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issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii 



issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii issue ii 

in the beginning was darkness

content warnings: death, strong body imagery, violence
Chinecherem Udo | prose


That's the last sound I hear before the world goes dark.


I'm crouched beside my fallen mother, my father towers above us like bent iroko, his face- a contortion of riotous emotions, his arms- outstretched in restrained fury, as huge as newly harvested yams. In my four-year-old head, I start to grasp the concept of demon possession. My mother whimpers beside me, and I find my heart jumping in my throat. My mother trembles so badly, that it seems to transmit to my heart causing it to beat erratically. I close my eyes as I see my father's hand come down with a speed greater than a violent breeze and click is the last sound I hear in my head before the world goes black.


I am the only child of my mother born to a polygamous father. I have 2 stepmothers and every day, I wish I had a say in my conception. Being female came with its burden especially when you find yourself in a society where the yardstick of measuring value was a penis hanging between your legs.


The first time my world went dark, I saw my mother retreating into a shell, a cocoon of helplessness, I was four and that day, I saw my mother reduced to a child with the way she was sprawled on the floor. I never knew a grown person could look so small. With a brain spotted with confusion, I went to her and wrapped my hands around her broken frame, cupping my hands together around her like one trying to stop water from spilling out through your fingers, elbows bent like one holding a toddler, wishing I could somehow provide a haven where she could fit in her entirety and feel protected. After a moment or two, I half turned my body and stared at my father with frightened eyes, hoping that the sight of me would at least diffuse his anger. I hoped wrong. As I saw his arm come down towards us, my fear grew in my hands and clicked the switch in my brain and my world went black.


Throughout my childhood, I learned and relearned the concept of pain. I saw pain when I scraped my knee as I played in the bush and there was nobody to cry to. I saw pain when my mother squeezed my ear and threw spittle in my eye when I asked her why she put up with papa despite his abuse, and when I refused to believe that all I had in my future was marriage to a man old enough to be my father, she'd instantly repeat "You're too restless for a girl, sit quiet, be composed, a woman is meant to be seen, not heard.”


I thought I knew pain, I thought I'd learned its complete syllabus, but when I was 10, I understood that pain is a ladder, a ladder as high as the tower of Babel, a ladder that could make you reach heaven, but would first take you to the grave, sometimes just your soul, sometimes with your body in tow, I saw pain when my step sister was circumcised. "A sexual female is like a wildfire that if not controlled would raze everything in its path." So I watched Okommiri take a razor to my sister's genitalia, and the scream that reached my ears must have reached God's ears as well.


 I never knew pain could be felt just from hearing a sound, so I shut my eyes hoping to block out the sound, but if I'd been wise from the lesson I had learned when I was four, I would know that being blind to reality doesn't make it any less true.


I was 12 when I went through the same process myself, I clasped my hand and asked for death, from ala, from amadioha, from whichever god willing to hear. I prayed and bled in places eyes couldn't see, that day I realized that God had no ears. I cried, I begged, I shivered in fright, I wondered what sin I committed in my former life that made me deserving of this life. I cried, I begged, I grit my teeth in cataclysmic shock, and I told mama that I would never speak back to her if she stopped them from going ahead. I cried and cried, begged till my voice gave out, and when I couldn't bear it any longer, my world went dark. That was the second time my brain flipped the switch.


I remember my uncles although the memories are hazy, they were a different breed altogether.

Huddled with my father in the outer verandah, they engaged in raucous laughter. With clothing barely concealing their organs, they reveled in their manhood.

Laughing at the world, savoring male privilege. I was eight when one of my uncles asked me to play with his "flute". It felt wrong but I kept mute, in a world where the language of the dumb serves you better than the voice of truth, you learn to adapt by milking the wisdom of keeping away.


I was 17 when my father decided I was ripe for marriage, grown into a woman, I was a fattened yellow mango ready for plucking. I was 17 when I was married to a 43-year-old palm wine tapper. His mouth always hung open, like a huge basin of cassava left to ferment, the odor that oozed from his breath was also in agreement. A sallow face and skinny bones, he seemed like a sacrifice picked clean by the gods with only remnants to see. He would space out when discussions were going on and join in on the laughter, wheezing like a goat that just ran a marathon.  I wanted to run, I wanted to hide, anything to get away, I was 17 when I first considered suicide.


