Olufẹ ọmọ mi.
Kini aanu o jẹ lati gbọ ọ.
It is a mercy to hear you, too, Mother.
Mo fẹran rẹ.
And I love you.
I switch the phone from one hand to the other. I turn around, pull out the chair, and sit.
Chimpy is behaving strangely. His beer is standing on the kitchen counter, his cigarette is burning itself up in an ashtray. Now it is as if he has regressed to a primordial state, a natural state. He is behaving like a chimpanzee. Like a real chimpanzee. In the wild. He is squatting on his haunches, the way he was when I saw him for the first time. When I am not looking at him, he is staring at me; when I do look at him, he averts his gaze, looks off to one side or the other, glances over one shoulder or the other, as if he were scanning for danger. He is showing me respect and being vigilant. Aware. Dare I say protective.
It is not every day that one speaks to their mother both again and for the first time in the same moment. My memories of her are rising and they are brimming with affection and nostalgia and yet these sentences know this past is only inward upon a surface. The way a mirror tricks the eye into believing its depth, the emergence of my mother and my memories of her are like an infinite density producing an infinite force of gravity. And because of the laws that rule this condition—because of the greatness of Mother’s energy, and counterintuitive to common sense—the reality is that this unmatchable power is one-dimensional. It affects everything and exists no place. It would be a living death to understand that she is not real.
Still perched on top of the grandfather clock, Electra’s voice plays a tune. A duet of a rattle and a thumb piano that I loved when I was a child. It is a song I know. A song I know how to play.
I can hear that she is dressed in white.
Njẹ aye nṣe itọju ọ daradara, ọmọ mi?
I answer, At this very moment, yes, Mother, the world is. I have made new friends.
Ṣe awọn ọrẹ titun rẹ ran ọ lọwọ?
Eve sits by my feet, nudges her snout under my elbow. I scratch her throat, fondle her velvety lobes. I respond, Yes, they have helped me a great deal, Mother.
Mo dun gan Mo le rẹrin. Ore kan jẹ ọrẹ nikan ti wọn ba ran ọ lọwọ.
I smile wider than I have in everweeks. I say, Your laugh is music to my ears.
Then, I add, I miss you so.
Mo ṣoro fun ọ nikan nigbati o ko ba si ninu okan mi, ati pe eyi ko jẹ.
I miss you only when you are not in my heart, and that is never. This is what I was afraid of. I was struck by fear of surrender.
I have also met someone, I say. Someone who has helped me so, yes, I consider her, too, a friend.
Ṣugbọn o jẹ ju ọrẹ kan lọ.
I think she just might be. I’ve only just met her. But there is no doubt she has inspired me and I feel an inexplicable urge to value her, praise her, maybe even adore her. Something has welled up in me, Mother, because of her.
Bawo ni o ṣe n wo ọ?
She looks at me as if she feels the same way.
Nigbana ni gbogbo nkan ni o nilo lati mọ. Mo nireti pe ife ni nitoripe o yẹ lati wa nifẹ.
Thank you, Mother.
Ti o ba jẹ otitọ gidi, ṣe daju pe ki o pa oju rẹ lati ri I.
Electra cannot resist the entry to comic relief. She sings, “Turn around, / Every now and then I get a little bit lonely / And you’re never comin’ round…”
Chimpy drums his chest, bares his fangs, directs a raspy, threatening grunt her way.
Electra mimics the scratch of a needle pulled off a record and draws silent.
Mother giggles and sighs. I smile again, looking at the floor. Eve’s tail wags.
Mother says, Awọn ọrẹ rẹ wa pẹlu rẹ. Bawo ni iyanu.
Yes, they are all here.
Emi kii yoo pa ọ mọ lọwọ wọn. Ṣugbọn emi o pe lẹẹkansi laipe.
I hang up the phone.
Chimpy abandons his sentry posture, his expression loosens. He stands. He walks right at me, upright, waddling on his feet.
I say, What is it? What’s the matter? Are you alri—
He slides his leathery hands into each of mine, both at once, as gently as if he were touching a bird’s egg, or a newborn baby.
I begin to ask, But, what, why—
He lets go of one and lifts the other. With both of his, he caresses my hand, staring intently at it, as if staring into it, running his fingertips over my palm, the backs of my knuckles, over my nails, tracing the paths of my bones, seeing if the skin is real, inspecting. He turns my hand, his focus not wavering, taking it in, processing the information, imprinting not his brain but his mind. He is imprinting through his mind, through his self, into his heart. He does not let go as he turns his face away, a moment of that guardian instinct returning. He lets go and takes my other hand. He does the same to it, holding it like a dove with a broken wing, ready to look at it now, studying it, his face possessed with posterity.
We lock eyes.
I see his amber irises are set in pools.
He blinks. One after the other, two streams of tears roll down his cheeks.
His chest swells with a deep breath. He lets go of me.
He signs, If you spoke my language, yours would be the most beautiful voice in the world.