Nkolika is just a teen in Nigeria when her life starts to change. Like most females in her African nation, her rights are very limited, and decisions are made for her. One such choices is female mutilation.
Before she becomes the powerful woman she would grow to be, Nkolika sold oranges. As an eyewitness of the horrors bestowed upon females by savage traditions, haunted by the memories of lost friends, and personal trauma, she fights back. Not wilting beneath a patriarchal society, through the internet, peaceful demonstrations, nongovernmental organizations and the press, she becomes an influential figure in the fight for feminism.
To resolve gender inequality issues, she battles the repetitive indoctrination that females are inferior to men. She remains a self-esteem dynamo who revitalizes female confidence. Not only does Nkolika thrive in her male-dominated society, she teaches other women to do so.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.53(d)|
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Who knows tomorrow?
Barefooted, arms clasped to a jagged tray, I walked downhill sniffing at my clothes. "Buy Orange," was my customary cry, but today I was soundless, hungry, and angry. I strode past the dumps of zinc and cement, avoiding the gutters that housed mosquitoes that played bad music by my ears at night. I had urinated slightly on my pants because the sugarcane man threw a stick at me for disobeying the "Do naT UriNate signpost." Now giant flies pursued me for puffs of stale air.
I greeted the woman who sold stockings that sagged down new ropes. Our culture surpassed viewing masqueraders at the Oye and dancing in festivities. Umuokolo natives learn respect from infancy. It was not strange to kneel before seniors.
"See legs long and slim." The saleswoman's outspokenness was familiar. "Or is it her supple body, so agile that, like a lioness, she can twist herself into any pose?"
The men by her stood like trees.
"Her mouth slants in soft arrogance even if it is at rest," said a drinker who everyone knew believed that his wife was a worthless loafer.
"Flat slippers decorate your feet," added a boy who disrespected his mother.
The saleswoman nodded to my greeting, soaped her son's hair, and wetted the curls into fatheaded foam with water in a little orange bucket. Mama had no child whose hair I could soap, no boy to end the rumor she could not preserve Papa's family tree. But Mama was not Chukwu whom Father Mathias said gave sons to the barren, and he held Life in His hands like long pieces of chalk. And Chukwu, we supposed, was a corrupt pronunciation of Chi-Ukwu, our God Almighty.
Humming, I trekked down the filthy path that turned mucky with the slightest shower. It led to Mama's rickety shop that was Shade. Men winked as I passed, and they weighed my gracefulness revered like the green anara leaves we plucked and ate unwashed. Those fishing for compliments called me "a beautiful maiden in comely bridal gown" 'til my admirer, Titus, handed me a letter. As I freed my grip on the peacock-blue envelope, he said: "Your fingers cluster delicately like a bunch of African daisies." And by evening, his letters said how blessed he was to see my pink lips that shamed those who wore makeup, my straight nose enough for my face, and my brown eyes, so soft and friendly. And as time passed, I saw firsthand how helpless a man is with a female he loves.
The sun felt warm. I imagined it lighting my fair skin to fine-spun yellow as I strolled through Obi-Abani, the suburban town where we lived. The gently sloping hills and the sparse rainforests that pelted the rural roads were spectacular. The fertile soil and the copious showers perfected farming.
In the dry season, all females, aged or just old enough to carry a pot, left their houses and took water by hand to the farms. The boys fled to the cities. Older women survived as basket weavers and embroider of Akwaete fabrics sold in the markets on Tuesdays.
Obi-Abani had its downside too. It lacked telephone lines, fire service, and health centers. There were few trees.
By the police station, a woman rolled on the soil and wailed: "My son is not a thief. His father lied about him because of the new TV that I bought."
Sand matted her hair and colored her bronze. As she rolled on the ground, I imagined a burial mat that glued dust to the skin 'til the corpse merged with the mat and was earth. Could buying a new TV generate such trouble? A lorry loomed later with noise and filth.
"I would shoot you," shouted a stone-faced policeman.
"Shoot me!" The woman hit her chest, yellow eyes bulging. "My son may have his father's trickery, but he is not a thief."
The policeman climbed downstairs and lifted a gun. The weapon did not scare me, but the woman's swift movement did. I ran a little and stopped. If I were her, I would not run. Kaeto's uncle who cleaned the police station told us the guns lacked bullets.
