Friday, July 12, 2024

On Motherhood: A Love Story


By Tolulope Odebunmi

  • Title: Tales of Mother
  • Author: Dupe Kuku
  • Publisher: Coal Media
  • Number of pages: 124
  • Year of publication: 2018
  • Category: Memoirs (Short Stories)

In this collection of stories and reminiscences, Ms Kuku immortalises her mother, Mrs Kuku, through a recollection of fond and not so fond memories from the younger Kuku’s childhood and adulthood. In Dupe Kuku’s attempt to keep Aya Kuku’s memory alive, the younger Kuku shares personal stories about friendship, mentorship and parenthood (motherhood). The tales in this collection will be relatable for people who grew up in southwestern Nigeria, especially millennials.

Dupe Kuku opens the collection with a memory of her childhood home in a middle-class neighbourhood in Lagos, where she became aware of the existence of her mother and other family members. It was in that miniflat on Burdland Street that it all began: the appreciation of her mother and her mother’s irresistible charm. Dupe Kuku’s description of the ‘twinkle in her eyes, laughter in her voice’ (p 7) gives readers the impression that Aya Kuku lit up the air when she returned home in the evenings.

Next, Dupe Kuku relates how when she was a child, herself, she was expected to look after her baby brother in the absence of their parents. A strong-willed little Dupe Kuku would sneak out of her house to go play with her peers. Of course, her justification is that it was fine to play outside since Dare, her baby brother, was safely strapped to her back. Aya Kuku made sure that little Dupe Kuku paid for sneaking out of the house, but little Dupe Kuku’s determination eventually led to her mother realising that her daughter’s zeal was the sort that beatings could not kill.

Given the book’s title, one might expect that the central theme explored in the collection is motherhood but, surprisingly, the book is mainly a love story, the story of the love between Dupe Kuku’s father and mother, and the love between Dupe Kuku, herself, and her mother. She discusses some of the difficulties of those two relationships, showing that love becomes even stronger due to such difficulties.

The stories in Tales of Mother are divided into several sections that take different phrases from Ann Taylor’s popular poem, ‘My Mother’, for their titles. The first section in this collection is also titled ‘My Mother’, and in it Dupe Kuku depicts Aya Kuku as an epitome of beauty – ‘Sisi 10 over 10’ – a disciplinarian, a fun-loving person and, equally important, a woman who extended the kindness of her large heart to her community, including an orphanage, the Antonieta Farani Children’s Home, which she did what she could to serve even in sickness.

One story that stands out in the section titled ‘Who Sat And Watched’ is titled ‘Faux Celebrities’. Here, the author shares a heartrending experience that could drive any parent crazy. Should you get to your children’s school to pick them up only to be told that they have gone home, when they have never done so on their own, naturally, many thoughts will begin racing through your mind, especially with the numerous stories of gbọmọgbọmọ, kidnappers, targeting schoolchildren who are by themselves. The interesting twist in the story was that Dupe Kuku and her siblings had gone to their godparents’ house, which was quite close to their school. They had been hungry and tired after waiting for their father to pick them up as usual. He did not show up on time, and the rationale for Dupe Kuku leading her siblings away from school was that ‘[S]he was sure [her godparents would] be at home, have food and feed them’ (p 20).  The parents ran helter-skelter, looking for the children, going so far as to have a television station report the children missing.

In the section titled ‘And Fed Me With’, the detailed description of the process of making hot amala by turning the yam flour until it is perfectly smooth is used to draw readers into a discussion of the care that the author enjoyed from her mother and how caring relationships require collaborative effort. She further whets the reader’s appetite with descriptions of food that she enjoys and the favourites shared with other members of her family and their peculiar ways of combining such food. As an Ijẹbu girl, Dupe Kuku describes the Ijẹbu delicacy called ikọkọrẹ, water yam potage, which her father loves and combines with – wait for it – ẹba, yes, you read that right, ẹba! In the end, Dupe Kuku says we should blame her parents for her love for food and her adventurousness in that regard.

Love is the overarching theme in Tales of Mother, the love that Aya Kuku shared with her family as a whole and with her husband, to whom she was ‘Abiodun mi, ololufe mi’ (p 85), that is my Abiodun, my lover. Dupe Kuku tells of how her parents would often do PDA (Public Displays of Affection) which some people consider un-African because the society in which Dupe Kuku grew up has frowned, at least in the past decade or two, on such public displays between lovers, even though things might be changing now. Interestingly, it seems that Dupe Kuku and her father competed for her mother’s love and attention in a healthy way, and that was probably due to Aya Kuku’s charming personality. One could get that impression from a few of the stories in the collection, such as ‘Love Birds’ and ‘Keeper of Her Heart’.

One instance where a reader might experience a disconnection from the text is the story titled ‘Errand Girl Dups’, due to its abrupt ending and the fact that the title does not match the content. That story might have engaged readers better if it were more detailed, providing proper context and probably a title that relates to its content. Similarly, it might be difficult for readers to make sense of the piece titled ‘Local Ambassador, World People’, owing to how it knots several issues so cryptically together such that the individual threads of the story cannot be unraveled and seen clearly for what they might have been intended to do.

The final section, ‘And Tears of Sweet Affection’ has the story ‘To Love and To Cherish’ which is perhaps the most heartbreaking story in the collection. The story seems to be set around the time when Aya Kuku’s health was failing. Her ever-loving husband responds to his daughter, ‘But Shebi you know your Mummy is the only sugar in my tea, enh?’ (pp 106–107) when Dupe Kuku tells him she thinks he is playing too much of the ‘loverboy’ with her mother. This story also seems to emphasise the fact that Dupe Kuku’s parents were fulfilling the vows they took during their wedding, which is to be committed to each other no matter the circumstance.

Over all, Tales of Mother is a humorous, emotional and a credible account of a daughter who cherishes her mother, even in death. In the book, Dupe Kuku reveals personal details of how her father doted on his beloved wife and how Aya Kuku was extremely active in helping shape the dreams of the author. Readers will be enchanted by the beautiful life Aya Kuku shared with her loved ones.

Photograph: ‘Changing Parents’ Views on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C)’ by Department for International Development (DFID)

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