10th July, 2017.
It is just a few minutes past 11 a.m., and I am trudging across a narrow muddy path that leads home. I am sweaty and my breath is coming in shaky, discordant puffs. I am tired of running like a dolt without direction.
The path is lined with grasses, shrubs, and ancient withering trees, and the air reeks of urine from a thousand passersby that have relieved themselves on this weary road. It rained earlier, yet the smell of stale urine overpowers the petrichor. Even more laughable is the fact that ‘Do not urinate here’ signs are sprouting from every little corner of the road.
Crazy itch! Mad stupid itch!
My legs have begun to itch in that mind shattering and infectiously crazy way it does whenever I run. I was running from a man. He had brown matted dreads that hung down his lean frame, making him look like an overused mop stick. The man was decked in the latest fashion of jeans and a T-shirt, torn open in large conspicuous places. He had followed me for 2 aisles in the market before he whipped out a rusted bournvita tin and began to hit a jarring tune with a fork, calling me his wife.
That was when I realized he was mad.
I was running for so long, I did not realize I had left the market. There were no conflicting and agitated voices locked in the combat of haggling. There was no weird man – latching onto my arm with calloused palms, his voice laced with desperation and Igbo inflections – trying to coerce me into buying chinos from his shop.
I blindly kick a stone with my left foot, and the pain reverberates through my entire being, such that I am no longer able to feel the itch on my legs and thighs.
“Careful.” A voice says behind me. I turn around slowly and fearfully. I am quite sure I am alone on this cursed road, but again, I am wrong. A trivial looking boy of about sixteen steps out from the bushes with his long ugly legs. He is juggling a large yellow mango, and I instantly hate him.
“What were you running from?” He asks, and I cannot help but snicker at his dirty shorts and white singlet that had daffodils carved in the middle.
“A mad man. Not like it’s any of your business.”
He looks down.
“Is that why you’re laughing at my clothes?”
“Why won’t I? You’re dressed like a five-year-old me. Sissy.”
“Sissy?” He chuckles. “Says the girl who runs from a harmless mad man.”
I pick up my market bag and start walking, my steps bold and unflinching. He is laughing raucously at me now, and I wonder with disgust, how such unsettling cackle can come from a boy as young as that. I stop in my tracks. It would be stupid for me to let him go without giving him a piece of my mind. I turn to face him, and he is still juggling that mango with a stupid smirk on his face.
“You are a weak one, sissy boy. You know why? Your mates are out there doing real jobs, or going to school. And here you are, playing in the bush. Ehn? Get a life!” I say, with a coy smile of triumph, which fades away quickly when I see that my words have no effect on him. It takes only two steps for his gangly frame to reach me. He throws away the mango and places his hands on my shoulders.
“You have so much fire in your blood, little girl.”
I am suddenly speechless. His face is just a few inches from mine, and I notice for the first time, that he has startling brown eyes, and lush sensuous lips. His beards are just starting to sprout in resilient little coils, and his breath is tinted with the tropical sweetness of mangoes.
“Leave me alone!” I scream, and shrug out of his hold. He throws his hands up in mock resignation.
“Take it easy, okay? What’s your name?”
“Efeme.” I reply reluctantly.
He laughs again in that annoying way that once grated on my nerves, but it doesn’t sound so bad anymore.
“What kind of name is that? Where are you from?”
“Haha! So you’re from that tribe where young men tie wrappers and hold walking sticks? And eat gooey starch instead of real fufu? Answer me, starch girl.”
I am a little angry at this point so I pick up my bag and start walking, without bothering to give him a reply.
“Hey! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that!” He shouts, but I am already far gone on this narrow path. I am angry but I cannot wipe this smile from my face, or his beguiling brown eyes from my mind.
The children in my compound are dancing away with reckless glee, enthralled in a funny game of kpakpangolo. I sigh and wish the years would tumble downwards, and I would end up being six again. Not 14, tired, plagued with the passionate affection of a mad man, and burdened with the searing pangs of ‘what I cannot describe’, that I feel for the weird mango boy.
My mami is home already, and my heart is thumping away in an erratic séance. I feel like a butterfly trapped in a bottle, but I have no time to fly about frantically. The only escape is to face Mami, who has a scowl on her face, and an empty pot on the floor between her legs.
