The other day, I went to the market to make my hair. It was like every other day when I go to make my hair. I buy what I need and I find someone to fix it in for me. So on this market day, it was exactly the same. But something happened to me, something a little different. For the fist time in all my years of visiting the market, I saw them. I’d never noticed them before but I saw them that day.
Here’s what I mean. On this particular day, there was a woman with her child sitting next to me. She’s a hair dresser too, but she was more concerned for her baby boy than her job or anything else for that matter. I’ve never seen a Nigerian mother smother her child with love before. Nigerian mothers are known for discipline, manipulation, love, patience and anger issues. But here was a woman who wouldn’t even let her child play because she wanted to hold him all the time. She fed him every thirty minutes or carried him on her back. He was old enough to crawl and move around on his own, but she wouldn’t let him. He’d squirm and try to get away from her grip but she won’t let go. He’d even scream and cry but she’d rather force her breast into his mouth than put him down for a minute. It was incredible. A lot of the older women there yelled at her to put him down and focus on her work. The boy wanted to play but she wouldn’t have it. The other women advised, chided, insisted and eventually got angry at her.
“Let the child be. He needs to stay on his own.” One said.
“It’s as if you don’t want this boy to grow up.” Another chipped in.
“Ah ah! Stop giving him breast, he’s already old enough.” This one was angry
“Bring him to me let me help you hold him.” One offered.
But when they noticed the woman wasn’t responding, they started talking loudly to each other instead.
“This girl is stubborn. Until that child will grow up and become spoilt”
“I don’t understand what’s wrong with her. Will she die if she drops him?”
“Please, please I can’t kill myself. It’s her business. Let her do what she wants. I’m tired”
I was annoyed too. Eventually she put the child to sleep with her breast in his mouth. I rolled my eyes. What was wrong with her? But then I thought about it for a minute. The baby boy was obviously her first child. It was easy to tell because even when other kids who played around came close she’d shush them away saying “Leave my son alone”. She took pride in saying those words – “my son”. So I thought; what if it took a while to conceive him? What if the pregnancy was difficult? What if the labour pains were excruciating? Oh but it all paid off because on her bosom lay her beautiful son. A minute didn’t go by that she didn’t smile at him and cradle him to her chest. She held on to him like her life depends on it, which I’m guessing it does. What if he was all she had to live for?
That was when I looked around and observed the other women. They all had stories too. Stories no one else knew about. Of pain and hurt, of miracles and victories. Their lives seemed so simple. I wanted to judge them for judging the woman but I realised it wasn’t their fault. Sometimes, after we’ve overcome storms and had our own victories and breakthroughs, we tend to forget that miracles and victories are not so easy to come by.
So I didn’t mind that the woman smothered her son or that the other women judged her for it. I was happy to have finally noticed them. Because their stories will never be told and world will probably never know they existed. But I do. I saw them.