“Aunty why are you leaving us?” I asked teary eyed.
“I have to go live with my husband now” she replied, stroking my hair as I laid between her laps.
“What about your school? Won’t you miss your friends?”
“My husband will put me in a new school and I’ll make some new friends” she smiled.
“What about uncle Mike?” I asked.
I felt her pause for a moment. Then as if by some mechanical energy, she resumed stroking my hair again.
She didn’t answer.
Uncle Mike was a youth corps member working in my school and my class teacher. He was very fond of aunty Ijeoma and she liked him too. He walked us home everyday when she came to pick me up from school. She always made me wait for him to finish locking up the classroom before taking me home.
Then she’d buy me sweets and make me promise not to tell mummy.
He would also come around during the weekends to tutor her in preparation for her WAEC examinations.
She kept smiling whilst singing soothing words into my ears. But I could feel the sadness in her voice. The pain she was trying so hard to conceal.
“Aunty you’re not happy” I retorted, “Why won’t you stay if you don’t like going with him?”
“You won’t understand Nnam, you’re still a child.” she said, gently patting my shoulder.
‘Nnam’, that’s the pet name she called me because she said I reminded her of her father; my grandfather.
I slept off trying to convince her not to go. By the time I woke up in the morning, she was gone.
Fourteen years and eight children later, I still don’t understand why she had to abandon everything and go live with a man she barely knew in the name of marriage.
I was later to discover that she did it to honour the dying request of her aged mother who said she wanted to dance with her umu ada at her only daughter’s igbankwu and carry her grandchildren before she died. “Makana ügwü nwayi bu di’ya” so she said.
And Okonkwo seemed like the right man to grant her those wishes.
He was a trader in Onitsha and seemed to be doing well for himself.
He drove a Volkswagen which people called ‘motor mbekwu’ because it resembled a tortoise and certainly moved like one.
She never did go back to school.
She was either too pregnant or too preoccupied taking care of her husband and children to have time for school.
She got pregnant in the first month of living with him. He said he was testing to see if she was capable of bearing children.
He promised her she’d go back to school after giving birth. That promise was broken eight times.
She doesn’t look like my beautiful auntie Ijeoma anymore. She looks so much older now. Baby making has taken its toll on her.
The only reason he agreed to stop is because the doctor threatened him she’d die if she had another cesarean section. She has had 3 already.
She has no more strength left in her to fight off the demons of the labour room.
She’s just a ghost of her former self now. A ghost of dead dreams and lost aspirations.
I’m 25 now and I still don’t understand why one life had to be thrown away to satisfy the dying wishes of another.
I guess I’ll never be old enough to understand.
Eze Jude Uchechukwu is a graduate of Industrial Physics from the Federal University of Agriculture Makurdi. He enjoys writing in his spare time.