Oh how I hated her, the witch. Who does she think she is coming to take my mother’s place? I who had taken care of the house for 5 years, cooking, scrubbing and washing. Trying my best to be a woman so papa would not feel the urge to stray away every night and bring back home another child with the words: ‘Suubi, this is your new brother, take care of him like your mama would have’. Like mama would have let him bring home a bastard child from one of his concubines. But this was different, much worse because this time, it was not a child who was coming home but a wife.
I wondered what she would be like. Would she be beautiful or ugly, fat or skinny, mean like the step mothers in my school books or warm hearted like…. Oh there was nothing to compare her warm heartedness to. No home breaker could be kind, yes I nodded to myself as I smiled in satisfaction at my analysis of the witch, no doubt she was ugly and mean. On a second thought, I hoped she wouldn’t be that wicked. Wicked step mothers were horrible creatures who were mean to children and I did not want that for my siblings. Hmm... I sighed thinking back to papa’s evening speech from yesterday. How could he say we were becoming unbearable to handle and that we needed another mama. A slap to my face! How could papa say that? I who had cooked, scrubbed, washed and taken care of the offspring of his wandering manhood while their so called mamas’, only showed up to spend a few nights with him before going off again, not thinking about their children whom I had adopted as my own. They came into the house like they owned the place, played mother for a few days only to wave at me on their way out with that annoying smile and those maddening words ‘well-done Suubi, hmm with all this responsibility, you will be able to handle your husband’s home when the time comes’. Shaking my head in disgust I wonder what these women know about having a husband or being a mother.
Finally, the day we get to meet her. Papa instructed that we looked our best as he did not want his new wife to be greeted by eight dirty looking children. I shake my head in bitterness, now he calls me a child.
The house was a hive of activity, neighbors, uncles and even aunty Elizabeth who I thought was on our side was there looking like she just won the lottery. I feel helpless and alone, hating the strangers who are walking around our house, my house like they owned it. A house I had taken care of for 5 years since mama died, now they sing, dance and pour rice and drink on the ground I painstakingly scrubbed clean. I hold close little Mumbia, the newest addition to our family from papas late night roaming. It’s okay baby I tell him as I looked around for the others and see them playing with some other children. Seething in anger, I wonder whose side they were on anyway. I sit up straight as I hear Aunty Elizabeth calling me, Suubi, Suubi come here your father wants you. I rise up slowly from the bench, holding little Mumbia, who wouldn’t have released my hand even if I wanted him to. Come quick Aunty Elizabeth says as she sees me walking towards her.
As I approach the crowd, I see her. She was sitting close to papa; head bowed looking nothing like a happy bride. I frown as I get closer trying to figure out her face. Was she ugly, old, hideous? Papa smiled at me as he gestured proudly Suubi, you missed the celebration, come now and meet your new mama. Forcing a smile on my face, I looked up at the witch as I wait for her to lift up her head. Ever so slowly and almost reluctantly it seemed, she lifted up her face and what I see astounds me.
She was young, not much older than 14. I gasp in shock as I see her, tears swelling in her eyes, how could papa have done this. She was young enough to be his daughter, certainly young enough to be my younger sister, I was 16! Filled with pain and grief, all the animosity I had felt toward her turned to pity. I look up at papas smiling face as I hear Aunty Elizabeth’s voice behind me, saying: Suubi, embrace your new mother, she has come to take care of your papa and all your brothers and sisters. Now you can begin to enjoy life the way a child should. Show her all you do in the house so that she can relieve you from your responsibility. I looked up at my aunty, wondering how I had ever thought she was kind. She had a daughter this age that was still in school, aunty wouldn’t even let her smile at boys in her class, but yet she would sacrifice the daughter of another to a tired old man like papa. SUCH HYPOCRISY! I held out my hand to the new addition to the family as I forced a smile on my face, thinking to myself the irony of the situation. For 5 years I had catered for papas offspring form other women; nothing much had changed after all, I was still in charge of the house, this time not just of 7 energetic children but also of a lone teenager who would need all the love she could get from a big sister.
Casting papa a nasty glance, I held on tightly to my new ward and walked with her into her new home. Praying God grant her strength to endure the life ahead.
By Jubemi Omabuwa