She awoke with the rays of the sun streaming in through the green window blinds close to her bed. She started and began to look around her, trying to identify her surrounding but everything looked foreign to her. The pale blue walls, the television set directly opposite her bed, the fruits laid on what was obviously once a cream coloured desk, the unidentified odor she perceived, the few other beds with other children, nothing was familiar. She attempted to sit up but groaned as hot pains shot through her. She gasped as she identified the source of the pain and reality came flooding back in. She lay down again, giddy with pains, careful not to disturb anything this time.
Just then, the door opened and her mother walked in with a nylon bag and Braiye on her back. As her mother rushed to her side to hug her, all the pain, shame and that feeling of betrayal threatened to overwhelm her. She closed her eyes but all she could see were the mean faces of those women as they held her, her screams, her blood, so much blood so she quickly opened them again as little tear drops escaped.
“Nne, please do not be like that please my daughter. I did not mean to hurt you. We did what was right for you so that you will not be different you hear?
Her mother crooned, hugging her as much as she could. Nimi wished she could be strong enough not to cry, but the sobs came racking her whole body as her mother held her. She felt as if her chest will burst open if she did not cry. That was how the nurse met them few minutes later. Nimi disentangled herself from her mother and looked at the young, beautiful nurse in her crisp white skirt and blouse. She shrank back into the bed, twisting her hands together, lips trembling and unshed tears still glistening in her big round eyes. The nurse took in the situation, the child’s palpable fear and smiled at her,
“Sweetheart, this is a hospital ok? We take care of people not hurt them”
Nimi winced at those words and eyed the tray of needles and bottles of injections she was carrying. She wondered at the meaning of that sentence, having heard such just before she was mutilated mercilessly. The nurse’s eyes shot daggers at the girl’s mother still sitting on the bed beside her daughter. The woman’s bloodshot eyes stared imploringly at the nurse, as if she too had been crying. She stood up to sit on the chair beside her daughter.
“My name is Nurse Rose, I am your friend and I promise I will not let anyone harm you. We only want to give you proper treatment so that the wound will heal fast and you can go home alright”. Just be a good girl and let me give you your injections”.
She received the injection with tears barely in check.
“Thank you Nurse” Nimi murmured, wiping her nose with the back of her hand. The nurse left but was almost knocked over at the door as Aunty Chinwe suddenly pushed it open and shot into the ward like tornado in a blaze of red and yellow gown and flower scented perfume. She apologized profusely to the nurse then looked around the ward before her eyes fell on them. She made straight for Nimi’s corner. Nimi sat up immediately, not minding the sharp pains shooting through her.
“My baby, what have they done to you?” she asked, gathering Nimi in her arms as great sobs escaped the girl. “No, no, baby love, it is ok, cry no more darling, I am here now.” Aunty Chinwe crooned, wiping the tears with her white handkerchief. Amidst Nimi’s heaving and sniffling, Aunty Chinwe seemed to recognize just then the presence of her Ma. She disentangled Nimi from herself and looked at her mother in a way that had even the crying Nimi cringe involuntarily and hold her aunt tight feeling safer than she had since this nightmare started.
“Uzo, how could you still do this to your child, in this present generation? I thought you must have learnt your lessons, especially with Jane”.
Aunty Chinwe fired at Nimi’s mother, facing her squarely. From where she sat on the hospital chair beside Nimi’s bed, tears glistening in her eyes, Ma sank lower into her chair. Nimi realized that she made a pitiable sight, her big brown eyes and rosy cheeks sunk in.
“I agreed to have her cut so that she will not be treated as an outcast like they do Mama Mracle’s daughters for refusing to be cut. Besides, we must ensure that she gets a good husband from our place when the right time comes.”
