The Rustle of Silence

By Onyeike Chidinma


She Came for Us

They came for us like bees attracted to honey. Swarming up our villages. I can still remember the look on mama’s face, when we heard the gunshots. It was just like the sound produced by those expensive wines chief opened in ceremonies.

 Only this time around, it didn’t just stop at one pop. We had heard the rumours, about a certain group of men who had been terrorizing in the North. Killing, and raping children as they go. Each time the news was announced on our old radio, I would always shrug my shoulders and say;

“Thank God, it’s not happening here oh”

 I never cared if they lived or died. Maybe I did Afterall, I would sigh in sadness, or was it relief? Perhaps both. I felt protected in my village, Invisible even. There was no way they would try such nonsense in the East.

“Them no get the liver, if them born them well,make them come”

 And come they did.

 It was a beautiful evening, just like most evenings we had. Chika my sister sat on the mat, while my mother plaited her hair with a rubber thread. She kept complaining at different intervals, as the rubber flogged her skin, each time my mother’s hand made a cut.

I had gone to Mama Adaku’s place early that morning to shave my hair. My mother had warned me to let it be.

“And if a woman shaves her hair when her husband is yet to be found, she should get ready to dine with his grave”

Women. Always very dramatic.

“Mama it’s just hair, my hair”

This hair told a story. One I didn’t want to wake up to every morning feeling on my head. Nobody would understand the weight I carried, the whispers I heard. The hair was a curse. Long, black and curly. All vain. Surely God won’t be pissed, he would understand. And so should my mother.

Sitting down on a stool outside, drinking a bowl of Garri and palm kernel while the evening breeze embraced your skin, was bliss. Nothing compared to the feeling. Not even chief’s air conditioned house.

“Chima! My mother called out to my younger brother, who was just across him”. I would never understand women. He is so close to you, why must you shout?

“Take this jug and fetch me water from the clay pot, not that white  thing your aunty brought and kept here, that nobody knows how to use”.

Two minutes after Chima had gone towards the backyard leading to the kitchen, we heard it. The continuous pop of chief’s wine. Only this time, we knew it was no wine.

The screams were getting louder. That wasn’t what scared me. Screams were no stranger to my nightmares. What scared me was the fact that the shots were getting closer.

By now we had run out of our home. Our home. The place I thought would protect us, the place I felt was invisible, still they found us.

My mother’s wrapper had fallen to the ground, she was just in her black shimmy. Chika was screaming on my mother’s back. She was just 8 years old. Don’t ask about my father. The old man was probably somewhere laughing happily. Grateful he was dead. Grateful we were all going to meet him. Well not all of us.

Kpo kpo kpo kpo kpo….I covered my ears, hoping I’d  get deaf. The only mistake I made was not shutting my eyes. Chika had stopped screaming, and my mother wasn’t running.

I watched with an unexplainable pain in my chest, as they fell to the ground. Bullets in their body. Chima was nowhere to be found. Bodies were laying around like fallen udara on the ground.

She had warned me. She warned me to let her child be. Still I shaved her off. I told you my hair was cursed. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

So here I am, looking at her. My body. Once beautiful, now marked. Vanity. My father must be disappointed, for we never came to him. A little something that put a smile on my face. There was no pain here. Just loneliness, my old friend.

My Little Darklings

She hated them. Everything they stood for, everything they represented. They knew this, they felt it, still they laughed. It was dark, just as it had been for the past 15 years. She was just a child, her body so terribly used. Innocent, pure even. It didn’t matter, it never did to them. They took, but she never gave. Round bellied and skinny, they came in different forms. Family they said, her very own flesh and blood.

Family.

 The word was like a curse that never left the tip of her tongue. It reeked of unforgiveness, Filth and Hate. She had accepted her fate. Her place beside Lucifer. He alone understood her, he alone knew her. Years she had searched like a blind bat, craving for acceptance. Looking for a space that knew her struggles, a space that never judged. She never found it.

The very people that threw their heads away  on sight of the red that flowed down her 5 year old legs, suddenly had more than a few accusing  fingers pointed at her. They spat and cursed at her. Sigh.

