Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood

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Like all others, the games people play are always complicated and endless, anyway you look at it: left, right, up, down, or center. It's not just that you can play any single game forever, but there always are so many of them. And new ones are getting invented all the time.

"Ma, we are here, o!"

I noticed the "we", and my heart sank. I had had them at close intervals, and whether it was due to that fact or not, from when they were babies, my three daughters always and ferociously competed with one another over everything: my attention, and affections especially. They fought one another relentlessly with envy, jealousy, greed, and the rest of the deadly sins. Then one day, when they were all in their teens, it dawned on me that there were times they actually cooperated with one another. In the form of ganging up to torment me.

My children competed with one another for and over everything. Toys, books, school grades, girlfriends and later, boyfriends, and retrospectively or anticipatorily, even their weddings: dates for, size of gowns. The catering, too. In the end, and to my utter delight and the delight of the extended family, we had ended up with 14 grandchildren from the three of them. Doreen, aka Nana Efua, the oldest. She had had three: two boys and one girl. Rosemary, aka Dede, the middle one. She must have secretly decided to up on her big sister. So she bore three boys and one girl. When the third and youngest set about it, she first begat five children, all girls. Then unable to deal with not getting a boy at all, not to mention some pressure from her husband, she had two more children in quick succession in a rather desperate attempt to remedy the situation. Equals, seven daughters. Her name? Miriam, aka Mansa.

How could I not what? Of course, they all knew I always thought that having three children is the most elegantly sensible thing to do. If that's possible and convenient for you. If those children are also gender-mixed, that's a wonderful detail. But these days, why should anybody's daughter go through the horrors of another pregnancy just so she can have a boy or a girl? Meanwhile, have you tried and succeeded in stopping any young women from doing anything foolish or even dangerous, just because their mother said they shouldn't? In fact, I'm absolutely convinced that even Doreen stopped at three, not because she thought I would approve. No, that's exactly what she wanted.

Or was Mansa mad? Not really. Unless we admit that much of the time, the reasons we women give ourselves for making children, one or any number, are quite crazy.

"Come in."

They did. And for the millionth time, I literally gasped. There they were. Each one of them a picture of health and beauty. The three together a composition so incredibly wholesome, I found myself wondering if they were all born by me, and if so, how had I managed such a feat. In early middle age, obviously settled in their lives as professional women, all suitably and comfortably married. With children. Smug.

Their father? A very long story. Put simply, he had obviously loved me long enough to give me the gift of his gorgeous genes towards the production of my wonderful daughters. Then he had skipped town for greener pastures. Or to continue his goodwill mission among womenfolk.

"Ma, how are you?"

"Me? I'm fine. And seeing you lot is like a booster shot."

Uh-uh, "Booster shot ei?! . . . That's our cool Mama. . . . You are so, so contemp. You kill us," they said, sounding almost rehearsed. In fact, it had been unconsciously rehearsed a thousand times. The teasing and eventual torture had started. And my poor, almost battered, antennae managed to raise themselves up one more time. It was on my lips to ask them what's so youthful about a term like "booster shot?" But I didn't. What good would it have done anyway?

"We came to beg you to go and visit your son-in-law."

"Which one?"

"Koffs," said one. As in Kofi, of course.

"Oh, Ma." The other two said this with a great deal of disapproval. As far as they were concerned, I should have remembered which of the two sons-in-law named Kofi they were referring to, since the relevant wife might have called me earlier to give me the info on which husband had been taken ill.

"What's wrong with him?"

"When we called you last week, we told you. . . . " We are clearly beginning to whine.


"He is ill."

"Where is he?"

"Millennium Central Hospital."

"He had collapsed at work. And they took him there . . . "


". . . The doctors diagnosed a mild stroke."


"Ma, stop saying u-huh, u-huh, and please listen." Looks like the scolding has started in earnest.

"Koffs is in admission at the Millennium Central," one slightly raised voice said. Clearly, it was agreed that I hadn't heard them the first time they had mentioned the hospital.

"S-s-so?" I couldn't bite my tongue in time.

"Ma, what do you mean by 'so?'" The cry of horror was genuine, in unison again, and ear-splitting.

"He seems to be doing quite well . . . "

"How do you know?" That was asked with "that's-why-people-think-all-old-women-are-witches-and-or-batty-and-we-think-that-you-are-getting-to-be-both-unfortunately" in the background. My poor children and their poor generation. How can they claim to be Christian or Whatever, and still believe in witches, and "powers and principalities," as they and their friends put it? Here it comes, the feeling of failure. Watch it.

". . . after all one of the eminent senior doctors there is his father, no?"

Nearly 60 years after Independence, na be whomyouknow. Still. Of course, I didn't say any of that aloud. Wouldn't have done to sound critical of any processes and procedures through which my own son-in-law might be rescued from the jaws of debilitation and possible death.

"Are you coming with us to go and see him?"




"Why must I?"

"Why must you? But Ma, how can you even ask such a question?"

"Because he is only my son-in-law."


"I mean . . . What I mean is that he is the husband of one of you . . . "

"You mean that you don't even remember which one of us is married to Koffs?"

"But two of you are married to young men called Kofi, and I can't always assume that I know which one you are talking about."


"They are both family anyway!"

"You must come with us to visit him."

"Or go there later by yourself."

"You must show family solidarity . . . "

". . . and proper concern as an in-law . . . "

". . . otherwise it will look bad . . . "

". . . very bad."

"To whom?"

"What do you mean by 'to whom?' How about his family?"

"And the neighbors?"

"You know you are popular . . . "

"Lots of people know you . . . "

"And when they hear of what you did . . . "

"Or didn’t do . . . "

"It will sound bad."

"Very bad."

"It won’t look good . . . at all . . . "

"At all!"

"At all!!"

"At all!!!"

I don't know whether it was real, or an illusion. The last thing I remember was the three of them picking me up from the chair, and me fearing they were then going to throw me down and. . . and crack my skull, and break all the other bones in my body. I think I screamed at them to put me down. I don't think anyone heard me . . .

I must be awake. This must be a hospital room. I know because it is very clean, very bright, and very calm in a particular kind of way. Those three are still here, each of them cooing and gently fussing, and each of them genuinely—or trying to look—more distressed than the other two. There are other people around me. They look like nurses and doctors. Two of them look familiar. The husband and son of one of the girls? Am talking, but it doesn't seem like anyone is hearing me. Ah, well, who cares? Am just going to shut up, shut my eyes, and maybe never bother to open any of them again. Then what peace . . .

Ama Ata Aidoo’s literary career dates from when her first play, The Dilemma of a Ghost was produced and published. She followed that up with another play, Anowa, the novels Our Sister Killjoy, Changes, and other works.

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