mother that forced her to take her children to Ologbo, Edo state, to visit their estranged grandmother. Ivie had bluntly refused to stay at her mother’s place, she chose instead to lodge at a hotel a comfortable distance from the house. She had a premonition that staying at that familiar, old house would awaken the demons she had left behind. The hotel had poor service, poor food, no hot water and rude attendants, but she didn’t care.

Surprisingly, little had changed in the last 10 years since she left Ologbo. The red sand which was everywhere still had the same bright and fierce color she remembered, the families that lived in her street when she was a child still lived there, and the street tap, although now rusted from lack of use or repair, still stood at a strategic point in the middle of the street. Ivie’s mother’s 3 bedroom bungalow remained unpainted and ungated, the same old furniture lying around the living room; a tattered couch and three arm chairs arranged in a semi-circle; even the tiny black and white TV which had gone bad a few months before she left home remained on a small stool at the front of the room, unrepaired. The pots and pans and plates in the dark, warm kitchen, had not been changed. The familiar smell that had enveloped the house all those years ago still lingered, carrying a lot of memories with it. Ivie found herself wondering how ten years could go by with so little changing.

Ivie had spent 3 days in Edo State, taking the children every day to visit her mother but never actually talking to her. She would sit in a corner, allowing her mother and the children talk and play until she decided it was time to go. It annoyed Ivie that her mum still insisted on calling her ‘ovbiemwen’ meaning ‘my child’, a name she had always called her as a child.

On the evening of the 3rd day, Ivie visited her mother with her two children to say goodbye. Approaching the house, she heard a soft, familiar song playing loudly from one of the houses in the street; an old bini song by a local artiste whose name she tried to recall but failed. The song instantly made her feel nostalgic; it was one of her late sister’s favourites back in the day. She felt a lump form in her throat as she held back a sob.

As Ivie watched her mother tell her children ancient Edo tales and sing songs she had sung to her as a child, the memories of her childhood which she had tried so hard to forget for years came flooding back & she felt an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia, again. She felt her eyes brimming with tears and quickly excused herself to the veranda. It was almost 6pm and dusk was already beginning to set in; the chickens that moved out in groups at dawn to search for food in the streets and in dustbins had already returned to roost. Ivie hugged herself tightly, only just noticing that the cold breeze had caused goose bumps to form on her skin. The familiar sound of men laughing and talking loudly at a nearby beer parlour and of women loudly conversing in their backyards while cooking dinner transported her decades back. She had lived in this compound for twenty years; more than half of her life. This was where she had grown up and shared a life with her younger sister, and suddenly, the reality of her sister’s death hit her harder than it had in years. Unable to help it anymore, she burst into silent tears.

Ivie was raised by her mother, along with her late sister, Amenze, in abject poverty in this house. Their father, now dead, was a prominent titled chief, who married dozens of wives, who in turn bore him scores of children. When Ivie was barely 3 years old, shortly after Amenze was born, their mother left their father’s compound and brought them here to stay in the house she had inherited from her grandmother, so there was very little she could remember of her life in her father’s house. She only saw her father on the local TV channels, ITV and EBS when he either hosted or attended events. The only time she had seen him physically was when, against her mother’s warning, herself and Amenze attended his lavish birthday party in Benin. She struggled through the crowd to get close to his seat, expecting some kind of recognition, willing him to look at them and say, Oh! There you are my daughters; I’ve been looking for you. But Chief Imade had looked right through her, and when she and Amenze tried to go further, his huge bodyguards warded her off. They both returned home in disappointment, the kind of disappointment that numbed the pain of her mother’s lashes as she flogged her later that night for disobeying her orders.

Their mother was an abusive mother — she liked to call herself a disciplinarian but she was really just taking out her frustrations on her children. Whenever she had a bad day at the market where she sold second hand clothes, she would verbally abuse them and curse their father. She never told them why she had left their father’s compound or why she hated him so much. She would call him all sorts of names and blame him for everything that went wrong in their lives. When she didn’t have money to buy food or to pay bills, she would lament and curse the day she met him. Sometimes, she would tell Ivie and Amenze that giving birth to them was the biggest mistake of her life.

Amenze was the only solace Ivie had known. They would stay up at night for hours and talk about all the faraway places they would travel to, to escape their mother’s bitterness. They had inside jokes and nicknames; they shared everything and did everything together. People often asked if they were twin sisters. They both went everywhere together, and when Ivie got admitted into the University of Benin, Amenze studied very hard to ensure she also got in two years later. They both had plans of becoming successful women and proving to both their parents that they weren’t useless after all.

