Crying did nothing to stop her. Screams, piercing or not, only led to the aggravation of her anger and also supplied the energy she needed to vent it on Nkechi. But Nkechi had learned from experience that silence eventually wore her mother, whom she called nma, out. So she would keep as still as one possibly could when being hurled from one end of the room to another until nma’s anger was appeased. Only then would she stop. But not before she had left scars, not just on the little girl’s body, but even uglier ones on her mind. Looking at the scar on her left thigh now, Nkechi could practically taste the hatred she had felt for nma that day. It cut diagonally across her lap, spanning the region from the inside of her right thigh and just stopping short of her knee. What irritated Nkechi most about it was the one inch of scar tissue it had raised. It was so high that she could feel it through her skirt, something that had become a nervous habit. The fact that she was doing that now indicated that she was more nervous than angry. Although she couldn’t imagine why the sight of the dilapidated building she had grown up in would make her anxious. She was back home.
She carefully sidestepped nma’s precious vegetables, even though it was hard to distinguish them from the knee-length grasses which covered the front yard, and made her way to the front door of the house, where nma sat in an ancient wicker chair.When she got to the steps, she stood before her. “I thought you were dead.” Nma said after a few seconds.
If Hilda had to pick the one thing she hated most in this life, the devil would probably rank lower on her list than cocky guys with lame pick-up lines. Like the one currently staring at her and asking her about some war.
“Well,” She said testily, “I’d have to have heard about these feuds to be able to give you an opinion on them won’t I?”
“What? No, I’m not referring to physical battles. I mean some kind of unspoken conflict that exists among Christians of different denominations” She stared at him.
“I’m sorry, are you not part of the on-going ‘OUR DIFFERENCE IS OUR STRENGTH’ campaign?”
“Our difference is…it says so on the back of your T-shirt. Names you as a leader actually” Too late, Hilda remembered that she had once again made the mistake of borrowing clothes from her very religious housemate without first scrutinizing the inscription on it. But Hilda was not one to back down.
“Does it also say ‘any interested zealot should please question the wearer of this T-shirt’?”
His smile didn’t waver “No, but it did supply me with a conversation starter.” Talk about lame pick-up lines.
“I’m Rowland, by the way. But you can call me zealot, if you prefer that.” Her high pitched laughter was unexpected.
“That can’t be easy,” she said, when she had regained her breath
“Having the first letter of your name to be an alphabet you can’t pronounce properly.” For the first time that night, Rowland’s smile faltered.
They became friends that day, and two weeks later they met for drinks in a cafe close to Hilda’s home.They placed their orders, and got talking. Rowland said he was a freelance writer for some economic magazines. Hilda said she was an investment banker who hated economic magazines, “They know next to nothing about the economy, not that I read them”.
“Then how would you know that they are a load of crap?”Rowland remarked in that cool way of his. His smile never seemed to find its way off his face.
“I never said they were.” Hilda retorted, “I just said, being a trained economist, I see all their views as ignorant.” She added sarcastically, “Present company excluded.”
“You know,” Rowland replied coolly, staring straight into Hilda’s eyes, “I see right through you.”
Hilda was not really as tough as she looked.
“That is so cliché.” Hilda finally replied, after she had conceded defeat to Rowland by being the first to look away.
“It may be cliché, but we both know it’s also true.”
“So what do you see in my eyes?”
“A lot of love, steadily diminishing under an immense load of hurt.”
Rowland accurate assessment brought out hurt feelings from buried past. She stood up to leave without saying a goodbye and shot him a look that said ‘don’t even dare to follow me’.
It had been three days since Nkechi got back home neither of the two had said anything to the other, save greetings. “Well, I’ve come to stay.” Nkechi said.
“Kedu ife ime, what have you done that would make you leave the city for omumeilinwa?”
“I’ve done nothing nmam, but something has happened to me.” When her mother didn’t reply, but diligently continued to fan the flames under the pot of ofe onugbu she was cooking, Nkechi continued.
“My fiancé has left me.” Tears sprang to her eyes as she said this. But she fought them, unwilling to show emotion in nma’s presence. In a show of complete lack of concern that was reminiscent of Nkechi’s childhood, nma picked up a small bowl and asked Nkechi to fetch her some water from the ite ona used to store water. For the second time in her life, she thought of talking back at Nma but, strangely, the memory of her first attempt kept her back. Nma had been cooking that day too. All she had done wrong was tell her mother about bloodstains in her underwear. Her mother had nearly killed her for interrupting her cooking.
“Nkechi, my soup is burning.” This brought her back to the present and, reminding herself that she had not come home to fight nma, went to get the water.
Later that evening, as she reclined on the wicker chair on the veranda watching the fireflies, Nkechi mused over Rowland. Maybe he would come back, after he sees her efforts to make things right with nma. She couldn’t wait to be in his arms again.
“What did you say it was that brought you back?” She turned to find nma standing behind her. She immediately stood up and nma sat down and stretched her legs out slowly, taking several seconds to do this. Her elbow joints shone with okwuma, a local analgesic that was used to relieve pains in the bones.
“Nma, I said my fiancé left me” She seemed to take her time to digest this information, like Nkechi was just mentioning it.
“I have no man for you to marry” she finally said. Then they listened to the crickets chirp.
As hard as she tried, and she put all of her energy into it, Hilda couldn’t seem to forget that smiling face. So it was a huge relief when he showed up at her door three weeks later, all smiles, with a bunch of red roses. She had been worried that she would have to call him, but her pride was just way too huge to swallow. And so their relationship started.
They had been dating for four months, and Rowland really loved Hilda. But it still bothered him that she withdrew whenever he mentioned her mother. But even these did not bother him as much as the nightmares. So one night he dared to ask her to reconcile with her mother. She immediately recoiled from him without replying.
