Papa beat mama again. Just two weeks later, papa came home in the night, drunk, and beat mama again.

Mary was not at home. That one joined to the reason why papa beat her. Mary left the house in the morning and had not come back to that time.

Mama had been brought home by Mama Bisi because she almost fainted in the market.

Mama could not cook any food because her body was very hot and she could not stand up. Mary did not come back from school. I cooked rice for the first time, and warmed our palm oil stew. It got burnt. When mama ate the food, she vomited and only water was passing her throat and staying down. The medicine she told me to get from the top of our spoilt fridge, she vomited too.

I wished Mary was at home. I did not know what to do. I was cleaning mama’s vomit from the ground with my old school uniform and crying. If Mary did not come soon, I was sure mama would die, then I would not know what to tell papa.

I was sleeping on the chair with mama’s burning head on my tiny legs when papa burst into the house. Outside the window was dark, very dark. But there was light, though it was low current.

The whole house started to smell one kain when he entered, and when he entered the parlour, the thing made my head start to swim, and mama began to groan.

Papa was moving from side to side and left and right as if he was dancing. He was not talking, but was squeezing his eyes to look at us.

Somehow, I could not look at his face, and something in me started to pray for Mary to come back…to be around to protect me, to protect mama…to protect mama’s stomach. Food caused the beating.

He said he didn’t want to eat rice and palmoil stew that was burnt. He wanted to know why his wife, that he married with his own money and kept in his house, could not prepare a proper meal for him, a meal that could help a poor man forget about his joblessness.

I told him, as if he could not see, that mama was sick and could not stand.

When he asked why Mary had not prepared something then, I told him, as if he could not notice, that Mary was not in the house; she had not come back from school.

He pounced on mama then. I did not know if it was because of the food or because Mary was not at home, or the two of them. I did not know anything at all as I heard the sounds of his body meeting mama’s body, and mama’s tired screams.

I ran out of the house screaming. I ran to our neighbours’ houses; to the women who had come the other day papa beat mama. I told them, my breathing cutting and cutting, that my father was killing my mother. But they were dragging their feet, saying they were making food for their own husbands and will come later to avoid trouble.

I ran to Pastor’s house near the church. The door was locked, and when I banged it and banged it, Pastor’s wife came out with her big stomach like my father’s own. She said her husband was not at home, and I should not disturb her. She closed the door before I finished explaining to her.

Aisha’s place was the closest place after Pastor’s house, though it was far small. I ran there, ran though my legs wanted to die, and I thought my heart was trying to come to my mouth.

They opened the door and did not even finish hearing me before Daddy Aisha put me in his keke and drove us along the dusty, up and down road to my house. I was breathing fast, and my mind was seeing mama in the cupboard in the ground that somebody dug.

Papa was snoring in his room when we got there. Daddy Aisha and I found mama in the parlour, on the ground, alone—no Mary, and no neighbours that had promised to come after making food for their husbands.

Mama was not moving on the ground. She looked like a fat, dead child. She really looked like my age mate as I was seeing her on the floor not moving. I almost understood Mary then.

When daddy Aisha went to her and, grunting, lifted her up and stopped, looking down at his hands, it was then I saw it. There was blood on the ground—plenty blood. Mama’s wrapper was dripping blood.

Daddy Aisha dropped me in his house as he was taking mama to the hospital. She still had not talked to me or looked at me, and plenty blood was still dripping from her wrapper, and I was wondering where the blood was coming from.

I couldn’t sleep that night, and when I started crying, Aisha cried with me. She cried like she was my sister and mama was her mother.

Aisha and I did not go to school the next day.

Her father came in the afternoon and told me mama was not dead, but the baby was dead. Mama did not have a baby, so I did not understand him, but I did not ask because I was happy mama was not dead.

I did not want to go back home. I liked Aisha’s house. Her father did not beat her mother until blood was coming from her inside, and I did not have to be playing alone outside because Aisha was there and had my time. I stayed there happily, trying not to think of papa or Mary.

But Mary herself came for me the day after, in the afternoon. She said she came to take me home, and I asked her, “where?”

On our way, she said one of our neighbours had told her what had happened when she got home that morning, and she had already been to the hospital.

 “Mama is alive,” she said smiling. “Do you want to go see her?”

I wanted to slap her and ask her where she was the other night and tell her the same neighbours giving her news had put their husbands’ foods over mama’s life.

