About two weeks ago, there were dramatic scenes of joy and relief in Nigeria when the government handed over 21 schoolgirls to their parents after their captors, the militant group Boko Haram, released them. Chika Ezeanya-Esiobu reconstructs the event in this piece of fiction.
Mama held on to her daughter. Tears ran down her cheeks and her chin before forming a small puddle on her daughter’s shoulder. Tears trickled down her daughter’s back when Mama lifted her up her feet, set her down, disengaged her tight hold and stared into her face. She repeated her action a second time, this time lifting her even higher up and holding her longer. She made to go a third round before she changed her mind. Until the next step she took, her action was not too different from that of other mothers who held on to their daughters, wiping tears, sobbing loudly, asking questions, touching every part of their anatomy, checking for a missing finger, toe or ear.
Mama, shaking with emotion, turned her back, bent down halfway on rain drenched grounds and spoke her first coherent sentence, “Climb,” she instructed her daughter. “Climb and let us go home.”
Her daughter would not move. She stood crying the words, “Mama is this you?”
“It is me and it is you,” her mother responded.
“Now climb on my back let me take you home, my child.”
More words rolled out of her mouth over which she had no control. Tears drenched her white shirt. She had forgotten her handkerchief.
Mama’s daughter stood and stared.
Until that moment, she had no recollection of ever being carried by Mama. Not even six years earlier at the age of 12 when she fell off a guava tree and had to be carried everyday to the bonesetter’s home. Her brother and uncle bore that responsibility; it would have been calling for double casualty if Mama had dared. She stood at 5ft 4 inches, and was only slightly bigger in circumference than the stem of the guava tree that snapped under her daughter’s weight.
Mama, still in her bent position, stretched her right hand backwards and drew her daughter down until they both squatted. “Ahh,” she had forgotten to untie her wrapper, “wait, let me get the wrapper” she cried, as she pinned her daughter to the squatting position with one hand and untied her wrapper. Her daughter’s knee hurt, the skirt the government gave her was a little too tight and dug into her skin.
“Do you remember this wrapper?” her mother asked, as she halted briefly from untying her wrapper to wipe tears off her eyes. “Do you remember this wrapper? She asked again, expertly spreading the red and yellow Ankara fabric until it covered her daughter’s torso.
She began to tie the wrapper round her chest. “Do you remember this wrapper?” She asked a third time to a daughter she knew would not respond. “Don’t you remember this wrapper your father gave me the day you were born?” She was knotting the wrapper across her chest, the first step to more knots to follow. “I told your father I will wear this wrapper on your wedding day.”
Her daughter felt a pull that lifted her until she was comfortably settled on her mother’s back. She feared for her mother, “Mama, please let me down. You will fall,” she pleaded.
Her mother untied her headscarf, made from the same Ankara fabric. “No, my daughter, this back carried you for years and it can still carry you. Let Boko Haram come and take you from my back.”
Mama securely fastened her daughter with the headscarf and ran out from under the shade of the canopy, out under the rain. “Let us go home”, she cried in the direction of her husband who had reached out to restrain and guide her back under the shade.
“Mama, please let me down,” her daughter pleaded.
“I cannot let you down from this back,” Mama said in a tone reserved for scolding an infant. “Let Boko Haram come back and see,” she said. “Let them come back now and take you from my back and see what will happen.”
“Boko Haram where are you?” Mama screamed as she walked back and forth. “Boko Haram where are you? Come and take her from my back, let me see it happen.”
Mama’s back. Her daughter’s body went limp as a picture flashed through her mind. She saw herself on her mother’s back when she was 15 years younger. She was being pulled, her mother was screaming, there were harsh male voices. End of picture.
A second picture came up. It was her at 8 years of age, her 6-month old sibling was tightly secured to her back. She was running with other villagers towards the forest. The scared company would spend the night there and were led home by armed security forces the next morning.
Suddenly, the stories told her about both events came to her. The first picture was a kidnapping attempt on her. Her mother was on her way back from the stream when two men emerged from the bush and tried to yank her off her mother’s back. Both men pulled and pulled, but her mother fought them off, holding on to the knot of her wrapper, kicking with her feet, and screaming for help until it came. The two ritualists were caught by the villagers and arrested.
The second picture was when herdsmen invaded their village and began killing indiscriminately. Her mother had shoved her youngest sibling on her back and asked her to run. To the sound of approaching gunshots, she ran to the bush with other villagers. Only a force that could inflict a mortal wound on her body would separate her from that infant on her back. She and her mother both knew that as they ran.
Mama’s back, an African woman’s back, the extension of her womb, the outward uterus that continues to hold a child many years after delivery. “Let Boko Haram come and take you from my back,” Mama said as she walked back and forth under the rain, her daughter securely tied to her back.
This creative work is based on the events surrounding the release of 21 Chibok girls by the government of Nigeria.
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
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