1. The first words that spill from your mother’s lips. Your name, washing over soft baby skin like little drops of sunlight. Abike, she calls you. We will care for you. You do not bother to come into this world screaming. You learn the silence before they even try to teach you. The midwife’s gentle slap on your bottom is the first of many to come. It is the way of this world to pull screams from your lips and then shove them back into your throat, force you to deep throat, swallow. You are too young to know this but you do. You bear the knowledge of your mothers before you. This ‘knowing’ has been burnt into your genes.

2. The words that fall like rain around you, wrapped in your mother’s voice, as the pastor intones his blessings. Yes and Amen, yes and amen, yes and amen– words wrenched straight from the pages of the holy book. You grasp them in your fists and know instinctively that these are the only words you will ever be fully allowed to possess. Your lips will not be taught to cradle the word ‘No’ with authority; you are an oasis of acceptance, a home for lost boys who have never found a home in themselves. Who are you to shut your doors on strangers?

3. You remember these words the first time you are yelled at from the street side, strangers asking questions that come ready-made with answers. You are 9, and he has three daughters who are older than you, but he wants you to know that you are soft and pretty; a sweet fruit ripe for the plucking. He says he is the man for the job. He smiles, teeth stained brown with tobacco and greed. He asks you to come over. You shake your head no, you’re too scared to speak. He gets mad. You turn and run, to the tune of his insults. You get home and climb into your bed, shivering.

4. Your mother tells you a bed-time story, the story of how she met your father. A 13-year old, young and trembling. She says she had wanted to go to school, had wanted to maybe be a doctor someday. But it turned out okay, she says. He is strong and kind, provides  for the family, and only beats her when she makes him angry; which is often enough to give her a limp, often enough to kill her first three babies, but not often enough to kill her. She smiles at you sadly. She’s glad, she says, at least she has you. You’ll be her doctor. You want to be a writer but you say nothing.

5. You grow into your mother’s choices. Meet the image of your father, call him lover. You say no. He says yes. He says they mean the same thing. You say no, again. He says you must be lying. You say yes. They mean the same thing. He is done in 5 minutes. You never forget.

6. You tell this story to your daughter.

7. She tells this story to your granddaughter.

8. Your granddaughter tells it to her daughter after her.

9. A generation of women whose tongues do not know the word ‘no’ , daughters who are ignorant of choice.

10. An unending cycle.

You kneel at the altars of submission, pray to the gods of silence, lips forming a prayer for the freedom you do not know is missing. Your voice refuses to birth the words, instead, you stutter “Yes and Amen, yes and amen, yes and amen”. Amen, for the daughter who will break the cycle. Amen, for the words she will stay up all night repeating to herself until they learn to sound like her own. Amen for tomorrow. Amen for today. Amen.

By Chenemi Zekeri

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