The clock on the wall might as well have been hanging in the halls of my mind. I couldn’t get the sound of it ticking furiously out of my head. It echoed louder than the Roman church bell in the centre of the town. I glanced up at it. It was half past 12. 30 more minutes and I would whisk my daughter out of this god-forsaken-living-life-backwards house.
The clock on the wall was the same as the one in my husband’s inner room. When I was 19, my mba married me off to his longtime friend. I would have preferred a young man, who didn’t have three wives of his own already, but I was an obedient child, and I heeded to my father’s wishes.
Teni had dozed off on my shoulder. Her innocent looking face brought a smile to my face. My Teni, my beautiful Teni. The fierceness of her kicks in my womb created an unbreakable bond, and I vowed from that moment to love this child from the length and breadth of inhaling to exhaling.
And it started right from the day I felt the labour pains. My mma delivered all 7 of us in the confines of her home, 3 out of these 7 all by herself. My mma koma delivered my mother and her 5 siblings at home as well. In fact, almost all the women in my town gave birth in their homes. I trusted my mma to help deliver the baby, but after waiting 10 good hours when the contractions started for her to return from visiting a sick aunt, I thought it best to drag my belly to the local hospital.
It took another 2 hours before the midwife at the hospital prepped me up, she would have attended to me earlier if I had shown some signs of pain, she said. But where I come from you don’t express pain during childbirth, so I bit my lip and arched my back till they set me up for delivery.
Everything would have gone well, and I would’ve returned home without having to hear my mma tell me I was intent on living life just so I hear her tell me she told me so. But the midwife, in an effort to enlarge my vaginal opening to help deliver my huge baby, cut too deep with a too sharp scissors.
My baby was safe alright, but there I was, newly delivered of my baby, feet up in stirrups bleeding torrentially. She hurriedly called in a doctor to remedy my situation.
I waited patiently to be knocked into an unconscious state. I had been calm all through the delivery but I was drained and couldn’t wait to drift into sleep. I saw the midwife and a ward attendant walk in and out of the room several times; I thought little of it.
Nothing in my then 19 years of life prepared me for the unbelievable pain and shock that I experienced. The doctor tried to explain to me that there was no anaesthesia, and to save my life so I could look after my baby, he had to close me up without it. He was going to suture me without anaesthesia. I must have been in a daze, because all I could muster was a nod. Blood was seeping from my body from in between my thighs, the sight of the pool of blood made me dizzy, I was watching my life literally drain out of me.
The doctor reached into the bloody pool, fished for the ragged edges of the midwife’s offending cut, and pierced my opening with the needle. The maddening scream I let out could have woken up all the forgotten gods in the stretch of the land. I saw the colour of pain that night, as sparks of it exploded in my brain.
I went home a wounded woman that day, but the joy my baby brought overshadowed the pain. And I lived to the constant cries of my mma’s “Lariba, I asked you to wait for me. Lariba, I told you so.”
Teni was the most beautiful and brilliant girl in the village. And the first girl to finish junior high. When she was 19, her father decided it was time to marry off. She wanted to go on to secondary school, but I am not one to fight with the man of the house, so I promised Teni I would ensure her mba married her off to a good young man who will do her well, not an old wrinkled out man. And her mba stayed true to his word. He had found a young man two towns away from our town, who was looking for a wife. The necessary investigations were done, and we found out it was a rich humble household with no strange diseases and not wife-beaters.
We set off at dawn to marry my Teni off. We arrived at sunset and the women of the house received us warmly. It was a big beautiful house with wooden floors that made me want to roll my almost 40-year old body all over it. We settled in comfortably and greeted the entire family. The man who was to marry my Teni was seated amidst 5 other men. They called him Yara. He was handsome and well built. A look at his loins spread a smile across my face. My Teni will be a happy woman. I was content.
I settled back in the room adjudged for my daughter and waited patiently for the women of Yara’s household to finish inspecting my daughter as was customary before the day of the marriage, so I could finally catch some sleep. It had been a long day.
Most of the women just looked at Teni and made her turn around to have a better view. A tall woman who looked to be my age, touched Teni’s breasts and her backside to have a good feel; it was customary they said, so I didn’t let it bother me too much. She finally put her hands around Teni’s waist and smiled.
“Your daughter is perfect,” she smiled at me. I smiled back at her with a knowing smile.
“She will be good for Salam. “
“Salam? Is Yara also called Salam? A slightly confused me asked
“Oh no, Salam is one of Yara’s brothers and my husband as well. He likes girls with narrow waists. I had one too you know, but childbirth has stretched my skin” she laughed softly.
“But what has Salam’s preference in girls got to do with my daughter”?
She looked at me as if she expected me to know better, my befuddled look said otherwise.
“Each of the brothers of the groom will have a taste of the bride before the groom himself does, to ensure their brother is having the best of wives. It’s a tradition of the town. Did you not know? The father of the bride was made aware of our custom before he accepted our brother”
“What do you mean they’ll have a taste of the bride?” I asked incredulously, silently cursing the day my mba married me off to this man who will agree to this.
She smiled playfully at me, “you know what I mean, Teni’s mma. But don’t worry, it’s just for tomorrow and whenever the couple renews their vows”
All Yara’s brothers were going to ‘taste’ my Teni tomorrow? Where do they do that at?
The woman had moved on for the next woman to inspect Teni. I was dumbfounded. I asked the next woman how many brothers Yara had.
“7 strong brothers” she answered proudly. My world started spinning.
7 brothers! 7 brothers to ‘taste’ my Teni before her husband did. 7 men to introduce their penises to my daughter all in the name of tradition?
I shook my head vigourously and looked up towards the ceiling. This was not written in my destiny. My daughter was not about to pounded sexually by 7 men in the name of some damned tradition. It was not happening. Not as long as I Lariba existed.
There had been no time to unpack. There was no longer a need for that anyway. I was taking my daughter away before any sign of daylight.
*mma – mother, mba- father, mma-koma – grandmother