As I lay on the slaughter slab called abortion table for the third time in two years, I looked up and I could see hanging over my head about a dozen children, all girls, drenched in their blood, wailing. Their blood kept falling like rain all over my body, making a pool, a pool that soon turned into a lake. I began to drown clutching at everything; at anything but I realized that everything I tried to hold were all parts of a dismembered body. And as I sank deeper, gasping for breath and almost gulping the blood, in a muffled voice I cried for help. I could feel my heart in my mouth and at that moment I jolted back to reality.
I wondered for the umpteenth time if life was worth living at all. A woman is an ornament to be seen and not heard, her place is back stage, and she must always leave her door open whenever the master wants to divest himself of his seeds. She lives to do his bidding. My will is to do my husbands will. That is the essence of a woman’s existence. If you now make the mistake of bearing only female children, your life will be worse than hell on earth. I have had four girls and my husband, like every other man in my country had had enough. Any girl after that will bring reproach to the family.
I could still hear my mother-in-law’s voice in my head. She was categorical about her order to Sina, my husband.
‘Since you would not divorce her and marry another wife, from now on you must scan every pregnancy as is the acceptable practice these days. If it is a girl, flush it out. That way she can be pregnant as much as twice a year and we don’t have to put up with breeding more girls’.
I eavesdropped with disdain as she went on and on about the fact that my father-in-law is deceased and that my husband is saddled with the responsibility of carrying on the family name. My disdain changed to anger as I heard my husband say ‘Maa, don’t worry. Joke has no option but to do as we say. She loves me more than her life.’
‘Just do as I say. You need a male child to keep the family name going.’ My mother-in-law added.
I could only be angry but had no right to show it. My husband handed down the new order and he did not wait to hear if I had anything to say. I was not surprised.
I had done the scan for my current pregnancy yesterday and it is another girl. Sina was there and he was quick to book an appointment with the family doctor for an abortion.
Like a sheep led to the slaughter I got myself ready after making sure my four beautiful and exceptionally brilliant girls had gone to school. As I watched them all get into their school bus, I knew I had to do whatever Sina said in order not to subject them to the agony that follows a broken home.
Today, like the other two occasions, my husband was around to make sure that there was no mistake or hanky panky. With the help of anesthesia, I felt no pain as the new life was being yanked off me.
However unlike the two previous terminations where the doctor would just go and dispose of the foetus, he stared hard at this one and brought it to my husband and I. It was a boy.
I felt numb all over and could only just stare. The realization was freezingly shocking and the truth a morsel of pins that must be swallowed. What we had wished and prayed God to grant us finally came and we flushed it out. How am I sure that the two previous abortions were not male? But we did the ultra sound! I thought science was supposed to be impeccable.
The silence in the car as we drove back home could be cut with a knife. Even in the hustle and bustle of the closing hour heavy traffic, I could hear my heart vibrate. I felt foolish. I felt lower than a dog. Because I am a woman I have become an epitome of stupidity and docility. I have become worse than a wimp all in the name of trying to give my girls an undivided home. But what use is a home bound with straw? What if I die in the process of trying to protect them? Life for them will continue even if it blows hot wind in their direction.
My thoughts were broken when the car suddenly screeched to a halt. Sina had almost run under the trailer in front of us. The driver of the car to our left screamed at us.
“If you wan commit suicide go jump enter lagoon.”
I gave Sina a look that must have read “do you want to kill me too, now?”
We drove on and I was ready to call a spade its proper name. If women all over the world are achieving feats unrivalled by men, then either me and my girls are given the chance to maximize our potential or…
My mother-in-law was standing at the doorway bearing a toothy smile. I came down from the car and as I attempted to walk with my usual vigour my legs failed me. I staggered and fell. Sina and his mother came rushing to pull me up.
'Ah sorry my wife. You need plenty of rest” said my mother-in-law.
I raised up my head and looked into the face of mother and son and all I could see were two wrinkled faced vampires with teeth as long as three feet. They had horns on their heads and their ears were wide enough to wrap their faces. I flinched and shook myself free from their grasp. The picture looked so real I wanted to run but the sharp pain I felt in my abdomen brought me back from the hallucination.
