I hope you had a great weekend. You know when people say "What you don't know will not kill you"? Well, I believe that sometimes what one does not know can not only kill one but also others around one. And so, my thoughts came up with this story. Enjoy:
Nobody knew her name; her grandmother called her “Nwa’m” (my child) and so everybody referred to her in that way, although no one else spoke to her. The rumour was that her mother had given birth five times before her, with all five children dying within a year after birth, and so they had not bothered to name this one since her family did not think she would stay anyway. Her mother had died a few minutes after giving birth to her, leaving Nwam alone with her father and no siblings. So when her dad remarried, she was sent to live with her maternal grandmother at three years old; Nwam called her ‘Mama’. Her father visited regularly at first and after a while the visits became less frequent, occurring only during Christmas and festive periods and for the past ten years, he had not come again. Nwam had asked Mama once why her father no longer visited but Mama only spat on the ground and muttered a curse in Igbo language without replying. Nwam did not understand exactly what Mama had said but she knew it had something to do with her stepmother, whom she had never met. After years of waiting and longing for her dad to appear somehow in Mama’s compound, Nwam finally came to realise that it would never happen and gave up hope.
Sixteen years had passed since she was born and Nwam had not yet gone as expected. It was a huge surprise to everyone in the village and not even Mama could hide it. Every evening when Nwam said goodnight to her, Mama would hug her so tight like it was the last time she would see her, and in the mornings when Nwam greeted her, Mama would look surprised and respond saying “I ga bele?” (You have not yet gone?), as if she had sent Nwam on her errand the night before. And even though it was now sixteen years, Mama still reacted exactly the same way every morning, like her expectations would never change.
Nwam was seen as different from the other village girls, mostly because of the mystery behind her name and family birth history. Nobody ever saw her outside her grandmother’s compound except on Sundays when she followed Mama to the Anglican Church. There was something about Nwam that could make even a newcomer to the village feel that she was special; it was not only because she was much taller than her age mates or because she was far advanced in sexual development compared to the other girls. It was something about the way she walked, as light and gracious as a cat, yet avoiding eye contact as much as possible, and never smiling. Nwam was otherwise an attractive girl, with very long and curly, dark hair but she never spoke to anyone except Mama. The only time one heard her voice was when she sang, mostly in the early mornings whilst she swept the compound; her golden voice so beautiful such that even the birds would rather listen to her than sing themselves. Yet, somehow she had neither friends nor suitors.
Everyone had suspicions about her. Some said that she was an ogbanje (abiku- evil spirit) due to her recurrent siblings’ deaths in the past or even a mermaid because of the way she sang, but others were not convinced because her skin was unusually too dark for her to be either; even though it shone brighter than the girls’ with lighter complexion. Some thought she was her mother’s reincarnated spirit, as was the common belief when someone died during childbirth. However, she barely resembled her mother leaving some people yet again in disbelief. Whichever way, everyone had their speculations about her looks, her voice and her family; whispering stories to each other whenever she was seen in church or her name was mentioned. The feelings were almost mutual because Nwam was just as afraid of people just like they were of her and she desperately hoped to go somewhere one day, just like Mama expected her to, even though she did not know where yet.
It so happened that during one of Mama’s bestfriend’s (Daa Mgbeke) evening visits, Nwam overheard their conversation. Usually they whispered every time they spoke when she was around, just like the rest of the villagers but this evening, they thought Nwam was asleep and so they spoke aloud. “Ada nwaanyi, what is she waiting for?” it was Daa Mgbeke speaking. “Maybe she needs help. You should give her the Ede leaf and that will take her straight to where she belongs; I have told you many times.” she continued. Mama whispered something that Nwam did not hear but it did not matter as Nwam finally understood where she was expected to go to. So the next morning, Nwam was found lying in the bush, as if she was sleeping, but with some of the Ede leaves in her hands.
It was no surprise that the entire village attended Nwam’s funeral; all of them waiting to see if something mysterious would happen that day. Rain poured down from the clouds in the morning, with the sun coming out in the afternoon and a rainbow appearing in the sky that evening. For many, the transient weather change was the confirmation they needed to believe that Nwam was indeed ‘special’. What they had failed to realise was that Nwam was no different from any of the girls in the village; but how could they have known when many things had never been told? Just as Nwam’s mother had never told Nwam’s father that the doctor had warned her not to get pregnant again due to medical complications during her last childbirth, and so because she did not want to be called barren, she had died whilst giving birth to Nwam, leaving her motherless; just as Nwam’s father had never told Mama that Nwam had the genotype AS unlike his other earlier children who had died from sickle cell disease crisis, and so Mama had thought that Nwam would go like the rest; just as Mama had never told Nwam that her real name given by her father was Nneka, and so Nwam felt like she had no identity and grew up thinking that she was not even wanted in this world. Finally, just as no one told the villagers including Daa Mgbeke any of these truths concerning Nwam, including that Nwam looked like her father and was just as tall as him; that Nwam sang beautifully just like her mother used to and that her hair was just as long and curly as her paternal grandmother’s, when she was alive.
As a result Nwam had died inside, long before she was found dead in the bush that morning and it was with great sorrow that Mama exclaimed “Oh Nwa’m! Ga ofuma! (Oh my child, go well!)”
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