GREENLIGHT

in story •  last year 

Mother had a passion for green things. It was all there behind the house - every useful green plant I'd ever known. Mother grew all of them, tended to them with such delicateness as is often said women do their children; and she looked at them with such loving eyes as could make a lover jealous. Her garden took the whole of the backyard - some twenty yards - as big as it was beautiful, a swathe of bright and dark greenery that resonated with health and laughter. Sheen flowers with white, pink, purple or yellow petals poked their lovely, giddy heads from amidst the leaves and provided such ornate flourish of colours; a sight of some heavenly scape, full and dreamy, watered by God himself.

Mother loved to work in the garden - or just walk through it, with her hands lightly caressing the leaves. She would spend hours there weeding and watering, and sometimes, just staring. Mother enjoyed the look of the leaves dancing and sparkling with jubilant life and light. Walking through the garden was mother's ritual; at dawn when the sun was still a newborn, and at twilight when with age, the sun became again, as tender as a child.

Daddy felt the garden was useless; a waste of space and time. He would have probably had the garden cleared of every drop of green a long time ago had mother not been so passionate about her plants. He'd complained about the likelihood of snakes and scorpions and 'other dangerous things' hiding amongst the leaves. "You might be grooming death too" he'd said one day.

But mother was too strong of will. She'd return, week in, week out with new plants she was going to grow. You should see mother with her bag of greens; her face would gleam like polished glass and she would be singing any of her favourite songs with a happy smile on her face.

One Sunday in November, we returned from a rather long church service that had spanned a whooping 8 hours. It was a harvest program and Daddy had been the chairman of the harvest committee. Planning for the program had caused a great deal of stress for him, as he organized countless meetings, drafted letters upon letters, and supervised the preparations for the numerous undertakings that would take place during the program. When we arrived home from the church, daddy had been yellow and weak and appeared to be breathing with effort. Mother had asked him how he was feeling and he said he was fine. I noticed how much effort it took for daddy to alight from the car. He'd stood, perspiring and looking dazed as he gazed into the surrounding grassland. As we were walking into the house, daddy took long, sluggish steps that one felt he was taking his time so as not to stagger and fall. We were in the veranda, about to enter the house when he screamed:

'Yey! My head' and clutched his head tightly with his hands.

I was at the door and I rushed back just in time to save daddy from collapsing on the floor. My heart was pumping heavily. I looked at mother. She helped me sit him on a chair, then hurried to get some water. Daddy was still clamouring about his head. I was scared and confused, wanting to say and do comforting things but hindered by my fear and reverence of daddy.

Suddenly daddy threw back his head and began to shake so violently. I jumped, startled out of my wits. There was some milky froth coming out from his mouth. His iris had fled, leaving his eyes white and ghostly. Daddy was shaking maniacally and with such force that I feared going near him, let alone holding him. But mother was by his side and with surprising strength, both of will and of arms, was holding daddy's head to keep them from repeatedly hitting the back of the chair.

"Quick, restrain his arms!" She said to me firmly, and I looked at mummy, unsure of what to do. She looked distressed yet calm.

"I said restrain him!" She shot at me a second time, her eyes expressing her surprise at my hesitance.

I quickly took hold of daddy's hands and struggled bitterly against his strength.

"Iga" mother said with certainty as she peered closer into daddy's eyes. "It is Iga. Guard his head, I'm coming"

In a flash she was off to the backyard while I struggled against the violent trembling of daddy's arms. The veins on his head and arms were stretched taut. His face was a bright crimson of rampage. His cheeks were puffed and trembled aggressively. I was crying. I didn't even know I was crying, until the tears began to make it difficult for me to see and I started snivelling.

Moments passed and, just as suddenly as it had begun, it stopped - the violent trembling. Daddy's chest let out a huge mass of pent up air, and the tensed muscles of his face and arms relaxed. I watched him stiffly, still confused and hoping it was the end. Then I noticed his eyes were closed; his chest did not rise and his face, turning to an awkward angle, looked blankly serene and devoid of.....no! Life! He looked dead. I screamed:

"Mummy!!!!!"

Mummy was just at the corner skedaddling back from her trip to the backyard.

"What is it" she asked eagerly, and without waiting for an answer, hurried to daddy's dying body and touched him. I was surprised at how focused and serene she was; as though she was not there, seeing her husband awkwardly slumped on a chair, with goo dripping from his lips, with no signs of consciousness and his skin fast losing their colour. There were some leaves in her hand; some dark and light green, the others of a lighter shade of purple. I noticed them when she dropped the bundle quickly and, with godlike speed, twisted and broke the dark green leaves in two and forced them into daddy's lips.

"Bring me a plate and water, now!"

My feet flew. Inside the house, I clumsily knocked down things, knowing I could have been faster if I was calmer yet unable to calm myself. I fetched water into a deep metal plate and flew outside. Mother collected the plate, steeped the leaves inside and began to wash them the way she washed bitter leaf; squeezing, dipping and twisting, more squeezing. While working she turned a few times to look at daddy but her hands never lost their pace; their steady and sure movements. I was already sobbing now.

"Mummy, has daddy died?" I asked.

"No." She answered with a puff of breath without looking up. In a few moments, she was done.

"Open his mouth" she said.

As daddy's mouth parted, mother guided the juice into his throat carefully, allowing very little to spill from the plate. She held his head in one hand, the plate in another, with such purpose and sobriety in her eyes as a mother would have, feeding her little child. Some of the juice dribbled down daddy's mouth as he could not swallow. Mother was done. Now she held daddy by the chin and shook him to let more juice down his throat. Then she waited. Daddy's seemingly lifeless body was growing cold in our hands. Mother still waited. I looked into her eyes and it was then I saw it; a fire, a feral, flaming fire that she managed to keep under control. I saw the fire growing in intensity as mother waited, and soon, she was gnashing her teeth. She said: "Bring me water", then, " No, wait " when I brought it. Her eyes bore all the urgency and anxiousness her body did not express. We were still waiting. Daddy still looked dead. I saw mother close her eyes and I knew it was over.

Then something moved and the eyes shot open. She looked at daddy and I saw the fire rising as though stoked with the driest of wood and the most combustible of fuels. The thing moved again. It was daddy's hand. Then again, and again, till daddy coughed softly and opened his eyes. Mother's sigh of relief is the longest and hardest I've ever heard. They came out deliberate and loud, and now, I could see in mother's eyes, a glassy glaze of tears.

"The water" she told me, with a teary voice she was struggling to keep under control.

As she supplied water to daddy's mouth, and watched daddy drink it, the tears rolled down her eyes, single strands down single paths. They didn't alter her face, almost like they weren't there.

It was when daddy opened his eyes, and his lips were moving to say something that mother really began to cry. Her soft sobbing didn't affect the steadiness of her hand as she held the cup to daddy's lips.

"N- n- Nne" daddy mumbled; calling for mother.

"I'm here" she answered between sobs, and she put her hand to her mouth to stop herself from crying aloud.

"Wha--what happened?" Daddy asked in a weak exhausted drawl.

"Don't worry" mother said. "We're fine now".

Slowly, daddy sat up and our eyes met. He saw the tears in my eyes and smiled weakly.

" Old man like you, crying like small pikin" he muttered. I laughed. Mother laughed. He laughed.

Then his eyes caught the remnants of the leaves on the floor and he looked to mother quizzically.

"What are these?" he asked, almost whispering.

Mother's reply was terse and simple:

"They're what saved your life."

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