bookhouse prize

BOOKHOUSE PRIZE-WHITE WHISPERS

WHITE WHISPERS BY PRECIOUS OSIKHA

SYNOPSIS

White Whispers is a narrative collage bordered on love, loss, displacement, and the everydayness of identity. The stories, dramatic and prosaic at the same time, attempts to steer the reader to spaces of thought filled with twists and longing.

EXCERPT

I RAN FASTER THAN MY LEGS could carry me, along a sinuous pathway where the wind hushed in whispers amongst trees cloaked in darkness. As I ran, I gasped for breath like a child chased by a beast thirsty for blood and flesh. Indeed, I was chased by a beast in the form of a human being. The pregnant clouds stared back at me as if to mock my helplessness hoping he'd turn back and vanish into space. Suddenly, I felt the crashing force of a hand upon my shoulders.

Defeated, tears gathered like clouds in my eyes and my legs trembled.

“You’re mine.” He said, with a voice that bit deep into my soul.

“Ple…ase.., don’t do… this to me” I stuttered as I pleaded amidst tears and a helpless struggle to wriggle free from his firm grip.

He grabbed me tightly, held me by the hair, and dragged my slender figure along a grassy plain with thorny spikes that pricked my skin and stuck to my dress. Again I tried to wriggle free from his marble-like body, drenched in sweat, but a few punches from his heavy fists stuffed my abdomen with only wimps, more tears and exhaustion.

I was so weak with all hopes of struggling lost, so I let him rip off my clothes, and have his way to the long kept secret between my thighs. Tears escaped my eyes like an overflowing dam as I felt unbearable agony from his forceful thrusts. When he was done he lifted his deadweight from my weak frame, zipped his trousers and bolted away, dissolving into the dark of the night. And I remained there, sobbing like a baby pierced with a needle.

The sky rumbled and began to rain- it washed out the red liquid that slowly oozed out of my genitals. I could barely walk and my eyes were too soggy to permit clear visibility.

I tottered to the church as that was the only place I could seek solace.

“He took away my innocence.” I sobbed.

I hid myself close to the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, mincing the horrible incident that had befallen me.

***

Turning sixteen, today makes it three weeks since the awful incident that betided me. I felt nauseous all of a sudden; and I started vomiting.

“Isioma!  Isioma!  Isioma!” my mother yelled.

“Yes mummy” I replied, and quickly covered the chime with sand and walked to meet her.

“Where have you been?” she asked.

I kept mute, looking downwards.

“You should be lucky today is your birthday, otherwise I would have smacked you.” She said, adjusting the blue wrapper tied to her chubby body, not noticing a smirk on my face.

“I am going to the church. There is an important program today. Make sure you finish-up the chores” she readjusted her scarf.

“Okay ma.” I dragged an answer as she walked out of sight.

Mum loves the church more than anything else. She hardly cares about my welfare. Even the slightest setback would amount to a long chain of Novenas. She prays so hard to appear godly to the envy of her fellow Christian sisters.

***

My mum and I had just finished reciting the rosary (as is accustomed to devout Catholics). I got up from the carpet on the floor after praying for hours.

“Good night mummy” I turned to take my leave.

“Isioma come, I want to have a word with you,” mama pointed to the sofa. “It’s been two months now and you haven’t seen your period. What could be the problem?”

I was totally stunned. The question bounced in my skull.

“How could she have noticed that?” I thought.

“Answer me!” mother yelled.

Vivid visions of the beast that raped me on that godforsaken night crept into my mind as mother’s voice echoed in my ears.

“Nottttthhhhing…” I stuttered.

“What have I done to deserve all this?  You want to make me an object of mockery among our parishioners. You have killed me, Isioma! How will I explain this to the church? Stay in one place, you won’t listen; see what great shame your wayward lifestyle has brought on my reputation. You are a disgrace” she wailed, as she bit her index finger in bitterness, tears and anger in her eyes.

I ran out, away from her disappointed gaze and locked myself in my room as tears raced down my cheeks.

“You had better go to Father Tega and confess your sins tomorrow. I won’t have you pollute my house with your sinful body” her mention of Father Tega echoed in my brain.

“What will I confess to the priest?  Must everything get to the church?” I thought. I held tightly to my pillow which was already soaked in tears.

