A Short Story: Ifeyinwa! There Is Nothing Comparable To A Child! By Sally Chiwuzie

Apparently, sometimes minds get so closely connected that they often work in sync. For example, some medical books state that if a father to be is so closely involved in his woman’s pregnancy, he actually can feel pregnant too. If a woman has had a caesarean section and feels emotionally involved in another mother’s caesarean section encounter, her scar hurts. I do not know if these are fact, fiction, or coincidences, but I will tell you the fact/fiction/coincidence story I subscribe too. A mother wants only the best for her child, and nothing less will suffice. This may or may not be vice versa.




And it begins:


So it happened that it was her 30th birthday. She sat staring at her daughter who looked somewhat distant. It was noon. Since she awoke at 7 am, her daughter had looked like she bore the weight of the world on her 10-year-old shoulders.


‘Ifeyinwa’ she called out. No answer.


‘Ifeyironwa’ she called out again with emphasis.


Her daughter turned to her mother.


‘Why mummy?’ she asked, her face tearstained.


The following could have been a mini trance, communication of their minds, or simple flashbacks. Here it is:


Life for Ifeyinwa’s Mum was re-enacted in both their minds, exactly as it had been 20 yesteryears before. Her mother stirred her from her slumber gently at 7am. She awoke to a beautiful smile. ‘Breakfast is ready!’ Mum had said. It was cornflakes, followed by toast. There was the choice of bacon and eggs too. After breakfast, she tenderly urged her to get dressed. She would be late for school if she did not. She found her school bag. She panicked for a second, but heaved a sigh of relief – of course mum had helped her with her homework. She was ready. She was chauffeured to school, and sent off with a kiss. Mum stood chatting to other similar minded Mums who were either rushing off to work, or going back home to do the homemaker thing. She scurried off happily with her friends knowing that mum would pick her up later, and she would have many stories to tell by the end of the school day. The school was affordable only by the bourgeois. Her shoes were expensive and granddad bought her the beautiful watch, which adorned her wrist. Mum had said she was a clever girl because she could tell the time properly. It was when mum had told granddad this that he bought her the watch for Christmas. She was not sure if she was more excited about the watch in question, or the fact that Mum seemed ever so proud of her. Mum nourished her lunch box with a wafer snack. The woman who sold this snack to them every morning had said she was a lucky, lucky girl when she saw the watch; but had meant that her mothers love for her was evident.


The teacher spoke impeccable English. She got one to one attention. Mum spent a lot of money on her education. She overheard her tell the neighbour that the one to one attention was the least she expected. She excelled both academically and socially. She was the posh child every parent wanted. Her future was bright. Even that was perceptible. At lunch, they played hopscotch and tag. By the end of the day, she was exhausted. Mum still made her do her homework and practice her dictation. Dinner was rich enough. She watched half an hour of TV, and was escorted to bed by Mum. Mum read her a story and tucked her in. She kissed her goodnight and turned out the lights. Her unperturbed, exhausted mind drifted off without struggle. It was dreamless until the next morning!


Only… even though she woke up smiling, she had tears streaming down her cheeks. Firstly, it was not 7am, it was 5! Mum did not wake her up, a familiar voice did. It was Madam! There was nothing gentle about it.


‘You are an hour behind schedule! How many times will the cock crow before you wake up?’


She ignored this voice for two minutes while she composed herself. A cup of water was thrown in her face. And so began the day! She swept the front room, set the breakfast table for Madam’s children. She polished their school shoes and quickly did some ironing. She was not good at ironing, but she did her best. With this done, she had her breakfast on a little stool in the corner of the kitchen. There was no option of bacon and eggs. She waited until Madam sped off in the car with her kids before she got herself ready for school. Her school was just round the corner, so it did not matter. She checked her bag panic stricken for second. She only did so because she had watched Madam’s daughter do the same daily. She never had homework, but when she did, she did not do it anyway. She had no clue what to do, nor was her teacher particularly interested in whether or not she did it. Madam was never even slightly interested. Her shoes bore a striking resemblance to that of the shoe in the tale about the old woman who lived in a shoe. That pair had seen better days, as they were hand-me-downs from generations long gone. Well, at least she had shoes. Many of the friends she had made at school did not have any. Her teachers were always angry; they hit the children, and could not conjure up a grammatically correct sentence if their lives depended on it. Most of the other kids, like her, came to school on their own. There were no fancy cars and certainly no lunch. At lunch, they played with sand. She did not know what hopscotch was and was too physically exhausted to learn anyway. The night before she went to bed at 10pm. To be fair, it would usually be 9.30, it’s just that there had been a power-cut and she took breaks from doing the dishes because she was scared of the illusions the candlelights created on the walls. Well, she was 10 years old. Ok, 10 years and 3 weeks. Her mother had sent her off to Madam’s house on her birthday. Rather tragically, neither her mother nor she knew it was her birthday. They did not know how to work the calendar, they did not know too much about birthdays either.


