A letter to Stella

Do you remember resumption day in third term when I was in J.S.S 1, when you brought the whole place down because a senior student had slapped me 27 times the previous term? Actually she had slapped me twice, but I told you I had received 9 slaps from her so as to build a credible case to change schools. I detested boarding house then, I desperately wanted to leave my current school for another school where they would respect human rights. So I spent the whole 2nd term holiday trying to sell you the idea, I had relayed how the assistant house captain had made all the junior students queue in a single file to receive 9 slaps each. Our offence? Our playing had disturbed her sleep. But my pleas and threats had failed to work, so there we were at the assembly ground resuming for the 3rd term. You had requested to see the house master, and then proceeded to give a stellar performance. You narrated angrily how a senior had given your precious daughter 27 slaps; a daughter that had never received slaps at home in her entire life! You recounted in between tears how the physical abuse had affected me so much that I had spent the whole holiday in the hospital treating a ruptured ear drum. The house master, and other teachers present were mortified, they kept apologizing profusely. I recall one of them asking if it was true and I nodded blankly. To tell you the truth, my brain had been AWOL when you mentioned 27 slaps. 27!!! Someone slapped me 27 times and I would still be alive?! Would my brain even be functioning to count up to the 27th time?! I kept doing the math, I mentioned 9 slaps to you, so how did it exponentially grow to 27? Then you mentioned that I had never been slapped before. If not that the situation was so grave I would have burst into uncontrollable laughter. But that’s who you are, you always tend towards the dramatic.

I clearly recall the first visiting day in J.S.S 1, we spent the whole day crying in each other’s arms. I had lost a ton of weight and had a lot of horror stories to share, you kept berating yourself for putting me in the boarding house and wanted to take me home with you. Unfortunately Dad had anticipated that, and he had instructed you in very clear terms not to pull that stunt. You had painfully relayed that conversation to me and then we dissolved into further tears in front of the matron and other visiting parents. You’ve never been one to hide your emotions.

If memory serves me right, there was that time in primary school when you came to pick me during school hours. I wonder what reason you gave the head teacher, but within minutes I was allowed to leave school and we were en route a mystery location. This location turned out to be your debtor’s residence. Seems this person was hardheaded about not paying you, so you had to take your debt recovery tactics up a notch. So there I was, your child who had been sent out of school for non-payment of school fees. Once the situation was resolved, it was back to school for me. You dropped me off at school, and with a sly look on your face you stated that I shouldn’t tell Dad. Our relationship has always transcended the traditional standard, my partner in crime for as long as I can remember. I wish I could say you’ve learnt to stop giving bad loans… but that’s a story for another day.

Tolu mentioned how almost every night just before they would start eating dinner, you would make a tearful remark on the possibility of me being hungry at that exact moment while away in boarding house. You would then make them say a prayer for me. It has never been a case of out of sight, out of mind for you. Your love defied distance, it always made a mockery of every limitation. It helped to know that I was constantly on your mind. And so back then, anytime I looked at the bug-infested beans which was to serve as my dinner, I would cast my mind to my family back home who were probably praying for me to get through another rough day.

I remember when I wanted to buy my first ‘Brazilian hair’, I couldn’t get over how costly it was. I had mentioned to you that I wasn’t going to go ahead with the purchase based on the price. You sat me down and we did the math. We discovered that in the long run the brazilian hair was cheaper than buying 2 packs of Remy hair every time I wanted to wear a weave. You encouraged me to buy it, even gave me money towards the purchase of the second unit of brazilian hair I bought later in the year. The conservative you, who grew up in the era of low cuts, and jerry curls didn’t balk at forking over huge sums of money for rapunzel-length hair. You’ve always been able to stay abreast of the times, and that’s why I can share details of all (most actually) my outlandish purchases with you. You will proceed to scream in mock horror when you see the price tag, then objectively evaluate my latest splurge.

Remember how you would stay up with me anytime I had a major exam? You would lie down in an uncomfortable position in the couch while I crammed my jottings. I would plead with you to no avail to retire to your room. You would keep telling me you were okay being in the living room while you swatted at the mosquitoes trying to make a meal of you. I’ll admit, there were times during those nights I felt like giving up, ready to accept whatever poor grade I could muster. Then I’d look at you, sleeping in an awkward position, and I would dig into my books with a renewed fervor. You always knew how to make me put things in perspective.

