Lifeless || Deborah Usidamen


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by Deborah Usidamen

A man is found by the hands of his mother. She leads the way to the farm and he trails behind. Petrichor hangs thickly in the air. It had rained heavily the night before. As they walk down the lonely dark road, crickets chirp, and the man begins to run. He remembers her smile, as it opens like the mid-day sun. He was only a boy then, reaching into himself for something more than his tiny hidden house could offer. Here was where he began to spiral until the end plunged him deep into nothing. Memory, you see, is as unstoppable as water. No one fights it. It comes pouring in when we least expect. Roasted maize, danwake, and miyan kuka fill the dingy room with light coming only through the window. That morning he remembers his mother praying with a hoe slung over her shoulders. Footprints on the mud floor, black eyes narrowed when she gets angry. He remembers her name, Laraba, and how it felt forbidden to say it to her face. 


One afternoon in October, a man leaves his car and jumps down the Kaduna bridge. A boy loses his father; a wife her husband and questions in her eyes brimmed with tears. This day was something she thought they had gone past. The truth is, we never give people enough reasons to live. She collapsed to the ground as her legs became rubber. Her wail will wake the child she spent the previous hour coaxing to sleep. There will be confusion, broken glass, and her wrapper would slip off her waist. She will not notice the women who would surround her like a pair of arms trying to contain her grief. They will try to keep her from breaking and will watch, hands folded over their bosoms, heads shaking in pity. She still sees his face at the door, her lungs flooded by the dam breaking open in her heart. There are five stages of grief and she is only at the first: denial.


Across town, another man is found hanging by the neck with a note written with only one word. Forgiveness

When Laraba was eight, she wanted to become a nurse.  Enticed by the white dress and calm demeanor of nurses, she desired to be one and it was the only thing she could think of. Life showed her that sometimes one’s reality would fight them to become things they don’t want to. She still remembers the face of the man who had walked into her life like a cyclone. They had met outside the gate of the staff quarters of the polytechnic. She watched him walk up to her with a limp. His hair was partially hidden by the skull cap he wore. His white kaftan browned by the harmattan blowing from the unfinished road. The neem trees swayed as the petty traders gathered their wares.  She regrets not walking away when she saw him first. People say when one meets the love of their lives, it would come slowly and falling would feel like the seduction of leaves as they fall from trees only to be trodden by feet. She knows it came like sudden rain, and when he left, she was drenched in regrets and a reminder.

After they met and exchanged numbers, he paid her bike fare to her house. When she entered the house, whose entrance was hidden by an ancient mango tree, it reeked of death. Even till date she associates staff quarters with red sand and trees lining the road with gloom. Her frail father lay by the lone window. He is deeply asleep. In the kitchen her mother picks rice relying on the light from the retreating sun. The azure sky is lined with streaks of red and gold. Laraba watches it all and tells her mother how her day went.

When she mentions that a boy with a limp paid her fare, her mother presses her palms together before looking into her eyes. Her silence is pregnant with emotion. The power comes on and goes off abruptly. Her mother hisses, interrupting the conversation. From what Laraba gathered, her mother disapproved of boys. They had an understanding albeit how quiet it was. When the time is right, she would find the right boy who would take care of her. She still daydreams about playing nurse at the general hospital, that her father’s illness would disappear as suddenly as it came ravaging his body.

She always knew her father to be a chain smoker. He had sent her once, when she was six, to the red kiosk to buy him cigarettes. Her mother was livid about this and a huge fight happened between both parents. The next morning, the living room was different. Her mother had a black eye. She gave a triumphant smile as she told Laraba no one was going to send her on such errands anymore. And truly, it didn’t happen again, but Laraba would see him smoking by the broken fence in the backyard. Soon, her parents’  fights took a new toll.

As if an evil spirit had possessed him, her father would come home staggering, eyes red. When her mother saw him, tension filled the air. Laraba had grown to know moments like this, moments where her face got extra marks of worry as she watched her mother under the feet of a man who was god in their home.

What is left of the house now are skeletons in the cupboards that do not close properly. There is a story of how a woman poisoned her abuser to death; each dose she put in his meals, watching him eat to nurse her ancient wounds. When you push a battered woman to the wall, the concrete becomes a weapon. And when you drag her daughter with you as a shield, she would break down that wall burying him under the ruins. 

It started when she was ten. After the Christmas celebration. Her mother was out visiting relatives. Her paternal grandmother had been around. The kitchen was a mess she tried to navigate through. She was bent over, washing plates, when her father called for her. She knew what was happening was wrong but, in a way, she had seen how the anger of a man can give birth to violence. She thought she was protecting her mother. It went on for months unnoticed until her mother walked in on them. There were no words exchanged as they packed their things in a small Ghana-must-go. Her mother cried quietly. Her grandparents were surprised but tried to hide it. She was sent off to bed but could still hear the sobs ransack her mother’s body. She was abominable, dirty, and without worth.


When you are young, your view is myopic. Laraba knew there was something wrong when the next morning, her mother sat beside her grandparents. During the devotion, her grandfather kept pushing his glasses to his nose bridge as they prayed for peace in war-torn countries, homes, and their lives. They prayed for patience, and after sharing the grace, she watched the adults shift uncomfortably. They spoke in hushed tones, angry enough to harvest a sneer from her mother.

Ai zaman aure sai hakuri.” Her grandmother closed her eyes, waiting for her words to sink in.

