By Felly Oyuga
Mummy, I’m feeling cold”
Ava rushed to cover her child. It had been raining all afternoon and the pink blanket was not enough. She then tried to pull the plastic sheet over the cot. Her room had a leak in the ceiling. Ava lived in an old building that had drab walls and stained ceilings. Everything she owned was in this dark room that had high small windows. She had forgotten what the sky looked like. She longed for the blue sky, green grass and fresh air. She wanted to take Baby out, but she was scared. Life was confusing for her sometimes.
Ava was a beautiful girl. Her skin glistened like honey. Her hair grew effortlessly from her scalp, long, black and soft. Her lips were full and pinkish. She had small eyes that became small slits when she laughed. They said it was hard for beautiful girls like her to finish school. The men and boys would not give her a chance. As soon as her breasts started to develop, the attention from the male species started. Ava would be going to school, still a child really, picking bottle tops by the roadside and men would offer her lifts on their motorbikes or cars. The shopkeeper always gave her free sweets whenever she went to the shop. As she grew older the shopkeeper stopped taking her money and would give her food stuff, free of charge. Innocently, she would tell her mother of her ‘good’ fortune and offer to give her back the money. Her mother would take back the money, but not before insulting her child.
It was never clear why Ava’s mother hated her. Maybe hate is a strong word. She did give birth to her only child, didn’t she? Wait, I have remembered why I chose the word hate. When Ava was just a toddler, her mother had guests. She was preparing tea for them with her last packet of milk. Ava being a child and acting out of curiosity, went to look at the tea in the pan and tipped it over. Mama Ava went crazy. She even forgot she had guests. One of the ladies had to restrain her from throwing Ava against the wall. Then she said, “This one is just a prostitute”! The guests gasped. “She will die of disease, this one. I doubt she will even finish school.”
“Mama Ava! Stop it! It is just tea and we aren’t hungry anyway.” One of the guests yelled, while another took Ava outside to comfort her.
“Look at that face, men won’t leave her’”
It seems her prophecy or curse came to pass. As Ava grew older, the more her mother’s dislike for her grew, the more she craved love. All these men said they loved her, what was a girl to do?
By the time Ava was seventeen, she had learnt to play the cards she had been dealt. In fact she was good at it. The men flocked around her and worshipped her with their money and gifts. She in turn lay them at her mother’s feet. But her mother was a wicked woman. She never appreciated any of it. It did not matter that her rent was paid, her stall at the market was full of supplies she did not buy, nor that her wardrobe was overflowing with fabric from Tanzania to Nigeria, via DRC. Nothing could change her heart of stone.
Ava found out she was pregnant at the beginning of her final year in secondary school. She was devastated and disappointed. After all the precautions she had taken. To make it worse, she was not very sure who the father of her unborn child was. Was it her Chemistry teacher, or Pastor David? Maybe it was the Shopkeeper. She had to get rid of it or her mother would literally eat her alive. She could not afford to bring such shame to her mother. She was worried about bringing shame to a woman who was expecting nothing but the worst from her. You know children though, always thinking their actions can please their parents no matter what.
The Chemistry teacher gave her money to have an abortion. His wife would not appreciate the extra child, more so from another woman. The Shopkeeper was old enough to be her father. He accused her of sleeping with other men. He swore the baby was not his. He sent her away and asked her never to go to his shop again. He had had a vasectomy some years back. Now pastor David, a young pastor on his first mission. He was not married and ‘thou shalt not fornicate’ clearly did not mean to him what it meant to the faithful. Pastor David begged and pleaded with Ava not to abort the baby. It was murder and it was a sin he said. He eventually promised to marry Ava. She just had to complete her studies. Ava was not sure about marriage, and, to a pastor? She agreed to think about it.
The idea of being a wife grew on Ava. She could get married. She would have a house of her own. Children. Love. Maybe this was not such a bad idea. She however decided not to tell her mother just yet. A decision Pastor David was too agreeable to. If she had to finish school first, Ava would have to drop out in September or there about to have the baby, then return just in time to write her final exams.
