A FEELING OF NO NAME
by Chiamaka Ejiofor
A Feeling of No Name – First Runner-up of the 2020 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)
Maura sat in the therapist’s office that smelt of exhaust fumes and feminine cologne, and had the paint peeling off the walls like scabs falling off a dried-up wound. It made Maura think of healing. She looked out through the window, at the tarred road. The sun was high in the horizon, pouring down rays like streaks of pale fire, creating huge mirage pools on the tarred road. Pools of blood. Maura was sure. Her baby’s blood.
“What a comfortable chair, isn’t it? To share uncomfortable problems” the therapist said, tittering, as though she was approaching a lunatic whose madness she knew was growing malignant.
Maura smiled at the therapist who seemed to be hiding behind her large spectacles. Maura started to say something, but the sharp pain in her abdomen, just where her Caesarean section scar was, pressed her lips shut. She closed her eyes. She felt her head swoon. It was engulfing her, she knew, that feeling with no name, that feeling that catches her unaware, takes her in its palms and dips her into a pool of numbness. Like sleep paralysis.
But this swoon, this feeling that makes her hands tremble, and her teeth clatter, until she bites her tongue, tasting blood; it did not start here. No. Not in the therapist office. Not on that tarred road with mirage pools of blood either.
It started the day Maura turned eighteen. Maura, hot-blooded and a believer in anything with a romantic overtone. Marcel had told her on the eve of her birthday that Eighteen meant ripping oneself off the cloaks of childhood and painting adulthood on the canvass of one’s dream.
She lay on his bed, snuggled in his arms after they had eaten suya with cold Fanta at a local bar to celebrate her birthday. Her eyes following the haphazard dance of dust from where a thin beam sneaked in through the keyhole, as she listened to him saying how much he loved her, his eyes watery, and Maura thought of love as some kind of liquid emotions one could bottle up and place on shelves. As though Marcel saying “I will give you all my love” meant he had a shelf of these bottles and would anoint her with them, one after the other, until she felt a slippery ache in her groin. So when she felt that swoon, that numbness, creeping over her as he ripped her clothes off her lean body, she did not think of giving that feeling a name.
She did not think of giving it a name also, a few weeks later when she realized that the smears of liquid love Marcel had anointed her with had coagulated into a budding being inside of her.
She called his phone, her throat aching, a swirling sensation in her head, as though a turbine of regret was turning through her, to tell him that the pregnancy test strip had displayed the dreaded double line. But he called her stupid, his voice blending into the ache in her throat and the swirl in her head, that was when she felt that swoon engulf her again, with each of his words— Didn’t she take the morning-after pill? Didn’t she know he was a student and not ready to be a father? How was he even sure he was the one? Isn’t she a naive, cheap thing that never keeps her thigh shut, anyway?
That day, Maura realised that this liquid emotion called love that seeped from one lover’s genitals to the other, to soothe an aching groin, could also scald. Like water when it got heated up.
And like water, love could also drown, when it flowed in torrents from the most ingenuine lips. Maura became sure of this when some days later, Marcel appeared outside her hostel gate and shoved a pill wrapped in too bright aluminum foil into her hands. It would be the last time she would ever see him.
At first, Maura was wary of taking the abortion pill. But she thought of the stigma of an unwanted, and worst of all, teenage pregnancy. Of her widowed mother breaking down in tears, lamenting how she had failed her, how she had come to the University to chase after things in trousers rather than chase after her studies. So she took it, praying the custodians of sins would forgive her.
Perhaps she was forgiven because after a week of cramping pain in her womb, the baby still nestled inside her. So Maura started to think of motherhood, to google topics that felt surreal to her. Pregnancy care. Labour. Breastfeeding. And later, she bought a book on single parenting.
The day her mother called, whining over the cracking telephone line, to disown her for bringing such shame, was the day Maura walked into a nearby hospital to register for antenatal care ignoring the sneer of the nurses who muttered malicious words about little girls who won’t keep their bodies holy.
Maura planned her motherhood. She bought mosquito netting and shawl for the baby. She cut her old clothes and turned them into baby clothes.
After she put to bed, she would wake up early to feed and bathe her baby, before going to lectures with the baby strapped on her back. She would start a petty trade after classes and save enough to enroll him in a kindergarten when he turned two.
But there were things Maura did not plan.
Things like giving birth through a Caesarean section, which was like wearing a permanent emblem of motherhood, tattooing her sacrifices for this baby on her skin.
Things like her mother forgiving her, the dimples on her mother’s cheeks sinking deep as she embraced the baby, saying “he is my husband come back. Eziokwum. He is your father come back, Maura”.
Things Like her baby dying, a few days after he turned one,after she had celebrated a little birthday party with the neighborhood children from the proceeds of her petty trade.
It happened on the day her baby, Obinneya, called her mamma.
That morning, after she had bathe him, and was kissing his wet, warm belly, making slurpy sounds with her lips that made him giggle, he called softly ‘mamma’.
So when later that afternoon she went to the market to get some goods for her petty trade, she got him a toy car, a gift for calling her the most fulfilling word, mamma.
On her way back, the traffic was horrible. Cars blasting horns and drivers shouting impatiently at one another. Obinneya was whining. He was hungry. So she decided not to board a bus, and flagged down an okada that would take the one-way, to evade the traffic.
She did not see the trailer. She was sure the Okada man too did not, else he would have diverted into the pedestrian lane. It happened too quickly, that collision. All she heard was the screech of tyres and hoarse screams she later knew to be hers, and the feeling of being thrust in the air,then felt her back hit the tarred road with a thud. She did not notice the stickiness of blood on her forehead until she heard Obinneya’s voice, muffled, muttering from somewhere inside her, mamma, mamma.
When she lifted herself up to look around for her baby, what she saw— a bloodied pulp distorted under the front tyre of the trailer— was not her baby. Her baby could not be that crushed figure with head split open under the tyre, and thick, cream-colored splatter of the brain splayed on the tarred road; and red, red fluid gathering into a pool and rolling lazily into the nearby gutter. That was not her Obinneya.
She pinched herself hoping to wake up. Yesterday, she had seen a spider crawling in her room, and had not killed it. Spider was an augury of bad dreams. This was a bad dream. But when she looked up at the sky and the blinding rays of the sun hit her, she knew it was not a dream. She had never seen the sky in her dreams.
“Panic attack,” the therapist said as Maura opened her eyes.
“You’re having panic attack. What is your trauma?”
What I feel has no name. Maura wanted to say. But instead, she stood up and walked out of the therapist’s office.
Inside her, she could hear Obinneya calling, mamma. She started to walk, briskly, as if chasing the mirage pools that kept on moving further as she approached them. She kept on walking till the sun retired, stealing away the pools and replacing them with silhouettes of what Maura thought to be a toddler. She continued to walk into the darkness, ignoring the ache in her joints, chasing the silhouettes as she had chased the mirage pools.
Maybe it was a compass to direct her to wherever her child was.
Maybe she would find Obinneya.