KITO DIARIES PRIZE FOR WRITING: NOT AT THE WARFRONT

KITO DIARIES PRIZE FOR WRITING: NOT AT THE WARFRONT

Darkness.

Total darkness.

Not a single light in sight. It was like a continuous descent into a bottomless dark pit, and then she stopped falling and slowly crawled up the dark hole till a tiny ray of light was in sight. Her brain registered the presence of pain, not just ordinary pain, but that deep sharp pain that affects all your nerves, not only demanding to be felt but also demanding that you submit to it and pray for death.

“Doctor, she’s responding.”

As Nnenna got closer to the light, those were the first words she heard. Her brain maybe dominated by pain, but a tiny part registered the fact that she was at the hospital and they were trying to help her not submit to the pain and pray for death. Too weak to keep her eyes open, she closed them and used her ears instead. She could hear the sound of metallic items been moved. Someone was hovering over her, forcing her eyes open and holding a pen torch directly above her eyes. Still the light was so far away. Then her skin was pricked with a sharp object, and within seconds, she was falling again but not into oblivion. She was falling into the history of yesterday.

***

“Open your eyes,” Zikora said, daring Nnenna to confront what was right in front of her.

They were standing in front of a large mirror, staring at their reflections, the beauty and the perfection of them. After years of denial, Nnenna could finally see why she couldn’t fight it anymore. She tried everything with Mama, from church to occult rituals, she did everything. Still, her mind and heart were always at war about what was right and what was wrong, what was true and what was false, what was accepted and rejected.

“We’re not the monsters. They are,” Zikora said. “They cannot explain or understand how we feel, so they fight us and call us all sorts of names like they have a right to define us. We can’t let them have that power over us. We’re humans like they are and we deserve to make our own choices.”

She sealed her words in Nnenna’s heart with a kiss on her neck. Tiny electric sparks zinged through Nnenna’s spine as Zikora continued her ministration. Her pupils dilated with every kiss and every touch. It was never this way with her first husband or second. With them, it was a duty; her body was like a log of wood with them, and sometimes, she saw it as her being raped over and over again.

That was her life until she couldn’t take it anymore. She packed her bags and went home to her mother.

 The reflection staring at her now was that of a woman who found pleasure in being touched. It was that of a woman who anticipated a good roll in the sack. Thirty-six years was a very long time for anyone to deny what they feel or who they are. Taking her to the bed with seductive kisses, Zikora took Nnenna to places she had never been in her last two marriages.

***

“This spirit must be a very stubborn one,” Mama said, raising the topic two weeks after Nnenna returned from her second husband’s house with Lotachi, her two-year-old daughter.

Nnenna replied her mother’s words with silence and focused on peeling the melon seeds like they were all that mattered in the world at that moment.

Mama gave her the side eye that was filled with remorse, and then she looked at the child who was sitting in the middle of the parlour, engrossed in the cartoon showing on the television. Shaking her head, she thought of the pain and persecution her daughter and granddaughter would face from the society, in this part of the world where religion and societal morals fought against people like her daughter. They didn’t care if they tried fighting it or if they pretended each day to be people they were not; the moment they decide to let go a little, the society would eat them raw, even going to the extent of laying traps and getting them killed. As if they weren’t humans, as if they wished it upon themselves. Some got lucky and won against the society while others like her daughter were swallowed whole. After two failed marriages, still the spirit existed within her. After one spiritual leader and yet another, evidently nothing had changed.

Mama knew it was no spirit; she noticed the signs right from when Nnenna was little. But like every devoted, church-going Nigerian mother, she termed it to be an evil spirit from the house of her late husband’s family, who despised her and her daughter. The denial helped sometimes to give her hope. She pushed her daughter into the first marriage, which ended within a year with no child. And when the opportunity came for a second marriage, she played the guilt-key on her daughter, saying she hated her and didn’t want to continue her father’s lineage. And it worked. During the first year of her daughter’s second marriage, news came to her that she was pregnant. Mama had gone to the church and given an elaborate thanksgiving to God. But then, she went for the omugwo, and she knew it was only a matter of time before her daughter would come home again.

