Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away | Chapter 31 of 45

Author: Christie Watson | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 4353 Views | Add a Review

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TWENTY-SIX

On the night before my thirteenth birthday, Ezikiel wrapped a scarf around my eyes and tied it behind my head. He took my hand and pulled me. I could hear the sounds of night, the fire hissing and spitting and the cleaning of pots and things buzzing and scuttling. We walked for a short time before Ezikiel let go of my hand. I reached for the scarf and pulled it upward. I did not know what I would find. Boneboy and Ezikiel were sitting at a fire. They had a plastic bottle between them. Palm wine!

“Come, come and sit with us. You need to sip your first palm wine. You are a teenager.”

I looked at the bottle. I looked at Boneboy and Ezikiel. They both had red edges around their eyes. They must have drunk some already. “I cannot drink that,” I whispered. I looked around where we were. Ezikiel had led me to the neighbor’s Christian field. It was empty of Christians. There was a platform in the center of the field where they held the revivals, and the ground was covered in rubbish.

“I cannot drink alcohol,” I said. “You are going to be in so much trouble.”

“Just sip it,” said Ezikiel. “You are a teenager.”

I looked at them both and felt something strange. “I cannot drink that. You should both come home.”

Boneboy looked at me. He started singing a song. Ezikiel joined in.

I looked around the darkness of the Christian field and I stared at the fire for a long time. Then I leaned down and picked up the palm wine. Ezikiel and Boneboy both clapped and laughed and rolled around the ground. I opened the bottle. The smell was enough to fill my mouth with sick.

I put the bottle to my mouth and took the smallest sip possible. It still made my stomach twist.

Ezikiel and Boneboy cheered.

Then I tipped the bottle upside down and the ground became wet and the air became sour. “You should not drink this,” I said. “It is forbidden.”

Boneboy stopped cheering. He looked at my eyes for a long time. I did not look away.

The next morning I could still taste the sip of palm wine on my breath. I opened my eyes slowly to see if the world looked different now that I had thirteen years. Mama was already awake and sitting on the mattress with a gift wrapped in ribbon. “Thank you, Mama.”

I pulled the ribbon apart and opened the box. A necklace. My first necklace. I put it straight around my neck and held it in my fingers. “Thank you, Mama,” I repeated. She smiled.

Then she leaned forward and kissed my cheek. “Happy birthday, Blessing. You are growing up into a young woman.”

I let go of the necklace and touched the place where Mama had kissed me.

Grandma was waiting on the veranda. Celestine was frying me a celebration breakfast and singing loudly. Boneboy was at the bottom of the veranda playing with Snap. “Happy birthday, teenager. Happy birthday, teenager.”

I laughed. Boneboy walked up the steps and handed me a present wrapped in shiny silver paper. Where had he got the paper? I looked at him to see if he had red eyes from the palm wine the night before but he was already running down the steps and toward the gate, Snap close behind his feet. I held the gift and looked at Grandma. She had her eyebrows raised high in her forehead. I opened the parcel carefully to save the paper. Inside was a tape: King Robert Ebizimor!

“Look!” I showed Grandma and Celestine. “He found this for me even though he teases me that I have no taste in music.”

I tried to stop my words from coming out so quickly but they were in a rush. Grandma laughed. Then she handed me a large packet wrapped in newspaper. “Thank you, Grandma.” The packet was a strange shape and size. I wondered what she gave me. She did not believe in presents. I looked at her face. It was waiting.

Slowly, slowly, I opened the present. A bag. A bag. I opened the bag. A tiny pot of paste, a knife, a small pair of scissors. Equipment!

“Every birth attendant needs her own equipment. And her own birth bag,” said Grandma. “Happy birthday.”

I looked at the bag and I looked at Grandma and I smiled. My own birth bag! Me! A birth attendant with my own equipment! It was the best present I had ever had. I looked at Grandma and Celestine, and around the garden. I thought of how I had felt when I had first arrived from Lagos. For the first time, I realized how happy I was to be living at Alhaji’s. I felt like I was home. I carried the birth bag with me all day, even when I went to use the outhouse. Grandma laughed.

It was July and the rains had come. The area around the village was waterlogged and Youseff had to stop the car and let us walk; our flip-flopped feet were covered in golden mud. The mud had driven all the insects into the hut, and the ground was moving. A large winged cockroach scuttled over the bottom half of the woman’s leg. Its wings were the color of Dan’s hair. Grandma caught it and slapped it to death with a flip-flop.

“Cut her now,” said the woman.

Grandma had taken the baby girl and wrapped her in a large blanket, and was wiping the white sticky layer from her face. I was gently tugging the placenta from the woman as Grandma had shown me.

“We would not want it to crawl somewhere it should not go?” Grandma said.

The woman laughed; it was her seventh baby.

Even so, the birth was long and painful. She needed cutting twice, and Grandma had to stitch her up. But she did not complain at all. I wondered how it was possible to have so much pain and not complain. She screamed only once, during the second cut, and even took some sips of tea between pushes. Her daughter came out blue and floppy but quickly turned deep pink. Her fingertips were already the color of a walnut. Grandma showed the woman.