There was that time when I was in year one at the university. While you were compiling my shopping list, I had asked you to replace the conventional underwear you usually bought for me with G-strings. It wasn’t like my posterior was well endowed, so there was nothing to pack I had argued. G-strings were the rage then and I wasn’t going to be left out. You agreed and set out to the market. You returned later that evening and flung the bag containing the g-strings at me while declaring that I would henceforth be doing my shopping myself. You later told me that you felt embarrassed while buying the underwear based on the stares and comments at the underwear shop. People couldn’t believe that a mother was buying such underwear for her teenage daughter. To prevent such from recurring, I would be buying my items in the future. Thank you for respecting my desires, thank you for knowing when to let go.

Then there was that time you had to go to school again. Your N.C.E qualification would soon be inadequate for your job, you needed to acquire a B.Sc. certification. A working mother with young children, you didn’t let your situation hold you back. During the holidays, you would go to your part-time classes. You have never been afraid to reinvent yourself. Thank you for being a great role model.

Remember that year when you decided that you would start pampering yourself? You stated that you would start by buying whatever lace material that was the rave of the moment every year. We were so happy when you made that decision. You had made innumerable sacrifices for all of us and you more than deserved to be spoiled. You knew you had started losing touch with yourself and needed to get your groove back to continue being a highly functional member of the family. You learnt to strike a fine balance between being sacrificial and selfish of your needs.

I laugh every time I recall the shock on Dad’s face one night when you bailed him out of a potentially stressful situation. He had locked his keys in the car, and you were able to access the car through the boot. He stood stupefied while you handed his car keys to him. When he recovered he asked why you never told him about this skill, then joked about how you two could have been millionaires by now. You always had that element of surprise, you always found a way to resolve any problem you were faced with.

I’m grateful any time I recall how you fought my case successfully with Dad. My job required me closing at odd times, our residence in the suburbs also served to make matters worse. Trudging home late in the night and dragging myself out in the wee hours of the morning was taking its toll on me. I needed to move out. My conventional father however would have none of it, I had no business getting my place until I moved to that of my husband. Only God knows how you managed to change his mind. You always knew when practicality trumped tradition.

I recollect when my secondary school had in its usual tradition asked S.S.S 3 students to go home ahead of the pre-determined school closing date. We were writing our WAEC exams, and had started seeing ourselves as ‘candidates’, no longer subject to the school’s rules and regulations. The school’s response was to instruct the candidates to exit school before the close of the day. We knew this would happen, it was the practice year in year out. We just didn’t think we would be so unruly that the school would deport us in the midst of exams. Some of us, myself inclusive still had papers to write. And that was what I told Dad over the phone when I called him at the NITEL office, I was torn between coming home or staying with my friend whose family resided in the same town to write my last paper. I went back to the NITEL office later in the day to communicate to Dad my decision to stay back with my friend, only to find out that NITEL was now experiencing some technical issues and calls could not be made/received within the city. That outage lasted over a week. That was the start of a sad routine, I would go to the NITEL office every day in vain trying to reach Dad, and he would also be waiting by the phone box in the office hoping to receive my call. He had correctly deduced that I stayed back, he had called the NITEL office in Lagos and they had informed him about the outage in my town. There was no use going to my school, the administrators had no record of where each student had gone to after exiting the school gate. And so my parents waited. When I got home, you were a bag of bones. Dad relayed how every night before ringing the door bell, he would pause and steel himself for the onslaught from you. Dad was the law at home but he knew not to cross your path when it came to matters concerning us. You are a lioness when it comes to your cubs. Thank you for showing me a love so fierce.

My mischievous Stella, the drama queen, the one who loves like no other, thank you for letting me know the real you. Thank you for the memories that reveal you as a person, not just as my traditional caregiver. Thank you for letting me know that it’s okay to love yourself, that you need to indulge yourself before you can show love to/pamper others. I can never fully repay you for all you have done for me. I know you know that, I know you don’t expect anything different, I also know that it doesn’t deter you from future acts of love to me. I believe this is borne out of an unconditional love, one I pray to experience.

Happy Mother’s day Stella.


7 thoughts on “A letter to Stella

  1. You are an exceptional writer Yetunde. To think i have known you for about 5 years and never seen this part till now. Thanks for letting us into your world. Thanks for sharing your gift. God bless you.


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