 The big Man upstairs, they said he loved broken porcelain dolls like her. He loved to fix them. To make them whole. For someone who they said was never late, never absent. He sure did a great job watching her clothes ripped off more than thrice. Probably sipping on some mojito whilst she was roughly fondled with.

Well, Too bad for him. She didn’t want to be fixed. He had his chance, now it was gone. She had learnt to dine with her demons, to embrace her broken pieces. It felt comforting, peaceful even. Cutting up layers of her skin with those pieces. A gentle reminder of the darkness that had enveloped her being. A darkness she loved.

“Oga sally your money na ten thaasand!!!”

“Ah! ah! Babinto!  for wetin now, no be five thaasand?”

“You say wetin?!! Five thaasand say who die!? No be you wey talk say you want grasshopper, and monkey style? After I don break my back finish na 5 thaasand you wan drop?”

“Your blood too dey hot, ah ah! Oya take 7 thaasand, you no say you be my person eh”

“Babinto! Babinto!…I be customer ohhh!”

Oga sally.. Oga sally..hmmm hennnn. Me I no dey like this kind business oh!  I no dey like am at all at all. Next time I no go follow you come.

This was pretty much her life almost everyday. A 2:1  graduate of chemical engineering. People would scream Tufiaka! Never forgetting to spit, whenever they found out. She could have easily gotten a decent job, found Mr right and started throwing out babies. Yet she chose a life of immortality and Sin. If only they knew how comfortable drowning in a chaos of immortality felt.

But they didn’t understand. That gender had taken everything away from her. Everything except the nights she spent willingly in their beds. That freedom, that free will was all she had.The only emotional luxury she could afford. Even in this freedom, she still sat legs crossed in a cage. A prison of horror, a mind that would never forget. Especially how it all began.

That woman she was unfortunate to have as a mother had travelled, Again. She was never around, Never. Leaving her Alone with the perpetrator. A daughter should feel safe around her father. He should be her superman without a cape. Her own personal bodyguard.

But I suppose some of us were simply born to be unlucky bastards.

He was murmuring, complaining, pacing up and down in a very confused manner.

I wish I could blame it on the alcohol, but he wasn’t drunk. Was he high? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t care.  There was no justification for the abomination he committed with my frail body, none at all.

That night as I recall was unusually darker and dead silent, than other nights, as I slept beside him. Hands crossed over his chest. I felt protected. Nothing could harm me, because daddy dear would be here to the rescue.

Where’s this ant coming from? This ant that’s walking with confidence on my chest. The room windows were shut too. So why was my little nightie going up. I felt him move as my hands landed on the bed, from his chest. Still my eyes remained shut. My lips sealed.

Something was pulling my tellytubbies pant down. I didn’t move. Coward. Where is daddy? Why is someone pulling my favourite pant down?

I still remember my screams. The neighbours, those active church goers must have heard. I was probably louder than their church microphone, hence unimportant. Each time I lie down, I play them over and over in my head. They were music to my ears. I still remember shutting my eyes. I didn’t want to see the perpetrator. Where was daddy? Why did he let someone hurt me. I felt invaded, Opened to judgement, Filthy. Still one question kept playing in my mind. Where was daddy?

I hated them, but I loved them just as much. Call me Slut, Ashewo if you please. I am all of that and more. I’m a body scarred. A spirit broken, a personality flawed. My conscience took the next train that night to hell. Leaving me with my children. Little darklings I call them.

They’re the opposite of what I am. The addictions I cling to for support. They are Me and I am them.

And today, I put a dagger in their backs.

As Damaged As They Come

 Life took a weird turn as adulthood came knocking. The mirror was suddenly an enemy. Where I wanted to see a skin so spotless and beautiful, she revealed all the acne and  black spots hidden underneath, the ugly lines that drowned my self esteem to death. She was cruel and unrelenting, that mirror. Every scar, every inch of my imperfections, she laid bare unapologetically.

There were clothes that I wanted on hangers in the boutiques by the roadside. Clothes  I could afford, but at the same time couldn’t.

