MMACHUKWU - By Onuoha Fay Claire

I sat there on the threadbare sofa opposite Papa's reclining chair. The atmosphere in the room was tense ; Mama kept fiddling with her fingers and couldn't even look at me. Papa was seated at his favourite spot, softly  knocking away at his snuffbox. I came back from an official trip to Warri and came straight home because I missed my baby. Yes, you heard rightly, my baby.

Joey and I dated for two years. We were always all over each other, never getting enough of each other. In that light, our relationship was in full public glare. One was seldom seen without the other. We had issues but resolved them as quickly as we could. Our parents were aware of our relationship. Although Mama was skeptical at first because Joey was a half-caste; his mother was a Barbadian while his father was Nigerian, she relaxed when she saw no opposition from his family. To me, everything was perfect because Joey had a future and I was in it. He said he'll be patient enough for me to graduate before putting a ring on my finger. Suffice to say that I was highly elated when I became pregnant. I couldn't contain my joy as I broke the news to my Lover. The next events that occurred are still beyond my imaginations.

I was chattering away, daydreaming of being the best mother to my child, with a supportive and perfect father figure when something broke into my thoughts, breaking me away from my reverie.

“Will you just shut up and let me process the nonsense you just spewed?”

Was that a bellow? I wasn't sure but it sounded like one. I turned to look at Joey. He was staring down at me with a scowl on his face. Before I could evaluate the situation, another grenade hit me squarely on the chest.

“You said you are pregnant. What are you still doing in my house? Won't you get out of here and go to the man responsible for that?”

My whole being froze. I slowly turned back to check if there was someone else in the room he was talking to. Unfortunately, there was none other than myself. I sucked my tongue before I could be able to speak. Even my voice came out in a whisper; I hardly recognized it.

“Jay, what are you talking about?”

I used to call him Jay and he called me Tee. Our friends teased us a lot because of both names. They would say “Jay's Tee or Tee's Jay” when addressing either of us. I didn't have an English name, or I would have used it in place of Tochi.

“You think I don't know the games you're playing? You want to tie me down with someone else's baby or you think say I no dey hear your scores for your school? I sabi all your paroles there. So, don't give me the pregnancy bullshit. Come on Tee, you're more intelligent than that.”

Ordinarily, I would've laughed at the upturn of his nose when he spoke pidgin English, just that I was not understanding the episode playing out before my eyes. I kept mute as he uttered stuffs that were lies against me. I knew it was only a matter of time before the devil in me rose. He went on and on when he saw that I wasn't responding. Soon, anger churned my stomach and the bile rose so high that I could taste it in my mouth.

He was in the middle of his blabbering when I cut him short with a deafening slap. Before he could recover, I landed him two more hot slaps that would leave his ears ringing for days. Without saying a word, I picked my bag and stormed out of his house. I didn't even reply the gatekeeper wishing me a safe journey. I paced the length of my small room when I got home. I couldn't fathom where all those words had come from. When I got tired of pacing, I threw myself on my bed and slept off almost immediately. I moved in between dreams in my sleep; horrible dreams where Joey and his mother were chasing after me, accusing me of  trying to tie Joey down with a pregnancy that wasn't his.

I awoke from my troubled sleep to the ringing of my phone. I heaved a sigh of relief when I saw that it was Joey's mother and picked up.

“Mummy good evening. Your days will be long o. I was just trying to call you now.”

“Tochi how are you?”, she replied, totally ignoring my humorous remark.

“Mummy I'm not fine...”

“Ehe about that, Joey told me some things this afternoon. I want to hear from you personally.”

I made a mental sign of the Cross and thanked my stars that she was willing to listen. Halfway through my story, she broke in again and this time around, all hell was let loose on me. All sorts of insults rained on myself and my family. She accused me of being promiscuous and trying to dump another man's pregnancy on her son. She called us gold diggers who want to reap where they didn't sow. She broke many unimaginable calabashes on us and I broke down in tears by the time she hung up on me.

