In my final year at the university, I met Olisa, a boyish boy in second year who I had seen many times in my department, either laughing or being chased around by someone. I had never spoken to him and, being two classes above him, nothing ever made meeting possible. But the morning my dissertation topic was approved, he tapped my shoulder just as I was packing up to leave the faculty. He wanted to know who would be taking over from me as faculty president.
He was tall and kept an afro. I was tempted, while I answered his questions, to dig my fingers into his hair. I also mulled over what it smelled like. He laughed very freely and when he did, his entire body laughed also; his eyes had the spark of an excited child, his nostrils spread out and gave the impression of a twin gong, his lips made way for his well-lined dentition, his cheeks looked like puff-puff. It was difficult not to laugh with him, and in no time, he was sitting next to me, looking through my books and complimenting my handwriting.
We became friends, Olisa and I. He visited me nearly everyday, and in less than one month our bodies knew each other. It was not my first time, but it was the first different one. He didn’t beg me over and over for it; he didn’t pressure me or ask me to let him put the tip only. It happened and it felt right.
I put off going home for many days that slowly crept into months, many months. My madam called every day to ask about my dissertation, and at the end of each call she would linger, breathing into the phone and finally asking, when will you come back? She reminded me that there was a study at home that I could use, and when she ran out of things to say, she reminded me that I was still her house help.
The words fell out of her mouth and broke into pieces on my red carpet, and I imagined that the floor was bleeding from the shards of brokenness. I knew I was a house help, but I had never heard my madam call me that, and with condescension so heavy my hand could no longer hold on to my phone. I felt small and I saw myself disappearing in my room. I would either go back home at once, or never return.
I made up my mind to go home the following weekend, but not before I came down with a fever. Olisa went with me to the medical centre where some tests were conducted. In two days we went back for my test results, and we sat at the waiting area looking at the paper I was given, and words failed us.
An ordinary piece of paper had suddenly become the purveyor of news that sucked up the air from the room and left me gasping, desperate.
I snatched the paper off Olisa’s hand, who had taken it to observe more closely, in case we had seen wrongly the first time. I was going to verify from the nurse who gave me the test results, there might have been a mix up somewhere.
The nurse, who did not look up at me, and whose dedication to the chewing gum in her mouth equalled nothing I had ever seen before, told me that condoms were not mere balloons. You cannot cheat nature, she added. There was a casual drag in the way that she spoke, as if she knew me and had warned me several times against this mistake. The words also came so naturally to her that one could tell that she had said them many times. The clap sounds of her chewing gum made it all the more humiliating. I turned around and as I walked back towards Olisa, I could feel the hot wetness of my own urine, drooling down my legs.
I sat at the waiting room until the medical centre closed. I said nothing; he knew to say nothing too. The days following were the darkest days of my life. I contemplated getting an abortion, but the nightmare I had about never waking up after the anaesthesia shots kept me indoors. I saw Papa many times with a wheelbarrow, but there were no puff-puffs in it. He frowned at me every time, and walked away shaking his head. Mama squeezed her nose and snapped her fingers. She retied her wrapper and rolled her eyes at me. I woke up with a headache every day, unsure of where I was.
I had many questions, and I was irritated by Olisa’s calmness. I wanted him to panic, to stammer and flush. But he simply said things about true love and his pure intentions towards me. His parents were understanding and would totally approve of us marrying, if it came to that.
The things he said went through my right ear and exited from the left one. I could not tell my madam that I had done exactly what she had warned me about. And how could I tell her that a boy two years younger than I was got me pregnant? How did I not know that I was pregnant for so long?
As I walked back towards Olisa, I could feel the hot wetness of my own urine, drooling down my legs
I decided I would tell her about it. I could not hide for ever and she could not be disappointed for ever either. A final meeting with my supervisor became my reason for stalling my trip home, and every time I spoke to my madam, I told her that the meeting was postponed. I made to tell her about the pregnancy at different times, but the fear I felt in my belly crawled up to my throat and curled up there, seizing my voice and crushing it to nothingness.
Olisa had told his parents about it over the phone and while they expressed their displeasure, they also empathised with the situation. They insisted that the first step was to tell my madam about it.
The morning I got ready for Enugu, Olisa prepared also to come with me against my will. He wanted to be there when I told my madam because he wanted to partake in whatever blame I got. I tried to dissuade him from coming, but he would have none of it.
He flagged down a bike and asked me to get on; he would meet me in town on a different bike. As I made my way to the park, the bike man went in on the wrong lane in a bid to reach the bus park faster. I complained but he dismissed me, asking me not to worry. I have been riding bikes before you were even born, he said. And just as he was finishing his sentence, he collided with a wheelbarrow whose owner was about to cross the road, having only looked right. The bike fell, and so did I. The exhaust pipe of the bike pressed on my leg and burned me. I went into shock and the next time I opened my eyes, there was a plain blue curtain drawn round my bed.
Olisa’s hands covered my right hand, and when I opened my eyes, he looked up and laughed. Don’t worry, the baby is all right, he said. I was annoyed by him and immediately withdrew my hand from his. My madam was right, I get to carry the shame around and he gets to laugh, I thought. I looked at him and felt the need to hurt him, to make him feel the fear I was feeling. I hated that his parents were so accepting and that, even in death, mine were disgusted.
