African StoriesEditor's ChoiceLife and General FictionNaija Stories

Pang of Conscience

I woke up to the screams of my kid brother as he yelled, “I wished her first. Happy birthday, Big Sis. It’s your birthday.”

The joys of him being the first to wish me a happy birthday superseded that which existed because of the usual tradition observed in my family during birthdays. First, we’d have a family prayer, then go to any place of my choice, have lunch with a bowl of ice cream sure for everyone, after which we’d drive home to cut the cake mom had baked.

Tears trickled down my cheeks which I said were tears of joy. I had talked to Richard a day before and it didn’t end well. He vehemently told me to go for an abortion, if not for anything to protect the reputation of my family.

My mom was the leader of the Catholic Women’s organisation in church, and my dad was the parish pastoral council chairman. These two had won a lot of awards for their good parenting style.

“How would I tell my Dad that his seventeen-year old daughter was going to have a baby?” It won’t make any sense. Abortion would risk my life and put me in enmity with God. I definitely would have to go to the road side doctor miles away Richard had recommended because the hospitals close by were run by medical practitioners who knew my parents so well and would flap their lips to my parents. I would rather open up to my parents myself, than have them know of my pregnancy from outsiders.

I threw the duvet which covered me and hopped into the bathroom, freshened up and joined my family in the parlour for the prayers. To me I had spent barely five minutes freshening up, but the forlorn look on my dad’s face told me I had spent long. I looked at the wall clock and realised I had spent close to an hour and thirty minutes.

Dad hated being kept waiting. This offence was punishable by death, but the graces I’d enjoy for today belonged to me. I was spared. My dad just gave me his usual under-the-lashes look and smiled as I took my sit beside my mom who was already rolling her beads. It was obvious we were in for a very long prayers.

As usual, my mom led the prayers, clapping vigorously as she sang hymns of gratitude to God and heaping honours on Mother Mary. My body was there, but my soul was already lying face up on the table imagining the horrid things I’d pass through to get this unwanted child off my body. I didn’t know how long we had sang before my mom started the Rosary. I wished the prayers would continue till forever because I found this inner peace muttering things to God whom I felt had forgiven me already.

Two hours later, the prayer was over. My younger brother leapt out of the couch as he kept wishing me a happy birthday. “Where are you taking us to? It’s time to make your wish,” his tender voice echoed as he smiled lavishly at me who had no option than to force a smile. He was fifteen years, but sometimes acted like an infant. The title ‘Baby of the house’ was really his even at adolescence.

My dad and my mom were looking graciously at me. They all wanted to know what my pick would be. I hadn’t thought of any place yet. I didn’t want to go anywhere. Locking myself up in my room was all I desired, but asking for that favour would sell me out. My family would know I was l hiding something. I was the hyper one of all their four daughters. I was the last girl, the three before me were in the University. None as of now had cursed my family with such news. I was expected to have learnt from them.
All through the hours of prayers, I had considered going in for the abortion in which I would stand a 50-50% chance of survival or losing my uterus or tell my parents. How to do that, I didn’t know.

The phone rang, it was Chinelo my immediate elder sister who was studying Medicine and Surgery in one of the Nigerian Federal Universities. We spent over fifteen minutes speaking with her as she sang the conventional birthday song for me.
This delay was necessary. I needed time to think on the best decision to make because going out would rob me of my chances of ventilating. I prayed Chinaza and Chinaecherem would call once we hung up. They didn’t! It was back to me.

“Where are we going to”? My dad asked as he went to pick the car key where it lay on the couch.

“I want to make a request,” I said, not knowing where I got such morale from. I had made my decision, and all I did was hope it went fine. I just needed my family to know. Whatever came afterwards, I knew I deserved it. A lesson I swore never to ignore.

“That is what we are waiting for,” my dad snapped like he already knew what I was about to say. I was losing the momentum, but this was the perfect time to unbox myself. It would ruin my seventeenth birthday, this price I was willing to pay.

“I want you and mom to promise me you won’t be angry.”

What the hell did I just say? which African parent with so much reputation would clap for the teenage daughter who just finished secondary school with a news of pregnancy? Well, I cared less. I had that right to ask for anything today.

“What is it?” my mom interfered with a voice that was beginning to break. The courage in me was not evident in my tone. I sounded worried, worried enough to make my mom know something was wrong. “I promise… we promise,” my mom added.

“I’m pregnant.” The lights went off.

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