Back home, I cried silently, saying, “Nyelugo, you didn’t collect the gift from me, you didn’t collect the gift from me.” Then I heard a cackle in the room now filled with sympathiser and her friends. That was strange. Papa was in his room with the door closed.
Mother was sitting on the floor crying “Nyelugo m o”.
I continued crying.
Nyelugo’s image flashed before my eyes. So I thought at first that I had imagined things and was going crazy because of the sudden way she died. I kept my gaze on the floor and I saw Nyelugo again. She was wearing clothes made from animal skin, a scarf was tied over her breasts and knotted at the back and the skirt did little to cover her thighs.
I looked at mother and the rest of the people in the room. No one showed any indication of seeing anything. I shook my head and looked away from the floor to the wall behind the television. Nyelugo was there laughing sheepishly, the kind of laughter that said “I have conquered you.” Turning her back to me, she began to wriggle her body till the bare parts with sweats shone like overpolished shoes.
I couldn’t withhold the tears I’d held back all the time her show held me awestruck.
Clapping to have my attention back, she pointed to me, “I told you I’ll take my gift from you when I want it. That gift is your tears.” She cackled again and faded into nothingness, but the wall remained the same wall.
I tried to not cry after her words, but it didn’t do much to erase the memories of all the time we’d had in the past. I felt a sharp pain jabbed at my back.
That day was the second time my son burnt another area of his head.
I didn’t scold him because I thought it was because no one had remembered that there was a child who really should be looked after.
My daughter arrived two days after Nyelugo’s death. And Love wouldn’t leave my side.
He looked at her all the time as if they had met somewhere before. Because of what had happened we planned to not do much at my daughter’s three months arrival ceremony. But mother said Nyelugo and Diana are two different people living in different worlds, and one shouldn’t be treated badly for another person’s exit.
We cancelled the three months arrival celebration because Husband won’t be around at that date, and considering the fact that we lived in the midst of people who celebrated christening on the eighth day like Christmas, we chose to do it on the eighth day.
And on the day, which was ten days after Nyelugo’s death, I and Husband bought the necessary things. People in my street flocked into the compound. Diana continued to wriggle in my arms as Love continued playing with her fingers.
“My wife o, my wife o…” he sang to her. Diana grinned revealing her toothless gum. That shocked me. Husband never sang for me and I didn’t think my neighbours did that either because they weren’t staying at home like myself.
“Love, she’s your sister, not your wife.”
“She’s my wife” he replied childishly.
After the baby had been named in his father’s hand and she was placed in my own hands, I felt that Diana, the ever wriggling baby was too still, in fact, too still. So I checked for her breath. It was the evening of that day that Diana exited this world that Love for the third time burnt another area of his head. I thought, again, that it was because of the attention on Diana. People were too busy to notice whether a child had gone near the burning charcoal of the fire used to cook jollof rice.
Thereafter, everything began to take on new shapes, height and feelings.
New height like when I no longer saw myself as a tall woman but someone who was in between tall and short.
New shapes like I would wake at nights to see that Love’s head looking like mango.
And new feelings was when I had the feelings that I should not allow any child the passage through my womb since they had decided to make my womb their route of coming and going as they wished.
After all, Love was never out of the picture.
A month after Diana died made it the fourth time Love would burn his head which was today.
The scar from the first burn was just becoming dark around the centre which had burnt most beside his left eyes.
The second one was above his eyebrow
The third was a little above the second one, at the foot of his hair line.
Today I was tired. My feet and eyes were heavy as if someone as twice as big as myself was sitting and pressing itself on my body. I sprawled on the bed.
“I want puff-puff.”
“It’s on the dining table.” Love stood up from the bed slowly and disappeared through the doorway. I expected him to return to his side of the bed but he didn’t. And I found it proper to call him.
“Love, where are you?”
“Ezinne, I’m coming.”
“Is your father okay where he is now? I am your mother. Don’t call me like that. Come inside!”
The way he called me baffled me. I thought to myself what could have given him the boldness to call my name like that. Afterthought: who told him my name is Ezinne? We rarely visit my parent’s house. Maybe that was where he heard that name before.
