Fiction

Mami-Wọta Made My Hair [II]

I haven’t forgotten how I began my tale – don’t worry.

My mother didn’t start leaving her appointed path until later.

I will tell you about it, but for now, I have just arrived.

Let me rest, awaken and adjust to my new surroundings…

+++

My arrival was accompanied by fire in my mother’s upper back, her lower belly then her lower waist. My father heated some ude-aki in a small, clay pot and applied it to the small of her back, rubbing it in slowly, in a circular motion.

Terror and confusion filled his quiet eyes. Who could blame him? For all the time they had been together, during their time of first sighting, stolen embraces, sweet breaths, courtship and marriage, my father had never seen my mother in so much pain!

She could see in his eyes how he wanted to rip me out of her belly! To shape a piece of wood that would fit through her passage and wrench me out of her child-bag so that she could have some reprieve. My mother took hold of his upper arm and held him strong.

“It …doesn’t… work… that… way, Ugom,” She gasped with every word, trying her hardest to hide the searing heat which was tearing her waist with every cramp that signalled my coming. “Nwadiutọ has to battle her way into this world like every other child. That’s what this pain is for; her fight to push her way through my passage into this life in preparation for all the earthly struggles she may have to endure.”

“Nwadiutọ, ehn?” My father raised one eyebrow at his sweating, pain-filled wife.

“Yes, Ugom, ‘Child is sweet’”

“She had better sweeten our lives after all this,” my father grunted, holding his wife close to his chest as if to absorb some of the fire.

“Uwam”, he spoke into my mum’s not-so-coiffed hair, his voice a rumble in his chest, “let me call the mid-wife now please. I can no longer bear this pain!”

My mother laughed. A strange sound infused with the strain of bearing blazing fire and water.

“Ugom”, she attempted to inject a teasing note into her agony-laced voice, “Call the midwife if you desire relief but Nwadiutọ will not bide her time any longer”.

She grabbed the sides of the bamboo bed my father had lovingly fashioned for her in the final days of her confinement. He had shaped it with those hands of his; hands that could command wood to bend at his will. The bed had pulleys and levers that could raise it at the foot or at the head if one so wished.

The midwife, Nwa-Amaka, was already awaiting summons right outside our door, when my father came for her. She had birthed my mother, watched her grow and knew how stubborn my mother could be when the fancy took her. She knew that my mother did not want to give people, particularly my grandmother and seven aunties the satisfaction of seeing her pain; that she might decide to birth me with no one in attendance except my father, so she came prepared; her birthing basket filled with the necessary paraphernalia.  One look and she saw that I had dropped to my mother’s lower belly and that my mother was ready but before my mother could bear down, Nwa-Amaka took her place between my mother’s legs, hands washed, birthing blade purified.

Nary a sound was heard from my mother. As Nwa-Amaka suspected, my mother wanted me to arrive in quiet, the way they had lived their lives. She also wanted to spare her husband the pain that only she could bear. She hissed and gasped at the shooting pains, the throbbing, the spasms but my father was not fooled.

Thankfully, I wasn’t a child who wanted to cause the fire to torment my mother any longer than required, by refusing to be detached from my bag. As soon as she bore down, I came out, head first, and slid into the midwife’s waiting hands.

She wrapped me expertly with three strips of washed, non-dyed cotton cloth, cut the cord that attached me to my mother and handed me over to my father, who had been wearing a hole in the floor, pacing and wringing one helpless hand after the other.

My father carried me with a gasp of awe, gazing into my wrinkly, red face with tears brimming in his quiet eyes.

The birthing wasn’t over. Nwa-Amaka reached over for the still-warm ude-aki, rubbed it between both hands and massaged my mother’s stomach for the afterbirth to make its way out. It slithered through my mother’s passage and out onto the Ede leaves, on the floor, at the foot of the bed. Nwa-Amaka wrapped it up, cleaned my mother and left a packet of herbs to be brewed for the recovery of strength. After which she packed her all birthing implements into the basket, gave me one last look and left.

She did not ask my parents for payment; only the joy of birthing a child of her ‘child’.

“Bring her,” my mother’s words could barely be heard for the lack of their strength but my father didn’t need to hear; he sensed it was time for her arms to hold me. “Nwadiutọ”, she blew the name on the crown of my head and handed me back to my father.

With the gentlest of hands, he unwrapped the strips of cloth I had been swaddled in and cleaned me free of all that I came out with from my mother’s child-bag.

“Nwadiutọ,” he also whispered unto my crown and blew softly in my face, thrice.

Just like the morning breeze.

There was a small jar of water that my mother had brought back from her trip during the Week of the Remembrance when I was conceived; it had been kept for such a time as this. My father trickled it on my forehead and I let out a lusty cry. He smiled, placed me in the neat, little crib that he carved specially for me, rocked me back and forth until I felt enclosed in tranquillity.

He lay beside his wife, wrapped himself round her and gave in to the quiet but it was the quiet that precedes a storm. Not a storm of destruction in this case, no, just a storm that comes to water dry ground, blow through the land, clearing all rubbish and dead things, bringing freshness and new life…like me.

Fiction

Mami-Wọta Made My Hair [I]

My mother is funny; she thinks she can out-run her destiny.

She has joined this group and forgotten where she came from; where her journey began.

She is refusing to acknowledge how it all began, how I came about…as if that can be forgotten! Tucked away in an old basket and buried in the Forbidden forest!  She is funny, my mother is, not funny humorous… funny, silly and suddenly short-sighted.

My mother could not have children.

