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Your father, the painter once said people are art and art speaks, only if you stop to listen. He said this before he disappeared, your Omuna’s said he went in search of inspiration and got missing in a bush so thick that humans feared to come close.

You grew up without a man, no father and no brother. All was lost except mama, who, with a frail heart, trained you and made sure to raise a woman like a man. She made you who you are, disregarding her constant wheezing and fragile heart. The only inheritance she got from her father.

You grew up seeing the canvas on people’s faces, the pattern in their lives and the colors they try to hide. You have become like Papa, watching as paintings come to life, in form of infants, then toddlers, even to adults.

You appreciated each and every one of nature’s paintings, even till the day you came across a peculiar one, so fragile but beautiful.  It was years ago, but you still remember his voice which was stern and husky.

Mama had sent you on an errand, disregarding your pleas, of having a running stomach, due to the beans and abacha, which you had combined at the new yam festival, a day before.

You told her you wouldn’t make it half a mile, but she insisted that the oha soup she wanted to make couldn’t wait and sent you running onto the dry, dusty path of your village.

You had made it to a quarter mile, somewhere close to ubanaji’s hut when nature began to knock. It knocked so hard that your legs went numb and your forehead oozed sweats. You roamed your eyes like a woman in labour, eager to deliver the baby that laid between your buttocks. And then, as if your chi heard your inner cry, you saw a bush. One thick enough with proud grasses, ready to cover your black skin.

You dashed into it, not minding the passersby who shook their heads in disgust and did your business. After a while, you quickly wiped yourself with fresh leaves and gently tip toed away from the mess you had made. You picked up your basket, ready to dash out the same way you came, only to halt when you heard the  melodious voice that kept you rooted.

You looked back, drawing your eyes and ears closer to watch and listen to  this art, this painting that refused to be ignored. The more you stared, the more mama’s instructions escaped your mind and your heart beat faster. You watched as he used his hands to support his music, he dropped the cutlass which he used to devour a tree and started to dance to the hums of umuobiligbo’s music,  he slapped his chest as he hailed himself and you smiled.

That day, you couldn’t sleep. You tossed around on your mat, thinking about the man you had seen earlier. You tried to stop thinking about him, but couldn’t, it gave you a tingling feeling on your belly and you jumped, unsure of what you felt.

Days later, smiles began to creep unto your face while you washed and cooked. You stopped wearing the loose-fitting dresses mama bought and began to tie knots around those that didn’t show your waistline.

You even adjusted your footsteps, hoping to appear more like a woman. Whenever mama sent you to the farm, you would carry the basket by your side, and even smile at Ikenna, the drunkard. You didn’t know what made you happy, but you knew you were happy.

It didn’t stop there, you started to ask about him. Describing his  rich skin, broad shoulders and thin waist to your friends, Nkiru and Ada. You also told whoever cared that he had a voice that was good enough to awake the gods, as if that would help in finding him. The day  Nkiru mocked you on your way back from the stream, and told you you wouldn’t find him, you beat her up and gave her sand to eat.

Months passed before you saw him again. It was the day you went to the market, eager to purchase ingredients for the  Okazi soup you promised mama, who you had wronged, when you refused to do any house chores due to the pains of being a woman for days in a month, even after she insisted. You had promised to prepare her favorite before she came back from her August meeting.

There he was, in the market square with other young men, exchanging palm fruits for naira. You even saw Ekenne, Ada’s husband, who she said started the trade last week. You stopped to stare, gawking at the man who had somehow owned your dreams. Nothing else filled your mind until the okazi seller asked how much Okazi you wanted.

Years passed and so did mama, leaving you with nothing but her blessings, which she gave you and Osundu before she died. You held dear, not just her blessings but her last words which had remained in your heart since the day you and Osundu knelt before her, wearing matching wrappers.

She had called you my daughter with tears in her eyes as she spoke into your future, iga mu mmu, mukwasa, naha chianyi, she had said, while struggling with her breath. You and Osundu had replied with ise! Little did you know she wouldn’t be here to hold them.

You tossed again, for the third time, since the sun went hiding and the moon took its place. You watched from the small window, as the stars dance around the moon. You placed a hand on your lower stomach, wondering when mama’s prayers were going to be answered and your chi would decide to drop a child for you and your snoring husband.

You turned around, to watch Osundu. A man you had married for five years with nothing to show for it, yet he was happy, going around the village calling you nkem.   It seemed like a mystery to you, but still you chose to enjoy the gift your chi had given you, with hope for more.

Then it happened, it was early September, exactly the time the rain had drenched the ground and left mud in its place, that you saw the signs, there were no more monthly blood flows or stomach upsets. You had even worn your wrapper, counting, ofu, abo, ise, asa, as you expected four days of bloodstain, but nothing came.

