Mama says I wasn’t born. She says I just am. Mama says I wasn’t born, that I am a daughter of “circumstance”. She says the word circumstance like the way girls are taught to talk about their periods; with shame.
Mama found me by a river. She says I wasn’t crying when she did that I was oddly quiet with a chilling stare etched on my face. I think it’s why she took me, she must have wondered why a child surrounded by death was so calm and so sometimes I think maybe I was born dying, or rather dead.
Iya Agba told me once about the Yoruba goddesses and for some reason, I developed an unusual affection for Oya and Yemoja. Maybe it’s because they were not born either, because just like me, they just are.
Sometimes, I ask Damilare if I have to dress up to meet Olodumare. She always giggles and answers with an “I don’t know”. She probably thinks it’s a joke or maybe it’s because she’s five and really knows nothing. I don’t know how to tell Mama what’s happening to me. It’s getting harder to hide with each passing day, but I have to. I’m scared she’ll look at me the way Jaiye did when he found out. I’m scared she wouldn’t love me anymore.
Today, I’m standing in front of the river where I wasn’t born. The one where I just was, where Mama saw me. I’m no longer wearing the white dress I left home in and I’m naked with only the water and trees bearing witness to my scaled legs. I shiver a little as I tie the heavy metal rods to my ankles and I do not think about it as I wade into the river.
The weights pull me down with every step and I do not fight it. They pull me under and I do not flinch as the oxygen in my lungs is replaced with water. My eyes are closed and so I feel her before I see her. I feel the suppleness of her skin against mine and the roughness of her scales against my scales. I open my eyes and there she is in all her scaled glory. She’s beautiful and she looks just like me. I see her mouth open and despite the water that surrounds us, I hear her clearly as she whispers “Omo mi”
When the people find me, they will bite their fingers and shake their heads. Mama would wail and clutch Damilare to her full bosom shaking as Jaiye tells her the first time he saw my scales and how he couldn’t love me because of them. He would say I did it out of shame and the people would fill in the silence with rehearsed “hmmms” and talk about how young I was.
They would not know I drowned without dying.
By Fatima Otukoya