20 May Mami-Wọta Made My Hair [II]
I haven’t forgotten how I began my tale – don’t worry.
My mother didn’t start leaving her appointed path until later.
I will tell you about it, but for now, I have just arrived.
Let me rest, awaken and adjust to my new surroundings…
My arrival was accompanied by fire in my mother’s upper back, her lower belly then her lower waist. My father heated some ude-aki in a small, clay pot and applied it to the small of her back, rubbing it in slowly, in a circular motion.
Terror and confusion filled his quiet eyes. Who could blame him? For all the time they had been together, during their time of first sighting, stolen embraces, sweet breaths, courtship and marriage, my father had never seen my mother in so much pain!
She could see in his eyes how he wanted to rip me out of her belly! To shape a piece of wood that would fit through her passage and wrench me out of her child-bag so that she could have some reprieve. My mother took hold of his upper arm and held him strong.
“It …doesn’t… work… that… way, Ugom,” She gasped with every word, trying her hardest to hide the searing heat which was tearing her waist with every cramp that signalled my coming. “Nwadiutọ has to battle her way into this world like every other child. That’s what this pain is for; her fight to push her way through my passage into this life in preparation for all the earthly struggles she may have to endure.”
“Nwadiutọ, ehn?” My father raised one eyebrow at his sweating, pain-filled wife.
“Yes, Ugom, ‘Child is sweet’”
“She had better sweeten our lives after all this,” my father grunted, holding his wife close to his chest as if to absorb some of the fire.
“Uwam”, he spoke into my mum’s not-so-coiffed hair, his voice a rumble in his chest, “let me call the mid-wife now please. I can no longer bear this pain!”
My mother laughed. A strange sound infused with the strain of bearing blazing fire and water.
“Ugom”, she attempted to inject a teasing note into her agony-laced voice, “Call the midwife if you desire relief but Nwadiutọ will not bide her time any longer”.
She grabbed the sides of the bamboo bed my father had lovingly fashioned for her in the final days of her confinement. He had shaped it with those hands of his; hands that could command wood to bend at his will. The bed had pulleys and levers that could raise it at the foot or at the head if one so wished.
The midwife, Nwa-Amaka, was already awaiting summons right outside our door, when my father came for her. She had birthed my mother, watched her grow and knew how stubborn my mother could be when the fancy took her. She knew that my mother did not want to give people, particularly my grandmother and seven aunties the satisfaction of seeing her pain; that she might decide to birth me with no one in attendance except my father, so she came prepared; her birthing basket filled with the necessary paraphernalia. One look and she saw that I had dropped to my mother’s lower belly and that my mother was ready but before my mother could bear down, Nwa-Amaka took her place between my mother’s legs, hands washed, birthing blade purified.
Nary a sound was heard from my mother. As Nwa-Amaka suspected, my mother wanted me to arrive in quiet, the way they had lived their lives. She also wanted to spare her husband the pain that only she could bear. She hissed and gasped at the shooting pains, the throbbing, the spasms but my father was not fooled.
Thankfully, I wasn’t a child who wanted to cause the fire to torment my mother any longer than required, by refusing to be detached from my bag. As soon as she bore down, I came out, head first, and slid into the midwife’s waiting hands.
She wrapped me expertly with three strips of washed, non-dyed cotton cloth, cut the cord that attached me to my mother and handed me over to my father, who had been wearing a hole in the floor, pacing and wringing one helpless hand after the other.
My father carried me with a gasp of awe, gazing into my wrinkly, red face with tears brimming in his quiet eyes.
The birthing wasn’t over. Nwa-Amaka reached over for the still-warm ude-aki, rubbed it between both hands and massaged my mother’s stomach for the afterbirth to make its way out. It slithered through my mother’s passage and out onto the Ede leaves, on the floor, at the foot of the bed. Nwa-Amaka wrapped it up, cleaned my mother and left a packet of herbs to be brewed for the recovery of strength. After which she packed her all birthing implements into the basket, gave me one last look and left.
She did not ask my parents for payment; only the joy of birthing a child of her ‘child’.
“Bring her,” my mother’s words could barely be heard for the lack of their strength but my father didn’t need to hear; he sensed it was time for her arms to hold me. “Nwadiutọ”, she blew the name on the crown of my head and handed me back to my father.
With the gentlest of hands, he unwrapped the strips of cloth I had been swaddled in and cleaned me free of all that I came out with from my mother’s child-bag.
“Nwadiutọ,” he also whispered unto my crown and blew softly in my face, thrice.
Just like the morning breeze.
There was a small jar of water that my mother had brought back from her trip during the Week of the Remembrance when I was conceived; it had been kept for such a time as this. My father trickled it on my forehead and I let out a lusty cry. He smiled, placed me in the neat, little crib that he carved specially for me, rocked me back and forth until I felt enclosed in tranquillity.
He lay beside his wife, wrapped himself round her and gave in to the quiet but it was the quiet that precedes a storm. Not a storm of destruction in this case, no, just a storm that comes to water dry ground, blow through the land, clearing all rubbish and dead things, bringing freshness and new life…like me.