When Ivie was in her final year at Uniben, Amenze fell sick. The doctor said her heart was packing up and she needed a transplant. Ivie couldn’t understand how a heart could suddenly pack up. The surgery could not be done in Nigeria and when Ivie heard the amount needed to fly Amenze out for surgery, she almost wet her pants. She went on the internet and searched for heart foundations and NGOs for people needing heart transplants. It would take months for Amenze to get to the top of the waiting lists and according to the doctors, she barely had weeks. After thinking very hard for a solution, Ivie finally came up with a seemingly brilliant plan and happily went to share it with her mother who was at Amenze’s side at the hospital. She told her mother that she would go to her father for help and her mother screamed that it would be over her dead body. Shocked, Ivie asked why and her mother became silent. Ivie tried to get her mother on board with the plan but she blatantly refused and kept insisting that ‘God would provide’.

A week later, with Amenze’s condition worsening, Ivie decided to go to her father on her own. She wasn’t even let into his compound; who would give a strange girl claiming to be the estranged daughter of a rich chief any audience anyway. She returned to the hospital in dejection, lost as to how to save her only sister’s life. The hospital ejected Amenze 3 days later due to lack of funds. Apart from the small deposit made by her mother’s brother, they had not paid a dime. Ivie cried and begged her mother to reach out to her father for help but she refused, and chose instead to borrow from her friends. After borrowing all she could, the money wasn’t even enough for the flight ticket.

The day Amenze passed away was a peculiar day, the sun was shining and rain was falling at the same time; it made Ivie think of elephants in labour in faraway lands. The house was very silent, apart from Amenze’s loud breaths and her (Ivie) own silent sobs. Ivie was massaging Amenze’s head with a wet cloth to bring down her fever when suddenly she had a seizure. Not knowing what to do, Ivie held Amenze, screaming, crying and praying it would stop. It did eventually, but so did Amenze’s breathing.

Ivie blamed her mother for Amenze’s death back then and she still blamed her. She hardly spoke to her after her sister died; talking to her only when necessary, in mono syllables and when her mother, frustrated, finally screamed at her about her attitude, she screamed back at her and said a lot of hurtful things. About a year later, to her utmost relief, she got posted to Lagos for her NYSC. She never returned until now.

A nearby sound awakened Ivie from her reverie. She looked at the watch — 6:45pm — they had to get to the hotel before it became too dark. She got up from the bench she had been sitting on and headed into the dark living room.

Iye, ma kian kpa. We have to go, it’s getting late.” She said to her mother.

Her mother, reluctant to part with the children replied,

Ovbiemwen! I don’t know why you won’t stay here, ehn. There’s a lot of room for the three of you.

When Ivie remained silent, she continued,

You will come tomorrow abi?,

She looked very hopeful and for once, Ivie felt sad for her. She truly was old and alone. Still Ivie replied curtly,

Eho, no, we have to leave very early tomorrow. We won’t be stopping by.

As her mother averted her face quickly to hide the tears that had just now formed in her eyes, Ivie felt a pang of guilt.

Her mother walked her and the children to the front of the house where the taxi she had called was waiting. After she and the children had hugged and said their goodbyes, her mother tapped her as if to say something.

She looked at her pleadingly and said,

Ovbiemwen, my child, I know you may still be angry at me over what happened to our dear Amenze. But you can’t desert me like this, you are all I have

Ivie winced a bit when she mentioned Amenze. They both had avoided the topic during her short and forced phone conversations over the years; the ones where she informed her of her marriage and then the birth of her children, more to fulfil obligations than from the need to share her life’s details with her mother.

Now holding her palms together, as if she was begging, her mother continued,

Tohan mwen, please forgive me. I wronged you and I failed as a mother but I want to be a grandmother to these children. They are my children. Ivie, ghė gui.”

Ivie stared at her mother for a few seconds, wondering how a mother would rather watch her child die than swallow her pride. Ivie muttered weakly,

I’ve heard you. The children are tired. Goodnight ma.”

As Ivie made to open the car door, her mother made one last attempt to change her mind.

“I did not kill Amenze, I didn’t kill my child.”, She said weakly.

“You didn’t kill her, but you let her die”, Ivie replied accusingly.

“Stop running away from your mother, Ivie, she said, finally letting the tears fall.

You chased me away, Ivie replied quietly after a brief pause. She then got into the car and it sped off into the night leaving her weeping mother in a cloud of dust.

7 months later, Ivie received the news of her mother’s death and it affected her in ways she didn’t expect. It opened up fresh wounds and she regretted not forgiving her mother when she still had the chance. It dawned on her that she had become exactly like her mother – stubborn, cold and unforgiving.

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