When he returned, it wasn’t without a freshly burnt area on his head. Sighting it, I got up sharply as the heaviness disappeared.
“Han-han! Are you silly?’ I said angrily while looking at his fontanel area that had been badly burnt.
He laughed.” Ezinne, I am not silly!” Something must be spinning ice into my stomach as I felt ice washed down from my chest region to my bladder despite my body being hot. I immediately ran to the door to check whether another person was living in my house that I had not seen before.
There was none I see.
On turning back, he startled me with the way he stood with his hand akimbo by his waist and looking at me crookedly. I thought he had the look of someone who could stab me from behind as if he had just cut a fish without feelings.
“Ezi-nne” he called slowly, looking pointedly at me where I stood at the door staring at him, still unable to speak with mouth wide open and a kind of fear I couldn’t really explain.
“You are holding me down with this thing,” he said with a sneer before lifting his hand to his head and gathered his naturally locked hair in his hand. I still only could watch, not being able to do anything just like I wouldn’t do anything to a water soaked cloud about to pour down in torrents when I was doing anything tangible and it disturbed.
Finally, I found my voice which at that moment was shaken.
“But I’m not holding you down. You are on your legs now.” I moved away from the door towards him. “Who told you to burn your head? Who?”
“Mirabel,” he answered quickly, also moving towards me. I stopped.
“Which Mirabel?” It was as if the invincible hands pouring ice few minutes before had changed to throwing stones into my stomach; my stomach was an avalanche of chaos.
He grabbed my hand, turned me back towards the door and led me into the compound through the garden of vegetables and spices – sages, okro, mint leaf, ostraditch – past all the beautiful places to a place well weeded: the burial place of the first girl –Mirabel, my first daughter who died three years before Love came. After Mirabel’s exit, no one ever talked about her.
“She told me to do it.’ He laughed. “Look at her,” he pointed to a portion of the fence where lizards were skittering away. “She wants me to come”
I was dumb and it seemed the rocks thrown into my stomach by the invisible hands with his weight was pulling me to the ground and I would fall without restriction.
He took my hand again and led me with my wobbling legs to Diana’s place.
“She is Mirabel too.” He said with inclined head.”Ezinne, good mother. You don’t know?”
With all these revelations, my head felt numb. I could only open and close my mouth as the words refused to flow out. I remembered all the sacrifices I’ve made, how with gladness I bought their clothes, shoes, soaps and whatever good they wanted.
How I endured the pain of tautness for months and the labours. All the silly things I did to make them laugh. Laughing when I wasn’t happy because they wanted me to, and also crying when they cried. How I rode imaginary bicycles with them on bed. How we once went to a local market and a woman said she used to put alum in water for her children to drink to wade away haemorrhoids and those children were still with her. But the ones you had never done that to, but taken to well-equipped hospital had always winked at you when they go as if you are not good.
I thought about all the pains I had endured to make them happy, and my heart bled and the tears dropped.
“If you don’t cut it, I will burn everything and go.”
“Why do you want to go? Why?”
“My wedding is few days away.”
“Nyelugo, your younger sister is the organizer.”
My throat felt chirped as the tears continued to spill.
“I have been good to all of you. I have taken care of you, and are you taking advantage of that?” Still, amidst everything, I loved Love and I wanted him to stay.
“Can’t you just stay?” I stooped to his height, “Can’t you?” I was thinking of what else I could do to make him stay.
He threw his head back and laughed.”It’s unarguable that you are Ezinne. Your tears will not make me stay since I have found a way to go.”
I blinked back the cloud of tears that had gathered in my eyes and straightened up.
I lifted up my eyes, the sky had greyed over. A dark night impeded.
“Okay, are you happy you are leaving?”
“Yes,” he nodded and looked up at me, “Very happy.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll help you go” I said, keeping my mind blank because the elders whose eyes can know the good or the bad walnut in its pod used to say these ones can read steps and destroy ones charms to make them stay, which in my own case had already happened.
And I went looking for a rope. Because these ones, no matter what the good heart you have and the good you do to them to make them stay, if they don’t want to stay, they will always find a way to go.
So, I went looking for a rope. He continued laughing. My mind remained blank and a dark night impeded.