I am my mother’s fourth daughter, the one who did not give her any trouble coming out of her womb. She says I slid out hastily and softly like I had an urgent matter to attend to in the world. I did not give her any pain and there was no labour to speak of and that is how she knew she was going to pay for this stealth in her later years. She says children who steal their way into the world have a way of getting back at their mothers. Such children are often trouble and they send their mothers to early and painful graves. I may be my father’s thirteenth or fourteenth daughter depending on who wins the argument on seniority between me and my sister Dora. They say we were both born on New Year’s Eve, although my birth was somehow special. It wasn’t special in the Immaculate Conception way, but I am a unique child nevertheless. They say my head popped out to inspect the world just before midnight as the rest of my body was still gliding down my mother’s womb, trying to beat the clock. It was midnight and I was still on my way into the world, wiggling down the narrow path that would grant me independence from my mother, but I was never fully out until people finished counting down the clock and the whole village screamed – Happy new year! On the other hand, my sister was born at exactly 11:57 pm on the thirty-first, and that gives her the upper hand.
Although I allowed her the courtesy of claiming seniority, my sister has always been competitive. She has always set her standards too high and has often become a victim of manipulation due to her corrosive eagerness to please. Her tragic flaw is in that she has wasted her life trying to please the wrong man – my father. In her desperation to prove her worth despite being the third child of my father’s fifth wife, my sister missed the ignoble fact that my father is a frustrated man who cannot be pleased. He is a man who has built his iron identity on a foundation of clay. He has dreams, hopes, and ambitions, which his feeble foundation in life cannot support. My father believes that being a man is the greatest endowment nature can grant any human. He married seven wives to demonstrate his prowess and vitality. He drinks the strong drink nights without end just to show his peers that he would be the last man standing. He ploughs the fields, toiling in the heat of the day, just to prove that the heat only goes as far as his dark skin and cannot seep through to break his spirit. And in all his valour, my father failed to yield a male child from his groin. That is the root of his frustrations, and my sister fails to realise this truth.
Because she wanted to please my father so much, my sister became a mother before she was a woman. When we were thirteen and naive, the old man married her off. He let her be taken by a man with a squashed face and an irregular dental formula, whose stench gave us the sneezes. At first, this man used to beat my sister because he said she always cried when he wanted to perform his duties as a husband. He later beat her because he found his food cold when he came back from drinking in the wee hours of the morning. Then he resorted to beating her just because he wanted to beat her. When I asked my sister why she stayed with the monster, she just frowned. Then she told me that that was the way of marriage.
“Are you feeling sorry for me? He only knocked off a tooth from my mouth. He is not as bad as you think. You should go and open your mother’s mouth and see what our father has done to her over the years.”
And I looked at her in bewilderment – trying to pin down the heart of her stupidity.
“You think marriage is easy, huh? You will see!”
And I told her that I was not going to see and that was just a few weeks before I left the village for the city. But I did not leave the village until I witnessed my father’s thwarted death. I witnessed my father die and come back to life just like Jesus before him. The last time I saw him, there were women lying flat on the ground – long fainted – and an Evangelist crying out to his ancestors to save him from the ghost.
* * *
Andrew introduced me to the city. I attached myself to him because the city frightened me. Unlike the village, the city danced to a tune of its own. The village was silent, the city could sing. There were noises long into the night; people hollering, tyres screeching McAdam’s invention, the horns, the sirens, and the music that kept cutting into the night from nightclubs that refused to die with the sun as dusk. Andrew told me that much of life resided in darkness. He said if you wanted to measure the depth of humanity and weigh the density of life itself, you had to embrace the dark. He told me that the largest part of the planet itself – the majority of this place we call earth – is immersed in darkness. He said more than half of the world is made up of water – oceans, seas, lakes, great rivers, and whatever lurks beneath these dungeons. He told me that I should never be afraid of the darkness of the night because that darkness was just an imitation of the actual darkness that we will never see. He said the devil does not even dwell in the darkness of the night because the night is not dark enough for him.
“If you want to see the devil and all sorts of evil, go and search in the deepest darkness of the human heart. That is dark enough to host the devil and all his friends. Evil does not dwell in the night,” he told me.
And in that way I became a friend of the night. I decided to ply my trade on Long Avenue where the girls did not mind competition. The police did not terrorise this area asking for free services in exchange for our freedom. Andrew told me that Long Avenue was good because most of the girls there were worn and tired. It was the hub of those who could not compete with the hotties that flooded the city centre, the nightclubs, and the hotels. Long Avenue was the highway that took people out of the city and the girls on that street were for those men who failed to land the goddesses in the city and their instincts compelled them to settle for the carcasses of late night pleasure.
