Just a Son| Aluka Igbokwe

Of all the days I thought I would leave my husband’s house, I never knew it’d be on a hot afternoon with the expiring sun blazing down in fierce anger and with the sky, cloaked in azure colour like a painter’s canvas littered here and there with dabs of fluffy white clouds.

 

I am outside with my belongings. My mother-in-law, Mama’s prayers has been answered. The last time Mama visited, she kept brooding. Anger? Frustration? Hostility? I do not know but I think it is a mixture of all. I will not feign oblivion, because I know why she came in such mood. She left afterwards and wouldn’t spend the night when I related Nkem’s absence.

 

I’ve known Nkem ever since my Third year at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

A young girl bubbling with enthusiasm, hopeful for a future bound with great prospects. My roommates – Adaugo and Amarachi – have been complaining of my lifestyle. In their words, they term it “loveless.” They call me a triangular student. It is either I am in the class or library, and when I am in none of those, I am burying my head into one of those big big novels, they said.

 

“Babe! Shuu, book no dey tire you?” Adaugo said the last time she caught me reading ‘Mind is the Master’, the complete treasury of James Allen.”

 

“Flex small na,” Amarachi interjected, as though in support of Adaugo.

 

They complained I was too uptight. Too rigid and they postulated in that voice which reeked of a certain kind of self-righteousness that my tautness would make me loose promising boyfriends and suitors in future.

 

But I came into the University with a firm resolve to face my studies and that I did to the irritation of my roommates. My mother’s truckload of advices were also supportive of my views. My mother made it seem as though a woman’s virginity in matured singlehood signalled a certain kind of achievement, a feat deserving praise and reverence. She would always regale me with stories of how my father sent a matured nne ewu, female goat to her people to offer in sacrifice to the gods for his wife’s chastity.

 

But it was not my roommates’ persistence nor my mother’s admonitions but the loneliness of the cold nights, the crave to be swallowed in the strong arms of a man, the sweet tingings that hit me with the replay of John Legend’s All of me, the many nights I muffled my moans with the pillow each time I touched myself that made me set out to love, made me unlock my heart which was unflinching in it’s unpliableness. I am never a believer of love at first sight until I mistakenly bumped into him at the Administrative Block and had his books running after another in quick race to the cobblestoned ground. I made to reach the books and his hands held tightly to mine as glue to plastic. Our eyes met and engaged in a passionate combat, I was coy and yielding, so he won.

 

“I’m very sorry, I should be watchful next time,” I said, blowing off the red earth that hung loosely to the spine of one of the books.

 

“It’s nothing. Not your fault really,” he said while arranging the books as they were, “I equally wasn’t looking.”

 

We smiled together and an unpleasant silence descended on us except for the revving of a car engine nearby, the chattering of frustrated students whose lectures did not hold and the ‘whoosh’ of air on dried grasses.

 

“My name is Nkem. A finalist from the department of Psychology,” he said with hands outstretched in front of me.

 

I received his hands which felt warm and soft like fur, unusual for a guy, and replied warmly but quickly as though my words could not wait to make their way out of my mouth, “I’m Uloma, a third year student of Biochemistry.”

 

“My pleasure meeting you. I’m rushing off for my seminar defense. I know we’d see each other around much often.”

 

I nodded.

 

Within weeks, our friendship blossomed into a love affair interspersed with regular visits and poems with cheesy titles and poorly written lines. Our love was smooth and easy. A vague vision hits me each time I try to remember how we got to dating ourselves. It is true love, Nkem said. Any love you can remember how it started is not true love.

 

I think it rained the day he disvirgined me for it was incredibly cold. The song that played on his cheap CFD speaker was syrupy with enchanting lyrics. I retreated backwards at each thrust. Our bodies were sweaty and our moans were soft, like cotton wool.

His blindingly white bedsheet was smeared with my blood – viscous red, it spread across like an open book

 

“You’re a virgin?” he asked, with a shocking pleasantness richly evident in his voice.

 

I was too bashful to answer and I tried to avoid his gaze. He turned my head in his direction and continued, “Honestly, I bin think say every fine girl don chop ogbono,” he concluded and delved into uncontrollable laughter. I was not amused by his amusement.

“Ogbono,” is a butter coloured seed gotten from the pulpy ugiri fruit known for its thickening effect in soups. Nkem said it is eaten with a slurpy sound, similar to the sounds of love making.

