Cover Photo: The Growth by Oluwaseyi Adebola

The Growth

I eased myself gently into the old, brown sofa in the sitting room, my hands on my sore back. My dirty white eyes settled on the aged brown clock hanging obediently on the wall. The seconds hand moved round and round but did not return my stare. It just was not interested in my state of affairs. All that occupied it was what clocks were made to do- to tick and to tock. I realized I had drifted into a reverie where I could be anything I wanted to be- A swallowtail butterfly with my forked hind wings spattered with bold, dark . I would flutter my wings gracefully as I sipped nectar from plant to plant without a care in the world. I remember watching tons of documentaries as a child but none captured my imagination like the one that taught me all I still know about butterflies. Perhaps I could be something more real- human even. Maybe I would be a very important lady like our pastor’s wife. She seemed to always have a smile on her face as she listened attentively whenever her heartthrob was on the stage leading people to heaven.One day I stumbled onto a conversation between Sisters Rose and Loveth where they openly discussed pastor’s obviously well-known libido and sex escapades. I was shocked they could discuss such a delicate matter in a bus over the noisy sounds of Lagos. They were shocked I did not already know about it, either from hearsay or personal experience. Loveth started off saying something that sounded like “…but he never come jam fine geh like you?”

Something squeezes inside me whenever I recollect the way her voice dropped like a heavy sac of rice as she took in my unkempt appearance. Something squeezed me back to reality as I tried to rub off an ache in my lower back.

Everything hurt! Walking, sitting… defecating. I felt fat and ugly. Instinctively, my right hand went to my face to brush aside wisps of hair from my forehead. Damola, my late husband, always said my forehead was one of my beautiful features.

‘Damo’ as I fondly called him was my sunshine. He was the shooting star in my eerie black skies lighting my world with his brightness. Tofu tasted like fried meat if he fed me. His touch made me blazing hot when it was cold outside. He wrapped me in a warmth of kind words whenever rain beat me and I shivered in his father’s shed like a fly caught in an avalanche. The first day he spoke to me I was convinced father Francis’ sermon every Sunday about the love of God had to be true. Think of it- I was the first female child of my father’s battalion of 18 children to go as far as JSS3. The first time my father hugged me was when he saw my WAEC result. That day he called me doctor. God! Warm blood instantly coursed through my veins! I realized I was blushing now as I remembered how Damo also made warm blood engorge my thighs and pelvis with his sneaky little fingers. My dad’s smile however was not warm when he learnt that his 17 year old baby girl was herself about to become a mother. Worse still, the bastard child belonged to a child whose family had a tradition of untimely deaths. One decade, three pregnancies and a very eventful lifetime after and I was still convinced it was I who killed my father. Well, of course the short doctor who spoke a bit too fast assured us he died from natural courses. He mentioned something like a ‘miocarda infaction’ that day. When mama’s lower lip stooped helplessly forward as she wondered why papa had to die “in fact” he quickly quipped that it was a heart attack.

I just stood transfixed besides papa’s wooden stool as I stared into his lifeless, wide eyed face. He stared back without blinking at me. I thought I heard him ask why I had stolen his heart and stitched a heartache into it with my baby’s tiny fingers.

I would be lying if I said getting married to Damola was such a terrible idea. On the contrary our years together were memorable in a good way. He was acutely aware that getting pregnant was the reason I had to drop out of school. He seemed to have literally died trying to fix that. He worked none stop from dawn to dusk. If there was money to be made, Damola’s name always came up as the go to guy. He painted, traded, transported, farmed, and even danced for money! One day at the ripe age of 35 he simply slumped while making a wooden chair for our lousy next door neighbors. I think he was simply tired of asking God why life had to be so hard. That was the last day I prayed.

As two bouts of sorrow started to descend gingerly on me like feathers floating in the wind, I felt a short, painful kick in my stomach. I suddenly had an overpowering need to dip my two hands underneath my skirt and pull it out; to watch its lifeless body dangle by a bloody cord attached to my innards; to strangle its treacherous little neck till the very life squished out of it. I started thinking up all the ways to kill a baby. If I had the money for an abortion I would have gotten one once I knew I was pregnant. To hell with pastor’s talks about it being murder! At least we now know he is not a saint himself. Which one was a more terrible sin, adultery or abortion? When the thought started to creep in that I was not likely to win that argument I went back to thinking of all the ways to kill a baby. Maybe I would take the pains to deliver it then boil its shiny bald head in hot oil. But of course I was no stranger to labour and unsure if this particular baby was worth the stress. Or should I simply thrust my kitchen knife into my abdomen hoping to hit its tiny chest heaving up and down quietly in my womb. But of course, I would be killing myself in the process. Anyway, the knife was as dull as my father’s fifth wife- the Hausa one he brought back from his journey to Zaria. What was her name again? Umar or something like that. Lord!!! I just felt like strangling a baby right now!