Andrew urged me neither to feel ashamed nor to feel sorry for myself. He said I was a good person only that I was a victim of circumstances. He said ever since he lost his ability to see at the age of six, he has been so gifted that he sees the human heart. He says he can tell the good from the bad just by listening to the rhythm of their heartbeats. He told me that my heart was concealed in a deep abyss such that he could not decipher my desires, wishes, longings, or fears. He said the only thing he was sure of was that I was running away from something. From his diagnosis and prognosis, Andrew concluded that I was a lost soul and that was why he failed to read my heart. I watched him hunched in his usual spot, fingering his music box. Some pedestrians walked by and dropped coins into his small plate. Others came to consult him for their fortunes and gave him huge bills for his insight. I felt sorry for him because in my diagnosis, he was wrong. Andrew did not know me at all.
What he missed in his vision was that I was never a victim of circumstances. I had never run away from anything my entire life, not even from my father. And I have never been lost. The other thing he missed in his diagnosis was the fact that I was searching for something and that something was me. I left the village in order to find myself. My greatest desire was to subject my body to pleasure and pain. I wanted to deplete myself of all desire until I discovered the point at which the body meets the soul – that point where you feel you have done enough and you resent yourself.
I slid out of my mother’s womb on a day no man could tell but I was battered into shape by my father. My mother’s womb gave me breath, this body I sell to men for pleasure, this deft waist, and these enormous hips. But my father gave birth to the whole culture. It was him who defined where I belonged and decided what was right or wrong for me. It was my father and everyone like him who concluded that I was a second class citizen only good enough for marriage. My father was supposed to give me a name, a place, and project a future for me. A future similar to the many futures I had witnessed in my seven mothers and a battalion of sisters. Futures with no teeth. Futures wasted gasping for breath under the weight of masculinity only to give birth to babies you did not own year in year out. It was my father who gave birth to the scowls and frowns – the disgust that I smirk at on the faces of noble men who look down on me when they drive along the highway with their wives in the daytime only to come back and cling to my flesh when darkness descends on the planet, jerking out of breath like headless chickens.
In everything I do with my body I feel nothing. I don’t even lie under the men I sleep with because I refuse to be dominated. I think the missionary position was deliberately invented to give the man on top the power to do anything to you. Why would you let somebody sleep on top of you, nailing your arms to the bed and let him do anything to you? That is a position of power and I dread giving people positions of power. So I prefer sitting in the chair and let whatever man is willing to pay do whatever he wants to do while I smoke my cigarette. I drape myself into a comfortable chair, my left leg hangs over the edge of the chair, my left hand strokes the back of my head where my hair is more like leftover crumbs of bread, and I trap the cigarette between my right thumb and my forefinger. I love to feel the smoke going down inside me – scorching my lungs. Then I curl my tongue and start to whistle, watching the smoke go up in rings and curves from the small hole I create between my lips. I watch the smoke as it rides into open space losing its colour to melt into the nothingness around me. It feels so good to be able to do this. It’s a milestone for me – being able to free something, be it as irrelevant as smoke, from the confines of humanity. The world becomes a much bigger place – a hazy space where people become figures, voices sound louder, laughter gains sincerity, and the holes inside me become stuffed with happiness and things.
But lately, the city has become a dangerous place for people like me. There are men who are hunting for wombs in this city. Men like my father, with their hearts unleashed – teeming with ambition. They say these men come for girls like us and take us into hotels or private resorts. These are men who have money but they need to have even more money in order to maintain their positions of power in this world. So these men entice the girls with bundles of money and take them to these places where they squeeze the life out of them only to remove their wombs and use them for their rituals. They say adding semen and some charms to the wombs is the key to prosperity. They say our wombs are used to yield millions of money in their world of darkness under the sea. These must be the men whose hearts are reflected in the darkness of the night. These must be the men Andrew talked about. They won’t even let a girl with no name enjoy and suffer the pleasure and pain of her body. They want to take everything, even your very womb, for their satisfaction. Men want everything.
Andrew has advised me to go back to the village and maybe start again. He fears that I may fall victim to these vampires of the city. He says there is always a chance for a new beginning, and for a girl like me that should be easy. He thinks I can always get a husband if I wanted to. But who told Andrew that I needed a new beginning? Who told him that a husband was my greatest desire? I love the city but every night is proving to be hard to bear since the place has become a death trap. I long to go back to the village but every time that thought sweeps through my mind I become defeated in spirit. I remember my father’s tragic resurrection and become knock-kneed.