“Ozwai! Tivo wö vwa ra vwè siëye? Where have you been?”
“Mami, I’m sorry. A mad man pursued me, and I saw this boy that…” I do not complete my sentence and she begins to scream.
“Hei! Oghene! A boy? Efeme what did you say?”
Again she doesn’t wait for my reply, and in an instant, heavy thunderous blows begin to land on my back, my stomach, my face, until I drop to the ground like a sack of discarded potatoes. In the background, my Pa is asking her to leave me alone, and my sisters; Rukevwe, Preye and Maro are crying. Mami’s fury is blinding and she is never going to leave me until I am an inch away from inhaling hades’ breath. Suddenly, she stops hitting me and rushes out of the house. It hurts to open my eyes, but I force them open by tiny slits. Her wrapper has come undone and she is prancing around in her tight, muttering about how she would teach me a lesson, and how well behaved she was at 14.
She is pounding something, maybe dinner, but I am too tired to get up and help, so I lay there, sprawled on the hard cement of the kitchen floor. Pa is going on and on about heavy hands and bible and rods and children, but I am too tired to say a word and everything hurts.
I feel the razor tearing into my shoulders in crazed vertical slashes, before I perceive the raw sting of fresh pepper. Mami is crying and rubbing pepper on the wounds she has cut, she hikes my skirt up, pulls down my underwear and smears pepper all over my vagina. Someone is screaming and hurting and clawing at mami’s face, but it is not me. It is not me. I am standing on a muddy path, staring into mango boy’s brown eyes.
Mami brought me pepper soup at night. She tapped me till I woke up, and said only one word to me.
My friend, Kome, says that in America, parents apologize to their children and children can report defaulting parents to the police. I am sure I will never be so privileged. Tomorrow morning, I would kneel down to greet migwo, and apologize for what I have not done. When I get well, I would massage mami’s back with Relaxin cream, because it would hurt from having beating me so hard. I should have never mentioned boy because my elder sister, Vohro, ran away with a mechanic apprentice, and Mami has not gotten over it.
I search her eyes in the darkness for a hint of remorse or fear, but I see nothing, and I feel nothing. I can only perceive old spit and stale urine. Maro has begun drooling on the pillow, and she has wet the bed again. Mami is urging me with her eyes to finish up the pepper soup, but it tastes like bile.
I want to go to America.
29th July, 2017.
It’s been two weeks and five days since I last saw mango boy, and since I almost died. Mami has stopped me from leaving the house, so it came as a surprise when she left the house in my care for the weekend. She is going out with Pa for a Christian convention. I do not mind being alone, but I am sick of these children.
I have a headache just from thinking of going to that market but my sisters are hungry. It crosses my mind to send Rukevwe who is 8 years old. The thought is enticing, but if anything happens to her, Mami would cut off my head and use my skinned skull to boil a pot of banga soup.
I leave them playing in the compound and walk to the market, with a resolve to crush any mad man standing in my path, or any seductive vessel of the devil, holding yellow mangoes.
For some insane reason that I do not know, I am taking the narrow bushy path.
I can almost smell him.
“Starch girl!” He calls out, and I am startled by how much I wanted this to happen, unconsciously. I turn around, and when I see him, my heart feels like the white pulp of a soursop. He is wearing carefully pressed black shorts and a checkered shirt that has…. Complete buttons!
“Like what you see?”
“Who wears fine clothes in a bush?”
“Me, girl. Just for you.”
He has a wide smile that is almost puerile in its sincerity.
“Do you know that, when the sun’s glow hits your eyes, it turns really light brown, almost like it is dancing with golden fire?”
“That is the cutest thing I have ever heard.” He says, his smile gets broader and my heart thumps even louder.
“You are just a stupid boy.”
“Ah ahn… How can you spoil a good moment like this?”
He is smiling but I almost want to apologize. For calling him a stupid, for thinking he has ugly long legs.
“I don’t know your name,” I say, and jut my chin out in a show of defiance. As if looking fierce would conceal the burning heat that was spreading all over my cheeks.
“You really want to know?”
“Just call me Tarzan.”
