African Women Chronicles: Lara (Chapter 1)

My name is Omolara but everyone calls me Lara. I was born in Lagos State, Nigeria, thirty years ago, this day, to Mr and Mrs Owolabi. My parents had three daughters and I was the last and what you could call a bonus child as there had been no plan for my conception, it just happened. When I was born my two elder sisters, Nike and Tola were six and five years old respectively. My parents had decided after Tola’s birth that they were through with child bearing but I wasn’t paying attention when they made that decision so I forced my way into their lives. Not only, did I force my way into their lives, my arrival almost led to my mother’s exit as I was breached during labour and had to be born through caesarean section. The hospital was ill prepared for the procedure, the anaesthesia wore off and mum said she could feel the pains after a while; she slipped into a coma and remained in that state for three weeks.  It was an ordeal to say the least and it was only a miracle that she survived to tell the story.

For a child they didn’t plan to have, and one whose birth caused so much trouble, my parents welcomed me with open arms and showered me with a lot of love, perhaps too much for my own good as I soon became terribly spoilt and very selfish, thinking the world revolved around me and that everyone existed to fulfil my every desire. As you can imagine, I always got my way to the chagrin of my older sisters who thought it was unfair that I was allowed to get away with things they were never allowed to get away with at my age. However, my mum always responded by saying, “she’s the baby of the house.” She loved me dearly, it was clear for all to see. And because she was a committed child of God, she was certain that I was no accident but a gift from God and told me constantly that in due course, the reason for my birth would be revealed, and so it was.

We were not wealthy, but we were comfortable and could afford the basic things of life. We were what you would call a lower middle class family. My father was a state government contractor who worked very hard to provide for his family and my mother was a lawyer and civil servant employed by the state ministry of Justice. We were a close knit and very happy family, or so I thought, until that fateful day in May 1996 when my mother died suddenly and tragically and it was entirely my fault. I was only twelve years old and in class two in the secondary school when it happened but I remember it clearly as if it was yesterday, because with her death came the death of our family unity. With her death, the truth about the character of every member of the family was revealed. The truth is our family was never the same after mum died. She had really been the pillar who held the building together and we all looked up to her for guidance, including dad. After she died, the building collapsed.

She had taken me to school that day although she did not want to and was not supposed to. Prior to this time, she had been trying, without much success, to get me to walk to school as both my sisters had started walking to school before they were my age. School was on the estate in Gbagada where we lived and was only a twenty-minute walk away from the house but I did not like to walk to school and every morning, right from my class one when I was asked to start walking to school, I kicked up a fuss about it. Some days, my sister, Nike, would give me a nasty look and I would quietly walk out of the house, crying as I went. Some other days, mum or dad would have agreed to take me in the car so Nike would have to reserve the look for another day. She was in her first year in the university at this time, while Tola was preparing for GCE and JAMB examinations which were already at hand. They both used the public transport and had been walking to school since they were in class one, so they hated the fact that my parents gave me a preferential treatment. Tola did not really mind as much as Nike, who always complained with a lot of bitterness. Sometimes, she acted like she was in some sort of competition with me and a few times, mum had to rebuke her.

On this particular day, I decided I would not go to school if I had to walk and finally mum agreed to take me to school in the car but, she was already running late for work herself and had to drive as quickly as she could to my school, then turn around and head to her office. Once again, my sisters thought this was unfair and reminded mum of the days they walked to school and back. According to them, they had attended the same secondary school and we had lived in the same house, the distance was the same, nothing had changed, why should I be driven to school just because I didn’t want to walk, and why did I not want to walk, anyway? It was really beyond their comprehension, but as usual mum paid no attention to them and we got into the car and drove off. If I had known that mum would meet her death in my school that morning, I would have done everything in my power to keep her from my school environment not only that day but for ever. I would gladly have walked to school every day even if the distance was doubled. But I did not know and so I jumped into the car, rather excitedly, glad that once again, I had gotten my way. We arrived at my school in record time, as the traffic was favourable. I jumped out of the car almost immediately so as not to delay mum any further, but as I did I forgot to take my sewing kit which was on the back seat. I had not gone through the school gate when I heard mum scream my name. I turned back to look and she was already getting out of the car waving the sewing kit in her hand. I heaved a sigh of relief even as I imagined what would have become of me if I had attended the Clothing and Textiles class without my sewing kit. Mum was parked on the other side of the road directly opposite the school gate and the place was starting to become rowdy with some cars pulling up in front of the gate and others making a U-turn, so mum indicated with a wave of her hand that I remain where I was, and she crossed the road to meet me in front of the school gate. When she reached me, I took the kit from her with one hand and put my other arm around her waist and hugged her tight.

“Thank you so much, mum. You saved me from getting punished today. You are the best.”

“You are welcome, my darling.” She said. “Mummy loves you.” She cupped my face in her hands, rubbed her nose against mine and dropped a kiss on my lips which left me some of her lipstick. I liked that and quickly rubbed my lips together to make the lipstick spread but mum reached out with a hand and wiped my lips clean. We both laughed as she did. It is a moment I will cherish for as long as I live for it was my final moment with mum.

As she turned to cross the road to go back to her car, the horrible unexpected happened. There was a car standing in the middle of the road, dropping off pupils in my school. It gave no indication that it was ready to move so mum must have thought it was okay to cross the road but she was wrong because suddenly and without any warning at all, the car jerked forward forcefully, I remember the back door was still open and the child who had been trying to shut the door staggered backwards and fell to the ground unhurt. Mum was not as fortunate as the car leaped at her, killing her in the process. We learnt later that the driver, a woman, was only a learner and thought she had her foot on the break pedal and as she saw the car move she panicked and her foot pressed harder on the accelerator. It all happened quite unexpectedly and very quickly too. The car moved forward at such speed that my mum froze to the spot in shock until the car reached her and picked her off the ground. As I watched the horrific sight, I opened my mouth wide and screamed as loudly as my lungs would allow and as mum was lifted off in mid-air, I swooned and hit the ground, possibly before her lifeless body did.

Later that day, my worst fear was confirmed; mum was dead. She had gone home to be with the Lord she loved dearly and served faithfully. She had bid me farewell and was gone forever, she was not coming back, and from that time onward, my life would be a nightmare as I lived with the reality that she was dead because of me.

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