The End

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“__For as much as it has pleased our Heavenly Father in His wise providence to take unto Himself our beloved sister and mother, Isabella Chukwuemeka, we therefore commit her body to the ground__”

The voice of the Priest sounded surreal to my ears. It felt like I was in a trance, a bad dream I would eventually wake up from. I stood with my hands clasped behind my back, staring down at my mother’s coffin. It was painted brown, a bronze kind of brown, not that it mattered but anything other than the reality of my mother lying lifeless in a crafted wood. So I focused on the colour, brown.

“_Earth to earth”  The Priest went on. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust__”

My maternal grandmother was wailing inconsolably before the coffin, her black wrapper hung loosely to her waist. She had made several attempts to spread herself out on the coffin but the other women wouldn’t let her, they kept holding her back. They were sad too, crying, but they understood that their sorrow could not be compared to that of a woman whose child lay lifeless before her. Grandma refused to be consoled and she was not going to be hushed either, not even for the Priest.

My aunty’s sweaty arm rested heavily on my shoulder, she was sobbing softly. Family members surrounded the grave, my mum’s colleagues were there too. Everyone was doing their best to choke back soft sobs as the Priest went on with the sermon.

“_Looking for the blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God in our Savior Jesus Christ who shall change the body of our humiliation and fashion it anew in the likeness of His own body of glory, according to the working of His mighty power wherewith He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.”

The Priest stretched out his hand and blessed the casket. He made a sign of the cross then let three hand-fulls of sand fall onto the coffin, saying,  “From dust you came, to dust you shall return. Jesus Christ, our Saviour, shall raise you up on the last day”

He poured some oil into the grave and began to say a prayer. As he rounded up the service with the Lord’s Blessing’s, those who had been holding back tears to give some quiet for the ceremony let out loud wails.

I watched as my mother’s coffin began to be lowered into the grave. I was never going to see her again, I realized. She was not going to help me with my assignments anymore. She was not going to cook my favorite soup, egusi, anymore. There would be no more moi-moi and pap every Saturday morning for me.  She was not going to yell my name to come and pass her the remote control even though it was laying on the chair next to her. Who would plan my thirteenth birthday that was only five months away? Who would advise and encourage me whenever I was sad? She was very good at Math and always helped me out, now she was gone. I didn’t have a mummy anymore.  My legs grew weak and began to wobble, my palms were shaking, I felt dizzy and I passed out to the ground.

I woke up in my parent’s bed, Daddy was sitting next to me. He had his head buried in his palms.

“What happened?” I asked, jolting my father out of his thoughts. He quickly turned to me and tried to hold my hand, but I withdrew from his grasp.

“Chidera thank God you are awake! you fainted” he said.

“Where is mama? I want to see mama”

“Mama is outside with the mourner’s, she is very weak herself_”

“Take me to her” I said, getting up from the bed.

“You should lie down and rest” he objected, trying to make me lay back.

I shoved away from his touch, pulled myself out of the bed and went in search of my grandma. I found her sitting on a mat with women surrounding her. She burst into a fresh cry as she sighted me, stretching out her arms towards me. I ran to her and snuggled into her embrace, we both cried.

***

I sat quietly in the back seat of the car as daddy drove us back to Port Harcourt. My fingers fondled with the heart-shaped pendant of my rose gold necklace, with my eyes gazing out the window. My mum had given it to me when I was eleven. She wore it around my neck while I was sleeping. When I woke up and noticed it, I ran excitedly to her, she smiled at me and told me it was her gift to me in celebration of her first salary. She had just gotten a job that Year. She went on to tell me that it was pure gold and warned me to be careful with it. I remember being very happy, I embraced her thankfully, raining kisses on her face.

I wore it everywhere I went, I cherished it so much.  Whenever daddy was beating my mum, I would hold tightly unto it, listening as he hit and rained curses on her. I would pray silently that he stops. Sometimes he did and other times, it went on for a long time. When I couldn’t hear him anymore, I would get out of bed and run to my mum. She always smiled and told me they were only talking and that it was just a little misunderstanding.  Many times she would hide her bruises with her makeup and assure me that she was fine, but I knew she was lying. Why did she lie when she always told me that lying was a bad thing?

“We are in Port Harcourt now” daddy said, glancing at me through the rear view mirror. “I would take you to a restaurant and get you something to eat okay?”

“I’m not hungry” I said.

“Come on, you barely ate anything back at the village. Ever since your maternal grandmother left, you refused to eat anything my mother offered you. We really need to talk about your behaviour when we get back home”

Home. What was home without my mummy, I wondered. I was going to be in that huge house with my daddy alone. I wished I had brothers and sisters.

“Why can’t I  go and live with mama?” I asked, referring to my maternal grandmother.

“Chidera, I already told you, I’m not going to let you go and live in the village. Mama can come and visit you here anytime she wants. Besides, aunty Amaka is coming, you love aunty Amaka, she would be living with us from now on”

I returned my gaze to the window, staring out unto the streets. He took a turn into Woji Road and drove us to a  restaurant called Kilimanjaro.  He got out of the car and walked around to my side of the door, he held it open, urging me to step out of the car. I did reluctantly and we walked into the restaurant. The sight of the food made my tummy pang. I was hungry and I ate willfully.

