I desperately wanted to cry, I squeezed my eyes tight but just like a rock, water wouldn’t come out. Everyone stood watching me, thinking Mama-Nkechi must be in shock, unable to process her daughter’s death, poor Mama-Nkechi. No, I wasn’t in shock. I looked down at your beautiful face. You have always been beautiful, from the moment I first carried you in my arms when your cries rang out to the heavens, to when you became a young woman growing breasts, and when you entered the university; when you came home on holidays and everyone’s heads turned whenever you walked by, till now. Now you are even more beautiful. Your skin; silky smooth like porcelain, full lips, perfectly set in a pout, your cheekbones, high and proud as ever, your hair still full with your beautiful widow’s peak, your almond eyes are just as beautiful even though they are closed, never to open again. Yes, you are beautiful.
I heard a loud wail and looked to Nkoli. She had been crying since the day your body was found lifeless, at the bottom of the stairs. Nkoli can’t understand why I haven’t yet cried, after all you were first daughter, my favorite. But how can I cry when it was I who killed you?
The day you came home weeping, the day Obinna said it was over because his mother’s pastor said you were not his wife, that day for the first time you were heartbroken. I felt your pain and I cried with you. But I cried for other reasons. You see, you had just finished your youth service, you were 24, just like Eka who’s mum told me they had brought wine to their house the previous week. Eka’s igba-nkwu was the next week. Why was Eka getting married before you? You were prettier than her, you were smarter and more decent. Still I consoled you and promised that you’ll be fine. “Your own will come” I promised.
Yet it took longer than I expected. For three years I saw you turn down one man after the other. He’s too tall, too short, too jealous, too proud, too lazy, too carefree, too ugly, too handsome. It seemed there was always something wrong with all of them. It broke my heart each time when you said this. Eka had had her first son and was carrying another, Obioma your cousin was married although she was a year younger than you, Sarah, my boss’s daughter got married too. All around me my friend’s daughters got married, I became an outsider as I heard them plan details for their daughters’ weddings. It became worse when they started going for omugwo. Nkechi, Ada nne, I no longer had mouth to speak when they spoke. Mama-Ndidi’s son-in-law always flew her out to America anytime Ndidi got pregnant. Ndidi wasn’t that much older than you. So when you finally brought a man home, I knew he was the one. I made sure he was the one.
Ikenna was a proud man, I saw it even before you did. But he had every right to be, after all his father was a wealthy business man, and he, a doctor who received his degree overseas. At 34 he was already building his own hospital, had just completed his own house and was already well established. It was only normal for him to be proud. This was what I told you when some months later you came home with a troubled look on your face.
“Mama, I’m no longer sure about Ikenna” you said.
“Ikenna is your husband Ada m. Of this I’m sure” I said to you.
“But mama he’s too proud, he is too jealous. If another man as much as looks at me Ikenna gets upset. He won’t talk to me for days”
“He’s a man, my daughter. That’s how men behave. Is he supposed to be happy that another man is eyeing his jewel? Or you don’t know you’re his jewel?” I said and tickled your chin.
We both laughed and forged ahead as though all was well. God was finally hearing my prayers, Ikenna proposed. We were all happy. Nkoli was relieved because she had become a young woman, she didn’t want to marry before you, yet she didn’t want to have to wait for you. I immediately started planning. I made sure all my friends knew, that the son of Chief Ohakwe Nwabasili was marrying my daughter. It was to be a big society wedding. Everything was already in place.
On the week before the wedding you came to me crying.
“Nne m o gini?” I asked you
“Mama it’s Ikenna, he slapped me yesterday mama”
“Ikenna kwa? What did you do to him Nkechi?” I asked you. I could see the hurt and indignation in your eyes. Why would I blame you without even knowing the details?
“All because my friends brought male dancers for my bridal shower” you said.
“But my daughter, you should understand. This period is very difficult for him, planning the wedding and running his hospital. It is not easy for any man. Sorry ooooo, Nne m. It’s because he loves you.” I assured you.
The next week was the happiest day of my life. Seeing you, my Ada, finally getting married. I invited all my friends, I wanted them to see it with their eyes. Now I was finally one of them, finally a full member of their exclusive club.
