“Unforgiveness is such a rotten thing, eats and consumes a person such that you never know when it destroys you…biko get me my chewing stick. It’s on that small table at my corner.”
I unfolded my legs from under the white plastic chair and stood, all too happy for the distraction. Why did Mama Asaba have to pick a sour subject like forgiveness? I walked into the living room heading for the small wooden table. It was in front of her favorite recliner somewhere in a low lit corner of her wide sitting room. I still couldn’t understand why that was her favorite spot in the entire sitting room. If she wasn’t out in the verandah, she was in that recliner or in her room; those were the three places she was always likely to be found.
“Gran,” I called. “Why is this worn out recliner and wooden table, positioned in this poorly lit aspect of your living room, your favorite spot in the house? You don’t get to see the TV from here, you know.” I said, squatting in order to carefully assess the contents on the table. There was a tray that contained a mug, a bottle of cough mixture, various tied nylons that left me wry of their contents, I could see the edges of some thousand naira notes sticking out from under the tray and I beamed at that wondering if Mama Asaba thought her money was well hidden. Moving on, there were two stainless spoons beside the mug, a plate cover and the chewing stick which was in between two nylons. I picked it up to examine it more closely. It looked short and very well chewed and nasty, the edges sticking out in all directions. There had to be a longer one somewhere, I thought and began to search.
“I don’t need the TV for anything at my age…” Mama Asaba was saying. Then she paused, coughed slightly and asked. “Haven’t you found it yet? It’s right there on the tray.”
I looked towards the opened window at my right to see Mama Asaba’s petite figure backing me. I could tell from the tone of her voice that she was getting impatient. “I’m looking for another one, this one doesn’t look very hygienic.” I got up, trying to figure out where I could get a longer, more hygienic chewing stick. Turning the miserable looking stick in between my finger, I added. “And Gran, you didn’t answered my question.”
Mama Asaba turned towards the house. Her eyes met mine from across the room and she smiled. “Ke question ό bu?”
“Why is this part of the sitting room your favorite?” I asked, patiently enunciating my words. “You have a nice living room: spacious, airy, well lit and well furnished; quite classy with an undertone of old-school, yet this part of the room feels like the downtown area – not properly lit and one can’t see the TV from here.” A glare wouldn’t be a bad idea for someone like Mama Asaba, I gave her my best.
She seemed unfazed. “Your grandpa and I used to cuddle there. One day when you find a husband I will give you details. Now, nyem my chewing stick!”
“Hmmmmm, Grandma tell me all about this cuddling, I want to know details…” Rumor had it that grandpa and Mama Asaba had been too in love with each other to take care of their children. Of course that wasn’t entirely true, they had brought up their seven children wonderfully, but they had been very much in love even till grandpa’s death some few years back. All their children had married with that syndrome and most of the grandchildren too. I could only hope that would be my story as my thoughts inadvertently drifted to Azuka. I sighed, “I want to know now about this cuddling, Mama Asaba, biko tell me na,” I crooned, trying to distract myself.
“BIko pass my chewing stick,” Mama Asaba hissed, turning away from the window to face the street.
“It’s not fit for chewing. Let me get another one in your room.”
She hissed again. I could see her shaking her head as she turned to gift me with a deep look of irritation. I braced myself for the scolding to come.
“Chinedu Okafor, bia neba osiso!” Mama Asaba shouted. “Do you make money for me? Before you became a doctor, I have been chewing sticks and that won’t change because my granddaughter has a fancy certificate in medicine.” She huffed.
I couldn’t help myself, I laughed out loud. “Fancy certificate in medicine, huh? I do give you stipend of my miserable housemanship salary let me remind you and I refused to be bullied into passing this germ-infested chewing stick to you. I will be right back.”
Mama Asaba sighed. “Just come and seat down then, don’t waste your time or mine. Let me tell you what I have in mind then go and lie down.”
So much for wanting to avoid the discussion, I rolled my eyes, dumped the stick into a bin just to be sure she wouldn’t use it again, then went back to my seat beside her.
Mama hissed as I took my seat. “You’re just as stubborn as your mother.”
“And she’s just as stubborn as you.” I beamed foolishly. “What story have you got for me today?”
“Where do you intend on serving?”
What has that got to do with anything? I wanted to ask, but said instead. “Maybe Calabar, maybe Port Harcourt, I don’t know.”
“Colleagues could be very annoying sometimes, it is important you remember this and you exercise patient with them and forgive regardless; not just your colleagues but everyone you come across.” She paused to look at me. Then turned back towards the street before continuing. I stared at her, listening.
