Ma is dead. No! Not literally dead, the walking-dead kind. She likes to be dead. Or maybe she wants to be dead, the eternal kind, closed in a casket, shrouded in white and buried deep in the ground. Ma likes blood spilling off her body, so she goes on slicing her hands at night when we are sleeping. We wake up to find the bruises, red and unattended, knowing it will scar. 

Ma’s body is a map designed to tell stories of what pain she is going through since she lost the unborn twins. She knew she was carrying twins because she had been going for checkup in the hospital and she had a scan. But losing the twins was not what made Ma scar herself. It was mainly because Baba left with the other woman but Ma does not want to admit to it. Baba still comes to see us from time to time but he does not stay at our place, he goes to sleep at the other woman’s house. Ma is still Baba’s wife even with the other woman because he is allowed by religion to have more wives. But Ma does not want it. She is angry and only blood can quench the fire in her heart. I think Ma is dead at heart. She is no longer happy, a permanent frown settles on her forehead.

On some days, she sits on the chair in the compound rocking back and forth, staring at the foyer where she and Baba’s love betided and is still fresh in her memory. She wouldsay to me, “I made your father a man and then he left me. This is how men repay you. I had been with him when he had nothing but now he thinks he can stand on his own, the fool!”

Ma tells me I was not supposed to be born. I was supposed to die like those who died before me, either in the wonb, like the twins, or as soon as they were brought into the world, their little hands and legs wriggling right before they stopped. She calls me a guzhen – a spirit child who refuses to let his or her mother give birth to other children and keep returning only to die again. A guzhen who stays and refuses to die causes calamities to keep occurring in the family. She says I am my dead siblings and because I did not die this time, her husband has left her and the twins are gone. I am named after my dead brother, Ubaida. He was the only one who lasted longer than others to have a name. People call me Ubaida and because it is a unisex name, they do not make fun of me for bearing a boy’s name. It does not matter in whose body I return. I am still the same person, the same dead children before me.

Ma thinks my face conjures my dead siblings when I sleep and I sputter incoherent words. I don’t know how to react to this or how to feel about it. She does not look at me in the eyes when she speaks to me. She says my existence has taken Baba away from her and left her with old memories. Before I was born, he treated her like a queen. Even with the death of the children, he never left her. But since I came, he does not look at her the same way he did before. When I was five years of age, Baba suggested that they test the herb that kills any kind of guzhen on me to see if I was really a guzhen but Ma’s refusal was stern and final. She fears that I might really die if I turn out to be a guzhenand she does not want to lose another child. She has gotten usedto my existence and she could not stop.

“Maybe if you had died off, your father wouldn’t have left,” she would say again and again, staring at the dark, remembering figments of her young self with Baba. In her figments, they are always laughing in the compound as they tend to the flowers orBaba is doing his skeletal dance. Ma calls it the skeletal dance because she says Baba cannot dance to save his life.

When Ma is not sitting on the rocking chair, she would be in the room muttering about how bad Baba has become while she caresses the pictures they took together. No matter how much she curses Baba, Ma still wishes him back. She continues cursing when she gets tired of waiting and he does not come.

“That he-goat! What has he ever done for me to think he is free to leave whenever he wants eh? I hate him. Na tsane shi!”But Ma will still stare at their picture, at Baba’s face, running her thumb over the old picture while she sniffs and wipes her tears. 

On the day Baba comes to see us, Ma does not sleep at night. She bristles with anger and cries all night. He is coming today and I am certain that sleep will not visit Ma tonight. Shewill cry and whimper, a razorblade clamped in her right hand, gently marking her, heralding the pain. And I will watch her like all other nights of her scaring, pretending to be asleep but wishing I was never my Ma’s child.B

About the Author

Hajaarh Muhammad Bashar is a writer from Northern Nigeria. Her works have appeared in Gold dust Magazine, Art-Muse fair, Voice of the aspirants anthology, SetuMar19 anthology of women, power and creativity, Amaravati poetic prism, ANA Review anthology, Weight of Years Anthology of Afroanthology creative nonfiction, Isele Magazine and elsewhere.

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