You became dull and fatter, even Osundu had mentioned you adding weight but you never considered the possibilities until you started throwing up. Then it dawned on you that something was growing inside you. Your joy grew alongside your baby, Osundu brought more meat and palm fruits home, saying he was trying to pay his respects to his son. He even rubbed your feet and sent wet kisses to your growing stomach. It was obvious, this had surprised you both, but you refused to talk about it.

Days became months and Omekannaya was born, a silent child. He never cried nor squealed as a baby, this had scared you and Osundu, but the Umuwanyi who delivered babies said he was okay, and he was.

Omekannaya grew up, never playing with his mates nor speaking. He indicated what he wanted and got it. You always stared at him, wondering if he was like your father had said a painting, which will only speak when listened to, you even tried bringing your ears close to his mouth, waiting for him to speak, but he only stared at you, as if you were unwell. So you considered changing his name, maybe to Oweheokwu because he was unlike your husband.

At seven, he changed. Your son who never spoke, started to paint, he painted the weirdest things you had ever seen, even your chi would bear witness. From painting a crying bird to a two-legged deer. You and your husband considered taking him to Onyeuzoo, the herbalist, who was known to communicate with spirits and solve diverse problems, maybe he could be of help. But he couldn’t, he had told you and your husband, that he had never seen someone like your son.

This went on for months until one day, your son stopped painting and constantly had tears in his eyes. It was the strangest thing you had ever seen, especially for a boy his age  and you wondered what made him sad, you even tried asking him, but still he never spoke. His last painting had been of a woman, who you felt you knew, tied to a palm tree, with flames at her feet. She was being burned alive. You had round your hand three times over your head and spat tufiakwa, but still you wondered what that meant, but how could you know? When your son had refused to say a word.

One day, he spoke. He had called you nne, as he watched them do what they did to you, he was in the arms of another woman, Mazi Uzundu’s wife,  who pretended to be touched by the situation.

Earlier that day, your husband had gone to fetch palm fruits as usual, he had refused to eat, saying he would be back before noon. Even after you begged him to. You waited and watched as noon came with no sign of him. You paced around your compound, restlessly watching the road for him, but Instead, someone came running with grave speed past Omekannayaa and Into your hut. It was mama Ngozie’s unmarried daughter, who was known for her skillful gossip. She had come to inform you that papa Omekannayaa had fallen off a palm tree and died on the spot.

You laughed at her funny joke, wondering if this woman had taken one of Ikenna’s drinks before coming to you. But then you saw the seriousness in her eyes and the tears that were piling up, as she put her hands across her head, as she said ewo. You threw yourself to the ground, not minding if you attracted the neighbors’ attention or your son’s. Dimmoo! you screamed as you called his name. You ran into your hut and brought out his food and begged him to come and eat, hoping he would hear you.

Evening came quickly and his Umunas brought his body, they had already wrapped it up with white clothing. The women that came to console you had already left, leaving only Ada, who came all the way from Ibenazu,  your village, to console you.

You jumped the moment you saw them, and ran towards the man. You called husband but they pulled you away. Instead, they attacked you, accusing you of witchcraft as curses escaped their lips. You stared at them confused, until someone came forward, saying he had evidence. He dragged Omekannaya in front of the crowd, as he spoke, how can someone give birth to a child who never speaks, isn’t it witchcraft? He asked and your husband’s people nodded in concordance.

You tried to defend yourself but you got no audience. You kept mute like Omekannaya, shedding tears and only speaking when you were asked a question. Your pleas were later heard, but then your fate had been sealed. You struggled, and cried as they dragged you to the palm tree where your husband had died, they tied you to the rough body of the tree, rendering insults on you as umuandas shaved your head. Some spat on you but you didn’t care, your only regret was for your son and the husband you didn’t tell enough how much you loved. You looked at the faces of your persecutors and that of the women you once called mates, thinking if they really were paintings, like your father had said.

Your tears dried and your stomach churned, still they went on with their bidding, they brought Omekannaya before you, saying their son had to witness the end of a great evil, he stared at you with blank eyes and no tears, you prayed he would cry or even speak, even if it was the last thing you heard, but he was as still as the palm tree you were attached to. You held his eyes in yours as they lit the tree, the flames burned your skin but you still held his eyes. Memories of his last painting filled your mind as you cried out to your chi, this strange child of yours had shown you your death.

Just as your last breath left your lungs, he spoke, after hours of staring blankly at you. He called you nne, but your eyes were shut, your skin peeled, your breath seized and you didn’t get the chance to see the shock on your persecutors’ faces, when for the last time, you whispered, nwam.

About the Author

Maryjane Chiamaka .A. Okoro is an undergraduate student of Biochemistry at the Federal University of Technology Owerri, Nigeria.

She is an emerging writer who is passionate about life and seek to express emotions through the art of writing.

when she is not busy writing, she reads and explore nature. 

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