It was a cold night; the sky was void of stars. It seemed to her like even the stars understood the magnitude of the occasion. The darkness seemed to have come with a cloud of absolute silence, only broken occasionally by the whimpering of young girls.
Nkechi sat on the only vacant stool in the waiting room area, she couldn’t put all her weight on it because it was missing a leg. It was uncomfortable but it was better than standing. By the time she had arrived, the place was packed full of girls. She seemed to be the oldest girl there, some of the girls turned and surveyed her with a smirk. She wondered how they could manage to be condescending at such a time.
Looking around she was relieved to find that she didn’t recognize any of the girls there, for some reason that comforted her. She wanted to be alone with her thoughts. It was finally time, “do it and get it over with” she kept telling herself. She was here now, counting down the seconds till it was over. Convincing herself to go through with it had not been easy, the hurt and the loss she had felt from her first visit to this place was forever etched in the walls of her heart. The last time she was with her, she had watched Okwuchi her twin sister die.
They had come here together three years ago for what should have being their introduction into womanhood. The prospects of becoming “full women” excited them and they had anticipated it in the beginning. They had always known that there was going to be a bit of pain involved but they didn’t mind. Everyone agreed that the pain was their ticket to womanhood and so it was to be accepted in good faith. But towards the final moments leading up to the actual ibi ugwu, fear and hesitation started to creep up Nkechi’s spine. Okwuchi had noticed this and decided to go in first in an attempt to pacify her, she was always the brave one.
That would be the last time she would see her sister alive. Even now nearly three years later, Nkechi still heard the screams and saw the blood most nights when she closed her eyes.
Everything had happened so fast that night, each time she tried to replay the events of that night in her mind she could not make sense of it. Something had gone horribly wrong. When she heard Okwuchi’s screams from inside the room she had immediately run to try to help her sister. Nothing could have prepared her for what she was about to see. Her sister lay on the mat convulsing, the mouth guard had come lose, she called out to her but she wouldn’t respond. Okwuchi was shaking vigorously, there was blood in between her thighs. Nkechi started to scream and reach for her sister but was carried out of the place by one of the attendants. The next time she would see her sister was just before she was to be put in the ground.
Everyone said agreed it was a strange thing that happened, death was not commonplace during the process. For a while people shook their heads and frowned their faces as they talked about what had happened that night. Eventually everyone carried on with their lives, no one really understood what had happened or why it happened.
She had vowed never to return to that dreaded place.
But here she sat barely three years later, waiting in line to go into the room that had snatched her sister’s life.
“who will marry you Nkechi?”
“Don’t you want to give birth smoothly? Or you want to be giving birth to ogbanje?”
“You want to bring disgrace to this house and I will not let you”
Her mother had forcefully brought her here today and was waiting outside to make sure she went thru with it. She felt powerless, thoughts of running away filled her head but there was nowhere to run to.
She quickly wiped the tears that escaped her eyes and took a deep breath. Crying was pointless, she had resolved to do it, Okwuchi would want her to be brave and obey Mama. That same moment a woman emerged from the long corridor and held out a hand to her, it was almost as if they were eager to get it over with before she changed her mind.
She took the woman’s hand and stood up, fear and sitting uncomfortably for a long time had crippled her, her feet felt like dead tree logs attached to her body.
“maybe I will get to see okwuchi, I have missed her terribly”
she thought to herself as she half dragged, half willed her feet behind the woman.
Inside the room there was another woman sitting by a mat, she seemed to be waiting for her. At the corner of the room were two sobbing girls, they were being attended to by another woman who was giving them something to drink.
Being inside the room brought back the painful experience of the last time and she thought about running again but took a step forward instead and lay on the mat.
Not knowing what to expect she closed her eyes and braced herself for what was to come….