The scent of soft lavender floated into the room as the door creaked open, she didn’t need to hear the soft voice to know it was her Mum. “Where is my beautiful bride to be?” Mum asked. Ifueko smiled. Shifting from the yoga position she had taken on her bed, eyes fixed on her Mum’s deep smile, high cheekbones and honey brown eyes. As she looked beyond her eyes into her Mum’s beautiful soul, her mind went on a journey, a long journey.
Ifueko was the second of two children; her elder brother’s name was Osahon. Her Mum was a primary school teacher and her Dad a university lecturer, life for Ifueko was stable and sweet. She was closest to her Dad. Their relationship was a bond of mutual adoration, she went everywhere with him, so much so that his friends called her his briefcase.
When Ifueko turned 5, her Dad was awarded a scholarship to the United States to study for his doctorate. Excitement at living in a country she saw through films soon turned to sadness when her dad explained that he was going alone. She tried to understand why the scholarship did not cover his family, but she could only cry her heart out each time she imagined how much she was going to miss him.
For those three and a half years, they lived on her Mum’s meager teaching salary. Ifueko’s life revolved around her Dad’s letters and phone calls. They sent him pictures of birthdays, end of year class photographs and almost every celebratory event. Her Mum always made sure Ifueko and Osahon never felt their Dad’s absence. For Ifueko, her perfect family was unchanged. Even as the years passed and she had to answer questions on family in school, she always proudly and loudly declared that hers was a family of Dad, Mum, and two children.
Finally, her Dad was coming home and just in time for Ifueko’s 9th birthday, there was so much excitement in the air. She told every neighbour and anyone with an available ear. From her friends in school to Auntie Julie in children’s church, including Auntie Jite who had a small shop down the road. Mum had cleaned the house inside out and even changed the curtains in the living room and in her bedroom. There was a fresh fragrance flowing all through the house. She and Osahon created a nice poster and blew-up colorful balloons to hang up in celebration. Papa J, their dog, seemed to sense that something good was about to happen too. He followed her yapping with excitement around the house as she hung up the decorations.
And then the day came, she kept waking up to darkness and wishing that it would be daylight already. When it finally came Auntie Lucie gave up trying to braid her hair because Ifueko just couldn’t keep still. It was just after 2pm when she finally heard the car horn. Ifueko rushed out to meet her Dad, he looked even better than his pictures. She flew into his arms tears soaking his shirt as she held on. She was slightly disappointed as he peeled her arms away and held her aside. That was when she permitted herself to look around and noticed that there was some tension. Her eyes searched, questioning as she looked around at Mum, Dad, Osahon.
Then she saw her, pretty and svelte with a young baby. She looked like a ‘half caste’ Ifueko thought. Reminding her of Professor Obi’s wife who taught Primary 5a in her school. The other neighbors called her ‘oyibo’ but mummy had said she was American. This Auntie had the same milky tea complexion and beautiful hair.
How could she have missed her? She quickly said hello to Uncle Isaac, who was standing with her parents, and approached the Auntie to politely say hello. The pretty Auntie smiled. Ifueko innocently tugged her Dad’s sleeve. She asked who she was, he didn’t answer. So she turned to smile at Mummy to share her joy and stopped. They walked into the house, Ifueko confused by the stillness in the air and a sadness her Mum’s smile.
Auntie Lucie, her Mum’s cousin, had made lunch and everyone ate in silence. The tense atmosphere forced Ifueko to pause her usual chatter too. After lunch, Ifueko got her chance to rock the baby as she accompanied his mum, Aunt Camilla, to the guest room. He looked like Osahon did in his baby pictures she thought. After leaving the guest room, she took her usual nap and woke up to a quiet house. She settled down to watch Sesame Street and Super Ted as she usually did after her nap. It was 5:30pm and she knew she had to have a bath and change into her pyjamas at 6pm, Mum always insisted. She was itching to ask Dad for the toys and books he had promised her. Dad always kept his promises. So, she decided to ask just before it was time to bath.
She approached the master bedroom, as she made to knock, she heard her Mum sobbing and boxes snapping shut. “How could you do this to me Efosa?” She never called Dad by his name. They both called each other ‘Onome’. Suddenly the pervasive tension in the house began to make sense. Ifueko knew instinctively that something was wrong. She tensed, listening for her Dad’s replies. Her Dad said little, then her Mum burst out of the room and stopped. Her face tear stained she dragged Ifueko into the children’s room where Osahon was playing and gave them both a big hug. She explained that she had to go away and would be back to take them with her. Going? Where? Why? Dad was standing by the door, watching. She looked to him for an explanation, he only stared back. She tried to stop her mum but she insisted on leaving. Ifueko watched the lights melt through tears as her Mum drove away. She rushed to her Dad pleading for an explanation, how could the day she had dreamed of for so long now become her worst nightmare. He looked at her but with no words, she knew she had to go take a bath, it was already 6pm.
