The air was heavy with the stench of death.
Didun stared blankly at the distance, looking but not really seeing anything. It was midday but darkness lurked everywhere, like a velvet blanket draped over dimming lights. She remembered the days of joy, the days of fullness and their fading glories taunted her. How had her life become this empty shell?
“Mummy,” Wunmi called softly, stooping to peer at her behind her black veil. “You should eat.”
Didun raised her head and blinked her into focus. She gave her a wan smile. “How can I eat? Why should I eat after all I have lost, ehn?”
Her daughter-in-law blinked and looked away, attempting but failing to hide her own tears, sobering Didun. How could she dare to make this all about her? After all, she hadn’t been the only one who had lost her sons. Wunmi too had lost her husband…they had all lost people they loved.
“I…I’m…sorry. It’s just…”
“It’s okay, Mummy. I cannot begin to place my grief side by side with yours,” Wunmi gently cupped her face. “In fact, I’d probably be dead by now if I had to go through all you’ve been made to bear. And it makes me wonder…” her voice trailed off.
Wunmi shook her head, as though dismissing their conversation. “You should eat ma,” Didun began to shake her head but she gently held her hands, “Please. For me,” Wunmi nodded at her sister-in-law staring at them from across the room. “For us.”
Didun sighed and slowly nodded and was rewarded with a smile from her, warming her heart very slightly. At least if she could somehow ease the pain of these young women who had lost their husbands – her sons – and take it upon herself, maybe then God would finally take notice.
Wunmi served them and they ate in silence. With each morsel that slid down her throat without taste, Didun was reminded of how closer they were getting to the day the cupboards would be empty.
The rest of the day was spent like every other one since the terrible news of the accident that took the lives of her sons on their way from work. They sat, each lost in her own thoughts, occasionally sharing few necessary words and receiving visitors who came to give their condolences.
Didun thought some of them were just vultures eager to share their remains, not all of them but some really were scavengers. After all, who didn’t like the smell of tragedy and a chance to share the goriest story when it happened to someone else? Why did newspapers with the most tragic stories sell? Why did people enjoy movies with violence? Not like she blamed them. It was an innate, perverse desire in humans that she knew only the Divine could purge.
Some of them showed true compassion and care but it didn’t matter. Their care and empty words of comfort could do nothing to ease her pain. Her comfort could come from no one but the One who had brought her pain.
So, there they remained, in a house saturated with the smell of death and emptiness as they waited…. waited for time to bring its promise of healing or God to split the skies for light to break through.
Whichever one came first.
* * * *
Wunmi folded her wedding gown and quietly laid it aside. She had decided to empty her boxes of clothes she didn’t need any more so she could travel light. She would give them to Odun, her sister. Mummy had told them she was leaving tomorrow and she had decided to go with her. It had been her idea at first to go with their mother-in-law as she went back to her ancestry but after a while, Yetunde agreed to go too.
She spotted a blue and white plaid shirt and picked it up. It was one of Bode’s favorite shirts. She held it up to her face and sniffed, remembering how she had fought with him many times to throw it away and he would playfully say, “When we have a son, he’ll inherit it.”
Wunmi broke into tears then. She wept for her mother-in-law’s sorrow. She wept for her husband who had died and left her alone. She wept for the son they never had even after ten years of trying so hard, the child who would never see his father and the father who never saw his son. But mostly, the tears were for herself and how empty she felt, how completely lost and confused she was.
Her mother had once told her, “When you come to a point in your life when you finally realize how we are all chasing shadows, follow the first light you see.” It had made no sense to her at first. They were religious people and had invested a lot in pursuing their belief and she had particularly been devoted to the ways of her parents. So, was her mother saying they were chasing shadows? Even with their devotion? But it didn’t take long for her to understand what her mother meant by “chasing shadows”. And oh, had she chased shadows but then Bode came and she thought she had found that “first light” her mother spoke of.
But even lights grow dim.
Her light had died before she could even get another lamp to carry his light. And now she was left to wonder if what she had thought was light had been light at all. Was the light her mother spoke of an everlasting one? Or one destined to fade?
