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Irunna lay on the bed with her new baby girl perched on her chest. Exhaustion was written all over her. Her new baby was sleeping peace...

Irunna lay on the bed with her new baby girl perched on her chest. Exhaustion was written all over her. Her new baby was sleeping peacefully while she stroked her gently. Her labor pains had been excruciating. Her eyes had not fully dried from the tears she had shed in the process. Nothing in the world would take the place of her new baby girl; her fourth child. Soon, the full might of sleep descended on the corridors of her eyes. Still clutching her baby gently, she succumbed to the marauding sleep. Her husband Ikenna had been out of town. On hearing that his wife was in labor, he raced back into town about an hour after Irunna had delivered and made a mad dash to the hospital on a commercial motor bike, locally called Okada. He was breathing down the neck of the bike rider, urging him to take short cuts to the hospital and even break traffic rules. He paid the rider on arriving at the hospital and dashed upstairs without waiting to collect his change. He was bristling with expectation. When he finally found Irunna and their newborn baby, the look on his face turned sour. His excitement plummeted. An obnoxious frown began to colonize his face. 

As he sat on the edge of the bed, Irunna woke up. She managed a weak smile. She gazed upon his face with keen interest. Ikenna attempted a smile, but the weight of the frown on his face was so heavy that his feeble, plastic smile failed to hide his disappointment. “Hi,” he said to Irunna. “Hello dear,” Irunna replied. She had seen the look on his face. She closed her eyes and soon, dense balls of tears emerged sluggishly from the corners of her eyes. “Are you okay?” Ikenna asked her. “Are you okay?” She asked him back. “Yes, I am fine my dear,” he lied. Again, he attempted a smile. “It is another girl,” Irunna said somberly. “I have noticed,” answered Ikenna. “And you are okay with that?” Ikenna nodded unconvincingly. Irunna could see the look in his eyes. He was clearly disappointed. “I am not God you know. I don’t make baby boys. If I did, I would fill our household with only boys,” Irunna said through a haze of tears.

Her new baby was their fourth consecutive baby girl. Ikenna had declared his preference for a baby boy in no uncertain terms throughout Irunna’s pregnancy. She desperately wanted her new baby to be a boy that she experienced a moment of heart-stopping fear and disappointment when her baby girl was delivered. “It is what it is,” Ikenna answered. “Aren’t you going to hold her?” She asked him. “I don’t want to wake her from sleep.” “You are seeing her for the first time. It does not matter; please hold your daughter,” Irunna insisted. “I don’t want to wake her,” Ikenna insisted. He rose to his feet and began to walk out of the room. “You don’t have to pretend that you are happy. I know you wanted a baby boy. I am sorry that I have not been able to give you one so far,” she said apologetically. Ikenna walked downstairs to the lobby. He sank into a vacant seat with his hands on his head as though his world was crashing down. He peered at the ceiling in anger, clenching his fists. “God why?” He asked. “All my friends and peers have baby boys. Why not me? At this rate, we will soon have ten baby girls. Who will bear my name? Who will carry on the family name?” He felt a rush of anger sweep through him. Inside, Irunna cuddled their baby as more tears drenched her face.  

Eight weeks later…
“Don’t you know how to cook? Did your mother not teach you well? How come you never make anything decent? This Okra soup is full of salt, idiot,” Ikenna heaped insults on his wife. “My husband, the children and I had the same soup. It is not salty,” Irunna replied politely. “You are now questioning me? You and your hoard of girls know salty soup and I don’t?” Ikenna shouted at her. Irunna bent over to take the plate of soup away. Ikenna picked up the plate ahead of her and threw the soup over her head. “Ayoo!!” She exclaimed painfully. The soup was hot, so she could feel burning pain on her scalp. She ran into the kitchen covered in soup. Her children watched in shock. They sobbed quietly, eager to avoid their father’s wrath. Irunna quickly poured water over her head. Her first daughter, Azuka offered her help through a stream of tears. She fetched more water for Irunna in a bowl and poured it over her head. “Mama sorry,” the children echoed in a low, muffled tone. “It is okay,” she replied, suppressing her tears. Ikenna stumbled out of the house and joined his friends at Mama Ogbonna’s beer parlor. 