“Let’s see, because I swing trees?”
“Then your name should be monkey or baboon, not Tarzan.”
He chuckles in a way that makes my eyes light up. He is coming really close to me now, and I feel dizzy with delight.
“Starch girl, I really like you.”
“My name is Efeme.”
“Is that so?” I can see myself in his pupils now. “Then I really like you, Efeme.”
He is bringing his lips down on mine and I cannot breathe. It is like there is dynamite inside my chest, threatening to explode. My body is too small to contain this, my heart too fragile, my mind too petrified.
I gasp and pull away when I suddenly realize where we are.
“Get out.” I say, in a voice that surprises me.
He has a wounded look in his eyes but I avert my gaze and stare at a lizard running past.
“Why? What’s wrong?”
I pull down my sleeves to expose the ugly vertical scars on my shoulders. “You see this? You caused it! All of it!” By this time, I am coughing and sobbing, and there is a tight ball of sadness, constricting my chest, and making it hard to breathe.
“My God.” He whispers and makes to touch it, but I flinch and back away quickly.
“Who did this to you?”
“My… My mother.”
“You shouldn’t have to go through this.” He says through gritted teeth, anger resonating in every word.
“Just leave me alone.”
“Run away with me.”
“What?” I stop sobbing, and I begin to laugh. The laughter comes from a deep dark place in my being. A place I have doubted exists. I am laughing and clutching my tummy because the laughter makes my stomach hurt, and I am going to kill this mango boy.
“Liar! Liar! Stupid useless liar. I know your type. It is boys like you that get girls pregnant and run away. What are you now? A mutineer? Leave me alone! Silly bastard.”
I pick up pebbles from the road and begin to throw them at him. He is screaming my name and telling me to stop, but I can’t. He is hurt and his voice is cracked and he is choking on his tears. But I keep throwing the pebbles at him, and calling him a bastard. All I can see through the tears, is Mami bearing down on me with a sharp razor, glistening with the red liquid of freshly ground pepper.
I run without looking back.
People say time heals.
Bunch of conniving liars.
The only thing time has done, is to leave me haunted with bouts of regret, and a feverish longing.
Nowadays, I do not care what Mami does to me anymore. When she leaves the house, I forget to feed my sisters. And when they begin to cry, I slam a flimsy bowl of garri and salt on the dining table. Everything makes me so angry.
I am tired of screaming at my sisters and being trapped in this cocoon of silence and invisibility, so I am taking a walk today.
The narrow path looks different now. It is dry and filled with red earth that makes everyone’s leg dusty and leaves brownish hue on the once green grasses and shrubs.
At the market, I pass a stall that has mind boggling pyramidal arrangements of eggs and canned foods. It is so beautiful that I stand there staring at it, wondering how it would all topple down if I removed two eggs from the bottom of the artificial hierarchy. I am still staring at it when a large buxom woman smacks the back of my head.
“Ozwai! What are you staring at? You want to be the next to die abi?”
“Die how?” I reply while rubbing my head, certain that she has taken something out of my destiny by touching my head.
The woman raises her plump hands in the air and rubs her palms together. She seemed very happy to be the one telling me the juicy story.
“Didn’t you hear? The son of the mad man is dead! He was bludgeoned to death when he tried to steal pain relievers from the chemist.”
“Which mad man? When did this happen?”
The woman turns down her lips and looks at me as if I am an unrepentant ignoramus.
“Look at this mumu o. The son of the mad man na, the mad man that calls every female his wife. And the son, that poor boy that plucks fruits for his mother to sell. I think this happened about a month ago o! Hmm… But it is still the talk of the town. I hear he was getting the drug for his girlfriend… This world! He even…”
I refuse to hear more. My mind is twisting and turning and whirling, like a matrix winding on itself. I cannot see the teeming crowd that has formed around me. It is like staring at my reflection in a turbulent body of water, everything comes off in distorted shapes.
I am sitting in the middle of the road, and the plump woman is shouting for water, everyone is talking and I realize I have to get up quickly before they begin to ask questions. I make to stand up, but my legs are wobbly and I fall back down. That was when it hit me. I never knew his name.
Image: Pixabay.com remixed