The blood would not stop flowing. It had been 3 days. Nsa and Wonuoma had promised me 3 days at most. Well, Nsa had initially said 2 days but Wonuoma had retorted that Nsa was a sickler so her experience did not matter. How much blood could she afford to give away monthly anyway? Three days was what normal women had, no more, no less, Wonuma had said with a finality that brooked no argument. Nsa had turned red and her pale eyes had become paler and i worried she would faint like she so often did.
Nsa was the prettiest of us best friends. She was also going to be the first to die. Everyone said sicklers never lived past a certain age. My mother said we were unchristian children not to believe in the power of God to heal Nsa. I believed but i also knew that some things had to die to give way to better things. Nsa would die and something even more beautiful would take her place. I and Wonuoma waited with bated breath for our friend's rebirth.
In the mean while, Wonuoma had the final say on most things and the length of my monthly cycle was not going to be any different.
I woke up early on the morning of the fourth day and checked the white pads of tissue paper my friends had lovingly made for me. They had made 9 pads, 3 for each day. Something was definitely wrong. I began to cry silently and pray to my mother's God to take this thing away. This thing that Wonuoma said marked my entry into womanhood. This thing that Nsa said was the determinant of if i grew any breasts at all. This thing that both my friends agreed were my unborn children who had died because i did not have a father for them yet.
I wept in sorrow for my unborn babies. I cried for the essence of childhood that flowed ceaselessly away. I was so involved in my weeping that i failed to notice the shadow that stood above me till it called out to me.
"Nneoma!!!" I looked up from where i sat in despair on my raffia mat.
"What is it biko? Why are you crying this early in the morning? Did you have a bad dream? Did you fight with Wonu or Nsa?"
I nodded in negative to my mother's barrage of questions.
"Then what is it? Talk to me biko!" My mother pleaded as she joined me on the raffia mat.
The thing with my mother was she never stopped to breathe. Whether in loving or in scolding, Mama had no breaks.
"Tell me what is wrong before you give me high blood pressure , you this child" My mother asked again. This time her voice was raised higher than before.
"The blood won't stop Mama!" I answered my mother.
"Blood? What blood?" My mother asked looking up, down, left and right.
I sighed in exasperation. Sometimes my mother amazed me with her cluelessness. I stood up to show her my stained night gown.
"Nneoma!" My mother called in a hushed whisper. "You have started! When? How?" She asked as she pulled me towards her in a warm embrace that felt more congratulatory than comforting. The hug ignited a fresh round of my tears. Through the sobs, i managed to ask her if i was bleeding to death as Wonuoma had said anything over 3 days meant death.
"Chei! Wonuoma of the big mouth and empty head" Mama said, not unkindly. She loved Wonuoma almost as much as she loved me. Only Wonu could get away with cradling my mother's bosom and telling her it was the best pillow ever.
"Never you mind Wonu and her tall tales. Every woman has a different cycle just as we are all born at different times. There is nothing the matter with you Nnem. You are beautiful, perfect and a woman. Soon i will carry your children on my back but not too soon oh. For now stay away from boys and men because some men can get you pregnant even by looking at you"
We laughed together at that and talked long into the new day till i was late for school and my mother, for work.
My friends showed up in the evening and Wonuoma's ears got a twisting from my mother for her tall tales. I sat with Nsa and laughed while my mother and my friend teased each other. I looked at Nsa and pleaded with my mother's God for her not to die. Nothing could ever take her place. I didn't mind the death of my unborn children. The ones that were meant to be born would be born but Nsa was here already. I had got to hold her, to laugh with her, to defend her, to watch her pale face flush with joy and laughter, to love her translucent skin that looked like a new born baby's...
There and then, under the watchful gaze of the moon; while my father drank palm wine and my brothers played noisily; with my mother's and friends' laughter cheering me on, i made my transition from careless childhood to nurturing womanhood.There and then, i decided my best friend would not die. I had enough blood on my hands as it were.
P.s Most people ask why most my stories are set around Igbo characters...especially as i am a Yoruba girl who has lived 90% of her life in Lagos...
I have Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi, Elechi Amadi, Buchi Emecheta, Chimamanda Adichie and countless other amazing writers of Igbo origin to thank for that. Their stories, their dedication to creating a better reality through fiction...these are some of the reasons i am proud to be called a Nigerian and not just a Yoruba girl.
Song of the day: Amy Winehouse: Tears dry on their own