I am growing steadily inside her, hiding my presence, my heart shy to beat. I hunger for the air she breathes. At first all I see around me is impregnable darkness, silent obscurity and its infinite width, I am small still, scarcely up to the finger of a fully grown man. I want to know this place…this shadowless place filled with the most disturbing tranquility. I sleep to pass the time; I need to sleep often for my very growth depends on it. The being I am, is a mystery even to me, I lay in suspension, weightless, but a full grown soul I am, aware of the world beyond my world, aware of the vast space continuum, beyond my sanctuary. I grew silently, for now is not the time to let her know about me. Everyday slowly like cascading waves, the sound of her voice awakens me. They are just echoes of muted sounds, still its her mirthful laughter and her sweet voice singing an ode to her love…my father that I wait for…
It seems that too soon after that she found out about me, the unvoiced one. The custom is to find out my destiny, if I am to bring blessing to our home. I feel her nervousness as she awaits the divination. Father is holding her hand, i hear the tremors of both their heartbeats synchronized as one. Then the oracle in a shaky ominous voice warns mother that I will bring her only pain, that I am an abomination! Sacrilege! Ewo! We are in a gathering, I know this for there is more than one voice talking at once, all saying the same thing…you must kill it when it is born or leave us!
It? Do they call me it? Surely they jest? I, this burgeoning life? I heard her weeping that night, her sobs as she rubs her belly; she knows I am there but minute still I am. She whispers to me of father, telling me stories of his valor, his gentleness, his love and her love for me. When she is alone the most I can almost touch her love for me. With absolute certainty I know she wants me.
Father is proud…I can hear it in his voice when he talks to her, he calls me Omotanwa, for it seems he has searched for me for so long. Father vows to protect me…us…mother and I, no harm shall befall us he says…not when life’s breathe still sustains him, such magnificent words father uses to describe small things. Father is proud…for that reason alone I mind not the other voices that prophesize doom of my birth. They call me Ewo! The not quite child that cannot and must not be left to live. He tells mother that the very people that speak of me as if I was devilish fiend will eat their imprudent words and come back to play the talking drums on the day of my birth.
Whilst we rest in his arms at night, father wipes mother’s tears, kisses her cheek and rubs the worry lines off her face, and his presence calms her. We are safe he says, safe from their jealous hate, their envious words. Reassurance makes mother’s heart light, that in turn makes mine light as well, we will worry not; father is here…
I was still but a small bump in her belly when they came one day, in the middle of the night…while we lay entwined together like the creeping wallflower that hugs the trees. I heard them, the sound of their heavy breathing as they move silently in the dark; the blade of their machete made no sound as they slash father’s neck.
Wake up mother! Heed the thud of their wicked pounding hearts. I hear her horrified cries as they drag her from him, even as he breaths his last. Mother is running, her feet soundless in the night, covering unfathomable distances, running they are, after her… after us.
I hear their hushed voice no more, neither do I hear their heavy breathing, nor did I hear the echoes of sounds that signal the tumultuous anger they felt when mother started running. Mother got away! The adrenaline in her blood makes me very excited indeed, but I also taste her fear. And I feel her sadness, father is dead…I know this for it seems I heard the minute his essence left his body, when his soul shouted at the injustice of it all. Father the brave one…Father the protector…
We stayed in a quiet place, with only the sounds of the wilderness for company, deep in the woods, the sound of the zephyr moving through the trunks of trees woke us at the crack of dawn and the crick of the crickets lulled us to sleep in the hours of shadows.
I grew big, made her once taut flat belly, round and full, I was in hiding no more, she would pat me softly when I kicked too hard, as if to tone down my aggression, gently her hands pat me, comforting, knowing she is attentive to my every move. Mother loves me so…calling my name in a sing-song melody over and over again, reminding me that I am wanted…No! Needed.
Often, she dreamed of him…father, of the last time we were in his arms…I heard his soothing baritone voice as he called her Ifemi…Temi (my love, my own) sometimes I also heard just the reverberations of his voice, or the gasp for breathe as his life blood flowed from his wound. I even imagined saw his face sometimes, through her mind’s eye…I call it her dreams, I saw the flashing images of his smile, his flared nostrils as if in anger or the arch of his eyebrows. Such a beautiful creature, my father…such a wondrous man…my father…
On some days she would wake from the dream, sobbing, soundless tearful sobs only I can hear, and even my involuntary kicks stop not the flow of these quiet agonizing tears, or jolt her from her excruciating pain… it was then I missed father the most…I wish he were here…he made her happy so…
Sometimes she moaned, lethargic as if I were an insufferable yoke and I hurt her, I tried not to kick her to hard but I have to wake her from her melancholy somehow. She is so silent sometimes that only her constant rhythmic heartbeat tells me she is still alive.
