“I pray you never understand these pains I bear. Because you only understand them when you feel them too.”
‘Uncle, it’s hurting me’, tears rolled down her cheeks as she tried to fight him off. The scene had played out too often, the pain was too familiar.
‘Stay still, Cynthia. I won’t let it hurt you.’
‘Uncle, please, I don’t want to do it. It hurts me every time… I will tell my mummy.’
‘What?’ he roared. ‘Don’t you dare tell your mum! Look at me! I will kill you if you do’, she shuddered as he pushed himself into her roughly. He didn’t stick his finger in her as he always did.
It was the first time in four years that she had ignored the fear that her mother wouldn’t believe her. She closed her eyes and brought up all the happy memories she saved in her twelve years of life. She smiled through the pain when her late father’s face came up, he never failed to save her.
“I hope you never have to wonder if you are enough, that you are comfortable in your skin and see that if you love yourself, your short and thick hair, your round tommy, your stout legs, you don’t have to wait for anyone’s nod to feel beautiful. I hope you never have to search for your beauty in another’s eyes”
‘You should stop crushing on Jeremy, it’s a waste of time.’ Sharon said as they watched him flirt with another classmate. All the girls in the class liked him, not an unusual feat for the most handsome male in 200 level.
‘Why would you say that?’
‘Come on, Titi. You know you are not his type.’ She giggled, ’he likes his girls beautiful and light-skinned like me, you don’t stand a chance.’
She knew her best friend meant no real harm, however her words preyed on her insecurities. Her own sister called her ugly all her life so it had to be true. It made her sad but she couldn’t wish her face away.
‘Are you offended?’
‘No. It’s fine.’ She plastered a fake smile on her face. They said she looked less ugly that way.
“I hope you have the strength to never let anyone make you feel less or undeserving of the great things in the world because you are a woman. The audacity to be different, unbending and unashamed of your values.”
‘I went to the hospital today, the scan said the baby is a girl.’
‘Another girl? Aisha, is there any male child in your body? It would be better if you didn’t get pregnant at all.’
She fought back tears, remembering the two abortions she already had because they were girls. Ahmed had six daughters from two wives before her, she used to be the golden wife, the youngest who would bear him a son to carry his name and make him feel like a real man.
‘I’m keeping this baby.’
‘What do I need another girl for? All my properties won’t go another man’s wife! If you keep it, you will be solely responsible for it. That is not my child.’
She knew she had lost him, she couldn’t bear to lose this baby too.
“I hope you love yourself enough to recognize true love when it is given to you and respect yourself enough to know disrespect when it is thrown at you, that you learn to be self-sufficient and never see another as your only lifeline.”
She welcomed him home with arms open, hoping he had forgotten their fight the previous night. Their quarrels were worse when fueled by his jealousy and distrust. Her mother taught her the best way to appease a man was through his stomach and his bed, she had prepared both.
‘How was work today, my love?’
Yinka ignored her embrace.
‘This way, my dear.’ He said to the young lady behind him. She hadn’t seen her before but she knew it was one of his girls, he had never brought them home.
‘Who is that? What are you doing?’,Titi’s screams and questions went unanswered while he led his lover to the bed she had prepared. She sat and wailed as she realized this was only the first of many.
“I hope you have the courage your mother lacked and the boldness your grandmother longed for, so you can walk away from these irrational men when they think and act like they own you.
‘I can’t do it anymore, mummy. Wale maltreats me, he keeps affairs, beats me at the slightest provocation and even forces me when I don’t want to have sex. I’m tired of my marriage, I was staying for the kids but he doesn’t even care about them. I’m responsible for most of their needs.’
‘My dear, don’t get tired. Just keep praying and trying, it will get better. A good wife is patient and stays with her husband through good and bad. And why don’t you want to have sex with your husband? Why did he pay your brideprice? Stop annoying him so he won’t beat you.’
‘Mummy, I’ve decided I want a divorce’
‘Meshonu, Amaka. Don’t let me hear that again. We are Catholics, divorce is not an option. Do you think you are the only one suffering in marriage, do you know how much I went through with your stepfather? But I stayed and prayed and he changed. You are going to stay put in your husband’s house.’
Cynthia looked away, her mother had never understood her. She thought about Wale, her kids, her scars, the anti-retroviral drugs he didn’t know she had seen in his suitcase. She wondered how she would continue to avoid sex if she didn’t leave him before he infected her.
She wondered why her womanhood was full of sad stories.
“I hope you never lose the will to live and never doubt my love for you.”
All it had taken to make him flip this time was ‘I need some money to buy items for the baby’s delivery.’
‘Aisha, I’ve told you never to mention that baby to me. It’s none of my business.’
He rose and went upstairs to get his car key from his room. She followed him up but stood by the stairs, she had learnt to keep herself out of his arm’s reach.
‘But this is your baby too, Ahmed. You know I don’t have a job anymore, no money of my own and I’m due in 2 weeks. Please, help me.’
‘Get out of my way, woman.’ He shoved her away just as she shifted to make way for him.
The white asbestos was the last thing she saw as she fell back. The pain and the blood were the first things she remembered when she fully regained consciousness, she had never seen so much blood before. The doctors said it was a miracle she survived the accidentbut it didn’t save her baby. She thought about every ordeal she and her baby survived through the past nine months. Amidst tears, she muttered her mantra during those times.
“Stay with me, Hadiza.”