Remedy – Olasubomi Cole

Reading Time: 9 minutes

You watch as your mother shoves the new child into the midwife’s arms. You keep your face eerily expressionless, as though it is completely normal, as though it is the logical thing to do – to shove your newly birthed child into the weary arms of a midwife. Outside, the torrential rainfall has thinned into a drizzle. While your mother had screamed and raged in agony, while the child’s head had torn through the lining of her vagina, the rain had hit the zinc roof like pebbles thrown angrily from the sky. Now, you stare at her, search her hollow eyes for fleeting glimpses of the fabled love that is said to exist in any and every mother after the birth of a new child. All you see is drooping eyelids and darkened pupils. She stares back at you, sighs lethargically, and walks into the bathroom. The midwife is cooing and singing and pacing. The baby, a girl with hair so thick and richly black it looks just like sewn in weave-on, cries violently. You shudder at how jarring her cries are. You wonder how that baby, so tiny, so fragile, can produce noises this loud, this stirring. You hear the whimpering and soft crying from the bathroom your mother walked into; you turn to stare outside through the open window that is hanging loosely on broken hinges. The sky is starless; it looks just like an endless film of black opaqueness. You wonder if this is supposed to mean something, you wonder if the ominous flatness and darkness foretell some bad luck in your sister’s life. You walk towards the midwife. You walk in time with the ticking of the seconds hand of the clock nearby. You walk in time with the beating of your troubled heart.

          You take your sister in your arms now. Her crying slowly quietens, her breathing continues in fast paces. You wonder if it’s normal. You watch the twitching of her little mouth, you watch her raise her tiny arms, you watch her curl her fingers. You smile, then you laugh. There is something exhilarating about this, the movement of the day-old child in your arms. Your mother has still not come out of the bathroom. Claps of thunder punctuate the tranquil flatness of the room, but you do not hear them. Your memory is momentarily suspended, time stills, there is something almost magical in the air as you watch this tiny human in your arms. The midwife moves forward to take her, and motions for you to give her back, but you turn away. A plan begins to form in your dark mind. Yes! There’s nothing stopping you. The midwife turns toward the bathroom, she stares tentatively at the door with grooved patterns etched in it, then she knocks. You hear a quiet cough from within and an even quieter ‘please.’ You walk towards the window, the air is forebodingly chilly, an owl hoots nearby. You stretch out your arms and drop the weight down from the window several feet away from the ground. You hear a loud thud as the baby hits the solid ground. You step back quickly. The midwife screams deafeningly, she tugs at your shirt, she jostles you from left to right to left to left. Her hands fly to her head, she dances this way and that, her knees buckle up and down- the skin sheathing the bones folding and wrinkling, her shoulders droop, her entire being is wracked by violent grief as though it is her child you just dropped from the window to the wet, hard ground.

          Your mother dashes out now, the wrapper wound around her slight frame is loosening slowly, she reties it in quick movements. ‘What’s wrong? What’s wrong?’ she asks, her eyes darting from you to the whimpering midwife. The midwife says something in incoherent Yoruba, her dialect is slightly incomprehensible. You’re grateful because your mother does not even notice the absence of the child she’s just birthed. Your actions are suddenly grounded in a firm, unwavering certainty. You are sure your mother will be glad you murdered your sister.

          Seconds pass, then your mother asks a different question this time, her voice ablaze with a fiery terror. ‘Where’s the baby? Where’s the baby?’ She pulls at the midwife. The midwife points towards you and shrieks wildly. You point towards the open window. Your mother dashes towards it, looks down searchingly and recoils. She shudders and screams wildly. Your pupils twitch; the weak light from the lantern is barely visible now.

          This is not what you hoped for. You’d hoped for an infectious glee, one that would stretch the lips of your mother into that smile you’ve not seen for months since she was raped. You’d hoped for a sigh of relief and a steady, calming peace to subsume her. You’d hoped she’d be grateful to you for tearing away that chapter that’d forever remind her of your father’s death. Instead, you watch her as she walks back towards the wall, you watch as she raises her palms to her mouth, you watch her drop to the ground in one fluid movement. This isn’t the first time she’s lost a child. There had been one who’d decided to come into this world feet first, but he’d died hours after. There’d been another, the tiny girl with sparse dark hair and pink toes that had nestled in your father’s arms for hours after her birth and died in those arms. There was the one, your twin -born minutes after you’d slipped out of your mother- who had suddenly dropped dead on the playground on a sunny day in July of 1991.

          You expect that with each reoccurrence, there should be a hardening of heart, a knowingness, a consciousness because when you lose once, and then you lose again, you expect to lose the third and subsequent times in the recurrence of such event. It’s simply how the mind works. It is simply the folding in, the acceptance of that dim inevitability. You walk towards your whimpering mother, you stretch out your hands to hold her, to soothe her, she shrugs them off violently. She begins to scream, you step backwards. You stumble against the iron bedpost and wince in pain. A rat scurries to safety. The midwife is still swaying from side to side. Everything is sheathed in darkness, the light from the lantern has dissolved and become one with the blank darkness.

          It’s been eight months since you murdered your sister and more than a year since your mother’s violent rape and your father’s death. You remember the events of the past fully. Each memory is luminous as though it were happening again: your mother’s screams as the robbers thrusted wickedly into her one after the other, your father trying hard to be ‘a man’- fighting off, throwing punches- the loud bang of the gun. That sound, ominous and shattering, grievous and ghastly, marked the end. You remember your mother crawling over to your father, her wrapper undone, her hair matted. You remember the blood, thick and black-red, pooling around your father’s limp body. You sleep at night, under the bridge, inside abandoned carcasses of vehicles, on the pavement of shops closed for the night and dream up different, haunting versions of that night. Now, you’re on a bus, sputtering black smoke, polluting the air. The bus stops abruptly, and all the passengers, including the fat man dosing seats ahead of you, jerk violently forward. A woman curses, a man yells, the sleeping man jumps and clutches his briefcase, a baby begins to cry.

