It had been seven weeks, since the government of the state, declared a total lockdown, to combat the spread of the dreaded Corona Virus disease.
What every body had come to nickname “Coro baby”. Trust Nigerians, never to miss a joke in any situation. Perhaps making jest of the disease, was their way of ameliorating their fears and calming the uncertainties COVID-19 brought along itself. But for Rukaya, there was no jest making of her problems. They were ever present, like cracked feet and chapped lips on harmattan mornings.
Saminu her husband a keke driver, had become worse since he stopped moving out for business. She could manage the stress her six children gave, but Maigida’s troubles had taken a new turn. He had never hit her whenever they quarreled. He only hurled insults at her and threatened to bring a new wife, if she didn’t behave herself. Lately however, he had given her the beatings of her life more than thrice. The first time, She had complained of a headache and waist pain, when he tried to shove her wrapper up her waist, in the middle of the night. Sex had become their palliative, since the lockdown began but it was becoming rigorous and she desired a break that night. She got more than she wished for. Saminu sat up and yanked the wrapper off, when she pulled it back down from her waist. Amidst her angry protest, he slapped her, pushed her down the shaky bed and mounted her with his hands covering her mouth. “If you wake Farida, you’ll see.” Farida was the last child and was barely two years old. She shared the room with her parents and slept in their middle, while the rest of her five siblings, shared the next room.
The latest beating she received, happened when she had forgotten to take in the soup pot from the kitchen, to the bedroom. The soup which was prepared with five pieces of meat, originally gotten from three main pieces, was left at the mercy of prodding fingers, in the kitchen shared by three other families. Rukaya had gone to fetch some corn flour for the tuwo and when she returned, three pieces of meat had vanished! nobody was sure if it was taken by one of her six children, or a neighbor’s child, or even an adult neighbor at that. Everybody was hungry these days. And before she could tactfully slice the already stretched meat pieces a second time, Saminu came into the kitchen to demand for his food. He froze at the sight of his wife with a knife and a piece of meat in her hands. “What are you doing Rukaya?” “so this is how you steal meat before serving me?” before she could utter a word, her face received two heavy slaps. The kind of slap her children and their friends called “shegen mari” whenever they cracked jokes among one another. She lost her footing and hit the pot of boiling corn gruel on the stove. The contents felt like volcanic lava on her tender henna painted legs. Sliding slowly and sticking lazily to her green slippers. She screamed helplessly and that earned her some knocks. “Kiyishuru!”(shut up) Saminu ordered. “Na ce kiyishuru!” ( I say shut up) With that, he dragged her out of the cooking area, her swollen skin grazing the muddy floor and peeling in the process. “Ka barni!” (leave me alone) she managed to yell and with one fast move, he kicked her teary face, with his sandaled foot. “wawuya” (fool) he cursed, between ragged breaths and strolled into the house, like a victorious athlete.
Ruqaya’s first child Amina, quietly came to her mother and whispered “sorry mama” as she propped her by the wall. She went into the kitchen, put off the stove half of whose wigs were flattened by thick corn gruel while the others burned a dull red. She covered the pot of soup and came out with a bowl of cold water and a handful of salt in it. “Barin wanke kafan ki” ( let me wash your leg) she said, using her veil to wipe the tears off her mother’s swollen face.
April 2010, I was 13 years old. young, dreamy, naive and excited about my perfectly written future, stored in my classified mental safe. I believed everything I saw on the news. I stood at sacred attention, with my right hand placed firmly on my tender chest and sang the national anthem very loudly, on assembly days.
My civic education teacher Miss Rifkatu, developed a fondness for me, because of that. Back home, whenever it was time for the nightly network news, we would incidentally be having our evening meal. We usually ate late. We still do. After the introductory jingle, we would hear headlines like; “Federal government approves 50 billion naira railway project” “Federal government, to tackle Educational crisis, before 2020″ ” We would compete with world economies, by 2020″ ” Nigeria would be one of the safest places to live, by 2020″ I always listened with rapt attention, because a good civic education student, was a listener of news. And a good listener of news was rich in knowledge of country and country men. Eventually, such student would be a good leader of tomorrow. – This was Miss Rifkatu’s philosophy. However, while I slowed my eating and listened to the news, My father hissed in between bites of delicious food, like an angry snake. It always sounded like some sort of magic making. How was he able to manage a loud hiss, with a morsel of garri and ogbono soup, or a spoonful of jollof rice in his mouth, without choking? I had always wondered. Well, since a child was not supposed to question her parents, I focused on my own plate. Once we were at dinner, and the first headline that came over the news, said ” Federal government sympathizes with families of robbery disaster victims” This time, my father paused his eating and watched while the lady on the screen, rolled out horrible news with a poker face. Travelers who had taken the night bus, to go to the east for business, had been accosted by armed robbers. They were all ordered to lie on the road, while the operation went on. Another oncoming bus, had refused to stop, to suffer the same fate. The seasoned driver on sighting the tell tale signs of an ongoing robbery, ordered his passengers to lie flat, while he sped on amidst warning shots from the irate robbers. He sensed a robbery, when he had seen his sister bus, parked empty and abruptly, on the notorious Abuja-Okene highway. But he didn’t envisage that humans were lying on the same highway tummy flat. He climbed upon them, in his dangerous race for life.
