by Atinuke Olu-Lutherking
The silver streaks in her hair glistened in the white light. I stared into her kola-nut coloured eyes. Her delicate wrinkles softened as she smiled. I couldn’t help but grin at her. She couldn’t help but smile at me. Life was sweet.
The door creaked open. A woman strolled in. Suddenly, the all-too-familiar smell of antiseptic and medicinal concoctions pierced my nostrils. We were in the hospital, what now seemed like Grandma’s second home. The woman was her nurse; it was time to change her diaper.
Alzheimer’s disease had been the vicious beast that had eaten away at the radiant African lady, and reduced her to a sober, nappy-wearing weakling. It struck me how age turned a baby into an adult, and then back to a baby again, how it gave a dependent child a glimpse of independence, only to snatch it away and desert it in its state of dependence.
Yet Grandma had held on tightly to every last glimmer of hope. Her infectious optimism had been the common thread that kept everyone in the family hopeful till the very end. In awe of her cheerfulness and resilience of character, I had asked her what it was that kept her in so tolerable a condition. She replied solemnly: ‘the tears of an African run inside.’
I can vividly recall that fateful day when she breathed her last. I was by her side when she heaved that final breath. I looked through her window. The sky was a fuming charcoal-black. It was pouring heavily outside, giant raindrops as though the Lord himself was shedding some tears in empathy with our pain.
I ran outside. It was something Grandma and I had always shared, our love for rain. She was one of the few people I told about my ‘rain people, sun people’ theory. I like to sort people I meet into my own two categories: rain people and sun people.
Sun people are fun, brimming with energy; they take life by the horns and run with it. The danger, though, is that they sometimes run too fast, never stopping to sit back, to reflect and enjoy the littler things in life. And of course, they tend to love the sun.
Rain people, however, are usually a bit more meditative, often reading a lot into the goings-on around them. They are much less predictable in their actions, and as a result, much more interesting in character. The more odd things in life make them smile, such as playful kittens chasing after their own tails or the moist, earthy smell of fresh mud and dewy grass by the riverbanks. And lastly, they love rain.
Just like Grandma had been, I am a rain person. For me, the rain gives a sense of reality to the world, a sense of human imperfection. It reminds me that life is not all sunshine, bubblegum and roses. That night, I let the feel of the cold, wet raindrops take me over, soothing my soul. Slowly, the pressure that had built up within me begun to subside. Drop by drop, the lump in my throat thawed away. One by one, tears trickled down my face, to be washed away by the pouring rain.
Awenye, as I affectionately called her, had always taught me to hold my head up high, never to show that I was wounded. ‘The tears of an African run inside.’ Just this once, Awenye, I had to cry. I know, Grandma, at the time when it mattered the most, when it was time for me to prove to your parting spirit that I possessed that inner strength you had tried so hard to impart to me, I failed. I cried. But, Awenye, those tear drops blended so well with the raindrops, no one but the Lord, you and I would have to know that those drops were not rain, but tears, that I, a true African, was crying.
It is our little secret. Dear reader, it is now ours.