“Uloma! You are not a boy, come down from that tree!” My mother would scream whenever she laid eyes on me scaling one of the many trees in our compound. I would oblige, grudgingly, knowing that to argue was to commit myself to a round of whipping. The command was almost always followed by another.
“Go and play with your sisters.”
This in itself was no small task for I was the first of 7 sisters. My immediate younger sister was born 2 years after me, and the remaining 5 came in 9 years and included twin girls with my mother’s third conception.
My mother, a beautiful woman, slightly rounded with a double chin and full lips, mothered us with steely affection; brandishing her love and her cane with equal dexterity. She was stern but not overbearing, a virtue that came from an affectionate heart that had suffered a great deal. I had watched my grandmother lash out at her with vicious remarks about her “boy child problems” and watched my mother’s silence. I had heard my mother defend her in my father’s presence, soothing his rage.
My father, even now I remember him as a man of deep cultural values and a deeper voice. I remember his ill-fitting suits clad over his tall frame, and his white teeth, a stark contrast to his dark skin. I remember his booming laugh that seemed to come from his belly, and his full beard that had begun to turn grey.
I remember he wanted a boy.
He was educated enough to know my mother wasn’t eating her male children, but for him, it seemed as though a male child would serve as a status symbol, and so he tried and tried again with my mother to have a son.
They got seven girls.
They say seven is the number of perfection, but in my family, it was a number that brought apprehension. As fate would have it, my mother finally got pregnant with a boy, but in one sick twisted turn of events, the boy was stillborn.
By this time, I had become a blossoming 14 year old woman with a full bosom and curvy hips; an almost perfect copy of my mother at my age. I watched the excitement of a son turn sour in a matter of minutes. I held my sisters, all 6 of them, as we sat in the waiting room of the hospital, too afraid to meet our father in his sorrow. The doctor had walked away, taking along with him the hope for a son, leaving my father standing grim faced.
I may never forget his next words to me
“Uloma, take your sisters home.”
It wasn’t so much the words as the pain in his voice when he spoke, and how he stressed the fourth word in the sentence.
It was at that moment I knew I was not enough, my sisters were not enough, and we would probably never be enough to satisfy the desire for a son in my father. It was a feeling of inadequacy, knowing you were less than the desired, nothing more than a consolation to the original prized possession.
I did as I was told and made eba and ogbono when I got home. My father came back later and refused his meal. My mother came back days later a changed person. We never spoke of the matter, but the dark cloud was undeniable.
They tried unsuccessfully two more times before my mother hit menopause with the same story; stillbirth.
It was decided. She had failed to produce a boy.
At 19 years of age, I watched my grandmother bring a girl 2 years older than I was into our home. I found out she was to be my stepmother, all because my father wanted a boy…