“You don’t bite the finger that feeds you,” mama said, slapping my baby brother Osazee on his buttocks for biting her nipple while suckling. Osazee whimpered but he didn’t remove his mouth from mama’s breast.
I smiled at mama mischievously. A smile that said, “get ready for the second bite,” and as if on cue, Osazee bit mama again. This time, mama screamed and gave him a louder slap that made him let out a piercing howl. The speed with which mama moved him away from her breast amused me.
She held him out to me. I gripped his flaying arms, saying, “Osazee, do not bite the nipple that feeds you.” I thought that sounded better than the finger mama used in the proverb. I tried calming Osazee but he cried harder I wondered what was in breast milk that some children got so addicted to.
Osazee was a year and six months old. I waited for mama to wean him. Mama had said she wouldn’t wean Osazee until he was two. That made me think Osazee would grow up to be a spoiled brat. At least, Ivie acted like a brat and I guess it was because her mother took too long to wean her.
Osazee’s ear-trembling sobs died down to a silent whimper as I moved him away from mama. Cleaning his chubby, cute, little face, with a cotton napkin, he smiled, revealing that crater sized dimple that attracted all the oohs and aahs. I had no doubt Osazee would grow up to be a very handsome young man. He would break a few hearts. I just wished he wouldn’t be anything like my Papa.
Papa was tall, dark and handsome, but of no good use. He was lazy, impatient, and nagged a lot. He often came home drunk and ended up beating Mama till she could barely see. Mama was light skinned, so she’d look like a reddish pawpaw, with black spots here and there.
I often wondered what Mama saw in him. While I helped her clean her wounds, I would ask her what she saw in Papa and she would reply, “I love him,” in all honesty. Then her eyes would brighten up. It made me sad, I knew the feeling was not mutual.
According to her, men had funny ways of expressing their love. I wondered if being abusive was one of them. She would query, “what do I know? You are just fourteen.”
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I was fourteen, but I knew that only beasts beat their wives and Papa was the King of the beasts.
He staggered in as I rocked Osazee in my arms, moving round the compound. I couldn’t help it. I was so disgusted. The stench churned my stomach I had to spit. No sooner had he entered than I heard screams and shouts. He was beating Mama again for all I know was a stupid reason.
The fufu wasn’t smooth. He said he liked his fufu sliding down his throat without friction. The thought that he never brought money for food made me feel like drowning him in an ocean.
In fact, he didn’t release a dime for our upkeep. Everything he earned from his farm was spent on drinks. It felt like mama’s screams cracked the walls of the building.
Papa would beat Mama tonight and apologize tomorrow. That was his disgusting circle, and mama who was hopelessly in love would accept him back. Sometimes, I thought she was just being stupid. When it got to my turn, love wouldn’t make me do its bidding to this extent, I vowed.
I prayed Mama would take courage and walk out of this abusive marriage. If she left, Papa would first die out of hunger than remorse.
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Osazee stretched out his arms and kicked his legs, a motion he wanted to climb down. He had seen something. I followed his gaze. Mama shoved a small bag in her armpit, blood dripped from the side of her head. “Uwa, we have to leave. I am tired.” She grabbed my hand like I would protest. I never thought of it.
We stopped by at her friends place where her wound was dressed. No one questioned her. They knew what had happened. That evening, we were back in grandmother’s house. Granny said what almost made me slap her. She pleaded with her to return to her husband. She said she would bring shame to her. For once, I was proud of mama. It was like papa did to her, something more painful than the usual beating in that room.
I twisted my lips to the left, days later, when Papa came with all his family members to beg. He had blamed it on the devil. It always made me angry anytime he said that. The men begged Mama to return for her children.
A few weeks passed, they appeared again – papa and his kinsmen. “You bit the finger that fed you,” was the only thing she said. What she would tell Osazee, hit him hard on the buttocks and starve him. Her freedom was more glaring when her things were returned, Papa’s bride price inclusive.
Freedom cannot be hidden. It showed in the way Mama talked and walked, how she threw her head back when she laughed, how she pounded the fufu with the firmest of hands, no longer with anger, but with satisfaction, how she whistled and wiggled her waist to the soft beating of the drum in the evenings.
Osazee had been weaned, finally. That day, having no nipple to bite, he bit mama’s finger as she gave him a ball of fufu. Mama slapped his mouth. He screamed, I laughed. At least this time, Mama had got it right.
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