The Clan Meeting

My mother was wrapped in a shawl, it was one she often wore when she was sad and low, and never when she was actually cold. Her eyes were red and puffy, from crying and sleepless nights spent in prayer and intercession.

My father’s arms were crossed tighter than a fisherman’s knot as if holding himself back from reaching out grabbing me by the ear, dragging me across the floor and whipping me senseless.

I had already had a taste of his anger. I had felt it, every ounce of his anger, his disappointment and shame. I felt him hit me hard across the face. I felt my body falling straight into the hard cold embrace of the tiled floor below. I heard the buzzing and vibrations going through my cheeks and into my ears. But even with that anger that was so palpable, there was still a warmth and tenderness in his eyes, the kind that could only be seen in the eyes of a father. My heart lurched at the thought of them.

There I was, swollen eyes, heavy heart and crushed spirit, feeling abandoned and alone and yet seated on a mat surrounded by them. They say a child is raised by a village. And thus the village had thrust me into this circle to swallow me whole.

I’m pregnant. I’m only 18 years old and already pregnant.

It was all around me, hate and glee at my misery. It felt surreal. I was numb, and feeling like I was on the outside looking in, watching myself go through these tribulations with a slowly hardening heart.

I heard their whispers and their snickers. I felt the bile they kept spewing at me.

It burnt.

I felt every hot stab from Aunt Hope’s whispers, blaming my mother for my misconduct, assuring all who cared to listen that she had always doubted my purity; and Aunt Joy, whose sentiments involved getting rid of my child.

The whispers kept growing louder and louder until they weren’t whispers any more. My Uncle John was the loudest, not worried whether or not I heard what he had to say. He wondered whether the family had found out who the father of my child was, and demanded the lout come forward to pay dowry and an extra cow for the child.

Later, with a clearer mind, found this less unsurprising. Of course all he saw were possibilities, countless opportunities. Perhaps he would be able to make a deal here and a buck there. But stuck in that moment, all I felt was the brutality of my own people.

I looked around the room and suddenly couldn’t see my mother’s grieved face and teary eyes. I couldn’t see my father’s sunken and shamed face either.

I had been left to my own demise.

The whispers grew with power, relentless, vicious; like lashes against my person. Aunt Hope became more vocal with her thoughts, asking whether or not I would be allowed to go back to school with a bump.

“We should give other children an opportunity to finish school instead of these ones who misuse their chances,” she effortlessly, like she did not consider the implications of what she was saying.

It was obvious to me she wanted more help from my father to help raise another one of her brats. It wasn’t too long ago when she was the main focus of a clan meeting in which she was asked to quit drinking at local pubs in the village and birthing more children that she could take care of. The sheer hypocrisy of it all was stunning.

Continuing in the same self-righteous vein, Aunt Hope suggested that I marry, adding snidely: “We know the child can’t even cook and that she can barely manage a home by herself. If the house help I brought wasn’t here, this house wouldn’t be a home. Ekosi ekiror!! Akosi wokot!! Such a waste of our name and of our strong blood line.” My ears burned at the boldness of her insult.

I felt like I was being drowned in their cruelty and hate, and choked by their loathing. I couldn’t let them see me cry. I wouldn’t.

I looked down at the mat on which I sat, a hand-woven sisal mat made of dyed fibres. It was a gift my mother’s mother had brought with her on her last visit. It was a beautiful mat, with shades of red, maroon, purple and pink perfectly blending into each other and a thick green embroidery to seal off it.

Ikakoku!! My child,” she often called me with gentility and warmth.

I ran my hands over it thinking of her and how good she was to me. It felt magical in a manner that I couldn’t quite completely comprehend but it stiffened my resolve, like an invisible hand lending me support, and lifted my spirits. It gave me strength.

I had had enough.

“You cannot say that and get away with it, Aunt Hope.”

I felt them shift their attention towards me, stunned, their faces filled with shock at my sudden bout of confidence. A few others grimaced in disgust.

“If you feel indebted for the strong blood of the clan as you call it, then I shall gladly do you the honour of slitting these wrists and draining myself of every drop of it and I shall serve to you. How would you like it? In a pie? In a large tumbler, perhaps?”

My words seemed to vanish, my anger at the injustice of it all, the hypocrisy, robbing me of any eloquence. All I seemed able to do was repeat over and over:

“You cannot take my child from me. I won’t allow it. It isn’t your call to make. You cannot decide how my future should turn out. I won’t give you that power.”

I ran to the house, my feet hardly touching the ground as I drifted through space and time, everything a blur around me. I found myself standing alone in my room, exhausted, heaving and desperately needing to lie down and close my eyes and not think; the world around me was one I could not comprehend any more.

I jerked awake later, barely able to understand how I had fallen asleep. I felt numb all over; my chest was heavy and I could barely catch my breath. I was sweating and yet very cold at the same time.

There was a peculiar wetness between my legs.

I raised my duvet and sheets and was met by the sight of a large blot of blood. The sight of it consumed me, my mind threatening to flee. I felt my chest became even heavier and my head began to spin. For a moment, I struggled to breathe and a cold sweat broke out on my brow. I could not raise a hand to wipe it. It turned out to be a greater task than I could imagine because my arms were heavy and limp.

I tried to bring myself to climb out of bed but my legs feet felt like butter; I couldn’t quite move them. They felt terribly feeble. The room began to spin, yawning at me in circles. I shut my eyes and took a few deep breaths, saying a little prayer beneath each one.

