“Only remembered by what we have done
Thus would we pass from the earth and its toiling
Only remembered by what we have done.”
The voice of the lead singer took a mournful tone as her vocals ascended a higher pitch on the last line of the song and you shuddered unconsciously as a lone tear escaped your eye. Beneath those lumps of fresh soil lay the very architect that shaped your existence. And well buried was your past. You stood near his mother; she was staring at the grave, her eyes empty and swollen. You stared at her as she was led into the house weeping. You could almost not recognize who she has become.
Growing up, she was the tall wiry wife of your father’s elder brother and she had some feats to her name. She was the first woman to defy the wives of the umunna by wearing trousers to the women’s meeting and defying the umunna by picking up the kola nuts that fell in her farm. The members of the clan had raged and raved to no avail. She was excommunicated for a month and afterwards she returned to her provision store in the market, her smile made whiter by a glossy red lipstick.
Aunty Njide, then.
Now, she looked crumpled and small.
Two days before, you have arrived at the house clutching only a duffel bag; your mother had held you in a spine breaking embrace as you got down from your car. Her eyes were still puffy and red from the long hours of wailing.
The house reminded you of so much, many memories you’d succeeded in blanking out, memories which details your therapist had tried in vain to pry from you.
“Ruth, we have not made any progress,” he would say as you rose to leave after every session.
You would walk away, silent. You walked around numb, recalling events that still defined you as broken, incidents you never spoke of.
“Afam is dead,” Mama said when she called you that Sunday afternoon, her voice, raspy and distant. You had pressed the phone closer to your ear.
“Hacked to death,” Mama said, “he was butchered like a goat; they used axes to chop him up like firewood. They would bring him back tomorrow, some of our people there were the ones who identified his corpse and told us.”
You sat there, stunned when the call ended. You thought of pieces of his mauled flesh lying here and there on the road, parts of his body being squeezed into a sack and shuddered convulsive. A cold tremor went through your body and you wondered if the sigh that escaped your lips was that of relief. The shadows that had clouded you were finally dispersing, the hands that clutched your throats were finally letting go. The oath of silence you swore was finally broken.
“You look different,” your therapist had commented when you walked through the door the next week.
You smiled. “Good morning, Richard,” you said.
“Now, something definitely happened. I’ve been asking you to call me Richard for the past four months and you just did without any prompting.”
“Afam is dead,” you said.
“Afam, isn’t that the name from your past? The one you’ve refused to talk about?” he asked.
“Yes, Richard,” you said and began a story you have never told before, a story of a child with bleeding thighs, of clenched fists that landed on you when you hesitated in opening your legs, of the sexual molestation that had been your reality for ten years, since you were six.
Your voice shook as you spoke of coming back home on school vacation, dreading the moments when he would call you into his room.
You called it, ife alụ, the abominable things he made you do from when you were a tottering child, your preteen years, through your puberty period and the years of early womanhood.
You told the startled doctor of the first time you missed your menstrual period. You had walked into his room, teary-eyed and whimpering to tell him that you were pregnant. He had slapped you for being a dumb village girl and had given you a handful of bitter roots which he told you to chew.
Later that day, you sat on the toilet seat, your stomach tied in tight knots accompanied with stinging pain and when the blood started flowing, you held the walls for support, groaning. You told him of how afterwards when the blood stopped flowing, you reached to flush, your hands heavy as lead with each effort.
It was enthralling; telling those details no other person had ever heard as your therapist patiently listened. He never interrupted, as you spoke of your University days, when your course mates thought you were gay and called you “The Nun” because of the non-existent relationship between you and the opposite sex.
You spoke of your failed relationship after school, failed because despite the years that have passed, Afam’s thrusts into your womanhood still defined you.
You laughed when you spoke of your mother’s call that day. “I laughed,” you told him, and “I really shook with laughter because I knew that my identity was free, I knew that I was no longer Afam’s sex slave, I was no longer defined by what he did to me. My life was now mine, mine alone.”
“Thank you for sharing this, Ruth.”
“Thank you Richard and please call me Onyinye, that’s my first name,” you said and smiled again.
“Welcome back, Onyinye.”
You got up to go, reaching out for your handbag when his voice stopped you.
“Uhmm … Onyinye, what are you doing tomorrow evening?” He was standing now with a man-of-the-world smirk on his face.
“Nothing I cannot cancel,” you had replied. “Call me.”
And with bouncy steps, you walked out of the door, humming Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger and a feeling very much close to grace in your heart.