Just two passengers, survived that gory incident. The next morning, residents woke up to see their road, littered with mangled corpses. when bodies were lodged in the mortuary, some had 8 fingers. 5 on the right hand, 3 on the left hand. Some had bloodied intestines dangling from the sides of their stomachs. The corpse of a pregnant woman, had her baby rupture her left side and its brain peep out of its head. perhaps it was 6 months old, perhaps 7. Nobody really knew. The newspaper dailies, looked like Horror novels that week. The Country was in pain. But my father’s pain, was mixed with rage. He hurled insults at the government. ” Nde ojor” (wicked people) “Nde osi” (thieves) “is that not the same Abuja Okene road they claimed they spent 20 billion naira to repair? Is it not the same road they claimed they spent money to equip police men to patrol? When do they plan to stop telling bloody lies? What now happens to the families of those traders? My mother was careful in her pleas. “Biko take it easy. You’ll develop a chest pain”. But he didn’t care. The state of things in the country, had given him more than a chest pain. It had also given him a terrible hissing habit. This was not the first time, a thing like this was happening. In 2009, 40 travelers were crushed to smithereens by a trailer lorry, along Sagamu-Benin highway, when armed robbers ordered their unfortunate victims to lie on the road, while their deadly operation lasted. Everybody who didn’t understand the trauma of losing a loved one in such animalistic manner, blamed the victims for traveling at night. But you see, I didnt understand the state of things. I didn’t understand why whenever my parents friends came over, they sat in circles and asked ; “what will remain for these children?” “What kind of calamity is this?” I didn’t ask them any questions. I merely Concluded that they blamed the wrong people. I thought the robbers were pure evil and the government was innocent. After all they sympathized with the bereaved families didn’t they?.
I carried on with my dreams. And by this time, I had decided that when the time was ripe, I was going to attend Oxford university so that I would have an edge over my mates when tomorrow came, and it was time to lead. In April 2014, I was 17 years old. Still young, dreamy and excited about my safely kept future. This time, I listened to news, over the radio because as a border in one of the most prestigious missionary schools in the city, Televisions and phones were prohibited. I heard more disheartening news. More robberies had happened, countless accidents that claimed lives because the roads had potholes, the size of ditches, had also happened. Civil unrest had become almost regular, that residents now walked on eggshells on Sundays and Fridays. On these days, the girls in the hostel didn’t sneak out of school, because nobody knew when we would hear; “Anfara!” ( they have started) But I found solace in the fact that I would go to Oxford, and study and come back to lead, and change the hypertensive headlines, that made my father hiss all the time. Now, my parents had never said No. They hadn’t said Yes either, but at least they didnt reject my request to go to oxford. The country was merely facing an unfortunate National challenge, like every other great nation. I told myself. There was no need to give up, when tomorrow was nearer already. One evening during the night prep, we overheard the teachers on duty, discuss about a certain “Chibok school” and how “Naija don tire person” We didnt fully understand what the chibok school had done, so my friends convinced me to ask Miss Rifkatu, now Mrs Rifkatu to some. She first offered me hot tea from her large purple flask, before narrating to me how Boko Haram, had invaded a school somewhere in the North East, and abducted about 100 girls who were borders. Borders like myself and my friends. She touched her slightly protruded belly while she talked, and adjusted her seemingly tight wedding ring, continually. She said to me; my baby girl you see that Nigeria is gradually becoming a nightmare? you see that you children have a lot of work to do? I sat in the staff room shocked and dazed. Boko haram was real afterall. But the news didn’t tell me so. The news said the sect was merely seeking for attention, and was to be ignored by all well meaning Nigerians. I felt betrayed by the TV at home, and my radio in school. Days passed, and security measures around my school, had increased. The security men became aggressive, and turned back any visitors who could not identify themselves satisfactorily. My father did not care. He came to see me the very next day, and caused a scene at the entrance, insisting that he must talk to me before leaving. Miss Rifkatu had recognized him from the staff room window, and sent for Me. As I walked to his car, he stood watching me intently. Perhaps he was wondering what would have happened if it were the girls in my school, and not the girls of Chibok, Boko haram had gone for. When I reached, he hugged me with his firm hairy hands. NNE Kedu? How are you doing here? Fine sir. I replied happily. Did you have your devotion this morning? he asked. Yes sir. I replied again. He told me how Some girls had been kidnapped, and how the government said they were ontop of the situation . He told me how my mother wanted me withdrawn from boarding school, because it was no longer