Mama was always right and Mfon was always wrong. Mfon was no good at cooking. Mfon’s clothes were always too bland. Mfon was fat—she ate too much beef. Snap. Shouldn’t halve let her off to the North. Mfon could never be enough—not ever—not even over Christmas; at least, not with her mother around.
Being Mfon can be rough. I don’t fancy it myself. Buried under pile after pile of her constant declarations and rules: “Mfon never touch the remote,” “Mfon you can only eat beef when you’re at Kano,” “Mfon can you please not wear these rags in my house? My life was frustrating, but manageable.
It was painful too. I usually felt a nasty, churning disturbance in my stomach whenever the scruffy old lady’s tongue punched an irregularly shaped hole through her dark brown lips retreated into its cell behind her dark yellow teeth and smacked its pinkish-brown self against her slimy, weak gum to produce her startling version of my delicate, fragile name in the rough, tough and buff sound of her deep, intimidating voice.
So my stomach was causing havoc, and my large knees knocked against themselves like a factory engine in need of servicing. My cheeks turned pink and my eyebrows sank like a rock in water. I couldn’t feel my fingers. I tried to speak but my tongue gracelessly flapped around my teeth, uttering no sounds.
Mama’s little declaration nearly gave me a heart attack.
“Stop packing. You cannot leave tomorrow. Go to the market and buy some ingredients. You need to cook a feast for six” she states indifferently, searching for a new TV show to watch.
“What do you mean, mama?” I asked, sceptically. I didn’t want her to explain. I wanted her to shut up.
“It means that your trip to London is cancelled.”
“Mama what!” I screamed, and then I bit my lover lip.
“I have invited your in-laws to Calabar this Christmas. It’s about time we celebrated Christmas ourstyle” she said, finally settling on a film.
“Mama!” is creamed, “You know Mohammed’s parents don’t like it here.”
“Well, they have agreed to come. Make sure you buy enough garlic.”
She hissed and motioned me away that little spoiler! Mama just can’t bare the sight of my happiness! Lord!
Again with the nagging. She didn’t do any of the work, but her monstrous tongue labored hard at belittling me: “you’re as useless as a sac of rotten potatoes,” “Mfon this food is not presentable even to pigs!” “They’ll chase you out of that man’s house if you don’t become any less disgusting”. Her presence during Christmas was like the thorns in a rose bush—unbearable an unacceptable. But what could I have done?
Nothing. The thorn pricked my fingers and destroyed all my roses until Christmas day met a broken-nailed, nervous wreck of an Mfon. I looked in my large mirror—the one mama had cracked, and frantically tired and removed my head-tie. I threw the fabric onto my large, white bed and turned to my suitcase to inspect my other options; the off-white crop-top from Kano lines with red, black and green thread alongside its wrapper; the blue lace iro and buba from Ilorin where Baba lives; the golden head tie for the pink lace dress I was wearing-given to me by mama herself. I dared not take it off. My room looked more like World War 2 than Christmas. My lips looked more like an erupting volcano than Christmas. I felt more like a Christmas goat than expecting wife at Christmas. Even the baby was unsettled. She kicked, and kicked until I nearly drowned in my own vomit. My legs felt numb when I lay down on my bed. My teary eyes were swolen, and my poor heart was uneasy. I wanted to wilt into a puddle of self pity; it was a more sensitive alternative to watching my antagonistic parents and my hateful in-laws combat with each other, and with me.
Mama burst into my room frowning like a folded, burnt pancake, reigning curses unto her unwanted, useless Mfon. I wriggled slowly into the parlor, taking a moment at the door to brace myself for the humiliation ahead.
My Yoruba father was standing behind my Hausa husband and his parents. I nearly died of anxiety as my mother’s tongue punched that weak hole through her lips again. I buried my attention in the diversity of the dishes on the dining table. The balls of eba, fufu, amala and pounded yam sat proudly beside the tantalizing ogbono, eforiro and afang soups, which covered over half of the dining table. I looked down at the tray of moi moi, which was beside the Suya and the Kilishi. And the food looked amazing.
I looked back up, and on my husband’s face, I saw an expression which I could not classify. A stale air surrounded my heart as my mother let out yet another remark. Nearly deafened by fear, I bit my lower lip, wishing that my dad had not just responded to mama. The old man kissed his teeth and adjusted his brown fila right after Mohammed’s parents spoke. There was strangeness in the air that made my girl kick terribly hard, “Oh God,” I thought, “I knew this idea wouldn’t work!” I COUGHED.
I evaluated the room once more, carefully analyzing everyone’s gestures. My heart sunk down to my baby’s feet. I finally slip my lip; nearly threw up once more. I had finally realized what was going on. “God this can’t be happening” I whispered…their stared and their words. Their gesticulation, their mumbles. You can’t possibly mean—but it is—but they are. They are. It’s nearly unbelievable that everyone is—and really is—merry this Christmas