I love the rain. I love the smell of the rain, the way it manages to make old things new again. I loved playing in the rain, I’d run out and stick my tongue out while I danced under its powerful force, while it drowned out the shrieks of my mother warning me that I’d catch pneumonia if I continued with my childish antics. But I wouldn’t listen. I would dance and dance, imagining I was the rain goddess and all the droplets were coming down at my bidding. Only the sound of my father’s horn would bring me back to earth. ‘Beep beep’ and I knew play time was over. I would dash up the stairs like the lightning that had come earlier, just before my father’s thundering footsteps entered the door. “Chinwe”, Chinwe, his voice echoing round the whole house like the sound of the trumpet call at the second coming of Christ. “Yes, papa, I am in the toilet”, was the only response I could manage through my chattering teeth. “You have been playing in the rain again, stupid child!!!”. “No papa”…but it was always too late. His hand had covered my face in one swift motion. There was no escape. I never bothered to beg, instead, I allowed my body to morph into whatever shape it could when I fell to the floor. I would just lay there until he was finished. Sometimes it would go on for what felt like hours, his touch, his body, his sweat, his hands, all in places they shouldn’t be. But I would just lie there like a corpse, sometimes he would ask me to move my body, but I couldn’t. I wouldn’t; it was impossible to move. At first I thought it was normal for my father to play with his only daughter like this. I thought this was what every female child had to endure for not being a boy. But when I slept over at Nkem’s house last year, her father didn’t touch her that way. I was surprised. And then I realised, it was only my father that touched me this way. This was our special touch.
Those thoughts were soon dispelled when I saw Papa touching Ogonna the housemaid in our special way at the back of the shed two weeks ago. I just stood there watching them. I didn’t want to but my feet were frozen; I willed them to move, but they refused. So there I was, watching papa touch Ogonna. But this was different, Ogonna seemed to enjoy it, her eyes seemed to roll to the back of her head. I wondered what on earth would make her eyes dance like that; it was a strange place for one to position their eyes. But before I could make sense of Ogonna’s strange eye posture, Papa had pushed her to the ground and was running towards me like a crazed hyena. “You stupid child, what are you doing here?” his voice bellowed as he ran towards me. Luckily my legs were reenergised now, so running was the only response my body could give. I don’t remember running faster, my feet barely touching the dry red sand. The last thing I remember seeing is papa falling to the ground as he clutched his wrapper over his manhood, shouting “Chinwe, come back here. Come back here, you God-forsaken child!”. But I was no fool. I ran all the way to the seminarian’s court house. I knew Father Peter would be taking confessions now and I needed to confess my sins. I needed to confess to Father Peter because, one way or the other, I knew I was going to die for what I had seen and it would be better to go to heaven with a clean slate. So I confessed to Father Peter. I told him how I saw Papa touching Ogonna in our special way at the back of the shed and how I made Papa fall to the ground as he ran after me. Father Peter took me home that evening and promised to talk to Papa. I was relieved – it seemed that everything would be okay afterall. I even allowed myself to dream that maybe everything would be okay, I wouldn’t have to die for what I had seen and maybe Papa would even stop touching me and Ogonna.
But I was indeed a fool. The next day, after I came back from school, I went straight to the kitchen, like I always did, to greet Mama and help with the afternoon chores. To my surprise, I found aunty Ifeoma and aunty Chioma in the kitchen with Mama. “Good afternoon Aunty…” but before my greeting had left my lips aunty Chioma’s fat hands had covered them. “Chinwe, Chinwe, Chinwe, how many times did I call you!?” screamed aunty Ifeoma. It was difficult to hear how many times she had actually called my name, as my ears were still ringing from aunty Chioma’s earlier slap. Nonetheless, I figured a wrong answer would serve me better than no answer at all. Since I could barely feel my mouth move, I held up three fingers in the air to signify my answer. But that was not enough for aunty Chioma. “Oh oh….so all of a sudden you cannot talk again, Chinwe! Your mouth has lost the ability to function today okwaya (is that so)?”
“Mba [no] aunty”, I replied, quickly realising that the signing method was no longer a healthy option.
“So why is it that your mouth was running faster than the Ogili stream, when you were telling Father Peter lies about your father yesterday!?” screamed aunty Chioma. I was in shock, I couldn’t believe that the reason for this beating was because of what I had seen yesterday. I looked at Mama, and her eyes were as red as fire. “Mama, it was not a lie I screamed”, but it was no use.
“Mechunou [shut up], just shut those lying lips of yours before I cut them off with a cutlass!”, screamed aunty Chioma. “You want to disgrace your mother, okwaya, you want to add to her plight because she cannot have a male child”. I had often wondered why everything I did always seemed to add to my mother’s inability to conceive a male child. But I realised that this was not the time to ask this particular question. So instead, I stood in silence and looked at my mother, pleading with her with my eyes to believe me. But she just sat there and cried, while aunty Ifeoma consoled her. Aunty Chioma, as usual, was in her element, shouting and screaming every Igbo abuse there was at me. Now I understood why she wasn’t married. It would be impossible for anyone to marry her; she was the fattest person I had ever seen. Everything about her was in excess. Her flesh, her eyes and nose, her voice and her eating habits. After what seemed like the time between two yam seasons, I was asked to return to my room and pray my Rosary, so the Virgin Mary could help me change my lying ways. I did as I was told but soon fell asleep. I was awoken to what I believe was hunger. I hadn’t eaten since yesterday morning, but the thought of bumping into either aunty Chioma or aunty Ifeoma, or worse still, Papa, was all the satisfaction my stomach needed. So instead of praying to the Virgin Mary to heal me of my so called lying ways, I prayed that she would ask Jesus to turn some of the books on my shelf into bread. But it seemed even She was angry with me because my prayers remained unanswered.
The next two weeks passed without event. Papa had gone out with the men for the annual hunting season and Mama, as usual, was more interested in her chores than me. So it was up to me to entertain myself. I would normally go to the seminarian’s court to help Father Peter in the church garden, but I decided it was better to keep away from him. That is why I was glad when the rains came. Aunty Ngozi, our previous housemaid, had told me how the people in her village had worshipped the rain goddess because only she knew how to control the mystical powers of the rain. She would regale me for hours on end with stories of how the rain washed away illnesses and how rain water was the best water to drink. She once told me how a man, close to death, had been cured of his disease by drinking 50 cups of rainwater and how the first rains were perfect for washing away bad dreams and events. So as soon as I saw the heavy rain clouds draw closer to the house and the red soil circling in front of the gate as the heavy winds carried it around, I was ecstatic. I saw Mama and Ogonna rushing to remove the clothes from the washing lines and I couldn’t wait for the rainwater to wash away all the horrible events of the previous weeks. But my rain dance was cut short by Papa’s return and there would be no washing away of the bad memories of the past. ……
To be continued…
To God be the glory
Watch out for part two (Naija Style!)
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