I like the times she sings, when she hums, her voice is soft to my ears, feather light in its tone…but she hardly sings these days, for it seems her voice is shy, and when she does sing, it is the same melody, the same words, the same song, over and over again, eni ban fo ju ano w-oku ebora abo laso, the rhythm starts slow, mournful, then soft anger, rebellion, her voice is so beautiful. I hate hearing the anger in her voice, for it makes me angry as well to hear her in pain…so angry.
She is becoming frail, her insides show the trials of the last few months, she is very sick I can see…her sickness spreads slowly every day, yet I grow bigger still every day. I am fearful that her heart will stop suddenly and I will be no more. I wonder if she will be strong enough to birth me, on the day I am to be born.
The day of my birth could not come soon enough; I waited silently…patiently…counting the days, hours minutes… in eager anticipation for life, parched for the fresh air outside my tomb like protection. The first contraction woke her from pleasant dreams of father, her cries startled me…it is time. I am enthusiastic, I want to see what mother looks like, want her to carry me in her arms, sing to me with that beautiful voice, and feed me with milk from her breasts.
I despair for mother for she is alone, who will clean her brows and tell her what to do? I am her first birth, her only birth. Mother cannot do this alone! What can I do? I say a tiny prayer in hope that the gods hear my supplication. Who will they send to us, who will be our liberator? Then I hear the familiar steps of the old woman. Ah yes! An old woman passes our hut on the way to her husband’s farm whilst singing the song of her people, her song is familiar for I have heard it often enough, she sings it every day, she is rushing to our aid. Shout for her, mother; let her hear your cry!
“Push!” the elderly voice says, ah…she is here to help us…help me be born…soon I will be in mother’s arms.
I see a light as I come out amidst the blood and the birth fluids. I see the sun briefly; I shut my eyes against its brightness. Basking in the warmth I am silent…raveling in the moment, the moment of my liberty. Then she smacks me hard, I scream for mother, I want to see her face, this beautiful woman that has given me life.
The elderly woman cleans my body as I cry joyfully, embracing life, then she passes me to strangers, strange men…the heavy breathing is familiar, they have come from a far place, the place of my conception. They are taking me away from her, her face is a blurry vision, I cannot see it for it is too far! Mother! Mother! It seems they understand me not, I call for her but they heed not my cries.
Mother is calling for me too. They walk very fast and all I can see is the brightness of the sun. Soon I hear her voice no more; I know she is too weak to follow them, shouting my name. My cries for mother can be heard far and wide. I know they are indecisive on what to do with me, one says I should be killed, but either has the mettle to take my life. In the bid to keep me silent, they gag my mouth, the ropes that hold the gag, cut my cheek. They have decided to bury me alive…bind my hands and legs and gag my mouth. I know what they are thinking…I’m an abomination, a child still… but an abomination never the less. I watch them as they build my sarcophagus, my wooden crypt…
Lower me in to the earth they did, my struggles stop them not…my voice is still…I shall never get to sing like mother. Never to see the dazzling sun again…condemned to my grave I am…never to see mother again.
It is darker here than in mother’s womb, more silent here…I sleep and wake alone, mothers voice I hear no more…my tears wet my dry skin. Mother was so frail the last time I was with her, she needs me! I need her! I haven’t eaten in days…no mother’s milk to make me big, strong and warm my belly…I am too weak to cry. When I sleep, tired from my hunger, I dream of father, seeing him as she saw him, hear the echo of his voice.
On the day of my death, five days after my birth, I hum mother’s song, and say the words in my head, eni ban fo ju ano w-oku, ebora abo laso. I will seek mother’s revenge, but not now…not now. I will be born again…then I shall seek my revenge, I shall cause them pain like they have caused me pain.
So begins the cycle of my birth. I, this rancorous spirit, wrought with pain at losing my mother and father, shall dive to the womb of another beloved by them, kill their unborn child and like a vampire I will feed on the soul of their child, their nurturing spirit shall be the fuel for my anger, just so I can be reborn, live life see the sun and breathe the air so denied me. The talking drums will announce my birth, they shall sing my Oriki, words of praise when I cry, they shall cloth me in the finest clothes and feed me with the very best food. I will bring them a lot of delight. Then shall be my eventual death… no longer will I die a silent death, no longer will I die in a nameless grave, destined only to feed the earth, and never be fed by it. I shall die amidst the joy of the festive, the happiness of the merry and they shall bemoan my death and bury me with pomp and pageantry, woe betide them and their progeny yet to come, until they and their kind are no more, what they will call me? Abiku…