On The Threshold of Maturity

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It is now ten years since you realized that she’s a girl and you a boy. When the countenance that hung on your mother’s face told you that some words were implied by conduct and prim gestures and are not meant to be said. And you learned that that Sunday afternoon,  you had run to the corridor on your birthday suit and irreverently grabbed your smallish manhood with its wrinkled scrotum dancing along and foisted yourself to urinate, so as to flush out the peppery substance that had stolen into it.

Obviously gotten from Mama’s peppery tomato stew, Ogechi, the twelve-year-old daughter of the landlord choked with laughter at your sight, as you roughly massaged out the peppery substance. Mama hurried to you dousing Ogechi’s ogling eyes with her galling stare, a stare of calm hatred.

“What is it? What’s wrong?” Mama asked all at once.

“Ose a baa m na-amu” (pepper entered my penis) you said, pulling harshly on the poor flesh. She had given you a hard knock on the head and asked you what you said again. Sheepishly and yet painfully you had cried out incoherent words of “Ose baa m ebe a” with your hand gesturing unsteadily on the chunk of flesh you held roughly in your palm.

The neighbors laughed their heads off at this and in the coming days and years, the children in our compound especially ogechi would call you – Ose baa – and murmur the rest of the statement choking with laughter. But your mother’s stare already said a lot, the message was passed.

It was the Monday after that Sunday that your mother smacked your face in that smothering afternoon sun whose pricky rays burnt your back. Because she thought you were watching your sister.  Ugomma’s as she urinated in front of your home. The hit had  sent you  writhing in pains on the hot sand with your body making shallow grave on the light yellowish sand. She had stared at you with a disgustful grimace on her face; her face had looked weak but quite enraged; a kind of stare you give to a once innocent boy you think is turning bad. She had asked you where you learnt such behavior, but you were amiss of what behavior she talked about. She said you have changed.

It was a week after that, when aunty Ngozi drew the parts of the body of a boy and named all of them, save for the part just below the waist. She had called it the private part.  You had asked her what it was, but she had coldly asked you to go and ask your mother.

She taught you the body parts the next day and the following day, always drawing a bony big-headed boy on the board. You had wondered why she didn’t draw girls parts of the body to be named, but you were afraid to ask, lest she sees you as a bad child and tells your mother.

Yesterday had made it exactly twelve years when your mother had beaten you with a stick and denied your breakfast. You had gone to school on an empty stomach because your mother eavesdropped you asking Nnanna, the boy that lived next to your house, “where do children come out from, the stomach or the buttocks? “.You had hardly finished the question when mother gave your head a soft, delicate swollen lump, with the ladle with which she warmed the last night’s soup and left your mouth with bruises that shone light painful pink.

A day after that, you visited your aunty, Uju. She had asked you about the black and white television in your house, why it hadn’t been repaired. You had wanted to just say it was with the technician save for that devil that perched on your shoulders goading you to give more details. Details of his negligence! You told her that the technician to whom it was given was busy chasing after women, that he forgot his job. “Na o no na achu nwanyi”. She had grabbed your mouth and pulled roughly at it.

She gave you the kind of stare cast on a child who said what was rather too big to be in his vocabulary of words. A fly buzzed round her head and perched on her left cheek as if calming her nerve, telling her that you were just a child that’s rather loud mouthed.

It was four years after that, that your mother stopped Ugomma your sister from bathing outside in front of the yard, though you were older, she didn’t ask you to discontinue bathing outside. You had both shared a bucket of water with Ugomma splashing water-filled cups as hard as possible on your bare bodies, giggling and running around the compound. But all that has stopped.

She began buying pants and singlets for your sister while you had non. You asked for your own singlets but your mother had brusquely told you “you don’t grow breast, inwero ara”. …It sounded absurd to you because you knew you had breasts…You protested that your mother was being partial, she just stared at you and passed all the message. A stare that said I don’t want to talk about this again. And with that it ended.

As the days rolled, Ugomma stopped going to take her bath on her birthday suit, but with your mother’s white towel strapped around her chest. It was then you noticed for the first time the bumps on her chest and the gentle swelling of her backside. You began checking the differences, you began to justify why your mother got brassieres and panties for her and you got none. You asked her the reason for the different swells. She smiled. That coy mature smile of someone who was asked what’s she didn’t understand herself.