***

Nnenna’s first marriage was to her childhood friend, Obiora. At the beginning of the marriage, she was filled with hope that Obiora was going to be her savior, someone to deliver her from the evil spirit. But a small part of her knew that that was a lie. The first few months of the marriage were somewhat blissful for Nnenna; Obiora was gentle, kind and patient with her. Unlike every other couple who consummated their marriage on their wedding night, Nnenna pretended to be fast asleep while Obiora took his shower. He didn’t trouble her because he figured that she was exhausted from the elaborate wedding ceremony that was their nuptials. He’d wanted it to be that lavish. Nnenna had wanted something quiet, while Obiora wanted to announce to the whole Ugiri community in Imo state that he was getting married the most beautiful girl in the village, the girl who many suitors desired.

One week into the marriage, Nnenna knew she couldn’t deny her husband her body anymore and caved in to his demand to consummate their marriage. Obiora was a very passionate person and expected the same passion from her. However, all he got was coldness. No matter how hard she tried to fake the smile or passion, she could tell he knew she was acting. He had married her without getting to know her; losing her to any one of her numerous suitors wasn’t a risk he wanted to take. He impressed her with gifts, showered his love on her, but still got nothing. To top it all, they’d been married six months and still, she wasn’t pregnant. His patience began to wear thin. No one needed to tell him that marrying Nnenna was a grave mistake; she didn’t love him and she wouldn’t love him ten years from now if they remained together.

Obiora finally had it when he walked in on his wife and their neighbor, a single woman, in a passionate embrace, kissing. His ego was bruised, his pride as a man damned. Two weeks later, Nnenna was in her mother’s house without a husband.

After avoiding the prospect of marriage for three years, Nnenna’s ears were close to bursting from Mama’s nagging. She recoiled at the thought of going to another pastor or herbalist as Mama was insistently suggesting. She turned all her focus to her work at the bank, but coming home to Mama’s nagging was slowly driving her into depression. Then three years passed and she met Nosa, a customer at the bank who always preferred her attending to him. At first, she tried to ignore his advances but he persisted by making himself known to Mama. And before Nnenna knew it, she was in the wedding registry saying her vows to him. Mama won again.

Marriage to Nosa was bittersweet. It turned out that he only wanted her for children, specifically a male child. His two ex-wives had female children for him, and because of that, he sent them away. Nosa was that typical African man who only saw the usefulness of a male child to continue his lineage. Unlike Obiora, he wasn’t passionate and didn’t care about her needs in bed or emotionally. Nnenna felt like a horse ridden for the sake of breeding, and no matter how many times she complained to Mama, she got the same advice from her: Endure, for marriage is not an easy journey.

Finally, the Heavens blessed Nnenna’s womb with a child. But it wasn’t a son. When her daughter, Lotachi looked at Nnenna for the first time, Nnenna finally felt like her life had purpose. She felt the strings of happiness in her heart pulling her face into a smile, a smile that reached her eyes and touched her soul. She finally recognized her responsibility to someone else, this little baby, and resigned herself to staying on in her husband’s house, for every child needs both their parents. Her happiness was not as important as the presence of her daughter’s father in her life.

Nosa didn’t feel the same way. He simply wasn’t interested in being a father to Lotachi.

Two months after giving birth to Lotachi, Nosa began riding Nnenna again. When Lotachi became a year old and there was no other baby on the way, hell finally broke loose. Nosa started keeping late nights, returning home drunk, beating her with barely any provocation, and moving around town with numerous women. There is so much a person can take, and after a particular night when she was both beaten and raped by her husband, Nnenna was in front of her mother’s house with Lotachi. The bruises on her face told her mother that she was done. Mama took Lotachi from her hands and led them both into the house. A week later, Nosa sent a truck-full of their belongings and divorce papers, which Nnenna was more than happy to sign.