Wunmi didn’t know about that but she knew there was something about her mother-in-law that drew her. There was a spark she had glimpsed, a flicker that flashed even in the middle of the woman’s darkness, it wasn’t blinding but there was an awareness and she was willing to get to the bottom of it and see if maybe…maybe it could lead her the light she sought. Her father-in-law had been like that too before he died. Even her husband had sometimes embodied this ‘flash’ when he was alive. They all spoke like there was a Personality in the God they worshipped.
Then why had they left? She wondered. It was one of the million questions that swam in her mind. But she had learned to follow one bird at a time and then maybe the other birds would eventually come to her. So this time, she would focus on following one bird.
* * * *
Wunmi was awake long before her alarm sounded off. She rose early to clean up and prepare the last three cups of rice in the cupboard for their journey. There was no stew left so she just cooked a concoction of some sorts, mincing in the last piece of dried fish Mrs. Kola, their neighbour, had brought for them.
When the alarm did finally sound off, Yetunde and Mummy were awake. Before 5.30 a.m., they were ready so they could catch the first bus back to Mummy’s place. Wunmi had said her goodbyes to her family the day before and was ready to move on.
The sky was still dark when they set out, the streets washed in silence. They had told the landlord they were leaving, so they just left the key hanging by the door. The three women said nothing until they came close to the car park. Didun turned to the two young women.
“I still don’t know why both of you decided to follow me. I have nothing to offer you. You should go back. You have shown more loyalty and kindness than is necessary. And may God reward you for this. But please go back to your families,” she said, a pained look on her face. Her voice trailed off, like one struggling between duty and desire. A deep desire to have them stay and a sense of duty to relieve them of this hard decision.
“We are going with you, Mummy. You are our family,” Wunmi said and Yetunde nodded. “Yes ma, we will go with you.”
Mummy shook her head vehemently, as though gaining enough courage to say no. “No, you will not go with me. Go back home. You’re still very young, with your whole life before you. Wunmi, you’ve always wanted to start a business, you have to pursue your dream,” she held Yetunde’s hands in hers and searched her eyes in the darkness, “And I know you still want to go back to school.” Yetunde nodded and Mummy shook her head again, “You see? You should go back. There are many men here that will be willing to marry you. It is ridiculous for you to follow me. Please, for my sake. Go back.”
Yetunde was silent for too long and Wunmi wondered if she was reconsidering. Well, there was no way she was going back! She had finally found a glimmer of what she sought and she would be a fool to turn back from it. She’d be dead before that happened!
Suddenly, Yetunde threw her arms around Mummy and wept. “I’ll miss you,” she said against her neck. When she drew back, Mummy was weeping too. “Thank you my dear. May God bless you.” Yetunde hugged Wunmi and slowly turned back. To be fair, it really did make sense for her to go back and Wunmi too should have left. But she loved this woman and somehow her pleas to make them leave even endeared her more to Wunmi. That and the light that drew her.
“You should go with her Omowunmi. I have nothing for you,” Mummy said as they watched Yetunde’s retreating back.
“I’ll be dead before that happens. I’m not going back, Mummy and nothing you say will make me leave. I will follow you wherever you go.”
Didun stared at her for the longest time, silently contemplating this young woman and wondering what had possessed her. The stubborn tilt of Wunmi’s chin told her she was fighting a lost battle. She sighed and nodded.
As they drew closer to the park, the sky was brightening. Wunmi looked up to the first peek of dawn rising in the horizon; its light gradually swallowing darkness, and said a silent prayer to the One her mother-in-law spoke of.
“Please, lead me into your light. Help me find the light that will not die.”
And just like one waiting for the morning, she knew it was a matter of time before the Sun would rise in all its glory and darkness would be completely gone.
So she would follow the light wherever it led until it brought her into itself.
* * * *
“Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel!
He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”
(Ruth 4:14-15 – ESV)
That’s right! Fiction Friday is back! And no, this is not a series but a short story.