I mustered up all the energy left in me and stood up to go inside.
‘Joke, don’t worry. In no time now, you will soon be pregnant and my God will make sure it’s a boy.’ My mother-in-law said.
I turned and looked at her.
'Don’t you dare mention God. If you knew Him you wouldn’t be eating up my babies. The scales have fallen off my eyes.’
'Joke, how dare you speak to my mother like that?' Sina said.
‘You don’t have a mother. If indeed she had ever carried a child in her womb and she values that sacred thing called life she wouldn’t have me flushing out my babies including her much desired ‘male child’.’ I was not apologetic.
‘Is it me you are talking to like that? You manner-less girl. If not that one should not speak ill of the dead, I would have said your mother did not bring you up properly.’
My mother-in-law should not have mentioned my mother.
‘Oh so now you know that my mother did not bring me up properly but at least I know she is not a murderer!’
Hearing this she charged at me but Sina quickly held her and asked me to go inside.
I left but I could hear Sina tell his mother that we just aborted a boy. She cursed the doctor, her seen and unseen enemies and then herself. Then she kept quiet or I was no longer within hearing distance.
Upstairs in my room, I went straight to my wardrobe packed some clothes and essential documents like my certificates and international passport into a traveling box. I looked around and saw the framed picture of my four girls which I had placed on my dressing table. Something inside me churned. I felt I was hurting them by the decision I’d taken. But the decision was actually for them. But ... I just needed a break first. I scribbled a note and then picked up my box and Sina was already at the door.
‘Don’t do this to us my love. You have every right to be mad, please think about the children….’
I wasn’t listening. I went downstairs. My mother-in-law was seated with both hands on her head. Outside I met Rose, my house-maid, with my girls. She had just brought them back from school. They had to attend the mandatory after school extra lessons. As I beheld them I felt goose pimples all over my body. I gave each of them a kiss and told them I was going on a short trip to my aunt’s. I gave Rose the note I’d written. It contained the address where she could see me and the instruction not tell anyone.
Before Sina could stop me I had flagged down a taxi and off I went to my aunt’s house on the east side of the city.
My aunt, Aunty Kike, my mother’s immediate younger sister had been the only one I intimated of the terminations. Being a widow and childless, my aunt was mad at me and had threatened to let Hell loose in my house. I had pleaded that the trauma would soon be over. As I reached her house I could make out what she would tell me.
'Ah ah. You should have waited till you were dead before you spoke to your legs.’
I knocked the door and it was the house-boy that greeted me. He told me that Aunty Kike had traveled the previous week for a conference in Switzerland. There was no problem about me staying. I asked him to prepare the guest room for me after which I had a hot bath, some sandwiches and then sedated myself to sleep.
The next morning I woke up refreshed. The pain in my abdomen had eased. Sina called me several times but I did not pick up the phone. I later switched it off as I did not want to his pleas. At about 11.00am I called the school my girls attended just to find out about their well being; they were all fine.
I got myself busy reading novels and there was little less to do other than eat and sleep. This went on for one week and I became weary, I needed to see my daughters so I made a call to the school to say that they wouldn’t be able to stay for the extra lessons the next day.
The next day I asked the house-boy to prepare potato chips and chicken. It was their favourite after rice and fish stew. At 2.00pm they were around and the house came alive. They all wanted to tell me stories of their adventure in school and were all speaking at the same time. It was fun again. I did not realize I could miss them this much after a week. I had never really left them for a day since my first baby, Lade, was born ten years ago.
‘Mum’ called Lade, with a mouthful of chips.
‘Darling you know you shouldn’t speak with food in your mouth.’
‘Sorry Mum. Just wanted to say grandma left this morning.’
I looked at Rose.
‘Is that true?’
‘Na so Madam’ answered Rose. ‘Na yesterday night Oga and him mama nearly fight. E tok say na she wan dabaru im house with tok of boy boy boy. Oga ask am whether girl nobi pickin, abi she sef no bi woman. Him ask am whether dat NAFDAC oga nobi woman and all those presidents and prime ministers them. He come tok say make she come begin they go her own house. Na im she vex this morning pack all her things go.’
So the scales have finally fallen from my husbands eyes too, two years after his mother had moved in with us.
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