The sound of the slap reverberated through the bathroom as it landed smack, against soft flesh. It set those cheek muscles throbbing, those cheek muscles that Dozie had kissed on numerous occasions. Those muscles were now raw, because of his baby that grew within you. Your mother drew your ears and pulled you out of the house, obstreperously shouting at you to show her the house of the idiot that had impregnated you. You took her to the creamed coloured bungalow you presumed to be his house; where he took you countless times. You knocked the door, with your mother gyrating beside you and spewing insults from her lips.
A middle aged man with salt and pepper hair, round spectacles and thin lips with laugh lines answered the door. You knew at that moment that you were doomed, you knew because he bore no resemblance to Dozie.
Memories of that Nollywood movie you watched a long time ago ran through your mind, that movie where a houseboy had deceived a damsel that his master’s house was his. He had gotten her pregnant before she found out the truth. You had laughed at her naivety, her stupidity, her benightedness. Now, you could only cry at yours.
“How may I help you”; he asked patiently.
“I-Im looking for Dddd….”
“Would you open your mouth and talk, if you can open your legs, then you can do that”; Mama retorted sharply.
“He looked up, and then snapped his fingers.
“Oh Dozie, he was one of the caretakers. He returned to the village yesterday, his contract ended”
It was too predictable; you wondered why it never struck you earlier. But how would it have, with his perfect diction and well-tailored clothes. Your mother screamed and pulled at your blouse, the warm tears slid down your cheeks, because that was all you could do.The only valid thing Dozie told you, was his name. He was not a student of chemical engineering at the University of Lagos, he was not the son of the man who owned the house and he most definitely did not love you, well at least not all of you.
“This is my father’s house”; he had said spreading his hands, with a smile on his lips.
You noticed there were no pictures, but perhaps they did not like pictures, you had thought. However, it was not his clothes, diction or the large house that had drawn you to him; it was his eyes, deep pools that looked like a freshly prepared cup of milo. You cursed the days you laid eyes on him at Balogun market, but, you had no time for sentiments or a “broken heart”. You had to be strong. One does not enter into the water and then run away from the cold.
That night you ran away from home, under the canopy of the dark blue sky, dotted with stars that twinkled down on you. Many of your neighbours had come out as your mother dragged you home. You saw their mocking eyes, heard their cruel whispers and knew you could not stay. The only person who had known of your plan to run away was your younger sister, Bisi. She was in SS1 then and you had been in SS2.You first stopped at Dupe’s place, your friend from church. She was the one who gave you some money that night, she held your hands and told you not to stop fighting, begged you not to abort the baby and she finally prayed for you. You thanked her, gave her a hug and walked on. You were surprised she did not try to convince you to stay.
You finally settled at Epe, the only place you could afford, with a little extra to buy a mobile phone, a sim card and food for one week. You were enthralled when you noticed the small vegetable garden behind the house you rented, where waterleaf, ewedu, tomatoes, beans and pepper grew. You thanked God for blessing you with them. You ate some of the vegetables from the garden, and sold some, then also planted some more tomatoes, pepper and beans.Dozie’s seed proliferated within you and permeated your entire being with wonder; you marvelled at the creation of this new life, marvelled when you felt the tiny life move within you. As you watched the sun make its graceful ascent every morning, lighting up the sky with red hues, replacing black with light blue, you wondered what the child would look like.
You communicated often with your little sister, clandestinely. She called every week and you often asked her about mama.
“Mama is fine. She misses you.”
You missed her too, but then you remembered those eyes that had been filled with disappointment when you lifted up your head from the sink you were bent over in the bathroom. She had known, they always knew, mothers.
“Hope you did not tell her where I am O?”
“Temi, I did not jor.”
You made friends with your neighbours and you were delighted to find out that Iya Dapo was a midwife. Serendipity. Iya Dapo was a nice woman, who visited often and sometimes helped you braid your hair.The pain came, sharp and swift as you harvested tomatoes one sunny day. Flies hovered around the ripe juicy red fruits. You felt the warm, sticky liquid trickle down your legs and knew what to do, you half dragged yourself into the house, exhaling in short puffs. Reaching for your phone, you dialled Mama Dapo. She came with clean white towels and set some water boiling on your kerosene stove.
“You be strong woman, no worry, you fit do this”; she said as she sat in front of your open legs.
You cursed the day you met Dozie, as you pushed; cursed the day you fell in love with him, as the contractions racked your body and sweat poured from your face; cursed the day he entered you, when you felt that place tear.
Then the high pitched wail came, that wail that held your heart and squeezed it, gently. When it was over, Mama Dapo cleaned the baby.
“It is a girl”; she said with a smile that lit up her kind face and placed the child in your weak arms, arms that felt rejuvenated as soon as you held her.You looked at those milo coloured eyes and the words that came to your lips were “Morenikeji. I have found another”; you whispered against her soft skin. You were no longer alone.
You marvelled as the baby grew into a toddler and as the toddler burgeoned into adolescence. She became the quintessence of your existence. You saved money to buy her those pink ribbons and beads you saw her looking at, the day she followed you to the market. She hugged you when you showed them to her, joy lighting up her eyes and you were content, right there in her arms.
