You held your hands high above your head just as they all did, sang the hymn as loud as your voice could bellow, and clucked your tongue with everyone else in a language no one understood, not even yourself—an alter sever stuttering at the pulpit. They called it speaking in tongues.
When it came time for the testimonials, you beckoned me up there, and I had to lie about how much I looked forward to giving birth. I was sure that as I spoke, I made the face of biting into a fermented mango, lips contorted and all. I rubbed my belly, said “praise be to God for the gift of life,” and slit my lips into a taut smile.
That night after you ate well, we went to bed and your fingers crawled over my swollen nipples. The hairs on my skin rose. I wanted to tell you to stop, but instead I crossed my hands over my chest. From behind me, you tore the slip off my waist then forced yourself into me, which burned as if I’d sat in a tub of Cameroon pepper. I shouldn’t have resisted. That was dumb. Sleeping through your urges made things quicker. Sometimes I even enjoyed it. My body responded the way you wanted when I wasn’t all conscious.
Daddy told me about you for the first time ten months ago, the same night you collected me. He was pulling weeds with his bare hands, soil wedged into his fingernails.
“You’re going to your husband’s today,” he said, voice monotonous and so much without soul. He didn’t look at me, and I knew it was because he was trying really hard to shield his eyes. But I still saw the tears curdle across his lashes and his knees buckle as his body wracked with sobs. I kept telling him I didn’t have to leave, that I could continue selling sachet water at the main market. When he looked up at last with blood shot eyes, wrinkles mapped across his sun-burnt forehead, he said “Your eight brothers can now go to school because of you. Your husband has money. He will take good care of you. Be a good wife.”
That evening we met your parents waiting in the parlor. Your father glared at me. Your mother lifted my tiny wrist and flung it aside.
“Look at her tattered clothes. These people couldn’t even afford a traditional marriage,” she spat.
But you didn’t care because from what you’d seen of me at the market, I was a hard worker. That was all you needed, so to hell with everyone.
Nights passed, and you didn’t touch me. You sold shoes in bulk at the market during the day and collapsed into bed after eating your big meals. Then that night came after you’d arrived home reeking of palm wine and fish. You threw me into bed where you licked my face, squeezed my nipples too hard, and proceeded to thrust yourself into me in quick successions. My screams were muffled by your hairy chest. The weight, your weight, flattened the air right out of me.
When you got off at last, I lay motionless with blood oozing between my legs. And though, while bathing, I scrubbed really hard to remove all traces of you, I bled for three days straight and ended up with that fat belly months later.
When the doctor later said it was a healthy girl growing inside me, my tummy churned and the yam porridge from that morning gathered at my throat and burst out right onto the concrete floor. Why couldn’t it be a boy? Then my child would never have to move to some man’s house and call it home.
As months went by and my stomach grew fatter, I began to hate you. I knew it wasn’t how a wife should feel, but your monster inside me made my chest swell with sadness and episodic anger. When I told you I felt crazy, you said women in my condition often are. From the time you left for work that morning, I sat on the hard kitchen floor wailing into the ether. I beat my chest and pounded the floor until my fists turned purple, and it was time to prepare dinner.
The smell of the ogili made me bolt into the bathroom and vomit water and bile. My throat scorched. My chest burned. I hadn’t eaten, and the energy to tear myself off the ground evaded me. My arms collapsed onto the edge of the toilet and the bathroom spun. You rushed in and stroked my hair, carried me into your arms, and tucked me into bed. You kissed my forehead, told me all would be alright, and made it hard for me to loathe you.
I awoke to bread and tea laid out on a tray by your bedside. You had on your work clothes. “Eat and get your energy,” you told me. And I took big bites and swallowed so hard I couldn’t breathe right for a moment.
Once you left, the monster churned in my belly. She twisted and swam, making my body writhe. How could I remove her? Then something clicked and before I knew it, I was sitting on the kitchen floor chasing raw pepper down my throat with water. I waited to feel her burst into little pieces. Her death was imminent, I was sure. But hours passed and nothing but a strong kick. When I punched my tummy back, she kicked again. What the devil did you plant in me? I wondered.
I thought of cutting her out myself. Even went as far as to make an incision right at the point of my belly-button. Blood trickled out, and a sharp pain travelled right through my skin. Then she kicked so hard her tiny feet got stuck between my ribs, and I had to push it back in. So I just left her.
As I stirred the pot of Ora, my gaze fell on a bottle with an illustration of a rat and a skull and bones. I wasn’t so dumb to not know what it was for. The question was how much to include into the soup that it would go undetected yet do enough damage. If I could have just tore my grip from the spoon for a second…
Then you walked in, beaming. You had made so much off sales that day. We were rich. We could relocate to Asaba if I wanted. You held me in your arms for a while and kissed my forehead. Then called me your pet, your pikin. You would take care of me. No hard labor. And then you surprised me with a wad of mint cash. Money for my brothers, you called it. I was dumbfounded. Mouth ajar, feet stubbornly rooted in the same spot it had been when you bolted through the door. A chill ran through my spine. What was wrong with me? How could I have considered hurting you and your baby? I swallowed the hard lump in my throat and uttered a dry thank you.
“She’s not even sixteen yet.”
“This could kill her.”
“Prepare the hot water bath.”
This was what the midwives muttered as they beckoned each other to do this and that. The room was a blur, so many uniformed women filtering through. You waited outside. My lower back felt as if it had been whacked with a hammer. I clutched my tummy, twisting on the squeaky bed in nothing but a loose hospital gown, my buttocks and everything else laid bare for the world to see. Then the screams tore through my lungs with vengeance, and I was so sure the sharp pains would collapse my beating heart.
Then my legs were wrenched apart, and the women shouted for me to push. It felt as if there were glass shards down there as her tiny head came through. Then it felt like a cord had been bound too tightly around my waist and my legs would tear from my hips and I would be dismembered for the rest of my life, broken. But then something snapped, and at once I was free from all the pain. The midwives petted my head, all smiles, and the doctor held up a crying infant curdled in blood.
When they placed her in my arms, her warmth travelled to my chest. Pride swelled in my gut and burst forth in tears. “Blessing,” I cried. “That’s her name—Blessing.”
They directed you into the room and urged the baby into your arms. But you refused. Instead you glared at me. I wondered what it was I did wrong. Then you grabbed our baby after all, but only by a leg, upside down. I don’t know what came over me as I lunged at you and ripped her from your grasp. You scowled.
“Next time, it’ll be a boy,” you said and stormed off.
But you had always known it would be a girl. What in the hell was wrong with you? You knew it would be a girl. What in the hell.
I wanted to scream after you, to knock you down and inflict as much damage onto you. My thoughts drifted back to the bottle of rat poison on your kitchen counter. I wouldn’t hesitate next time around. Not if you ever threaten my child again. I would kill you, and do right by her. I swear it, I will.
Post image Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr
About the Author:
As part of an immigrant family, Chi-Chi grew up and studied in Canada where she completed a BA in English Literature with a minor in Political Science. Recently took a leap into the unknown and relocated to Nigeria with her partner, where they currently work and reside. She’s an avid reader and writer.