IRUKA (Story time Online)

(Story time Online)

— story time online —

In the fourteenth week after Chizoba’s birth, I take him to the hospital. He is weighing way less than I had expected, and not doing well for a child who weighed 3.5 kg at birth. Due to how everyone seems to be against my husband, my baby, and me, I worry too much that one day my baby would snap and die. It is a fire raging in my tummy.

I am supposed to be worried about his declining weight but I don’t seem to worry enough about that. I am more worried about other things. People poked into my face and questioned my motherhood. On the day I regained consciousness in the hospital, I had to steady myself as my mother walked up to me, saying, “You aren’t fit to be a mother.” She said it silently with an indifferent face and stepped out immediately.

My mother raised us to be strong, bold, and be “full women.” She made sure full women punctuated most of her words and would go on and on about how she descended from a line of women who were part of the Aba Women Riots and women who were giving birth when Nigerian bombers swooped on Owerri. It must have been a shame to her as well as others.

I arrive at the hospital at 10 AM. I know the doctor and the nurses would be busy with file work, and I should have come earlier to claim an emergency. I head to the children’s ward where I see other women sitting and cradling their babies in the reception. This hospital in Owerri is private and expensive. The women, who come here, are married to very wealthy husbands or are rich themselves. 

— story time online —

I ignore all of them and sit down at an isolated spot behind all of them. The TV is on and the volume turned up, the voices of some shouting actors filled up the reception. No one talks for some time, everyone cradles their baby gently or looks at the TV, or looks at the direction of the nurses arranging some files in a room walled with transparent glass. It is after some minutes that a woman shouts, “Nurses, please turn down this TV, it is too loud. Do you want our children to go deaf?”

The other women laugh. Not loud. Cackling laughter that barely caresses the ceiling. A nurse comes out and turns the volume down. The same woman who shouted asks, “When will you people be done? We can’t spend all of our day here!”

The nurse, fair-skinned, beautiful, and young, about 22, smile at the woman and say, “We’re almost done. We are arranging your files according to the right order. We’ll start soon.” She bows slightly and returns to the glass-enclosed room.

“They waste a lot of time for an expensive hospital,” says a woman directly in front of me. She is young, about my age, and she is in a blouse and wrappers. There is a scarf tied around her head in the old-styled version. Her attire is the one that even my mother would never agree to wear. 

“They waste a lot of time but they know what they are doing,” says the shouting woman. She is definitely in her early forties and has three large gold necklaces around her neck. The earrings on her ear are gold as well. She looks fit, moderately slim, and the thick vest and jeans trousers she wears suit her. She looks around the reception when she starts speaking again. “You know this is my first child and other doctors considered my case to be a very delicate one before I came here. I was worried, my parents were worried, even my pastor. I had a condition that prevented me from having children for a long time. Then, God answered my prayer, and the same condition won’t let me deliver in peace. God did it through the doctor, I delivered in peace. Alleluia!”

“Alleluia!” the other women chorus but I don’t join them. The women who are closer to her reach out to touch the baby and caress the baby’s cheeks.

The woman closest to the shouting woman remarks while still touching the baby, “It’s a boy, and he is plumpy. Thank God for you, oh, my sister.”

— story time online —

“Yes, oh. Chukwu aruka.” She beams an extensive smile and bobs her head, her expensive wig bouncing. She takes a deep breath and waits a while before she resumes speaking. “You know how our husbands and their families are. A lot was said about me while we were looking for children. Even though my condition is natural, they still believed I caused it in one way or another. I am a graduate and I have my master’s degree before my husband married me. So it was a big problem.”

“My sister, God has put them to shame,” that woman closest to her says. “Where are they now? Now, God must have put them to shame. Ndi ojo!” The other women nod in support or snap their fingers just to show how evil the woman’s husband’s family must have been.

Well. I should have kept quiet. I should have simply stared at my Chizoba, who looks nowhere near the 3.5 kg he looked at birth and remained quiet but something somewhere moves me to speak. I speak in a rather loud way, my tone indifferent. “I had my baby through operation,” I say.

“Operation, kwa?” the woman, who is sitting directly in front of me, says. She turn to look at me and my baby to be sure I was sure of what I said.

The other women all turn to look at me. There is a pause. Silence kisses the ward. After a brief time, the shouting woman clears her throat and asks, “You are too young for such nah. How old are you? Is it this hospital that recommended the operation?”

See. I am tired of being told I am not fit to be a mother. My mother’s sneer. My mother-in-law’s harsher sneer. The women around my shop–some said my husband’s so rich I cannot even give birth to a baby normally. I sit in my shop all day and cannot get up to sell goods to my customers in a shop rented, equipped, and constantly supported by my husband. He has spoiled me kpata kpata, they always concluded. Of course, these aren’t true.

I needed peace of mind. I needed rest from all the torment. This will be the last time I’d let anyone torment me with this. So, as I speak, I let my voice go loud and take it easy.

— story time online —

“My name is Iruka,” I say. They listen and watch me with rapt attention. “I’m the daughter of Ugonwa. I’m married to Sylvester Ezebuilo. I am 24. My husband and I have been married for three years. When I got pregnant, I was excited and regularly came to this hospital for a check-up. It was in the seventh month that I began to lose it, I became so weak. I went for tests, doctors said no illness or infection was detected. I never got better. My husband and family were worried.” I pause. Chizoba begins to cry. 

I shush Chizoba, remove my breast and place the nipple in his mouth. He stops crying, begins sucking and I continue my story. “Nothing was found in my body. The doctor and his nurses were shocked and didn’t know what they would call it. Close to the time that I’d deliver him, I didn’t get better. To avoid our deaths as I looked too weak to deliver, an operation was recommended. This is how I had my baby.” I pause and rearrange Chizoba’s lying position on my laps. “Even though my family, friends, and the public knew what I passed through, they still criticized …” I am cut off by the shouting woman.

“Why won’t they?” she asks the other women, who have sneer etched on their forehead, below their eyes, and around their lips. “Nothing would have happened without a reason. You were either too lazy to take care of yourself when you were pregnant or you ignored your medications. Such wouldn’t have happened.” She looks around the reception and the women are still shocked by what I said they don’t look at her.

Gbam! I support what you said, my sister,” the woman closest to her say. The other women nod in support as well then. “The young women of these days; they aren’t prepared for motherhood at all. Fa emebika!”

The woman sitting in front of me turns to look at me and our eyes lock, and her stare is too cold, sending shivers down my body. She says to the women, very loud and condescending, “God gave her a very fine baby but she cannot even take care of him. The baby is seriously malnourished!”

The women all turn to stare at me in shock. Next, they’re snapping their fingers and saying, “Uwa ajoka! This world is very bad! The world has spoiled finish.”

— story time online —

One of the nurses comes out then with a file and begins to call names. I don’t pay attention to the name she is calling. I would need to see the doctor. It’s not my fault I got weak some weeks to my delivery. It is not my fault or that of the operation that my child gets sick often even when I take care to feed him well and regularly go for checkups. My head was about to blow but having received this last one, I’m not going to ever allow anyone to talk down on my baby, my husband, or me. This world is ours to dance on and no other footprints would erase mine. 

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