Date released:
October 28, 2021
Short story
Photo credit:

The warmth that binds us

Papa had a different side to him when he was with his Chi than I had seen when he had just finished beating Mama. He would always drop the rope-- the one we used in tying the barns of yam we took to the market on Eke market day. It was like demonic possession, like it usually called him to pick it up, give Mama some good whopping and immediately get on his knees to beg for her forgiveness. I have seen this too many a time. Mama would kneel with Papa and wipe the tears from his eyes in a robotic way, without feelings, like one compelled to take their role dutifully, assuring him it wasn't his fault, even when Papa knew it very much was.

There was no love lost between them, and I wondered why he had taken kegs of palm wine and carried his kinsmen all the way from Aba to Umuleri to bring her home as his wife. They had met in the old fashioned way people of old did. Papa had gone to see his friend Agunta, who had just come back from the white man's land in Umuleri and had seen Mama walk past with her friends on their way to the general market. She had with her a raffia basket made from the finest of trees. Papa said as he looked at the fine weaving and how they entwined with each other at the tip, a strange voice told him she was his wife. He would later find out that that strange voice who spoke to him was his Chi as he had heard stories from people whose Chi talked to them, but he had never experienced it. Papa told me this story anytime I came back from the market with the same raffia basket. I reminded him of the first time his Chi spoke to him and not because it had any romantic affiliation to the day he met Mama. Mama had long stopped carrying the basket. Although I had only spent fourteen moons on earth and little stones had started to form on my chest, I was no longer a child but a fierce thinker who had come to understand the silence between my parents. Mama's light skin contrasted with her constant dull and sullen look. She had a beauty that could be likened to that of the river goddess, yet she paid no heed to it or used it as a threat when Papa had informed her that he would be taking another wife because his Chi told him to. She didn't oppose or ask him if she wasn't enough amidst tears like Papa Amuzie's wife Uloaku had done, shouting and holding the collar of his shirt so tight that she carried him up, making his short legs dangle in the air as she threatened to kill any woman who wanted to come and take her place, not minding the crowd her screams had attracted. Instead, Mama maintained a straight face, the same one she had when Ego, Papa's second wife, gave birth to Ola and then umu ejima nwoke- the twin boys, the same one she had when she saw Ego and me getting closer than I have ever been with her or when she started to sleep in my hut. The only time Mama talked about the issue was with Uloaku, who called Ego a witch, while seated at the back of the whistling palm trees. I could barely make out their conversation, but I pressed on, tiptoeing even closer to where they were seated, yet trying not to make my presence conspicuous.

"Ya diba! I heard Mama say harshly. Let it be. "Chi ya ekwugo". His God has spoken. Mama sounded impatient, like one desperately trying to cover a secret. She looked around while dashing a threatening look to Mama Amuzie, urging her with her eyes to say less and I wondered what other secret Mama was hiding with her.

That rainy night, I wanted to tell Mama Ola what transpired between Mama and Papa Amuzie's wife, but I didn't want to hurt her feelings as she had gradually started turning into Mama as the days went by. I had pressed my ears against the window when I heard Papa scold her about the escapades with Chikeluba the hunter.

"I will find him and kill him, eziokwu m". Papa said, sounding irritated and cutting Mama Ola off, who decided then to keep mute, turning into Mama with that very act. I didn't mind the cold rain touching my bare skin or that Mama would come up to me with a candle. I only needed answers because Papa had gradually started taking my happiness away, or maybe I didn't like to see Mama Ola in pain. As I lay to sleep in our hut, I wondered if Papa's Chi would approve of him beating his wives, if Chi would punish Papa in any way. But my thoughts were cut short as Mama Ola came into the room. Without a word, she lay on the mat, using her hands to ward off the mosquitoes hovering around me. She told me how Papa thought her constant sneaking out at nights were to Chikeluba's hut, but it was better than knowing the truth. Then she untied my wrapper, and I undid hers. As our bodies moved to the rhythm of pleasure we always found in the warmth of each other's nakedness, I wondered if Mama had the same secret. I wondered what Papa's chi would say.

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