by Oluwarimike Abiodun-Oni
Millions is a story about the difficult question of what the people we love the most may leave us when they go.
Emily had her grandparents die. They left her a silo in Texas, a coastal house on rocky pastures in Massachusetts Bay. Blue lace china they got on their European honeymoon. A dowry. A college education. One hundred thousand dollars in stocks and bonds.
This is her inheritance.
My grandmother, sitting across from me now, has just made a rather cruel comment about my weight. She doesn’t understand why this time last year I could not will myself out of bed. She doesn’t understand what the sunlight has to do with my mood. She doesn’t understand why I shrink when she comes near me, why I do not take her gently offered hand. She doesn’t understand why I don’t believe that anything she has is gently offered (I know it was not acquired that way, she has been through more than I will ever be).
She shakes her head at my stomach when I walk into a room, sitting across from me now, she proclaims rather loudly that she thought I had stopped all that eating. Though she says it in broken English, maybe that should blunt the blow. The next instant, she will look at me with century-old concern and ask if school isn’t treating me too harshly. She will put a hand to my forehead if I so much as shiver, sitting across from me now, worry lines older than I am drawn on her forehead. She will clap with unmitigated glee when my mother tells her I am graduating, although she has no concept of International Relations. She will hold my chin in her hands and pray for me, sitting across from me now, and that is as close to feeling God as I will ever be. She will love me, with a love so potent she has no choice but to ask when I got so big and fat and afraid.
She’s talked to God about me, you see.
Every night, like a soldier, she gets on her knees, humble, and she talks to God about me.
When my grandmother dies all I will be left is the truth that if you lick enough salt, the pepper you have rubbed into your eye will lose its sting. That if you rub earwax on a boil, it will vanish. That there are special creams (maybe only she has them) for when your thighs start to rub together at thirteen. I will be left with four different ways to fry plantain, and the right way to eat pounded yam so the mound is not desecrated there, on the plate. I will be left with the right way to wash a pot, the long way to boil white rice.
I will be given her skirts (they won’t fit), her favorite stories (they won’t fit), her endless need to pray (it won’t fit).
I will be bequeathed parables, I will remember them in someone else’s language.
From Grandma, I will inherit an inability to eat without guilt.
I will inherit parcels and bundles of pain, different kinds of passed down and carried over shame.
No hundreds or thousands of dollars.
In stocks or bonds.
I will inherit guilt, the weight of motherhood, and a responsibility to all the branches of this wizened family tree.
She leaves me embarrassed, ashamed, aware of everything that lives in the unholy
dark. She leaves me with restoration that can only happen once there is a reckoning.
When Emily asks me how much she left to me,
I will miss her ruthlessness, my grandmother.
I will miss her cruelty (this is what they called her, this is what they meant to say,
this is why I could not love her, this is why I loved her), my grandmother.
I will miss the soft underbelly of her fleshy arms.
Then I will ask Emily if anyone ever begged a God on bended knee for her
sake. and I will answer,
For this is my inheritance.
Millions is about the things we inherit from our families. Being a child of the diaspora with a large portion of my family based in Nigeria, I often feel the disconnect between us. We are oceans apart, in more ways than one. Inheritance is not as clear cut in our cultures as it is in Western ones, how often do our grandparents leave behind a black-and-white will? Inheritance, in a complex, generational, and African context, is much more than money. It’s something else entirely. Millions attempts to wade through that depth and emerge with an answer to the difficult question of what the people we love in a most fierce and painful way, may leave us when they go.
About Oluwarimike Abiodun-Oni
Oluwarimike Abiodun-Oni is a Nigerian-Canadian writer with a vested interest in the lives and experiences of young black girls, being one herself. Currently working towards a degree in International Relations to begin her career, and is drawn to writing for the freedom of expression it offers. Irish by birth, Nigerian by blood, Canadian by citizenship, and American by experience, she has lived in many countries and even more cities. She spent a large part of her formative years in Peoria, and was heavily involved in student life at Dunlap high school during her time there. Since graduating she has resided in British Columbia, where she hopes to finish her undergraduate degree and work her way into writing for a living.