More Than the Sum of All That


My aunt is wearing a striped tube dress with spaghetti straps. When she sits, love handles circle her tummy like three rubber tires. “Timi, where have you been?” she asks, but does not expect an answer. I am there and it is enough. She sucks me in a tight embrace, her warmth spreading over me, her smile wide. 

The years apart are too many to fit into an evening. We make small talk highlighting the events that count. Did I hear what happened to her son? Only God could have saved him. And what about me and my hopes for tomorrow? I do not burden her with sad news; there is no need to slow down the tempo of the music we are making. Soon we are silent, each of us locked in our world, making sense of words.

When my sister says, “Aunty you look as young as ever,” she returns to the present.

“No o. I am old.”

My sister counters, “You’re looking young. No one would believe if you tell them your age.”

“Please don’t deceive me, don’t give me false hope,” she says like a woman who has been lied to and preyed upon. She pats her Halle Berry wig and looks at me with a small smile.

She is seeking corroboration from me. I cannot just give it, mouthing empty words. I do not know how old she is. I have no compass with which to navigate true north, therefore I cannot tell if she is indeed looking young. Having not seen her for years, in which I harboured memories of her younger fashionable self, she is in fact looking old to me.

My sister and my aunt continue the cycle of compliments and weak rebuttals. I fight within myself. Where is true north?

“Things separate from their stories have no meaning. They are only shapes. Of a certain size and color. A certain weight. When their meaning has become lost to us they no longer have even a name. The story on the other hand can never be lost from its place in the world for it is that place,” Cormac McCarthy wrote. 

My aunt’s husband is long gone; one son is far away, the other closer by, and her only daughter died too early. She has forged a whole life for herself apart from them. Her carefully made up face—thin black-pencilled brows, two large dots of muted raspberry rouge, and red lips that complement her hazel skin—is like a photo from another era. She has weathered storms and raised many children that are not hers, including me. I sense her hunger to be seen and admired as I too have on occasion hungered to be seen and admired.

I stop fighting because I have conquered myself.

“Aunty,” I say, “You look young and beautiful.”

It is not false hope; it is true. I remember learning that a (magnetic) compass almost never shows true north. True north is different from magnetic north, which changes depending on local magnetic variation. About a million years ago, the position of magnetic north even wandered closer to the geographic South Pole.

I had planned to ask my sister how old my aunt is. But when we leave, I let the question die in my throat. What does it matter? I am in charge of my compass. Moreover, she is more than the sum of all that.


©Timi Yeseibo 2017


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25 thoughts on “More Than the Sum of All That

  1. ” I stop fighting because I have conquered myself”
    Does that means conquering one’s self helps us to see the beauty in others and compliment them?

    “Aunty,” I say, “You look young and beautiful.”

    Beautiful crafted… Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @Beautifully crafted, thank you!

      I was fighting within because I didn’t want to lie to her; I don’t even know how old she is. But then I realized kindness was more important than ‘being right’ and also that I could define my standard of beauty or even use the age-old yardstick of inner beauty.

      So maybe conquering ‘self’ helps us ‘see’ others …


    1. Thanks, I’m glad you learnt something.

      I found a connection between re: true north & magnetic north and re: ‘true’ & ‘worldly’ standards of beauty, that I felt needed to be given voice too … subtly, depending on how you look at it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can relate to this story after seen you the other day, you looked younger than I can remember seeing you the first time on track suit and also been close to your sister, I always tell you she is looking under 14 bcos she keeps getting younger.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I also wanted to say that I’m thinking and rethinking this ‘compliment’: you’re looking younger. I know we mean well when we say it. But I find myself asking: why is it a compliment?

      Subject of a future blog post … 🙂

      Thanks again.


  3. Moreover she is the sum of all that……the sum of kindness, courage, perseverance, hugs and smiles……..that’s beauty in my eyes.

    Lovely post Could not only see your aunt, but feel her welcome, her open heart, even her very human longing to have her beauty valued.

    You made a good choice, Timi.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I do not burden her with sad news; there is no need to slow down the tempo of the music we are making. Soon we are silent, each of us locked in our world, making sense of words.

    The kindness of that part stood out to me: the thought to keep the rhythm of a story going, without disrupting it so as to allow the other person’s soul dance to the music that is being made, even if it’s for a passing moment.

    l finished Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun recently and the central character kept on assuring herself of her beauty, even in old age. How nice it is for your aunt to have other people affirm that, to have loved ones who still see who she truly is.

    Thank you for sharing this, Timi. It’s really beautiful to read.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you Ife. The world’s compass rarely points to true north. I am glad that I could be her mirror for a day.

      @… and the central character kept on assuring herself of her beauty, even in old age, such self-affirmation, wow.


  5. No matter where we come or what our background is we all need validation in forms of admiration and appreciation. Am glad you gave in to giving your aunt that, who knows how much your words would have affected her, you might have made her burdens a little lighter considering all she has gone through in life.

    Nice one Timi, i’ll also give like you have given. You are very beautiful and you get to look even more beautiful these days.You are an amazing giver too I know what you have to give up sometimes to make sure you have a post every Sunday thanks for that and thanks too for being the amazing person you are and sharing your life with us in these well written and articulated posts. I hope I have made your day brighter!

    Liked by 2 people

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