He has done something unforgivable but he will always be your husband. Forgive him, men are like that”.

They left the house and Laraba’s mother hatched a plan to protect her from the snaky hands of the man she called father. He never touched her again but the beatings came with his terrible mood swings and rage. They kept the news to themselves as such things could tarnish the image of the family. 


Laraba likes to think her father’s illness is retribution. Growth did not alter her memory and he did nothing to show remorse. As he grew weaker by the day, her mother would burn incense and pray for forgiveness. They both knew he would not get better. No matter what the doctors said. His tuberculosis was the perfect cover. They would watch him die and hug each other, grateful for escape.

After her father’s death, the boy with the slight limp saw her again. It was at the red kiosk. She had gone to get Fanta for her mother when he said hi. She knew it was him and felt her heart flutter. Her mother had warned that men are people who feed one with bitter leaf doused in honey. She knew the secret she carried yet was fascinated by the young man. 

When he came to the house, he plucked a mango from the tree covering the house entrance. She led him to her mother who ignored him when he greeted. She had noticed the shift in her mother’s mood. It was a deeply seated indifference. The type that got her through the funeral rites of her husband. She had cried, almost thrown herself on the coffin. Laraba wondered how a woman who hated her husband could be able to hold such emotions after everything. Her eyes were dry; the first nights were easy. They were surrounded by extended family who had come to mourn.

A boy who learns to walk is no longer a child, but a girl is a child even after she grows; don’t let them think of you as such, her mother would often say. Laraba would nod absentmindedly while her mother would go on and on. Besides the occasional nodding, such conversations were monologues because Laraba was lost in thoughts. Her relationship with the boy was strengthened as days went by.

They talked about everything and absolutely nothing. His name was Bege. He said he loved her with no regard for how long they had known each other. They talked about the future and the plans for school. Laraba was torn between leaving the house and her mother, but she knew deep inside that she would become a nurse. The last time she met Bege, she was going to leave the next day. Before then the only show of affection was holding hands. Laraba wasn’t ready for anything further although Bege didn’t bother her. 

That day, he bought her lots of gifts and as they sat outside the house, waiting for her mother to come, he was moody. He had heard rumors of how her deceased father had treated them, and he often noticed she shut down when such conversations came on. That night, he only wanted to talk, to take her in his arms and comfort her for all the things she felt.

That night, a dark and unsettling presence seemed to consume him. He first held her hands gently and pulled her close to him. But when she tried to move away, his grip became firm. 

Laraba still hears the sound of her heart breaking, her screaming, begging him to stop. His hand covered her mouth to muffle her cries for help. All the love he felt for her suddenly turned to hate. He pushed her away even as she begged, he called her worthless.  She couldn’t stand the shame. She said her mother was right about him. She begged until her voice grew hoarse. When her mother came home, she took a look at her and broke down. She dragged Laraba to the police station and they were told the girl asked for it. They asked what her daughter was wearing and why she was outside with a boy at night. The boy was not guilty. Bege would blame himself afterwards. And he would try to live with himself. He would try to wash himself clean of sin. But soap and water doesn’t clean sin when the body is made of it. His parents sent him away for a year and when he came back, Laraba had a child. 

She stopped dreaming of nursing school. A child becomes the only world a mother knows. And her life would revolve around him.


On the bridge, the man who jumps looks at his hands, remembers how loving his mother was and how it went on a steady decline until there was nothing. Only hate. He realised what had happened only when he was older. His grandmother had spoken to him about it after he rebelled against his mother. She told him his mother cared in ways only she knew. She told him about his father who had long left the country and the circumstances surrounding his birth. He began to nurse a plan. He had seen the pain his mother carried. She looked older than her age and constantly talked about how different her life would have been. He tried to obey her. He did everything she asked and even studied law at the university to make her Mamman Lawyer. Shame never goes away. They lived their lives carrying the perpetual weight of it. 


In a large house, a woman picks on the Afghan covering her sofa. There are no pictures covering her walls as she had worked hard to remove herself from her gory past. No matter how long it has been, she hasn’t gotten used to living in comfort. If only her mother could see all of this. She sat on the floor, startled by the cool tiles. The bright lights hurt her eyes. She sits still, waiting for her son. She always waited for him even during the years when depression clouded her sense of reason and the boy became glued to his grandmother. She has lost count of how many times she has apologised. He was a curious child but had stopped asking her about his father as young boys do. In his eyes, she saw fire. She planned to tell him when he was older but he looked her in the eye and said he knew his father was a beast and he apologised for being a constant reminder of pain. She cried all through the night. Bege never contacted her, she was grateful he didn’t. Her world was smaller now, and her son and his family were the sun revolving round. They gave her purpose. She looks at the wall clock. It is eight o'clock. He was supposed to come see her today. She picks up her phone. She can’t reach him. She calls her daughter-in-law and falls to the ground clutching the phone to her chest.


A man meets his father at his house secretly. They’ve met twice already. This time, a man is found dead and the other had died long before he jumped. His father didn’t fight back. He surrendered. An eye for an eye never fixes the aftereffects of blindness. 

When Bege puts the noose around his neck, he knows his sin is greater than the punishment he has received.

Deborah Usidamen was born in Kaduna. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys looking at the sky, fantasizes about getting a cat and is utterly in love with how there is beauty in the mundane. Her stories have appeared in the anthology, Bakwa 11 and elsewhere.

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