Mama was in my room on time to prevent me from doing anything stupid. I told her then and she, in turn, told Papa. All their attempts to speak amicably with Joey's parents were rebuffed. His mother rained abuses on them, calling us gold diggers who came to reap where we didn't sow. She spewed all manner of nonsense about us and asked us to never contact them again. It was as if Joey's father didn't have a say in the matter. I was hit the worst but my parents were there for me through it all. Later that night, they called me into their room and asked me what my plans were. They let me know that they would support whatever decision it was I would make about the baby. I knew they've been trying to get more babies after me, so there and then, I decided to keep the baby.

It wasn't easy for me, as I was in my penultimate year in school, with a pregnancy that had ugly stories surrounding it. Somehow, news of Joey and myself had spread in school. Everywhere I went, people stared and shook their heads in pity. I would pretend that I didn't notice but would break down in tears whenever nobody was looking. I had few friends as many deserted me. I struggled to keep my studies afloat amidst numerous distractions. Thankfully my parents were by my side every step of the way. The baby came one beautiful morning. I was in labour for seven hours but once she came through, cried and was laid in the cradle of my arms, all my pains vanished. She was so beautiful and innocent. I shed tears of joy right there in the labour room.

I named her Mmachukwu, the Lord's beauty. She was Joey's carbon copy, only stealing some features from me. I texted Joey that I had his baby; that was the first time I reached out to him since our breakup. As expected, he didn't reply neither was I bothered. I was determined to train my daughter all alone. However, in the middle of the first semester of our final year, rumors started flying around that Joey was engaged to the hottest girl in my department. Towards the end of the semester, the rumors were confirmed with their wedding invitation all over the place. I was shattered to know that it was really over between us. I mean, the guy was my first love and deep down, I wished we could still get back together. Well, that would never happen because he got married. I channeled my energy towards making good grades and taking care of my daughter.

       ***Four Years Later***
I had a very lucrative job that took me around the world. I still stayed with my parents. However, I rented an apartment in a nearby town, unknown to anyone else. This was my secret place, where I go to unwind when I feel like cracking under the pressures of life. My daughter spends most of the week days with her grandparents and weekends are for bonding with me. I always left for work very early in the morning, leaving Mama to do the school run. I never got into any other relationship after Joey. The men came, but I was just focused on taking care of my child first. I came back from a two week trip to Warri and rushed home to see my baby when my parents summoned me to tell me that something happened. I went into my room and saw Mma sleeping peacefully on my bed. I relaxed a bit and returned to the sitting room to listen to what they had to say.

“Joey and his mother were here.” Mama announced.

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat when I heard his name.

“They want a joint custody of the child. Or they could file for full custody and pay us off.”

Blood rushed to my head right then but I calmed myself.

“Why is he coming for the baby after over five years?” I asked no one in particular.

“They say he and his wife couldn't have children. Now, his father is dying and has signed everything over to his grandchild. It was obvious that the old man knew that the child was his son's. They need Mma to gain access to his wealth.” Papa replied.

I was surprised and outraged when my parents started pleading on their behalf. These are people that saw my pains and struggles to bring up my daughter rightly. I thought they would support me and drive Joey and his mother away from our house. But here they were, begging me to forgive Joey. I asked them to give me some time to process the whole thing. As I got into my room and beheld the sleeping form of my daughter, I knew that I would never agree to this charade.

Night soon fell and I quietly packed our  belongings; mine and my daughter's into the trunk of my car. I made sure that I left nothing that would lead anyone to us. Early the next morning, I drove out of my parents house with a sleeping Mma strapped to the back seat of the car. I left a note for my parents asking them not to look for us. I was taking her to my secret place. From there, we can leave the country and go start our lives all over again.

I have forgiven Joey and his family, but my love for my child will never allow me let her be used as a pawn for wealth.