The sun was hot and sticky and all Nnedinma wanted to do was play in the sand. Mother said that she was liable to catch head lice and her older sister said she was going to just get herself dirty thereby making bath time a difficult task. Her father was indifferent and so was her older brother who at this moment was away at school. Or so they said to her, but she knew the truth and was not about to let them know she was smarter than they believed. Her family didn’t understand the freedom she felt being surrounded by sand. She could escape to her favorite imaginary land and pretend that everything was fine or at least it was going to be.
Nnedinma had been almost four when her love for the sand began. Her mother or sister; who ever was caring for her at the moment would leave her outside to finish up other chores without having to back her with a cloth. She was seven now and yet still loved the sand. The grainy feeling of sand in her palm during the hot days, the smooth way it moved when she shook her hands, the peaceful feeling she got when it touched the skin of her wrist. The heavy mouldy feeling when it was wet, how she could speak her feelings and feel like some one was really listening to her, the joy she felt at baring her soul out and though she never got a response from said sand, that didn’t bother her at all. Atleast she could talk to it and that was all that mattered. What was so special about the world anyways? She had seen things that she was not supposed to be seeing. When they thought she was sleeping, when they thought she was outside doing nothing important….
Oh she remembered the first time she had heard them. Sleeping beside Chioma, wrapped safely in her arms as every other night, her mother had come into their own dark corner. And as every other night, mother tapped Chi on her legs hard but lightly. She used to think nothing about it as Chi would whisper in her ears before following their mom out to the kitchen corner of the little mud house they lived in. The land was vast enough. At least that was what she had heard her father say once. He wanted to make a house of wood. they were surrounded by trees and grass and their next neighbor was a few seconds bicycle ride which was where Chioma walked by to the stream for water every two days.
‘Don’t get up, Nne, I will be back later.’ Her sister would say, with a sad tone in her voice, whispered as the words were. Nne would murmur sleep eyed and turn over. But this particular night, she couldnt sleep without her sister’s arm around her and it had nothing to do with the dark. She was pretty accustomed to the dark and could probably write in the dark too. So no, it was no fear of the dark that had kept her awake on this particular night. She had sat up in their makeshift bed a few minutes after her sister walked away with her mother.
Now, sitting by the sand and drawing shapes around her with her fingers marvelling at the beauty of the sand’s texture and the peace she felt from all the images she couldnt get out of her head, she looked up to the skies as the first sign of rain dropped on her shoulder. The quick way the rains started barely gave her time to scuttle away and into the house. As she stepped into the house she heard Chi scream and her heart almost stopped. What was the matter now? She had done all her chores so what possible reason did Mother have to make her cry? Nne pulled up her skirt and moved in further towards the kitchen where the scream had come from. It was an hour past mid day but lunch was furthest from her mind at this precise moment.
‘Go and bring her I say!’ Her mother was saying as Nne walked upon them, mother holding Chi firmly by her upper left arm.
‘I said no mother, over my dead body do you hear me?’ Chi was calmed at this point, but her words were dished out vehemently at their mother. There was pure disgust on her older sister’s face and Nne couldnt guess why.
‘Bring who? Me? Im here now. What’s wrong Chi?’ Nne walked up close to her mother who released Chi by the arm to wrap her cloths firmly against her chest. Nne watched her mother and sister. They looked so alike it was easy to believe they were sisters instead of mother and daughter. Chi was barely fourteen years old and yet she was already a woman. She had breasts almost as big as the woman they usually saw at d stream taking a bath in a far end corner of the streams. Her round hips pressed against her skirt and her buttocks, though not as big and firmly shaped liked their mother’s, was a sight to behold. Chi was beautiful.
‘Nne nwam oma, bia o…,’ Celestina started, talking softly to her little child and leaning to rub Nne’s arm only to have Chi hit her hand off of the little girl.
‘Over my dead body. E nu go?’ Chi pulled Nne towards her forcefully, her left arm going round the little girl protectively. Nne was getting confused and even though she loved her mother, she felt safe with her older sister. Chi was always caring for her, doing things her mother could have done but passed over to Chi and she knew what it was her mother wanted from her. Sometimes, while in her own place, she had always wondered if this day would ever come. She had hoped not.
