by Chisom C. Iboko
“Keep quiet child; this doesn’t concern you.”
I know a lot for a 5-year-old. I’m invisible. I see what others don’t see. I don’t know when it began. Was it when mother blamed Sarah for stealing the milk I saw Nwaka take? Or was it later when a stolen pencil found its way into my school bag? The teacher flogged me in front of the class while the pupils chanted ‘Thief! Thief!’ She never let me defend myself. And for the first time, as I walked back home from school, I waited for the big lorry that usually journeyed through the road that leads home. I remember the lorry once killed a woman, and the incident was on everyone’s lips for weeks. It shook everyone. That day, I was going to fling myself in front of that lorry so I would be crushed. I didn’t want to go back to school the next day and be called a thief. I wanted my death to be dramatic. I wanted the teacher to feel guilty for mistreating me. I wanted my classmates to miss me. Except for the lorry never showed up that day. It was either then or earlier that I found solace in writing.
They say the pen is mightier than the sword; to me, they are the same. While some find fulfilment in using the sword to get justice, I find satisfaction in ink. I write because it’s the only way I can utter profanities against people like my teacher; to defend myself against the boy who lied that he had slept with me and everyone called me a slut, I hadn’t even had my first kiss yet. I write to punish my oppressors - I wasn’t blessed with physical strength - the pen became both weapon and shield. With my pen, I reward everyone according to their deeds. I write because if I try to speak in defense, I break down.
For a girl who grew up hearing so many “Quiet woman! Your voice is not needed.” The pen really is the only escape. I write because I want to be heard. I refuse to inherit my mother’s silence. And all those other women who answered ‘Oriaku’ but suffered in silence to please society. Do they not see the shadows under her eye? Or the sorrow behind the laughter? I write because of injustice. I write for all those women who are too ashamed or scared to speak for themselves. I write because I need to remind myself what not to become.
I write to save myself from me. You see, I am my greatest enemy. Even though nothing is wrong, I can’t seem to be happy. Happiness is an illusion. Where did I inherit this rage from? Why the emptiness? Sometimes I think that maybe, in another life, a time past, I was something. But I can’t find the fire that kept me going in that past life, so I write. The fire seems to come from somewhere within and only burns through ink.
I write because if I don’t, I will run mad. The images in my head, my wild imaginations, darkest thoughts, and the violence, they will engulf me if I don’t release them.
Did you know, I saw the lorry that didn’t show up years ago when I was in primary 1? I saw it today, and even though I didn’t have any underlying issues, I still wanted to run into it. But I see the faces of my family, I know losing any of them will dim the little fire inside of me so I can imagine what my death will do to them. So, I stood by the edge, close enough to jump in and far enough to pull away. Do you see the marks on my skin? You wouldn’t; I heal fast. I write because if I don’t, somehow, the knife never seems far away—a little cut here, a little there, never enough to finish me. Just a pinch to cause pains, which give me relief.
I write because it makes people uncomfortable. For all the things they did and saw but refused to speak against. I love pricking their conscience. Even though they say words don’t move them, I know they lie. I see their faces when they think no one is watching, and it makes me happy. They say misery loves company, so I write to share this misery.