But with the hauteur of someone with a special knowledge so badly wanted, she proceeded to educate you – the greenhorn. She ended up giving you a simple vague answer “it’s girl stuff”. The exaggerated fluidness of her answer said she just told you what a bigger girl had said to her. Yet you still wondered while those parts of hers swelled while yours stubbornly remained flat.

In the coming month, you began staying in the kitchen with your mother. You began licking the ladle that was used in stirring the soup because Izunna your classmate said it would help grow your flat breasts. You became obsessed with it. To stop you, your mother began immersing the ladle in a bucket of water after each stirring. So you stopped.

Two years after that, a chance to learn came. Your teacher in school taught you puberty. You had asked her the question, which you had asked your mother at home, that she ordered you to shut up and your sister to foolishly call you a stupid boy. You had asked her why girls’ buttocks were bigger than that of boys. And same with the breasts! It left boys in the class choking with laughter. Of course, she didn’t answer it, she pretended that she didn’t hear it or rather that it wasn’t important and left the class coldly.

Then things began to change at home.Your sister started leaving early for school and came back late. Your mother was delighted that she has begun taking her studies seriously, but you weren’t deceived, you smelt a rat, because you knew your sister better than your mother, because she’s still Ugomma not Ugom as your mother called her, she’s still your sister. The other day you saw her hastily hurrying some of her casual wears into her school bag. You knew she was up to something. As days rolled by, you noticed changes in your sister’s attitude.

She kept to herself and said only what needed to be said, yet appeared happy. She stopped taking money for snacks and still didn’t complain of hunger, your mother was happy because for her that’s a sign of maturity, the quality of a good woman, a wife who would be independent not relying on the husband. On her face were mixtures of excitement, fear and uncertainty. An excitement for something that’s obviously filling her drum of self-sufficiency, the fear that your mother would find out and the uncertainty that her source of sufficiency might dry up.

As days grew into weeks you began searching her bags, her school bag, and her box. What you had seen validated your suspicion. New pants, trousers that she would never wear, because she lived in your house, moreover, it’s a sin according to your mother, two creased  letters that you had hurriedly read with each ending  with  “your love  Izu and  your love  Michael”. But she had caught you and began to protest and shout. Your angry stare told her that the last thing she would think of was to make a scene. She opened up and told you everything. Then you became the playmaker in charge of the game and she became the lackey that took instructions from you because she was afraid you will tell on her that she had a boyfriend….., no, boyfriends. That would make your mother mad.

In the coming weeks, you would begin to man a surreptitious love rendezvous. You began standing at the spirogyra ridden wooden gate, with decaying hinges and clandestinely but hurriedly let your eyes travel to and fro the rough mud road, creased by potholes made by virulent erosion and search for your mother and notify your sister when she’s on her way back. The neighbors were oblivious of what was happening, except Mma Ndidi, the poke nosy woman, with shriveling over-bleached skin with shimmering dark elbows and knees. Sho would always laugh with derision in the coming week when your mother boasted of the innocence and maturity of her daughter – Ugo. How she had known, none knew, but her derisive laughter showed she knew something and thus laughed at the naive ignorance of your mother.

What Ugomma did inside with the boys that visited was what you didn’t know. The last time you saw her with the boy called Michael. A fair pear faced boy, with bony cheeks and smiley face, with sluggish green veins crawling up in his Styrofoam skin. Who was anything but handsome, but with his smiley face he struggled to look good, not so much for Ugomma’s pleasure but for yours – the supposed big brother, for your validation. You saw in his eyes someone who didn’t actually love your sister but just wanted to be in a relationship for the sake of it, to try a new experience of going with the tag boyfriend and you knew it was the same with Ugomma. So you just let them be. The excessive fluidness in his speech, his over slurred “r,,o and  f” when he  talked, he said “keeifo not kee ihe o, Ifeanyi, not iheanyi” suggested one who was more interested in what he said, how it sounded, than the actual meaning of his words.

