She felt bile rising in the back of her throat and ran for the bushes beside the house, heaving with such a force that weakened her so much she had to go down in a squat.
It’s just the malaria, she reassured herself wiping her mouth with the back of one hand, looking around for something with which to shovel sand over the offensive sight. She had been feeling down in the recent days passed and had gone out to the chemist to buy some drugs, which didn’t seem to be working if not making things worse.
A nagging thought in the back of her mind threatened a far worse scenario than just ‘malaria’ but she wouldn’t let the ugly thing so much as raise its head before she drowned it in the darkness beneath the surface of her conscious thoughts. But all day, it clawed and crawled its way back up, fighting against her will to shut it down; it whispered: taunting, beating upon the gates to her worries, begging them to burst open and torment her. Finally she made a decision: she had to find out, she had to be sure; she had to take the ultimate move to smack down that evil thing singing in her head once and for all.
It took her an hour to locate a chemist’s shop farther away from her house in another community entirely. They had a backroom, where they attended to certain “requests” of customers so she asked for the test to be done and after self-consciously handing them a cup with her urine in it, she waited; praying hard all the while as her heart hammered in her chest.
“Young lady” the man behind the counter beckoned to her, “go in and see the woman there, it is done”
There was a sudden silence in her head when the results were spoken and her feet grew cold. It seemed like time had stopped for a moment and she was floating through space; and then just as suddenly, she was pitched into fast forward, voices screaming in her head, her heart threatening to burst.
She was pregnant.
“Where is your husband?” the woman asked her half-smiling, “He must receive the news soon. I’m sure he will be very happy”
“m-m-my husband?” her tongue felt heavy in her mouth,
“Yes your husband” the other woman nodded at her still smiling.
“N-no” she could barely form the word, she was having a hard time putting her thoughts together, “I don’t want it… he doesn’t want it”
“What are you saying?”
“Please” her voice was barely a whisper, “Please I don’t want it. Help me take it out” she clutched at her stomach, nails digging in wishing she could rip the thing out of her right there.
“Ahn-ahn, why would you do that?” the woman’s smiled had turned right upside down as she stared over the top of her square-framed glasses, “Why? Don’t you know it is a sin? Do you know what that child can become tomorrow? What if he becomes the president tomorrow?”
She listened to the woman preach, listened as her words picked at her conscience; stirring up her guilt. And she almost gave in, almost let the thing growing in her be. But she couldn’t, she had too much to lose. She would have to forget about school, her family would surely kill her and if they didn’t she would suffer dearly in a bid to feed two mouths; she could hardly feed herself as it was. And then there was Richard; she didn’t know what his reaction would be but he wouldn’t be able to do much for her, he was still a student with at least a year left in school. She could not let the little monster live, it was a harbinger of suffering to come, of pain and lost dreams. She steeled herself before raising her gaze to the other woman still spitting and spewing her gospel.
“…what if your own mother had done…”
“Please, I don’t want it” she cut her off mid-sentence, “Please help me”
“Hmm okay” after a short pause, “If you say so. Well it is five thousand if you insist that by force you must do it” the smirk on the woman’s face indicated that the price was more of a punishment than the actual value of the help to be rendered. The woman wished to take advantage of her situation.
Five thousand naira? To her, a simple village girl without a job or a father and a rather poor family, it was a lot for her to come up with on her own without stretching time and she didn’t want to have to wait another second.
“Please help me”
“If you don’t have the money…”
“Please I have some money but it’s not up to the amount you’re asking for”
Money exchanged hands after about an hour of pleading and the drugs were administered. She was asked to wait for three days and advised on the signs she should watch out for. But the three days went by and her anxiety grew by the hour. She gripped her stomach at times when the thoughts overwhelmed her, cursing and clawing at it in a bid to force the unwelcome visitor along on its way.
She thought to starve the life growing within her but her mother would beg her to eat, reminding her each time that she had to take her “medicine” and to refuse was to plant the seed of suspicion in the woman’s mind, “This malaria is serious ehn. Sorry, my daughter, you will be alright.”
The third day passed and nothing happened. She was keenly aware of each day that passed being another day that the thing lived and it worried her greatly. She tried some of the local remedies yet the thing clung to her, thriving on the life it leeched from her.
“You’re pregnant?” Richard stared at her in disbelief when she told him. She winced, leaning away from him dreading his response with eyes downcast and fidgety fingers. Nodding slowly to answer his question, she looked up at him but the smile on his face baffled her. Then he laughed. He actually laughed.
“What is funny?” she snapped,
“This is good news” he smiled.
The bastard!!! Her heart sank low in her chest. This was working in his favor. He had never been in support of her wish to attend a higher institution and if she kept the baby, he would surely get his chance to trap her with the idea of marriage that he had been dangling before her and her family would be in full support, greedily accepting whatever they could make from her dowry. She did love him, but her desire to get proper certification at that moment in her life trumped her wish to be tied down with a family.
