I was born an Ada – the first female child in the late harmattan of the year when women were no longer allowed to own lands and properties in Igbo land. After five boys, my mother was pleased at my birth because she finally would have someone to help her with the house chores. My father killed a big cock for her that day and sang her praises for bearing him a daughter – he would finally be able to collect bride price from my husband when I come of age. Which was the returns of the investment he made when he married my mama.
In the beginning of the rainy season in the year I turned five that I was cut. Mango fruits had started ripening on their own accord. They no longer needed to be tied up in polythene bags and hidden in mama’s mortar like we always did when my siblings and I were too impatient to wait for nature’s timing. Mama even got me mangoes on our way to the woman’s house – that’s why I cannot stand the smell of it till now.
As we arrived, they picked up a conversation –the woman and my mama, while I was too busy with my mangoes to eavesdrop. After the conversation, mama told me to pull my pant and climb on a table. I did this while licking off the mango juice which had by this time formed yellowish streams of juice on my hands. It was when I had finished licking off the juice from my hands that I noticed the dirtiness of the table I was on. I saw what looked like dried blood and crusted pieces of flesh on different parts of it, just like Mazi Chukwunta’s table at the slaughter where mama sometimes took me to buy meat. Just as I was about to call mama’s attention to the table, the woman came in. So, I kept shut.
The woman was not one I would classify as beautiful or neat. The structure of her face resembled the masquerade of Aro community from the last Okonkor season that made young men to shiver. It even made non-Christian mothers to cover their children with the “Blood of Jesus” at night. She had a big mole resembling a third eye on her forehead and I could see the tattoo eczema had drawn on her face and her chest from a mile away. I was still looking at the dried blood that had darkened under her fingernails when she slapped my laps – harder than I do when I want to kill mosquitoes. The furious slap was accompanied by a terrifying voice that said:
“Ngwa! Open ya legs! Don’t waste my time!”
I still remember that there were no anesthetics, just a blunt blade with jagged edges and its touch felt awfully sharp. I still feel the pain like it was yesterday I laid on her table where she chopped it like anu- meat. I was pinned down by the hands of two women whose faces I cannot remember while Mama’s hand tried to cover my mouth firmly. I struggled and screamed, louder than I do in my sleep now when mama thundered,
“Weda olu gi! Imaghi na ibu zighi nwatakiri?” –
“Close your mouth! You are no longer a child”. She said, forcing me to silence with a stern look from her eyes which had grown clouded from years of cooking with firewood. But I was a child and I was supposed to feel and express the pain I felt!
I laid groaning in silence as my pupils dilated, with every part of my body vibrating in relentless agitation. I felt my blood flowing in a current like Idi stream which stood as a boundary between my community Eluoro and its sister, Achara. Then came the cold snail slime; it was supposed to stop the bleeding and was believed to slow me down sexually. So, I decided to be as the slime; cold. I was five when I learnt to hate; I hated Mama and the woman who cut me.
Mama took me home on an okada – a commercial motorcycle. As soon as we stepped into our compound, my papa stood up from his Obi with his ikoh-nkpi-anu – a cup made from the horn of animals. It was filled with old palm wine and he handed it over to me with a smile on his face as he said: “You are now a woman”. Mama led me into his Obi where he gave me alligator pepper from his goat skin bag and he prayed for me while using his offor to touch my head. I was too dizzy from the pain that I was feeling that I didn’t hear the prayers well but I knew he wished me fertility and plenty children, especially boys who would fill my husband’s house and have strength to work on his farmlands. My ears caught the last line when he said “Ogazi amaka, ma ejighi ya a goo mmuo” which means “a guinea fowl is so beautiful that it is not used for ritual” and my mama said “ise” which means so shall it be.
I wanted to be more than a guinea fowl that escaped death merely because of its beauty, I wanted to matter!
My parents decided that I was ripe for marriage the third time I saw my woman blood – the blood that announces to the world that a girl is no longer a child but a woman. So, in the harmattan of that same year, I was married off. I didn’t know my husband personally, but I had seen him a few times during Okonkor – masquerade seasons. He used to escort the fierce ones with long canes in his hands to flog any female at sight because women were not supposed to see the “sacred beings”. From what my friend, Udoka gathered, he had moved to the city of Enugu and had become an overly religious Christian. He had given his life to God and had forsaken dancing with masquerades.
On the night before my wedding, my mother called me into her room to give me some advice on how to behave in my husband’s house.
“Hope you like him?” she asked without looking at me. I looked at her and blurted out
“He is ugly!”
“Shh… a man is never ugly, nwa’m. No matter how he looks, he is Lord of his household and must be respected”. This time, she was looking at me in the eye and I could see the irritation in her eyes.
“So, a woman is never ugly too?”
“A woman can be ugly, but she has to work on her virtues and develop inner beauty or else, no man would accept to marry her”.
“Why mustn’t an ugly man build his character too?”
Mama paused and looked at me, I knew she was wondering why I thought of such absurd question, and then she said,
“I don’t know. Just respect your husband, give him good food, open
your legs for him whenever he wants to enter, and it will be well with your marriage”. That was all the advice she gave and dismissed me for the night.