I shouldered my way through the elephant grass up to two-feet high and stood by the woman. Agony twisted her like braids. Perhaps she wondered: What would we eat tonight? How does a female survive this life? When would you intervene on my behalf?
"She is right. Her son may not be a thief." It wasn't my business yet I came to the woman's defense because I knew female agony. It stayed on Mama's face in contrast to the dimples on her cheeks. The policeman ignored the sad lady and gazed at me in childlike wonder, as if things went well, I would be his girlfriend someday. He turned his back on me for a while and addressed the man who stood behind him.
"You bribe us and charge us of bribery," he said.
The men walked up and down and faced each other. I watched my dirty feet while the policeman tucked the payoff into his dark stockings. A rip in them started where his tired shoe ended. If not for the sugarcane man, I would not run so fast that cut my slipper. It was silly of me to have run in the first place since I knew of his filthy romance with the housemaid right under his wife's nose.
The man thanked the policeman and fled. I knew that he feared the divisional police officer or DPO would appear, and he did not want to be around when it happened.
The policeman swung his gun as he came. His uniform was soiled and rumpled, and his shirt collar turned up. Through the slit in his stockings, the crisp money showed. The gun was empty, so I stood my ground like a stubborn weed against a new hoe.
"Is she your mother?" He picked oranges from my tray.
"It is silly to hear talk from only one side." I handed him a knife. He wiped the sweat on his temples with a handkerchief and blinked as if the saltiness stung his eyeballs. "My father lies against me sometimes."
The policeman squeezed orange juice into his mouth and spat out the seeds. People crowded the trees under which the heavy-hearted woman raised dust like Nne Muo, our mother of masqueraders. Her anguish made me think of the beans seedlings I had planted in waterproof bags. They had belonged to my friend, Nneoma, who died last circumcision season, just before we planted new yam.
"Why would anyone lie about a juicy girl like you?" The policeman went crazy. "Your loveliness is blinding."
I moved back. The policeman came forward and brushed a hand over my breasts.
I spat out in disgust at a complete human waste on a half-burnt newspaper. Such sights were familiar to police stations full of men who waited on women to clean up their mess.
I steadied my tray, bent, and scooped sand. A broken bottle cuts my palm and left a small wound that did not bleed right away. I licked it slowly, like a small lump of salt. Once the policeman kept his gun, I tossed sand in his eyes.
"Never try rubbish on me, idiot." I was so livid that I did not care if he wore a uniform or not.
I waited for a blow, kick, something to make me bunch together in a corner. But the policeman was motionless because of the policewoman who stood two heads taller than he did. She had joined the police force to erase gender disparity, and she let the females bail people out despite the prohibition on that.
The DPO had confronted her on the matter twice, and she held that because the men forced their financial responsibilities on the woman, she, by her duties, had equal rights as he did. More so, now, hunger castrated the men and masculinized the females, some of whom discarded wrappers and wore trousers up to the belly.
I swung my hips proudly as Reverend Sister Mary passed with a green chaplet between her fingers. Then I bent in greeting. A shy hand emerged from her pocket and made the sign of the cross. Her nails were unpainted and broken at the tips maybe because the nun prayed so often for the telephone wiring of Obi-Abani.
Father Matthias had told selected male churchgoers that a phone company would soon wire Obi-Abani. Papa and the female worshippers never got that piece of news. Papa hardly attended Mass. In most of the Father's sermons, the women seemed gossips. Mama's prayer group members shared the opinion that no one gave Papa the update because of our lowly financial status. I did not care how the gossip ran since we could not afford a telephone after Obi-Abani town was wired, and perhaps Umuokolo.
Umuokolo was one twenty-four village in Abani local government area. At first, there were three villages, Umuokolo on the north, Igbo-Ukwum on the south, and Umuyim on the west. But once cassava came from Brazil to our part of the world, the farms needed more hands. Ambitious farmers left the villages and settled by us slowly forming the twenty-one communities.
Umuokolo, the original settlement, held the traditions of the Obi Abani people supreme. Just as they held ram-headed Ikenga, our chi or deity. Our neighbors east and west of the Niger who now denied being part of us worshiped the divinities too.
