The Sower of Green Things
By Chigozie John Obioma
As I walked to our house, I heard mother calling my name and singing in her usual joyful manner. She had seen me through the window and had begun rejoicing that I had again come to pay her a visit. As I walked joyfully toward the door, I saw something quite unusual on the veranda. Lying on the cement floor were three flowers tied together by a red ribbon. There was a tulip with its fresh red bulb, a rose, and a little lilac. I was stunned at first by the exceptional mixture of these flowers and the wisdom behind their pairing. I stood gazing at them until mother again called to me.
I went in and kissed her on both cheeks, then sat down on the seat opposite her.
“Welcome my son,” she greeted me, smiling in a way that made her jaw droop lower down her massive neck and her mouth twitch. Even in old age I could see that mother must once have been a very attractive woman, and I would never doubt the stories she told me about the men she was involved with during her youth.
“This is for you,” I said, dropping a large nylon bag I had brought with me from Lagos on the table. It contained some fruits, fish, some vegetables, and two new books. These things had become her favorites since father had left home for a Pilgrimage in Jerusalem three years earlier and never returned.
A huge smile flashed across her face as she examined the contents.
“Thank you Nom,” she said. “You always bother to—”
I placed my hand to close her mouth and we both laughed. I remembered the pain mother experienced during the period when father could not be found.
“Your father will always bless you wherever he is now,” she muttered after a short pause. I saw her face fall when she mentioned father and I quickly turned away and looked out of the window. As I did, I remembered the flowers. I wanted to know why she kept them there and what they meant. For some reason I could not fathom, I was deeply drawn to them. There was something that lay asleep within my memory that was awoken by its sight.
“Did you put those flowers out there?” I found myself asking her.
She stopped picking the beans and lifted her hands in the air. “Flowers?” she asked thoughtfully. A while passed and then, suddenly, she raised her hands in the air. “OK, those?” she said, pointing toward the window where the flowers were. She shook her head with pity and her countenance fell the way it did when she wanted to say something that bothered her.
“Nothing Nom,” she muttered, "only that I don’t like to think about the woman who put them there.”
I let my gaze fall from mother’s face and rest on the book that had reared its head from the nylon. I had seen a tear gather in her eyes behind the large white spectacles she wore. She was very emotional and would cry at the slightest thing. My gaze lifted from the table to the window. In the distance, by the side of the road overlooking the expanse of land, a fair-complexioned woman, naked from top to waist, sat on a log of wood. The sun rested on her body and it was glazed with sweat. Even from far away, I noticed all manner of dark patches and scars on her back and arms. It was some minutes after 2 p.m. and the primary schools had closed. Some school children had begun walking down the road. A couple would stop near the woman and block my view of her before walking on, jerking with laughter or picking up stones to throw at her. As I watched this scene, mother suddenly broke into my thoughts.
“That,” she pointed, “is the woman.”
“A mad woman?” I asked, astounded.
Mother closed her eyes with both hands and nodded her head sideways again.
“Mother, why do you feel so emotional about this woman?” I asked her. I was astounded by the gravity of the effect the question had on mother. I was even more disturbed by the thought that a mad woman had gathered the flowers in such an artistic manner.
Mother didn’t answer; she went on picking the beans. I gazed out of the window again and from the distance I could see the woman clearly. She was young, about 25 or there about. She was very well shaped. Her two breasts hung, bursting around her chest, swinging pendulously as she pounced from one place to the other. My eyes fell on the curves around her waist and the long red ribbon that cascaded from her waist down to her legs. It dawned on me that this woman was pretty even though filthy. She curved her hands in a manner of posing and began stamping her feet on the ground again as passers-by glanced at her, jeered, and walked on.
“Mum why did the mad woman put the flowers there?” I asked her, returning my eyes back to the room again.
“She’s not mad,” Mother whispered, reaching to hold my hands in an effort to quiet me as though someone nearby would hear us. I noticed the wrinkles at the back of her hands, the veins that had popped at the side of her neck, and the wetness of her eyes. It reminded me that mother was aging with each passing day.
“Don’t say she’s mad.” She went on. “Her name is Motu. She’s only under a spell.”
Mother dropped the beans in her hands and folded her arms across her chest. I waited impatiently for what she wanted to say.
“Motu’s story is one that continually overwhelms me with grief," she began in a low tone. "She was born with a kind of beauty that ruined her, born in the village of Ilara, about 20 kilometers from Akure and 250 kilometers from Lagos. Everyone immediately knew she would grow up into an extraordinarily beautiful woman. When she became 13, suitors began to come from almost everywhere around the villages. Her father managed to fight off these advances until she became 16, claiming that she was rather too young to marry. That year, he went to hunt in the forest but was found dead at the foot of a tree, his left hand chopped off.
“Motu was left with virtually no one to protect her except her mother. Afraid someone would break into their house at night and take her away, Motu agreed to marry a young boy from the village. They decided to elope.
“As they ran away through the footpaths, a band of men ambushed them, killed the young man, and carried her away to an unknown destination blindfolded.”
Mother removed her spectacles and wiped a tear that had dripped onto the top of her nose. The tears had been coming down freely as the story was running. I looked out of the window again, but didn’t look into the distance where the mad woman was. I let my eyes fall on the guava tree just in front of our house. I noticed that it had grown fruit; it was its season. As I looked at it, I recalled the evening when mother had planted the tree. Father had caught Dozie, my younger brother, and I plucking guavas from a neighbor’s compound. He had whipped us thoroughly, warning that it was an act of stealing to take what one was not given. Mother would go to the neighbors the following day and bring home some guavas. She gave them to us and we ate. Afterward, she took the seeds, green as they were, and planted them. As she planted the seeds, she sang a touching song about the replacement of things that were old and used by fresh things—green things. I could not remember the exact wording of the song, but as I thought about it, mother’s voice again came into my head.