Yet here they were. Nne took her older sister’s hand and pressed closer to her body, as Chi never took her eyes off their mother or any movement she tried to make.
‘Touch her and you are going to regret your life.’ Chi snared angrily just as their father walked in. He had his favorite wrapped tied in a thick knot on his left hip and his dark skin was shiny thanks to the daily application of Ela Akun his wife Celestina used to massage his well toned body. He was a healthy looking man, albiet an ugly man but healthy all the same.
‘What’s all the noise about?’ He stood beside his wife, arms akimbo and the wrapper riding low on his waist. ‘Chiamaka? Orbu ghini?’
Nne looked up at her sister, wondering what her reply would be and fearing for what may come next. She was tired of talking to herself and to the sands outside their little house that never spoke back to her even though she never for one day expected a reply. She knew Chi’s weakness and she knew the reason for Chi’s weakness.
‘You are not touching her again.’ She whispered, shocking her older sister who turned to stare at her in shock.
‘You knew? All these while, you knew?’ Nne could see the shame that was starting to creep into her sister’s face as the tears began to fall. Turning back to her parents, Chi did not bother wiping the tears falling on her cheeks. ‘We are going to Nda Martina’s house and you will not stop us.’
Celestina turned to her husband, fearful of his fury and was going to say something when he hit her hard across the cheek. The force of the smack caused her to spin and almost loose her balance. ‘Please….’
‘Shut up your mouth. Do as I asked or I will kill you.’ He yelled at her then turned to face the little girls holding each other tight. ‘You better release Nne now or I will beat you like I did two nights ago. You dont want a repeat of said night, do you?’ He moved forward to pull Nne and in his haste to get the little girl, he never saw the knife until it was buried in his neck.
Nne screamed out loud and scuttled away to avoid him falling and suffocating her with his weight. Chi refused to let go of the knife, pushing it deeper into him and slipping to the floor the same time he did.
‘What have you done?’ Her mother screamed and rushed to them on the ground, shoving her daughter away from the man she loved for all eternity. ‘What have you done?’ She asked in a sing song teary voice that didn’t move the girls. Chi scurried away, the knife still in her hand, blood all over her bare chest.
‘What I should have done a long time ago. You should be ashamed of yourself, mother.’ She said the last word in disgust as she stood up, the knife in her hand. ‘I should show you the same ‘mercy’ I showed that dying dog over there?’ She took a minute to watch the life seep out of the man lying on the ground, his head cradled on mother’s thighs.
Celestina stared at her daughter, the shock fully registered on her face now. ‘He was your father…’
‘No mother, he was your husband. The mistake the two of you made was bringing Nne into it. You should have let her be. You were supposed to care for me, to keep me safe and not let anything happen to me.’
‘He would have abandoned us, I did it for us my child. You do not understand. I loved him.’ She stared at her lifeless husband, his head still on her thigh and wondered how to go on living without him in her life. He was everything to her and she would do anything for him…anything.
‘Nne, bia, let us go.’ Chi said to the little girl, dropping the knife on the ground and wiping her bloody hands on her skirt. Facing the woman again, she spoke in a barely audible voice. ‘There is nothing left for you now, I am taking her and we will go to your sister’s house. It’s a long walk and it has been so long we saw her, but I remember the way. You know the right thing to do….’ Her eyes diverted to the bloody knife close to her father’s feet and back to her mother’s sad face.
She took Nne firmly by the hand and together they went over to stand by the door way of the little red mud house, both with their own memories they wanted to leave behind. Luckily, the rain had gone down to barely a drizzle, as if the gods up there knew how quickly they needed to leave. Walking out, Chi held on tight to Nne’s hand as they stepped out on to the sands, their bare feet leaving foot prints in the wet sand. How could any woman let harm come to her child? How could any woman knowingly bring harm to her child? She couldn’t understand that at all.
Looking at Nne, she again wondered how you could let anyone even yourself, harm the child of your womb. Swearing silently to herself, she promised to keep her own daughter safe, no matter what.