I cannot find the God you serve and I have been known to stay out all night searching– Yrsa Daley-Ward
Every night, I would be awakened by my mother’s cries. My little frame would crawl out of bed and fearfully find my way in the dark to the living room, where I would meet my mother either on her knees or flat on the cold marble tiles. I would hide behind our beaded curtains and watch my mother’s tears soil the pages of the holy scriptures. Soon, I memorised the order of her prayers and would repeat after her. Forgive me. I cast and bind. Undo Jezebel’s stronghold on my father.
Some nights, her voice was crystal clear and she sang out loud to the heavens to unleash its fire with her hands suspended in the air as she worshipped. Other nights, she rolled on the ground while praying in whispers. On some particular nights, she sat on the couch and cried with her head in hand and bible on her thighs. I could hear the pain in her voice as she searched for words because her heart was heavy. All she ever said was that He was there and He knew her pain. She could feel His presence and that His spirit filled the place. I would look around for signs; maybe a thunderclap or the sign of a man in a white garment moving about the room, but it was always pointless. I would go to bed on such nights, anxious and wide awake with eyes darting across the room, eager to see Him.
This is exactly what I remembered each time my stepfather’s massive body rammed into my seventeen-year-old self, sending waves of pain and shock through me, triggering an internal war that would last as long as I lived. A war between self-blame and pity, shadowed by resentment.
I begged and cried, God please, but he never stopped. He would go on and on, stuffing his dirty fat fingers down my throat. I would go numb and stare at the ceiling. I would imagine it opening to reveal chariots of fire, flaming swords, arrows, trumpet sounds and glistening white wings. All I ever saw was plastered ceiling peeling off at the sides, heavy from a swollen belly caused by the rainy season.
So I prayed. I cast and bound but still he appeared every other night, shirtless- with a belly big enough to swallow an African pot, in old damp boxers and a scruffy beard.
‘Oya, je ka se kia.’ He would say as his hand gestured for me to lie down straight as he pulled down his boxers.
I screamed and ordered fire. I pled the blood of the lamb, but all I could see when I closed my eyes were my blood stained fingers from the first time it happened.
Mother dragged me off to church one night for the night vigil. We drove in silence and I felt my anger take over. How dare she live a normal life while I suffered and was tossed deeper into a pit of self-destruction? Could she not see that I was dying on the inside? So I felt the words surge through me and I let it all out with my eyes fixed on the road. I said it all, mindful not to sugar-coat the gory details. As soon as I was done, I took a deep breath as I fought back tears and I looked at her. She blinked twice and continued humming a worship song.
So I spent all night watching her smile and praise, cry and pray and I wondered if I had spoken a different language to her. I looked around and saw hopeful faces glad to be in his presence and their bodies gyrating in excitement as they screamed hallelujah. I watched the pastor preach and saw them cling to his every word in hope and desperation. When it was time for the pastor to lay his hands, I watched their bodies fall like dominoes. One by one they fell under his slightest touch, huff and puff. Mother shoved me forward for deliverance and I wondered how it would feel. Would I feel the heat of the fire, would I see him or hear him? How hard would my fall be? Would I get a glimpse of heaven? Pastor laid his hands on me and I felt mother’s eyes bore a hole into the back of my head. His hands were strong and they pushed me back. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine being saved but all I felt was spit showering my cheek.
The next morning, I staggered into our kitchen to find mother bent over the kerosene stove. She held a fork as she poked holes into the yam she was cooking. I mumbled good morning and she nodded. I sat on a stool and I said finally, ‘Aren’t you going to say anything?’
‘Bring your plate.’ She said. I rinsed a plate and stood behind her. She stretched out her hands and I handed it to her. She dropped three slices on the plate and stretched her back. She placed the plate on a nearby table and turned to face me. My mother was about three inches taller. Her eyes were a blazing red and she moved to readjust her scarf. She sniffed and said.
‘You are not going to drive this one away from me, you hear? ’ She said.
‘Ma?’ I was lost. Her eyes shot up and for a second, I felt like I was being confronted with the devil. She raised her arms and I almost did not see the slap coming. It was a sounding clap to the side of my face, leaving me with high pitched ringing in my ears and a stinging pinch in my cheek. I used my hands to soothe the pain and I looked at her disbelievingly.