As she did the dishes again that night, she could see her mothers face in the candlelight shadows (yes, second consecutive night of power cut, but she did not even know about electricity until she got to Madams house!). She questioned her mothers mind.


‘Is this necessary?’ she asked.


Mum said it was. Mum said:


‘You live in the city where there is electricity. Yes, you may find it hard and yes, no one can love you as I do. My love for you urged me to do this…for you. She can give you a good life, the life I cannot afford to. You will have an education, you will eat good meals, and you will grow up to be somebody! It is only 3 weeks into this new life. You will get used to it. In 20 years time, you will not remember it; you will thank me. You will understand then’.


She did not respond. She did the dishes dutifully and went to bed in the same room as the kids’…on the floor!


Therefore, 20 years on, she suffered the consequences of a bad education. She could not get a good job, even if she tried. She possessed not the intellectual ability to job hunt or speak properly at an interview. Heck, she did not even know how to switch on a computer. She got a job with the woman that sold wafers to Madam every morning (networking!). She did some baby sitting for her as well for extra income. At least she was kind to the children, and snuck them some wafers whenever she could. She also suffered from lack of social skills. The suitors she would have ideally liked to settle with would not look her way. She did not possess enough confidence, oomph, or charm to be choosy about a life partner. She married a cobbler. Ironically, every time she looked at him, she remembered her old school shoes and the tale about the old woman who lived in a shoe. Ha! That singular connection with her childhood was enough for her to declare him the love of her life. She did not properly understand the concept of contraception. Neither did he obviously, they were penniless and had five children!


This was the story so far when Ifeyinwa, her first-born child stood staring into her eyes. She was at a total loss as to what to do. Some woman, a friend of an aunty had offered to take Ifeyinwa on. She would feed her, clothe her, give her shelter, and bring her up. In return, Ifeyinwa would ‘help’ around the house.


‘Remember what you asked Grandma that night when you did the dishes by the candle light? Is it necessary?’ Ifeyinwa asked.


‘Ifeyinwa, no-one in this world can love you like I do. I have nothing. Maybe one day, you will have something. I can do the one thing for you. It’s in your best interest!’


Ifeyinwa’s response was this:


‘Mummy, I want your face to be the first I see in the morning. I do not need the option of bacon and eggs, just your company at breakfast. I want you to help me with my homework. I do not mind wearing the shoes from the ‘old lady who lives in a shoe’ tale, as long as you walk me to school. Mummy, I don’t even mind not wearing shoes! If the education is not great, I forgive you. Just do your best to teach me what you know. If I am happy, perhaps at lunchtime I will be inspired to learn how to, and play hopscotch. I know you will not let me go hungry, but I do not need wafers for lunch. I will help you as much as I can when I come home. In return, mummy, please tuck me in at night and kiss me goodnight!


Is my name not Ifeyinwa? Do you not call me Ifeyironwa? Nothing compares to a child. I belong with you. If you cannot give me all of I have asked for, give me what you can. You want to make my life better – is yours better having suffered the same fate you wish for me to experience? What did you gain? How much worse off would you possibly have been if you had lived with grandma instead?’


Ifeyinwa’s mum stared, weeping at the helplessness of the situation. She continued:


‘Mum, I don’t need much to live a good life. A good life is not even about the education or amenities you cannot afford. Maybe I will turn out rich, maybe not. Maybe I will speak words found only in a dictionary, maybe I will not. Maybe I will marry a good, rich man, maybe not Mum! However, I will be moulded of you. I will learn to take what I am given and make the most of it. I will learn to make something out of nothing, just like you. I will smile when I look in my children’s eyes regardless of my situation. I will learn love mum. I don’t need more than this to survive in this world!’


Ifeyinwa’s mum went to her mother’s grave later that morning.


‘Did you hear what Ifeyinwa said mum?’ she questioned.


‘Like you mum, I have grown up to think that child labour is acceptable. Now, I look at the individuals I know as house help’s and it dawns on me that these people are human. They have stories. They have needs, basic needs. Many nights I wanted a cuddle. I started out at 10! By 18, I needed to tell you about the boy who kissed me. Madam did not care. You wanted the best for me, and I understand that, but Ifeyinwa has pointed out to me that it was not necessary. I would happily have lived with no education and yet, turned out exactly as I am now. I suppose for some people it pays off, so in a sense, it’s a 50/50 chance. I belonged with you. It is cruelty to deprive a child of the love of that only their family can give.


In the same token, my heart goes out to you mum, a brave mother who had to make this decision. Mothers like you send their children off with hope that the family will love them. They do it to prove to God that they would do whatever it takes to give their child the best life possible! Still, how many of these people turn out without some sort of emotional/psychological scar? How many?


Ifeyinwa will stay at home where she belongs. Whatever I can give, I will give. She is my daughter! RIP Mum, I love you for the brave woman you were!’


Today, I weep for the poor. I weep for those who feel like they do not have choices in life. Most of all, today, I weep for the emotionally deprived.


Ifeyinwa! There is nothing, nothing comparable to a child! I say amen to that!


Until next time, let’s dig deep!


Sally Chiwuzie

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