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Baby: Fiction by Chukwuemeka Nwagu

Image: john.schultz via Flickr (modified)
Image: john.schultz via Flickr (modified)

The flame in the small lantern sitting on the small table has been turned a little too high, so that a sick blackness is spreading across the globe. Mama Chibuzo is sitting on the sofa; Chibuzo is lying face down on the bed, wearing Tourre’s number-9 jersey. Mummy-Nnukwu thinks he is asleep, rolls him over to one end and raises the bed sheets to beat the sand and insects and other particles off. Mummy-Nnukwu is a very tall woman. Her shadow on the top part of the wall near the calendar looks like a giant squid. She makes the bed, returns Chibuzo to the centre and then sits by the pillow, looking very sternly at Mama Chibuzo.

“What do you say is the matter now, eh Ezinne?”

Mama Chibuzo does not answer. Mummy-Nnukwu gets up again, goes to the lantern and turns the wick down a little. Even for this move, she makes sure that she is erect; she stands up straight, refolds her wrapper, walks dragging her bare feet on the floor, picks up the lantern, turns down the wick and puts the lantern down again. While she is preparing to go back to her place at the head of the bed or while looking for something else to do, one thing or the other, the dark room bursts into yellow light. Revealed above the lighted bulb is a dangling spider; it is happy because, now, all the flying insects would start to come to its web.

Immediately, there is the noise of rejoicing from outside. They sound muffled but there is one loud voice that says ‘Premier League!’ clearly. “They have brought the light again,” says Mummy-Nnukwu, going to the window to pull the curtains and look into the speckled electrified night.

“I was expecting them to bring it,” Ezinne says, but Mummy-Nnukwu does not hear it and does “Heeh?” like a crazy woman.

Chibuzo stirs in his supposed sleep, stretches out his two hands and two legs and yawns into the pillow. He gets up, climbs down and starts for the door fumbling at his trouser fly and with the shorts he is wearing inside.

“Who is that?” asks his mother raising her head. “Chibuzo, where are you going?”

“Let me urinate.”

“Go back to that bed now!”

Chibuzo scrambles back into bed and buries his face.

“Meaning what, Ezinne? What wickedness is that one? Let the child urinate!”

“Mummy, he has urinated. TV is what he wants to watch.”

“Rubbish. Chibuzo go and urinate… I said get up, go and urinate!”

“Leave me alone!” says Chibuzo.

“O-ho,” says Mama Chibuzo.

“All right. I see, nwa m,” says Mummy-Nnukwu. “…Ezinne is this where you are going to sleep yourself? On this chair?”

“Mummy, go to sleep. I don’t feel like sleeping yet.” Mummy-Nnukwu silently contemplates this for a while. Then she gets up from the bed, reties her wrapper and goes to bring a chair, but Ezinne’s voice reaches her.

“I knew that you would not go to bed. You are going to bring a chair, sit down and start watching me. I don’t know why you are always worrying. Did you not just come from the village, and after your journey you want to do vigil with me?”

“Did you then choose this night you know I am coming to do your vigil. The vigil you are doing, can it not wait until the child is born?”

“I said you should go to sleep, Mummy.”

Mummy-Nnukwu goes on to bring the chair. She carries it close to the sofa, sets it down and sits with a grunt of completed exertion. They sit wordlessly for three minutes.

Then Ezinne begins to get up. Mummy-Nnukwu helps her get into bed. She covers her legs and goes over to her side of the bed and gets her torch from her bag, before going to the switch on the wall by the door and plunging the room into darkness. She gets to her bedside again with the help of her torchlight, covers her own legs and begins to say some prayers, which sound like murmuring to Chibuzo, for three and a half minutes; finally she switches off the torch.

