© Folakemi Emem-Akpan
I am fifteen years old, a wife, a mother, a leaker.
Were I to script the story of my life, I would not write it this way. Instead of marriage, I would have my childhood back. Instead of a baby, I’d have a school diploma. And instead of the unrelenting ammonia perfume surrounding me, I’d smell nice, powdery, fresh.
My breasts ache with unshed milk. It has been four weeks, yet time has not lessened the production of milk, nor the pain that comes with it unsuckled. I want to hold my baby so bad that my arms ache, and the tears I’ve been trying to restrain finally spill out.
Sniffling, I feel water running down my thighs, in between my legs, soaking the wad of rags on which I sit.
Thoughts, heavier than the stench of urine that terrorizes the room, rise up to torment me. Ripping the baby from me, my forty-year-old husband hissing disgustedly at the sight of her female parts, my mother bathing my face in cool water, the first sneeze that brought with it an avalanche of urine.
The next morning, they took my daughter away, made my room my prison. My mother left, my husband went back to his primary businesses of goat rearing and fathering even more children with his remaining three wives, life went on as usual.
My head aches and pounds away as if a hammer is secreted away inside. Praying for respite, finding none, I regress and go way back in thoughts.
Five years old, innocent to the ways of the world. Then that day when they separated Ahmad and me. My twin brother would receive an education at the village school where boys from prosperous homes learnt to do sums and read the Koran. I would be groomed in the art of womanhood, would be engaged at nine, married at thirteen.
A soft knock at the door rouses me out of the deep well. Nobody knocks at my door in the afternoon. In the morning and evening, Khadijat brings my meals, opens the door just a crack, pushes the bowl through, flees.
Pulling my shawl across my face, pushing myself to my feet even though it hurts like a thousand hells, I approach the door and swing it open.
A woman stands there, a stranger clad in white. My first thought is that she must be stupid to wear white on such a dusty afternoon. Already, moon circles of sweat have formed underneath her armpits.
But she has a lovely face, not unlike that of an angel.
“Are you Halimat?” She asks. Her voice is lilting and interesting.
“I came to see you.” She says and steps into the small dark room. To her credit, she does not scrunch her face at the strong smell, finds a dry edge of the mat and sits.
“I am a nurse,” She says. “From Kaduna. Yesterday I visited Beiro and your mother told me to come see you, that you have a problem.”
I nod because I don’t know what else to do.
“Will your husband allow you come to Kaduna with me so that we can fix the problem?”
I close my eyes and visualize the apoplectic rage Alhaji would fly into if I were to tell him. “No.”
“Can I bring someone tomorrow then? Someone that can work on you here?”
I swallow a huge lump of saliva, force words past my constricted throat. “My problem is that I leak urine without meaning to. Nobody can fix that.”
“Yes we can. It’s a very simple surgical procedure. In less than three days, you should feel better.”
Hope, long buried, rises up in me. I struggle to contain myself, fail, find myself asking. “Is that possible?”
“Yes. If you’d allow us.”
The hope rises afresh. I blink, try to envision myself as free once more. Of course still married, of course still a mother, but perhaps I would be free of my constant noxious smell. I smile at the angel in white and tell her yes.
*Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF) is the continuous leaking of urine that cannot be explained, stopped or controlled by the woman affected, usually caused by obstructed labor due to immature pelvic bones. Most communities consider affected women as outcasts.
It affects majority of teenage girls of Hausa ethnicity in Nigeria who are given out in marriage very early. In some cases, it is regarded shameful for a woman to have her first menstruation in her father’s house.