Oh Mother! | Obinna Udenwe

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After Father died of asthma, and the Immigration Service transferred mother to Exxon-Mobil at Eket, where one was not allowed to live with his or her family; my sister, Anuri and I were sent to live with uncle Ndu. Exxon-Mobil gave mother a one-room apartment and provided for her feedings, and transport to the office. She said it was hard for anyone to visit her and that when she was settled she would find an accommodation for us at Uyo. ‘I don’t have money now… so, manage with Uncle Ndu,’ mother had told us.

Uncle Ndu used to say that when he was in Calabar, women paid to get a glimpse of his private part. He would tell us that to touch him was very costly. Uncle Ndu loved women more than food. He was one of those men that thought with their penis more than with their heads.

We had just lived for nine months in Enugu before mother was transferred to Eket, so we knew few places. Mother rarely allowed us out of the house except on Sundays, when we would drive to church in her old rickety car— the Toyota her meager salary could afford, and weekdays when we would be driven to school by mother before she drove to her office.

Uncle Ndu lived in one of the flats in a three-storey building. The building was old, so the balustrades on the staircase were off. I wondered why the landlord whom they said stayed in Belgium would not repair them. The soak-away pits had cracks and it caused excreta to ooze from them and polluted the whole premises. The odour was so stiff that when Uncle Ndu bought air refreshers and hung them all over the flat, the stench would still overpower the fragrance. It was very terrible at first, but we got used to it. What we couldn’t get used to was Uncle Ndu touching our breasts.

The flat had three rooms, Uncle’s wife used to stay in one, before she left him. Her aso-oke and beads were still in the room when we packed in. The other room was for his six children who were grownups and scattered everywhere.

We heard that Uncle Ndu had no house help because once, one of his mistresses slept with his houseboy when Uncle Ndu was out playing draft. Uncle Ndu’s maids left because he would beat them if they failed to grace his bed at nights.

Uncle Ndu knew almost all the policemen in Enugu. He said he worked with the Nigerian Railway Corporation, and then the Nigerian Coal Mine, and later did contracts supplying coals. After some years he worked as a train driver, and did so many odd jobs. There was no story he could not tell. Even the story of how the ex-military dictator, General Abacha, was murdered by Indian women. Uncle Ndu could see the sun while seated under a shade.

The building rarely had electricity, and running water. We would carry big cans on our bare heads as we fetched water from an old well built by the mechanics that repaired cars in the street. My oversized gown swept the ground as my rubber slippers made a whoosh-whoosh sound as I walked. Uncle Ndu would complain that the water was dirty when he knew that the well was open and prone to all sorts of debris. He would complain of his soup having no meats when he gave no money for meat. He would complain that the vegetables were sliced too large, he said they stuck to his throats, but would eat the food still.

Mother said we had no choice. ‘Stay with Uncle Ndu because I can’t leave the Immigration Service after all these years. You girls will soon finish primary school. I need to raise enough money to put you in secondary school.’ When she said that, I rolled my large eyeballs at her and she looked away. My eyes were large so they always made people look away when I looked at them. I sat back on the plastic chair, allowing my plump body to raise the chair up and down, up and down.

Before mother moved to Eket, she cautioned us, ‘Uncle Ndu is a loose man. Be careful with him. When he invites his female friends. Stay away. Have you heard me?’

Yes, mum,’ we responded.

If he tries to touch you where you don’t like, tell him to stay away. And tell him that you will report him to me. Understood?’

Yes, mum. But he is our uncle,’ I said.

I know. Be careful.’

Two weeks after we moved in with Uncle Ndu, he began to stare at our breasts; whenever he was talking to us, he would stare at our breasts instead of our faces. When mother called, I would tell her that everything was fine. That he had not touched us. On children’s Day, we cooked egusi, and it tasted different because he bought bush meat from Nwanyi Imo, a married woman that sold mama-put at the other street adjacent to ours. She was fat, and occasionally came to our flat at nights to stay with Uncle Ndu. He told us that he enjoyed fat women. I wondered why he would tell us something like that. It was a hot night and there was no electricity, so we slept on our mat at the verandah. I had not fallen deeply asleep when I felt someone’s hands touching my breasts. For a moment I thought it was Emeka, the boy that lived next door at Immigration Staff Quarters when we stayed there. Emeka used to touch me at nights when his mother sent him to buy kerosene and I would go with him, and in the afternoons, during holidays, when everyone was out and on those days when I was sick, and he was sent home from school because he had not paid his tuition.

That night, the hand that caressed me was hard. What mother had told us before she traveled came in a flash; “Always sleep with one eye open! Inumariya? Have you heard?”

I opened my eyes and saw Uncle Ndu’s old face. He flashed a wicked smile and licked his lips. I threw away his hands.

Are you mad?” I shouted. Anurika, my younger sister woke up.

What is it?” she asked. Fear swept through my legs. Uncle Ndu stood and walked back to the sitting room.

What happened?” Anurika asked with her thin voice that sounded like guitar they played at Holy Ghost Cathedral every Sunday.

He… was touching my breasts.” Anurika’s mouth threw open.

Did he touch mine?” she asked.

He did not… you would have gotten up if he did… sleep, biko, please.” Anurika was nine and as tiny as a pencil. When she got on my nerves I would call her mosquito legs and she would sulk for hours. She had seen Chika Unigwe in one of Uncle Ndu’s newspapers so she stopped combing her hair so that they could form dreadlocks like the writer’s own. She always wanted to be a writer. But her teacher told me to tell mother that she was going crazy. When I told her that mother was in Eket, she said; ‘Tell the person you live with. Your sister can’t turn herself into ogbanje!’

