My Aunt died almost a year ago. She lived in our house and when I was younger, I saw her almost every day. Yet I do not have a single picture with her. Aunty Unoma was not the type for taking pictures. She was pretty. Even though a worried, distracted look often marred her features, she was pretty. She had long, black hair that looked like weavon and she dressed in those brightly coloured sixties dresses that have come back into fashion.
She loved to clean. We were all afraid to use her bathroom. At one point, there were six of us sharing the 'girls bathroom' as we called it, yet we would rather queue and bang on the door of this one bathroom, than offload into Aunty Unoma's. It was too pristine for mere mortals. The walls were white, the floors where white, the tub was white and when you switched on the white fluorescent lights, everything seemed to pulse with whiteness.
Aunty Unoma was devoutly Christian, often cryptic in her devotion. In some ways, the after life had begun for her, years before she died. She would often speak of angels and heaven like she had a doorway in her room that led there, her own personal wardrobe to Narnia. It wasn't spooky. I was never afraid when her eyes got their dreamy look but I knew she was different.
For the most part, my sisters and my cousins avoided her. It was not that we changed direction when we saw her coming or hid behind doors. We were always cordial and greeted warmly but we never actively sought her out. Our avoidance was passive. We never knocked on her door in the evening to gist or followed her to the market when she went shopping. In some ways she passively avoided us too. She cooked downstairs but she ate in her room. We were lost in the preoccupations of our adolescences and childhoods and she was lost in her hymns and scriptures.
Her death came as a shock. After I moved here, I did not think of her often. I was too busy trying to adjust to my English boarding school. Still, whenever I came home for the holidays, she was inordinately happy to see me and demonstrative in a way she had never been when we slept in adjacent rooms. She would hug me effusively and ask about school and my new life in England. I was always surprised by the warmth of her welcome. I never asked what she had done while I was away. Perhaps because I was so sure I would know the answer. Gone to church, gone to the market, stayed at home. Maybe I was wrong. She always dressed so carefully when she went out. Perhaps she had a group of friends we didn't know about. Perhaps she was a jazz pianist.
Usually when I went back, I would take small presents to her, little nothings of negligible monetary value that were in line with my student allowance. Always, her happiness would be disproportionate to the gift. Once, she did a small dance while I looked on, embarrassed but pleased. The last trip I saw her, I didn't bring her anything. I wasn't organised enough and I didn't have time to buy gifts for people. She didn't mention it. Instead, when she came to say good bye to me on my last night in Lagos, she came with a present, as she had done the year before. The first gift had been a bottle of perfume. That second was a canister of deodorant. I was very touched by both, twice to the point of tears.
"Keep fit," she said, prodding my stomach, protruding from my heavy dinner that night. She smiled mischievously, prodded my stomach again and left. Those were her last words to me, keep fit and as I type them, I think maybe I never really knew Aunty Unoma. Devout, cleanly and mischievous, an adjective I left out until our last meeting.
Rest in peace Aunty. Kachifo.