A Little Bit of Writing
So I’m working on a story, which is exciting because I haven’t written a story in so, so, long!!! Also, I’ve never completed a story but this one I’m writing actually seems like it’s worth giving a damn about. I’m hoping that this will be the story I finish (and maybe publish – fingers crossed!!) but I’m far from being done yet ( I would even say far from beginning since I’ve been writing higgeldy-piggeldy and in no particular order.)
Plus I haven’t even got to the meat of the story yet, but it’s all here in my head and it’s itching to get out. This whole term I’ve carried around this weird feeling in my head that’s only relieved whenever I put pen to paper so I’ve finally given in and started writing. I had writer’s block a while back. It was horrible, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
Either way, I’ve developed the main characters and I’ve written some of their back stories, but I only just got through the beginning sequence of the story. I’ve written lots of other chapters but I had been avoiding the beginning because honestly, I had no idea how to begin. After giving it some thought, I decided to begin at the beginning because given the nature of the story, honestly, that’s the only logical place to begin. (and after you read it you will see why).
Anyway, enough of my rambling. Here is the beginning of the story. Please tell me what you think.
This beginning part doesn’t mention any of the main characters (even though some of them are very present there).
Ogoli Amaka was having a baby. Beads of sweat shimmered on her forehead like the stars that littered the night sky above her. Her hands grasped the black ropes that hung down from a metal frame near the ceiling of the birthing tent and her jaw vibrated as she bit down on the wooden bar that the midwife had placed in her mouth to stifle her screams. Her legs ached, her pelvis was on fire, and the cold night breeze rocked the tent slightly as she squatted under the temporary shelter that had been put up by her husband for the birth the month before.
The old woman held up a lamp and wiped the sweat from the panting woman’s face. “It will come soon.” She said in her scratchy voice. “You young women have no stamina. Be brave! You must not scream or you will frighten away your baby’s chi, and then what will you do?” Hearing this Amaka bit the bar harder, willing the sound building within her to die in her throat. It was a chill harmattan night and she was cold and uncomfortable even though her skin had been rubbed thoroughly with palm oil. The thin cotton robe she wore did not provide much insulation against the breeze and although she was spared the worst of it by the huge yellow tent, the top still opened to the night sky and through that opening a small draught had found its way in to torment her.
Suddenly Amaka felt a heavy pressure in her pelvis and under the direction of the old midwife, she gritted her teeth and pushed. Reeling she gripped the ropes tighter to steady herself. She had almost lost her balance from the effort of the push and fallen from her squatting position to the floor. Her large protruding belly made balancing that much harder but she was determined to get the birth over with sooner rather than later.
Steadying herself she looked to the older woman for guidance. Seeing her nod, Amaka took a deep breath and heaved downwards again. This time the baby slid out into the waiting arms of the midwife. Laughing with relief and wincing in pain, Amaka let go of the ropes and thankfully collapsed backwards onto the pile of floor cushions behind her, but something was wrong. She felt a movement in her womb as the pain came again.
“Agida!” She called out in alarm, alerting the midwife to her distress. The old lady frowned and setting the now-swaddled child down in the baby bed, shuffled over to see what was wrong. “There’s something there!” Amaka said, her eyes large with fear.
-“Yes, that must be the placenta coming out.”
“No,” Amaka shook her head emphasizing that the woman was wrong. “there’s something big and it’s coming out.”
The agida sucked in a sharp breath. “It can’t be. It shouldn’t be.”
Quickly motioning for Amaka to squat again and hold onto the ropes, she produced a mirror from her nabi and slid it underneath Amaka, holding an oil lamp close so she could see. Sure enough, the head of a second baby could clearly be seen making its way out into the world.
“Push!” she ordered and Amaka gave a huge push, sending the second child out towards life.
Three minutes later two sets of cries pierced the stillness of the night.
Okolo heard Amaka’s sobs long before the tent came into view. Coming round the corner towards the orange glow of the lamps and the candles surrounding and within the birthing tent, the sounds of her grief drowned out the infant cries that he was straining so hard to hear and his heart sank into his stomach. He was sure the child was stillborn. They had married four years ago when she was only fourteen and he eighteen, and while all the other women of her age grade already had a retinue of children, their home was once again deprived of this joy.
“Oh Ani!” He whispered in prayer as the agida approached him, his wife’s screams in the background. The old woman’s face was grim and worn with so many lines she looked like she had ichi on her forehead.
“Nne anyi,” he addressed her with the honorific term of respect, ‘Our Mother’, clutching the folds of her dress. “Will my wife live?” The old lady nodded and Okolo’s shoulders sagged with relief, but his stomach was still a roiling pit of fear. “Nne anyi,” he whispered “is the child dead?”
The agida pulled herself to her full height, which wasn’t much and squared her shoulders.
“Worse,” she said almost inaudibly. “Ejima.”
Important Background Information:
This story is set in the 9th century. At the time, and even up to the 1890s and early 1900s, it was common for Igbo girls to marry around the ages of 13, 14 and upwards (or a few years after menstruation began – whichever came first)
All Igbo people are divided into age grades. Life achievements are always compared against those of other members of the same age grade. Not really practised anymore in modern Igbo life.
Ogoli is an Igbo term used to refer to married women. It is and at the same time not equivalent to Mrs but it does serve the same function in pointing out that the woman addressed is indeed married. It can also be used on its own to mean Married Woman or Women (i.e. ANY married woman or women)
Ejima is the Igbo word for Twin or Twins (no plural)
Ichi are tribal marks that are worn only by Igbo men. They are a series of lines cut into the forehead in a slightly diagonal fashion. They aren’t worn by many Igbo men these days because of the general decline in the popularity of tribal marks.
Agida is an Igbo word I made up for midwife since the original word is lost to us. Nabi is another Igbo word I made up to refer specifically to a wrapper. As far as I know the word that refers specifically to wrapper and not its type (e.g. ankara, george, akwete, etc – “AKWA” refers to cloth. Any cloth no matter what length, colour, shape or size, as long as it is a fabric, and as such is a generic word for cloth/fabric/material) has been unrecoverable in the language. I REFUSE to accept that the Igbo word for wrapper is wrappa or even worse lappa. I absolutely REFUSE. Writers of horrible Igbo dictionaries, die and be damned. I fucking refuse.
I don’t know what childbirth is like so this is my imagined version of childbirth based on what I’ve heard and seen so far. If you have actually experienced childbirth and find my description off, please let me know so I can make it as accurate as possible.
Also, traditionally Igbo women are not supposed to give birth inside the house. They must give birth outside and then when the child is born and all the stuff is done, they must carry the child in their arms and step backwards into the house. If it was raining or harmattan or if there was likely to be any inclement weather during the birth, a tent would be used, but no inside-house births. Ever. Of course, the coming of the missionaries changed all that.
So, what do you think?