***

Meeting Zikora was like finding an oasis in the middle of a desert after days of walking with a thirst that was sure to kill you. Nnenna could tell they were going to go a long way when Zikora walked into the bank where she worked. Her sense of humour was daring; she didn’t bother to soften her sarcasm to please anyone around her. She was blunt, unapologetic and yet, she was kind. The following weeks after their first meeting, Zikora made sure that whenever she came to the bank, she cashed her cheque or deposited money at Nnenna’s teller point. The attraction between them was something beyond the physical. Nnenna’s senses became attuned to Zikora’s presence. Immediately she walked into the bank, Nnenna didn’t need to look up to know, for she knew that Zikora would be standing in front of her in a short while.

On a particular Thursday, the bank was busier and more packed than usual; people kept filing in and out. And yet, her senses notified her when Zikora walked into the bank. She wasn’t alone this time though; holding hands with her was a tall woman whose name Nnenna later found to be Lukhanyiso. It was clear to her that there was something these two shared, what with the way they looked at each other and the fact that Lukhanyiso occasionally took Zikora’s hand. Nnenna felt her heart break and she intended to go home that day to mourn a lover that was never hers – only to see Zikora in the parking lot, waiting by her car. Her heart fixed itself back into place, and after that night, the ship sailed smoothly, both of them captain, the need for each other growing the more time they spent together.

Zikora was a special kind of woman. She was defiant by nature and an activist for different causes, from feminism to social activism. But the one closest to her heart was the LGBTQ community. Zikora defined the human sexuality as being limitless. She always insisted that as long as there was a consenting partner, all was good. She was the director of a group that pushed back at violence against gay people. They had their meetings at a bar owned by one of their members, and it became a second home to Nnenna. She was finally among people who understood something she had denied for years. Most of all, she had a lover and a companion. It was like she could finally breathe without fear of taking in too much air. For the time she knew happiness was when she met her daughter for the first time.

Now, with her lover, in the midst of these people, Nnenna felt a happiness that made her feel untouchable, like she was floating and that was where she needed to be.

***

The light wasn’t so far away now. It was right above her head, and so was a ceiling too. The good thing about this ceiling was that it wasn’t on fire like the last ceiling she was under before she passed out into oblivion. Zikora stood by her side and her mother with Lotachi in her arms on the other side. Both her mother and daughter were asleep.

“Did we win?” Nnenna croaked, each word uttered painfully.

Zikora took her hands, placing sweet kisses on each finger.

“We are here, my love,” she said, “one doing better than the other. We knew what we were doing would make a lot of people angry, but we did it anyway. We may not have cleansed the world of the monster that thinks because it doesn’t understand us, it can end us. But we saved a few. So now, we must retreat, not to surrender but to regroup and re-strategize. We succeed in putting the word out there that we’re humans and those that persecute us are the monsters, and it will continue to spread. As for now, we must heal our wounds and gather our strength to fight tomorrow for who we are and what we believe in.”

Zikora gripped Nnenna’s hand tight, like she could pass her belief, as if to communicate her zeal through to her by doing that.

But Nnenna’s hand went slack in her lover’s grasp. Her withdrawal was evident in her eyes and in the way she winced with every small movement she made. She knew the fight would never end, but the physical fight wasn’t for her. She would turn to her pen after she has healed. She would instead share stories of the different women she met during her time in the movement. She had to do this now, because it wasn’t just her in the picture. There was Lotachi to think about.

The fight would surely continue, but Nnenna was no longer at the warfront.

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  1. Mandy
    January 26, 00:31 Reply

    Everybody has a place in the fight for LGBT equality and the recognition of our rights. Warriors come in different shapes and forms.

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    There’s a satisfaction that knowing you are fighting in the war gives, even if you’re not at the war front.

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