When the smell of the fresh fish mama was roasting filled the air, it found its way into my nostril, made my head ache, my stomach churn and then my mouth filled with frothy substances which forced it open and splattered on the ground. It was not the first time. Within these few weeks, I have felt papa’s eyes pierce through my skin each time I rushed outside, bent over and threw up whatever it was that wanted to be vomited out. Papa had suggested mama took me to the hospital “it is possible your daughter is pregnant”, But mama segued into another topic each time papa brought up the topic, as though it was unimportant, a topic that I felt made her feel uncomfortable. A month followed the other and the reddish fluid that flowed out of me monthly did not seepage. It convinced me that what I had done with Effiong in papa’s uncompleted building was forming a soul inside of me.
Nothing else could explain why Amaka could not go a day without eating “Abacha” a local dish made from softened cassava chips mixed with palm oil, potash, salt, pepper and crayfish. A dish she has come to enjoy with fried fish. She had read somewhere that when a woman had a strong uncontrollable urge to eat something – anything, the woman was certainly pregnant. How could she tell her parents that Effiong who was like the “EKWE” Onyeka Onwenu sang about, who followed her everywhere before now, was responsible for her pregnancy?
At first mama did not believe, she chose not to believe or maybe she was just too naïve. She said the signs could be indicating anything but pregnancy. It was probably malaria, typhoid or this new sickness that our neighbor’s daughter was suffering from. There was absolutely no way her only daughter who was still single could be pregnant. “Odilo possible” “mbanu” “it cannot be’ “no way”. She said these words each time the possibility of me being pregnant dawned on her. She said it with the confidence with which mama Ifeoma said her “garri”; a grain made from processed cassava, was the best in the whole town. These words seemed to comfort her, to clothe her from the reality that I could be pregnant.
I pitied myself, but I pitied her the more, a pity coated with anger. A feeling I tried to bury because I didn’t want to blame her for my future status; a baby mama.
Amaka that she took to saint Luke’s church every Sunday, made sure she sat in the front row with the other girls who wore long shirts, long enough to cover their knees could not possibly be pregnant. They were the good girls, the girls who could not possibly get pregnant before marriage.
A day came; the day papa could no longer overlook the signs. The day he dragged me to the hospital for tests, and when the results came out, he flung the piece of paper at mama, the piece of paper that confirmed that I was pregnant “Nwanyi nwa gi nwanyi di imeh” “your daughter is pregnant”. Mama was literate, she understood what the doctor had written, but she was not convinced. There could be other explanations, other reasons. The type of explanations she considered were reasons why “Halima” had a bloated stomach. When we watched the movie “Dry”, mama accused kwashiorkor for afflicting the young girl, she blamed her co-wives “they hide salt from the poor girl”, there was no way Halima could be pregnant.
She had told me afterwards “Nne okwa ima na I da eri nnu” “you don’t consume enough salt” now you have kwashiorkor.
Then one day, she came back from the market, brought out all three results placed a holy book on it and began to cast the pregnancy out of me. It infuriated me. So she knew, she really knew, but she wanted to believe there could be other explanations to why my stomach now looked like I swallowed one of the balls these footballers played on our TV screen. It was no longer malaria, no longer kwashiorkor, it was now pregnancy. I simply walked away seething with frustration. This act of hers made me more speechless than Michael Jackson.
All these did not raise as much dust as the events that followed after I gave birth; papa refusing at first to let me into his house. He could accept the child, but only if the father was ready to marry me. Mama’s spectacular fashion of rolling on the ground each time she went to Effiong’s house to beg his parents to allow their son marry me and “us” “mama and I” finding out that our neighbor’s daughter “new sickness” was pregnancy that Effiong was equally responsible for. Then, there was the dispute of who was going to take custody of the child. Effiong’s father took us to court but we won. I could keep the child. Then came the issue of upkeep. Mama cursed Effiong anywhere she saw him invoking all the gods in our ancestral home to wreck havoc on him if he did not start to take care of her daughter and grandchild. There was also the issue of changing the child’s name because Effiong’s father was insisting the child bears Okon or Abasi instead of Obiajulu. It was just indescribable; the quarrel, argument, the pleas, the DNA tests and all. It was an ugly picture that I cannot begin to paint, it cannot just be penned down, it is just a long story.
It is not uncommon to find an unmarried woman with a child strapped to her back_her child. In fact, it is gradually becoming a norm, notably among celebrities, to see a woman who has a child for a man she is not married to. Many a times, it could be because the male counterpart questions the potency of the woman or as some people claim, the woman is trying to trap the man with the pregnancy. Whatever the reason might be, the fact that a woman bears a child [ren] for a man she is not married to, often leads to what we have come to call “baby mama saga”; a quarrel that is usually born out of knotty problem.
The family members of the unmarried parents are usually the ones who raise the dust. Most times, they begin to pressurize the man to marry the woman. They start to argue about who is to take custody of the child and how much a parent is to bring on a weekly or monthly basis. The unmarried parents too are to be blamed for the baby mama saga. They fail to understand that whether they are married or not, once the child has come into the world, everything regarding the child’s well-being should be put into consideration and as such quarrel’s and ulterior motives should be put aside. There should be a law that would clearly dictate the child’s fate including that of the parents each time such disputes arises. The society and religion should also try and educate single people on the need to be married before pro-creating .The advice of medical personnel’s, religious groups and counselors for youths to abstain from premarital sex should also not be overlooked.
Amaka was startled, envious of this beautiful woman whose car had splashed beautiful stagnant water on her and Obiajulu. The beautiful woman extended a clean towel to her. I am sorry, so sorry, I didn’t know, it was that woman that told me my car splashed water on someone. Amaka didn’t border to stretch her neck to see the woman this woman was pointing at. She was probably pointing at someone that didn’t exist. This same woman was now offering to pay for her child’s milk, real children’s milk not the type she wanted to buy. The type that made the woman stare in horror as the shop keeper measured it with his bare hands into an empty tin that previously contained tomato puree. This woman was speaking like “them”; like the people her father described as “imported” Nigerians. She was asking her to “Gerin the ka”, she was offering to drive her home. The interior of her car was even more beautiful, it suited this woman. “What does your husband do”? I replied, but she repeated the question. Maybe because she was shocked about the answer I gave or because she wanted to know why my husband could not give me money to buy real baby milk. I had to repeat myself, a reply that made her stare at me and Obiajulu afterwards; “I am a baby mama, I don’t have a husband.”