The Ugbokolo stream is just a stone throw from the house- anyone walking down to the stream from the house would term it the easiest thing to do but the hardest part is when you are walking up, especially with a pot of clay-coloured water on your head. Climbing those hills on a normal day would make you tired for the rest of the day.
I pushed the short wooden door that’s barely above my knee and got into the compound. Fire flames were making their way up the sky. Mama is up already. That imagination alone sent chills down my spine. My legs certainly became too heavy for me to lift. I walked slowly to the bigger pot at the edge of the wall. It was situated there so when it rains, drops of water from the sky that’s settling in the old tatterd zinc would manage to assemble inside the pot. It’s late November and it has stopped raining. I have to go to the stream to fetch water to fill the bigger pot for the use of the household. The season made no much difference- even when it’s raining I still visit the stream
Gently, I tried emptying the water without any form of noise but ‘Ezioha’ the gods of luck and wishes were clearly against me. The moment I turned to leave I heard her call out to me.
“Dumebi!!!!!” I stood there that moment thinking of what wrong I have done that morning- the only time Mama calls me ‘Dumebi’ Is when she’s about to scold me which is almost everytime. I am almost on the verge of forgetting my name is Chimamanda, she only mention that when I do something right, which is an occurrence that happens rarely. Maybe one’s in a year.
“Mirh?” I answered rushing towards the back yard with the pot of water I was holding. She was seating on the smaller chair. I could barely see her face because of the flames from the fire she was making. The flames were heading up, some settling at the top of the building while some leaves through the openings.
She stood up, took off the wrapper and threw it to the other end- that particular wrapper is the one she tie when she’s in the kitchen, since I started visiting that kitchen, I have never seen Mama wash the wrapper. She uses it in bringing pots down. If she puts ‘Ogili’ in the pot, she wipes off her hand in the wrapper. When things kept close to the fire catches fire, she uses the wrapper in putting off the fire.
I was shivering where I stood.
“Why didn’t you wash this pot?” She asked calmly pointing at the pot beside the fire.
“Mirh?” I heard what she said clearly. Someone far away would even hear what she said but I had no answer as at then. Even if I do, since she already started by taking off her wrapper, it was clear I would recieve the beating of my life.
“Ina echi nti? Are you deaf? I said why didn’t you wash this pot?” She was coming closer. I stepped backwards. “Don’t move an inch again” she already left the spot where the flames were settling, I could see her angry face now.
“I washed it….” I managed to say. Then came the most thunderous slap I have ever received from Mama.
“And the back is like that? Ina etinye nri n’ike?”
“We would use it in….” I managed to speak and I was embraced with another slap. This time more thunderous than the first one.
“Go in there, make sure that pot is clean before I return here” she ordered in Igbo.
I held my cheek, went into the smoked filled kitchen. I picked the pot and packed large quantity of ash beside the fire into a white bowl we use in packing ash. Sluggishly I went over the the other end of the compound, bent over a bowl of water, poured a small quantity of sand on the back of the pot, added the ash I brought from the kitchen and then a little water. I wiped it round the back of the pot adding water and Ash and sand at interval to make sure the black smokes disappears entirely from the back of the pot.
I asked for tears to roll down my cheeks. I wanted to cry. At times I get scared that the lachrymation in my body could no longer produce body fluids.
Ogochukwu said the reason I no longer cry over the maltreatment from Mama is because I have gotten used to it. I didn’t understand that, how can one get used to hardship? How does one get used to feeling abandoned and dejected? The only time I have peace of mind is when I go for adult classes during the day. Seating amidst those old women in my class while they tell stories about their children and family takes me off my actual world.
When I got back into the kitchen, Mama was busy starring the ‘Abacha’ she was preparing in the creamy substance she made with oil, Ugba, Pepper and ogili.
“Mama, I have washed the pot” I said gently. Keeping my distance.
“Eheen? Should I eat it? I’m asking you if I will eat the pot? Come and drop it on my head! Drop it on my head Dumebi! Since you don’t know where they keep pot again abi? Obialu gbo ama ala. Ibu onye obia. You are a visitor” she thundered.
On my way down the stream, I keep thinking about my existence- Is this how people go through hell? Was Good partial during creation? Father Ukachukwu said God has a reason for everything- does his plans include this too? Earlier I thought it was the sins of my forefathers that has been my back bench all this while- I sneak out of the home on occasions to attend cathecism just so I can be baptized. Ogochukwu said that I need to be washed off my original sins.