Even with the infiltration of Christianity into our district, Ikenga oversaw our personal luck. We worshiped other deities like Alusi Ogu, the god of war, and Agu, the god who protected the family. Most of the other villages rejected these divinities although we were a composite whole from one ancestor.
Female circumcision was a tradition the Umuokolo natives never compromised. Daughters, regardless of social status, got cut and yet, our Obi-Abani counterparts never bothered girls with nonsense.
Obi-Abani natives were mostly cassava, yam, and red pepper farmers. Or traders in concrete, housewares, and jewelry. Just an educated minority became civil servant doctors, teachers or bankers.
In the farms, the men tended yam and cassava produce that yielded bulk cash. Red pepper farming belonged to females because of its perishability. In trade, the high-rent shops belonged to male traders, some of whom sat on lavish wooden stools and wooed little girls.
The women sold wares on floor spaces. They could not afford the rent imposed on the shops by men. The unvarnished truth of the elderly affirmed that Obi-Abani lost its luster to the cutthroat competition of the male tree cutters, the dense traffic caused by the business, and the steep price rises.
Mama fried food over a wood fire. I put down my tray with a bang that splashed sand into it. Beads of sweat made her skin glisten. She scratched her back as if pricked with pins and needles and told me, her ada: "Hand over the cash for the day."
"Here Mama." First daughters obeyed their mothers.
I turned my head gently to ease the tension in my neck and stretched my aching back until my hipbones clicked. Mama held my shoulder and counted the money as though I blamed her for poor sales.
"In our early courtship days, Emeka gave me money to visit the clinic if I was sick." Sorrow swamped her eyes.
And yet, the smallest toddler on the street knew that men were no good if you marry them. Nothing positive came from such talk.
"You shouldn't ask him for money." I couldn't say more because the ground spun. I rolled like a coin on the cement floor and toppled over, face down, on the soft soil.
"In life, things don't always go as planned." Mama's smile had the bitterness of the onugbu leaf. "That is why life is life. Why children are named Onyemaechi."
I flattened out the currency in her belly pouch and upturned the bean cakes with a fork. I was fourteen, the first of two girls. Mama was expecting, and the rumor was that she would end up the woman who rendered a man childless by bearing only girls.
Papa's younger brother, Okwuchi, argued that the marriage was a failure since she could not unite the kindreds with sons. He told passersby that Mama conceived children like the elephant, and he blamed grandfather for Papa's misfortune.
"Papa failed to call us immortal names like Ikemefuna or Afamefuna," he said. "He rejected meaningful names as he did the idea that we have personal gods that guide each of us."
Grandfather had dismissed his personal god too, the Ogbu branch and the grasses. Despite his father's warnings, he did not visit his maternal grandparents to need the spiritual authority to plant the tree in his compound. So he gave his sons mortal names, cursed labels responsible for their marital misfortunes.
Mama took the stories to the Father. He reassured her with the biblical accounts of Rachael and Jacob and the Shunammite woman blessed with a son through the zealous Prophet Elisha. Father Mathias believed that Chukwu tested Mama's faith in Him by withholding a boy from her.
"I am hungry." I eyed Mama's glistening temple.
"There is food to eat." Mama sorted out a pile of old newspapers.
"Why can't we cook a delicious pot of soup like others?" Mama's nonchalance made me furious. I must make her mad too. "Yesterday Mama Kaeto cooked okazi soup with huge pieces of the ejuna in it. Even small Ngozika ate two large pieces of the snail. Why are we different?"
Mama hit at my conscience. "Emeka's concubines empty his pocket to start small trades for themselves. No one helps me. Your whole upkeep is in my head. I wish I could do better."
"Show me the new drier." I saw it now. Poor people prioritized money. Yes, the appliance surpassed a pot of soup with ejuna in it.
The drier resembled a basket with hands crafted with woods from the oil palm tree. We hung it by the fireplace and preserved fish and ogili in it. Mama bought it from the traders who carried goods in pickup trucks. They came on Tuesdays to sell foodstuffs and handicrafts. Later, a handful bought zinc sheets to fix tattered roofs, and the men who eyed chieftaincy titles purchased flashy textiles to adorn themselves in festivities.
The more ambitious men leased their sons to the learned civil servants who desired errand boys. In time, the teens sought greener pastures in the cities. The sun scorched their sisters in the farms until they found dependable husbands to sponsor their brothers' schooling in tertiary institutions.
