Mama delivered babies. At nights, when we slept on the small bed made of logs, with smelly torn mats spread on them, and fought for space with mosquitoes; I would hear sudden footsteps and shouts. And then the mat serving as the door would be yanked open by sweaty arms. Running feet would rush in, and mama would wake.
They were terrible nights. We lived in a hut made of mud and the roof finished with raffia. The floor was plastered with cow dung and the walls were decorated with paintings from the smokes that always rose from the cooking tripod just by the corner of the room.
I was always awake before mama, because I had gotten accustomed to the running feet that came every other night. Even when the crickets made chirpings, I would still wake, thinking they were coming. Mama would rub the back of her wrinkled palm on her weary eyes and shoo me out of the room.
“Go to mama Ezinne’s hut,” she would say. But she never knew that I wouldn’t go to my stepmother’s hut. I would sit by the side of our cracked hut, just beside the ujirisi tree and listen to the wails of the woman in labour, the soothing and calming words of mama, and the persuasive words of the women that brought her. The men among them would stand in front of the hut, panting and pacing. If the moon was up, I would be able to see fear in their eyes.
After a short time, I would hear the cries of a baby – piercing cry that would jostle me from my half sleep and I would stand and wait by the door. The men would jubilate and exchange handshakes. Mama Ezinne and papa and others in the compound would troop out and converge in front of our hut, congratulating the women and the men.
Mama would come out and go to the back of the hut where she kept her little shrine. The shrine had seven clay pots with feathers and dried chicken blood on them. Each time mama delivered a woman of a baby girl, the baby’s father would bring a fowl, and if it was a boy, they would bring a cock and mama would kill it at the shrine and allow the blood to drop on the pots. I would squat beside her and watch. After chanting and thanking Agbara for safe delivery, she would give the chicken to me and I would call Ezinne’s brother to help me roast it. I was mama’s only child.
Mama always made sure that blood never touched one of the pots, the one that was always covered. It contained mama’s delivery tools. Especially, the razors she used in cutting the placentas. After delivery, mama would come out of the hut and collect one of the numerous rusty razors on the special pot and use it to cut the placenta and return it later.
That was the part I enjoyed most. I loved the razor blades and the magic it could perform. Because of the razors, I was loved by the other kids. During the day times, when we played at the square, I would collect one of the razors from the pot and others would admire it and we would use it to cut our nails and use it to cut our mangoes and oranges.