Decorated with black paint and different ornamental beads, I was led into my husband's home, and given the number "six" from his five wives. That night as he made his way inside me, I wanted to cry and pluck the hair from the world's head, but the tears in me had gone on a journey, years ago. I watched him with glazed eyes as he moved up and down, an involuntary act of survival forcing me to breathe through my nose.


I was 18 when I got pregnant. It felt weird having a new life inside me, I was helpless, unable to help mama, unable to help myself, so for the sake of my child, I prayed it would be a boy. He'd have better odds in life than I did. 


I was 19 when I returned life to mother nature. The midwife in charge said my circumcision had been done wrong, and having a baby had been more wrong. The child couldn't come out and when air couldn't reach his nostrils, he gave up living, at least, it had been a boy, I chuckle in one part of my mind.

The extra tear in my vagina causing a disease which left me emptying my bladder without warning seemed to be my punishment for carelessness. It was all my fault, all my life I'd never seemed to get anything right, starting from my gender to my inability to protect mama, to my circumcision and now I'd killed my baby, maybe that's what these hands are good for, maybe these marks on my palms are recipes for death.


I walk around for days after the failed delivery like a mindless zombie, bearing the corpse of my child in my mouth, with flies for friends following my leaky vagina watering the hardened soil. A few days later I heard papa had died. They made mama shave the hairs on her head, down to the ones on her body. What was worse than being a woman and a wife in my world was being a widow. They washed Papa's lifeless body, scrubbed every crevice of hollowed bones and steeped a cup from the water. They made mama drink from that cup. I wonder if it tasted like nothing- like what her life had been reduced to. I wonder if it tasted like regret and blackened eyes, I wonder if it tasted like pain, I wonder if I'd be able to do the same if my husband died.


It was slightly drizzling the day I embarked on my journey to meet the devil and come back home. The trees in the forest made a canopy and played a lazy game of catching the raindrops with their leaves. Each drop that slipped from their reach, I watched land on my skin. I was 21 when I entered the forest to search for what would make the darkness stay. I gathered the herbs I could find, herbs that were housed in the warnings that came out of my mother's mouth. For once, I was relieved that maybe God had woken as I found the herbs that would bring me eternal relief. Maybe God's plan had never been for me to live on this earth, maybe his plan all along had been that I give up and come stay with him in his kingdom, because what kind of a father would let their child walk through the desert and a scorching sun when they lived near a fountain?. I took the herbs home and made soup with it, served my husband with head bowed like a fowl's coop. My spirit was broken, my body was simply following suit. He'd be dead in an hour or maybe three.


I make my way to the river where I find a child laid at the edge. She's such a beautiful child, sleeping so calmly like the wind was playing a lullaby. I look for her mother but I can't find her. I sadly come to the realization that, like a commodity believed to have no value, she had been discarded like a smelly waste, to survive the wild or die trying.


I shake myself from a sudden gloom, I had business to attend to, one that I hoped wouldn't leave me alive. Slowly, I strip myself of each piece of clothing, I strip until I'm bare like the day I was born, I strip until my skin is undone. With slow strides, I gently move to this beautiful unfortunate child, hold her cheeks and say a prayer to spirits that be. I pray she finds the peace I never did and she finds it faster than I ever could.


Slowly, I step into the river and watch it meet me eager, the only excitement that doesn't give me shivers, I step deeper and deeper until the water is at my chin, I shut my eyes and go deeper, welcoming the water in my lungs, fighting the urge within that wants to survive despite the odds. I tamp down that ugly urge of survival and wait for the darkness that I've come to love, hoping that this time, it never lets me go.


Udo Chinecherem is a student of microbiology at the University of Nigeria Nsukka. She is an introvert to the core who seeks expression through writing. Apart from reading and writing, her other hobbies include listening to music and watching movies.

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