That’s just the way it is.by Osakwe Nwamaka
Anne huddled her six siblings to the front of the house. The sun heated the sand beneath their calloused feet. They shelled dried palm kernel. The nut would be their lunch. And the shells would be used to start a fire for the evening meal. Afterward the children played suwe. A woman in a cream shirt, with ruffled collar, tucked in a brown pencil skirt came to the house. She wore bright red lipstick the colour of fresh blood. The woman talked to Mama. Mama spoke with Papa. They talked far into the night
Anne's mother told her she would be going to Lagos. She told her to put her eyes on the ground. Her prospects were better out there.
Anne went to Lagos. She stayed with red lips woman. The woman lived in a big house. She called the woman 'Aunty'. And the woman's husband 'Brother'. They said it was 'Bush'. So she called him 'Uncle'. They had a four month old baby. She did not see her family for three years.
In the beginning she did not go to school as her mother said she would. She stayed at home. She took care of the baby. She played suwe alone on the cold floor tiles while the baby slept. She had three huge meals a day. She slept by twelve midnight most nights. She ate meat. She stored some bread in her bag of clothes for emergency even though she never had need of it. She forgot how to laugh. She stopped playing.
She started school the following year. She could not answer the questions they asked her at school. "The best we can do is primary one" said the headmistress. Anne wanted to say 'But I was in primary five back home.' She did not. "That's okay," Aunty replied.
She was the biggest in the class. She sat at the back. She chanted the multiplication table to the toddler in the evenings. And the states and their capitals when she rocked the child to sleep. Her command of spoken English language improved.
"How can you be in primary one? You're older than me." A frown was etched on Sade's face.
"How old are you?" Sade asked.
Anne put one hand, palm up, over the other.
"What do you know?" Sade asked. Her eyes were guileless. Her family lived next door.
Sade brought her books. She asked her to start with 'Queen's Primer'.
"You have to learn to sound the words not memorize them," Sade said to her.
"Why is the letter 'A' pronounced 'ah' sometimes and 'a' some other times" Anne asked.
Sade had no answer. "That's just the way it is," she said finally.
Each day was a blur. Except for Sade who taught her to laugh again.
Aunty had another baby. Anne did not go to school for a week. Uncle got angry. Aunty got angry. Anne went to school. Her chores suddenly increased.
She went home for Christmas. Mama hugged her. Papa smiled. Her siblings chattered. Mama asked questions. She answered them. Then there was nothing to say.
She returned to Lagos. She read to the children.
Her breasts budded. Blood seeped from her insides. Aunty gave her tissue paper. She told her how to use it. Sade told her everything else.
"I'd like to be a doctor." Sade said one day.
Anne thought Sade would make a good doctor. She told her so.
"What would you like to be?" Sade asked.
Anne thought about it. "Maybe a teacher."
"Studying to be a teacher looks like it will be cheap."
Sade was perpelexed. She didn't understand why Anne could not go to the university like her 'Aunty'. Why she wanted to become a teacher because it was cheap.
"My Aunty is not like your mummy." Anne told her.
The bump in front grew. The bump behind grew. Aunty's friends hmmphed.
One day Anne spread her undergarment on the lines. The panties had holes. Uncle came to the back of the house. He saw the holes. Shame covered Anne's eyes. She hurried into the house.
Uncle spoke to Aunty. Aunty got furious. They raised their voices. Then there was silence.
The next week Aunty searched Anne's bags. Then she sent her home. Anne did not get to say goodbye.
Mama sighed and said "You are always welcome home."
Every day she spoke a little more with her siblings.
She sold dried fish for her mother in the market. She passed in front of the ironmonger work site on her way to the market. Her hips swayed. His eyes shone.
The ironmonger came to the house. He came with his white haired father. Papa accepted his wine and kolanuts. Papa called his kinsmen.
Anne packed the books Sade had given her into a box. Mama folded new wrappers into another box.
The ironmonger returned with more members of his family. They came with yams, kolanuts, soaps, chewing sticks, tobacco and plenty drinks.
She drank from the cup. He drank from the cup. She went to his house. She cried that night. She thought about Sade. Sade had answers to every question but one.
She opened the box when her child was three. Queen's Primer was at the top. Ah, Bbb, Cck. The sounds had not left her.
Why is 'A' sometimes pronounced 'Ah' and sometimes 'A' her son asked when he was nearly five. She was silent for a while. "That's just the way it is," she said eventually.