Nimi’s mother explained”
“Uzo, it is mutilation biko. Do not make it sound less inhuman by calling it ‘cut’,
Aunty Chinwe fumed. “I know your husband has something to do with all these abi?” she asked, hugging the now docile Nimi closer. “And don’t even start with that marriage thing now” she concluded raising a perfectly lined eye brow. “Oh, Uzo, when will you stop letting him dictate your fate and that of your girls?” asked Aunty Chinwe standing up to hug her only Sister. Nimi observed the two sisters, their resemblance was only physical, they shared the same aquiline nose, high cheek bones, deep set eyes, and the only difference was that Aunty Chinwe was fairer but shorter. In character however, they were like night and day. Nimi’s mother was demure, docile and as for Chinwe, she was like a whirlwind, outspoken, brave, she reminds Nimi of a wild cat.
Nimi’s mother had four girls before Braiye the boy came along. As a result, she had suffered untold humiliation and pain from her husband and in-laws. Even now, Braiye was like their king, their duty as his subjects was to ensure his happiness and comfort. Pa would rake and whip anyone that fails in that duty. They lived like slaves with their mother in their own father’s house. This was a chance to escape the prison figured Nimi.
“Aunty, can I go to Port Harcourt with you?” Nimi chirped eagerly. Aunty Chinwe looked at her, then at the mother and replied,
“Baby, I… we need to ask your father first. He has the final say” replied Aunty Chinwe.
“I told him already but he said he will think about it” said Nimi, Aunty, maybe you should talk to him yourself.” Nimi suggested.
Both women exchanged glances before Nimi’s mother replied,
“Nimi, we will speak to him and see what he will say ok?” Chinwe rummaged inside her hand bag and brought out chocolates and assorted delicacies which she handed to an expectant Nimi.
“There are more goodies for you inside the nylon bag there my darling. Just get well soonest”
Aunty Chinwe said, pointing at the nylon beside her mother’s chair
. “Your cousins wanted to come see you too but because of school, they decided to send you stuffs instead”
“That is ok Aunty but I want to go with you!” Nimi persisted. Both women assured her that they would talk to her dad.
Nimi entered her father’s compound when the huge orange sun was just setting behind her father’s house. As she approached the house with her mother behind, the place was a bee hive of activity and she knew immediately that something was up. Her mother maneuvered her to pass through the backdoor instead of passing through the front door. She peeped inside to try and find out what was going on with all the noise coming from within but her mother nudged her forward. She suddenly did not feel like entering that house but her mother was already walking briskly towards the backdoor.
“Ma, what is going on again?” she asked when she caught up with her mother. She only shrugged without as much as a pause. Nimi continued after her but bumped into her elder sister at the back door. Jane hugged her happily and whispered that Angela their eldest sister would soon be getting married to her betrothed.
“Married? Sister Angela? Did Papa agree?” asked Nimi
“You can be stupid eh, who do you think arranged the marriage?” Jane asked, taking her small travel bag from her. She took her hand in the other hand as both of them walked into the house.
“Does it still hurt down there?” she asked pointing towards the place in question. “A little, especially when I am not careful enough. You never told me Jane” Nimi said accusingly.
“Mama warned us not to say anything if we do not want Papa’s anger so we kept quiet.. He did not even allow us to follow Mama to the hospital these four days to come see you.”
Jane whispered as they passed their parents’ room to their own
She hugged her little sister when they entered their room. “Did he visit you?”
“Yes, twice” replied Nimi. They sat on the bed, hands around each other. Jane wiped the tears from her sister’s face.
“I was so scared. Ma kept telling us that you were fine but they would not let us see you. Then they said Angela will be going off to her husband’s place soon”
“Who is her husband J and where is she right now?”
Nimi asked, tears pooling in her eyes.
“Nobody wants to tell me. Angela has been crying since they told her. They kept her inside Pa’s chambers. She will stop going to school and start making babies”.
Nimi sat up straight at that, “Can Sister Angela make babies now?” she asked in awe.
But Jane shook her head and declared that she did not know. Nimi’s face fell once again.
“Are you going to leave me and go to your husband’s place too?”
she asked her sister.
“Nooo! I am just eleven Nimi while Angela is going to fifteen. Maybe that is why she is going to her husband’s house. Besides, I have not been betrothed to any man.
