If you ask Olileanya to tell you why she always observes her morning devotions like she’d asphyxiate if she didn’t, she will laugh, those throaty laughter that come out forced and wicked. Her face would begin to glow with bitterness after the laughter dries out. She will drag herself out of bed after emptying her chest of a deep sigh as if to say the night had cheated her by being short – not enough for a good sleep after the previous night’s bedroom gymnastics.
She will kiss you and whisper I love you into your ears, her eyes will be half closed like one on the cusp of a sneeze. She will disappear into the kitchen and appear with a breakfast of bread and fried eggs and tea on a white tray that is shaped like love with an inscription love lives here boldly written in red ink below it. She will stare into the cloud with tear-stained eyes and begin to tell you.
It started in her father’s mansion where Ogechi lived as a maid. Ogechi was a fervent Christian who always sang Christian songs while she worked; sweeping, cleaning, washing, and cooking. She started to bathe Olileanya when her parents began to travel outside the country almost every week. Ogechi asked Olileanya, one night after she turned ten, in the bathroom if she knew she was a woman now. Olileanya flinched, her eyes bright with confusion.
‘See your beautiful breasts pointing like arrows,’ Ogechi said, touching them with soapy hands and telling Olileanya to be quiet so she would know that she was truly a woman. Olileanya obeyed. She began to feel uneasy moments , begged Ogechi to stop with voice that seemed like it was barely hers, a voice unsure of its commands. Her eyes were closed when Ogechi left her breasts and started to trace other parts of her body. Ogechi’s hands ran through her stomach with the carefulness of a pregnant woman rubbing hers, found the hole between her legs and that was when Olileanya eyes opened as if in realization of being touched. She squealed, broke free and ran away naked, provoking Ogechi to a fit of hiccupping laughter.
The next morning, it was a bit easy as they both explored each other, eyes bulging with an orb of curiosity. Ogechi told her they needed to pray to God to forgive them because this sort of thing was a sin. They knelt down with face contorted in prayers and head scrunched down in concentration as if God was visibly opposite them. In the days that followed, they learnt different parts of each other’s body and never failed to say their morning devotions.
Olileanya will look at you and tell you she prays everyday for learning to love differently; the kind of love her pastor says God doesn’t like, the kind of love that brings eternal condemnation. She will wipe the tear at the corner of her eyes with the pad of her thumb and tell you, with a charged voice, to get ready for another morning devotion.
MAMA AND HER BOY
‘So you won’t give me grandchildren,’ Mama said at last, aiming to ease the tension of the last ten minutes with flippancy. Her voice was lisped with suppressed pain, of happiness never to be. If she had been angry at this revelation, she offered no physical indication. It was afternoon and the translucent blue sky poured down torrents of light on us through our windows.
‘There are other ways, Mama. Plenty of ways.’ Mama inched away from me as if I had uttered something abominable. Her eyes when they held mine were flinty.
‘Is there any natural way than when a man meets a woman, Kene?’ She asked, glaring at me through squinted eyes. Mama whispered something about death that I didn’t hear. She knotted her wrapper, carried the empty plates we had just ate from and left me alone in the room, the thoughts of Chike clutching my mind. A dragonfly whirred nearby and a neighbour’s generator just sputtered to life.
The fact was, I had the comfort and companionship people sought in marriage, something Mama didn’t get until my father died and while I love children, I had never felt this tug of paternal impulse in myself. Chike had said we could adopt a child or two but Mama would never hear of this, not this traditional woman whose womb housed me as an embryo. Mama re-emerged smelling of fresh emotional wounds, her face cloaked in grief. The slap that came from her wide palm was well aimed as it landed on the softest part of my face where I could feel the pain most. But that was Mama for you, she was like a blacksmith who always beat me into shape each time I went against her commands.
‘If you bring a boy to my house to marry, I’ll kill you and kill myself then he will bury us,’ Mama said, hunkering down to eye level with my frame on the couch. Her voice was weighty, as if a certain fibroid had formed beneath her tongue, words coming out carefully like a child learning to read. But her voice was charged and powerful with tightness in her eyes.
‘I love Chike, Mama. And nothing, not even you, can stop us from being together.’ I left the house.
If Mama had waited for the day to come to an end at least, she would know I came back home to tell her I ended things with Chike, that I loved Chike but had to think about her. If she had been patient, she would know I didn’t plan to leave as she may have thought, that I didn’t plan to elope outside the country with Chike. She would know I went to tell Chike, whose lungs I longed to breathe through, that her happiness mattered to me and that if leaving him would make her happy, then I must and that, with a firm and unsure press of my lips against his, I left.
Instead she assumed; that I had left her, that I was only back to bring her shame, that her years of toiling and battling with flaming coals to give me the best education were all waste, that I was undeserving of her goodness, that she always knew our love was one-sided, unrequited, that she should have known earlier when I used excuses of exams or tests or practical or field trips to avoid seeing her, to know I never loved her, never cared a bit about her happiness, that she always strained to please me and would end that this day.
Mama assumed many things in this her letter glued to my sweaty, trembling palms. And this her frame hanging from the top of our low-ceiling-ed house, dangling like a defeated fish held with a hook, only that a rope was preventing her from falling, with sweat trickling down her face, would not hear me speak to clarify things but opened a space for disbelief to sit in me like a self-enthroned king, sent barbs of pain through my veins at each look. Mama was ungraspable the way it is to try and hold water in your palms. It was her world, always.
I wept all the way to Chike’s apartment, walking as if tiredness was settled like sediments in my limbs, where I found that he, too, had left me. Only that he wished me well with my mother, leaving me to bring his letter to my face and weep my sorrow into it.
About The Author
Onuchukwu Joseph Chimezie is a short story writer who studies engineering in a Nigerian University. He has been published on PraxisMagazine, TNC, AfricanWriters and other literary anthologies and blogs. He loves God, fried plantain and his family, exactly in that order. You can follow him on Instagram via @ProlifqMezie.