A tale of two women – Peju Akande

A tale of two women – Peju Akande

Yesterday was Mothering Sunday among Catholics, it made me remember two special women.

There lived an old landlady on my former street who was widely suspected of witchcraft simply because she didn’t tolerate noisy kids and a dirty environment. Having no kids of her own only cemented that belief in the minds of residents on the street.

This woman would always shoo away children milling around her gate and she made it her job to counsel and sometimes, rather harshly too, young people who were delinquents. She, at some point was paying fees for a few indigent students on the street but because she was such a disciplinarian, few approached her for help. She would query candidates who came for help, scrutinize their activities and insist on follow-up to be sure they were not cutting classes and she never hesitated to cut off students she suspected weren’t serious.

She didn’t take kindly to landlords on the street who neglected to pay dues or provide amenities for their tenants. For all of these, her ‘witchcraft’ abilities only magnified then add the fact that she was a widow- ‘she killed her husband’, some many whispered.

So let’s call her Mrs. Olagbaiye, not her real name of course.

Now, of all the houses on that street, hers was the best looking. Whenever the gates swung open for cars, we would quickly catch a glimpse of the paradise Mrs Olabaiye had created  in that huge compound of hers; we would see the neat clusters of flower beds, the trees that lined both sides of a short driveway; a patch of lawn with wicker chairs. it was a really pleasant looking compound, the type many young families craved to raise their kids in the midst of the chaos we call Lagos.

A lot of people wanted to live in Mrs Olagbaiye’s house. Agents were always lurking around asking if there was a vacant flat but there hardly was any as her tenants also possessed certain weirdness. it seemed the landlady had infected her tenants, three families, with her special kind of weird. They were mostly aloof and the sort of people who drive shiny cars and whose kids hardly come out to play.

On that same street, there was Mama Gabriel, she lived in one of the dirtiest houses on the street and had 9 children; they ranged from 32 to 16years, at the time I was also a resident on same street. That house had a constant stream of people going in and out. It was a large house with plenty of families.

Mama Gabriel lived in a two bedroom flat with her husband, (a perpetual drunk) and their brood; she was jovial; she sold roasted plantain in its season and boiled or roasted corn in its season by the road side. She was a woman accustomed to handling customers of every kind.

These two women who lived worlds apart were friends. Nobody understood it- ‘the one with children and the one without’, that’s how they were described by residents who had time for gossip. Mrs Olagbaiye would stop in front of Mama Gabriel’s coal pot by the road side and chat. She never sat down, she would stand, ramrod straight for hours beside her friend discussing politics, badly behaved children and irresponsible men…Mama Gabriel had that one.

Then one day, the street woke up to wailings from Mama Gabriel’s house; one of her children suddenly died. He was said to have been sick and he was said to be her favourite child, the one who helped her the most, someone said.

Of course it meant Mama Gabriel would be unable to sell her roasted plantain by the roadside as she was mourning her son. Months after this sad incident, with Mama Gabriel still visibly absent from her coal pot by the street, Mrs Olagbaiye began to whittle away. It seemed she was on auto pilot; she would hardly respond to greetings as she shuffled to run her errands, she soon began to appear unkempt; her usual tight bun began to loosen; her sharp steps lost their gait; she aged faster than her 67 years.

‘If she had children, they would have taken care of her,’ people began to whisper.

‘See what childlessness does to you,” others said

Soon, we didn’t see Mrs Olagbaiye on the street anymore. Her tenants, who had little to do with her, didn’t notice when for days, she didn’t open her door or run her usual errands.

It took days to find out Mrs Olagbaiye had died in front of her TV. From heartache? From being childless? From what? Nobody knew.

Mama Gabriel never recovered from the sudden loss of her son; she grieved endlessly for him. Then became sick, then hospitalised, then passed on. ‘She died from having a child’

The one that has a child will die from having one, the one that hasn’t will also die because of a child…so an old saying goes.

May their souls rest in peace.

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