 

Mama called me a failed woman as she threw my things out. Nkem, my husband called me onye ara, a mad person. My children – Phiona and Abigail – stood by the door jamb, watching. Their eyes glassy with unshed tears. Their shoulders rose and fell silently under the burden of stiffened grief. I wondered what they thought of me. Did they see me as a failed woman, incapable of giving them a brother? Or did they see themselves as children born and bred by a failed woman?

 

Nkem makes it seem as though the entire process of conception and childbirth are the machinations of a woman. He thinks a woman births a girl child when she feels like, especially when maltreated by her husband. And a boy child when she feels like too, especially when her husband greets her with gifts of George wrappers and lace materials greatly fringed with fake diamonds.

 

Nkem dislikes Cash Madam alot. He calls her nwanyi ojoo, bad woman. He says that only a bad woman would place business above family. Cash Madam as she is fondly called by her customers, is a curvaceous woman with skin as smooth as sea pebbles. A moniker she earned because one would hardly visit her shop without seeing her counting fat wads of Naira notes. Unbeknownst to me, Nkem visited her and purchased George wrappers and velvety laces. He returned with the yellow paper bag ostentatiously emblazoned with “CASH MADAM BOUTIQUE. DEALER ON ALL KINDS OF FOREIGN MATERIALS. CONTACT US TODAY @ 12 OGUI ROAD AND HAVE A TASTE OF FASHION.”

 

His eyes were pleading and wanting and admonishing me to conform to his wish when he handed me the paper bag. I accepted it and peeped into it. I was aglow with happiness because it had been a long time Nkem gave me a gift. I threw my arms apart and closed the gap between us in a tight but warm hug.

 

When the doctor congratulated him on the birth of Abigail, our second daughter, he raged and fumed.

 

“No Doctor! It cannot be. She is meant to deliver a boy!”

 

I heard him because I was awake. I heard the shuffling of feet and my door opened to reveal his presence. His eyes were buttons of hot coal. I wanted to speak. I wanted to say “I am sorry,” but my words froze before they made their way out of my mouth. My silence was like bellows to his dying fire. He stormed out and closed the door with a loud thud.

.

For many months following Abigail’s birth, Nkem refused to touch and rock her like a father is wont to.

He avoided her as though she was a deadly disease he would contact if he as much as made a contact. Abigail grew up without a glee in her eyes, evident of fatherly negligence. She grew up with dim and dull eyes like one who awoke with a start. Once, she asked me what wrong she had done to father. She was saddened with the avoidance. The indifference with which Nkem treated her. She went further, begging me to confide in her the truth, if she was adopted or really our biological daughter.

 

“Mechie onu, Shut up! How can you have such thoughts, eh?” I hushed her softly.

 

“But he doesn’t reply to my greetings.”

 

“Keep greeting him. It won’t remove anything from you neither will it stop you from taking ogwu iba, malaria drug.”

 

“For how long mother? Eh, for how long?” she replied, ignoring my dry humour.

 

“For as long as it takes. I believe God will change him.”

 

But it hurt me, Abigail was too young for me to tell her tales, to confide in her the truth as she put it. She wouldn’t made sense of the present situation. The importance of a son over many daughters wouldn’t make meaning to her tender mind. And so, I resolved not to confide in her the truth, not to belittle her existence and make her question her importance as a woman. I wished she would behave like her elder sister, Phiona. Phiona asked less questions and lived a ‘ba kwomi’ life.

 

The week I started attending IT IS MY TURN MINISTRY was the same week Nkem called me a mad woman. It was also the same week Mama called me a failed woman. I was invited to the ministry by Mama Emeka, a well meaning and prosperous neighbour. I would have called her a prophetess but who doesn’t know what I am going through? Not with the constant altercations and fights with Mama and Nkem’s sisters. They accuse me of trying to close their lineage as Nkem is their only son.

 

“Eziokwu m, my Papa is able and capable. He is a very anointed man of God,” Mama Emeka said convincingly.

 

“All these men of God,” I sighed, “they are just fake,” I replied.

 

“Not my Papa!” she interrupted sharply with her face scrouged up as though she suddenly tasted sour udala. “He stays on the mountain than he stays in town,” she stopped to catch her breath and continued, “I swear,” she licked her forefinger and pointed it to the sky, “you only need one touch from my papa, just one touch,” she indicated with a closed fist and forefinger pointing upwards, “to bear your husband a son.” “A healthy son” she added quickly for better effect.