‘You are just a man-eating attention seeker who wants to push every man away from me.’ She spat. I stood there confused. I had a lot of questions but at the same time, I wanted to run away. My mother picked up the plate and spooned some stew over it. She then shoved it into my hand.
‘Eat.’ She commanded as she turned back to the stove. Suddenly the kitchen felt hotter than usual and the first few words that came to mind were: Hell is empty and all the devils are here.
I don’t pay attention to the world ending. it has ended for me many times and began again in the morning- Nayyirah Waheed
I remember how loud my mother’s laugh was. It would echo through walls just like her cries did. It was back in the days when she wore lipstick and perfume. She would sit beside my father on the armchair with an arm over his shoulder while I sat on the floor and played with a doll as they shared a plate of oranges. Mother would suck and spit the seeds into her hand while stifling a laugh as my father joked about our neighbour downstairs. Sometimes they sat in silence, my mother leaning on my father, stroking his beard as he flipped through the pages of a newspaper. Even from an early age, I could tell my mother loved my father a bit more than he loved her.
The first time the world went silent was in the middle of the night in my sixth year when I was awakened by the sudden burst of light outside my door. I heard my father’s footsteps outside my door and I wondered what was going on. I walked slowly to my door and opened it slightly. I saw my mother curled up like a ball in my father’s arms, her nightgown soaked in blood and I saw the mask of horror on my father’s face as his eyes met mine. I feared that my mother was dead.
Morning came and mother returned but I still wonder if she had left a bit of herself in the hospital that night. Mother spent all week in her room, silent and grieving. She spent the next six months eating till she grew layers upon layers of thick skin. She no longer spent evenings with father in the living room, but sat in the kitchen, buttering sliced bread and mixing a hot cup of milo. Father too withdrew but managed to occasionally sit me on his lap and teach me a song. Mother would pass by without a word and I harboured a longing for her boisterous laugh.
One day, I heard my father’s Mitsubishi Pajero roll into our compound in the early moments of dawn. Before father could get out of the car, I heard my mother’s door open, followed by the sound of her slippers. The house went silent all of a sudden and after what seemed like an eternity, I heard glass shatter signalling the fragments of my life coming undone.
‘Be careful now.’ Father warned and I heard mother laugh. It was not the kind familiar laugh.
‘You are a shameless man.’ She called and I heard a smack. ‘Let the darling daughter that you adore so much come and see her beloved father. Shameless man. I’ll be damned if I let you put me to shame in my own house.’ Mother screamed.
‘I saw both of you o, so don’t try to hide or lie.’ Mother said after a while. The house went silent and next thing I heard was my father’s car pull out of the compound and mother grumbling to herself.
Later that week, Father came to get his things and that was the last time I ever saw him. I stood by the edge of my door as mother cried and held onto his right foot, begging him to stay. She said that she would be whatever he wanted her to be. If he liked the other woman because of her light skin, she was ready to bleach. She was going to lose the weight. For the first time, I saw my mother fold into herself and lose all her pride. She begged and tugged at his shirt but my father persisted. He caught my eyes and said nothing. He simply turned around and left, without saying goodbye.
I have my mother’s mouth and my father’s eyes, on my face, they are still together – Warsan Shire
We found out that my father died a month later from a heart attack while he was in the arms of his lover.
Over the next few months, I watched my mother try to regain the piece of herself that we both knew she had lost forever. She shed the weight and cut her hair. She went out more then went out less. Some days, she was soft but most times she was a rock. Every day I woke up not knowing the mother I would meet. She cried and drowned her sorrows in alcohol and she hit me for asking too many questions and not enough questions. Then she found God and turned silent.
Be careful of all the things you lose in someone’s mouth when you love them – Nayyirah Waheed
My father dug a hole and my stepfather tossed me into it but Kayode was the one who buried me in it.
I met him in University on a hot day in May. We bonded over pirated movies and suya. We fast became friends then our loneliness drove us to be lovers.
He had smooth chocolaty skin with bronze undertones and a razor-sharp jawline. He smelt of black soap and he wore this gold plated neck chain that I loved whirling around my finger. His slightest touch was my undoing and I found myself getting lost in him time and time again.