Amidst mama’s advice, I avoided my husband’s touch during our first months together because I made a vow to my unborn daughters – that none of them would ever lie on that table; and at nineteen, I knew I couldn’t stop it. That’s why when I took in for my first child, I prayed it would be a boy but it was a girl, and God being so kind, she died at birth. The year before I gave birth to Adanne was the year I turned 21. Then, the rumor that cutting girls was a crime had started spreading like wildfire. I had overheard several women talking about it in hush tones and mixed emotions. Some were excited about it, but some over-zealous women were against it. Deep down I was excited when I heard it but I didn’t want to get my hopes up and then be disappointed. So, I chose not to believe it.
One of the days, my husband came home from church – he always went to church every day after work. I mixed his water for bathing, and while he took his shoes off, he said,
“Can you imagine? They say female cutting is now an offense punishable by the law. That it’s against the human right of women”. I shook my head while parading a fake shock on my face and said,
“Human right kwa? Odi egwu oh! It is fearful!”
I served dinner in special plates that evening; the china plates with flowery designs he instructed me not to bring out unless we had guests or during festive periods. I set my face as flint; battling not to show the joy that overwhelmed me – I dared not let him in on the cause of the celebration. As he ate, I heard him mumbling about devilish agendas.
“Dim, isi gini? I didn’t hear you”, I said.
“Pastor Lazarus said that it is the end time and that’s why the government is passing devilish laws to set the 666 in place, and I agree with him!” – he said with anger reflecting in his eyes like an oil spill.
“Any woman ọbụla di happy about this wụ Ashawo! A cheap prostitute!”
There were some things I found out about my husband in marriage; the first is that he always tended to the extreme when it was about religion. It was as though he took all the anger on his inside and used it to fuel his passion for religion and trust me; he had a lot of anger. The second and the most important was that he spoke “Engl-igbo”- a fusion of English and Igbo language whenever he was angry. When I finally knew this about him, it helped me avoid some slaps and blows which he was ever ready to dish out to anyone in the line of fire which turned out to be me all the time. I wanted to ask him if the Pastor said anything about not hitting your wife but I knew it would trigger him to do so. So, I kept my mouth and expressions mute like I always did, just like mama taught me to on that table.
That night, I was aimed at pleasing him. So, I didn’t wear any of the night dresses I got from my bend-and-select customer. Instead, I tied a short lappa loosely over my chest. I was even the one who initiated for him to do me, and I held him tightly as he did. When he was about to peak, he wanted to pull out, but I whispered to him,
“Biko, release inside”. He hesitated and examined my face before he did. I like to think that I took in for Adanne that night because I felt a kind of climax- the kind my husband feels just before he releases. I had always wondered what it would feel like because I had never experienced it, and I think it’s because my thing was cut.
I bore Adanne at the end of a rainy season; when husks and cobs of oka– corn littered streets and heaped in corners where signposts of ‘No Disposal of Refuse Here’ stood. I wanted to name her ‘Chukwu-dalu’ because I needed to thank God for helping me fulfill the promise I made to my unborn daughters, the promise that none of them would be cut, but it was considered to be a male name. Also, it was not in the place of a woman to name a child – it was what men were supposed to do right after women in the neighborhood had raised songs of praises to God and rubbed nzu- native chalk on their necks to show their goodwill and purity of heart, while welcoming the new child. The duty of a woman was simple; to bear children, especially males who would keep the family name for her husband.
Adanne my daughter was acattle egret – slim and slender with long legs. As children, we called them Leke-leke; we were awed at them not only because they signified the end of a heavy downpour but because they could give Leukonychia which we knew as ‘water-fingers’
“Leke-leke bamboo, give me water-finger!” We’d chant. We believed that they could give us those white marks on our finger nails if we chanted loud enough.
Adanne like an egret, signified the dawn of a new era for me. For it was when she suckled at my breasts for the first time that I felt the hate I had for mama leave me. I even sent words to her to come for my omugour – to come and take care of my new baby and me. I felt peace and a familiar joy- the kind I felt when I woke up with water-finger as a child. I was not surprised when Adanne constantly had Leukonychia even as a baby or that she liked to eat corn like an earworm or that she drank water like a horse. She reminded me of a story my father told me once, of a time when our community honored the goddess Ala so much that she sent rain in due seasons and made us reap bountiful harvest.
In the rainy season of the year Adanne turned ten, just a few weeks after I miscarried the twins, I was pounding the pepper I intended to use in preparing dinner when my neighbors started trouping into my house. It didn’t take long before I figured that something was wrong; their long faces and the sobbing of Mama Emeka which contained my daughter’s name gave it all away. Adanne was found lifeless with her clothes littered on the ground by a signpost that read, ‘No Disposal of Refuse Here’. I was not surprised when they took me to her body neither did I shed a tear, for cattle egrets are not known to defend themselves against predators. It’s a known fact.
So, Madam therapist, I am fine. I just want to be called Nwanyi-afufu – ‘woman of sorrow’, instead of my birth name Obianuju which means ‘born into wealth’ because I want everyone to know all that I’ve been through and call me by it so that maybe God would be kinder when dealing with me in my next life.
This was a story I wrote last year, I got the word “Vagina” from a Word Play I did (Word play is something I do where I tell people to give me random words to write poems or stories with) and that was how I sketched the story.
I must say a very big thank you to Jojo, my ogbonge editor for working with me in refining this story.
I hope you enjoyed this post, see you next week, please do well to drop your comments which I love to read, and share.