Each time I look into Tunde, my baby’s eyes, it’s always as if I should pluck them out and smash them on the floor – I see Salem through them. Another way Salem appears again is during sexual intercourse, an undying paranoid. Selem is nothing but a living pain: The pain you can see, touch, hear, and continue to live with.
I had raised a pillow to suffocate Tunde the second time, he rather had continued to thrust his limbs and smiled at me. He had melted my anger again, and the pillow had rolled out of my hands while I began to cry. His face had suddenly divided into two: One, of childishness and elation of an innocent baby; and the other, of a pure wickedness and atrocity of Salem.
One thing I wouldn’t discern was how people could sap pleasure through the fount of pain? How Salem felt himself? And whether pain was ever reflective?
Aunty Muna, my mother younger sister, had once told me how when my father divorced my mother she had become bent that we must all leave with her. Then I was still a baby in hands, with my little older sister, Neema. My father, for being nominal and one of those fathers to whom giving birth was a mere tradition and not be worth a damn responsibility; he rather had given a little fight simply for the record.
My mother had soon put up with aunty Muna before she later moved into a single room apartment with her second husband not too far away from a small shop where she makes hair for the students of a nearby tertiary institution.
When Salem wrought the first havoc, mum had gone a little mad, but not really that she had gone near the window or stepped out of the door. It wasn’t more than when two ants are rustling in fight inside a beverage bottle. She had clutched onto Salem’s cloth, and pinned it to his neck while they both dangled round the room. She later had summoned my older sister and I, and warned us behind the door, that what happened was our own family’s shit, and not to smell or pervade beyond the roof.
“Every family covers their stinks with hands.” She had affirmed.
Not really that mum is so sinister or something, her evil is in her own nature; the weakness to see everything as secret, and a total gentility syndrome. She would rather succumb to both the good and bad rather than having them sorted out with a long talk.
During this period, mum had suddenly stopped going to the shop. And occasionally when we returned from school she would still be lying in bed, and her eyes would have become very red and swollen; but I had suspected it was for my elder sister, Neema. Neema had gone missing for days, and everyone had rather kept mum. Mum had since continued to put up unquestionable looks, while my step dad had been avoiding everyone.
Neema happens to have been possessed by more of my mother’s genes. Her extreme passion for solitude and excessive quietness, that her image had become engraved on the wall in one corner of the room where she usually squatted and stuffed herself. One hardly reads her mood, not to be able to separate her moments of sorrow from that of solace; but she had unusually been sleeping profusely before her late disappearance, and had stopped going to the school. There’s this barricade already about her that makes it feels as if one would have to unlock a particular door or break into a shell before speaking to her. And given her frequent nagging, approaching her for anything had always been only as a last resort.
But with her present condition, and those packs of drug on her side, the impulses for concern suddenly rose and surpassed every barricade. She lied on her left in bed and faced the wall. I had climbed the bed and gently robbed my palm on her bare arm, but when she turned to face me, I had creased, and almost froze with a shock. Her eyes had gone pale with a shade of green. And the brimmed puddle of tears that had gathered in one of her eyes had begun to pour and continued to roll over the bridge of her nose into the other eye. She had gripped her stomach with one hand and clutched my hand with the other hand. She said something was biting her inside her stomach and had continued to whimper. That was the first time I ever felt any strong connection between us, as if something suddenly crept into me through her skin. I felt my body cold, shivering and a cloud of tears laden my eyes. But mum had soon entered and rushed her out of the room, and that was the last time I ever set eyes on her. And my mother had said nothing about it, except for her frequent temperament which had rather germinated some new seeds of hatred.
I had earlier developed the habit to avenge over my mother’s chastisements in a way as a child. There was a time I had squashed my mother and meshed her face into porridge – the food I so much disgusted without reservation. Then, I plucked her eyes out of their sockets from the earlier caricature I had crafted in the dusty window’s screen of a rickety car behind the house, so that she can no longer see. My mother had vowed to rob pepper in my eyes the next time I was caught stealing.
I know my mum quite well, she doesn’t trade her words for anything, and she does her I-will-do. She had scraped the back of my hands with a razor and robbed pepper when I took the beef on my sister’s food, she said it was how to treat a small theft, like “Lakpa Lakpa”, budding ringworm, before it grows and spreads everywhere. And that I would also have a story to tell my unborn children.
