While boys my age learnt how to become men; learnt how to hunt, how to scare girls in the moonshine so they would cuddle, how to build muscles…I wondered, where do children come from?
I suspected it had to do with my parents because I remembered papa always touching mama’s big stomach, telling her she would give him a soldier, someone to build his barns and defend his household.
I was a boy, soon to be a man, I hoped. But I could not do any of those things for papa because I was always at the Dibia’s collecting herbs and roots. I was always sick. As a matter of fact, I never went out to play with other boys. I just hung around the cooking place with mama, listening to their gossips, mama and the other wives in the family.
I heard loud whispers of how Chukwu made a mistake. I was supposed to be a girl but he forgot. Since when did God start making mistakes?
I knew he had a funny sense of humour. I did not doubt this when mama cried out in labour pains and I followed her to the midwives’. God gave her a girl. He was quietly telling them, I already gave you Chukwudi, manage this girl.
Mama named her Onyinyechi. God’s gift. Papa did not carry her. He refused to look at her. He did not carry kegs of palm wine to the Church or black cock to the Dibia.
God’s gift indeed.
“She’s beautiful, yes?” Mama tried to pretend she was not disappointed. In her mind, she was saying, what will I do? I am stuck with this girl.
“You wanted a boy.” My voice did not conceal my accusation.
“God works in mysterious ways, my father. He knows best.”
Explain that to papa. Maybe he would stop beating you. Maybe he would smile at God’s gift like you do. Maybe he would stop doing things with other women. I did not say this out, of course. I was not supposed to.
Sometimes, when I carried papa’s bag and followed him into the village, he would make me sit outside while he went into Oma’s room. They would talk for thirty minutes and then he would come out, retying his wrapper, almost as if he wanted me to know they were not just talking. And then we would head to the village hall. Attendance was strictly for men that had sons.
I felt sorry for mama. It was as though papa blamed her for collecting the wrong gift from God. The gift should have been a boy, a healthy boy. We all knew I was not ‘boy’ enough for papa.
The sun was down and the sky was gray, not yet black. Our fire place was cold and unlit. Mama could not cook. Her body shined with Shea butter. I had carefully smeared it on her, after papa finished beating her.
“Nkem, the child has your eyes. They’re small like yours.” It was true. But papa did not care.
“What did you say?” He dropped the mat he was weaving and advanced towards her, flexing his muscles in preparation for war.
She dropped the baby and meekly waited for the first blow, the second and it went on until I lost count. He left her after her breathing became irregular like a rat that had just been rescued from Ije River. I stood by and watched, blaming God and his gift. He used to beat her before but that was on rare occasions. Like when the food came late or when she forgot to refill his snuff bottle. Papa loved mama, I knew. But I did not understand why he had to prove it with his fists.
“My father, go and check if your sister is awake.” Her voice sounded like it was coming from inside the well. Very far and tired. Her eyes did not shine the way they did whenever she called me her father.
I looked at God’s gift and saw that she was up, playing with herself. Her eyes followed me as I walked around the room with the lantern. She had intelligent eyes and she was not even up to 7 months yet.
Mama coughed and sighed. She didn’t want me to know she had been crying. I hated seeing her like that. Broken and helpless and ugly. If only God would take his gift back.
Without thinking, I dropped the lantern and carried God’s gift. I placed her back on the bed and wrapped my hands around her neck, like papa did whenever he wanted to kill mama. Her eyes looked at me disinterestedly, asking, what are you doing, brother?
I pressed harder and tighter. God must have been waiting outside the door, ready to collect his gift because it was over as quickly as it had started. She looked asleep, except for her head that fell to an uncomfortable angle. I felt relived. Now, everything will be better.
“Chukwudi, bring her, let me feed her.”
I did not know how to lie, so I did not bother to. I carried her to mama. Something in the way I held her must have told mama that God’s gift was no more.
“What have you done?” She sat up, tears running down in torrents down her face.
“I returned God’s gift.”
Mama’s hands were shaking as she collected her and tried feeding her. She forgot her pains and screamed out, calling the neighbors.
“I’m finished.” She kept on rolling on the ground, rubbing herself with dry mud.
I slipped out of the room. Mama should be happy. Anybody with two sound eyes would know that papa wanted a boy. He hated Onyinyechi. Onyinyechi, with her smart eyes and fair skin. What have I done?
I climbed up the mango tree behind our house. The moon was closer, almost as if the sky would fall. I tested the tree branch before reclining on it. I closed my eyes and all I saw were her eyes, asking me, what are you doing, brother?
Bio: Deborah Oluniran writes fiction, and poetry whenever she’s in love which is almost always. She is the author of Ewa, a novella. She is a student of Psyhology, Guidance and Counselling at University of Port Harcourt, and a fierce lover of Africa and her tradition.
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