A week after the wedding Ikenna bought me a jeep and I made sure they all heard about it. He also relocated Nkoli, your younger brothers and I to our own house. It was that same house that you often came running to.
“Mama I’m tired. I can’t take it anymore ” you said on one of your frequent visits.
“Nkechi, what is it again?”
“Mama, i furo anya m. Can’t you see my eyes? Ikenna has chosen slapping my face as his new sport. Mama I’m tired. See my body mama. See…..” you said and before I could stop you you removed your clothes right there in the sitting room.
My eye sight immediately worsened and I couldn’t see the blue bruises, the wounds which I knew you never had before. My eyes became so bad that I didn’t see the long red marks on your belly. But you saw me see them and you immediately told me it’s story. Yes, like you always told me, all the scars had their own stories.
“Ok mama, this one here” you said and placed your hand on it, “Ikenna tied me to the dining table and used my horsewhip, oh, you didn’t know I have a horsewhip? He used it on my belly. Twenty four strokes mama, because that’s the number of hours he stayed in the hospital without food, only to come back and see semolina instead of pounded yam” you said.
“Ewo! Chai, ndo o nne m. But you see what I’ve always told you, those things that make him angry avoid doing them. O kwa m gwa gi? Stop making your husband angry Nkechi!” I admonished you and sent you home.
There were several more visits like that, but I asked you to manage. It couldn’t be that bad, in some years Ikenna would calm down and you will begin to enjoy your marriage. All marriages had their hiccups in the early years. You took in again and this time I came to London for omugwo. I was over the moon. Now my friends would know who is who.
The last time you came to me crying is the one that tears at my heart the most.
“Mama please. I just can’t. It’s been seven years mama. Seven years of hell, seven years of living with a man that hates me.”
“Nkechi, what is it again?” I asked impatiently, not bothering to conceal the irritation in my voice.
“Mama look at my back” you said and once again before I could stop you, you stripped off your clothes. The sight of raw pink flesh, charred and ugly made my heart cease to beat for some seconds. But immediately I regained myself.
“Mama, all because Obinna called my phone. I haven’t spoken to Obinna in almost ten years. How he got my number, I don’t know….. I don’t know mama, I don’t know. Ikenna waited till I slept, pulled up my dress and pressed a burning iron on my back. He said I deserve it because I’m a prostitute” you broke down and cried wretchedly.
Nne m I cried with you. I hated Ikenna. I hated him so much for what he was doing to you. I hated him for turning you into a shadow of my daughter Nkechi. I hated him for causing you so much pain. I hated him for the ugly scars your beautiful clothes covered. Oh, Nkechi I hated your husband.
“You will go back” I said once the tears had dried.
“What? Mba mama. I won’t. Is it when I die that you will let me leave him?” You asked, tears in your eyes.
“Do you think your case is different from others Nkechi? If you see what other girls your age are passing through in their marriage you will thank God for your own. You’re in paradise compared to others” I said, standing up and moving away from you. You looked up at me, your eyes filled with pain and confusion.
“You will go back o, Ada m. The church does not recognize divorce. Your dead father’s relatives will mock us, there’s no room for you here. Go home to your husband. That is your home. Go and try not to make him angry, marriage is for better or for worse”
I walked you back to the door and sent you away with your two little angels. How would I explain your presence in the house to my friends?
Nkechi, Ada nne ya, okwulu oka, Adadioranma, Ada oyibo m, that was the last time I saw you.
It’s been three days since they told me they found you at the bottom of the stairs, your neck broken and twisted at a strange angle, scratches and bruises on your arms and neck. Three days since my gold, my pride, my Ada died. Three days since your babies look around in confusion, waiting for their mummy to come home. Three days since Ikenna has been missing. Three days and I still cannot cry for you.
Mama-Eka and Mama-Ndidi both sit at my sides, unsure of what to do. It would be easier for them if I was crying. But how, how can I cry when I might have as well put my selfish hands around your neck and squeezed the life out of you? How can I cry when I know in all my dreams you will continue to stand in the corner, beautiful as ever, pointing your bony fingers at me? But Ada m I have no complaints, it is a small price for a mother to pay for taking the life of her own child.