They say a mother’s love is unconditional, I think it’s pretentious.
The first time my brother, Idris, was expelled, it was for stealing his teacher’s purse. My mother was shaken at the news. I remember watching her, trying to discern if she was pretending or never really believed her son capable of such. My father didn’t seem surprised, no one except my mother was.
When I found the pages of the hardcover notebook I had been storing the crisp notes I received for Christmas strewn on the backyard floor, I thought I was dreaming. My father locked Idris out of the house that night, promising to only open the gate when he returned my money. My mother called me a schemer and said God would judge us for bearing false witness against her son. Two days later, when the money she kept tied in a nylon bag underneath her bed disappeared, no one uttered a word.
I learned to not question him over my missing money and belongings. He would chuckle as if what I spoke of was absurd. My mother always said to forgive him.
“He’s your brother. Blood is thicker than water.” she’d say.
“So is the mud he’s dragging your name in.” I’d want to reply.
The day my new laptop went missing, I’d gone to his room, gathered all his clothes and shoes, gone to the backyard, poured a litre of kerosene on them and set them alight. My mother bought him new clothes. No one replaced my laptop.
It has been fifteen years since the first time a school bus parked in front of our gate and Idris’ teacher brought news of his expulsion. I bring my hand to touch his cold lifeless face. Three days since he was shot during a drug house raid, and I haven’t shed a tear. I turn to my mother, who is surrounded by a crowd of people, mostly women, consoling her. I can hear their sighs and murmurs about how pitiful it was that a promising young man be taken up in his prime. These women called him useless when he was alive and think of her as a terrible mother. I don’t blame them – I would think the same if I witnessed someone sell her plot of land and use the proceeds to buy her son a car as bribe to get him to attend University, barely weeks after telling her daughter she couldn’t afford money for her hostel accommodation. He was rusticated after two semesters, I never cared to ask why.
As I watch the shiny brown box lower into the ground, my heart tightens. Feelings of nostalgia assault me. The only other time I’d been to a funeral was three years ago, when Father died. I remember my wails and effortless screams as relatives tried to stop me from falling into the hole. Mother was crying also – not because her husband was being buried, but because she hadn’t seen her son in three days. When Idris arrived two nights later, drunk and causing a kerfuffle, she ran to hug him and instructed me to feed him.
“This is how he has chosen to deal with his grief.” she said.
Mother’s screams become louder as sand is dumped on the box. I pity her. What does it feel like to revolve your essence around a person only to have life snuff them away? I’ve always thought of my mother naïve, susceptible even. I believed she was too blinded by her love for Idris to see him for what he was. Now, I know better. She had never been blind, she just preferred to pretend so. Maybe the thought of her only son being a lout was too cumbrous to carry. I’ve watched her for years, spraying him with anointed oil, trying to cast the evil spirit out of him. I wished I could shake her, yell into her ears that teenagers who forge their parent’s signatures on cheque books are reformed, not delivered.The first time my father suggested taking him to a reformatory school behind our house, my mother lost it.
“Are you trying to call my son a thief?” She yelled as she charged out of the chair to where my father stood.
I sighed. She slept with her money in an apron strapped to her waist.
I think of disappearing from the funeral and appearing days later. I chuckle at the thought. My absence would not even register on Mother’s mind.