By the fifth month mama Ava figured out that her daughter was with child. Ava was barely showing, being that this was her first pregnancy, but you know mothers. They smell pregnancies. Pastor David owned up to the pregnancy which somehow comforted mama Ava. There might be hope yet for her harlot of a daughter. Maybe marrying a pastor may cleanse her. The good Pastor informed his parent church of his transgression. After much back and forth, and prayer, it was agreed that instead of waiting for Ava to complete her school, they would instead wait for Ava to turn eighteen so that they would be wed and the baby would be born in wedlock. Ava turned eighteen a month later and two weeks after, when she was almost seven months pregnant, the couple were married. The wedding ceremony was small. The neighbours whispered and snickered. The congregation reduced in size for a while. Pastor David bore his cross and never once asked for it to be taken away.
Ava went into labour at exactly thirty six weeks. She laboured for eleven hours and fifty five minutes. Pastor David was at her side throughout. He panicked, prayed and paced mostly, but he was there. At five minutes to midnight, the screams of a newborn could be heard from the maternity ward.
“Is the baby ok”, Pastor David asked the midwife while she wrapped the baby girl in a pink blanket. The midwife ignored him and put the new baby in her mother’s trembling arms.
“Nurse, I asked if the baby is ok? Why is she white? Is she an albino?” Pastor David was getting worked up.
“I will leave you to speak to your wife” she said softly and walked out of the labour room.
Ava’s baby was not African. Jet black straight hair and green eyes. Her skin was white like milk. This was Tom’s baby. Tom was a Lebanese man who had come to Nairobi on business last December. She had spent just one night with him. She looked at her husband helplessly. Pastor David went over to his young wife and comforted her.
“Don’t worry, the doctor will tell us what to do. I know we must protect her from the Sun. Other than that, she will be fine. She can live a normal life.”
Ava almost burst out laughing, her husband honestly thought the baby was suffering from albinism. It would have stayed that way had her mother not come in and caused a scene. She yelled all manner of obscenities. Mama Ava even encouraged pastor David to leave Ava. After all she was nothing but a whore who had been used and misused by many.
Ava was surprised her husband came to discharge her. He took her to their home. He just did not look at the baby. He slept in the other room. He barely spoke to her, but he prayed a lot. She often overheard him praying and pleading with his God. Ava was not handling motherhood well. She had no help. Her mother did not come to teach her how to look after herself and a new born baby. Her breasts were engorged with milk. The baby did not latch on and she cried and cried. She hardly slept. Ava was delirious from lack of sleep and pain. Ava was scared to go out, she could not handle the judgement from the righteous. The women of the church did not come to check on her. She was in hell, only instead of fire, it was the never ending screams of this bastard child. Ava hated her baby, then she loved her. Sometimes she wished her baby would die. There were days when she could swear her baby was a demon, sent to her to punish her. Why had God forsaken her?
One evening she woke up from sleep, the baby was crying as usual. Pastor David was praying. He prayed louder than usual. He prayed and read scripture.
“Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins!” Pastor David yelled, then he went into a session of incoherent ramblings.
Ava fell to her knees, her head was racing, she must get rid of her sins she thought, she did not want to die. She was sweating, the baby kept crying. Her little hands and legs in the air. She had long nails, the baby had long nails, teeth like fangs. Her eyes were red. She was a demon. She had to get rid of her sins.
“It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God”!, Pastor David continued. More mumbling and stomping of feet. “For our God is a consuming fire! Hallelujah”!
Fire! That is it, God would use fire to cleanse her sins Ava thought. She looked over in the cot and the demon child looked back at her. Her head was heavy, the choir was singing, “Fire, fire, fire, fall on me”! The drums were loud, she was on her knees at the altar. The fire burned bright. Fire was falling, consuming, cleansing. She was rid of her sins, praise God!
Pastor David was treated for smoke inhalation and discharged. Why did she do it? He would have stayed married to her like Prophet Hosea in the bible had stayed married to Gomer. The baby died, burnt beyond recognition. Ava had set fire to the cot, with the baby in it. They had not even named the baby.
Ava was admitted to a mental institution. She spends her days holding and rocking a doll she calls Baby.