What will people say? She knows she has acne on her chest, why did she bother wearing that?  She should wear clothes to cover her skin, there is nothing beautiful about it. That’s  human beings for you. Nosy, Insensitive, and quite stupid. I don’t know why I cared so much, but I did. And quite frankly, I still do.

My ugliness was always hidden beneath layers of fabric. Barely putting skin on display. Avoiding trolls. However if there’s anything I’ve come to realise, it is that, I am as toxic as they come, to myself. What is it about this body people like? What’s so beautiful about it? I may never understand it.

I approached social media, in need of closure. Talk about jumping from a frying pan directly into fire. Almost everyone lives a fancy life on Instagram. The girls there are very pretty. They wear expensive wigs and jewellery.

 Quite the number have made their first one or two millions. I log into my account everyday, scrolling and scrolling. Refreshing my  page, at different time intervals. As much as I know most of it, is fake? I still hated myself for not being them. Blamed Life for my misfortunes. She kept me this way. Her and the thorns she called children.

There are self help accounts. Accounts that give me validation in ways I cannot give myself. Or maybe that’s my mind playing tricks. However, nothing’s changed. I’m still the girl that cuts through my  skin with a razor most nights, while a smile is plastered on my face. All that talk about self help, was all a lie. One I told myself, to feel less broken, less psycho.

My post got over a hundred  likes today. That must mean a lot, don’t you think? Compared to other times.  I should feel good, valued even, but I don’t. I feel pathethic. I am pathetic.

Oh! Ijeoma you’re so beautiful, any man would be lucky to have you. Ha! Michael would probably laugh till tears fell from his eyes, if he heard this.

 As a child it’s easier to smile genuinely when you’re called beautiful, Because somehow you know those compliments are true, and sincere. Nobody said it, to find out the colour of your underwear or because they wanted to be tagged as “your boyfriend “.

The same men who touched me inappropriately when I was a child? Those Men?  I probably tempted them by showing off my Scooby pants an flat chest.  After all, we women are responsible for the lack of self control in Men.

 The same reasons my eyes were filled with tears most nights I went to bed? Those Men? Or John, whose hands fondled with my body, when all that was in my system, was my good old friend, Alcohol. Any Man will be lucky to have me indeed. Who is ever lucky to be with an unfortunate being?  Nobody. Absolutely No one. I wouldn’t even wish myself as a partner for my enemy.

I had boarded a train headed south, one with quite the bumpy ride. The journey was a shade of light blue, bright as the skies, until we reached station 20. If someone had narrated how ugly station 20 was going to be, I would have begged the heavens to spare me the phase of puberty, but I suppose we have no control over that.

This time around, it was Prideful old Money who drove me to  insanity. It all started with a photo contest that had a child of hers as the earthly sacrifice. Never had I seen such a beauty. It didn’t matter that it’s mother had abandoned her, I needed that child for support, for company. She was going to be the perfect execution for a procrastinated business plan. She was going to save me.

But she came at a price. Everything that looked so good to be true did. Even essays won came at the cost of imagination and self revelation.

 Desperate to own this child, every loan application knew my name, yet they never called me by it. I was running out of time and certainly out of mind as well. None of it mattered, as long as I would own her at the end of the day.

You see, Insanity is a masterpiece. They are like little children crying with different tempos. Screaming, and vehemently refusing to be pleased. She knew my pycho buttons,and she did an exceptional job pushing them. Desperation was on heat, kicking me in the guts, needing to be appeased. They owned me. All of them, except myself.

I am as damaged as they come. The very nemesis of light and love. Pain knows my name, she’s the lover I would forever run back to. My very existence reeks of a misfortune so great, she’s stigmatized by my presence. But somehow I got out of bed today, to deliver this speech of my days of old.  I made it out alive for yet another day. To be grateful or angry, I do not know. But it feels good to feel the air caress my skin.

It’s been 20 years since I stabbed myself with needles containing antipsychotics. 20 years since I felt the breeze on my skin. There are no flowers or visitors here. After I embraced the dust, nobody really bothered. Felt like I never even lived. This was my life’s story. And now I live reincarnated to see it unfold in this 19 year old.





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