Lineage Of Silence
The thing about the women in my family is we fall in love young.
When my mother was 18, she had a daughter for the love of her life. My sister’s father had promised my mother heaven and all the wonders that lay within. Twenty years later, I would prove myself my mother’s daughter. I would fall in love at 15 with a boy who didn’t care if I lived or died. I would follow him and offer to do homework for him. I would give up lunches to finish his schoolwork, and when he smiled at other girls, I couldn’t tell if the pain I felt was jealousy or hunger.
16 was a turning point for me. I was taller and shapely in all the places that mattered. Breasts would make it harder for me to lie on my front, and hair grew in places I thought were intended to be barren. Unrequited love would become seasonal attention, and the boy I loved will tolerate me in an attempt to fondle me after school.
I let him.
Here’s the thing about the women in my family, we pay our dues.
There were nights where I slept for 3 hours or less. My head buried in a book and my hand scribbling furiously in a notepad. Medical school was the mountain I had chosen, and I was determined to see the other side.
Forty years before I was born, my grandmother sat in this same library. Two tables away because she hated sitting by windows. Her curly head buried in a textbook she would pass on to me and her fingers braiding and loosening strands of her hair.
When she left the library, she would go home to my mother and the son she bore against her will. She would toil in the heat of firewood and cook for her family. She would feed her children dinner after she had meticulously put food in front of a husband that mumbled as a show of appreciation.
At the end of medical school, my grandmother would have a brilliant career as a surgeon. Hands that balanced children on hips and burnt in her earthen kitchen would reconnect tissues and breathe life into the maimed. Until Grandfather would tell her wives were only good for three things.
Here’s another thing about the women in my family, we never talked too much.
You could hit me, throw me against the wall, tear out my hair or even stab me in the side; my response wouldn’t be more than a groan. Go ahead, try me.
I learnt this very young. My mother said no one is to hear what happens within your home. My Uncle’s wife agreed when I went to her. She said, “You must protect your family from shame.” Thus, I learnt the power of being the silent guardian.
My sister learnt this too. She might have been better at it than me. When I groaned and mumbled under my breath, she made excuses. She blamed herself, and she exonerated a man of her murder years before he did it. I spat in his face.
I cover bruises better than my mother, and although my fingers quiver when I stitch my skin back together, I have learnt to make a neater production of it. I hear the nurses talk about me, about how my hands are so steady in the OR, but I seem to lose coordination when I get home.
I have to remember to come up with something else next week. I have run out of places to fall in my home.
Here’s the thing about the women in my family, we live for the men in our lives.
Let me tell you how my mother lived. When she woke up every morning, she cleaned my sister and me up, made breakfast, picked out my father’s outfit for the day before she woke him up. My mother leaves her job at the news station every day to go home and make him lunch. The yam must be pounded till it feels like butter, and the soup must have the taste of nectar made by god himself. Then she takes it to his office and pretends she doesn’t see his secretary mock her.
My grandmother operated with a different pattern. Every month, when she got paid for saving lives and standing for 6 hours in surgical rooms, she gave my grandfather the cheque. He then split it into three; the one my grandmother maintained the house with, the one he spent on spirits and younger women, and the one he sent home to his mother. What a son he was.
My Uncle’s wife lived like a rat. She would come out of her hole after my Uncle left for work in the morning. She would sit alone and imagine the life she could have had. The love she could have felt and the children she could have raised. But my Uncle was always a practical man, love was meaningless, and children a burden he didn’t want to bear.
I exist. I get up and hear nagging and complaining, and anger until I leave for work. I am alive for a couple of hours and constantly telling people I wouldn’t mind taking over their shifts. Politely, they declined, so I had to go home. I come home to piles of dishes and clothes tossed around. There is a bottle in his hand on the good days and sleep in his eyes. On the bad days, there is a belt in his hand and anger in his eyes. On the days I beg to die, there is me in his hands, and the devil is in his eyes.
Here’s the thing about the women in my family, they long for daughters.
My grandfather had wanted one child. So, when my mother came, all should have been well. But god forbid that my grandfather would have no son to carry his legacy. Then came a son and hell returned to its normal temperature. My grandmother loved her daughter, and on the nights when her marital bed was too cold, which was most nights, she would go to her daughter. They would laugh quietly and talk about nothing and everything. My grandmother usually fell asleep grateful for her daughter.
My mother wanted children she could make pretty. From hair ruffles to shiny pink dresses, my sister and I lacked nothing. We would sit with our mother, taking turns running combs through our hair and confessing secrets. When our father walked in, we would leave crying for the beating our mother was about to get and return when he was gone with warm water and dry towels.
My Uncle’s wife wanted what my mother had. She already had the pain and suffering, but daughters might have made the burden easier to bear. The trials might have been for a worthy cause.
When I lay on the cold bed of the operating room of a hospital in another state, the doctor asked me again if I was sure. I nodded and closed my eyes. When I got home, and my head was violently introduced to the wall for not answering my phone all day, I smiled, and he thought I was crazy. I was all alone in a lineage of silence and suffering. I would bring nobody else into it.
Here’s the thing about the women in my family; after me, there will be no more.