In my twelfth year on earth, I found out that my mother could be wrong; that she wasn’t always right.
When I was 9 years old, my mother called me into her room. It is the room she stays on nights when my father would be with his other wives. My mother’s turn was always on Thursdays; you could tell from her bubbly demeanor in the morning. She would wake up extra early and start to make Fried Rice and Chicken. She would sing songs I only heard her sing on our way back from Jumu’ah as we walked with Umm Aisha. She would, then, serve all the children in plastic plates and tell us, ‘Eat slowly. Remember there’s no prize for who can choke himself faster to death.’ All the children would laugh – all of us. I like to believe my mother was the best of the 5 wives.
When I was 9 years old, my mother called me into her room. It was not unusual, sometimes she wanted me to walk all over her back because she had pounded yam all evening and her body ached; sometimes she wanted to play the Ayo with me; sometimes she wanted to scold me for behaving in a way that didn’t align with living in a polygamous home; and sometimes she just wanted to be in the same space with me – breathing the same air, being assured of the existence of the only reason why she still had a place she could refer to as her husband’s house.
Why am I so easily distracted? See, when I was 9 years old, my mother called me into her room. She eyed me from her dresser as I sat on her bed and then she said, ‘Close your legs! Is that how a woman sits? Or do you want to push out a baby?’ Ashamed, I pressed my thighs together and studied my feet – I need to cut my toenails, I thought.
‘The only time a woman is to open her legs is when she wants a baby in her stomach and when she wants it out of her stomach. Have you heard me?’ I nodded. But in my mind, I was thinking, ‘Does anyone really cut their toenails?’
‘I think it’s time I tell you about men and life.’ my mother continued. I wished deeply that she would just look at my toenails. Surely, the alarming length of my toenails would be a more delicious and urgent topic than boys and men and life. But my mother continued, ‘I see the way you play around with men; you are playing with your life and with fire. Too free! Too happy! Jumping here and there, playing police and thief.’
I took a deep breath and tried to swallow saliva but my throat was dry. Suddenly, ‘water’ was a more delicious and urgent topic. Do fishes even drink water?
‘Eye contact. Never look a man in the eye. They will think you are asking, begging, for something and they will give you. It is trouble to look into the eyes of a man. You hear me?’ I lifted my eyes a little and look at the concern on my mother’s face. I nodded my little head.
I obeyed my mother’s instructions to the letter. I stopped looking into the eyes of any man; not even my father. I could look at the tribal marks on their cheeks, the white saliva at the corner of their mouth, the tiny hairs peeking out shyly from their noses, their beards… but never, never ever, their eyes.
When I was 12 years old though, I realized that my mother lied – trouble, in form of men, will come to you even if you pluck out your eyes.
I had walked into my house from school and met a celebration – it was 3pm, there were 2 rams outside my father’s compound; 4 wives talking excitedly and running around cooking; 1 car parked outside my father’s house. I walked into the living room and saw my mother. Her back was turned to me and she was speaking to a man whose beard looked familiar. When he responded, his voice sounded familiar too; like the voice of my father’s wealthy electrician friend. He paused when I walked in and said, ‘My little bride has come!’
When my mother whipped her head around, and I saw her smiling, my heart trembled and fell. As though I wanted to pick it up, I immediately flung my 12 year old body down and made contact with the ground crying, ‘But ma! I never looked into his eyes! Please! I don’t want trouble ma. Please, I beg you.’
That day, a background sound found its home in my head. It became the sound upon which every other sound laid itself – it was the sound of my mother’s laughter as she watched my 12 year old self shiver and grovel.
Whenever I am allowed to go out with my husband, I see some cars with Christian stickers on them saying, ‘Heaven on Earth’. I am happy for them. I wonder if they also know that there is a hell on earth. If they want to find out more about it, I can give them my house address
I am 14 years old now and the 2nd wife in my husband’s house. On the night I arrived at his house, I shut my thighs and shook like a leaf. ‘The only time a woman is to open her legs is when she wants a baby in her stomach and when she wants it out of her stomach’, my mother’s word ricocheted through my belly – (I think my brain was in my belly and my heart was in my mouth. I don’t know – my whole body system was topsy-turvy).
It’s not important how it happened, but somehow, a baby was forced into my stomach (which was also my brain) that night. Now I have a one year old, but I still cannot push out the memory of her conception from my brain.
I planned my escape a thousand and fifteen times precisely, but in my husband’s house, we were sheltered. The first wife was only allowed to go out on her own after her 25th birthday and even at that, she has a curfew and some rules. Me, I was allowed to go to to the market and the mosque but I must be trailed by a man-servant whose life was connected to getting me back into the house safely. He would literally hold my shoulder like a blind person and follow me everywhere; even when I want to pee in the market’s public toilet.
In the mosque, two female servants, including the first wife, followed me around.
Two weeks ago, however, we were walking in the market – me backing my child and Suleiman gripping my shoulder as we maneuvered our way through the crowd. Suddenly he tapped me and said, ‘I want to buy kola there. Let’s go.’ I led the way.
As he haggled with the Mallam on the price and quantity of Kola, my eyes scan the crowd looking for nothing in particular until I saw him. He was wearing a black jacket over a black tee and black jeans. For a moment he paused when our eyes met. ‘Trouble’ I thought. His eyes quickly shifted from Suleiman’s hand on my shoulder and back to my eyes. ‘Trouble’ my heart thumped. Then with the swiftest move I have ever seen, he brought his hand out of his jacket; in a blur I saw black steel, I heard a bang and felt its impact just behind me, I heard someone drop, I heard a scream, I met his eyes again, and then I heard more shots fired in the market; more screams.
It was the first time something louder than my mother’s laughter played in my head.
My first thought was that I needed to get out of the pool of Suleiman’s blood
My second thought was that I needed to buy the Kola for him at the exact price he was insisting on before he died; before the stray bullet hit him. ‘Stray bullet’ – I had already stuck with that story before I agreed to stick with it.
I realized that I needed to run.
I read in the papers when I arrived at Enugu that ‘the shooter at Kurmi Market, Kano was a mad man indeed. The police have reached a dead end in questioning him as all he does is just stare and smile. He killed over 15 people and injured about 17 in his bullet spray although it does not seem like he had any specific motivation for his mass shooting. Please if you have any information on this man in the picture below, contact 01-2376681 or come down to the station’
I laid my child on our little bed in our little room and put on the radio. As Igbo music softly filled the room, it laid itself in my belly and seemed to match perfectly; harmonies and all, with the bangdadadang playing in the background of my head.
I dozed off hoping someone would contact the police.
Writing this article, I learned that the trick to being able to write on Moyo’s weird prompts is actually to write your own story and just fit his prompt somewhere inside. *tsk tsk*