“If you like keep laughing like you picked up a ten kobo coin until I bring my cane.” Mama yelled from the bedroom.
But Kosi didn’t stop tickling me. As I wriggled to escape from his grip, my knee caught the edge of the dining table and the crockery with papa’s dinner fell.
“Chinazo!” mama screamed.
Immediately, it felt like the world froze for a second. Kosi ran to the back of the cushion chair where we normally play hide-and-seek as he heard mama’s quick footfalls stomping from the bedroom. I developed a painful churn in my stomach. It started to feel like I wanted to piss and poo at the same time.
My mind told me to stoop down and pack the slimy ogbono soup now patched with the ceramic pieces. But my body just wouldn’t move. I felt stiff like the banana tree at the back of compound. No matter how much we hit it, it wouldn’t yield. If only, I thought, mama would try her backhand on it just once. We would know for sure.
I was still standing there looking at the gooey bad luck that will earn me a beating when mama walked in. Knowing what would come, I gently lowered myself to begin scooping the soup off the floor. Dipping a wet napkin into a small bowl, I would scoop and deposit the slimy soup into the bowl. In two swipes, in was done.
Mama stood there watching. And seething. I don’t know if it clicked back or what, or that she remembered that it was actually papa’s dinner that I was now scooping off the ground that made her to say, “I will show you what the fire uses the rat’s ear for this evening.” The accompanying conk was swift, right on my ogo.
She was back to stitching my gown, sitting where she was earlier before Kosi motioned me to come to the sitting room to play. I had told him I didn’t want to because mama had asked me to stand and watch as she stitched my torn school uniform. But he kept tugging at my cloth. I wanted to play too and was tired of standing. I counted to thirty in my heart before I left to join Kosi in the sitting room. Mama didn’t say anything. Maybe because I murmured that I was going to use the toilet.
My hands were raised with eyes shut as I knelt before her, a few inches from the bed. I sobbed quietly as she lamented about how I played too much and couldn’t keep calm for a minute. The reason why my uniforms are torn or too dirty that washing it clean will make it wear out quickly. Also, the reason why I couldn’t make the first five positions in my class.
“You don’t know you are a girl.” She continued to chide. “You’d be running around restlessly like a boy.”
“Your mates are house helps in people’s houses. See, by the time I’m done with you that busy body spirit will leave you.”
The muscles of my arms where now tensed and caused me to lower my hands briefly. I opened my eyes a little as I dragged in the mucous that seeped out from my nose, taking a deep breathe along with it and my head still throbbing from the conk she gave me in the sitting room.
Kosi was now standing behind the curtain at the door. I saw his big eyes peering from the corner between the curtain and the door pane on the wall. He waved at me in sympathy and I nodded soberly in approval. I quickly squeezed my eyes shut as mama’s eyes locked with mine. Then the door to the bathroom squeaked open.
“Chi?” Papa called out for me as he stepped out. He had been in there all the while. His routine was the same every day he came home from work. He arrives to the gate at 6:30pm then hoots for Kosi and me to open the gate. We race each other to open for him, each of us taking a side of the gate. Once he gets inside, he immediately goes to take a shower and heads to the dining table where dinner would already be waiting for him.
It was the same this evening. He also came back with a yellow and black nylon bag filled with banana and roasted groundnuts.
“Chi?” He called out again. Kosi quickly informed him that I was kneeling down before mama…almost stammering.
“Kedu ihe omere?” Papa asked, peering through the curtain into the room. I opened my eyes to look at him. Droplets of water still stud his chest, and his left hand was holding the big mound tied to the front of the wrapper on his waist.
“Why are you asking me like you don’t know?” Mama retorted.
“Ngwa gbaghara na-o nwatakiri ka o bu.” He pleaded on my behalf. My heart smiled. Papa always rescued us from a beating from mama.
“Is a seven year old still a child? Are her mates not in people’s houses as maids?”
“Please forgive her my dear,” Papa pleaded further in a calm voice that always got mama to succumb.
“Chinazo, get the nylon with the banana to the sitting room,” he said as he left for the sitting room.
“Mama, thank you,” I said, standing up gently and watching her carefully just in case she yelled and decided to give me a backhand. But she didn’t respond.
“Anytime I try to discipline these children you will always interfere. When they are spoilt, then I will take the blame.” Mama murmured as I quickly left the room.
Later, as papa washed his hands in the water bowl and thanked mama for the delicious meal, Kosi took one piece of meat, he was seated next to mama who was watching the television.
‘Come and take yours,” papa motioned to me. I was sitting quietly beside the door. I looked at Mama, who kept staring at the television. I looked back at papa and he gave an assuring nod before I had the courage to stand up. When I lifted the empty crockery to the kitchen she immediately snapped, “if you like break this one again,” then hissed.
I counted my steps as I walked, silently praying that the host of heavens would guide me.
Chigozie Rita Chukwu Ike (@ri_chukwuike, Instagram & @chi_amazin, Twitter) is a human enthused about life. She lives by the philosophy, “living to the fullest.” When she is not writing, she advocates for the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and girls. She blogs about her experiences at journeyingtoconnect.com.ng.