Later that night, Irunna sat on the porch with her children. Akudo, her new baby girl was sleeping peacefully in the cradle. The rest of the girls were listening to their mother’s tales by moonlight. “Mama, are we of any value?” Azuka asked their mother. “What do you mean my child? Of course you are important!” Irunna replied emphatically. “But daddy wants a boy! He thinks we are useless,” Njideka added. “When your daddy is angry or when he returns from the beer parlor, he says things he does not mean,” Irunna tried to dissuade their fears. “Mommy, the other day daddy asked for a cup of water, so I fetched it for him. As I was waiting to take the cup from him, he yelled at me saying, “Why are you standing there stupid girl? Am I not allowed to enjoy a cup of water in my own house?” As I was walking away, he said, “She has filled my house with useless girls who cannot do anything right. A simple boy she cannot give me…what am I supposed to do with all these girls,” Olachi explained. “He must have been stressed after a rough day at the market.” “It was on a Sunday mom, so he had not been to the market,” Olachi insisted. “I know he does not like us. I wish I were old enough to run away,” Njideka lamented. “I wish I were old enough to beat him when he beats you, mom,” Azuka added. 

“Don’t talk like that!!! You should never think of beating your own father,” Irunna shouted. “You always support him mom. So, when I grow up and get married, should expect my husband to beat up?” Olachi asked “No!!!” Irunna shouted, fighting back tears that raged like a storm behind her eyelids. “Even if I don’t give birth to a baby boy?” Njideka asked. “My children please listen to me,” Irunna said. She had her right hand to her right ear as she stressed her point. “There are things I cannot explain to you now. When you grow up you will understand them better. No matter what though, no man has any right to beat you up whether you have baby boys or baby girls. You are all important…everyone is important; boy or girl.” “That is not in agreement with the way daddy treats you,” Azuka pointed out stubbornly. “And us!” Olachi yelled. “The other day, our neighbor Onyekachi picked a fight with me, I beat him so bad. I threw him to the ground and stuffed sand in his mouth. I like it when I can beat up a boy that well. It is payback for what dad does to you…and us,” Azuka narrated. “You cannot go about fighting! Now go to bed. If I ever hear that you fought another boy, I will skin you alive,” Irunna threatened

Some days later, Ikenna’s mother visited. She arrived Enugu in the company of a young girl. “My husband is not home yet. I have sent a message to him at the market that you are here. He will soon be home,” Irunna explained as pleasantly as she could to her mother in-law, Paulina. Paulina looked at her as though she were the devil himself marching noticeably into a full Sunday service at church. “We will wait for my son,” she said to Irunna with an ugly frown on her face. “Who is the girl with you?” Irunna asked referring to the young girl. “That is none of your business,” Paulina answered sharply. Irunna retired to the kitchen to fix a meal for her and the young girl. Although the young girl said nothing, her eyes spoke volumes. She looked derogatorily at Irunna, crossing her leg like a queen on the throne. 

“Isn’t she beautiful?” Paulina asked Ikenna. He had dashed home to meet his mother and the young lady. “She is the one I have been telling you about. In her family, they produce big, healthy boys, not these skinny girls that will not carry your family name,” she explained exuberantly to Ikenna. “How are you?” Ikenna asked the young girl. He was sizing her up. The girl was tall with full lips and long braids. Additionally, she was fair in complexion; a trait that Ikenna desired. “Her name is Odinaka,” Paulina replied before the young girl could answer him. “I am fine thank you,” Odinaka answered. She smiled as though she had just one a ten million Naira lottery.  In the bedroom, Irunna planted her face in a pillow and sobbed uncontrollably. Her daughters huddled around her. They too were in tears. Soon, Odinaka moved in as wife number two. She threw her weight around like a boss. With Ikenna’s support and attention shifting to Odinaka, Irunna and her children were relegated to second class citizens. Soon, Odinaka took in and delivered a baby girl. Her second child was a girl too. By the third time, she delivered a baby boy. Soon, she had a second baby boy. She had fully cemented her position in the family as the more important of the two wives. Soon, Odinaka’s children were throwing their weights around too, taking cue from their mother. Azuka and her sisters did not hesitate to pound them like punching bags though, whenever they had the opportunity.  STORY CONTINUES...

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