“Where do babies come from?” Gift asks.
“Babies.’ She pouts and throws her hands out in innocent curiosity. ‘Erm, where did I come from?”
Fide winces, opens his mouth furtively and shrugs. He had not known she was sitting in front of him on her little fairy patterned dining set. It’s light green and faces him squarely, her bowl of cereal upturned on it in a greasy, creamy mess. She, smiles, clasps her little fleshy hands together and sits up, waiting for Uncle to answer. He, on his part, hesitates, flexes his fingers nervously and shifts on his chair. He does not know what to say, how to explain, or begin.
She waits, patiently, for his answer.
Now, that he looks at her, he begins to think she looks like Fiyin, his sister. His late sister that died while giving birth to Gift.
Fiyin! He sighs. He had successfully avoided thinking about that name and any discussion that would bring up the name with the neighbours or, even, his mother. He wasted no time in taking down her pictures that evening when he returned from the hospital. Her locked room haunted him too and he avoided passing in front of it. Even Gift. Right from the day his mother had brought her home he had never been comfortable being around her and had always avoided crossing her toddling path or looking at her for a sec. Even now, as she sits in front of him, he fights a million and one urges to jump up from his seat and dash out of the living room.
He doesn’t. He struggles to keep his cool on the seat and she waits, – patiently, silently, – with a smile like that on Fiyin’s face when she…
“Oh Christ!” He exclaims in his head. He lights the last cigarette in the pack and picks a beer from the cartoon under his chair. It hits the empty bottles on the floor and echoes a grim sound. He uncorks the beer with his teeth and swigs.
There is something I should have done four years ago. Something which, as I sit and stare at you on your little dining set Grandma bought for you when you were two, now seems easy, but I must confess it really wasn’t. Well, it wasn’t as that then. I should have been a man and stepped up. I would have, though, if I had not lost my voice. If the subtle, earnest entreaties of my mind had not been easily drowned out by the noisy, cooing passion surging up my stomach and throbbing my John. My head whirled ecstatically and my two friends, Frank and Gboyega, stuffed up my mouth simultaneously with their joints. I coughed at each drag, a messed–up novice I was, and they did not stop until the three of us had gone through five wraps and three bottles of Chelsea local dry gin. We were on the sixth wrap when they came along. Three of them. Three full-formed ladies trudging through the night. They were almost the same height and stature, – that was all I could make out as they advanced towards us and, their hips swayed to the clink-clank their high heels made. I couldn’t make out their faces in the poorly illuminated street. NEPA had taken it upon themselves to rid the street of electricity that night and I did not bother trying to make out their faces, – even when we got close. It was quite dark and we had waited two hours in the freezing cold. I just wanted to get it done with and go home.
“Hey, there are three of them and there are three of us.” Frank began drunkenly. He gulped greedily from the bottle that Gboyega had opened before we sighted the girls. I snatched the bottle from him and downed the remaining content. It was hot and burnt harshly as it ran down my throat, through my guts and inflamed the throbbing passion threatening to blow me up.
The night suddenly grew darker and blurrier and all I remembered was dragging one of the girls down with me. I woke in Frank’s toilet, face-down, in a pool of my vomit.
That night Fiyin did not come back home. Nor the next, or the day after the next. She came back six days later while Mama Fide was grinding tomatoes on the mortar she borrowed from Mama Jeje, one of the over thirty neighbours in the multi-storey, multi-roomed houses popularly known as civilian barracks they live in. Mama Fide had spent the last six days fretting and worrying over Fiyin, her last child and only daughter, and almost had an heart attack when Fiyin did not pick up her calls on the first two days, and on the third the operator began advising her to call back later as the number she had dialled was switched off.
The numerous neighbours had taken turns, individually and collectively, to advice Mama Fide to take heart and not lose sleep over Fiyin’s absence. Children of nowadays, they said, they are not worth worrying over. She could be out there enjoying herself, who knows?
Mama Fide kept quiet all through their admonition, betraying no slight emotion. Towards the middle of the second week, she was grinding tomato on the balcony on the last floor. She lifted her head to wipe the beaded sweats forming and, momentarily, caught sight of Fiyin dragging herself limply into the compound. Her eyes lit with fiery excitement and she shot up, out and down the zig-zag stairs to expend her pent-up motherly affection on her lost but found daughter.
“Oh Jesus, you are great! Thank you. Where have you been? Iwo omo yii? Ehn, you this child. You wanted to kill me, abi? What would I have told your late father’s relatives? Ehn, tell me.” She blurted in the middle of hugging and pecking, turning and examining her. Fiyin submitted herself to her mother’s cross–examination silently, wearily as she hoped the gathering neighbours would just keep their peace and spare her their exaggerated excitement at seeing her.
Fiyin became a ghost of herself. She slept more than usual, often dozing off during her favourite TV series or while reading. She slept through the day and through the night. Her voracious appetite was nowhere to be found and she began picking on her food, counting and naming them in the process. She kept to herself mostly, only responding curtly to questions.
Mama Fide could not believe her ears. Fiyin had begun vomiting. Once, twice, then repeatedly until she noticed and her suspicions took the best of her. She had had to drag Fiyin down to the hospital for a check-up.
“Pregnant!” She repeated, dryly.