safe. He told me how business was tight, but God was faithful. He said with disgust, how political profiteers were more interested in the First lady’s lamentation speech and her grammatical blunders, than they were in the return of the poor girls. After handing me a white leather bag containing Freshly baked French bread and some tins of Luna milk, he held my tender hands, and prayed for me and my school. Life continued, and for months, we prayed and fasted for the Chibok girls to return. We commanded fire upon the terrorists camp. We begged God to please keep the girls safe. And kept our trembly fingers crossed. After my graduation from secondary school, I didn’t write any SAT examination. My parents said there was no need. There was no money for Oxford. The Economy had become so bad, that it was increasingly difficult to feed your family well, and still give them the best education . Basic necessities were fast becoming luxury. So I ended up going to the federal university in the city. On Fridays, I avoided certain routes, and did not tarry in crowded areas. This was my mothers instruction. And so one of the days I had rushed to the bank on a Friday, to pay my fees to avoid an extra levy titled” late payment levy” which was a whooping 10,000 naira extra, I ran into an old friend. Miss Rifkatu. she screamed with delight, and embraced me for long. ” My baby girl, look how you’ve grown! ” You’re now a young lady! We talked about life after graduation, and how it was hard to gain admission, because the state was not my catchment area. I asked after her hubby, and she told me Boko haram killed him, while he worked as an aid worker in Michika. I felt the urge to vomit as I struggled with the stinging tears in my eyes. By this time, other customers on the queue had tactfully bypassed us, but we didnt bother. I didn’t know how else to comfort her, so I said I will visit you. Give me your address. As she penned down her address, her wedding ring no longer looked tight. Her fingers looked like the phalanges on my childhood health science chart selotaped to our dinning wall. Her cuticles were cracked and her nail polish nearly worn out. Something had died in my Miss Rifkatu. When the queue was nearly finished, a shy looking young man with crotchety hair, who had been sneaking glances at me from the counter came over and said ” hello young lady, can I help you? you’ve been standing for hours. I said help me and my Aunty too. Miss Rifkatu cast a weak smile at me and whispered ” he likes you”.
Its been months now and the headline on the news says “Chibok girls return home” We all say a weak thank God. Not because we’re not grateful, but because we know that it is not over. We know that we may soon hear about a raid on an army barrack or an unsuspecting village. We know that we may put on the TV, and hear of a bomb blast, in the market, on a market day. And we are not unaware of the fact that we may be in the middle of the market, buying jeans trousers or novels or pricing fresh fish and vegetables, when the bomb goes off. And this frightful reality, puts us all in a box. A box of anxiety, where our anthem is now “May God help us o”. Many months pass, and while I am at a restaurant with my shy Banker boyfriend, we hear of another abduction. Dapchi school girls. 107 of them, shoved into rusty trucks, like bags of grains. And carted away into spooky forests. It is now dangerous to go to school. I’m now 21, an enlightened young adult, but my tomorrow seems elusive. I no longer believe the news. I no longer remember the full stanza of the national anthem. My university is on strike and I have now developed a hissing habit. Everything makes me hiss. The repulsive headlines,of kidnappers abducting a whole bus. Bandits attacking a community and killing hundreds, the government coming to warn Nigerians to stop “multiplying figures of casualties” as if basic arithmetic was a problem for natives in the rural communities. As if they didn’t know how to count the corpses of their loved ones, whose deaths they witnessed, during each prolonged attack. Boko haram making sex slaves out of female captives, and slaughtering male captives like stubborn rams. State Governors reluctant to pay 30,000 naira minimum wage to fellow countrymen, who have children in school to fend for. Now I understand why my dear father hissed in between mouthfuls. Now I understand why some of my classmates back in secondary school, did not watch the news because according to their parents, it was better to watch Telemundo or wrestle mania and entertain themselves, than sit in front of the government’s media and swallow lies. Now I understand why so many of my mother’s customers at the market, didn’t like the idea of sitting at home for 24hours, to mark a National holiday. Now I understand why our goat meat customer, would always snort and say “Independence gbakwa oku ebá!” ( independence catch fire there) whenever my mother wished him a happy one. I now understand why our tailor would always shout “fimile O jaré!” whenever I wished her a happy democracy day. “Na democracy go feed my pikin dem?” Now I understand why robbery gangs have brilliant graduates amongst them. I now see why students forget so easily, the story behind the name Nigeria, and her flag. These younglings are disenchanted and all want to run to neighboring countries, when they grow up. My society is now chaotic. I do not even