It felt surreal watching four angry women approach you while you had a child in your hand who was drenched in tears, his nose ran. You had only slapped him but he was crying alarmingly like a rubber bullet had been shut at him. This almost irritated you.
You felt betrayed, and you couldn’t explain why it was betrayal you felt.
Mama Chioma was ahead of other women who were approaching. Only then did you realize that then ten-year old Obiora whom you had slapped was her fourth child. “Chinedu what is this?” her voice had never sounded so sour, arms shook like it had a life of its own, she quickened her pace towards you. And very much like Patience Ozokwor in her rueful-but-revengeful mood, there seemed to be a shadow under her eyes “tell me it is not true biko nu. You were slapping my child under my very eyes” she said, stooping low to read your eyes and her child’s. Your lips were pressed together in silence.
“Tell me it is not true that you were slapping my child Chinedu” she untied her wrapper from above her breast and tied it around her waist. Now the other three women had gathered around you, it felt like a sugar-to-ant relationship. You were to be consumed for breakfast, their sharp stares seemed to perforate holes into your skin.
“You must kill me today Brother Chinedu” the little boy on noticing his mother’s anger, began to scream although you had taken your hands off him. Now he held on to your fists shouting “kill me, kill me, finish me” bending his head against your left arm like a charging ram. You would wash a mighty leather slap across his face if those women had not enclosed you. “Pounding” was the word that spoke to you at that moment, you bit your teeth against each other, he must be really stupid.
“Oya leave him osiso” Mama Chioma hoisted Obiora onto her back “We will make you slap him back today. He’s not the one to beat you, mbanu” she said, her breath was noisy like she had eaten too much pepper and was breathing through her mouth.
An angry defensiveness creeped into your tone when you said “haba, how can you do that?”
“It’s like you don’t know what’s up” another Igbo woman said, she pronounced it “woozuop”, her voice like the young half-dressed women that sang choruses for Fela Kuti on stage. You didn’t know her name, she seemed new in the neighborhood.
“Madams” your voice caught in your throat at this moment. You searched their eyes for understanding. It wasn’t only mother hens that were spontaneously and stupidly protective of their children, it was mother-everything.
“I can explain” your tongue was a little heavy in your mouth as you started to rise, straightening your rumpled shirt. Your eyes had fallen on Mama Chioma’s watery fat arms tattooed with stretch marks “I am Madam….sorry” you weren’t sure who was speaking, the world was spinning. “Your children offended me”
“-what did they do?” She cut you short, asked Obiora to leave her presence. You were about to begin your story but your voice was lost in the woeful shouts of the other women “jobless maaan, child abuser, toilet abuser, wulululu” they clapped into their mouths.
One of them pulled you by the scruff of your shirt, your belt pulled by another hand. Then you heard a cock crow tear across the compound as if to usher you into the tragedy that was about to happen. But someone had just called you toilet abuser, so they knew. They knew, everybody now knew, this was the ‘second coming’ for you, you could hear the trumpets of destruction and rapture in your head already, you felt faint. With hands held up you tried to ward the women off as they were stretching their hands, making choices of where to slap you. Your scalp had received two feminine slaps already.
“Your children have pornography tendencies” you finally shouted, the women fell silent and left your shirt. But your front pocket had come off at the seams; it dangled like a loosed tongue.
A trepid-looking woman with big breasts that had downward slope seemed particularly concerned. She had a strong churchy hair-do: tangles of black thread that strongly snaked into one another like stubborn branches, the tightness pulled her shiny forehead to catch the rays of the sun “Oh my Master Father of Abraham and Jacob and Isaac” she said evenly as if to cry, chest heaving.
“God forbid!” Mama Chioma said, snapping her fingers at you. She invited the other women to be calm and listen to you. But first she shooed the kids scattered across the compound to go into their flats, assisted by the other women.
“Chike and Ekene…” you said
“-Mechieonugi.This children should finish going inside the house first. This is adult talk” Mama Chioma snapped. She grabbed you by the wrist and led you to a bench that lined a fence which was dotted by green algae, near the public tap.