***

My alarm clock rang. I stretched out my arm sleepily to my bed side and put it out. My mum had set it up to enable me always wake up on time. I got out of bed and lazily walked into my bathroom. I was glad to be going back to school, I couldn’t wait to see my friends again, most especially Janet.

“Chidera!” My father called, knocking on my door. “Chidera! it’s time to wake up”

“I’m in the bathroom!” I called out loudly.

I finished bathing and dressed up eagerly, I grabbed my blue leather backpack and went downstairs. My dad had set the table, he made me beans.

I sat down and ate, thinking of how my mum used to make me sandwiches and made sure I had fresh fruit juice every morning.

When I was finished, my dad drove me to school. I was really glad to be leaving the house. He bade me goodbye and I walked into the school gate. The teacher’s at school and the kid’s kept staring at me pitifully. I didn’t like the attention, I wished they wouldn’t stare at me like that.

I found Janet in the hallway and hugged her with relief. We walked to our class holding hands and chit chatting. I had really missed her. The teacher was yet to come to class which gave me more time to talk to my best friend.

“I’m so sorry about your mum” she said for the umpteenth time.

“You know he killed her right?” I said.

“Who?” she asked in shock. “Your dad?”

I nodded.

She glanced at our sides and pulled me out of the class to the corridor, where the other kids could not hear us.

“Are you serious?” Janet asked

I nodded. “He used to beat her, always.”

My eyes stung.  “They were fighting as usual. I always stay in my room when they fight but I don’t know why I went to their door that day. I peeped and watched as she struggled with him, she was trying to shield herself from his punches. He overpowered her and pushed her to the bed, he got on top of her and began to strangle her, the next thing he started shaking her, begging her to wake up”

“Did he see you?” she asked 

“No, I ran to my room. After that, he took her to the hospital. I don’t know what he told them but Janet, my dad killed my mum. I saw him do it.  I hate him, I hate him so much!!”

My cheeks burnt with every tear that rolled down it. She embraced me and cried with me.

“What are you going to do now?” she asked, withdrawing from my embrace.  “You need to tell someone”

“I can’t tell anyone, they won’t believe me. His mum even knew. She visited twice and saw him beat her but she didn’t say anything. I resent her.”

“How about your mum’s mother?”

“If only dad would let me go live with her. But he has refused and I can’t just tell her, I’m scared. What if my dad hurts me too?”

“You are his daughter, I don’t think he would hurt you” Janet said.

“I don’t understand why she stayed with him.” I said, not willing to argue about my father’s capabilities.  “I wish she had left. I wanted her to leave but she stayed and now she is gone”

“I’m so sorry” she said.

I sniffed. “Guess what? my mum’s friend is coming to live with us now”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you think she is his girlfriend? Was he cheating on your mum?”

“I don’t know Janet. I just want to run away. Can I come and live with you, please?” I was desperate.

“I will ask my mum, but I don’t think your dad would let you”

She was right. I let my gaze shift to the trees that stood far away in the arena. My mum had been so unhappy, marriage had made her unhappy.

“I’m never going to get married” I said thoughtfully. “I just wish my mum had run away with me, she stayed and now she is dead.”  I returned my gaze to my friend, crying painfully. “I’m all alone Janet, I’m all alone”

“I’m here” she said, embracing me “You are not alone, I’m here.”

We stood in each other’s embrace and broke away only at the sight of our Biology teacher approaching the class.

***

On Saturday of that week, aunty Amaka moved into our home. She was nice, at first, but then she stopped. She began to do nice things for me only when dad was around.

When he was away, she would make me cook my own meals, clean the entire house and wash her clothes. Her jeans were difficult to wash, so were the bed covers, but she made me do it over and over again until it was as clean as she wanted it to be. I wasn’t allowed to watch TV anymore. I was always working, she always found a chore to make me do.

I would complain to my dad which made them argue a lot, but eventually, he didn’t seem to care so much anymore. He started to travel a lot too which only made things worse.

She wasn’t the sweet aunty Amaka that I used to know.

I started to do very poorly at school, my dad and aunty Amaka scolded me about it, but the truth was that I was sad, I was finding it hard to focus at school. I liked going to school but every time I was in school, I kept thinking about what she would do to me when I got home, or the chores I had waiting for me. But most of all, I missed my mum, a lot.

My birthday came and my dad bought me a cake right before he travelled out of town. Aunty Amaka didn’t even let me have enough of the cake as she took most of it. She had been eating a lot more ever since she got pregnant, and she blamed it on her hormones.

I couldn’t wait to leave the house. I counted days to when I would graduate from school. I could not wait to write my JAMB and go far away to a University in another State. But that was three years away. How would I cope until then?

Every day, I kept wishing my mum had left my dad, I wish she had gone anywhere but stay with him. Sometimes I had angry thoughts, angry at her for letting him do all that he did to her.

I miss her, if she had left him, I would have still had her, but now she was gone, and I had no one.

Written by Joy Terundu Ogbugoh

Dedicated to all the women who have lost their lives while living in an abusive marriage for the sake of their children. If you are presently a victim of abuse, remove yourself from the environment and get the help that you need.

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