“They placed her in a room, on a mat, with her mouth and hands tied to a strong pillar behind her.” Mother shook her head and tears gathered fast in her eyes and rolled down her nose. “For four years—four years—these men imprisoned and ravaged her endlessly. She would sometimes pass out while someone was making love to her and be wakened later by another man putting his weight on her. In the fourth year, she delivered a child in the room. The men came and took the child from her, arguing over what should be done with it. She overhead them say they would go and dump the child by the gate of an orphanage. She tried to get to her child, but they beat her until she passed out.
"After that day, Motu never was the same again. Instead of weeping or staying calm while strange men she couldn’t see made love to her, she would wrestle violently, biting and biting until she inflicted serious injuries on the men. She would sometimes laugh so hysterically that they would not be able to stop her. They soon discovered that she had lost her mind and could no longer be moved by the threat of violence or by violence itself. Then, one night, they dumped her at the end of this street. When morning came, she came around searching for her child. She would knock on the doors and, in a very normal way, ask if anyone had seen a child covered with blood from head to toe. ‘Didn’t you see the child, wrapped with blood, my own blood, Motu’s blood?’ she would say. ‘Some men took him away from me.’ ”
Mother paused and I followed her eyes to the window but didn’t look out.
“The answer was always ‘no.’ ” she continued. “She plucks flowers every morning and drops them in front of all the houses as an appeal to help her find her lost child."
“For how long now?” I asked her.
“This is the second year,” She said in a low tone.
“Every afternoon, she stands around the street and tries to ask the children she sees if they are hers. Sometimes, she turns violent and tries to wrestle with someone for a child, claiming the child is hers.” She shook her head. “Sometimes she gets the worse for it.”
“You mean they try to hurt her?” I asked.
She stared at me in a way she hadn’t in a long time, then without even blinking, she said, “They sometimes stone her. They hurl stones at her.”
Mother put her spectacles back on her face and resumed her chore. I hadn’t observed that all along she had been picking the beans while she was talking. I had allowed my mind to stray. I had followed into the past world of Motu where nothing existed but pain and more pain. My eyes settled on Motu. She had stopped dancing and was sitting again on the log of wood, her head buried under her palms. She had made me forget the purpose for which I had come to Akure, to tell mother that I would be bringing my fiancé to meet her the following week. As I thought of this, I remembered Christiana’s picture, tucked away in my suit packet.
I was about to take it out when suddenly I glanced outside. I saw Motu spring up from the log and make for a woman who was walking down the road. The woman was holding a little boy by one hand and a school bag that belonged to the child in the other hand. Motu grabbed the child from the unsuspecting mother and began to run, toward our house. The cry of the child’s mother reached my ears and shook me. Passers-by stopped in their tracks and yelled at Motu. She didn’t listen to them. She kept running.
“She would take that child away,” I heard the child’s mother cry as she chased Motu, who was slowed by the child she was holding against her body. As she approached, I saw her gloomy face, though scarred and rough, was still rudely beautiful. As I looked on, I saw a stone fall just behind Motu. Then I saw that a fairly large mob, armed with stones was now trailing her.
I sprang from the chair to get closer to the window. I noticed then that I was alone in the sitting room. Mother had gone in to cook the beans, and I could hear her voice from the kitchen as she hummed a tune. In that memorable moment of life, I saw the huge map of emotion that was drawn on Motu’s face. She held the child to her chest and tried to shield her from the stones. I was hugely drawn to the scene. I had an unbearable urge to go out and stop them. Something told me that this time the stones were perhaps more in number than the previous incidents mother had talked about, or perhaps heavier. And I feared Motu would not survive.
As I made for the door, mother started up a familiar song, the one she had sung on the day she planted the guava tree in front of the house many years before. As I opened the door, the refrain stormed into my mind like a gale.There’s a day that won’t be the same
When, we will look and not see the same things.
Like wind, the gray things shall be blown away
and shall be replaced by the pure green things
from the hands of the sower of green things.
As I stepped outside, a dirty-looking old man hurled a large stone and I saw it land on Motu’s head. In a flash, she lost balance and sank to the ground on both knees. As she fell, she tried to drop the child safely. The child landed on his buttocks and sat beside Motu, who held her bleeding head, sobbing. The earth was stained with her blood.
The child’s mother ran forward and took her child. The mob rushed closer like a swam of bees, some still holding stones. I ran up and shouted at them to stop. They stopped in their tracks. They must have feared me because of the suit I wore. They must have thought that I was a government official. I paused to be sure they had stopped, and then I drew close to where Motu lay. The dust had colored her body. When I came within inches of her, she turned and looked at me. Blood was dripping down her face from the wound on her head. I couldn’t even see her eyes. She pointed at the woman and the child who were now standing at a distance, the child crying loudly.
“My child,” she gasped.
I turned to look at the woman and the child. When I turned back to Motu, her eyes were still open but no longer staring at me. They were still, fixed, lifeless. I knew that nothing was the same that day, not the stones, or the number of people who had thrown them. Nothing. I heard voices from the mob but when I raised my head up, they all began to run away. I was left alone with Motu’s body lying dead on the warm earth. I looked at the veranda of our house in the distance, and I didn’t see the flowers. They had been blown away by the wind that had come up moments earlier, when the hand that had plucked them was still filled with life.
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