.

IT IS MY TURN MINISTRY is a Pentecostal church located at the end of Peter Okoye street. Built with tarpaulin and decorated with yellow and blue ribbons, it had the appearance of what an angry child hastily built. “A book should not be judged by its cover” was the only statement that assuaged my doubts. Great gifts come in rough packages and after all, most powerful churches are not built fancifully, I thought.

 

White chairs were arranged in circular forms and a long wooden bench painted in fake gold was adjacent to the pulpit. I imagined it the bench for VIPs. For those who paid their tithes and seed of faith. For those who shaked and pressed brown envelopes into the palm of the Pastor and he would say a quick “God bless you” with the fluidity of repeated familiarness.

 

I stopped wearing trousers and no longer relaxed my hair. No makeup. No earrings. And I started speaking in tongues. Nkem complained of how much I disturbed him with my midnight prayers but I did not pay attention to him. He had suddenly forgotten that we do not fight against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers in high places. I also discarded all my red clothings because ‘Papa,’ as the pastor was fondly called by his congregants, preached against it.

 

“Do not wear red. It blocks your heavenly blessings,” he said in one of the Sunday services, his voice high-pitched and sonorous, indicating seriousness.

 

“If you must receive your heavenly blessings, you must stop worldly acts.”

 

IT IS MY TURN MINISTRY emphasised more on lifestyle than salvation.

 

I started cooking jollof rice with olive oil and I always wore the church crusade uniform when I did. The uniform had two straps which went over the shoulders and encased the upper body. Our papa in church said the apron would ward off contrary spirits and the olive oil would drain all infirmities. He also instructed me to smear the olive oil over Nkem’s sturdy penis each time we were to make love.

He also admonished me to make love to Nkem on Tuesdays and Thursdays only because those are the days he goes to the mountain to intercede for his church members.

 

Nkem was greatly riled when I told him of the Pastor’s instructions.

 

“I don’t understand how another man would give me sex timetable, eh?”

 

“He is not another man Nkem, he is an anointed man of God. He is our Messiah” I said while unlocking my brassiere.

 

As Nkem was about to slid into me, I held him half way in the air with my left palm pressed against his hairy chest and retrieved the “GOYA Extra Virgin Olive Oil” from under the pillow with my right hand.

The seal broke open as I screwed the bottle cap anti-clockwise. Nkem kept staring at me in utter disbelief. I tilted the bottle and let its content slurp generously unto my palm.

 

“He said we will have a healthy son if we… ”

 

“Jesus!” I screamed. Clutching my oil smeared palm against my right cheek in effect of Nkem’s slap.

.

“You and that good for nothing Pastor of yours are crazy!” he said as he upended the remaining content of the olive oil on my head and made to retrieve his underwear, “First, it was sex timetable, now, this! I bu onye ara,  you’re a mad woman,” “You are leaving my house before you transfer your madness to my children” he said while kneeling out of bed. I was too befuddled to speak. Too stunned by his reaction. It seemed as though he was being remoted. He jerked me out of bed with a surprising agility as I hurriedly wound a wrapper around me. He dragged me along the corridor to the door jamb.

 

“I cannot live with this mad woman again” he said, but to no one in particular. Mama followed him closely wheeling my travelling bags.

Nkem made sure all my belongings were outside with me before he disappeared into the house. Phiona and Abigail stood watching. Before Mama hustled them inside, she turned to me and said, “A woman that cannot bear her husband a son is a failed woman.” She slammed the door and the sound ricocheted against my ears and I shivered.

 

I looked up to the sky. It is no longer wearing an azure colour but a magenta colour – evident of imminent rain. As I made to find my way, the rain descended on me. It came down in feathery silver droplets and soon felt like ice pebbles hitting my bare skin. I willed it to wash me, to cleanse me. For even the rain believed I am a failed woman and it punished me so. But I know I am not a failed woman. I am only a woman unable to bear just a son.

 

About the Author

Aluka Igbokwe is a Nigerian storyteller born and bred in Aba. He writes short stories and beautiful memoirs.He believes that life is filled with struggles and as inhabitants of earth, we must struggle to attain success.

 

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