This is what transpired on the morning of my birth, somewhere in Ikom Local Government Area of Cross River State. Don’t ask me how I know, but I do.
My mother was visiting my grandmum. If it is not the same wickedness that made my friend’s mum bring his eight and half months pregnancy back to Nigeria from the UK, when all his siblings were born abroad, what made my mum decide to visit my grandma so close to my EDD? Pure wickedness.
Anyway, there she was, traveling bag in hand hugging my granny goodbye – she was trying to return to Calabar, UCTH where she was registered – when she felt the first labour pangs.
My grandmum dropped the basin she was taking to the stream, put a pot of water on the stove and raced to get a neighbour, Mama Compu, to help. On their return, my grandmum took one look at my mum, threw a mat on the bare floor and asked her to lie down.
A close examination revealed that my mum was already in the advanced stages of labour. (In fact, she had been labouring all night). She was hoping to make it back to Calabar notwithstanding. So she’d kept quiet about it. I tell you, that woman was trying to kill me.
‘You are about to have this baby,’ my granny announced unnecessarily.
‘No I am not. Give me something please, to delay the labour. I know you have the herbs…’
‘You are a silly girl’ hissed my granny. ‘This baby, I can see the head and you are here…’
‘You don’t understand, Mum,’ my mother said, panting, even as she raised her back off the mat involuntarily, wracked by a new wave of the pain she could no longer hide.
‘I cannot have this baby here, in some local place, on a bloody mat.’
‘Yes, the mat will be bloody alright,’ my grandmum said curtly, striding to the kitchen a few feet away. ‘But why not? Do you mean my floor is not good enough…’
‘You don’t understand. This baby will be a blog warrior one day. She can’t very well have been born on a floor in some…’
‘In some what? And what is a blog warrior?’
‘I don’t know. Some kind of blogger.’
‘What is blogger?’
‘Someone who blogs,’ said my mum, trying to remember the breathing exercises in the Lamaze classes she and my father had attended.
‘What do you mean blog?’ Asked Mama Compu, who had been silently gathering the things they would need, swathes of gauze, a knife, several bowls, surgical blades etc.
‘I don’t know.’
‘But you said it.’
‘So what if I did… aaaaahhhhh’
‘Okay okay, relax.’ This was my grandmother. ‘Your baby girl will be here soon.’
‘You keep saying girl. How do you know?’
‘Because of the way your skin is glowing. If it were a boy, you would be very ugly.’
‘Don’t you have that wrong? Well, I will have to take your word for it o, because she kept hiding her genitals, we couldn’t see it in the ultrasound.’
‘Ultrasound? What is that?’ asked Mama Compu.
‘I don’t know. It just sounded good.’
My mum had started sweating.
‘Right.’ Mama Compu again. ‘I sense this will be a very easy birth, so try and remember what you were taught. I am now checking the dilation of your cervix. Mama,’ she turned to my granny, ‘Please hand me that tape rule there.’
‘Tape rule? For what?’ my granny asked, handing Mama Compu a measuring tape.
‘How do you suppose I will measure the dilation of the cervix?’
‘I really don’t think…’
Mama Compu looked at my grandmum and said in a controlled voice, ‘Mama, I know you are older, but please leave it to me.’
‘Mama Compu, I know you are the expert here, but please, I don’t understand…’
‘Mum, you argue too much,’ my mum said from the floor, wiping her brow with her left hand. With the right, she gripped the edge of the mat.
‘Let me argue, my daughter. She may be the expert but I will be looking after this child and the others long after you are gone so abeg abeg abeg…’
There was a sudden silence as everyone realized what she had said.
‘Mummy,’ my mum asked slowly, ‘what did you say?’
‘I’m sorry,’ my granny stammered. ‘I really don’t know where that came from.’ My granny looked about ready to cry.
Mama Compu crossed over to the window and looked outside. The sky, dark only moments earlier was getting gradually bright, blue trading blue for a lighter hue what seemed like every few seconds. Off to the east, it cracked in straight strips, allowing a rich orange glow escape through. She stared up in silence for several long moments, then crossed herself, circled her head twice with her right hand and snapped the thumb and middle finger at the end, shivered, returned to the middle of the room where my mother was still panting.
‘She however will be a very strong girl,’ said my grandmum, frantic to restore the earlier bantering mood.
‘In fact, she will be a feminist.’
‘Feminist!’ My mother shrieked. ‘Which one is that one again now?’ it seemed she too was eager to forget what had just transpired.
‘Well, I can’t say that I know, but she will be a strong woman is all I can tell you.’
‘Well,’ drawled my mother in the brief moment between contractions, ‘I intend to teach her to be strong, so I suppose that’s what you mean.’ A brief pause. ‘I hear the word lesbian. What is that?’