The next morning when I went into Uncle Ndu’s room to drop his food, he asked if I was angry. I said I was. He said nothing. I was terrified. In school I paid less attention to the teacher; he caught me gazing beyond the black board several times. He asked me questions twice and I failed. He flogged me. Our teacher said I was becoming silly. My classmates saw more reasons to make fun of me. They moved on from calling me Plumpy Plum to Silly Plum. I wondered why they had not noticed that my school uniform was always dirty and had not added Dirty Plum to the list.

After some days, Uncle Ndu began to grab my breasts hungrily when I dropped his food on the bedside stool. One day, I wanted to take away his hand; he grabbed my arm and flung me to the bed and took my breasts through my polo. He wanted to bring down his mouth but I bit his chin and he let go. He yelled. I ran away.

That night, Anurika told me that he touched her breasts some days back when I had gone for catechism class in the church. I called our mother and told her everything. She said she would get him arrested. Uncle Ndu said we lied. He said that our mother should take us away from his house. When next I spoke with mother she said her boss could not permit her to visit.

Anurika was tender. She was vulnerable and so afraid of Uncle Ndu that even if he wanted to molest her, and threatened her, she would not shout nor tell me. I never left her alone, nor allowed her stay in the house alone with him. I registered her for catechism. Father Gabriel liked us, he said we looked like her sisters and always gave us oranges and grapes from his orchard. I made sure we came back from school together, and we served his food together. So that if we were two he would not molest any one of us.

We stopped sleeping at the veranda even if the room was hot. When we slept we locked our door. Sometimes when he came back with his women, we would sleep early so that he wouldn’t be able to call us for their services. We made him lose every chance, until one day.

That day, the rain fell sporadically and the breeze brought cold. I covered myself with the sweater that father had bought for me when he traveled to Jos before he died. Anurika had traveled to Onitsha as a maid for our village woman. I had pleaded with mother that it was better that Anurika was sent away. Mother had asked how I was going to cope. I told her that I was twelve and old enough to take care of myself.

Everything went on well some days after my sister left for Onitsha, then, all hell was let loose. I had forgotten to lock my door, and it did not bother me because Uncle had brought a young lady who was in her late twenties.

I was sprawled on the bed when I noticed my door opened quietly and I switched on my torch light.

What is it, Uncle?” I asked. Just then, he pounced on me and pulled my skirt while using his large palm to cover my mouth. He slapped me so hard that I lost consciousness. He slapped me again and all I could see were angels waving me goodbyes.

I felt something that was like a sharp rod, thrust into me. I knew nothing else when I woke up and found myself in our neighbour’s sitting room, on one of their sofas. Their mother was dabbing my body with a hot wet towel. Our neighbour, Mr. Ajiro went to the police station the next day to make a report. His sons had locked Uncle Ndu in their toilet.

No one told me what happened. The next day when mother returned to Enugu and visited me at the hospital, she cried uncontrollably. After two weeks at the hospital, the psychologist advised it would be better if they told me what happened. The lady whom I recognised as the woman, whom Uncle had brought to the house that night, explained everything to me;

That night, I had a quarrel with your uncle and he asked me to leave the flat, I did… when I got down the street, the street guards insisted that I must go back. They said it was late. So I had to get back to plead with your uncle to allow me in… I noticed the door was still unlocked… I walked in and went into his room. He was not there. It was when I was entering the verandah that I heard the groans. I entered that room and found him… I found… he was on top of you. Forcing his body on you. The flashlight was on. I rushed back to the sitting room and grabbed a stool and… so, I hit him with it and he fainted. I shouted and neighbours rushed in….”

Tears rolled down my cheeks. I said nothing. The lady stayed for a long time before she left. She gave me some beverages. Mother walked into the ward when she was gone and stayed with me. Days later, I asked mother if she was not going back to Eket, she told me she had resigned. I knew I would never forgive her. If she knew she would resign what stopped her from resigning when she was transferred to Eket.

Days later, I was discharged. Mother took me to our former quarters where we stayed with Emeka’s parents until we got an apartment. Emeka was always with me. I would keep calm when he asked me some questions. I remembered long ago when he had wanted to pull off my pants, I said no. I told him he was only to touch my breasts.

Then one day, we went back to the hospital for a check-up, the doctor who was a woman told mother something and she said she would kill herself. They never told me what the doctor told mother, and no one told me what happened to Uncle Ndu.

It is now two years after the rape. Every Wednesday I would go with Anurika and mother to collect antiretroviral drugs. Mother could not afford paying a psychologist so I was seeing none, but Father Gabriel kept coming. He always assured me that I would not die.

I hope so. 

Novelist and youth/democracy activist, Obinna Udenwe was born in 
Abakaliki, Nigeria in 1988. He is the author of The Dancing Bird
He is the owner of the Creative Wings Short Story Prize. He won the 
2009 National Top 12 Award, and African International Achiever Award 
2012. He edited the anthology, Voices From my Clan with Mukoma Wa 
Ngugi. His Stories has appeared in several journals, magazines, 
reviews and anthologies all over the world. 

8 comments

  1. The central character of this story is refreshing for subverting a lot of received ideas about rape and sexualised violence survivors. She’s a wise yet vulnerable yet strong narrator; utterly believable.

  2. friday daniel

    Very creative but we didn,t know wht later hapnd to d uncle nd her younger sister anurika nd dir life generally afer dir mum,s retiremnt

  3. Nwasum Chinedu

    It is an interesting story, well told by the author . Its not just a story but a true reflection of how bad and barbaric our society has turned to , from Mumbai, In India, dhaka, in Bangladesh down to South Africa even In Nigeria cases of rape are predominant. Writers should condemn through literature and the whole world should stand up against it.

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