“I will call him Nimmo… two ‘m’s’ no ‘h’.”
“What does the name mean?”
“It means nothing. He is nothing. He will be nothing.” The sadness danced around in her eyes and settled in her heart.
“Do not speak that way. We all come from nothing but we have our whole lives ahead of us to become something.”
She permitted a wry smile to play on her lips. The child had her large brown eyes and heart-shaped face but that is where the resemblance ended. Her cheeks sunken, neck slender like an ostrich’s and limbs devoid of any stitch of fat spoke of the hard times that had befallen her.
Her next words came in gasps.
“Ssh! you need your strength for other things,” the woman who had acted as her midwife reprimanded her as she soaked the towel in cold water and wiped her forehead.
Their relationship had been only a few hours aged, starting from when the woman found her lying by the side of the road clutching her stomach. She was wearing a faded blue booboo with a mismatched head scarf and tattered flip flops, breathing in heavy gasps and looked quite famished and dehydrated.
The woman had suspected she was pregnant but had no idea she was so far gone. She had not even gone as far as asking her what her name was before her water broke. In fact, she had barely crossed the door sill. She could not even make it to the bed.
The birth had been fairly easy. She did not scream, just gritted her teeth as her fingers dug into the mattress as the contractions came. She had showed great strength for her frail stature and fragile frane, maybe because she was so young. She could not be more than 20. She wondered what her story was. But first things first, she was gasping for breath again and the woman had no idea how else to help her.
“We – are – not – all…” she began.
“Stop, Please save your strength,” the woman pleaded. She was getting very worried. What would happen if the mother died in her house? How would she explain this?
“…born – equal,” she continued stubbornly.
She takes a deep breath. The woman holds her hand. They were so frail; She could see the veins lined up on the back of her hands. She shut her eyes and offered a short prayer. She remembered how Mama Nneka told her that her kind heart will get her in trouble.
“God please, keep her alive,” she muttered to herself. It was almost 1a.m. and the new mother’s breathing was less jagged and shallow.
“You should try breast feeding the baby,” She suggested as she tried to give the baby to its mother.
The mother smiled at her. This time the curl was steeper.
“Take care of him.”
“How do you want me to…”
There was something about her big brown eyes. One second it had an appeal for understanding and care intermingled with gratitude in it and the next it had nothing. It was vacant, lifeless.
“Oh God!” cried the woman. “Oh God, No!”
_ _ _
The woman was dressed in the Yoruba traditional iro and buba not because she was Yoruba but because that was all they could find for her. The dress was neither new nor old. But it had a hole which was on the front and back of the iro. On the front it was somewhere close to the knee, and at the back it was just below her butt cheek. You could see her underwear through the hole at the back, but she did not mind. There was nothing else to wear, and she would have to make do. The hole must have been made by a rodent. The rat chewed a portion of the dress and left the fabric to disintegrate. Somehow the buba had been spared.
“Are you sure you will be fine?”
She remembered the address that she had memorized. It had been 25 years but she had repeated it to herself every day. She could never have forgotten it even if she had tried.
She nodded not sure she could say any words. The address was a place to start and that is what was important. Hopefully she would find someone that knows something and who would be willing to share that knowledge. The god that guided her thus far would see her through. He had to be God.
“God be with you.”
“Thank you,” she finally responded, voice shaky, eyes misty.
She wondered how she would be received. Would people not think her mad? Aside from the holes in her buba, her clothes had huge crinkles and creases, parting gifts from storage. Her flip flops were mismatched – one blue, one green – but at least they were the same size. She was handed a shawl to place over her head in the absence of a head covering. She had tried to do something with her hair but it did not come out looking good so she had just combed it and left it in all its nappy glory. Years of manual labour have left her slightly stooped and her arthritic knees wouldn’t let her move as fast as she used to. She also shook slightly. Even though she had no idea why. But at least she was clean. She had that going for her.
She waved a final goodbye as she set off.
“May God’s mercies follow you.”
“Amen,” she answered. She needed all the prayers she could get.
_ _ _
“Your customer is here.”
He followed the movement of his colleague’s eyes until it rested on the old woman that he had come to know as Mrs Jones. Every week, for three weeks now since he opened her account, she came to the bank on the same day and deposited the same amount. It was always N1,500. She listed ‘petty trader’ as her occupation. But there was something about her that befuddled him. She would never allow any of the Tellers on duty to attend to her. She would ask for him specifically and he has always obliged her. But the sooner he helped her understand that she had to work with other people, the better.
He put away the files he had been working on and made a mental note to ask Halima of Corporate Finance what is the best gift to send an Alhaji. He had been pursuing that account for so long and finally got it in the last week. Matter of fact, a lot of good things had happened in his life since he started assisting this woman with her account. For one thing, he went from the bottom of the pile to being in contention for Marketing Manager and then there was Clara returning his smile .
“You are welcome Ma,” he greeted her as he picked out a deposit slip and pulled out his pen. “Same amount?”
“Yes, my son.”
He continued filling the slip but suddenly looked up and found her staring at him.
“Is something wrong?”
“No, nothing…please go on.”
He hesitated and then continued writing. He made a decision to let this woman go no matter the benefits he thought her aura was bringing him. He peeped at her again and she was still looking at him weird.
“Do you still spell your name with two ‘m’s’ and no ‘h’.
He stopped writing mid stroke between the ‘n’ and the ‘d’ in thousand.
“That was your mother’s wish…just before she died. She wanted you to keep that name,” the old woman continued. “She didn’t think you would amount to anything…I had to prove her wrong.”
Nimmo took his time looking up from the leaflet.
“Who are you?” He finally asked after giving her his full attention.
“I am Mrs Rebecca Jones… the woman who went to jail for killing your mother.”