The excerpt you about to read is from Buchi Emecheta’s 1980 novel Joys of Motherhood. It’s the debut post in a new Brittle Paper series called “Sex in African Novels.” Enjoy!
Agbadi had slept so much in the day that, now he was feeling better, he was finding it difficult to sleep the night through. He must have dozed for a while, nonetheless, for when he opened his eyes, the whole compound was quiet. Cool night air blew in through the open roof window and he could hear his goats grunting. He heard a light breathing nearby on a separate goatskin. Now he remembered—Ona was there lying beside him. He watched her bare breasts rising and falling as she breathed, and noted with amusement how she made sure to stay as far away from him as possible, as though in unconscious defiance, like everything else she did. Her leg was thrust out so that it was almost touching him.
“The heartless bitch,” he thought, “I will teach her.”
He winced as his still-sore shoulder protested, but he managed to turn fully on to his side and gazed his fill at her. To think that in that proud head—held high even in sleep, and to think that in those breasts, two beautiful firm mounds on her chest looking like calabashes turned upside-down—there was some tenderness was momentarily incredible to him. He felt himself burn.
Then the anger came to him again as he remembered how many times this young woman had teased and demeaned him sexually. He felt like jumping on her, clawing at her, hurting her. Then again the thought that she needed him and was there just for his sake came uppermost in his mind and won against the vengeful impulse. He found himself rolling towards her, giving her nipples gentle lover’s bites, letting his tongue glide down the hollow in the center of her breasts and then back again. He caressed her thigh with his good hand, moving to her small night lappa and fingering her coral waist-beads. Ona gasped and opened her eyes. She wanted to scream. But Agbadi was faster, more experienced. He slid on his belly, like a big black snake, and covered her mouth with his. He di not let her mouth free for a long time. She struggled fiercely like a trapped animal, but Agbadi was becoming himself again. He was still weak, but not weak enough to ignore his desire. He worked on her, breaking down all her resistance. He stroked and explored with his perfect hand, banking heavily on the fact that Ona was a woman, a mature woman, who had had him many a time. And he was right. Her struggling and kicking lessened. She stared to moan and groan instead, like a woman in labor. He kept on, and would not let go, so masterfully was he in this art. He knew he had reduced her to longing and craving for him. He knew he had won. He wanted her completely humiliated in her burning desire. And Ona knew. So she tried to counteract her feelings in the only way she guessed would not give her away.
“I know you are too ill to take me,” she murmured.
“No, my Ona, I am waiting for you to be ready.”
She felt like screaming to let free the burning of her body. How could one’s body betray one so! She should have got up and run out, but something was holding her there; she did not know what and she did not care. She wanted to be relieved of the fire inside her. “Please, I am in pain.”
She melted and could say no more. She wept and the sobs she was trying to suppress shook her whole being. He felt it, chuckled, and remarked thickly, “Please, Ona, don’t wake the whole household.”
Either she did not hear, or he wanted her to do just that, for he gave her two painful bites in between her breasts, and she in desperation clawed at him, and was grateful when at last she felt him inside her.
He came deceptively gently, and so unprepared was she for the passionate thrust which followed that she screamed, so piercingly that she was even surprised at her own voice: “Agbadi, you are splitting me in two!’
Suddenly the whole compound seemed to be filled with moving people. A voice, a male voice, which later she recognized to be that of Agbadi’s friend Obi Idayi, shouted from the corner of the courtyard: “Agbadi! Agbadi! Are you alright?”
Again came the law laughter Ona loved and yet loathed so much. “I am fine, my friend. You go to sleep. I am only giving my woman her pleasures.”
Grunting like an excited animal with a helpless prey, he left her abruptly, still unsatisfied, and rolled painfully to the other side of the goatskin. Having hurt her on purpose for the benefit of his people sleeting in the courtyard, he had had his satisfaction.
She hated him at the moment. “All this show just for your people, Agbadi?” she whispered. Unable to help herself, she began to cry quietly.
Then he felt sorry for her. He moved her closer to him and, letting her curl up to him, encouraged her to get the bitterness off her chest. He felt her hot tears flowing, but he said nothing, just went on tracing contours of those offending nipples.
Image by Luis Royo.
Interesting Fact About Emecheta: Suspicious about her writing, her physically abusive husband burned the manuscript of her first novel. To get the full scoop on her drama-filled marriage and how at the age of 22 she left her husband, taking all five children with her, read her auto-biographical novels In The Ditch and Second Class Citizen.