I’d always been told by people that I remind them of someone they know, or used to know. Sometimes I evoked memories for them of their brother, or a cousin, or their first lover who broke their heart in 2005, or a stranger they danced with while drunk on their 25th birthday.
so when the old woman in the antique and artefacts shop tells me I look like her son, I smile politely and run my fingers over the smooth texture of the carved elephant I’m holding. I reckon she means her i remember her of her grandson or maybe this is a new marketing ploy, “tell the potential customer that he looks like your son and he’ll likely end up buying from you, because who in their right senses won’t buy stuff from their “mother”, right? right”
“you look so much like my son, obinna”, she continues, “that’s why I was staring at you from the door, silently urging you to come in.”
her eyes take a dreamy faraway look, ” Obinna was such a good child, but he died when he was 18 in the Biafran war”
I look sympathetically at her and tell her I’m sorry for her loss, but I was born in the nineties, didn’t even know much about the Biafran war until I got into university and had a roommate who was obsessed with the Biafran story and the quest for the republic of Biafra to become a reality. I always told him, albeit tongue in cheek, that he had a huge career waiting for him in radio Biafra or maybe a future tv Biafran.
The old woman looks me deadpan in the eyes. ” you know when I was told he had been killed, I ran to the field and there were so many bodies lying face down. the Adekunle men had stripped them and shot them and I was only able to identify my son by his back. He had a huge birthmark on the middle of his back, it looked like a flower unfolding.”
The world suddenly stops revolving and I place the carved elephant back on the shelf while I try to steady myself. I have two birthmarks, one on the back of my neck and another on the middle of my back similar to what she just described. Maria, a lover from long ago, had once described it with those exact words: “like a flower unfolding”. as a child, I was unnerved by it but my father always said I should see the mark as a blessing.
Many years later while swimming with a friend, Ayomide, he’ll tell me that birthmarks are scars from a past life and the dark birthmark on the back of my neck and the flower-like mark on my back signified events that occurred in my past lives. of course, I laughed at his interpretation but I always wondered about it.
“ma, where was your son shot”, I ask the woman
she shakes her head slowly, “you would not know the place, it was in Ugabani village in Anam…”
“no ma, I mean what part of his body was he shot in”
“oh the back of his neck”, she replies
And like thunder striking a tree top, I realize that I know this woman from a long time ago, ages before the Biafran war, way way back. I once held her hands and the memories we shared still flow through my bloodstream. I don’t believe in reincarnation but I feel a kinship with this woman, the kind a flower has with the earth.