          You’re not moved, the world around you has halted since the night you killed your sister and your mother took one look at you and pushed you out, slamming the door in your face. Now, things appear in front of you like smoke, amorphous drawings in vapour. Nothing has a concrete quality, nothing is real anymore. The conductor yells at you for his fare, a blob of sticky, smelly saliva lands on your chapped lips. You hand him the new fifty naira note you’d cleverly slipped out from a woman’s purse in the market the day before. He barks at the man sitting next to you. The man reaches into his pocket and brings out a tattered note. The sparse hair on his oddly shaped head is all grey, his shirt -blue like the sky with smudges of soil-coloured stains- smells of stale sweat. His eyes are tired pools in his sunken face as the conductor yells that he’s paid an amount less than the fixed price. You watch as everyone on the bus sits rigidly as though unaware of the man’s shame. You miss your stop and try to scream for the driver to stop, but it’s been weeks, months, maybe since your tongue has formed words. Now you’re eager, earnest to speak, but the words do not form. You look out the window, the trees brushing past and jump out of it. You roll over the tarred road, feel the stinging pain settles in and try to shut out the screams from the bus you just jumped out from. You lay curled up on the hot asphalt of the busy road, the angry horns bouncing against your ears.

          Minutes pass before you smell the sweet fragrance hovering above your head. A moist palm reaches out to touch your face. You open your eyes slowly and take in the woman’s frame in front of you: her fair skin like butter, her eyes shaped like almonds in her oval face, her bulging midriff. She reaches out and pulls you up, instructing a man standing obsequiously inches away from her to carry you into the car with its barely audible engine. You close your eyes finally in a tired sleep. You can think of no other relief.

You’ve lived with the angelic woman for six weeks. You know the patterns of her affluent life the same way you know the fragrance of her strawberry perfumes. You know the father of the child nestling in her belly is a nameless itsekiri mechanic; you imagine the moment of heat, the moment of passion and craving and fetishes. You conclude she’d almost possibly not want the child, you conclude that to do what your mind has planned again will be a form of retribution, an act of gratitude for all she’s done for you.

          Sometimes, your mind plays games. Sometimes, it shows you images of your mother splayed out in pain. Other times, it shows your half-finished images of your father wandering, his legs absent in those dark visions. Nothing can save you, you know that much already. Your head is empty, your eyes refuse to focus anymore. There is only one resolve in your grief-ridden brain.

          And so when nights later, you hear the woman screaming in labor pains, when you hear the rumbling of thunder and barely visualise the flashes of lightning as you walk up the spiral staircase to the woman’s room, you’re not surprised at the constant bouts of goosebumps. You enter the room, barely lit up by the flashes of lightning. The curtains flay as the wind howls wildly. The windows shake violently. You do not look into the woman’s eyes that way, you can keep the memories of her kindness to you in cusped palms, you can keep her kind smiles and soothing words in unruffled portions of your brain. She writhing in the sheets, her legs are splayed apart, her fingers dig into the mattress. You run down the stairs, into the kitchen and grab a knife. You clutch the plastic handle and amble up the stairs. The bulbs go off and on as though in salutation to the end, the doors open and close. Owls hoot, dogs howl, frogs croak. Inside the dark-hued room, the woman catches the glints of sparks that reflect from the knife. She whimpers lightly and makes to stand, you push her against the soft mattress, she grains gutturally. You rip open her night dress and take a deep breath. You work dexterously and clumsily with the large kitchen knife till you’re tearing against the transparent sheath of the womb. The baby is curled up like a fist, but you do not shudder. You do not pay attention to the wailing and screams in your soul. Your breathing is raspy, your chest is tight like it has been plastered with cement. Your claw at the lining of the womb and retrieve the crying child. Your shirt is splattered with blood, the white sheets are soiled with trickling blood. You walk at the umbilical cord and close up the baby’s open navel with a peg. The woman is lying lifelessly on the bed now, her eyes boring hole into you. You back away and mutter inaudible words to her frame. ‘Your child, this child,’ you gesture towards the crying baby in your arms, ‘will restore my relationship with my mother. I killed her child, you see, now I can give back to her and ease the wounds I opened up.’ You’re sure she cannot comprehend a word you’ve spat out. You back away, with the naked baby, down the stairs, out of the looming black gates.  You’re laughing alone now: inside your head is darkness; inside your heart are cobwebs and echoes. You’re sheathed by a numbing bleakness, even the baby in your arms no longer cries. You do not know if she’s dead. You cannot smell the splotches of dried blood on both your bodies, you do not see the fleeing humans or the cursing ones who scurry away once you come into view with a half-dead baby in your tired arms.

          Your mother had flinched when she saw you, you showed her the child and muttered, ‘I’m back. I’m here to make it right. I’m here to pay you back.’ You do not see the grief in her eyes, you do not see the wrinkles that run through the entire breadth of her forehead. You do not hear the sound of the door slamming against your face. Have you seen the boy with the decomposing body of a baby in his arms? Have you heard the stories?

Olasubomi Cole is a twenty-year-old writer who lives in Lagos, Nigeria with his parents and little sister. His works have appeared in the recent issues of the Novelty fiction gazette and Salamander ink magazine. He loves to read, sing and dream. He is presently studying dentistry in the Lagos state university college of medicine.


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