* * *
My father died or was supposed to die in a fatal accident long before I left for the city. He was coming from the city where he had gone to sell his tobacco. There were almost seventeen drunken men in the lorry in which they were travelling. They say the driver himself was so intoxicated that he could barely sit on his own ass. It was actually my father and his friends who gave him the liquor. The men were celebrating a bumper harvest and the tobacco sales went well that year. So when they were partying and driving home, the plastered man on the wheel fell asleep and the vehicle drove itself over a cliff in the hills, trapping their drunken lives in the wreck.
Everyone knew that my father was in that truck although his body had not yet been identified. Only one man survived the accident. Others went and identified their husbands, sons, and fathers, but my mothers were too afraid to go and identify my father’s body. They preferred to dwell in the comfort of ignorance rather than confront the reality of losing the breadwinner and the sole provider of the extended family – the only man in the compound. So they opted for lighter solutions. They gathered and went to visit the only survivor of the accident to ask him if my father was with them in the lorry. But this man was useless. Throughout the three days he stayed in the hospital, he was either crying or sleeping. They say he had a problem with his memory. My mother says it was because he hit his dead against huge rocks in the accident and that something must have gone soft in that head as a result. So every time they asked him about the accident, he would be surprised and asked what they were talking about. When they reminded him that he had been in an accident that killed all his friends, the man would start wailing on top of his voice until he cried himself to sleep. This went on for three days until the women gave up. They had to go and identify the body.
When they finally went to the mortuary to identify the body, the hospital people told them that they had three choices because there were only three bodies that had not yet been identified by their relatives. Two of the bodies had no heads and the third had no face. They said the two heads were lost in the crash and the face on the third body was severely tattered such that they had to wrap it in bandages.
“But he was your husband for years and you should be able to know his body,” the hospital people said and my father’s wives looked at one another.
“You know his body, not so?”
They did not answer. They just gazed at the cold bodies, sweat dripping down their spines as the cold room became hazy from the thick mist emitted by the ice.
“All of you have seen him naked before, right?”
And the women asked for some privacy. After a few minutes of debate, they came back into the cold room and picked the body with the tattered face – the body that would become my father’s corpse.
On the day of the burial, an Evangelist from my mother’s church came to preach the good news. He reminded us of the brevity of life but was quick to stress on the joys of the everlasting life that was to be gained after death. Personally I regard the idea of everlasting life as pure greed. Why would anyone want to live forever? What would you be doing in such a boring existence where things would just go on and on and on?
The preacher moved some souls when he hinted on the possibility of the dead man coming back to life.
“And I tell you! This man can be raised from the dead right now to manifest the power of the spirit!”
And we raised our heads to witness the sweat making a mess on the Evangelist’s face.
“Didn’t Jesus raise the little girl from the dead?”
The crowd was silent.
“I said didn’t Jesus raise the little girl?”
“He did!” the crowd chanted.
“And what did Jesus say to Lazarus?”
The man of God was now beaming with the spirit and the mourners became deeply moved. I was watching the proceedings with curiosity. Whoever Lazarus was and whatever made Jesus raise him from the dead could not work on my father. My father was a drunk and a bully, and why would Jesus choose to raise such a man from the dead?
“As Jesus called out to Lazarus I too can call out to this man, come out! Come out!”
And at that moment the strangest thing to ever happen in the village happened. I heard my father’s voice loud and clear; full of insolence as was his trademark.
“You damned fools! So you wish I was dead! I’m alive, damn it! I’m alive!”
And the funeral turned into a riot. Men took to their heels and made for the safest places they could fathom in that confusion. Women wept, crawled, and, yelled to their ancestors. The faintest in heart fainted to find safety in the lifelessness of the corpses in the graveyard. The Evangelist jumped into the grave in his confusion and he was calling out to his forefathers to save him from the abomination. He did not call upon the name of Jesus. In these trying times he had forgotten the name of his God and resorted to the gods the white man burnt and destroyed when he first came to this place.
I, on the other hand, was too shocked to flee the scene of the resurrection. I stood there watching my father approach his grave, laughing in his drunken stupor. His eyes were crimson, his clothes sullied, and his hair unkempt. He must have been drinking for days in the city. I stood there, my mouth agape as if I had just witnessed a mask dancer preaching the word in a Catholic church. I stood there alone – my arms clutched on both sides of my waist. So even death was not enough to save us from the shackles of man.
Image: William Stitt via Unsplash.com (modified)