In sub-Saharan Africa around 7 million girls live as child brides. Parents marry off their daughters due to poverty, tradition and gender inequality. These forced child marriage exposes girls to abuse, exploitation and early pregnancy. This story tells of such a tale and is totally fiction...
Her story started the year Babangida became the Head of state. She had no formal education and could only tell that her story started then, because of the significant happenings around that time. She had heard that there was a change in Government. She knew who Babangida was; because of the calendars and stickers, her husband usually bought from the market on market days. He had a lot of them pasted and hanged on the wall in his room. He also listened to the small transistor radio that was his companion. His friends would gather in the house in the evenings, and they would listen as they share goro and discuss about the happenings in the country. Her village was very remote, it still is. The difference between now and then is that, they can now boast of a community primary school, whose roof got blown away last rainy season and has not been replaced. Teachers only come to the dilapidated structure at will, even pupils seldom attend, and those that attend make do with the few available chairs, they fight over them. The others sit on the floor. Any pupil that is bright and wants to further to a secondary school, would have to trek long distance every day, to the nearest secondary school, which is 15kms away. Buses go to her village only on market days.
Apart from the primary school, they also have a small dispensary. Malama, the health worker that oversees the place is the Doctor, the Nurse and the all in all. She only go once in a week, and is always overwhelmed with the number of the sick and the helpless. She is a kind and compassionate woman, who uses her skill as much as she can. However, what can a single individual do in the face of daunting challenges?
The standard of living has not changed much between then and now. Children still roam about during the day because there is no proper educational institution for them, children with ringworm patches all over their bodies. They would itch, and they would scratch the surface, which will ooze with blood, and become infected. Children always barefooted, with protruding tummies and tiny legs, it most often seem as if the legs would not be able to carry them. The ones you see aged five and above are always the lucky ones, because many would have died in childhood, from diseases that are preventable by immunization; polio, diphtheria, whooping cough and the likes. Many still lose their lives to malaria.
Women die during childbirth because of the non-availability of skilled midwives to attend to them. Men die from wounds sustained at the farm, wounds that become infected with clostridium tetani, the bacteria that cause tetanus. Daily, they lose lives that could otherwise be preserved.
Politicians go during electioneering campaign, they give mouth-watering gifts, and they shower them with money. They make them ignore the under development of the village, the roads that are not motorable, they share Dangote rice and salt, and give them wrappers. They beg for their votes. Balkisu always transit home during the period, to get her own share of the bounty. However, her village has always remained unchanged.
In the year this story started, she was heavily pregnant. She had been married for six years, awaiting her first baby. She was born and bred in Fani. She knew no other place. Now that she lives in the city, she realizes that life can be better. She wakes up to see electric bulb shining at her; she moves to the tap and turn it on to see clean water flowing out. She goes to the roads to see cars plying on them. Daily, she see neatly dressed pupils going to the school, either in their parents’ car or on motor bikes. Even those that trek to school look neater than the best-dressed pupil in her village. She see neatly dressed men going to their places of work, she see unrestricted women happily going about their daily activities, glad for the freedom they have to earn their living. Even laborers seem happy to live in the city. She weeps for what could have been, for what is not, and what is not likely to be.
Fani is a farm settlement in the interior of Danja local government, in Samaru state. At the time that she was growing up, there were just handfuls of scattered homesteads, mostly huts. The inhabitants were mostly farmers, who also domesticate animals like fowls and goats. They are predominantly Hausas, with a few Fulani herdsmen settled in their midst.
Growing up was fun. Village life was simple and uncomplicated. Balkisu always sleep late and wake up late. She spent her days roaming about the village and only go back home when hunger would not allow her stay. No one would compel you to bath or brush your teeth; they go for days without bathing, especially during the cold season. Her Father goes to the farm with the male children, mother stayed at home to prepare fura and other village delicacies. Father sold farm produce; Gero, Masara and Dawa on market days or vegetables whenever they are in season. He spent his free time under a huge kuka tree In front of the house, where he engaged in talks with friends that often come to see him.
Kuka and Dogon- yaro were plentiful in her village. The Kuka in front of her house was the largest in the village. It housed countless birds and very large pods. She never knew why her father loved staying under the Kuka tree, considering the story behind it. As children, they were told that all Kuka trees had aljannus living in them. The one in front of her house had the chief of the aljannus, which came out at will, especially in the night. It had two human heads and legs of a horse. She was a very fearful child and when sent on errands, at night, she would run as if a thousand demons are behind me.
She believed it was the aljannu in the Kuka tree, that killed her father, because he loved sitting under the tree. One day he was well, and the next day he started swelling all over. The face, the arms, the legs all tripled their size. His stomach looked as if he was expecting a baby. He stopped eating and could only take sips of water. For days, he could not lie down, but had to be in the sitting up position, to be able to breathe. The traditional medicine men did all they could for him, but he died, leaving her already bleak future bleaker.