"Tomorrow we would grind cocoyam slices in mills and sell the fine powder to the elite who preferred it to garri. Maybe after months of toiling, we would repair the leaking roof that keeps Emeka outdoors." Mama called a passing cobbler who clashed the handle of his tool box together. As he took my torn slipper, she said: "I would visit Sam's shop tonight. He hired Solo, who understands sickness from a distance."
Solo, was a tall and skeletal boy, almost my age. He had eyes like the eagle and a head not quite as bald. "Why reject the dogonyaro Papa brought home from the village?"
Mama turned her face away. Perhaps she did not want me to see the misery on it. "The neem bark has lost its potency to the soil ruined by the male farmers who toil for the love of girls," she said.
My guess was far more dramatic. When mosquitoes drove away the white man from our country, he almost left with his fertilizer. But the greedy farmers fought him with sticks 'til he left it behind with a curse.
Mama sneezed as the firewood smoke rose. The skin under her eyes was wrinkled. I said: "Bless you," a custom that followed each sneeze. Except that Papa would have pulled my ear to warm redness if I said that before him.
I told my younger sister, Odera, about the ear pulling. She said: "Were we boys, he wouldn't pull our ears."
I had brushed Odera's arm. "I believe you," I said.
Mama sneezed again. "What do I owe the spirits?"
"The Father condemns faithlessness," I said. "Why ask him to pray for your recovery if you would buy chloroquine from Sam's shop?"
A man unbuckled his belt under a soursop tree. "Who urinates on sand without kicking soil over it?" Mama condemned him.
"It may have slipped his mind." After night prayers, just before I turned off the lantern, I too would ask Chukwu for pardon.
Mama read my reluctant remorse with pains. "It is better to ask the Virgin to intercede on one's behalf before nightfall. It is risky to carry sin about."
"The Father said we could confess sins in church before Holy Communion." Anytime Mama's and the Father's opinions conflicted, I settled the fallout by picking the belief most fitting for me.
The dried-out puddles left ugly crevices. Fishes had fled to wetter grounds. Earlier in the year, it had rained heavily. A poorly built house collapsed and killed a woman and a child. The landlord, a man in his late fifties, was rumored to belong to a secret cult that fed on human blood. According to hearsay, the plot succeeded because females are soft-spirited. Unlike the males whose stubborn spirit cannot drop from Life's tree with the ease of peeling overripe pawpaw or plucking ripe mangoes.
Mama smoothed out her old apron that couldn't keep stains off her dress. "We need canopies and metal seats for the female circumcision ceremonies."
I hated being forced to obey a dying tradition. "The other villages do not force harm on defenseless girls," I said.
Mama's eyes were huge fireballs that scalded my skin. "Do not argue like the sheep," she said in Igbo.
Just then, Mama Kaeto came and requested a change.
"Here." Mama exchanged her smaller bills for its bigger money equivalent. She counted out the cash carefully and took five naira from her.
"Thank you." Mama Kaeto ran off as if she had webbed feet. Sweat stuck her green blouse to her back. She rarely washed it or any of her clothing for she was too busy fending for her family.
Onyinye fried foods near us.
Excerpted from "Ifenne"
Copyright © 2017 Jill Okpalugo-Omali.
Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 ONYEMAECHI Who knows tomorrow?, 1,
2 NNENNA Father's mother, 20,
3 CHISOM God is with me, 38,
4 CHIDALU Thank you, God, 49,
5 CHINEGENTI God is listening, 57,
6 NNAMDI My father lives, 64,
7 UGO Pride, 73,
8 CHINONYELUM God is with me, 88,
9 IFEABIA Light has come, 98,
10 NDUBUISI Life is above everything else, 113,
11 UCHECHUKWU God's mind, 126,
12 OZIOMA Good news, 138,
13 IFEOMADINIRU Good things are in the future, 143,
14 AMALACHUKWU God's mercy, 150,
15 KOSISOCHUKWU However, God wants it, 156,
17 MESOMACHUKWU Good things of God, 167,
18 ARINZECHUKWU Thank God, 178,
19 OLUCHUKWU God's Handiwork, 193,
20 IFEJIKA What I have is greater, 203,
21 IFEANYICHUKWU Nothing is beyond God, 213,
22 UDOCHUKWU God's peace, 221,