Adaku could not sleep.
She had been lying on her right side facing the open window with the curtain drawn, staring into the night sky. A lone star blinked back at her. She sighed and turned to her left side. The moonlight coming in from the open window dimly illuminated the form spread-eagled on the bed beside her. He muttered something in his sleep and started snoring softly. She knew that in a matter of minutes, the snores would be so loud that they would put even rumbling thunder to shame.
She sighed again and turned back to face the window. An owl hooted mournfully in the distance. The night guard blew on his whistle, twice, the beam of his flash light shone in through the open window and danced on the wall for a few seconds before he moved on.
Thank goodness we don’t live on the ground floor.This night guard would have been looking in on us every night.
She held her breath as she felt it again.
A sharp pain, coursing through her mid-section, caused her to inhale deeply and hold her breath. Was it what she thought it was? She had felt it earlier as she made eba for Ikenna’s dinner. She was going to tell him, but …she didn’t know why her lips had refused to form the words.
She had felt it again as he heaved and panted behind her, the coarse hairs on his chest scouring the soft skin on her back. The stench of alcohol mixing with the smell of the okporoko fish from the bitter leaf soup he had eaten earlier, hit her face in short bursts.
She had endured quietly, biting on her lower lip and holding her breath to keep herself from screaming. When he finally shuddered and let out a low grunt of satisfaction, she rolled over on her side in relief.
“Thank you, dim. I hope it was as good for you as it was for me.” Ikenna was too drunk to notice that his wife’s voice sounded tired.
“Mhmm.” came his drowsy reply. He rolled off her back, retied his ankara wrapper, bunching it loosely just under his slightly bulging tummy and promptly fell asleep.
That was two hours ago.
Feeling an urge to pee, she swung her legs slowly over the side of the bed, using her arms as a support to push herself up. She walked as far as the weight she carried would let her and just as she turned the handle of the door to the toilet, there was that sharp pain again. Something warm trickled down in between her thighs. She quickly flicked on the light switch and rushed in, shocked that she seemed to be peeing on herself.
She sat on the toilet bowl, feeling relieved as more of the warm liquid left her body. As she reached under to wipe herself clean, she noticed something did not feel quite right. Her fingers sought to find out why there was something hard down there instead of soft, pink flesh.
She ran her fingers over it once more and the same pain she had felt earlier, shot through her body again. This time it was so violent that she gasped and used both hands to steady herself against the walls of the toilet. Her knees buckled as she felt something leave her body and drop to her feet.
“A woman should not cry in pain when she is birthing life.” She heard her mother’s voice in her head. She ran her hand over her suddenly flattened abdomen and stared at the small, lifeless form that lay on the tiles between her feet.
The sound of the jeering laughter seemed to bounce off the walls and come at her from many directions. It was her sister-in-law’s laugh.
“Hahaha! Broda IK, when are you going to marry another woman? This one, she can’t give you any babies, biko!”
“A woman should not cry in pain when she is birthing life.”
She sank to the floor, lifting the cold, limp body of her stillborn, cradling him to her breast.
“Mama,” she croaked, hot tears streaming down her face, “can I cry when I’m birthing death? Can I?”
An owl hooted in the distance…