“How do you know that? Did Sister Angela know she had one? Maybe we should just run away J because I don’t think Pa will let me go to Port Harcourt”.
Jane stared at her in astonishment but just as she opened her mouth to say something, they heard their mother shouting for Jane.
HER FATE… Continues
The fat woman in her flowing gown turned and took in the new entrants, nodded in greeting then motioned for them to sit with the others. Her mother dragged her to the available spot on the bench. The others shifted to accommodate them. Her mother immediately untied the wrapper holding the still wailing Braiye and sat him on her laps. When he refused to quiet down, Ma had no option than to breastfeed him. Nimi sat as quietly as possible, observing everything and everyone. The fat woman who seemed to be in charge of the place was discussing in low tones with some of the women and any time she glanced at Nimi, which was often, she would shudder involuntarily. The curiosity was killing her so she mustered courage and asked,
“Ma, what is this place and who is that fat woman?” Her mother looked up from the now happy Braiye and replied,
“You will soon find out Nimi, be patient ok? Be calm, nobody here wants to harm you”.
Nimi wished she could be calm and trust these strangers, but she just could not. There was nothing calming about this place, the environment was rather hostile and stifling and was making her nervous, all those women staring at her in stony silence.
“Ma, I want to go and wee-wee” Her mother opened her mouth to protest, but changed her mind and after staring at her awhile, told her to go. She quickly dashed off to get some fresh air and escape from the offensive environment. Outside, Nimi strolled around the hut, first to the front, then the back. There was no sign of life, so she assumed the place was used temporarily, not a permanent abode. Before she could make it to the other end of the clearing, she heard her mother shouting for her. She moved away from the hut, lifted her gown and pulled down her panties to urinate.
“Come on Nimi, hurry, they are waiting for us, I do not know whether you want to take the whole day to urinate. It is not as if much of the urine came out sef” observed her mother, eying the little dot of wetness on the sand
“Ma, ‘waiting for us’ for what?” asked Nimi, adjusting her dress properly as she went after her mother. Her mother ignored her. Inside, the room the women were murmuring amongst themselves. One of the women stood up and beckoned on them as they entered the room. She led them through another door which Nimi did not even notice earlier, into another room. This particular room was darker if that were possible but more airy containing just bare essentials, a mat, chair, table, and a water container. There they saw the fat woman arranging stuffs on the wooden table at one end of the room. She turned to face them, a knowing smile on her wrinkled face. She reminded Nimi of a crumpled paper
“Welcome my daughter, Nimi abi?” At Nimi’s nod of her head, she went on,
“Sit down both of you please. Nimi, we are here to assist you to become a beautiful woman worthy of her future husband and the entire community, so you must be courageous ok? Do not be afraid” Nimi wondered what the old woman was talking about.
She watched the woman get back to arranging stuffs on the wooden table which held a variety of objects not too visible in the dark. This got her even more perplexed. She looked at her mother but her mother’s face was bent down, as if she were watching Braiye sleep. That was a bad omen, her Ma avoiding her gaze, and this got her heart hammering in her chest.
“Oya, this way Nimi” said the fat woman pointing towards the mat spread on the bare floor. Nimi looked at her mother who looked at her this time and nodded at her in encouragement. She refused to move, shaking her head from left to right, large drops of tears beginning to stream down her angelic chubby face. Her mother held her in an embrace, promising her heaven on earth, but she kept squirming on the seat, sobbing into her mother’s bosom. One of the women came to drag her along with her, but she clung to her mother tighter, refusing to budge. But the woman lifted her unceremoniously while her mother pried her little fingers away from her waist.
No one seemed to care about her cries and screams as she sat down there on the mat, not knowing whether they were preparing to kill her or what. Before she knew it, the women had gathered around her, her mother nowhere in sight, chanting songs about womanhood and beauty. The old woman who seemed to be the leader of the group sat down on a short wooden chair and another woman handed her a razor and other things which she didn’t care to identify.