The mood in the house was thick and humid as if there was no power even though they had Air-Conditioning. Her Mum had left, and the evening bore no trace of the excitement sunrise had promised Ifueko that morning. Auntie Lucie made Dad’s favorite dish of boiled plantain and owho, just as mum had planned. There was a little chatter as Aunt Camilla talked about the food and being in Africa for the first time. Dad was quiet and appeared pensive. After dinner, Aunt Camilla went to attend to her baby and Dad came into Ifueko’s room with Osahon in toll.
“Dad where did mummy go? Why is she so sad?” Ifueko demanded.
“I need to speak with you,” he said. The tone in his voice sent her heart racing, this was bad news. The ceiling fan was on but it felt stuffy, Ifueko thought the walls seemed to conspire to close in on her.
He told them that Aunt Camilla is his wife and the baby, Damian, their brother. All that said to Ifueko was ‘replacement’ for her mum and resentment rose in her heart against this Aunt Camilla. She no longer saw her as pretty, remembering the hurt in her Mum’s eyes. Ifueko felt shattered, betrayed, hurt, and angry all at the same time. Now what would she say when people asked about her family? The confusion simmered into a boiling pain and that was the day the chitty chatty Ifueko gave way to a deep and introspective one. After her Dad and Osahon left her room, she sobbed deep and every night since.
The next day, Uncle Isaac drove them to their paternal grandparents. They lived on the other side of town. Life was tough. They stayed with their grandparents until school resumed.
Osahon’s school had no boarding facilities. He attended the secondary school at the university where their Dad lectured. It was the best secondary school in town but was too far away from Grandpa’s. Ifueko’s school was also within the university’s campus but closer to the house. Their Mum occasionally visited them at school. But after one term, she decided they were better off living with Dad at home so they moved back home.
Aunt Camilla tried everything to make Ifueko feel at home with no success. Then, she had another baby, a daughter, Uwaila who was as beautiful as her Mum’s Barbados genes permitted. When her Dad was home, Ifueko was civil and somewhat sweet, but as soon as she got a chance, she would treat Aunt Camilla like an outcast. Yet she loved Damian and Uwaila so much. She would babysit them and as they grew, she would help with their homework too, she loved being a big sister. But, as soon as Aunt Camilla entered their world, a dark cloud descended and she always felt that impulsive need to defend her Mum’s position, as though being nice made her disloyal.
During her secondary school years, Ifueko hated any talk about family. It didn’t help much that her bestie, Omoye’s Dad had two wives and Omoye too had to live with a mean step Mum. Omoye’s Mum had passed on when she was 10 years old. When they were younger, Omoye often complained of mean her Step-Mum. Back then Ifueko basked in the euphoria of her close knit nuclear family. But now, all that was gone. Ifueko and Omoye would exchange notes, plotted and planned, but she never found anything mean to share with Omoye. If she was honest, Aunt Camilla was no different than her Mum, in fact Aunt Camilla was even ‘oyibo’ about it.
Still, Ifueko’s determination not to reciprocate any love persisted for years. She wouldn’t wear any dresses Aunt Camilla bought her. Eventually, her Dad had to take her shopping because she had worn her old clothes until they became torn, worn and embarrassing, especially when they went to church. Through it all Aunt Camilla was patient. She exuded such peace. Her persona was calm and warm and the house always smelt fresh. When Ifueko became a teenager, Aunt Camilla fought to increase her liberties and defended her before her Dad. Still, instead of gratitude, Ifueko felt entitled to this freedom and continued her campaign to make life miserable for Aunt Camilla.
One evening, whilst she was at home awaiting exam results, a distressed and tearful Omoye visited Ifueko. She wanted to speak to Aunt Camilla. She told them her Step-Mum’s brother attempted to rape her and when she reported the incident, her Step-Mum accused her instead. Omoye’s Dad didn’t believe her either and beat her. Aunt Camilla’s compassion shamed Ifueko. She watched as Aunt Camilla cried listening to Omoye. Then insisted that Omoye stayed overnight after placing a call to Ifueko’s Dad.