“My husband has gone to work already. He would have harvested one of your teeth” another woman was still charging, facing the sun as if addressing nobody. You glanced at her as your lips turned down in a sneer. You wanted to announce it here and now that you had seen her bring a strange broad-muscled man to the house when her husband travelled to the village, and had sent Ekene to buy her a condom. But the situation at hand was complicated enough.
“What nonsense k’inako?” Mama Chioma was impatient. She smelled of sleep as she drew her face close enough for her breath to fan yours. “You don’t have to enter into his mouth Madam, take it easy” another woman said.
“This man is only insulting our children and us. He is not telling us the truth” the trepid-looking churchy woman said. If peacocks could speak (likely in foghorn and fat sounds), they spoke like her.
“I am trying to draw a parallel between teenagers peeping into toilets, and having a wish to watch pornography ma”
“God forbid” Mama Chioma snapped her fingers again at you, her face crumpled. You wanted to rearrange her face with your hands and tell her not to look so horrible.
“Ekene and Chike were watching me popooing in the toilet”
“Hiebey!” Mama Chioma quipped, hands thrown to her chest.
“Can you imagine! It was so painful that I almost began to cry. I’ve never gone through such a thing before. I almost thought it was pile” You felt out of place, you shouldn’t have told them in the first place, even in so much details. But it was the only way to save yourself from this mess and get to your place of work. You were ten minutes late now.
“Mama Chioma this was the ordeal I went through. Ekene and Chike were peeping me in the toilet, mmuwa”, you didn’t mention Kemi’s name.
To your surprise Mama Chioma’s face stretched into a tight smile that said “I understand”. She nodded knowingly. You were confused.
“So you are the one he was telling my husband about” she said. Mama Chioma who had been concerned about neighbors who had similar experience, knew enough not to laugh.
“Adim very very sorry for this disgrace” she said, her head shook in a remorseful bow, she reached out to take your hand in hers. “But you shouldn’t have beaten my child, Chinedu. You should have gone after Ekene and Chike instead-”
“-E-ehn just hold it there” Ekene’s mother cut in, boiling with hands raised like a traffic warder, to silence Mama Chioma.
“Is his buttocks the most confidential thing in this world? If he had survived a car accident and had injury on his buttocks, will the doctors not open it and plaster it? All church prayer groups who visit the hospital will see it as well okwia?” both her hands had been on her laps
“Oh yes” the other women concurred except Mama Chioma.
“People forget nakedness when tragedy strikes” the trepid-looking woman added. You gave her an angry glance, she shrunk into silence. The impossible thought of unscarfing all the women and scratching their foreheads against one another like railway stones came to you. Your phone beeped aloud. It was a missed call from your manager at the office, and five missed calls from Kemi. As expected, an sms appeared immediately.
“Baby check your facebuk page, I hope you will find a place in your hat to 4give me. I want the hole world to know that am sorry, that I love you like kilode.” You brightened your phone’s screen and peered at the sms again.
“I hope no problem?” Mama Chioma asked, perhaps she had noticed a line of surprise and worry drawn across your forehead
“No problem” you said. You refreshed a new page on your phone, seven notifications on facebook.
You had been tagged with a photo by Kemi: a screenshot of the sms conversation you had had with her the previous day, the last sentence being: “We are finished. How could you have been watching me shit, with two small boys? Kemi where did I go wrong?” You refreshed a web page because you couldn’t believe your mind.
She had added a caption that read: Please help me beg my baby to forgive me. I know I am offendful, e sanu mi” and it had received forty three comments, your eyes became blurry, tongues a little heavy.
You gripped the phone with all your fingers, look up to the sky and shouted “Jehova God” with tears in your voice. The phone dropped, your hands tightened into fists. Three of the four women sprang from the bench and came to gather around you again, led by Mama Chioma. They seemed so concerned and worried. The trepid-looking one mopped in a distance, you couldn’t hear what she was muffling because everything felt mute and distant.
To be continued next Saturday
Read Episode One
Anthony Dim works as content supervisor for Afreecan Read literary community, Kwa-Zulu natal, South Africa. He writes fiction and non-fiction. He lives in Marianhill.