“Lucy?” I heard a voice come from the corner of the bedroom. It was my older sister.

Slowly, I became aware of my surroundings; my sister was seated at the foot of my bed. Her mouth was moving but I could not make out what she was saying. The daze and confusion from my sleep slowly faded away reluctantly, like a sand blanket being blown from my eyes.

But with clarity came nausea, and a sharp pain that clenched my stomach. With the growing realisation that I had been dreaming earlier, I reached out and touched my belly.

It was flat.

“Lucy!!” my sister was shouting my name.

I turned to face her again, my movements slow and stupid.

She peered at me, anxiety filling her face.

“Are you okay? You’ve been sick for days now. They got you some anti-malarial medicine but I know better. Is it those terrible cramps of yours again? I’ll get you some medicine. You were tossing and turning in your sleep. I think I heard you sleep talk and at some point I thought I heard you scream. Nightmares, my dear?”

She handed me a tiny tablet and some water and continued, “At least now, you can rest easy. You had me worried when you said that you had missed last month…

Her words seemed to trail off afterwards as I desperately tried to make sense of everything and clear my mind. Then it all came back to me. Suddenly I felt I could breathe again.

It had all been a dream; a long vicious dream. Everything I had felt and heard had been a dream.

Except…

…those words my sister had said.

“You had me worried when you said that you had missed last month…”

Except there had been a child.

I remembered the scan, hidden within my pillowcase; that image by which modern science helped us have a glimpse of what was growing inside us.

No one else knew. No one but David.

And shortly after, I found myself in a small clinic, one of those neat discreet ones tucked away in a happy suburb. I told the doctor about the little problem that I had and they led me into a stuffy little room. It was painted yellow, a sad and dull yellow, and slightly chipping in one corner of the room. There was nothing else in the room but a large chart explaining different infections and diseases that young women often get with a detail of symptoms. I read through the entire thing, trying to distract myself from what was about to happen. And as I let them violate my body and take my child from me, I stared at that chart, at the smile of the happy young lady on it, the cold delight in her eyes. I stared at her, wanting her happiness, wishing for it, desperate for her kind of peace.

My body shook at my recollections. I felt dizzy and nauseated.

I thought about David.

I thought about how he had wanted the child. I thought about how he had been scared and worried when I told him about it and yet overly excited at the very same time.

“You’re still so young and you want a child?” I had asked him.

“I’m in love with you and old enough to have a child,” he had answered with a grin.

He was so young. A great number of his peers were rather foolhardy and never spoke of the future past the next weekend mark. The few that seemed to have some constraint spoke of the future with five year plans but never with inclusion of wives or children and yet here was David pledging himself to a dream that was like clinging onto smoke.

I couldn’t have it. I had thought of my father and all the plans he had made for me to go abroad and get my first degree. I had thought of what he would have done to me if he had ever found out. I had thought about my mother and how she would have mourned and pounded her chest, wondering where she had gone wrong as a mother.

I couldn’t keep my child. And now I had to find the courage to tell David, after I had gotten rid of it.

I fought my way out of bed, filled the tub and immersed myself in it for hours. I felt raw and bruised. I washed myself more times than I could count, sobbing heavily, my tears mixing with the warm water.

I scrubbed, rinsed, and refilled the tub with fresh water for another bath. But no soap and water could make me clean.

With shaky hands I called up my boyfriend; I managed to keep my voice steady my voice long enough to ask him if we could meet. He sounded delighted, which made it worse.

I waited the hours till our appointed time, feeling numb. Time and space seem to slip by me like water over a rock on the beach. Soon I was seated right opposite him, my lie prepared.

His happy eyes made facing him harder.

“I had a miscarriage,” I lied.

I couldn’t look straight at him lest I broke down all over again. But it was harder now. As I sat there, I could feel the unwelcome wetness roll down my cheeks and choke me in my throat.

More time and space slipped by me as he dropped me off at home. I went straight to my room, thankful that the house was empty. I drew the curtains, wanting nothing more than darkness and the semblance of peace provided by my solitude.

I wailed so much that I thought I would have passed out from the pain that I felt in my body and in my soul. As I fell asleep, I hoped that maybe, just maybe, I would wake up to find that all of this, every single bit of it: the meeting, the baby, the lies I had just told David, were all but one messed up nightmare.

I hoped.

I prayed.

I drifted.

I slept.

 

Footnotes

Earlier this year, I decided to take part in a few writing competitions, so I quickly put this together and had a friend help with the editing. Right after I submitted it and after the deadlines for these competitions had passed, I got, what I imagined were better story-lines for short stories, but I still hoped that maybe, just maybe, this one would at least get onto the long list for any one of the writing competitions that I had submitted it for, it didn’t. <sigh!!> Oh well!! Back to the drawing board I presume.

I do hope that at least someone out there enjoys it…even though it is an odd tale.

Cheers!!!

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4 thoughts on “The Clan Meeting

  1. Chisom says:

    I did. There is still a little work to be done in editing it…but yes, I enjoyed it. Thank you.
    P.S: never be discouraged by not getting on the long list, only let it spur you to keep doing and enjoying what you like doing.

  2. Evelyn says:

    oh Elma…what can I say that I haven’t already said? You are our Chimamanda…I know it, I believe it…and I cannot wait to see you as New York Time’s best seller…That will be the day…you are a GREAT writer…I absolutely love reading your pieces…I actually keep them to be read like a book I never want to end…so beautifully written…

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