In the blackness, Chibuzo opens his eyes. Who the hell the funky. The two pillows on the bed cradle the heads of the two women; Chibuzo cradles his head in his right arm, his mouth against the back of his hand. His left hand is close to his face and he tries to look at his thumb but does not see it. There is light coming in through the curtain he is facing. Leaving his eyes open was the same thing as closing them if he is not looking at the window. He snuggles tighter into the blanket, wonders how his mother is lying, whether the baby is facing him or facing the other side. If it is facing the other side, then it is better for him, for free rolling. But he does not want to turn over to check; he pushes out his buttocks to feel for his mother, but the movement was too slight, or did he even move at all? He tries again and does not feel anything. He wonders that he is lying between two big rocks, safely and soundly. If it is not for the baby in the womb, he would have been free to roll about any way he wants. If it is raining, what would happen? Scar scar! The lightening would be striking the window and striking the window. And the thunder shaking the house and shaking the house. Oh God he likes sleeping in the rain! Not under the water, sleeping when it is raining. He remembers those days when if it was raining in the night, he would not even know when Mummy and Ebuka would go down and start fetching water and fill the drum in the kitchen, and it would be a surprise when he woke up. Water everywhere. All the drums, all the gallons, all the buckets and all the bowls, filled with water.

He hears scratching from on top of the wardrobe. Must be a roach. He ensures that his toes are covered by the blanket. Some roaches can fly, especially in the night. The scratching begins again. The roach is struggling to come out from where it has been hiding during the day. This scratching: struggling and struggling and struggling. Roacherman. He is certain to a large extent that this evil, blackness roacherman will not perch on him where he is lying, so it does not disturb him so much unless that whenever the scratching begins, he stops to listen. When the scratching stops, he assumes that it is now out and is roaming about the room. God please make an Agama agama eat this roach. Chibuzo remembers one of his classmates, Ekene Prosper, last term who said that there were no cockroaches in their house because his father had a device that he used for killing them. He said that the device looked like Shell Tox, but that you did not need to press it. Once you put the thing in any room, all the cockroaches in that room would die at once. When he asked his mother about that type of shell, she said there was nothing like it. But Prosper said they had it in their sitting room.

And there was a day he fought with Prosper. This Prosper. They were in the playground playing during break, no, they had already rung the bell for end of break but they had not yet entered their classes. He went to that place under the biggest swing where he kept his shoe lace, but it was not there. He began to ask his classmates. He saw Prosper running with his lace. When he caught him, Prosper said that the lace belonged to him. Chibuzo was very sure it was his own. Prosper told him to get out, and pushed him down. Chibuzo got up and brushed Prosper down and they began to fight in the field while everybody went back to their classes. Then their teacher, Mr. Ibekwe flogged them six-six in front of the class because of how rough they were. And it was Prosper that was always smacking his head. Prosper and Osinachi. But still, two of them are his friends, though not his best friends. His best friend is Victor, of course. Another one of his best friends is Mmasinachi. He does not know why Mmasinachi’s mother always shouts at Mmasinachi; like last Friday when they rang the bell for dismissal, Mmasinachi’s mother came into the class and started to shout at Mmasinachi and Mmasinachi was just looking at the blackboard.

Chibuzo mentally checks if he has done his assignment and remembers that he did it as soon as he came back from school – pages twenty-six to twenty-nine of Understanding Mathematics workbook, and the drawing that Mr. Ibekwe gave them to draw – thank God. So he is safe. If not, he would have jumped up quickly and said, “Mummy I’ve not done my assignment!” He remembers that when he finished doing his assignment, he put it in his bag and zipped the thing and kept it on top of the dining table. Ooh God, how did he forget this thing! There is still a piece of Digestive biscuit in his bag that he did not finish eating during break. That means two snacks for tomorrow. Yesterday, no, yes today, Chisom went and took the Capri-Sonne in the fridge leaving the biscuit for him. And yes! Mummy said that she would buy him Capri-Sonne tomorrow during school run. Victor always brings Capri-Sonne to school. His mother is a trader in the market, so every day when he is going to school, he just takes one Capri-Sonne for school. Sometimes, two. His mother has many cartons of Capri-Sonne, so just maybe he is free to take as many as he likes. And every time during break, Emeter will come and begin to beg for Capri-Sonne. One day, Chibuzo was drinking Capri-Sonne and Emeter came to beg him. He said no. Emeter refused to stop begging and began to follow him all around the field, so he turned and kicked him with his shoe. Emeter fell down and started crying and then one grade six [Primary-six] teacher came. Though the truth is that Emeter begged him once and he kicked him. Before the teacher came close, Chibuzo finished the Capri-Sonne, and when the teacher asked him he said that Emeter was following him about.

