You sit by the huge refuse dump at Watt market. Passersby stare at you in wonder, their noses scrunched up in disgust. They are wondering how you are not repelled by the pungent smell wafting up from the refuse dump. The refuse dump is at its unbearable best this evening, complete with fresh fish and meat entrails dangling from its corners, inviting flies of all races to bully themselves for a place in this banquet. You are not bothered by their piercing stares. It’s time for dinner and that is all that matters. You reach inside your tattered handbag and produce a rusty, empty tomato tin. You fill it with water from the gutter and then you bend over the refuse dump to reveal a pair of ashen buttocks. You wrap a few decaying entrails around your finger and you drag them out from the dense congregation of stench. Then you cut them to size with your razor-sharp teeth and spit them into the pot to simmer. You don’t understand why these people are staring pointedly at you. If only they knew of your small victories and all you have achieved in the past six months, they’d just go their way and let you eat your meat sauce in peace.
You once belonged in a loving family. Well, not too loving. Your mother was a banker who insisted on not hiring a house help, because she had heard stories of house helps who went to homes, pretended to be cleaning and unclogging drains, but their main aim was to ‘shake yansh’ and confuse people’s husbands. Yet she rarely did any chores. She left for work at 6.30am, left all the work for your father, a house husband, who did them all and never complained, his face beaming with blessedness. And when your mother’s driver would bring you home from school, tired and hungry, he would bathe you, feed you and lull you to sleep, caressing your temples and playing with strands of your brown hair. Whenever he kissed your forehead, it warmed your blood. For you, it was a stamp of his unshakeable love, a stamp that was renewed every morning when he woke you to prepare for school. He had told you, “Arimah, you have a bright future. You’ll shatter glass ceilings. You would not be like your mother.”
When you were nine years old, Father fell to a terrible skin cancer that tormented him so excruciatingly till his body became an open sore. Mother was too busy with her work to go see him at the hospital, so sometimes you begged Kevin, the driver, to take you there from school. You knew he was going to die when you saw him last; you felt like hugging his rotting flesh, felt like letting him stamp your forehead with his love kiss. But the nurses held you back and led you away. One day, about a year after Father died, Kevin came to pick up mother in the morning. She was running late due to her sluggishness with some chores she was never used to. Once she saw Kevin, she begged him to bathe you, dress you, feed you (she managed to concoct rice) and then drive you to school, while she begged a neighbour’s son to drive her to work. Kevin put you in the bath tub, scrubbed you, and while he was drying your body with a towel, he smiled, inserted two fingers inside you, and said you were beautiful. You winced in pain, but he promised you more pain unless you promised not to tell.
You tried in every possible way to tell Mother that you were not comfortable with Kevin picking you up from school. She didn’t ask why. She scolded you; “you this child, you want them to sack me eh? What spare time do I have from my busy schedule to come and pick you from school?” Then you tried to tell her that you were fine with Kevin picking you up, but he should take you to her work place instead of taking you home. She didn’t ask why; ” a growing child needs her fair share of siesta, something you cannot achieve in my office, Arimah.” So Kevin drove you home from school every day. You cannot really remember all that happened. But you could remember those times when he’d carry you from the car, drag up your school uniform; those times when he’d press his scratchy beard against your forehead, ploughing and jabbing and grunting. You had stopped crying long ago. You had noticed that whenever you cried, a devilish glint always lit his eyes and he became more forceful. These days you just close your eyes and think of Father’s love kiss until he is done. Every time, once he’s done, he gives you an avuncular pat on the back and mutters, “you’re sweet, you’re beautiful.”
One day, five days after you clocked thirteen, you were seated in English class and the teacher was saying something about tenses. Madam Bisi liked looking in your direction whenever she taught, because you were brilliant and expertly answered her questions. She was looking at you as usual, then she stopped talking, her face awash with shock. Why was she staring at you so fixedly? She was looking at your skirt. You looked down at your skirt; a wet patch was spreading quickly and turning your pepper red skirt to maroon. You were sure it wasn’t your period – it had just finished three days ago, and even if it was arrogant enough to impose itself on you twice in the same month, surely it would have given the usual signs. Madam Bisi ended the class abruptly and asked you to come over to her office. While there, you didn’t wait for her to ask the usual questions. You cut her short and provided a ripple of answers; ” it’s not my period. This thing has been happening for a while now. I don’t feel any sensation when it’s coming out.” Suddenly you began to feel throbbing pain down there, like someone with buckteeth has sunk his fangs into your lower abdomen. You screamed and when next you opened your eyes, you were in a hospital. Your eyelids refused to cooperate , but you can hear the rich voice of the doctor speaking to your mother. He’s saying something like, ” she’s got VVF, she’ll need to undergo five surgeries, and even then we cannot guarantee….”
Immediately, all those past memories began to twirl in your head. They all picked up metal spoons and began to scrape the walls of your brain. They scraped till your brain caved in and dissolved into one thick, grey puddle, stirred every time with spoons by those past memories. As you sit by the refuse dump, a fine lady driving a fine car speeds past you, syrupy RnB blaring from her speakers. You stand up and begin to wave wistfully. One mind tells you that could have been you. Another mind tells you, ” what does it matter, you’re here now. You belong here.”
Right now, even as the refuse dump is your new home, you know them. You’re not in full control of your mind, but you know them; those trousered, three-legged monsters that hung your dreams out to dry, like a raisin in the sun. But you have a plan; at night, you hide by the refuse dump, and at the sight of any trousered, three-legged fellow, you pull out the knife you stole from the butcher’s shed and stab his neck from behind. You stab him so vigorously that he has no time to think of defending himself. Then you cut off his third leg and store it in your bag, a bag that contains all your life fragments. This is the 20th you have cut off and stored, and you are just thirteen years old – you haven’t even peaked. This is the reason these people should stop staring at you and let you eat your meat sauce and celebrate your conquest in peace.
For you; because these small victories are the mother you never had. For you; because hangmen also die
Ekemini Pius is a first year student of English and Literary Studies at the University of Calabar – where he is also a member of the University debate Society. As a budding writer, he writes for the Calabar Youth Council for Women’s Rights and also freelances.