I had shut my eyes for a nap when I heard my name in the most unexpected familiar voice. Ekwutosi, what have you done? Four months? What is going on? I had forgotten who was listed as my next of kin. I looked up to my madam standing in front of my bed, beside Olisa. Her delicate rose gold necklace glimmered as she breathed. I saw mama in her face, and tears would not stop coming. She sat in my bed and wiped my eyes with the back of her hand, the same one mama would have slapped my right ear with. She kissed my forehead and asked how I was feeling. He will marry me, I said to her.
Olisa who had stood aside to give us some privacy, moved in closer and greeted her the second time. She hadn’t responded to the first one. My madam looked at him from head to toe, as if sizing him up, and I knew that she could tell that I was older. She looked back at me without saying a word and with her eyes she asked me why.
She took me back to Enugu that day and, as we travelled, she said intermittently, Ekwutosi maka gini, why?
My oga asked about my dissertation first, and then whether my legs hurt, as though he needed the questions for cushioning before asking the actual ones. How old was he, does he love you as much as you love him, are you sure he wants to do this, are you sure you want to do this, a child will change your life forever, you know. My madam sat next to my oga and at the end of our conversation, they asked me to invite Olisa and his parents over.
I developed a cough the morning Olisa and his parents were due to arrive, and there were no tangerines for Mama’s recipe. My madam bought me cough syrup, but I was so overwhelmed by the intensity in the house that I flung the medicine in the dustbin. My oga cooked and set the table, and my madam checked on me in my bedroom so many times that I cried out of frustration. My room had become too small and no matter how many times I went in the bathroom to wash my face, my vision was still foggy. I wanted the day to be over before it even began.
The doorbell rang and my heart pounded in response. I got up, opened my door and peeped to see my madam walking to the front door. She stood there for a while, straightening out her blouse and patting her hair. She opened the door with a practiced cheery smile that immediately disappeared once she saw the guests. I heard Olisa’s voice, greeting my madam and asking her to meet his mum and dad.
My madam staggered backwards as her hands searched blindly for something to hold on to. I immediately ran to her just as my oga came to the sitting room. The guests reached out to her as well, but she fell before any of us could help her. My oga lifted and placed her on the couch, knelt down on the floor next to her and kissed her forehead. Ndudi, honey, it’ll be okay, he said.
Olisa walked over and stood by me, and his parents, who had been looking to see that my madam was all right, excused themselves to step out for a minute. When they came back into the living room, my madam was sitting up with her head leaning on my oga’s shoulder. Tears went freely down her face as she hissed and shifted in her chair.
What have we done, Ebube? What have we done? My madam repeated. I looked around for who she was referring to and thought for a moment that my madam may have had a concussion after her fall. Olisa squeezed my hand and the blankness of his face showed that he was just as confused as I was.
Olisa’s father knelt in front of my madam and oga, murmuring things I did not understand. He suddenly broke down and wailed in our sitting room. His wife held his shoulder so that his head rested on her hip and she rubbed his hair with her right hand. Seeing a grown man cry like that reminded me of Papa lying on the road that evening. The helplessness wrapped itself around my neck, and while my madam cried, and Olisa’s father groaned, I went to the bathroom to throw up. There, I lifted my dress and looked at my belly in the mirror for the first time since I found out. What will I do with you, I thought.
Everyone had sat down when I returned to the living room. The silence was only interrupted by sniffs and sighs and hisses.
My madam avoided my eyes as she held on to my oga’s hands so tightly, like her survival depended on them. She had something to tell me, and she wanted me to know that she did not mean to hurt me in any way. I was strangely calm when she began to narrate this story. What could be worse than being pregnant for a boy in his second year at the university, who was two years younger than me?
My madam knew Olisa’s father, Ebube. They met many years ago in America, where they fell in love and had a baby. They returned to Nigeria and were told they could not be together, as they were cousins. Their love child was given to a childless couple that would take care of the child till they both healed from the disaster that had happened to them. They both moved on and Ebube went on to have a child by another woman two years later. My madam was not psychologically ready for babies, but she lived with her partner, my oga, who loved her and understood what she was going through.
Ekwutosi, biko, gbaghalum, I am sorry, she said.
Olisa looked at his father and then at his mother, his breathing quickening, and just as he got up from the couch where he had been sitting and holding my hand, his father broke down again. I wanted to feel pain but it was far beyond my reach. I was irritated by my own numbness. Olisa paced the room and I saw him quickly wipe the tears off his eyes. If even he felt something, why couldn’t I?
I shut my eyes and saw Papa and Mama. Is this true? I asked. They were silent, and only then did the pain force itself through my eyes.
I will never leave you, Olisa said.
Uzoamaka Doris Aniunoh is an Igbo writer from Nigeria. She draws inspiration from real life experiences and is interested in minor characters and in the little happenings that are often considered irrelevant.
She has a BA in English and History from the University of Nigeria, and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Birmingham.