Omoye spent three days at Ifueko’s before she left for her grandparents. During those days, Ifueko saw another side of Aunt Camilla. She talked so easily about life, dating and making life choices that Ifueko felt stupid for not giving her a chance. She heard Aunt Camilla talk about her childhood in Barbados, where she lived before moving to the United States. That day, Ifueko saw a look of pain in Aunt Camilla’s eyes, which she had previously ignored.
With time, the older she became the more she admired her Step-Mother. Aunt Camilla’s adaptation to life in Nigeria was amazing. Soon they began to do fun things, she learned how to cook the most exotic dishes, especially those that her Dad liked. Soon her loyalty to her Mum became conflicted, it didn’t help that her Mum had moved to Calabar and her calls became less frequent. But she still would not relate with her beyond duty.
University dawned and her generous allowance had Auntie Camilla’s scent all over it. Life was changing, Omoye had made their house a second home and Fome, Ifueko’s second bestie, was soon bought over too. Fome and Omoye both loved Aunt Camilla, as did most of her friends; she was their cool Auntie.
She met Kunle in her first year. He was a second year student, perfect, debonair, humble, everything she wanted and they dated for two years. He wasn’t as affluent as her family and so they shared everything. Ifueko did not mind because she knew he had potential. Aunt Camilla had said that Kunle was a keeper and Ifueko agreed, it was one of their rare moments.
Then just before his graduation, Kunle revealed that he was from a prominent wealthy family. Ifueko couldn’t believe she had lived a ‘Coming to America’ story. Kunle explained that when he met her, he decided to act impoverished to test the genuineness of her love for him and not his money.
Ifueko tried listening but all she could think was that he carried on with this charade for almost two years? Her heart broke in several pieces. Again, those feelings of betrayal bubbled. Kunle was a lie. She was heartbroken and ran straight to Aunt Camilla.
Aunt Camilla counseled her. She soothed and was firm too, helping Ifueko to understand her emotions. It was during this time that after almost 12-years, she finally heard Auntie Camilla’s story.
She had met Ifueko’s Dad at school, they were on the same campus. He had told her that he was single; they fell in love and got married. She had Damian and when he finished his Ph.D, they boarded the plane to come home as was the plan. It was when they were airborne, he told her the truth. He had a wife and two children in Nigeria. Of course, she was mad! Aunt Camilla replied Ifueko. She felt like she was in love with a lie but, she already had a child and they were already airborne. What were her options? So, she chose to make the best of the lie.
It was then that Ifueko cried. She was now old enough to understand that she had been unfair and misjudged Aunt Camilla. She was old enough too to appreciate her for the sacrifice she had made. Ifueko was angry with herself for all the wasted years and from that day decided to make it up to Aunt Camilla.
As she closed the door on her memories, she was learning to release the bag filled with regrets for her bad attitude. Amazed at Aunt Camilla’s love for her. How could she have been so blind? Throughout her Mum’s illness, it was Aunt Camilla’s strength that helped her deal the loss when she passed. It was Aunt Camilla who encouraged her to maintain a relationship with Mum’s siblings after the funeral when she wouldn’t forgive them for abandoning her.
Aunt Camilla had become everything Ifueko could have asked for in a mother, complete with a mother’s unconditional love. When her life became a plain canvas, it was Aunt Camilla who patiently painted it with a splash of motherly colors. She became Ifueko’s Mum and confidante when she allowed herself to be receive love again. And, how natural it felt to for Ifueko to call her ‘Mum’. It may have taken 12 years but Ifueko finally understood that her Mum truly loved her out of her childhood bitterness.
A persistent love that could break that walls built out of many years of resentment is nothing but ‘Perfect Love’.
This Story reminds me of the love of Christ, how perfect His love is. It just brings home to me how we’ve scorned him over and over again, and yet He loves us. Giving up his life was painful, as was coming to Nigeria for Aunt Camilla. But Jesus submitted to the will of the Father and considered the reward more worthy than the pain. As Ifueko did to Aunt Camilla, not once have we bothered to even consider his story. We just spurn his love over and over again and throw it in His face, enjoying the benefits when we need Him like Ifueko did. Some of us are comfortable with receiving from God’s hand and yet we don’t want to see His face.
God is right there but sometimes, we consider Him an enemy like Ifueko did Aunt Camilla. She was right there all along but Ifueko just couldn’t see. And then one day, the scales disappear. Her pain brought her to the realization that Aunt Camilla wasn’t who she thought she was. Sometimes, God uses our pain to get our attention. Aunt Camilla’s love was consistent in spite of Ifueko’s behavior. God’s love for us too isn’t about anything we could have said or done, it is just who God is, He loves.
Enjoy the love God has for you. Love that took Him to the cross for us, undeserving as we were, that was PERFECT LOVE.
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