“I know how you feel about it,” He continued, caressing her arm, “but I think it will help stop these nightmares.”
“Rowland, I’m never going to see that woman again and my mind is made up.” The finality in her voice made him drop it. He tried to coax her to turn to him to no avail. As he drifted off to sleep that night, he wondered whether he was not making a big mistake.
Rowland’s dilemma was resolved later that night, about three hours after he fell asleep. He woke up to find Hilda’s hands wrapped around his neck in a vice-like grip that he couldn’t loosen. He tried to speak to her but found he couldn’t. He implored her with his eyes but found no sign of recognition in hers. Just before he became unconscious, he heard her say, “Nma, you must die.”
As Nkechi swept the compound, she realised that her mother had really instilled discipline into her.
“What is it that you are staring at so intently?”intently, Nkechi thought. Even back then, she had always been proud of nma when she used words that were not common among the villagers. Her mother had been very brilliant in secondary school, but was forced to drop out when her parents died. This fuelled her determination to see Nkechi through university. Another thing she was grateful to her mother for.
“Nma, how are you feeling this morning?” Her mother was lying on a mat on the veranda. Nowadays she couldn’t sit up for long or say more than a few words at a time. Her breathing was so heavy and Nkechi knew it was sheer determination that was still keeping her alive. Her mother was dying.
“Chim ne dum, my chi is keeping me.”
“Have you taken the drugs I brought you?”
“Yes. I think I feel a little better now” She had been home for three months now and had almost completed her mission. Her relationship with her mother was changed. She couldn’t wait to see Rowland now, although the memory of her first and last visit to the hospital still haunted her. The look of pure hatred, in eyes where she had only seen love before was what totally broke her down. Her animosity for her mother had cost her true love. He didn’t even need to tell her that he never wanted to see her face again. For weeks she didn’t eat or sleep and she took it out on everyone around her. Even Amaka thought she had gone mad.
“You had better go and sort your life out!” Amaka had screamed at her one day. The moment she said that, a plan formed in Hilda’s mind. She knew exactly what she had to do to get Rowland back. There was only one thing standing in her way. Surprisingly, it hadn’t been difficult to take care of it.
The symphony of the crickets chirping at night had always soothed Nkechi, but now her anxiety persisted. It was almost done. She looked towards nma, who was still lying on the mat, a look of contentment on her face. A few minutes ago, nma had told her that she was slipping away. Nma said she had to confess something to her.
“Nma, you don’t look afraid.”
“Why should I be?”
“Well, you’re dying nma.”
“I’m…I’m not scared of death.” She replied, struggling for breath. She apologised in tears for all she had done to her.She had never seen nma like this. ‘’Stop crying nma’’ Nkechi said as her jaw tightened.
‘’I regret my every action. It was not my fault though I blame myself for listening. You are a gift from the gods nwam. I should have taken good care of you and not abused you. You deserved someone better than me.’’ Nkechi patience was wearing thin and she could only wish this scene would stop. Everybody knew that nma hated her because her father had been trying to save her from the stream when he drowned. So she wondered what her mother had to say.
“I know why nma.” She said stiffly, unwilling for a heart to heart with her mother. It was too late for that. Still, she was curious.
”I had no choice.” Nma said simply. Anger welled up in Nkechi as the seconds stretched into minutes and she realised that her mother was not going to expound on her statement. No choice? No choice but to maltreat your own flesh and blood? It took great effort for her to ask calmly.
“What gave you no choice?” Her mother closed her eyes and sighed deeply.
“It’s hard to say this. But you must understand that I did not know any better then. In my old age I have realised how foolish I was.” Nma stopped to ask her chi for strength to continue. “Do you remember kisa?” Nkechi remembered her. She had been the high priestess in their village when Nkechi was born. It was common practice then, in a more superstitious era, for people to consult the gods concerning the destiny of their new-born child.
“I consulted her when you were born. I didn’t want to, but your father insisted.” She paused to take a deep breath
“So she instructed you to abuse me?” Nkechi could no longer keep the anger from her voice.
“Worse, my daughter.” She opened her eyes at this point, as though reliving the experience. ”She instructed me to kill you.” The shock was evident in Nkechi’s eyes.
“Why,” she asked in a small voice, as the paradigm shift that could have made her life completely different occurred.
“Kisa said you were born to kill me and your father. I walked out of that place angrily, denouncing it as rubbish superstition my educated mind refused to believe. But as fate would have it, your father died shortly after you were born in what I felt was your place. Then I became confused but I still couldn’t bring myself to murder my own child. However, the sight of you always reminded me about the prophecy and the fear of your killing me was what pushed me to treat you the way I did. I secretly hoped you would die, but I was also afraid of being left alone.” Nma stopped talking and wept the more. By the time she finished the story, Nkechi was on her knees beside her, weeping profusely.
“Nma…” she said, trying to speak through her tears. Her mother patted her head.
“There’s no need to cry, I’m the one who should seek…your forgiveness…” By now she was panting for breath.
“But nma why didn’t you ever tell me? Why nma?’’ Nkechi wept so loud her neighbours could have heard.
“No, I should have known that it was all lies….Gbayaram nwam, forgive me” she couldn’t keep her eyes open anymore.
“But nma, it was true.” Nkechi was finally able to whisper. Her mother made an effort to turn and look at her, a puzzled look on her face.
“What do you mean?”
“Nma, the prophecy was true. The drugs I have been giving you were poisoned.” Her mother’s eyes widened in disbelief.
“Nwam…” she managed to whisper as life left her body, a bewildered expression on her face.
“I have killed you nma.”
AUTHOR: OLADIPO ABOSEDE
ADDRESS: OBAFEMI AWOLOWO UNIVERSITY
PHONE NO: 07065285167