I remember looking into his eyes one night as he thrust passionately into me and I felt my heart expand three times. He was a beautiful man and for the first time, I felt like I was winning at life. We were in his room, which was cluttered with piles of books and clothes. It was musty and stuffy and there was no light except for the moonlight glow that we basked in. I could hear the crickets chirping outside his window and we would occasionally stop mid-thrust and still ourselves, whenever we saw a light from outside the window, in fear of being caught. After he came, he collapsed right beside me, panting heavily. I stared admiringly at his features and I blurted, I love you.
He smiled cheekily and kissed my knuckles. He brushed the braids off my shoulder and planted kisses on the shoulder up to my neck.
‘Did you cum?’ He whispered and I lied, desperate to prove to myself that our relationship was perfect. He laughed and flopped down on the mattress. He gestured for me to pass the rolled up joint on the desk next to me. I watched him light it, take a long drag and blow a long stream of smoke. He laughed giddily and gave it to me and I took a drag myself. We passed it between ourselves until the joint reached its end. Then I moved in for a kiss. He obliged and soon enough we were in our third round.
Every time our bodies were entwined, I felt like we were one. We had meshed ourselves into the same person because our heartbeats were in sync and our fingers filled the webs in between perfectly- almost like we were made specifically for another. Like our energies flowed in and out of one another till I was a direct reflection of him. So I called him my soul mate.
One night, he told me, as he pulled his member out of me, that there was this new girl on campus that he had started talking to. He said he felt different around her; he wanted to be a better person, so he was going to make her his girlfriend. He said we could not continue, out of respect for his newfound love. As he said this, I felt the air squeeze out of me and the ground crumble underneath my feet. I wanted him to look at me and see that I was hurting. I had lost myself in him and I did not know how to exist without him. I had an unsettling feeling in my stomach and I mumbled that I felt sick. He must not have heard me because the next thing he said to me as he rolled another joint, was ‘did you cum?’
Desire is the kind of thing that eats you and leaves you starving – Nayyirah Waheed
You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm – unknown
‘I need money to buy some provisions for the house.’ I watched him roll up his socks and I felt my bones ache, crying out to me after he slammed me into the wall a couple of nights ago. I applied my red lipstick and was taunted by the nights I spent cleaning up my blood and his.
‘Again? You are too wasteful with money.’ He sighed and in that moment, he reminded me of my stepfather and I felt bile rise to the back of my throat. I did not want to end up like my mother so I had married someone who I thought loved me more but had just given me disdain wrapped in well-meaning gifts as love.
‘Nawa.’ I rolled my eyes before I could stop myself. He buckled his belt and tossed his blazer over his shoulder with a finger. He walked towards me slowly and I lowered my eyes to the ground with my heart thumping in my chest. He stopped in front of me and lifted my chin up, but my eyes stayed glued to the ground.
‘You never learn your place.’ He landed a lightning slap across my cheek then spat on my face. ‘I’ll send the money to your account. My briefcase better be in the car.’ He said as he walked out the door.
I was left with the resounding echo of his slap playing in my head and I lowered myself to the ground, fighting the urge to cry. I thought of the years and how I had been reduced to a shadow of myself. I had become someone whose sole purpose was to eat, live and breathe to feed the male ego.
Don’t talk when he is talking before he thinks you are trying to outshine, or worse, control him.
Be a shadow when his friends are around, only appearing when called, offering nothing but smiles and platters of food, lest they think you are in charge of the house.
So I retreated into my shell to avoid the slaps, yet I dealt with the bruises weekly. It seemed that my mere breathing made him feel uncomfortable and threatened. I remembered last week and how he reeked of her cheap perfume. He was shameless so he flaunted her. So when he got home, I confronted him. He ordered me to shut up but I stood my ground, driven crazy by thoughts of a light-skinned girl with the 24-inch Brazilian weave, throwing her head back and rubbing thighs with my husband in public. I could only think of how my mother had been willing to burn out the colour of her skin just so that she could keep my father. So I screamed whoremonger but hated the sound of my voice. I wanted to sound more confident and chastening.
He threw a punch and I dodged making him trip, sending a flower vase crashing down. I realised what I had started so I ran up the stairs as he called after me. I panicked and ran into our bathroom but did not have enough time to lock the door behind me. I crouched between the toilet and the bathtub in fear of what was to come. He stood in front of me like a raging bull and I was reminded of the years of my stepfather and how no space had been safe enough for me.