“She will be a beautiful tone,” she said, holding up her tiny hands, which were still see-through, not quite real yet.

“Cut her now,” the woman repeated.

Grandma unwrapped the baby, who jumped and jerked in surprise and began to check her.

“Now,” said the woman. “Do it now.”

Grandma smiled and looked at me. The baby lay still in the unwrapped blanket. Her legs fell open to the side. Surely the woman did not mean for Grandma to cut off the baby’s girl parts?

I concentrated on what I was doing. I tugged and tugged and finally the placenta came from the woman. I held it up and looked closely at it. “It is all there,” I told Grandma.

“Good girl. Now wait outside,” she said.

I looked at Grandma. I looked at the woman who was sitting forward and breathing deeply. I looked at the baby with her wide-open frog legs and wide-open newborn eyes.

“I want to stay,” I whispered. “Please, Grandma.”

I did not know what Grandma would do, how she would talk to the woman. Grandma had taught me all about cutting, and the different types that women had and how it made childbirth difficult and caused problems. I had seen the purple coming from a woman, which Grandma had told me was caused by her pushing so hard for so long against something closed. I had seen that baby die and the purple come from her. And she had been cut. Grandma had stabbed the ground and told me that she herself had been cut and closed and opened again. Grandma taught me that cutting was illegal, and people’s thoughts about it were changing. She said that only backward people still cut their girls. Times had changed, she had said.

Cutting girls caused infection and complications in childbirth and death for one out of every ten girls who had it done. Grandma had told me.

She was surely going to talk to the woman and explain that it was wrong. And tell her what she had told me.

Why did the woman ask Grandma to cut?

Why did she think that Grandma would do such a thing? Grandma? Cutting girls? Causing problems for childbirth? Causing death? The woman was wrong even to ask Grandma. She must have got it wrong. Grandma wanted me to stay outside so that she could talk to the woman and tell her it was wrong. That it was dangerous and could cause pain for the whole of her daughter’s life.

Grandma must have known what I was thinking. Her face fell. “I will talk later,” she said. She nodded toward the material door.

I walked out as Grandma went into her bag. I thought about standing by the material door and listening, but I knew that Grandma would have told me to stay if she had wanted me to listen. So I walked to the edge of the village. It was a noisy day. Some of the village children were jumping in and out of giant puddles. The rain sounded like a tap open in my ears. But still, through all the noise, I heard the baby scream.

My skin turned cold.

That night it seemed as though I had been asleep only a short time when I woke up to voices carried through the window. Mama was asleep beside me. It was hard to fall asleep. I could not stop hearing the baby screaming. I could not help wondering what had happened. I did not believe that Grandma could have cut the baby. I could not believe it. There was no chance of that. But the scream kept returning to my head until I had no room for the voice that told me Grandma would never do that. And she had not wanted to speak at all on the way home. But Grandma cut? It was impossible. She did not agree that girls should be cut. She saw the problems it caused every day. Surely she would not want to cause those problems?

The moon was setting; it was almost dawn. I climbed off the mattress and pushed my flip-flops through my toes, opening the door quickly to prevent the squeak. It was still dark in the house. I heard cicadas, and the beginning of birdsong, a mouse or rat was shuffling in the corner and a cockroach scuttled around the chair legs. The boys’ quarters children were asleep on the puffy chairs. Youseff’s daughters. Fatima and Yasmina. I looked at their shadows. Had they been cut?

I crept outside and watched the moon for a few minutes, sharp and yellow, like a bad tooth disappearing behind gray clouds. There were no stars. I heard voices from the back of the outhouse. Dan’s voice. Alhaji had insisted he sleep on the puffy chairs. At one point during the night, I had heard a tap on the door, but Mama was asleep and did not wake easily. I ignored the tapping and it went away.

“Come, come! Take what you want.” It was Celestine’s voice. She was speaking in a mixture of pidgin and proper English. “You can take it.”

I walked toward the outhouse and stood behind the wall.

“Celestine, stop.” Dan’s voice sounded high.

“I will give you anything. Look this. Take wetin you want. Take it.”

“No, Celestine, really.” Dan was laughing then. “Please, don’t be silly.”

I crept down low, peering around the corner to look. I almost knew what I would find. I could hear trouble in Celestine’s voice.

Celestine had removed her T-shirt and her giant breasts were swinging in the moonlight. Dan was standing in front of her, fully dressed, with his hands raised and his palms open in front of Celestine’s breasts.

Dan and Celestine! I turned my head away and then turned it back quickly. Celestine’s breasts were still there. I wanted to sneak away and pretend I had never seen them, but I was too frightened to move. The skin on my neck pricked up. I could not turn my eyes away again.

“Put your clothes back on, come on. Don’t be so silly. Come on now. Let’s forget this ever happened. Really, honestly now, let’s not be silly.”

“You should feel me,” she continued, walking toward Dan, with her breasts swinging toward his stomach. “I be real woman. Let me thank you for paying for naming day celebration. I know you paid plenty naira for me.” Her belly was wrinkled like Grandma’s face, and oddly shaped, with an extra fold of flesh like a very short skirt. Her voice was full of tears. Her nose was running. “You need a woman like me. No more lenge lenge! Skinny branch! Please. Take me. Take me. Please.”