Balkisu got married a month after her father died.
Something startled Janet. She woke up disoriented. It took another shrill ring from her phone to clear the sleep from her eye. She picked, and checked the caller’s ID, it was not a known number. She expected whoever would call her at midnight to use a familiar one. At her hesitation, the phone stopped ringing, only to resume ringing a while later.
Her husband was at the other end of the bed. Janet knew he would be awake now because he was a light sleeper. She had earlier breast fed her 5-month-old daughter, who was soundly asleep, but had started reacting to the ringing of the phone. Janet muffled the speaker point with her palm and rushed out of the bedroom, to the passageway, pressed the receive button then put the phone to her ear.
The call was from her place of work.
“Why didn’t you use the number that I know? Janet queried the person at the other end. “Oh… you are using a patient relative phone. A woman in labor… bleeding per vaginum…vomiting?...That is serious. Please cannulate and put her on normal saline… you have done that? I will be with you.”
The caller ended the call before she finished giving the instruction. Janet signed and held the phone thoughtfully. She returned to the room. Her husband was up, with his back to the head of the bed. He looked at her accusingly.
“You are awake,” she said quietly.
“Who called you?” he asked.
“The call was from the hospital,” she replied.
“What did they want?” he asked
“There’s an emergency. Bukola,” she pleaded, “I have to go.”
Her husband, a tall and heavily built man, stood up and pointed at her. “Why must you be the one to go and attend to a midnight emergency? He asked. Don’t they know you have a baby that is under six months?”
“Bukola, please lower your voice,” she pleaded. “I had explained to you.”
“That we have shortages of Doctors. Most of our Doctors got appointment with the recent recruitment at the teaching hospital. It is only four of us remaining in the entire hospital. I volunteered just to be taking a day call in a week. Please bear with me.”
“Was that why you came back so late today?”
“I told you we had a crucial meeting because of a forthcoming mass repair of patients with obstetric fistula. We met with doctors from outside and within Nigeria, who are here to do surgery as well as train interested individuals. Screening of patients will start tomorrow, while the surgery will commence in two days. This is my career as I made you understand from the beginning.”
“I see,” Bukola said angrily, “just watch.”
She moved past him and said, “A woman is out there dying, I signed an oath to take care of people, I need to go.”
She picked a jean and top, and removed her hair net. She had long shiny hair, and used a rubber band to hold it firmly. She checked her baby to make sure she is still sleeping, and picked her mobile phone and car key.
“I’m off,” she said and made to rush out but Bukola drew her right hand.
“Not so fast madam,” he said.
“You are hurting me,” Janet winced, trying to remove her hand from his firm grip.
“Looks as if you’ve forgotten something,” he said as he released her hand.
“What happens to your baby when she wakes up?”
“You can lull her back to sleep, do anything, just allow me to go,” she pleaded.
“Not on your life, I will not keep this baby.”
“Bukola you are wicked,” Janet said.
The words barely left her mouth, when a deafening slap landed on her face. The force sent her reeling unto the bed, with her head landing heavily on the baby’s extremities.
The baby woke up with a deafening shriek. Janet quickly gather her into her arms, looked down at her with the always –near tears dropping from her eyes. She cleaned the tears with the back of her left hand, while still holding the baby to her bosom with the right hand. She picked the car seat and left the room without saying a word to Bukola; who stood to a corner like a statue. Asibi, the housemaid had woken up. She tiptoed towards the door of the bedroom, on hearing Janet’s footstep, she quickly moved back. Janet came out and saw her. Her face was sleep tousled, her wrapper tied up above her chest. Janet gave her a once look over and spoke to her.
“I’m going to the hospital,” she said.
“Make break fast for my husband if I don’t come back before 7.”
“Which one? Tea, potato, pap.”
“Anything he desires, don’t put too much salt.”
Janet dragged herself and the baby to the doorstep and opened the door; she made a signal to Asibi to lock up after her. As soon as the door was secured, Bukola breezed into the sitting room and smiled at the maid, sheepishly.
“Meet me in the bedroom,” he ordered.
“Oga please, she begged.”
“What?” he shouted at her.
“I dey mesrate.”
“That will make it sweeter, come” he beckoned at her. She tried running but he was fast and grabbed her from behind.
Janet drove to the hospital at a neck braking speed. As she made her way on the deserted road, she could not help herself as tears of anguish cascaded down her face. She took her right hand severally of the steering to wipe the tears. At the gate to the hospital, she practically placed her hand on the honk to alert the gate men who were groggy from sleep.
