“I keep hearing my mother’s voice. I hear it very clearly, even on days when the noise in my head is deafening. I keep forgetting that she is faraway, not in this state, not in this country, not in this continent, not even in this world. She is deep in the ground, in a box, lots of red sand upon red sand covering her. She was almost never in this world, for she left few years after I came. They said with scorn, that she left so that I could live. Years passed and I gradually forgot her. Her face, her hands that soothed me, her smile. I forgot everything about her, but I never forgot her voice.”
CHETA! Didn’t you hear me calling you since?! What do you think you’re doing, sitting there with your eyes open but looking like you are no longer in this world?! Witch! Anuofia! Come on stand up and get water for our evening bath!
Aunty Anwuli should have just told everyone to call me Anuofia, because that was what she called me every time. I once snuck into her son’s room, looked at the mirror, and pulled my skin to see if it felt like bush meat because I was beginning to think of myself as bush meat. Sometimes when she screams at me, I try to look at her face closely, to search for all the love and joy and happiness she showed me when she came to take me from my father’s house, after my mother’s death. I don’t know where all those good feelings have gone to. Oh! I think Uncle Bonny took them away with him when he left her. I remember he used to come and visit her every time, bringing gifts and all, calling me ‘Baby’m’. He’d say “Go and get me your aunt, would you? Baby’m!” and I’d quickly run to get her, even if I didn’t want to, because that was how Uncle Bonny was, he could make you do anything. But I guess all happy things don’t last for long because he left soon after. Said he couldn’t keep up with Aunt Anwuli’s constant mood swings. So I wasn’t too surprised that when he left, he took all the happiness, took all the light in Aunty’s eyes with him. And Aunty got worse. She could be smiling this minute, the next minute she’d be shouting at me to go and cook the afternoon meal when it was still 10 ‘o’ clock. I think Aunty is losing her mind.
Our finances are getting worse too. Aunty says I’m chopping all her money, that she can no longer afford to take care of me. She took the red scissors and cut my hair off, she no longer bought me clothes, I stopped going to school. Then came the last straw. She asked me to start selling pure water. I had to bring in income for ‘us’. But the pure water brought in no income because everybody was selling pure water. I was just another young girl carrying a blue bowl filled with cold pure water, on her head, shouting “Omi tutu Omi tutu” because we were in Lagos where speaking the same language with people opened doors. So I had to think of another alternative that was profitable, and I came up with oranges. At first she gave me this blank look, but when I showed her how well I could peel an orange, she agreed. And so that was how my static life began. Everyday I’d pick up my tray and head outside, hawking from morning till night. I only got to eat one orange and then eat dinner when I returned. That was the pattern of my lacklustre life. Oh, but there was one highlight though. Yes. Aunty’s son, Chidi, once offered to show me his tori as long as I showed him my small breasts, and of course I obliged. Who wouldn’t want to see something new and different for once? And he did. I was checking it out from all angles, when aunty walked in. This is the second time I’m saying this. All happy things don’t last for long! Ah, the beating I took that day, I didn’t know how my body survived it. But I guess when your body and mind gets used to verbal abuse; physical abuse doesn’t have too much effect on it. She also knew when to stop, because she stopped right before I could have died. At least that would be good na. Let me leave behind all the sorrows of this empty world. That was the last time something different happened. Since then, nothing has changed.
Now. The sun is rising. Time to sell oranges. I balance the tray on my head, and with a resilient spirit, I leave the house to sell my finely peeled oranges.