The reason why he lied was because Emeter does not know anything, every time he likes to urinate in his clothes inside the class. Every time he is given some strokes, he will start to cry even before the first stroke. Emeter’s face is very black and teeth face. Teeth teeth teeth.

Nkiru likes her hair done in a way that makes it look tattered. Prefect was very foolish to put Nkiru’s name in the list of noisemakers. Some people are very foolish. When they are being caned, instead of keeping still and being caned on the buttocks, they will start to – oh God, wasting everybody’s nonsense time. Nkiru was flogged on the hand because she is a girl. Although for Chibuzo, hand is more painful.

Who the hell the funky.

Who the hell the funky.

That reminded him of the television. Lord of the Rings. There was one part he watched today where a hobbit attacked Voldemort who was holding up the ring of invisibility, and they began to fight, with the invisible Voldemort, and it was so dangerous because… any slip, one of them will fall from the high cliff into the volcano lake. Ebuka said that the volcano lake was piping hot. Lord Voldemort was his best man. Voldemort. He wanted to be like Voldemort. Shain shain – the sound of Voldemort bringing out his sword. Chibuzo is smiling in the dark. The power… of Lord Voldemort.

They also watch Super Story. Falling Skies. That film shows the experience of soldiers fighting with aliens. Skitters. And there are so many experiences, so numerous. Many people dying. When next are they going to watch it? What is today? They did sports so today is Wednesday, tomorrow Thursday, exactly. By four. No missing! He remembers the skitter that he drew on the back of his Home Economics note. He wrote “skitter” on top of it. Justin asked him what he drew and he asked him could he not see that he wrote skitter. Justin said that that thing was not a skitter. Was that how a skitter’s eyes looked? Plus that he did not draw the two things that came out of its mouth. Justin drew Spider man flying down from the top of a house on a plain sheet. Chibuzo said he should draw Batman but Justin said he knew how to draw it but was not going to draw it because he did not like Batman. His brother told him that Batman is the weakest in the Justice League. Like there was that time when a girl attacked Batman and struck him to the ground. Justin called Batman the Batman instead of plain Batman. The Batman…

The light at the window increases because a car that is passing pours its headlight at the window. The room is for a time filled with the light, (in it he sees the curtain flying because of the wind, Mummy-Nnukwu’s big rump with her left hand on it, Mummy’s scarf hanging on the wall, a spider web, floating dust, the shadow of the burglary proof, and the shadow of the curtain) then it passes, at the same time as the sound of the car on the road. It must be a Mercedes Benz. The sound sounds like a ghost – ghooooost. A living ghost, a ghost thing. Who is driving a car in the night by this time? He wants to test thieves. After the light, Chibuzo’s mind becomes quiet. He hears the snoring of Mummy-Nnukwu. It has increased and sounded as if Mummy-Nnukwu was talking to somebody in her dream, saying… “Bia mpu-uu, biaaaa!” Mummy is breathing quietly behind him. Chibuzo thinks it is time to roll. He has stayed in the same position for a long time, and now it is time to roll. He stretches his legs and arms and yawns and slowly turns over; he adjusts the blanket to cover his legs again. Now he is facing Mummy, and the baby. Baby baby. Mummy is facing inside. Chibuzo reaches out his hand to touch the baby – the hand hangs for some seconds in mid-air – but what he touches is a soft breast. He withdraws his hand immediately; Mummy’s breathing has changed, so he left his hand outside the blanket as if it has been arrested in some act. When Mummy’s breathing returns to normal, he waits seven seconds then breathes out. He yawns and as if he is asleep, he flails his hands and lets one graze the belly. This time Mummy does not change her breathing. He has touched it, with the back of his hand. But still he touched it. The baby is asleep. And maybe dreaming. It can dream, only that it can’t remember it after. Not only that, they are also very, very wise. Like the newborn baby of Chigozie’s mother: if you wave something in front of him, he will raise his hand to take it; and if you put that thing at your back and bring out another thing and wave it for him, he will not even look at it. Showing that he knows it is not the same thing.