‘I think it means a woman who will be very generous to people not as fortunate as them.’ Supplied my grandmum. She nodded to reassure herself and the others. ‘Yes, a very generous person.’
‘Oh wow.’ My mother’s face lit up, ‘That sounds like my daughter. I hope she grows up to be a great lesbian then.’ She couldn’t stop smiling, but grimaced, as another wave of pain crested and hit.
Mama Compu came forward with the tape measure. As she bent toward my mother’s open legs, my grandmum looked over anxiously from the hot water she was pouring in a bucket.
‘I’m still uncomfortable about this measuring tape business.’
‘Are you so blind?’ yelled Mama Compu, losing her composure for a minute. ‘The girl will be a dressmaker, hence the tape. She will be making clothes for the likes of Chimamanda, Noviolet, Binyavanga, Eghosa, Lola, Ehikhamenor, Jude, Ikhide, Tubosun, Nkem, Olofintuade, Okwy…’
‘Who are those?’ my mother shrieked. ‘Sounds terrible. That Chimamanda name… And what was that Okwy something? Isn’t that thew name of a crazy, jobless lunatic poet?’
‘Believe me, I do not know.’
‘Fair enough. Wouldn’t you say today has been very strange?’ My mum had something on her mind.
‘It has!’ agreed my grand mum. ‘Listen, we have to discuss names.’
‘Mama, you do know I have a husband…’
‘Hey, feminists, remember?’ shouted Mama Compu from the kitchen.
‘Right. I suggest we call her Ese Walter.’ Said my mother.
‘We can only give her a first name.’ Countered my grandmum.
‘But can we do like a middle name that she can annex to her surname?’ asked Mama Compu. She had one ear cocked.
‘Like what?’ asked my mum and grandmum together.
‘Kinda like Jodie-Pitt. Could we try something Dibia? No no, that’s a poor writer. What of Gates? Or Branson.’
‘Those are useless names.’ Objected my grandmum. ‘We are not Oyinbo.’
‘Sorry I forgot. Okay, let’s just stick with our family name. One day she will marry, and get a new name.’
Mama Compu cleared her throat. Hesitantly, ‘I don’t think so.’
‘You don’t think she will marry?’ my mum cocked an eyebrow and tried to stare Mama Compu down.
‘That too. Or change her name. She will go and make like Chimamanda. But then again, you said she will be a lesbian.’
‘You are confusing me.’ She turned to my grandmum. ‘Mum, did you not say a lesbian is a kind person?’
‘I did, didn’t I? Oh I don’t know. I am confused myself. Maybe she will not be a lesbian after all. Oh damn it all to hell. This is difficult.’
‘I know! Okay, let’s forget names for a minute. Shall we take her to church for dedication and baptism?’ asked my mum.
‘Somehow I think not.’
‘Well, baptism and dedication may pass, but if we try first holy communion, it may be the last.’
‘Why would you say so?’
‘Either it turns to blood in her mouth, or she will spit it at the priest and tell him to stop touching the altar boys.’
‘What a weird thing to say. Let’s not. Say, do you suppose she might be an athei…’ Mama Compu choked on the word.
‘Don’t say that word,’ my mum screamed, aghast. ‘I would die if that happens’
‘Oh please. You have always been dramatic.’
Mama Compu came forward again with the tape rule. ‘This is taking longer than I expected.’
My mum sighed. She looked all done in. ‘I think she is updating her Facebook and Twitter. She changed her status update two minutes ago to, “mission to earth activated, all systems loading. Track, find, destroy”. I even saw her picture on Instagram and video on Youtube. She was twerking.’
‘Oh? What’s all that?’ asked my grandmum.
‘I don’t know. Listen, this child, do you think she might be… a little crazy in the head?’ My mum seemed genuinely worried.
‘Stop it girl. She will be all right in the head. It’s just everyone else who wouldn’t. They will constantly say she’s insane, but you and I will know there is a great conspiracy…’
Suddenly Mama Compu shouted, ‘Oya oya, here she comes. Hol’ sontin.’
The moment was upon us and Mama compu was suddenly running back and forth, terribly agitated. She kept dropping and picking things and dropping them again. On the contrary, my grandmum who was panicked in the beginning was now very calm.
My mother was bearing down, her eyes rolling in her head. All of a sudden she screamed, ‘OMG, I almost forgot! My handbag. Give me my handbag.’
‘What do you want your handbag for?’ asked my granny, even as she handed the bag to my mum. My mum gripped the mat with one hand, her teeth gritted, as with practised movements, she rummaged in the bag with her other hand until she found something. As she pulled her hand out of the bag, she dropped her iPhone 5 on the floor beside her. Barely looking, she tapped and swiped until she heard the signature warble of Skype. A beauteous smile spread across her face.
‘I promised her dad I would share this birth with him if we weren’t together. Here Mama, hold the phone. Position the camera. I’m ready.’
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