have the sanity to dream anymore. But what’s worse, is they do not seem like they are ready to stop lying to us. To me, who believed all they fed me, hook line and sinker. They have stashed my tomorrow away, where they think I would never find. But you see, my tomorrow must come to fulfilment I would snatch it, and reclaim my country. And if it has become parched and rusty from being on the shelf of deception and systemized corruption, for so long, I would moisten it the blood of Miss Rifkatu’s slain husband, and the blood of so many unmentioned matyrs, who have involuntarily laid down their precious lives for a country, that specializes in chasing rats, when her house is on fire. My tomorrow definitely will come off that shelf. And then I would tend to her emaciated flesh and nourish her until she can stand on her feet again. Do I hate my government? No! Do I love my government? well I do not know either, but one thing I know, is I want my own seed to sing thier national anthem as loud as i did when I was little. and when that time comes, I want this country to be worth the passion and vibrance in the hearts of those children. I do not want to carry on with my hissing habit, when its time for my children to sit around my table,for the evening meal, and watch the nightly news.
Written by: Ohuche Mercy Kalu, with love and anger.
My family, is one of the most dramatic you would find in Sub Saharan Africa. Full of Christians, and only a handful of traditionalists. We’ve got a number of atheists too. Now this combination of idiosyncrasies, make it almost impossible to have an interesting family reunion, or at least, a sane one. One year, an uncle has performed ‘pagan’ rituals in the family compound, another year, an Aunty has behaved in a manner, only ‘women of easy virtue’ would.
My cousins and I would always watch with curious disgust, as every festive holiday, turned to a theatrical market square meeting. And we would all return to the city, bearing tales of madness, arrogance, and pathetic illiteracy, to take us till the next family trip. Last year, an event happened that brought seeming unity to the family. ; My elder brother, got married to the most meek lady we all had ever seen. Now, this unity wasn’t necessarily because all were genuinely happy for him, No. It was because the chain of events surrounding his marriage, had ‘silenced’ a common foe. That common foe, being my darling mother. So in a shared intimate dislikeness among family members, like a common cold during the rainy season, every one else had a reason to laugh so loud at inconsequential boring jokes, even though the person cracking such joke, wasn’t in their good books. They were suddenly keen on making sugary compliments about one another’s children. A dress, a bracelet, or even a smile. (Details they had all pretended not to see, in the previous years.) Even though in the privacy of their rooms, they would still say things like; ” its bad enough that she’s bleaching her skin, how can she add a leg chain to the mix?” or, ” That one thinks because she traveled to America once, she now has the right to plait her sons hair. Tufia!”
All of these envious chit chat, took the backstage this time around, all for one reason- my mother had been put in the place, where she belonged. Now, my brother being the first grandson of the extended family, and one who had become a professor at 35, was a celebrated man. The wedding ceremonies were going to be the biggest that year. My mother had always brandished him with exaggerated pride,to other family members, as the first ‘true’ grandchild of my grandparents, because the other wives had bore girls, even though they had come in before her, and their daughters were excellent figures, in the fields they had chosen. She made him her Axe, her sword, her handbag and her trumpet all at the same time. My dear brother, being the eldest in my own nuclear family, had three other siblings. Myself and our youngest sisters who were twins. But I was like a makeshift mum, who filled in for our healthy and vibrant mother, while she was around. I knew the first day, they had started to see their periods. And I was startled, at how horrified they were, because according to their biology mistress, once a girl had started to see her ‘monthly visitor’ she was no longer eligible to play with boys. For if a boy touched her, she would get pregnant! My little sisters, amidst the cramps that came with menstruation, didn’t know how to break the news to their male counterparts. They would no longer ride bicycles together, or play chess, or even arm wrestle together. It took so many days of wisdom and experience, to explain the rudiments of puberty to them, and puncture the hilarious myths, they had been indoctrinated with, in the name of sex education. I knew when senior boys, had started to chase after them, like bees hovering around a honey pot, I knew when they had started to sneak in plastic roses, doused in excess perfume and attached to fancy teddy bears, on valentines day. I knew their preferred brand of sanitary towels and skin wipes. I understood their mood swings and knew how to call them to order, when all others thought they were merely being pesky. We read the love letters together, and guffawed over the outrageously erotic ones, which we set ablaze after reading. we agreed that only the genuinely romantic ones, were worthy of remaining on the dresser.