Jesus! How did it come to this? I remember that miserably hot afternoon as clearly as my name. I had just gotten to Mama Nkechi’s house where after what felt like an intense interrogation, she borrowed me the twenty thousand naira for my daughter’s school fees. She spat, she cursed, and she made me swear to Ahmadioha, Ogun and every other indigenous god she was acquainted with. All I could think of was giving Simi, my 14 year old daughter the chance I threw away. If it meant a few incantations here and there, then by Jove I would do it. Mama Nkechi had barely tossed the money I wanted in my face and shut her gate against me when I noticed a man walking towards me. He was an ugly, squatty man with garlic breath asking for direction to a place that I currently cannot remember. He was dressed casually in a checked blue shirt and chinos trousers with a well-polished leather palm slippers. I sort of remember that he unfolded a piece of paper from his left back pocket as if to show me a map of the place he was going. A putrid powdery smell hit my nostrils like a Tyson punch.Next thing I knew I was in a haze; half awake, half asleep. It felt like my mind had been closed in a jar and thrown down an abyss. I felt myself spinning and spinning while the treacherous hands of something from Hades own garden stretched out to receive me.

When I came to, I felt something heavy holding me down. As my eyes got accustomed to the dim light around me, I realized two heavy, sweaty men were holding me down while a third one was on top of me. A black candle burned sparingly in the corner. I noticed what looked like egg shells and blood stained cat eyes surrounding the candle. I remember the man with the garlic breath as he rammed in and out of me. He was mumbling something in a language I did not know. I remember hoping to die. Someone squeaked behind me. I could have sworn it sounded like a female.

“Bamuza, I no get time. Make we do wetin we come do comot from here”

I almost fractured my cervical spine as my neck spun around to see who just spoke. Pardon me. I knew who just spoke. I just had to see her face as she said those hideous things. I knew the stale smell of her orange wrapper if I smelled it from the other end of town. It was the one with her dead mother’s face looking sternly in a perpetual scowl. I took in her dirty well-worn Dunlop slippers sticking into my hair. Her off white blouse revealed two sagging, wrinkled breasts as she leaned forward as if to allow me see her clearly.

Mama Nkechi spat in my face.

Gazillion thoughts swirled in my head all at once. They hit every side of my skull as my heart raced like a turbojet. What did this all mean and what did I do to qualify for it. Did I still owe her any money before today? I thought of a certain three thousand naira I borrowed when I and the kids went hungry for 3 days. But immediately I remembered I paid it back after I donated blood at the private laboratory down our street. Did I offend her in any way? Was she just trying to make money off my chi? Was that even wise- I mean, she knew the cards life had dealt me thus far. Was there any good in my blood?

When the three men were done having their way with me, Mama Nkechi’s hands brushed my nostrils with that same pungent, powdery substance. I woke up the next day in front of my house. Simi was rubbing my right shoulder desperately.

“Mummy, mummy!!!”

Her teary eyes were three quarter dead frightened, one quarter sad. I spent the next two days having as many warm baths as possible before I summoned the courage to go to Mama Nkechi’s house. I had to look her eyeball to eyeball, woman to woman and ask her why. I met a ‘To let’ sign on her gate with an obviously empty house. I wished I knew where her divorced husband was with the children she never even spoke about. It occurred to me that this was the sort of thing you reported to the police but I just did not have the transport money to spare. The last three hundred naira with me was budgeted for feeding for the next two weeks. No one ever seemed eager to buy the provisions I had to sell. It was like there was a sign atop my kiosk I could not see. I bet it read: “Death, sadness, stolen dreams.”

Or should I call Damo’s mother? Could she be of any assistance? Would she even pick my call? She vowed to never speak to me the day we buried Damola. I just felt tired of asking ‘why me?’ I was simply tired of being tired.

I remember the doctor telling me three months later that I had two things growing inside me: one a baby, the other a virus. He just sat there in his white overcoat, cheap tie and smug face and stole what remained of my future with his words. I could swear he bit his tongue when he mentioned that the ideal thing in this situation would have been to terminate the baby but that it was against his faith. He went on and on switching from grim news breaker to motivational speaker but all his words did was to sear the fresh wounds along the edges of my heart. The baby, he reiterated was the better half of the story- the more worrisome thing was that I would need to be on drugs for the rest of what remained of my pathetic life- nay sanity. Luckily, he added, like I had any of that assigned to me, the drugs were provided freely by an agency whose name I was too distraught to commit to memory.

Finally I remember that this innocent child was half evil, yet half me; a mischievous canvas painted from the of fate and happenstance but smudged with an ugly strip of man’s inhumanity to man. This child was the unknowing character called to play his part in a play he did not write. So each day I remember all the things I hate, I remember that one thing none of us ever had any power over was when to be born; how to be born. It suddenly occurs to me that as long as life breathes, love can exist and even dark can paint beautiful pictures. For some insanely strange reason, I placed my right palm over my abdomen and somehow knew that I had a new beginning before me. Very different, very painful but new nonetheless- and I made up my mind to take in all the life threw my way.