Mangoes and Men
"Throw all mangoes away", Nne screamed. Nne is our mother. Nne is mother in Igbo. Our mother is Yoruba but she prefers to be called mother in Igbo. "It reminds me of my first love", she always says. "He was an Igbo man". And then I wonder how she expects father to feel knowing she's in love with a dead man. Yes, mum's first love died a long time ago. She was 26 then.
"Throw every mango in this house away. I don't want to smell it" Nne screamed and shouted this time.
Me: Nne I want to eat these mangoes. Tunde too.
Nne: Mo ma gba e le ti o. No mangoes in this house, I said!
Me: For how long are we going to be on Mango strike?
At night, daddy comes home with a polythene bag of mangoes. 10 mangoes. Everyone is shocked. He takes a knife and slices each mango, all by himself. Nne is sleeping in her bedroom.
Dad: Tonight, we feast on mangoes. Anyone who does not partake of this communion will get no favours from me.
Me: What of mum?
Dad: It doesn't matter how she feels about mangoes. Let's eat.
Lara is my elder sister. She's the first child. She's 23. Just finished serving our father's land after completing a B.A. program in Obafemi Awolowo University. She has never had a boyfriend. Mum always said "Lara will not get married until she's at least 27". Nobody knew why. Not even Lara. And when Lara asked why, Nne always replied with "You don't need mangoes just yet". That night, everyone ate mangoes except Lara. She was disgusted.
Lara: I'm going to wake Nne up.
Everyone silently screamed "No".
Lara: You know how she feels about mangoes.
Me: But nobody understands why. And she won't say. How long are we going to stay without eating mangoes? Maybe you should convince her to tell us the mango-story.
Lara: Maybe daddy knows.
Everyone turns to stare at dad for a breakthrough answer like dogs waiting to play fetch.
Dad: I can't. She should tell the story herself. I prefer not to think about it.
Lara: Please dad. This mango story is eating me up.
After 2 minutes of silence...
Dad: Your mother initially wanted to get married to an Igbo man. Her parents said "Never". They didn't want an Igbo man in the family. She swore never to marry another man if it wasn't Ugo.
Tunde: Is this Igbo man her first love she keeps talking about?
I and Lara angrily shouted "Of course" simultaneously.
Lara: No more silly questions Tunde. Use your common sense.
Dad: And then one day, Ugo fell sick and died.
Tunde: Who killed him?
Lara: He was sick, Tunde!
Tunde: But was it a spiritual attack?
Lara: Shut up! What you mean spiritual attack? You thinking grandparents killed him?
Tunde: How old was he when he died dad?
Tunde: What kind of sickness was it?
Dad: Nobody really knows. There were no specifics. The last thing he complained about was a stomach upset.
Tunde: How come you know this much about Ugo? Mum told you?
Dad: No. Her sister did.
Tunde: Auntie Fola?
Lara: Another stupid question. She has just one sister, Tunde!
Tunde: When did her sister tell you this?
Dad: Few weeks before our wedding
Tunde: You mean mum never opened about this to you?
Lara: Apparently she didn't Tunde.
Dad: She only spoke once about it. And the only thing she said was "I once had a boyfriend whom I loved dearly. He was Igbo."
Tunde: How did you meet mum?
Dad: Through our parents
Lara: It was an arranged marriage?
Tunde: Apparently, Lara. It was arranged.
Lara: Shut up now!
Lara hates clap-backs. But she sure knew how to dish it out to others.
Dad: It wasn't exactly arranged. Well, if it was arranged, we certainly didn't know about it. Our parents only introduced us to each other and we seemed to like each other.
Tunde: I still don't get. What has this got to do with mango?
Dad: On one of the special days my parents went visiting your mum's parents, they took along with them a sack of mangoes along with some other food items. Your mum was angry and infuriated. She asked me why my parents came with so much mangoes. I told her it was because they chose to. Plus, they had so much of it back in their home town.
There was silence for two minutes. Dead silence.
Tunde: That still does not explain her hatred for mangoes. Did she hate you back then?
Me: Doesn't make any sense.
Dad: The day Ugo died, your mum was with him. They were in Ugo's house. Your auntie Fola said that day was a happy day for your mum. Your mum was going to visit Ugo. Her mum gave her bowl and said, "Give this to your husband". She was surprised and happy. She thought her parents had finally accepted Ugo.