On Monday you visited Izunna after school he updated your dictionary. He gave you the connotative meanings of words you thought you already knew. It was there you learned that socks doesn’t actually mean what is put on before wearing shoes, that another part wore it. You learned that the word bang has more to do with other things than knockout, what it meant to be on heat and what wet dream meant. He taught you how to runs girls, how to know when a girl likes you. You had sat there gulping everything down without any questions, not that you understood it all but because you were already confused and yet didn’t want to appear Jew. Everything was moving too fast and you seemed to be the only person left out. How Izunna knew all these still baffled you yet you were older, but he’s shrewder. Ugomma has a thing for him.

It was on the 5th of October 2004 that things began to settle down. That morning your mother numbed Ugomma’s cheeks with slaps before asking her to get dressed, because she thought Ugomma was pregnant. The quickness of her harried  nerves, her palpitating body, the ghoulish frown that buried itself between her eyebrows,

the desperate noisy hushes she made to lessen the loudness of her vituperative scolding, so that the neighbors won’t be alarmed and  forestalled their crawling up her door to give their pseudo sympathy to the issue at hand. She was mad, not so much for the fact that she suspected your sister to be pregnant, but because of the poignant imageries it had created within her – the jibes of Mma Ndidi, the accusing fingers of the neighbors and the Christian  mothers. She was scared that she would be called the mother of a tramp, a girl that doesn’t close her legs.

All these scared her and hastened her emotional gesticulations. You stared at Ugomma, to search out the truth from her eyes. She replied with pleading eyes that said: “you have to believe me, we did it, but that’s only once but he hadn’t gone far, what he did wasn’t enough to get me pregnant, he didn’t actually get in”. You got the message and wondered if it really mattered how many times or if the culprit actually didn’t go in.

When your mother came back without Ugo, You knew something was wrong, that your sister was actually pregnant. No words were exchanged. Your sister came back the following day, repressed sadness buried in her swollen eyes. She didn’t say a word to you nor your mother, she just went into the house and coiled her limp self at the extreme end of the bed. She wouldn’t wake up till the next morning.

Another silence fell and shrouded the hovel you rested your heads. No words were exchanged, everyone went about their business pretending not to see the other, you all ate once a day and no one complained, your sister and your mother exchanged anger-filled stares of things better left unsaid. Your mother had always backed down from the eye galling battle. There was something vociferous about your sister’s stare, a stare of someone who had been betrayed by a loved one, someone who ought to have fought for her. A stare of calm hate lingered in her eyes. You knew something was wrong, that the problem had nothing to do with you but the two women. The boldness in your sisters stares validated your suspicion.

A week after the emotional swerve that burned in your house, your mother banned any form of a visit to your house by both boys and girls. And neither you nor your sister was to leave home without her permission.

It was on the 19th of October that you got that letter, the letter that brought you here. You had slipped out the creased paper from your pocket, the force of the words contained in it landed you here. You didn’t see Ugomma when you had woken up, her tinker box wasn’t there. Your mother was still fast asleep.

You had given a blank stare to that letter when those words caught you “I am sorry Chiziterem, I didn’t tell you all these on time, though it’s a memory now, a sad one at that. Just know that your-to-be nephew or niece was murdered by our mother. It’s a long story that won’t be told today. She wanted to protect her image, so she forced me to do away with it. What they injected into me when I refused to have an abortion, I don’t know, but I only know that when I woke from my unconsciousness that my baby was gone.

That’s why I hadn’t come back that day with Mama. Don’t try looking for me, I will surely find you, I just needed to get away from this place, from everything that reminds me of Mama. I hate her. Take care of yourself, I will be fine. Your sis Ugomma”.

You had leaped out of the room without any destination in mind. In your frenetic haste to find Ugomma, zigzagging through the cluster of vehicles that sluggishly plied through Abakpa junction, you were slipped down by one of the banana peels recklessly strewn on the road, and that was how you got here, to this hospital.  I hope you now remember that you have a family. Meanwhile your mother is here she hasn’t left this place since the day you lost  consciousness. And I hope that you can now begin a new life, taking special care not to repeat the mistakes of your mother, her over-exaggerated sensitiveness…

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