Your sister came visiting one white harmattan morning; white mist hung suspended in the sky and the harsh harmattan weather turned your skin white and left your lips chapped. She stepped out from a black, shinning mercedesbenz car. She was now working at NAFDAC, after studying Biochemistry at Lagos state university. You held onto her and the both of you had wept in each other’s arms, then she introduced a clean shaven, ebony skinned Man as her fiancé and you winked at her.She turned Morenikeji’s face in her hands and commented on how beautiful she was. Morenikeji smiled shyly.
“So, has she started schooling?”
“No.” You sighed. “I do not think I can afford it.”
“Ahnahn….sister mi. We would go to the bank and I would open an account for you,. as for Morenikeji, she could come and stay with me and return during the holidays.”
“Ose. Thank you, May God bless you.”
“Sister mi, its nothing.”
“Thank you, and how’s Mama?”
“She’s fine, she misses you, You should at least, call her.”
You went mute.Morenekeji, left with your sister the next week. You wanted to cry with her, when you saw her brown eyes that were filled with tears, tears that spilled down her cheeks.
“Don’t worry, Bimbo will take good care of you, sogbo, I know it as I know the sun rises every morning.”
After much cajoling and begging she got into the car and that image, that one of her staring at you through the car window, with sadness swimming in her eyes, was indelibly etched in your memory. The image haunted you for those long, three months. However, you were able to make good use of that time, by enrolling for evening classes; you could finally get your WAEC results. It kept you preoccupied.
Morenike came back and you breathed in the scent of her skin as you held her in an embrace, but that night, she broke your heart to smithereens. She turned from the plate of beans and corn you placed before her with a wrinkled face. An alien facial expression.”I want spaghetti and corned beef”; she said with folded arms and a pout on her lips.
Lazy curls of steam rose from the food, slowly, as though aware that they had been rejected.She also made you aware, not in words, of the austere state of your house. You had never noticed that the curtains were faded, or how really thin the foam you slept on was, or how the bamboo chairs creaked each time you sat on them. That night, as she slept beside you, turning and tossing interminably, the tears flowed freely and pain ran amok within your chest. You saw her, felt her slip away; slowly but surely. You saw the disappointment in her eyes each time she came home, the disgust as she took in the surroundings.
You worked hard and made your papers; you showed her the results in excitement.
“That’s great mum, congratulations”; she said, inspecting her nails. Her voice lacked emotion, her voice showed no pride; you really wanted her to be proud of you.”Mummy, I won’t be coming home, next holiday.”; she continued.
“I would be starting my Common Entrance Exams soon, and I want to prepare for it well”
“But you can prepare here. And I can even teach you….”
“I don’t want you to teach me!”
The silence hung like a cloak between you two.She did not come, the next holiday and you cried into your pillow. You felt so alone. However, you were rewarded after that, she had a very long holiday after her Common Entrance Exams; your sister had said so on the phone. In preparation, for her coming, you bought a radio, for that was all you could afford, spaghetti and sardine, corned beef was too expensive. You were also going to tell her that you finally had a job, as the secretary to the principal of a Secondary school close by.
You did not tell her, because she did not come home. Instead you got a call that the bus she had taken lost a tire and somersaulted. It was your sister who called; they were at a hospital in Ikeja. You thought you would go mad, but you remained remarkably sane. But, you still howled, screamed and did some bodily harm to yourself.
After the outburst, you gathered your savings and sojourned to Ikeja, even though Ikeja and Epe were within Lagos, it felt like travelling.You stayed at Morenike’s side, in the company of the machine that kept beeping and beeping, till the beeping became a blur and blended into nothingness. You were so terrified, terrified of losing your little girl. Sometimes you had nightmares about it and would wake up with a start, then reach to check her pulse.She finally came around on the third day of the second week. You offered praises to God and covered her face with kisses and tears. She did not draw back, she held your
“Mummy”; she whispered. “it was so dark.” Her lips trembled with emotion.My child….”; you whispered, over and over again as you held her in your arms.You fed her, bathed her, coaxed her to take her drugs and cried with her whenever she was given injections. Even when the doctor said you could go home to rest, you still stayed. Bimbo was helpful; she brought a change of cloth and food every day. She was a woman, she understood. There was a deft change in Morenikeji, akin to the opening up of a flower. She seemed to revel in the attention you showered on her, unlike before.After two weeks, she was discharged.
“Mummy are we going home?”
“Beni oko mi. Home.”
You were glad she called it home. When you both arrived home, you no longer saw irritation or disgust in her eyes. That night, you both laughed with the radio while eating a meal of spaghetti and sardine stew. Some spaghetti had gotten stuck in her hair, and you removed them amidst bouts of laughter. Her new attitude was salve, salve to mend your broken heart.You wondered what caused this change and blessed the Creator and His Son. You remembered the past, but it did not matter, because all you two had was now, and that was enough.That same night, you finally made a call to your mother.