“Ime baptism, ekpochapu gi njo ekeluwa. When you are baptized, you would be stripped off your original sins and you will become new”
That morning I was in church with the white gown I borrowed from the cathechist wife who happens to be our neighbour, with my feet designed at the back with charchoal. The moment we were asked to come over to the alter, that was when Mama saw me. I knew I was in trouble but somehow I proceeded with Ogochukwu’s Aunt- who birthed me in baptism- “once father annoints me with those holy water, all my predicaments would be a thing of the past. Mama won’t beat me again” I told myself but I was wrong. I fainted twice from Mama’s beating after we left the church. I couldn’t return the white gown to ‘Nwunye Cathi’ because Mama tore them and used it in making fire that afternoon. Later that evening she went over to Ogochukwu’s house with her kerosene lamp and her wrapper tied round her waist with me running behind her crying and begging her that I was the one that made Aunty Uju do what she did.
It was more like the world war was replayed that night. What mama didn’t say to Aunty uju was the ones she didn’t remember.
The stream was calm. It was always like that at that time of the day- you only find people who either came to wash or to look after their cassava.
I sat down with my legs floating inside the water.
Why would mama make me wash back of pots that would obviously still get darkened by smokes from the firewood we use in cooking?
Why would Mama ask me to pour the water that gets into the pot through the rain and ask me to go fetch water from the stream even when it’s raining?
Why would Mama make me stay hungry all day when there are lots of farm produce at home?
I think through this things and I tell myself I want to just leave home for few days. I just want to go somewhere else and see if this is really how they live.
I keep thinking of a route to escape the torture.
I had all this in mind while I wait for Ogochukwu over at the ‘Ukwu Akpu’ where we meet before going to St Mary’s for classes.
We were there when Mazzi came driving by with his long John bycicle. He was the new elementary five teacher.
I was still thinking about an escape route when he came down and lay he bycicle to the ground.
I was still rapping my head around my life when he told me how beautiful I was.
That was something I have never gotten from someone. He told me how special I was. He has been admiring me since he came to the school.
Ogochukwu gave me signs not to listen to him but I was bent on doing whatever it takes to leave Mama’s house.
“Why don’t you help me get some herbal leaf inside the bush before we head to school?”
“Okay sir. We can”
“I think your friend should head to school so she won’t be late” he suggested. I gave ogochukwu sign to go along.
I didn’t even think about it when he asked I let him see my underwears.
I didn’t think about it when he carefully lay plaintain leafs on the floor and asked me to lie on my back.
All I could think of then was his reassuring words to make me his wife.
Finally, to me that was an opportunity to leave Mama’s house. Maybe this is God’s way of lifting the burdens off me.
It continued. Became a daily routine. We do it almost everywhere- close to the stream. The bushes around my house. The market square after I get done selling “Ugba” for Mama at eke Ugbokolo.
Ogochukwu wouldn’t stop asking me what’s been happening.
I didn’t tell her. I never planned telling her anything. I only did the month I didn’t see my monthly visitor. For years that I started flowing, I never had it delayed.. I felt pains in my breast when I was bathing that morning. I started having late evening cold. Getting weak every now and then. Mama noticed. She said if I get pregnant in her house, she would kill me and the unborn child. I Rejected it. Threw my fingers over my head and snapped them to the floor. “Tufiakwa”
Even though I rebuked those words, they registered in my brain. That afternoon when I got to know I was pregnant I ran out of the house to Mazzi’s house through the directions of our school member’s. There I met his wife and four kids. I felt lost. The tears I have been asking for poured down the moment I ran out of his gate like the heavy rain that fell last week.
Ogochukwu suggested we go to Ubuntu’s place. According to her, he has herbs that would make me get rid of whatever it is that’s growing inside me.
Three days into taking the herbs Ubuntu gave me. It was more like the herbs gave birthday to scorpions inside my tummy and they were bitting me everywhere to find a way out.
The only thing I heard after hours was Ubuntu’s voice telling Mama I must have had food poisoning and it’s likely I won’t make it. I wanted to speak up. To say something at least. I heard Mama asking ogochukwu where we went to from school for the past days. Ogochukwu told her we haven’t seen in weeks now.
I lay there asking God to make it easier for me. Rev Father Ukachukwu said there is rest in heaven and the only way one gets there is when they die. I should just die and go get the rest.
The last thing I heard Mama say is her asking me to better stand up there and come continue my chores. She tapped me every now and then asking me who would fetch her water if she needs. She kept asking me who would go to the farm when it’s time for farming.
I made a wish. That I stop breathing and go have some rest- I thought it was like one of my million wishes that God has never granted. He granted me this. I left the troubles in the world.