Who Will Cover Me?

Uduak-estelle Bassey

Kai! I am in my house now. The time is past 11am and sun is already very hot; birds will not let me hear word, with their twid twid and plenty noise from all those people in my yard. There is red soil where my banana tree used to stand and wuiin wuiin noise from the old speaker on the veranda. “One two, testing, one two…” Soljaboy is trying to set the mic. Soljaboy, that one, is every work he use to do, him alone sell erujeje and de-rok them, sell kerosene inside Tonimas rubber, sell provision and once once, he will arrange sound for occasion and they will pay him money. Everything is inside that his tiny container shop. I didn’t know one day, he will do something for my family, anything apart from allowing my husband to sit on his wood bench, to drink his kaikai on credit. My husband, Laino, I will tell you about him later.

Almost 12 noon; hei! It is late, and I’m not suppose to be late. It is not my fault but I know they will say it is me that cause it; issokay. Today is not suppose to be long. I don’t want them to waste time here; I just want them to allow me to rest, finally. Church said we should start service by 9am, but look at time now. Chai! It is not my fault and I will still tell you why, remember me.

Mama has dress up; she is wearing that butterfly boubou that I sew for her that time it was reigning; that time wrapper material use to be two-fifty for one yard, that cheap one that is like tarpaulin. I sew for her and she hug me, hug me and pray, pray, pray.

“Now, I have hope that you will bury me… you know when I born just one daughter, they were telling me that if I have one thing, it is like I don’t have at all. But now, that my one thing has one, two, three, five branch and it never stop there. I born four son and it is my daughter that is sewing dress for me, sending my grandchild to sweep for me. I have hope – Papa, I thank you”

I wanted to make my mother happy; I wanted to give her good life. Nsa, that is her name. I wanted to do, so that she will forget all those years she suffer in Baba’s hands; that night he said she is smelling like ibad and made her to sleep in her kitchen, near fireplace. How can my mother smell like bonger fish? It is why I use to go and weed her farm without telling her because I don’t have money to be paying labour for her; why I still use to greet doctor, the chemist man, even after I hear what he said about me – that my children are always hungry and their eyes is like akamu that they have not change water for three days, but I still greet him because he was treating mama arthritis and cough. It is why I agree to marry Linus, my husband that everybody calls Laino; he had small money from his taxi driver work, so when mama said I should wait small because I am small, I said no; I wanted Laino to be giving her money. He promise me that he will.

It is true, I was small. Mama does not remember when she born me but she say it is the same time that the village head before the one before this one, died and they plant the farmlands by the river on the road to Efi. She said it was two days after ekim market day. I ask people and I count from what they told me, maybe I’m 32 or 37 like that. I use to pass maths in secondary school, but it doesn’t matter now; my age too. I did not give my mother a good life. Look at her, she is chewing her teeth and has refuse to tie her headtie. Edemma, Baba’s last sister is begging her and the only thing she is saying is, eyen ama akpa, asian akpa. Is it true that if a child die, he will go with all the mother shakara?

The day this thing happened, on Saturday, I did not know it was going to be like that. How will I know? Is it not me that pack my bag? I put wrapper, napkin, one retail pampers that I buy from the market on Monday, ndom, ogi, and all those other things that I usually pack when I am going to give birth. I master the thing; I am not a jjc. I send one crate of mineral, five litre of kerosene and one bar of key soap to Nene’s house; plus seven k because it is baby boy; if it is baby girl, is five k I will pay. She attend delivery of all my six children. I usually do my clinic in government health centre here in our village but when my time is near and it starts pinching me small, I will just find my way to Nene’s house. Her hand is blessed, she knows her work. When I was pregnant with my Adiaha, the doctor said my bp is high, Nene manage me well. There was another complain with my second child; in fact all my six children, blood was coming out like water, but Nene still did her work.

One thing about Nene, she will always tell me to go to hospital for clinic. When I start my belle, I will go and register in the hospital and the nurse will talk to me. After my third belle, the matron say she can help me with injection or tablet or put something in my hand, if I agree. It is not as if I did not want it o, but you see Laino, he did not want to hear it two times. When I born number five, I wanted to go behind his back and take injection; I told matron and she agree to help me, but one thing, one thing, I didn’t go again. The matron, I call her Aunty Nurse, she came to my house once and talk to my husband. She say the doctor is always marking red on my card and it is not a good thing; but she came at very wrong time when Laino eye have dirty. He charged and said she want to spoil his wife.