They said the bag inside her for carrying children was too hot, too dry. They said any time my father planted a seed in it, it shrivelled up and died. My father didn’t particularly care whether his seed bore fruit or not, he was happy being married to my mother. She was quiet like him and could read his thoughts from his eyes. My father liked that; he liked quiet. He liked to be left alone to get on with the shaping of wood with his hands. But, he was the only surviving male child of his mother. For that reason, his mother, her seven daughters, (his sisters), and all their minions, great and small, had no intention of leaving him alone in his state of childless peace. They wanted to make him fruitful by all means. So they laid the burden, the weight of a childless marriage, on my mother until it threatened to crush her.

Oh, they were clever, very clever, my seven aunties and grandmother were; they laid the weight with smiles and guile. If my father was any the wiser, he gave no heed. Perhaps he placed the quiet above the noise of the weight that his sisters and mother placed on my mother.

My mother was going to have me; she just didn’t know it. I was waiting, waiting patiently for her to come and ask for me so that I will be given.

Eventually, she did.

After seven years of crushing, (one year for each of my father’s sisters; that’s what I think anyway; my mother thinks differently), she believed the noise of the crushing finally got to my father. She said she saw it in his eyes. One night, as she lay with him, she saw he couldn’t take it any more. It racked him like the dreaded fever, Iba.

“Shh”, she rubbed his fevered brow with the back of her hand, “the quiet will return. Permit me to go and fetch it from where it has been waiting patiently.”

My father’s eyes acceded to her request, his brow cooled in response and the fever that had laid hold of him, took flight almost immediately. My mother sent Ekejiuba, the errand boy, to fetch Nlota, my father’s kinsman, to keep my father company.

She packed a spare strip of cloth, a small tripod and cooking pot, a knife, some herbs, salt and a small tuber of yam. She tied them up in a bundle, put it in a tightly-woven basket, balanced it on her head and left the village at first light. Her day of leaving coincided with the first day of preparations for the Week of the Remembrance. The noise from the preparations, prevented the absence of her quiet from being noticed.

The Seven-Towns-Bound-By-One-Blood, of which my parents belonged to, spent a week preparing for the Week of the Remembrance. The Week of the Remembrance was a time of story-telling and great feasting; a time when all is forgiven, no grudges are held and all sin is purged.

So done, to remind all, that peace is better than war.

My mother returned in the midst of the celebration and joined in straight away. Everyone was making merry and no one noticed that her feet were dry, her lips cracked and her hair was the colour of dust, different from that of our town. My father, who had been waiting at the edge of town, quietly but anxiously,  enveloped her in the midst of all the merriment and like a silent, swooping eagle, whisked her away before sharp eyes and sharper tongues could ask questions that he had yet himself to ask.

My mother shivered as my father washed her himself, ridding her of the travel woes and dust. So as not to draw attention to the activity in his home, by the smoke of the fire, my father did not boil the bathing water. He dried her with his top cloth and massaged the oil of the sweet nut all over her body and applied the rest of it to her scalp and hair. She shone like a polished, precious coral bead.

“Did you?” My father’s voice rose enough only for my mother’s ears to hear.

“I did. But you must lay with me before the night is over or the cooling water that I carry in my child-bag will be drained away”. Her mouth was close to his ear, her breath sweet, like the after taste of icheku.

My father needed no further telling. He had felt my mother’s absence keenly; more keenly than he cared to admit. He pulled her into the coolness of their inner room, spread his wrapper on the floor and covered her.

I came exactly nine months later.

This is not fiction

MIASMA

I’m not even sure that’s the right word for it but every time I think about it, that word MIASMA, jumps into my mind.

What is this ‘it’? you ask.

‘It’ is this wall…not solid, stretchy like a balloon, you know. Like a wall of jersey…you try to go through it and it just, well, stretches.

Your face is imprinted on it like one of those spooky, religious ‘iconic’ paintings.

You try to break through, but it feels like drowning.

You know there’s something on the other side; it keeps calling to you but the feeling of drowning is too strong…you pull back.

You try again, this time you are able to poke a hole with your index finger. You put two fingers through, then a hand and then an arm but that will not suffice. You know this.

Your face, your whole head needs to get through that stretchy wall; that MIASMA.

You don’t though.

The feeling of drowning overwhelms you so you push a little, then stop. You push some more, then stop. You’re busy, you’re active.

You convince yourself that it can’t be all that bad, at least, you’re doing something.

But,

You know you’re not.

You know that if you don’t break through that MIASMA, you’ll never extend, expand, grow, blossom.

The Making of the Word, This is not fiction

A CURIOUS CASE OF EDEMED’ITIS [AKA WRITERS’ AFFLICTION]

“Are you not going to write?” Ada-Dadii asked me.

“I am but the writing has refused to obey?”

“What do you mean?” My sister-in-writing looked nonplussed. “Are you not the writer? How can your writing not obey you? Isn’t that your darling pencil in your hand? Ehn, make her obey!”

My gaze didn’t waver from my blank page.

“Ada-Dadii you don’t understand. Writing and I don’t have that kind of relationship; I’m not the boss of her. For instance, the other day, I started a blog post and my writing decided to turn itself into a short story. Next, I tried to write a short story and it refused to go beyond a blog post! Nne, kee ife isim mee? What do you say I should do?”

Ada-Dadii sat down beside me, a pensive look on her face, “Hm, this is very serious o! OKB, this is a curious case of Edemed’itis.”

“Yes”, she answered my unspoken question, “Edemed’itis! It is a condition that afflicts every writer from time to time so that they cannot put form to the many stories in their head. Even if they do manage to write anything down, they never really finish it or they begin another in the midst of one they were writing before!”

After a long pause, in which I ruminated over her words, I raised my head and looked straight into my sister-in-writing’s magnificent brown eyes.

“Does this Edemed’itis have a cure, a solution, an antidote?!”

“I…” A veiled look and those magnificent eyes turned away, “…can’t say, OKB, just write.”

“That’s what they all tell me…”