The next day we arrived at the brown brick house with tall and pointed towers rising from floor to roof, as though its builders had a Babelian plot in mind when they piled brick upon brick. It was our awe-inspiring church surrounded by neatly trimmed sunflowers and carpet grass. We walked down the aisle and sat on one of the benches, waiting for the priest to arrive. Mother had called to inform him of our visit. Her high-pitched hissing and whining kept reverberating in my skull. I had opened up to her about the pregnancy but could not speak about that ghastly night that led to it.

I had thought that not revealing the horror of that night would make her change her mind about seeing the priest; but I was wrong. It made it worse. I wondered what she was trying to achieve. A figure wearing a cassock approached us.

“Good afternoon Father Tega” my mum greeted him, and I followed suit, dragging the last syllable of his name.

“Good afternoon, Mrs Edafe; the lord be with you.” he replied, and of course with a grin that charms.

“You called to see me. How may I help you?” he asked.

She drew me closer to him. “My daughter has come for confession. She has a lot to tell you” my mum said, giving me a look that spelt disgust.

“I see,” Father Tega gave a nod and bid me follow him to the confession corner.  My legs trembled as I walked with him. The last time I was at that confession box? I can’t remember.

Making confessions is one of the six canons of the Roman Catholic faith. A willful act nonetheless; but not in this manner. Here, I am being forced into it and I wished the ground would open and devour me in just one gulp.

Few minutes later I came out and mum approached the priest. I could read their lips. She wanted to know who was responsible for my pregnancy.

“It is against our ideology to tell you that, Mrs. Edafe. You should know better—that no priest is expected to reveal the details of another’s confession” he said.

“Okay Father.” She responded in a somber tone.

Bad news indeed spreads like wildfire. The news of my pregnancy had already travelled around the church. And overtime my mother would lose her chance at becoming the president of the Christian Mothers Association. I also became the receiving end of her every rant and frustration, my body a tattoo of severe injuries as a result of the lashes mother used on me.

“Tell me who is responsible for your pregnancy?” she asked repeatedly one certain afternoon. And all I could do was nod my head with watery eyes each time the question together with the cane smashed through my senses.

***

On the way to the hospital I could still feel and hear the slashes on my already bruised body.

“She lost the pregnancy” the doctor said.

“Is that so?” mother asked.

I didn’t know whether I felt happy or sad, but I know I felt nothing. Empty.

“You need to pay keen attention to your daughter. We ran some tests on her and observed that she had a forceful opening of her genitals.” the doctor informed.

“Forceful what?” mother exclaimed. “You mean she was…”

“…raped, yes madam” the doctor helped the words out of her mouth.

As I lay still on my bed, my mum did all she could to find out what had happened to me. I still could not talk. To me, it was an abominable act I couldn’t dare to say. She drew me close to herself as tears streamed from her eyes.

“I can’t forgive myself for not paying attention to your well-being. May God punish whoever did this evil thing to you.” She wept uncontrollably.

I wished mum had been this caring and responsible. If she was by a second, I wouldn’t have fallen into the claws of that night, and that wicked rapist. I wished she had spent more time listening and relating with me, I would have avoided misfortune and my feet would not have led me to that haunting experience. Her insensitivity was the same reason my dad died. She preferred the everydayness of church calls to the well-being of the family. She lacked balance, like an improper chemical equation.

***

The unexpected sharp thud of a knock on the door caught our attention. When mum walked to the door to find out who was there, the person was gone save a letter dangling on the knob. Her eyes raced through the length and breadth of the road facing her house, to see whatever ghost may have dropped the letter there, but the road was empty as though there was a curfew.

She walked towards my room to inform me of her surprise, and I said “okay” but deep down I was eager to know what the content of the letter was. So I asked her to unseal it.

“It’s a letter addressed to us” she said, opening the envelope.

Mum’s eyes scanned the letter, and all of a sudden she could hardly breathe as she read out the last paragraph which reads:

I have wronged your daughter. And I have wronged you. As I take my last breath, I regret to tell you that I am responsible. Responsible for that horrible night that sunk your daughter’s happiness. That snapped her virginity. Forgive me. I'm deeply sorry.

—Fr. Tega.

“Nooooooo! Father Tega, what have I done to deserve this wickedness? God, what was my sin? Did I not serve you enough? Why do you allow bad things happen to me? God why?” my mom drowned in the pool of bitterness as her teeth pierced the tips of her fingers and she slumped to the ground.

I checked to ensure she was still breathing—and closed my eyes, hoping to wake up from a reality that looked like a nightmare. Mum's tears lingered like the pain in my heart. Sometimes, the night make demons out of angels.

 

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