I beg her not to be angry. Let me talk true; that thing that Laino did, shame catch me and fear catch me too because of how he push my head inside cupboard when Aunty Nurse left. My eye was turning in my head; I say, let this man not come and kill me. It is why the whole family planning matter just come tire me; when God want me to born finish, he will not put child in my stomach again.

My husband, Linus, he was a good man. I marry him because he use to ask after my mother and he added money for me to learn tailor work. He senior me well, but he did not treat me bad; his taxi business was moving well and he own one side of his father’s house. I remember Rebecca, my big cousin, how she use to share kitchen with her mother-in-law and inside her husband’s big family house, they give only one room to her husband. Laino had two rooms and parlour, plus my own outside kitchen. I calculate all that before I agree to marry him.

My father died four years before I marry Laino, so it was my father’s brothers that collect everything on my head. Laino did not go to school; me, I finish SS3. When I born my baby number three, Ofon, Laino cannot maintain his taxi again, he sold it and say he wants to use the money for pig business. Business, I did not see; money, I did not see. After this time, I didn’t understand my husband again, he changed; the only time you will see him happy is when he has use palmy or ogogoro to fill his belle. That time, he will be singing; he won’t even take evening bath; that’s how he will just carry sweat and rub on me and won’t even hear when I say I have headache; that is how he will do his thing. What is his own? After, he will krooook, krooook like frog when I am fanning my yansh. Hmmm.

If it is before before, I won’t tell you all these things, because I will be thinking, “Why do you open your yansh outside?” I will say, “If Laino hears, he will send me outside, naked; that is how Philo will carry my gist and enter village.” Don’t ask me why I’m talking now; pikin don born for market, you dey tell me make I close leg. Shame suppose to catch me, but no; it will not catch Laino too, kaikai won’t allow. I need to talk so that my Adiaha and my little Ofon will hear. Let them know. I want Matthias’ wife to know that shame does not kill anybody; but when you close mouth like this, maybe you have prepare your grave. Maybe if she hear me, she will open her mouth and tell her mother the truth – that the time plenty blood came out from her yansh till she faint, it was not menses; it was Matthias that kick her and remove her belle by himself.

Back to that Saturday. When I reach Nene house, she say before two hours finish, I will born my baby and true true, I born o. You want to know what then happened, abi? Let me talk fast, the pastor is almost finishing his preaching.

My baby came out around 2pm, but till around 6pm, my prasenta did not come out. Kai! I use my eyes to see my ọgọ that day. I want to tell you everything that happened but your belle is not strong, you will vomit the garri you drank before you came here. It wasn’t easy sha; nothing that Nene did not do; she squeeze leaf and drop in my mouth and eyes; she pray for me and even call Aunty Nurse on the phone. She put my baby on my lap and was telling me to look at him but sleep was catching me so I could not look. Blood just full the place and Nene was slapping my cheek and putting spoon in my mouth, but I was tired. You sef, check now, since morning, since when I born my first child, since when my mama born me, I was tired. Mama was shouting and begging me too but it was like she was far away.

“You will not sleep in Jesus name; if you sleep, who will cover me…”

Kai! We have talked till they’ve almost finished everything. Go and collect jellof rice and eat or are you still waiting for me to tell you whether I later sleep? You say? Oh, whether Laino came? My sister, like my mother’s voice, I hear him shouting from the corridor, “person life dey, or e no dey?” He eyes have dirty that time.

But if I didn’t sleep that day, me and you will not have this gist today. Laino would not have collect money from my brothers to bring me home; he will not open his mouth by past nine this morning to say he used the money to settle his kaikai credit. Imagine! Do you know mama finally borrow money to settle my mortual fee before they allow them to bring me home? My sister, that is why I came late for my own burial. Now, go and eat rice and tell them to do quick and allow me to sleep.

Uduak-estelle Bassey is an animal physiologist, editor, literary critic and instructor based in Lagos, Nigeria. She writes on Medium and is a SprinNG.org contributor who loves warm woolly socks and classical music.