Lara: Mum went to visit Ugo in his house and she won't let me have male friends come over?😢
Tunde: I actually thought you've been enjoying your no-boyfriend life.
Lara: You really need to shut up Tunde.
Lara's eyes are wet right now. I can't remember the last time I saw her cry. This must really pain her. She's probably thinking about those cute guys she could have dated and maybe kissed. She's so obedient. Annoyingly obedient. She listens to everything, well, nearly everything our parents say. I feel like laughing out loud right now. But I don't want any of Lara's clap-backs. I'll laugh in my belly.
Dad: Ugo wasn't living alone Lara. He lived with his parents.
Lara: Most of my male friends live with their parents too, yet, I can't visit them. This is totally unfair.
Tunde: Go on dad. Please.
Dad: The last thing Ugo ate before he died were mangoes. And that was what your mum's mother had sliced and packed up inside the bowl she sent to Ugo.
Another silence. This time, 2½ minutes.
Tunde: So mum thinks grandma killed Ugo?
Lara: I see why we never really visit her parents.
Lara: I see why we never really visit her parents.
Dad: Not only does your mum think grandma killed Ugo, Ugo's family think your mum killed Ugo.
Another silence. 3 minutes this time.
Tunde: It's a terrible thing she has to go through.
Lara: But did grandma really kill him? I mean, was it the mango that killed him?
Dad: At this point, I say no more. Clear up this place. Leave no traces of Mangoes.
Dad stands up and goes into his room. Three of us stare at each other, alarmed. Things will never be the same. I wish I didn't know about this mango-story.
Tunde: Isn't it funny that dad came home this night with mangoes too? And sliced them just as grandma had sliced it for Ugo?
Lara: You're becoming a psycho! Now you think your own father will poison you!
Tunde: You can never have mangoes Lara. Until you're at least 27.
Lara: Tunde? Can't you see this isn't funny?
Tunde: If you have mangoes, Nne will know. She will smell it. Tell every MAN to GO.
Me: Mum needs to talk about this and let it go.
Lara: She needs to. It's too heavy a burden for her to bear alone. She won't even talk to her husband about it. It's sad.
Tunde: Why did dad still marry Nne if he knew she was that traumatized and in love with a dead man?
Lara: Don't make it sound that way. Never say "in love with a dead man" again. It's creepy.
Tunde: But it's true. You see the problem? Everyone is hiding from the truth.
Me: Maybe dad had faith in her. He possibly believed Nne would get over Ugo.
Tunde: Well, here they are. She's still in love with a dead man.
Lara: You really need to stop saying that.
Tunde: It's the truth Lara.
Lara: You can't be so sure.
Tunde: Why does she make us call her Nne instead of mum, or even mama? Why? She's in love with a dead man.
Tunde shouted. He is angry.
Tunde: She's paying homage to a dead man who is not her husband. And dad has to live that. How many men will tolerate such from their wives? Dad is still married to her because he loves her. I see it in his eyes when he looks at her. But she never sees it. She prefers to lose the love of a man who is alive and gain that of a dead man. How pleasant!
Lara: Calm down now. You're getting all tensed up.
Tunde: I'm angry. I'm angry that our parents cannot have a normally relationship. And it's not even dad's fault. Why did Nne marry him if she was still very much into the dead man?
Lara couldn't say anything this time. Tunde has always been a daddy's boy. He loved Nne too, of course. But Nne was often unhappier than happy. Her sadness was eating deep into everyone.
Tunde: How can Nne be unhappy for so long? She's rubbing it on all of us. I can hardly have a normal conversation with her or even make her laugh. I may sound selfish and one-sided right now, but I feel sorry for dad. He has to live an unhappy life because his wife won't burry the hatchet.
Lara: But part of her sorrows is that everyone suspects the mangoes poisoned him. You should understand that.
Tunde: What if it wasn't the mangoes?
Lara: We don't know yet. Daddy did not say.
Tunde: Tomorrow, I'll ask Nne to talk about this mango-story. And she has to. I'm tired of living in family shadows.
Now I wish I didn't listen to this mango-story. I feel sick. Like I've been poisoned. My mind has been poisoned. My thought-process has been corrupted by this mango-virus. I can never think of grandma as I always have. I'm never eating anything a girl gives to me. Even if it isn't mango. I'm not even sure I want to ever eat mangoes again.