“Come on Nimi, time to beautify you dear. Lie down now and do not struggle” Said the old woman.
But Nimi only cried harder. Her mother pleaded with her to cooperate with them but all she wanted to do was to run away and they made sure she could not escape. One of them forced her to lie face up on the mat and as she opened her mouth to scream, used a cloth to gag her, while another two held her hands and leg. The fat woman advanced with the razor and a dark red piece of cloth dangling from her elbow. Nimi began to struggle harder but she was only seven, they easily over powered her.
The woman bent down towards Nimi’s legs and opened it wider. She gasped in shame and horror as the woman lifted her gown and dragged her pants off her, her hands deftly probing her private part. She struggled even harder to free herself but could not. In an instant, she felt the razor sawing her body in an excruciatingly painful way. She let out a blood curdling scream but the gag drowned her screams. The woman continued mutilating her, ignoring her pleas and struggles for mercy. She felt the blood oozing out, sliding off her body, felt herself letting go, plunging into darkness, into oblivion. Nimi lost consciousness.
BE HERE FOR THE NEXT EPISODE…
The darkness was just beginning to lift, not too much time to dillydally, Nimi mused as she swept the front yard with the long broom, happily singing at the top of her voice. She loved her village but wished her Pa will allow her spend this coming holidays with her mother’s sister, Aunty Chinwe in Port Harcourt. She had dared to beg him already but Pa said he will think about it and knowing her Pa, that could mean anything. Aunty Chinwe was Nimi’s best aunt, smart and fearless which according to Ma was why Pa detested her so much. Her Pa said that a woman should be seen but not heard and that her place was in the kitchen, but Aunty Chinwe made sure you not only see her but you must hear her too. Nimi wanted to be just like her. She rolled her eyes and smiled to herself, imagining Pa’s face when she turns out just like her aunt or worse.
“Nimi!” she started as her mother roused her from her reverie.
“How long will it take you to sweep that front yard? Please hurry up, we are going somewhere”
Her mother announced from the kitchen door way. Surprised, Nimi ran to the kitchen to find out this place that is suddenly more important than school.
“Mama, where are we going, am I not going to school?” she asked her mother through the small wooden kitchen window.
“You will know when we get there, it is a surprise”.
That piqued her attention, could this place be better than school? Is there any place better than school? She remembered her mother telling her that education is the best thing she could do for herself if she wanted a future better than hers.
Nimi loved surprises and school even more and her Ma knew that so could it be that maybe she was just pulling her legs to get her to hasten up for school. But the day was not even bright yet.
“Ma, are you being serious? Where are we going that could be more important than going to school?”
“Nimi, do not ruin the surprise, do you want curiosity to kill you like the cat? Besides, I know how important school is and I know that this is equally important”
She turned back to her cooking, leaving Nimi staring at her in confusion. She ran back and hastened to finish the sweeping after which she sorted out the leaves and threw them away into the nearby bush, then packed the ones that cannot decompose and poured them into the fireplace behind the house. She took a bowl, fetched water from the metal tank, washed her hands and went in search of her mother. She found her in the sitting room feeding Braiye her younger brother.
“Nimi, run, go and take your bath, we are running out of time” her Mother said, forestalling another bout of questions.
Before long, Nimi and her mother with Braiye on her back were ready to set out to the undisclosed destination. Her mind calmed down a bit because her mother was putting on an old wrapper and an equally old lace blouse, the wrapper torn and sewn in many places. Her mother hid their house keys inside the small clay pot hanging from the orange tree by the side window for Pa or Godwin her brother when they come back. Nimi noticed that the blouse too was torn at the armpit wondered if her mother was aware of that.
“Ma, you blouse is torn at the armpit o” Nimi exclaimed. Her mother raised her hand, scrutinized the erring blouse and nodded. “Let us get going, I know, I will mend it later”, she said, handing Nimi the small hand-woven bag containing mostly Braiye’s stuffs. Nimi herself wore one of the bright floral print gowns aunty Chinwe bought her. Her heart began to beat faster when they took the path through the old village square towards the forests, it was an area Nimi least expected her mother to bring her. Even though it was not too far from their house, it was a part of the village that they hardly visited. The path to the square was lined with thick, impregnable forest. Children were not allowed to pass through it if it could be helped. Nimi’s mother kept a straight face which Nimi knew meant ‘no questions’, so they moved on in an unsettling silence.