Dan stepped away until his back was against the wall where I hid. I moved slightly away and tried not to make any sound. Suddenly, a voice made me jump up. Dan saw my face and moved around from behind the outhouse wall. Mama was standing with a tissue in her hand, wearing her night things. Her eyes were still asleep.

“What’s going on?” Her eyes slowly opened. They looked from Dan to me and back to Dan again. She looked at my nightdress, which was too big and gaping at the front of my chest. A look fell on Mama’s face of something that I did not know, that I had never seen before. It made me feel disgusting. Her usually closed-tight jaw dropped wide open. I could see the yellow tooth at the very back of her mouth. Celestine made a shuffling sound from the back of the outhouse. Mama’s face changed shape. She walked quickly to where Celestine was pulling her T-shirt over her head. Celestine’s breasts shone like gold in an armed robber’s bag.

“Bitch,” said Mama.

Dan covered his mouth with his hand. “Timi, it’s a misunderstanding,” he said through his fingers. “My fault entirely. Celestine was simply using the outhouse and I walked in.”

A few seconds passed and Mama was quiet. Her lips were pressed closed tightly; she scratched her head.

“You be no-good wife,” Celestine said. “This one”—she pointed to Dan, her breasts still naked, swinging in the same direction as her arm—“needs a good woman. A real woman! He needs one like me. Not a skinny branch.”

I held my own face. Dan walked toward Mama. Mama screamed and ran at Celestine with her fist. She ripped Celestine’s weave straight out of her hair.

“Bitch!” Mama shouted. “This fucking family!”

Alhaji came running out of the house with a kerosene lamp. He handed me the lamp and pulled the women apart. He was shaking so much that I thought he might fall. He pushed Dan out of the way. “Get out of my house!” he shouted. “Get! Get!”

Dan took a long breath. He did not speak, but he looked at Mama, nodded, and turned to walk away.

Alhaji started shouting even louder. “And just you remember this! I will be claiming a fine from you both! A fine from you both! You see?” He looked at Celestine. “Claiming back some of the bridewealth that I have spent! Wasted! All that money! That bridewealth! On a betrayer! I will claim it all back. Every penny …”

Mama dropped Celestine’s weave on the ground and followed Dan to the gate. I stood in the shadows. My legs wanted to run, but Alhaji was looking straight at me.

We stood in silence while Celestine arranged her clothing. It took her a long time to put her night things back on. Alhaji then pointed to the house and she walked in. As he bent to take the kerosene lamp from my hand I saw tears on his cheek. His body stayed bent forward as he followed Celestine.

Grandma pretended to be asleep, but when I went into her bedroom later in the morning she opened her arms and held me without speaking. Whenever I opened my mouth to ask her about the baby girl or tell her about Celestine, she put a finger in front of her face and said, “Shh.” When we came out later for food, Alhaji was in the mosque, and Celestine was in the boys’ quarters. We sat outside eating fried plantain and watching Alhaji pray. Ezikiel was lying under the palm tree listening to a small transistor radio that he told me he had found. I wondered if one of his friends had given it to him. He always seemed to be going out with his friends. He lifted his head.

“What’s happened?” he asked, flicking his arm toward Alhaji, who had been praying continuously for hours. “What’s going on? It’s something to do with him, isn’t it? The oyibo?”

“Nothing,” said Grandma. “Mind your business.”

Ezikiel switched off the radio and got up. He walked to the veranda and sat on the edge swinging his long legs back and forth. I sat next to him. His eyes were red. He smelled like garri a day too old.

“Ezikiel,” I said. He turned to me and smiled. Like my brother. Like Ezikiel. I wanted to tell him about so many things. I leaned my head on his shoulder. “Ezikiel,” I said, “I have so much to talk to you about. Will you be home today?”

“I’m going out in a minute,” he said.

“Where?”

He moved away slightly, letting my head drop down suddenly. “None of your business.”

“But I need to talk to you,” I said. The words sounded wobbly.

“I’m busy. I have important business to attend to.”

Business? Ezikiel? I had never heard of Ezikiel attending to important business. I wanted to ask him if he knew about cutting. About who did it. I wanted to hear him say that any worries I had that Grandma might have done such a thing were stupid.

“The FFIN are not getting the attention of the world press, more action is needed. They have the right cause, but peaceful talks are not getting them anywhere. More direct action is required.” He threw his arms out to the side, nearly hitting Grandma, who was walking past. “Ha! Some groups are kidnapping the white oil workers. They call the oil black gold, so the groups call the oil workers white gold!” He paused, took a long breath. “Sometimes when I hear about the Sibeye Boys—”

Ezikiel noticed Grandma and stopped talking. Grandma jumped up and bent over Ezikiel. She spat at the air in front of his face, her hands waving up and down in front of his eyes. “Stay away from those boys and stay away from that evil forest.” Grandma slapped the back of his head. “The devil is in you,” she said. “I can see him.”

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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