We went to the hospital first.

I saw mama on a bed in one room like that, and if not that papa was sitting by her, I would not have known that she was the one.

She looked dead. Her face was swollen, and there were marks on her arm that I believe had been there all along but I had never noticed. It was like I was seeing her for the first time. Her hands were on her stomach, and her chest was going up and coming down slowly. She was sleeping.

Papa did not look at us when we came in. We did not greet him.

Mary was angry; I could see it from her eyes. I did not know if it was anger that made me not greet papa. I did not know if it was ever going to be him I would be angry with.

I sat on the bed where mama’s legs were, and Mary sat on a chair opposite the side papa was sitting. She took mama’s hand and held it for a long time, a very long time. After a while, she touched mama’s stomach. “The baby is gone.” It almost sounded like a question, and I wanted to nod and say, “Yes, Daddy Aisha said the baby died”.

But she said it again-“the baby is gone”-as if she was praying.

She looked up at papa, and there were tears standing in her eyes…tears and charcoal fire.

Papa stood up and left the shabby room. Mary cleaned her eyes with her arm and followed him.

I heard her voice from somewhere outside the hospital. She was shouting at papa for sure, but because she was crying while she was shouting, and because that always made her words mix together, I didn’t hear everything she was telling him.

I kept looking at mama’s face as she slept on. I looked at her face without blinking, and sat still, and wished that my body would dissolve into her legs so that I would not have to go to the house again or see papa and our neighbours anymore. I wanted to enter her so that my blood would become her own and replace all the ones that had fallen on the floor from somewhere inside her wrapper.

I sat still and kept hearing Mary’s angry, crying shouts. I made out the words “beating”, “blood”, “baby”, and nothing more, and my mind started to wonder why everything was “b” while mama was “m” and she had to suffer everything. I didn’t know why I was wondering that, upon all the things I could be wondering, but I kept wondering it and wishing mama’s legs would magnet me into her.

The shouts were disturbing the patients now-I knew, because Mama opened her eyes suddenly as if she had been dreaming a bad dream. She was looking around when I ran to go and find the doctor or Mary or even papa, to tell them that mama’s eyes were opened.

But I forgot about calling anybody when I was out of the room; when I saw what I saw and heard what I heard.

Mary was pulling at papa’s shirt till his big tummy was showing and his fat body was shaking. People were gathering and trying to pull Mary away from him, but she was still holding him and shouting.

I heard her clearly now.

“This is the third one, papa-the third baby! Why? What did mama do to you?

“Do you know how much blood has wasted from my mother because of this man, do you?” she was asking the people trying to hold her, as if they cared; as if it was their business.

“She has been killing herself and having a miserable life just to get pregnant again and give you the ‘almighty male child’. But 3 times, you punched the babies out of her…

“Are you the first man to not have male children? Are you the first man to lose his job?”

I wanted to go to her and say she should shut up and stop embarrassing papa were people were, but I was rooted to the spot. Her words were explaining things to me in the ways nobody had ever cared to before. Her words were answering plenty of my “whys”.

I heard her laugh in that annoying way she had.

“Do you even know what she went through to have these three pregnancies just to make you happy and less of a beast? Do you?”

Papa was not talking.  Why was he not talking? “Your wife went to another man to do the job!”

I saw papa’s face shift, shift in a very funny way. “You were the problem all along, papa. Mama knew but couldn’t say…after all, she is the woman and you are the ‘supreme man’. Mama gave herself to somebody else, papa, and three times, you still wasted her efforts.

“Those babies you killed weren’t yours! You had no right to kill them the way you’ve been killing mama…

“You have no right!” she said again.

Then she broke down and left papa’s shirt, and crumbled to the floor like a sack of garri.

But then, I saw papa hold his chest, and his face became somehow as if he was trying to poo strong poo, and then he was falling, falling…and nobody was holding him because they were all telling Mary “sorry”, as if that would make the babies “undie”.

Papa was on the floor before anybody saw him. I did not run to help him. I just stood there, looking at him…and Mary.

They brought a bed that had tires-small tires-and 6 people carried papa, fat papa, and put on it. When they pushed the thing past me and I looked, papa’s eyes were already closed.

When I went back inside, mama was already sleeping.

By the time mama woke up the next morning, her husband, papa-beaty-beaty papa-was dead. Mary said it was stroke and hypertension. I did not know the meaning, and I did not cry.

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