The sun found me sitting by the well in front of our compound with my bags packed.
There is something oddly comforting about this well. Perhaps I share a form of kinship with it; a sisterhood of neglect and decay.
In some way she looks forlorn and exposed; with patches of red mud showing where the plaster had peeled, gaping red sores like the purple bruises on my knees. At other times majestic and haughty; as if daring anyone to speak of her shame.
I often have the urge to run out and cover her up and yet, she seems to mock me, as if I were the one in need of covering. The years of rape and neglect had only made it stronger.
It is from this well, sitting now, that I come to draw inspiration. My life is about to change. It began with Mother coming up to me yesterday, saying;
‘Stella, you are going to travel to Nnewi tomorrow, you will no longer be living with us’
She had turned her face away and kept her hands busy, arranging a bunch of bananas on the tray. One bunch looked overly-ripe, the telltale blotches turning the peel brown. The sickening ripeness that could only be discovered by touch. Mother was arranging them carefully so that the bad side would not show.
Selling depended not only on the quality of the banana but on the ability to hide the bad ones.
It was early evening.
A lizard wandered tentatively across the unpainted walls, and the falling sun filtered in through all the cracks. It was still a little early to start preparations but one had to arrive early to find a stand beneath the streetlight. It was hard to make any sort of decent income, especially with Mama Nkechi around. Mama Nkechi has a face which invites a fight; it screamed defiance as she placed her wares on our regular spot.
‘Why, mama?’ I asked.
‘Amara is pregnant, and she needs you’
She couldn’t look at me.
I did not have to point out that my sister, Amara, was only six months pregnant and that she had an 8 year old child and a husband who could take care of her. There was really no need for me.
Mother had a habit of saying what needed to be said, and the rest – the unsaid parts – those were the leftovers. It hung about in the air like the smell of ripe bananas, in the way she avoided my eyes, in the way her lips quivered.
I knew that we would not speak of it, that last night the Night Visitor had come again.
This time, however, he had not just stopped at the door to my room. This time he had come into the room, his breathing in gasps and grunts. He had stepped over her copy of Marima Ba’s ‘So long a letter’ that I had carelessly flung at the foot of the bed. Stealthily, like a cat he had stopped to sniff me as if I were some edible thing.
Bile had shot up in my throat. We, mother and I, both knew it was the beginning. This is because we have watched this drama unfold before, each detail painfully etched in our memories. We have seen it end abruptly with hushed pregnancies and two abortions – and when the corner chemist would no longer agree to do the procedures, the marriage of Amara to Chief Ukandu – who was my grandfather’s peer. My sister had moved into the chief’s house with her ballooned belly and we tried not to discuss where the baby came from.
That was eight years ago.
This time, I can tell, Mother wouldn’t see this drama to the end, but like leftovers, which no one bothered with, Mother had said what needed to be said and said no more.
‘Odinma,’ I had said. ‘It is okay.’
She gave me a long, meaningful look and with it came understanding. I understood the strength of a mother hen protecting her brood from the evil inside their own pen. I saw the pain of losing two daughters and the burden of living with a predator.
Again, I saw fear; for the things she would never utter, the unfinished meals and the leftovers and a lifetime protecting her girls from their father.
So, this morning, when the sun harshly announced its presence, I knew it was time to say Goodbye.
The journey to Nnewi would take three hours.
Chizoma Emeka Joshua is a Nigerian writer. Born on 9th December 1996, he is currently studying law at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Growing up, his family had had an abundance of smiles and a lot of stories to share and thus writing has been his way of capturing these moments. He is an active member of the Nwokike Literary club and have had his works published in their journal ‘Surugede’. His work has also been published on the online platform of the Nigerian Campus Connect.