He grabbed my hair and pulled me out of my corner, shoving me against the wall. He wrapped his hand around my throat and poked a finger into my cheek, spitting curses. I writhed in pain and kicked him in his crotch. He yelped and I wriggled out of his grip. I was about to run out of the bathroom when he grabbed my ankle sending me crashing onto the sink. My weight sent half of the sink crumbling down and I lay on pieces of broken ceramic. He towered over me and used his hand to lift me by the throat. Grabbing a piece of broken ceramic, I slashed it across his back and he slammed my head into the wall in retaliation, sending me into a deep sleep.
I traced the outline of his hand on my face and I was jolted back to reality. The day had finally come.
I prepared his favourite meal for him and I brought out our best wine. That night, he returned still reeking of his lover’s perfume but I smiled and kissed my husband welcome. He ate his meal and we kicked back and poured ourselves glasses of wine. We giggled and flirted like newlyweds and for the first time in months, I saw my husband desire and crave me once again.
I think it is amazing how a man with such a fragile ego did not mind a woman being on top in the bedroom. I rode him and allowed myself be bent in all angles. I placed his hands on my breasts as I rode him into ecstasy. He let out a hushed moan and closed his eyes and I knew he was close. I ran my fingers through my hair and moaned. I remembered that the best orgasm I ever had was in the back of a stolen car with a guy I had just met, who later absconded with all the money I had given him, out of love, to record his song in the studio. I rode him faster and I remembered my step father’s jiggling breasts and belly as he ploughed himself into me and I remembered the night my mother walked in on us. She had simply held her finger up to signal for me to stay quiet and she left the room silently. Later that night, I heard screaming in our corridor. I jumped out of bed and I found my stepfather running down our corridor naked with blood trickling behind him. I looked back and found my mother standing outside her room naked, holding a knife and lighter. She flicked the lighter a few times and giggled. ‘Next time you touch my daughter, I’m cutting off more than that. Don’t come back,’ she’d warned. She nodded at me to go back to bed and for the first time, I saw justice.
‘I’m close.’ He grunted and I leaned forward, placing a nipple in his mouth as my fingers searched the pillow till they found the cool metal. I pulled the knife out and leaned back. His eyes were closed and as he climaxed, I delved the knife deep into his heart as he screamed out in pain. I leaned in so that our eyes could be fixed on one another as I felt his soul flee within my grasp, seep between my fingers. I laughed remembering the famous words of my past lover, ‘Did you cum?’
I dipped a finger in his blood and was intrigued by how red it was, no different from mine. Feeling a sudden angst, I spat on his face and climbed off him. I ran water to fill my bucket and crouched down in the tub, thinking of nothing but how I had committed such a heinous crime but still the world was silent, no sirens and particularly, no trumpet sounds from above.
Yes, I was desperate for the love I had been denied all my life so that was why I was willing to deliver my body as a sacrifice just so that the void in me could be filled up. But I learned, folding myself in and bending to accommodate sharp twists and turns just so that I could be accepted was a battle I had recklessly tossed my heart into. I realised that it was easier to love others than to love myself, so I had willingly placed myself into a one-sided game of hearts. I should have known that the fire I felt was my desperation screaming freedom while my bones battled to cage it in.
I grabbed the bowl and poured the water over my body, rinsing off his blood and his entire existence. I felt alive for the first time and I expected the world to have come to an end but it felt like it was just beginning. I wiped myself clean and applied perfume. I found a keg of petrol and poured it all over his body and around our bedroom. I sat on his favourite chair – the one that made him feel more like the man of the house – and I took deep breaths. I fiddled with the lighter and watched the small flame appear then disappear. I recalled and recited my mother’s prayers. I closed my eyes and let it fall to the ground as I uttered my final words, Forgive me.
One day I will tell you what I’ve been. and it will scare you.– Yrsa Daley-Ward
I have been pain and sorrow rolled up into a ball of nothingness. Soft just to surrender myself completely to love, till I was made a fool. Cold as ice until I went numb. Loved then unloved to be cast aside.
I have been a flicker of light battling to not be swallowed by darkness. I have been to hell and back and my dear, it looked a lot like home
Photo credit: Nobuyoshi Araki