You were the first child of your mother, the only child and she called you ima mi…her heart, your first memories are of her hugging you tight, kissing your wet cheeks as you cried. Her heart, that is what you were. You were the only one you knew with hazel eyes. Oh how other girls picked on you relentlessly for the mere reason that you were different, because your light skin drew attention and your curly long hair could not be plaited into shuku, you stood out like the sun in a dark room. You asked her once why you were so different and mother said that you were special because you were conceived under an eclipse, you believed her…You had to there was no one like you for miles around.
Father called you his little green eyed princess. You remember his deep laughter when you asked a puzzling question, father loved you more because you were different. He would carry you on his lap when NEPA cut the power so he could tell you stories of bush babies and ogbanje and mamiwater. When you gasped in fear, he would say,
“Don’t worry they are not real, it’s just a story” and when the look refused to go away, he promised you a bar of snickers chocolate because he knew you loved chocolate with nuts in it.
You heard when they fought, mother and father… father shouted and mother cried, and you always waited for the door to slam, for that always signaled that he was going out. That was when you went to their room to comfort her. Holding her rough wrinkled hands and rubbing her back as she sobbed…
He could be gone for days or weeks and her tears flowed for each day that he was gone. When you heard the rumble of his Volkswagen-beetle, heralding his return you would breathe a sigh of relief because then the tears would stop.
Even with the fights you knew they loved each other, you watched as mother blushed at something father said, or saw the quick kiss he gave her when he got back from work, you promised yourself that you would have that kind of love when you grew up.
Then you turned ten, the girls found a new reason to hate you. Your hips took definition and where there used to be just a flat chest, stood small twin peaks, they were small but the girls hated you more. Calling you names and pushing you so that you fell on the assembly ground while they chuckled spitefully.
The attention from the boys grew, they hooted when you crossed the street to fetch water for the house, or followed you for miles when you went looking for where to grind pepper. You were both scared and intrigued by this new change of events.
You noticed while you changed for P.E that you were the only one who wore a bra. You remember the day mother came back with the white lacy bras, she showed you how to put it on. Soon after the blood came, mother had told you about it as she wove your thick hair into a single braid. You could tell from her voice that she was uncomfortable discussing it. She talked about eggs and where babies came from and that from that day she was going to have to start acting like a woman…she didn’t tell you of the almost crippling pain though, or the running stomach…
Mother and father fought again, you watched from the doorway while he packed a bag. He said he had had enough and he was never coming back. He kissed you on your forehead, told you he loved you, to take care of mother. She tried to kill herself twice after he left… you caught her with her slashed wrists in the bath-tub; you even found the razor blade she used. The next time she tried to jump in front of a speeding danfo bus…surprise…surprise the brake worked. Then she found out he was in Lagos, she talked about going to Lagos more often, she suspected there was another woman; she said she would pay him a surprise visit, but she never did of course.
He came back a year later, you heard the familiar coughing sounds of the Volkswagen but you refused to believe he was back until his shadow filled the doorway. He looked surprised to see how tall you had grown. When he had finished washing down isiewu with the big bottle of Gulder your mother had set on the dining table. He asked you to bring your biro so he could measure you against the wall. You had grown a good extra 5 inches.
He said that his little green eyed princess was becoming a queen with a chuckle. Mother was happy; she even hummed as you helped her wash the dishes… you smiled as they danced to Onyeka Onwenu’s Live as one on the radio. Your world was perfect again.
Your happiness had a small blight, the way his eyes lingered on your chest, where a button had popped while you were scrubbing the floor earlier, it made you uneasy but you soon forgot it. Father was back, and mother was happy that was all that mattered.
One night, while mother slept, he came to your door; you let him in with… You sat uneasily on your bed though while he spoke to you. He asked if you had a boyfriend yet, you shook your head emphatically.
“A beautiful girl like you should have one, someone who will tell you he loves you every-day and buy you beautiful expensive things” he said then he sat beside you on the bed.
Your heart started to pound, he tugged at the wrapper around your chest,
‘Daddy don’t!’ you said
He saw the sheer horror on you face and said goodnight as he walked out of your room quickly.
The following morning mother came running to your room,
‘What did you do?’ she said as she slapped you… your mother was always very good at dishing out slaps.
So you told her of the night before while your ears burned, then she calmed down looking dejected.
‘You have to do it, Nta, I can’t bear for him to leave us again…’
When she saw the look of defiance on your face she got on her knees
‘Please, ima mi ’ she said always called you that when you were proving stubborn.
You saw the desperation in her eyes, and you knew…you knew that you had to do something to help her keep him.
So you walked to the room they had shared since you were born.
‘Are you ready now?’ he asked
You nodded, too shaky for words so he took off your night dress. That was how it began; night after night he came to your room, night after night he left satisfied. You started to look forward to your monthly crippling pain, because he left you alone then. Mother stopped calling you íma mi’ in her eyes you were the devil that kept him at home. You wished for the days when he was far away in Lagos but he never left again. Mother pretended not to notice him sprawled on one side of your double bed when she came to wake you for school.
He bought you a gold charm bracelet, with little dolphins and starfishes, when your mother saw it, she was livid.
‘So now you are buying her expensive jewellery?’ she said as she yanked it off your wrist breaking the clasp, and bruising your soft delicate skin.
You started to get fevers so high, father had to stop coming to your room, they thought it was food poisoning at first but when it didn’t stop, he asked mother to take you to the clinic, you waited in line for exactly two hours, twenty minutes and thirty-six seconds before the doctor could see you, he looked busy and distracted. He asked for your symptoms as he wrote in the green cardboard paper that was your chart. You looked at the space between your toes and avoided his eyes as you answered his questions. Then he said it…
‘She is pregnant, but I have to run some tests to be sure’ mother started shaking; she gave you a betrayed look before she slapped you twice, Wham! Wham!
‘Who is the father?’ She asked.
You looked at her incredulously…Surely she jests! Of course she knew who the father was… you begged the nurses to stop her as she dragged you out, for it seemed her slaps had a new force to it your ears did not stop ringing. She fumed silently on the way home, there were only three other people on the bus that day, you wished there was more…it was just the constant bellow of the bus conductor that kept you sane. She didn’t tell your father until he had had his dinner. The look of horror in his eyes gave her some satisfaction,
‘See what you have done?’ she said
‘You have to find a way to get rid of it!’ he said
‘I know a doctor who will do it, but it go cost small oh!’
You had heard about that doctor, the older girls talked about him in the school toilet. You remembered the story of the girl who bled to death; yes you had heard of the pain… what he did and how he did it…
Mother ordered you to get father another bottle of Gulder…you walked back to them as they talked, lifted the knife in your hands and stabbed the hated ‘thing’ between his legs over and over again while he and mother screamed…