“Yes ma.’ The doctor acquiesced. He fingered some papers nonchalantly. ‘From what I can see, she is two weeks and some days gone.”
Mama Fide turned to face Fiyin wide-mouthed.
Fiyin did not respond. She turned towards the examining bed and traced the creases. During the following months, she only traced the cracks on the walls and imaginary wrinkles on the face of her mother while she tried her possible best to find out who was responsible for the pregnancy.
Fiyin’s water broke the day before Fide’s final exams were to commence. Fide was, finally, scanning through his Physiochemistry textbook, glad to have taken his mind off wondering why she had been fixing her eyes on him for the past nine months as though she was trying to make up her mind on something concerning him. She never did make up her mind, he guessed, as he suspected and caught her always eyeing him. She never threw away her face.
Mama Fide rushed into the living room, from her room, as soon as she heard Fiyin scream. She threw herself beside her and after inquiring the reason for the scream and only getting further grunts and sharp screams in reply, discerned instinctively it was time.
“Eh, drop that book Fide. Come and assist me in carrying your sister to the hospital. Her water has broken.”
“Push!!!” The doctor barked.
Fiyin held my right arm desperately as she tightened her stomach muscles in obedience. She was sweating and crying and almost yanked off my arm from its joint. Her dirt-studded, unattended fingers dug deeper into my flesh, making me whimper.
“Push dear,’ the doctor petitioned once more, ‘I think I can now see the head.”
Fiyin hesitated. She took a long, cursory look at me and motioned me closer. I drew nearer, placing my ear strategically in front of her mouth.
“I knew it was you.”
“Me?” I ask, dumbfounded.
“Yes, you, Brother Fide.’ She turned my face so I could look straight into her eyes. ‘I knew it was you nine months ago on Osope Street.”
“I don’t get you.” I defended myself blankly. Suppressed memories begin to flood my head.
“You and your two drunken friends. I smelt your perfume. Night Walker. It was you who did this to me.”
I withdrew gradually from her, my jaw falling involuntarily. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. The delivery ward gained on me like a cop rushing in on a criminal in the act. Caught, red-handed. I found it difficult to breathe and to even gasp.
“Push dear. We are almost there. Just one more push.”
She mustered up all the strength she had, compacting her muscles as her stomach tightened to the maximal pressure it could bear.
“That’s good dear… It’s a girl.”
“Her name shall be Gift.” Fiyin announced tiredly.
The first baby cry was let out and Fiyin’s stomach muscles relaxed to their position. She looked me stolidly in the eye, smiled and let out the ghost. Unable to look at you, the product of my drunken rash act, I stared at Fiyin stolidly. She laid stone cold, her smile intact as though mocking my miserable state.
I hope Frank and Gboyega had their sisters that night. Wait, Gboyega is the only child but he might have had his cousin or a distant cousin or someone remotely or complexly related to him, – you know, all these mother’s-sister’s-brother’s-wife’s-mother’s-brother-ish. Oh wait, we are all children of Adam and one way or the other, we don’t need any blood or filial tie to prove it, the three of us raped our sisters!
Oh, crap! What, the hell, am I thinking?
Mother keeps ranting. I take long drags and drown the smokes with mouthfuls of beer. She says, “You don’t have a life,’ (Well, what’s this I am living?) ‘You are stupid and dumb.’ (Hell, I know that myself.) ‘and you are the worst mistake to have ever happened to me.” (Perfect, that’s an achievement.) She says all these in two hurriedly spoken languages, out-of-place proverbs and a hundred and ninety seven plus sentences, – some too long I didn’t know if they count as a sentence, two or more. I couldn’t help but keep count. She gets tired and dash into her room. I used to feel sorry for her but tonight I don’t.
You don’t say anything, just like your mother. You sit patiently and watch me with those dark eyes that look as though Fiyin had plucked off hers and inserted them in your sockets. And that smile…
“Why do you always have to smile when looking at me?”
My mind is black and blank, and my face is expressionless. I only wished that on that fateful night, I had done the most honourable and bravest thing I would have ever done in my damned life.
If only I had zipped up my trousers and tugged Frank and Gboyega back to their senses by breaking the empty gin bottles on their head, or, better still, stabbed them to death, then the world would have been rid of three rapists and three rape victims. I wouldn’t have raped my sister and be plagued with those horrible guilt pangs that drove me dumb and paranoid during my last semester exam in medicine school. I would have become a doctor, have a posh house on the Island, marry a beautiful damsel and have Mother off my back. Maybe, then, I would have become the best thing to have ever happened to her and the world in general. That wouldn’t have been crap.
Seriously, if only I hadn’t lost my wits and voice, if I had been a man just for ten minutes instead of a depraved idiot I wouldn’t have been your father and your mother, my sister, would still be alive. You, you would still be at that place we pretend to know but actually don’t know. That place that would have been the perfect answer to your question, ‘Where do babies come from?’
Fide drops the empty bottle among the strewn pile on the floor. He sucks the last of the cigarette and stamps the end with his bare feet. It burns his sole lightly but he feels nothing. He had taught himself not to feel anything. He, crosses his arms, raises his head and locks eyes with his eager, anticipating daughter’s.
He clears his throat and scratches his unkempt hair, wondering what to say.