They used a pathway through the forest, past the village square, then more bush before they emerged at a small clearing. There was a mud house standing alone in the open space. She had not known of the existence of such a place and wondered who could be living in such a place. With no other houses in sight, Nimi could not understand how someone could live there. The place looked deserted and empty except for an old drum standing like a lone ranger in front of the hut. To their left and right, there were no other buildings except bushes. The only sound she could hear came from birds flying above them, some perching on the thatched roof of the hut and insects from the bush. She opened her mouth to ask her mother about the place but closed them immediately when she realized they were actually heading for that lone building. She began to hear muffled noises coming from somewhere within as they drew near the door. She tugged at her mother’s wrapper to draw her attention and when her mother looked down at her, she whispered, eyes wide with fear,
“Ma, are we actually going inside this place?” her mother only nodded at her and turned abruptly.
Nimi observed that her mother knocked rather gingerly on the door frame before pushing aside the big mat covering the door way. They walked into the room, Nimi followed closely, clutching her mother’s wrapper. Nimi peered from behind her mother at the strange faces in the airless room as her mother exchanged pleasantries with them but she made no move to greet them. She could not make out their faces but only knew they were females from their attires and voices. They were all seated on what looked like a bench but for the fat, short woman standing in the centre of the room. The only light in the room came from a dim kerosene lamp kept at one end of the room, the only window in the room was also covered with a cloth, probably dark from dirt. She felt goose bumps spread out on her skin as she took in her surroundings. She tapped her mother to get her attention without attracting undue attention to herself. Just then, Braiye woke from his sleep and began wailing on top of his voice as if sensing danger around him. Nimi wished she could just let go and cry with him but she knew that it would not do to cry at this point, what with all those strangers staring at them.
“Only God knows what Ma is up to, were she not my mother, I would think she wants to harm me, but she wouldn’t, or would she?” she mused.
To be continued…
Rukiyat had been crying since last night. The December harmattan wind was blowing through the trees as she hastened with Hauwa her younger sister to fetch water from the well at the Imam’s compound. She could feel the cold through her clothes. Her jab which kept slipping off her plaited hair provided little succor from the cold. She wished for a good cardigan or thicker jab, but her Baba whose cobbler income could not feed his family of thirteen could not afford that. Rukiyat wondered for the hundredth time why her father had married two wives when obviously he could not feed one. Anger at her parents, the coming visitors and life in general filled her as it often did these days.
“Ruky, you girls have fetched enough, go prepare yourself because our visitors will soon start arriving” her mother said as Rukiyat passed her and the other women in the backyard where they were preparing the tuwo and other dishes. Without uttering a word, she went to bathe and put on the new clothes ‘he’ bought her for the occasion. Hauwa at nine only understood that her sister was going away to live with a rich Baba whom they hardly knew. But maybe there, Ruky can start school like other children their age, . As she assisted Ruky in getting ready, tears ran down her cheeks. Two of them were best of friends and confidants, now they were taking her away.
“Hauwa, please stop crying, wipe your tears. I can hear noise outside, go and see if they have arrived” Hauwa strolled off to check and rushed back as her sister was putting away a small dark bottle under their parents bed. It was them alright reported Hauwa. Soon, her mother came to call her to come and greet the visitors.
In no time, the ceremony was concluded and the guests made to leave with their amaria. That was when all hell was let loose, the guests, including the groom began complaining of stomach aches one after the other. Within minutes, corpses began littering Baba Rukiyat’s compound like flies.
It was when Rukiyat was caught fleeing the compound amidst the melee that she confessed. She had poisoned the guests’ food with rat poison. At twelve, she did not want to be the Baba’s third wife.