But this new baby – is going to be his best friend. It is a baby girl. Mummy has never given birth to a girl.

God make it to be a girl

Every day that is what they pray. If God answers their prayer, Mummy will give birth to a baby girl. Soft everything. Yeeeeee! Yeiiieeyee! Cry-cry baby. The baby will start sleeping in this place that he is sleeping now. Shaking her legs in the air. Baby. Tu tu tu. Tu tu tu tu tu.

Who the hell the funky. Chibuzo wonders what the time is. Mummy-Nnukwu’s snoring has changed and she is now telling that person another thing. The warm air coming from her mouth is touching his neck so he shifts. Everybody is sleeping except him, and he is not feeling sleepy at all. The reason is that he woke up from afternoon sleep very late. It was Mummy that told him to go and sleep in the afternoon expecting him to sleep again in the night. What if he does not sleep the whole of this night? There was one day during siesta, he and Chisom were lying down and whispered between them let’s know who would sleep off first; two minutes after closing their eyes, Chisom was already asleep – but because he slept off first he did not know it. Chibuzo has never been able to do that. When Chibuzo asked Chisom, he said that it was because he does not think about anything. Okay, Chibuzo begins to try it, to clear his mind but he is able to do it for only a few seconds before he begins to think about what he is doing thinking about nothing. He tries shaking his head in his mind and succeeds for longer. He decides that the only thing he is going to think about is sleep. So, sleep… sleep… ura… sleep… ura… sleeeeeeep. He is lying face down, stone quiet, hands folded under his head thinking about sleep. Somewhere behind the ear itches and he scratches the area and returns his hand to where it was. Another itch in the thigh, and he scratches at his trousers and returns his hand. It is best to start breathing steadily, and he does so, letting his chest rise and fall softly in imitation of a sound sleep.

There is clean soundlessness apart from Mummy-Nnukwu snoring; Chibuzo hears a cricket making noise somewhere close to the window. The cricket may be inside the room… because of how loud the scri-scri-scri is.

Oh shit, Chibuzo remembers to forget the cricket.

Sleep… Nothing is happening.

Suddenly, Mummy-Nnukwu snores out loudly pooooo, the wind rushing into Chibuzo’s left ear. Chibuzo does not even shake. Mummy-Nnukwu begins to rotate until she is lying on her back. When she was turning her body, she stopped snoring, but now she is facing up, she begins the real snoring. Sometimes she sounds as if she is growling like a lion and sometimes it will be as if she is blowing a trumpet. Chibuzo remembers the mouth of the big boy who blows trumpet in their church when people are going for offering, how big like a balloon. And the round mouth of the trumpet is small. One Sunday while Chibuzo was watching him playing his trumpet, the big boy stopped and started laughing, instead of playing his trumpet. Whenever he wanted to go close to the boy playing the drums, a fat boy whose head looked fat would come and carry him off saying, “Aboy, do you want to spoil something? You want to spoil something.”


Image: john.schultz via Flickr (modified)

Chukwuemeka Nwagu
Chukwuemeka Nwagu
Chukwuemeka Nwagu writes from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He has been published once in The Kalahari Review.


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