She looked at the baby and tears poured out her red, swollen eyes. A beautiful baby boy he was. Three weeks old. He was her only child in her seven years of marriage. The child had followed two daughters and a son who had all died before the age of two. The doctors mention causes like pneumonia, typhoid and convulsion. Lies. The kids died of poverty. The ailments were just reasons. Good reasons that weren’t real reasons. Indeed they suffered these but because of their drunken father’s inability to contemplate hospital bills, she had treated them only with drugs gotten on credit from the chemist’s and one after the other they had died in her hands.
Now she had another one.
She wiped her tears with the back of her veins-infested hand, the tears were beginning to soak the boy’s cover; she put the boy on his cot and began to walk small circles in her bedroom. She pitied the baby. If babies chose the families to be born into, he had made a mistake by choosing hers. He wouldn’t stay. The world wasn’t ready for him. She wasn’t ready for him.
Yes, she wasn’t ready for him.
She had employment, a good one. She worked in a big micro finance bank in Ikeja where she earned a lot, more than would be sufficient to take care of this baby and her lazy, jobless, unemployable husband, Nosa. But she had more than that on her neck. She had another family. Or, in clearer terms, her parents’ family, where she was the first child among six other siblings. The father was a sick breathe, having suffered a devastating stroke two years back. The mother had an expensive sickness—diabetes. Her siblings were all in school and she catered for them all. She paid for their fees, drugs and even house rent. The mother had a small shop from which they fed, things that went beyond the mouth had come from her.
It is a cruel world. She had known her own sufferings before now. Her first five years of marriage was a long tale of poverty, the trophy being her dead kids. Then, she hadn’t gotten this job. She was just a school-leaver who waited for her husband to feed, shelter and clothe her. He was a contractor but apparently didn’t do a single contract in these years. They lived on his past glory. First they sold the car, then the plasma TV, then their upholstery, and then they left the flat into a single room apartment. Then there was nothing more to sell and poverty began to eat into them. Nosa began to hit the bottle…
It is a cruel world. The month she got her job in the bank was the same month her father suffered his stroke. So she practically spent her first salary saving his life. He survived but was incapacitated. The insurance company he was slaving for all his life laid him off. He worked in the insurance but was uninsured against the harsh turns of life. Bed-ridden he summoned enough strength to call his daughter on phone. ‘My daughter,’ he had said, ‘the family now rely on you for their upkeep. I know it is going to tell on your young shoulders but please endure it. It won’t last forever. In three years’ time your brother will graduate from medical school and relieve you of the burden.’ Stamped. Official. She was sentenced for three years.
Now she had given birth to her baby. She now had enough money to take care of him but she didn’t. In the bank it wasn’t allowed for workers to bring their babies to the vicinity of their office. There was a Day-care two kilometres from the bank but it was expensive. The fee was half of her salary. They opened between eight and five, Monday to Friday. But she was in the bank before seven thirty am and didn’t leave before until six pm. And she sometimes worked on Saturdays and occasionally on Sundays. The Day-care was out of it. She couldn’t bring her mother from Benin City to baby-sit for her because her mother earned bread for the family. Moreover, if her mother left the father would not survive her absence. They were still in love, nay attachment.
All her siblings were in school. If she brought her last sister here and put her in school the school fees in Lagos would weigh her down and Nosa could even harass her. The poor girl had got breasts. She wasn’t really sure if Nosa would molest her, but she would rather not trust a drunk. His blood-shot blank eyes frightened her; and his giant fists which he smashed into her face whenever he wanted food or her thigh intimidated her. He had never gotten anything right, even love-making. She could remember vividly that fateful day when he had lay on top of her and didn’t thrust; he just lay there, strangling her with his hard body. Suddenly, his mouth burst open and he vomited greenish murky water into her face! No, she wouldn’t trust this man with her sister. Again, the baby was way too small to be left without breast-feeding for fifteen hours every day! You see, she left work as early as five am (so as to beat the traffic) and although she closed by six pm the traffic kept her on the road until ten pm, at least. On any day it rained, she reached home at mid-night…
A cruel world it is. She was due to resume work next week when her one month maternity leave would expire. She had been squeezing her brain for a perfect solution that now might never come. Abortion had come to her mind before but she had dismissed it. Then she had enough time to think up a solution. Now the months were gone, the baby was here; this was the time to make the decision, a tough decision: either she left the job and everyone starved or dumped the baby somewhere and hurried away. She wouldn’t want to live with the guilt of an abandoned child, a child that could be abused, a child that would curse her forever.
She sighed, a cruel world. Next year her brother would graduate from medical school and she would no longer care whether he could take care of the family or not. But before then she would continue caring…
She lifted a pillow and raised it above her head, a tough decision. She was going to kill the child. Her hand shook, her heart bled and her eyes flooded with tears. She loved the boy. He was a fine, fair toy. He cried so little. He looked so much like his father. He would grow to be tall and handsome. But he wouldn’t have the chance. She would end it now…
‘I pray you understand,’ she said. ‘You are just a few weeks old. I have my entire family on my back; not enough space for you, for now, my sweet boy. I know you would do the same on my shoes.’ She brought the pillow close to the boy, set to press him. Her legs shook, sweat streamed down her face, but she was determined to do it. She remembered Okonkwo. She had hated him for killing Ikemefuna, the boy who called him father. Now she understood. Okonkwo was not a bad man after all. He understood the meaning of duty. She was now in his shoes, Mrs Okonkwo she was. She would do it.
As the pillow began its lethal descent, the boy’s s tiny mouth broke into a toothless smile that brought dimples on his soft cheeks; she didn’t see the smile. She didn’t want to. She placed the pillow on him and smothered home. For love and family.
(This story is the edited and expanded version that was first published in Black Heart Magazine as ‘Mrs Okonkwo’)
tweets to @Oke4chukwu