“I’m not keeping this thing” she announced flatly,
“Please don’t start cracking jokes” he reached for her, his hand sliding under her shirt as he kissed her neck.
Just like that he had chucked the issue aside like it was nothing, hadn’t bothered to discuss the details, he hadn’t even asked her if she wanted to keep it; he just expected her to do what he wanted: keep it. It wasn’t about love, it was about control and she had always been easy for him to control. Her love for him, her narrow-minded fascination with him and her naïveté made it so.
But she recoiled from the idea that this thing would come and turn her life upside down. She couldn’t do it, not even for him.
“Don’t you try it.” he didn’t even take a beat from what he was doing tugging at the hem of her shirt. He didn’t believe she would. It was so incredulous she almost laughed. He couldn’t be bothered to show any proper reaction to her statements because he didn’t think she would defy him.
She realized he wouldn’t help her monetarily with what she wanted to do and he wouldn’t stand by her in her decision either. He was a dead end; just another dead end and time was ticking. She could almost hear each second as it clicked away, could feel the thing growing in her, spreading out. She shuddered.
She reached out to two of her friends for help and they came over to her house. The walls were so thin she knew her mother’s sharp ears would surely catch anything she would say so she waited till they were outside; taking a stroll before breaking her news.
“It is a sin don’t you know?” Ene piped in immediately, “Hmm God is watching o. Why were you not careful?”
“Ahn Ene…” Maria, her other friend started out in protest.
“Hmm, I don’t want to be involved in this thing abeg” she sneered derisively, “I’m going. Don’t worry I won’t tell anyone; I know that is the next thing now” she bade them good bye and quickened her footsteps, putting distance between her and the other girls.
“Don’t mind her” Maria touched her arm, “Forming holy holy as if she no dey open nyash too. No worry, her time go come, devil go catch am. Nonsense”
“Wetin I go do na?” she looked forlornly at her,
“Don’t worry I go carry you go somewhere. Jus’ hol’ money, like say seven thasan’”
She didn’t have the money but she got it somehow.
Mary took her to a man with a rundown, tiny house out of which he ran his “clinic” which was really a chemist’s but had a back room for his other “business”. She wanted to run at the sight of the place but Mary had reassured her that she herself had had to come to the man once before and it was alright. After taking her money, he took her into a back room where he asked her to take off her skirt and her underwear and lay down with her knees apart. He slapped her legs open wider after giving her something to drink, his rough hands on her skin made her cringe and bite the inside of her cheek to keep from protesting.
When she felt the first stab of pain, she screamed.
“Shut up! Why you dey shout?” the man hissed coldly, “When you dey do, I dey there? Ehheen when e dey sweet you you no know say prevention dey better than cure. Abeg shut up your mouth”
She sobbed audibly humiliation washed over her, salty tears mingling with the sweat on her face.
“Lie down jeje o, all this cry wey you dey shake body, no do o make I no go tear something”
Stuffing her fist in her mouth, drenched in perspiration she let wave after wave of pain wash over her, she prayed and cursed in turn with each snip of his tools. She prayed for death, prayed for forgiveness and for relief. She cursed Richard, cursed her desire for carnal pleasures, and the evil seed that wished to shame her life by taking root in her womb. For three hours she laid there staring up at the dark ceiling but not really seeing anything.
“I don go hell fire come back today” she told Maria weakly when she met up with her in the front room where she had been asked to wait. Maria had to help her most of the way because she could barely walk. She was given additional drugs and more advice on what to do from the man.
She bled for days afterwards and she didn’t know what to do about it, didn’t know who to speak to but when she thought she would surely die, it stopped.
There had been a storm the night before and that morning the day broke calmly, the day she could breathe with ease. It was over.
She did pray for the little one, prayed for forgiveness, gave thanks for the “second chance” she was receiving to pursue her dreams; she had paid the price for this chance and she wouldn’t ever take it for granted.
She worried on how to break the news to Richard but albeit that, life returned to normal.
“Ahn, thank God my daughter. You are strong again” her mother beamed and she returned a fake smile.
It was weeks before Maria stopped by to see her again.
“How body?” she asked the other girl walking beside her,
“E dey for cloth” Maria joked, “Sheybi I tell you say devil go catch that girl?”
“So you don forget, sharp sharp like that? Na Ene na, yesterday she call me ask me wey I carry you that last time. I dey feel say she don carry her own belle”
She had been hurt when Ene turned her back on her that day and she had wished then that the other girl could have just a taste of what she had been passing through. Her mind flashed back to the cold table and the crude, callous hands on her most intimate place in that hot stuffy room. She winced reliving the horror of the pain, the woozy drugged feeling and the buckets of sweat leaking out of her and she knew deep down she could not wish that on anyone else. She had reached the gates of hell and returned, had stared into the eyes of death and he had stared right back.