She packed across the main entrance to the wards, picked her stethoscope, closed the door and made giant strides to the maternity unit. The midwife was eager to see her and gave her blow-to-blow account of what had been happening, and the condition of the patient. Dr Janet moved to the bedside of the woman and placed her hand on her as the nurse spoke on. Her blood pressure has practically dropped; the pulse was thready, she was going into shock, although she was not bleeding. Dr Janet placed her hand on the abdomen as she continued groaning.
“Nurse, did you notice this previous CS scar?”
“Yes I did.”
“The abdomen is so tense, and this excruciating pain, I think the uterus is ruptured.”
“We need to do urgent grouping and cross matching. Please send the attendant to the lab with a request form.”
“I envisaged this and had gone to the lab myself, no one is there.”
“I learnt the person on night went for a workshop, and there’s no one to cover the shift. I tried calling the in- charge and the number was switched off.”
“Shit… this woman will need to be operated upon if we are to save her. There’s sign that we have even lost the baby.”
“Doc, don’t you think referring her would be the best? Getting everyone to come out now for the surgery would be a herculean task, more so because there’s no fuel in the ambulance.”
You are right; I will have to refer her to the teaching hospital…where is the person that brought her?
Well, I have been trying to locate him to no avail. Her husband brought her. He just dropped her and left. She’s an un-booked case, no previous record, no contact… nothing.” At that instance, the woman sat up agitatedly, stiffened her body, dropped back on the bed and gave a very loud and deep sign.
Dr Janet rushed to her, but knew before she touched her that she had given up the fight.
She took her right wrist to check for a pulse, the look on her face was a look of resignation. Suddenly, she dropped the woman’s hand and held unto her chest, and shouted… MY BABY.
Balkisu became pregnant at the age of 14, a month after seeing her first blood. She was alarmed and rushed to her mate, who smiled and told her what to do about it. Before then, she had no form of education about what to expect as a girl, the little she knew she learnt from practical experience with her husband, who was her first and only.
The week after her father’s death was a blur, she understood little out of what was going on, with several men visiting and sitting on mats in front of their house. They were there to pray for the repose of her father’s soul. She noticed that a particular man was frequenting the house more than the others. He was big, huge and old, just like her late father. The children in the village knew him as mai areke, since his trade was to sell sugar cane, especially on market days. They would gather round his shed, and wait for him to finish selling to customers, for them to get the remnants, the sweetest part of the cane, the part close to the root. He became more frequent to the house. As small as she was, she noticed the look he always gave her.
On a particular day, she noticed three women bringing “kaya” to the house. Her mother opened the things they brought and smiled…jewelries, mirror, cloths and powder; no one explained anything to her. By nightfall, the women came back and led her to the house of the man that had been frequenting the house, accompanied with raw food items tied in bundles. Her little earthly belongings would follow later.
Balkisu was confused and devastated. Her mother had briefed her that she would be married to Mai Areke. That night, she ran back to her parent’s home. Thrice she did it and was taken back forcefully wit h lots of tears and biting. By the fourth time, they tied her to a bedstead. She would later settle in her matrimonial home, especially when she noticed there were young children of her age to play with, the senior wife’s children.
Mai Areke waited a while before consummating the marriage. He did so the day his senior wife pushed Balkisu into his room, and locked the door behind her. It was a market day. Mai Areke had purchased Awara from the market, a delicacy made with soya beans. This they took with kunu zaki, then Balkisu slept off. She was startled at midnight when she felt an object entering into her vaginal opening. It was painful, it felt as if her underneath was on fire. She wanted to shout in her small voice, but Mai Areke’s large palm had covered her mouth.
He penetrated her, doing what he needed to do. She noticed him breathing heavily; she was less concerned as hot tears ran down her face. In her little mind, she wished she could strangulate him, at that instance; she hated him as she has never hated anyone. He collapsed on her with her thighs stained with blood and his manly fluid.
With time, she got used to sex and even liked it. After that, she developed into puberty rapidly, the breasts were out at age 12, and by age 14, she attained menarche, and got pregnant a month after her menstruation started.
To Be Continued...
About The Author: The Writing Nurse, RN, RPN, BNSC
The writing Nurse is a PNO With The University Health Services, Fedral University Dutsinma and would be a recurrent feature here on NursingWorld Nigeria
I am passionate about reading and writing, love gatherings where I can learn and improve on myself. I am presently gearing up to go for Masters in nursing to fulfill a lifelong dream of teaching. I am also trying my hands on research work but my main issue is getting mentors. At the last west African college of nursing conference at Abuja, I presented a paper on PROTECTION OF HEALTH CARE WORKERS IN CONFLICT SITUATIONS; NEED FOR ENHANCED RECOGNITION OF SECURITY RISK TO LOCAL HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS. Apart from writing fiction, (there are intelligent nurses with lot of stories to tell), I am interested in work place relationship and job satisfaction as applicable to all nurses. I am very ambitious and have the belief that nursing is a great profession that can take one to a great height.
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