Just like every 12-year old, not a lot of things made much sense to Nneka[1].  But the last words of her grandmother somehow never left her.   She held unto them like survivors to a life-raft.

"When in trouble, just pray.  When in doubt, just pray.  When you have nowhere else to go, just pray."

And she prayed.  But sadly, they never worked.  Prayers didn't quell her shame as she stood in front of the class, tears streaming down her face.  Prayers didn't stop the snickers and hushed whispers emanating from her classmates.  Prayers didn't wipe the look of undiluted horror from the face of her English Literature teacher, Mrs Okafor[2], as she stared, mouth agape.  Prayers didn't stop the steady trickle of blood winding down her thighs, down her legs.  Prayers didn't stop the pain every night her dad came into her room.  Prayers.  Didn't.  Work.

Sage epigrams begotten from the sapient musings of old philosophers always sound good to the ears.  "Man is the author of his own fortunes and misfortunes", indeed.  But what mortal sin might a 12-year old girl, grossly ill-equipped to handle the harsh realities of life, have committed to deserve being condemned to an existence of horror, torment and exploitation?

Some might say Mr Chima Ubueze[3] was not always a monster.  It might be even be argued that his turning point was the death of his wife twelve years prior, which triggered a mental, physical, and moral decline; a slow burn quickly fuelled by the constant pathological imbibing of hard liquor.  But is it not true that tragedies never really create new monsters out of men, but only serve to awaken the latent beast that is deeply hidden in some of us?

Mr Chima always wanted a son.  A son to grow up and inherit his large yam barns and carry on the great family name.  And to twist the knife in the back further, Nneka looked like her late mother.  What would have been regarded as a good thing by most individuals only served to remind Mr Chima of his loss.  The child that brought her mother death in order to live, walking around his house, eating his food, sleeping under his roof.  Sometimes he wondered to himself: If my beloved was destined to die from childbirth, why must it be at the hands of a vagina-wielding creature? And then: God must really hate me.

The first time, it was his fingers.  Two of those long crooked phalanges, to be specific, hardened from years of farm work.  She must have been eight years old then.  He had stumbled in that fateful evening, bottle in hand - the more expensive green bottle that usually signified that there would be no money for supper.  The stinging slaps were usually more and worse whenever he was in this state, so she had fled to her room. Before long, he was at the door yelling.

"Open this door right now", he said. "Open this door before I break it down, you worthless soul.”

Hands shaking, she obliged.  He barged in, brushing her aside, and sat on the mat before launching into his usual tirade: that a girl made for a completely useless legacy, that she was a murderer and that all murderers go to hell. These words were like a daily ritual, they hardly made her cry anymore.

But this time, he did not stop.

Pulling her towards him on the mat, he told her how she had become a big girl now, and since she killed her mum, it was time she started performing the duties her mum would have performed were she alive.  She remembered being confused because she had already started performing chores as best as she could.  But the only 'chore' that her dad really cared about involved her panties around her ankles.  The callous feeling of his fingers being crudely shoved into her 'peepee' and the burning sensation she felt were not things to be forgotten in a long time.

She felt pain like she never felt before, felt a warm fluid trickle down her thighs, felt a scream tickle her throat.  But she couldn't scream.

He muttered dark words, telling her that if she screamed or told anyone about this, her mother's spirit would be mad at her for not being a good daughter.  So she bit down on her lip as hard as she could, with tears and blood, bearing the pain from her father and wishing that she could be protected by a mother she never really had.

At the core of her soul, she always had a minute hope that things would get better.  But when her father escalated the abuse the next night he came to her room, that little light was snuffed out by the cold breeze of despair.  For a time, her grandmother came to stay at their house, which provided a brief moment of reprieve.  However, the poor woman did not last six months before her son’s toxic anger with the world forced her out, and Nneka’s torment resumed.

The pain never stopped but she grew to handle it better, and learnt fast that, if she closed her eyes and imagined her mother's smiling face – gleaned from a scuffed, long-ago photograph – she didn't feel like screaming as much.

But last night, she screamed.  It was different this time; the pain was too much to bear.  Her father had lost all his liquor money on a bad bet, and he was in a foul mood.  Despite the ongoing abuse she had suffered, Nneka didn't truly know much about sex other than it hurt like hell and made her bleed.  But she knew enough to know that he had reached a new level of sadism, and in the morning, she could hardly walk.

She wished she had 'sweets' in her pockets.  She would have offered Mrs Okafor some.  Maybe that would stop her favourite teacher from crying, from dragging her to the principal's office, screaming to every teacher along the way to call the police.  Sweets never really made pain go away, but they could make you feel better.  Every time he touched her, he would give her some sweets: two of them.  Orange-colored.

She prayed.  She prayed for the pain to stop, for the trickle of blood to dry up.  She prayed to her mother's spirit to forgive her for not being careful and discreet enough.  She prayed for her father, who she still loved despite all, to be safe and happier, so that he would be nicer and stop hurting her.  She prayed, for her father.  Her father, who, because he lost a wife, made her one.  Her father, who, because she lacked a phallus, put his into her.  Her father, the monster.

 

[1] Names have been changed for legal reasons

[2] Names have been changed for legal reasons

[3] Names have been changed for legal reasons

 

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