I don’t know where my mother buys those memes? It had earlier been a miniature lizard. She had brought this lizard home one evening, she said because I wasn’t going to stop bedwetting. She had tied one end of a rope to its waist and passed the other through my thighs that once I attempt to pee in bed the lizard pecks up my private part. I had whimpered all through the night that I had continued to dream of the lizard some few nights that followed. The moment I found myself anywhere wanted to pee in my dreams, the lizard would suddenly appear until I had stopped to pee in dreams. And it was always obvious how I would excuse myself to one private corner or some alleys to urinate in dreams. Sometimes I even used the toilet in the house. The vision was always very clear, that I would see myself walked up to the toilet and watched how the urine flowed with thrill torrrrrrrrrrh and dropped inside the water closet, but only to always wake up and still found myself lying in a pool of my urine that the entire bed would have been soaked up.
There was a day I had attempted to shift the paradigm, I was fed up of being the only victim. I had rolled Neema in my place after bedwetting to make her looked like the culprit and quickly changed my clothes before daybreak. My sister had woken up that morning and continued to cry. I had never seen my mum laughed like that all my life. Her face had somehow split, a depiction of laughter and fierceness, it was a fierce laughter. She would laugh wryly and then paused to call my name, Talatu! And then broke into a fresh laughter again. I was standing just few yards away in the entrance quivering as if the earth would quake beneath my feet so that I could cave in.
Until aunty Muna suddenly broken in one afternoon to snatch me from our house. She had asked me to pack all my clothes inside my bag that I would now be living in her place. She said she had wanted me to be living with her since I was a baby but my mum had declined her request and said because I was abiku, a stillborn, and she would have to always keep eyes on me.
“So I’m abiku?” I had raised my head to meet her gaze as I asked.
“Yes.” She replied arching her head, and added, “your mother never mentioned that?”
“She had said nothing about that before.” I said.
The word had continued to buzz inside my head like a bee as we moved on. I knew my mum quite well; I never underrated the depth of her stomach, I knew she could stomach a pestle without distension but only for the tiny passage of her mouth.
It was when we got home that aunty Muna continued; that I was lucky to have died two times, that those who died the third time never returned, and may leave the woman barren for life. She said when I died the first time, I was burnt to black. They said because my mother was a white and I must be black to be rejected, and if I must live.
Baba Ifa, the priest, had rushed in with a shear and severed all that borne tendrils on my dead body. They set firewood beneath a nest of dry raffia, laid me in the middle, and set fire. And they said, this way, I will die as a marine spirit and return as human in my next coming.
It was later in the evening of the day followed that my mum came to aunty Muna’s house, but not with as much anger as one would have expected.
“So you have decided to elope with your aunty?” She said as she was climbing the basement’s steps in the front of the house and then faced my aunty.
“Muna, so you have now become a kidnapper that you would sneak into my house to snatch my daughter?”
Aunty Muna had paused for a moment and stared at my mother, before she asked whether my mum had forgotten what happened to Neema; and my mum had quickly guided her into the room to prevent me from picking on their further conversation.
“Are you saying Talatu is a baby, a girl of thirteen? My aunty had suddenly raised her voice.
“The children of these days even know more than us their parents.”
“You’ve continued to treat them like babies, and that was how Neema got raped by that naughty man you called husband under your nose and you rather had preferred to have it swept under the carpet. And now, she had been lost to abortion!”
That had suddenly struck me like a thunderbolt and I felt my ears shrilled to the abortion and the death of my sister. It was as if I was standing barefooted in an ice field. It was my feet to my ankles that first gone numb. Then I started feeling cold climbing up from my legs through my skin while I was feeling hot on the inside, until it reached my chest and I suddenly felt my heart flickered and passed out.
I had found myself in one dark tunnel and started hearing some strange sounds, but my heart had continued to beat very fast and became noisy. I had tried to pause and listened to know where the noise was really coming from, it was then I felt water sinking into my head, and then my brain. By the time I opened my eyes, I was already soaked up in a puddle of water on the floor. Mum had continued to flap one edge of her rapper to fan me while aunty Muna stooped before me with her right hand on my chest and the other to wedge my back.
For the first time I felt like dying, had wished I never came back and started crying. I knew what was coming and doubted if I could contain it and whether any of them could carry it.
The trauma had persisted that I became very ill, and my mother had to take me to the clinic where series of tests were run and discovered that I was pregnant. I was also been raped by Salem but I had no one to tell, my mother had been a loner. My aunty had stood her ground that I was not going to die through abortion like my sister and insisted that I should have the baby. And that was how I gave birth to Tunde, who looked in every way like Salem.