Every morning, the second I’m awake, I say a prayer. I pray that when I open my eyes, I won’t be looking at the ceiling I’ve seen every morning for the past seven years. I’m hoping that I won’t have to see the rusted-almost-golden ceiling fan which groans like a woman in pain on days when we have light. The fan is so loud that it makes you wonder if ventilation is worth your peace of mind. My prayer isn’t because I hate the fan, even though I do. I make sure all my wishes are clear when I speak to God and every morning, I wish that I didn’t have to wake up in this house. Our house isn’t pretty, but again, that isn’t the problem. I want to wake up with a different family. One of those families with happy children. Children like Chinelo who like to play and laugh and only cry about things like their mothers begging them to come inside when the mosquitoes begin to come out in the evenings. Every morning, I squeeze my eyes tight and beg God. Every single morning. And yet, after each prayer, when I open my eyes, the old woman ceiling fan greets me. That and my sister who wakes me most of the time.
When I was ten, my friend Margret told me that I was so lucky I had a nice step father who treated me like his own, even though I wasn’t. I was, really. Before Osise was born, I would have told you my step father was the kindest and best man alive. He did everything for my mother and I. I mean, he married her! She had me and she hadn’t even been married to my real father. He would tell her how much he loved her while I watched from behind the curtain in my mother’s parents’ house. He used to take us to the beach and hold both our hands, one in each of his and he used to buy me books and ice-cream and tell me Tiv folk stories. When my mother married him, he was the happiest man alive and I remember looking at his face during the ceremony. There had been joy, satisfaction and hint of disbelief. It had been beautiful to behold. I started to call him daddy after the wedding and he began to feel like one. He was safety and comfort and warmth and he filled a gaping hole in my heart which I had always known existed but never spoke about to my mother. For a single parent and her daughter, my mother and I shared an almost nonexistent bond except the obvious. She was simply my mother as I was her child.
Ene tells me that our father who is really just my father loves me.
“He has his own mouth. He should tell me himself, just like he tells you”
I continue to scrub garri off of the plates. I find myself doing what I always do when my father is mentioned; trying to remember what I ever did to offend him. Seven years is a short time to do that much damage. Yet, I think even harder. I pass really well in school, I do everything he says, I greet him every morning and I do all my chores. I don’t play in the sand like the other children in our neighborhood because father hates it. He calls them “children without discipline”. My father is a teacher, discipline is very important to him. Sometimes, I ask Ene what I did and what she did to make him love her and buy her gifts and call her princess. I want to be princess too.
“Osise. Don’t talk like that. Who told you he doesn’t love you? He’ll come around, don’t worry. I love you and I’m always here for you. If you need anything, I can ask him for money to buy it for you”
I know it’s sinful to hate, but I hate Ene. I hate her because she stole my father. She stole his heart and occupied it completely even before I was born. She did not even leave an inch of space for me.
I try to be a good mother but you can only do so much. You cannot force people to love your children so I expected that after marrying me, Jude might stop pretending to love Ene, but I was wrong. He actually loves her, like she were his own. Osise is the problem. Osise who I bore under his own roof, Jude cannot bring himself to love. What? Is his heart so small that love for one child who isn’t his fills it and is too much already? My poor child withers under her father’s gaze. She feels unworthy of life and love and care and my heart is too broken to confront this situation. I cannot love enough for two people. Ask Ene. When I had her, all the child did was take and take until I felt myself disappear and then as she grew older, she wanted to do things, like play and dress dolls and still needed to eat and be cared for. I am not a woman made for that. Life is fleeting and I would like to say mine was well lived and so I sleep as late as I please and cook only for Jude and I. Ene is a woman. I occasionally wonder whether Jude knows that as well.
I do not hate any child of mine. I am an honorable man, but there is only so much poking in the eye one man can take. Here is what everyone else does not know. My wife is not the woman I fell in love with. She is far from who I thought she was. I have no problem adopting another man’s child if he belongs to the woman I’m in love with. There’s only a problem when the child is passed off as mine. Osise is not my child. My wife had her eight months after our wedding; eight months after we had intercourse for the first time. Osise was not premature. I’m waiting for her to ask me why I treat the child badly, so I can ask her why she thinks me to be so stupid and undeserving of respect. I want to ask her what I ever did wrong. Ene is a kindred spirit. Only she understands. After all, she reported her mother’s infidelity to me. The poor child has suffered for too long at her mother’s hands.
In another life, I wouldn’t choose my mother to be mine again, but I would choose Jude. I would choose for Osise not to to exist, as the world should have made it originally. I lied about my mother cheating with our neighbor and then I begged Jude not to tell her. I’ve never had a father and I wasn’t going to let someone appear from nowhere and begin to share his love with me. I’ve never been a sharer. I didn’t share my mother with my biological father but that’s a story for another time.