“Your grandpa once had a friend in the early 70s, Peter – a bright, bubbly fellow, very social with a smooth tongue, loved by most and very popular. He also had a nasty temper which most times he couldn’t control, a penchant for gossip and planting discord and an ego as big as the sky. I didn’t like him much, I thought he was a snake; two-faced and very deceitful, the ease at which he made friends was the same ease at which he fought them away. But Peter and your granddaddy were close even though Peter was your granddad’s boss and a level higher than him in employment at Shell, Warri. One time when we badly needed money, #5,000 to be precise, because your uncle Tim was in the hospital, your granddaddy went to Peter to lend us the money we needed to pay the bills and Peter gave us; but we were to pay back with a little interest at a particular time.
Anyways, your grandpa couldn’t pay back before the deadline because the money was too much and way greater than his salary and we had expenses to settle. So, your granddaddy and I went to beg Peter to extend the payment time so we could run around and get the money. He actually agreed and I intended to collect the money from my mother and sisters, but somehow, we couldn’t get much from them and once again, we could not pay up. That was when Peter became cranky and started harassing your granddad everywhere, every day; it was humiliating. A day came, at work, Peter needed money to settle an appliance he had just purchased and knowing fully well that your grandpa didn’t have the money to pay, pinned the purchase on him just to embarrass him. He said a lot of insulting things to your grandpa as I was told and well, your grandpa not being exactly somebody to walk away from an insult, decided to reply. That same week, your grandpa was fired from work. First he was arrested, slept two nights in jail, then fired. Even before his other colleagues came to tell us that Peter had pulled strings amongst the white bosses, we knew he was the one.
A month later however, we heard that Peter no longer worked with Shell and that he was jailed. A letter came from your grandpa to resume work as a higher staff than he had been because his CV were reviewed – he was due for a promotion though before he was sacked anyways. So, my husband, your granddad, been the lovely man he was went around to ask what had happened in order to see how he could help Peter. It turned out, that Peter owed a bigger oga, a German man, #30,000 and the man had cancelled the debt when Peter couldn’t pay up; I wasn’t surprised if I must add, that was a lot of money. This happened months before he started harassing your grandpa. After Peter got your grandpa fired, some other of their friends who knew about his debt with the oyinbo boss, went to report the whole incident to the man. The man was furious and asked Peter to pay him immediately. Obviously, Peter couldn’t pay up. How could he produce #30,000 in a day; so the German boss not only relieved him, he sent him to jail also till he could pay. Peter spent quite a long time in jail.”
Mama Asaba pinned me with an intense look. Her eyes, though unreadable, never broke contact. “My point is, there is nothing under the sun that can’t be forgiven. Unforgiveness has some pretty ugly consequences. So even when your colleagues commit the abominable, whatever that will be, God forgave you remember that, do likewise. And when somehow you love hurt you so badly, remember also that God forgave all your sins and even sent His son as jara (extra) and so therefore forgive.”
I looked away, hot tears burning my eyes threatening to fall out. My chest constricting with fresh pain at the thought of all that had happened the last three weeks. Azuka must have told Mama all that happened with his ex. Fresh anger washed over me. He had to get my family involved, my grandmother for that matter…how low could he go? I balled my fist.
Mama Asaba touched my arm lightly, soothingly. “He’s sorry and he didn’t cheat on you; almost did but didn’t. There is a difference. I think you should forgive him, men who do not just love you but are in-love with you are like scarce commodity,they are hard to come by this days. Do not let a small issue like this deprive you of a peaceful and happy future.”
“But he cheated, or almost did. What is the guarantee that he wouldn’t in future?” I turned to look at Mama Asaba, fighting to keep the tears at bay, badly in need of reassurance like old times. Aside from my mother, she seemed to know how to make things right for me.
“If he was tempted once and he walked away from it, he can also do the same in future. Plus, it is your duty to up your game to the maximum such that he isn’t tempted at all.” She winked at me and I scowled.
“Just forgive him, okay.”
“Oh well, because at a certain time in life, you were in the exact same situation even though under a different circumstance.”
I rolled my eyes and turned away. The sun was rapidly vanishing alongside the heat. Traffic was starting to build across the road as more people returned from work. Children were already playing around. Cool evening air was starting to fill my lungs as my breathing evened out. I took a deep breath and smiled like I hadn’t done in weeks. From the corner of my eye, I could see Mama Asaba flashing her victory smile. She linked her frail fingers with mine. “You’ll survive.” She said and I nodded.
We both gazed out into the street and beyond.
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