Since male visitors were vehemently prohibited in the house, I sent invitations to the persistent admirers to come to my flat downtown,where I could keep an eye on my sisters and the boys in their lives, and I surely threatened the unscrupulous ones who specialized in enticing my little ladies, with erotic notes. This was primarily my mother’s job, not only because she was the mother of the house, but because they were female like her, and only she could teach them out of seasoned experience, the paths, a woman’s body towed, as it evolved. But she was preoccupied with the most valuable fruit of her womb, our brother. She was always on Skype after her return from the office, asking how his day went, and how dutiful his girlfriend was, to ease the stress that came with his work. ” I hope she doesn’t put too much pepper in your soup?”, ” I hope she’s not the type that spends so much money shopping online?”, ” tell her to make moi-moi this weekend now, you’ve been eating too much rice lately”. -Even though he wasn’t complaining.
My brother’s meek girlfriend being a fast learner, came into the elite Iheanacho Family, bearing gifts of honor, submission and complacence. Something that tickled the elders fancy. The wedding ceremony was almost as elaborate as our new yam festival. And we were proud of our family. Our new wife, would know that we didn’t come to play. Now, she was everybody’s darling. And was fondly called; nwunyé Professor, meaning- Professor’s wife. Its been one year now, and she has put to bed. She had a set of quadruplets. All boys. Her gifts have worn out. She no longer listens to unsolicited advice. She now remembers she is a first class graduate of Gynaecology, a grown ass adult, and a woman who is Queen of her home. Yesterday My mother woke me with her incessant phone calls, and when I grudgingly sent a hello over the phone, her anger came pouring in torrents. ; “can you imagine, that witch said I cannot tell her what to cook in her husbands house!” ” My own son, who sucked my own breasts? Amara has the effrontery to tell me not to change her husband’s office flask, without asking her” Is it because she now has boys ? Am I not her fellow woman? At this point, I am not only disappointed, but excited too. Finally, my mother has found her antivirus. Why was she enraged? I chuckle to myself, how did she ever think she would sit around the fire,and not break a sweat? The young lady had just given her a taste of her own medicine, in quadruple measure.
For some of us, the Bogeyman wasn’t just a fabled figure. For some of us, he was a material part of our wobbly childhood. He was everybody’s best friend, but me. To mummy, he was such a sweet soul. And to daddy, he was a promising young chap. To the neighbours, he was the future Ronaldinho. But to me, well he was the Bogeyman. Once I wondered if it was because I had a penchant for rolling my eyes, whenever he snapped at me or because I was fond of tumbling around the house, in my knickers. But my best friend, who has worn a hijab all her life, and has always been the nicest kid, has a Bogeyman too. Sometimes, we sit and talk about the crazy injuries we got as boisterous kids. But the Bogeyman’s injuries somehow stay off our discussion plate. We carefully sidestep that part, and talk about the weather instead. Why? You ask? Well, its because my fractured elbow which I got when I fell at the playground as a kid, healed afterwards. And my twisted ankle, which I got when I fell from our Mango tree, healed as well. But you see, when the Bogeyman pulled down my knickers one Sunday afternoon and poked me in between my thighs, it never healed.
Written by Ohuche Mercy Kalu, in honour of sexual assault survivors.
Hello wonderful people, welcome to nkiru’s scroll! This is a space, where I’d be sharing my thoughts as they flow, via stories, fiction or non fiction, articles, essays and a variety of other means, as time goes on. I’m excited already, and I know we’d have an interesting time here. Just us, stepping out of our shells and having profound conversations, about the things that nourish our minds. Thank you for checking in!