Broken mirror pieces can be glued back together, but the cracks remain.
Helen blinked in confusion. Obviously she had not heard him right. “Come again?”
“I said, why didn’t you tell me she was not your biological daughter? I mean, sure you are her mother if you raised her but we are talking about a blood transfusion here, that kind of information is important.” The doctor said, his tone seething with irritation.
“Okay, you must be looking at the wrong file. She is my biological daughter.” Helen responded with an equal amount of irritation.
This time it was the doctor who blinked in confusion.
He confirmed Helen’s name, then her daughters name. Excused himself to go back to the lab, and returned with the same puzzled expression.
“Madam, she really is not your daughter.”
“Is there something wrong with you? I carried this girl for nine months and gave birth to her and you are telling me she is not my daughter. Please, I don’t have time for all this. Can you perform the transfusion? I don’t want anything to happen to my daughter oh.” She warned, pulling on her right ear for emphasis.
“But that’s just it madam. We can’t. Not with your blood. You see, we could not use your husband’s blood because he is O-positive and that is why we asked you to donate yours.”
“Eheh? So what is the problem?” Helen asked impatiently.
“Well your blood type is also O-positive and your daughter is O-negative. O-positive blood cannot be given to O-negative; well only in extreme scarcity cases but it is not advisable. However, the chances of two O-positives having an O-negative is very slim so it prompted me to request a DNA test. The test showed that you are not her mother.”
Helen stared at him for a moment.
“I am sorry you have to find out like this. I honestly thought you adopted her or something.”
At that, Helen’s nose flared. “Ado-gini? A child that I birthed, breastfed and raised, you are telling me I adopted? It is you and your forefathers that were adopted. I don’t blame you, I blame myself; I brought my child to a nonsense hospital that cannot even run proper tests. Look doctor, if my child’s situation wasn’t critical, I would have removed her from here immediately. Are you going to proceed with the transfusion, or do you want me to raise hell?” Helen spat.
“There is no need for all this madam. The transfusion has begun and she is responding well. I ordered a bag of O-negative blood from the blood bank, it will be added to your bill.” The doctor said, his jaw hardening.
“You are lucky that insurance is paying if not I would not have paid a dime!” She shouted. She grabbed her bag and stormed out of the office, nearly knocking down the nurse she met outside the door.
“I see she didn’t take it well.” The nurse said, letting herself into the doctor’s office.
“She did not believe me! I did not even get a chance to tell her the second half of the results. She may have actually strangled me if she heard that one.” He sighed.
“But how is it even possible that she doesn’t know?” The nurse asked, confused.
“I have no idea.” The doctor said, bewildered.
“My friend, how far?” Ene Attah said, walking into the hospital room.
Helen gestured with her right index finger for her friend to be quiet. Her daughter was asleep, as was her husband who was passed out on the chair beside the bed.
He had not slept a wink the entire night and was exhausted.
Helen got up to greet her friend with a hug and thanked her for coming.
Ene shooed the thanks away, and muttered something about Helen’s daughter being her daughter as well.
Helen whispered for them to step outside so they could talk freely.
“Thank God she is responding oh eh? Na bad tin to bury pikin oh.”
“God forbid!” Helen exclaimed, bringing her hands over her head and snapping her fingers. “My children will bury me and not the other way around biko. God has been merciful oh, even though the doctor was trying my patience.”
“Ah-ahn, what happened?” Ene asked.
“Can you imagine that he ran a test and said that Marilyn is not my child? Child that I carried and gave birth to? I still have the scar from the CS sef.” Helen said.
Ene started to speak but stopped.
“What is it?” Helen asked, wondering why her friend looked like she had just seen a ghost.
“Em, nothing. Which one is his own with DNA test sef? Was that what they told him to do?”
Helen thought she heard something else in Ene’s voice but assumed it was anger.
“They tested my blood and Chief’s blood to make sure we can donate and according to the doctor, the test showed that it is rare for people with our blood type to have a child with Marilyn’s blood type. Rare but not impossible oh. So this man decided to do DNA that revealed nonsense results.”
“Ah-ahn, doesn’t she have the same blood type as Chief?” Ene asked.
“My dear all of us are O, but Chief and I are positive and the girl is negative and since I did not pay attention in biology class, I could not challenge him when he said positive cannot give negative blood.” Helen answered, ending with a smile.
“Hmn. All these I-too-know doctors sef.” Ene said, shifting her bag to her left arm.
Helen noticed her friend seemed uneasy but thought little of it.
“I won’t lie sha, the thing has been bothering me. Maybe I should do another DNA test; perhaps get a second opinion.”
“That’s not necessary nau.” Ene said, a little too quickly.
“Ah-ahn. I thought that as a nurse sef you would advise me to do so.” Helen said, genuinely surprised at Ene’s reaction.
“Did you tell your husband?” Ene asked.
“No. You know Chief; the punishment will not fit the crime. He can just throw the doctor in prison for that one.” Helen chuckled.
“I think you should talk to him sha.”
“Ene, this one you are sounding like this; any problem? Is there something I should be worried about?”
“No-not really, just…” Ene trailed off averting her eyes. She shifted her bag back to her right arm, opened her mouth and then closed it again.
“What is it Ene?” The humour had disappeared from Helen’s expression.
“I’m sorry my friend. Please, just talk to Chief.” Ene said, then hurried off.
Helen called after her but Ene did not look back.
Marilyn muttered a quick prayer of thanks as she drove into her father’s compound. Force of habit, no thanks to her mother. “You should always thank God when you arrive at your destination”, she would say. “Do you know how many people started their journey but did not make it to their destination?”
Marilyn glanced at the clock on her dashboard.
She shook her head. Two and a half hours spent in traffic that could have been spent doing something more productive. She got into one accident, just one and now her father insisted she leave the office at 5:00 P.M. on the dot. All her efforts to explain that her accident had little to do with the time she left the office fell on deaf ears. She did not particularly like leaving the office late but with an 8:30 P.M. departure time, she would be home in 30 minute or less.
She winced as she climbed out of her car. Every part of her ached.
She was still stretching her limbs when she heard shouting coming from inside the house.
“I will not be calm oh Nwannaya, I will not be calm!”
That was a bad sign. Her mother only ever referred to her father as “Chief” or the more nauseating “darling”.
Marilyn quickened her steps. By the time she made it into the house, she was not sure what to make of the scene she beheld.
Her father, the great and often larger-than-life Agunaeliagu was seated on a sofa, head buried in his hands while her mother, the usually demure Lolo was towering over his seated figure, brandishing a piece of paper; nearly smacking him with it actually.
“The doctor that treated Marilyn when she was admitted said it, and I insulted the man. Ene told me to ask you but I thought she was crazy. I finally ran another test and look at the result! It says you are her father but I am not her mother. How is that possible? What are you not telling me Nwannaya? What does this mean?”
“What is going on here?” Marilyn asked. She did not bother to hide the panic in her voice.
She had never seen her parents fight but the words her mother had just uttered…they surely were not referring to her.
At the sound of Marilyn’s voice, the Chief snapped his head up. “Ada’m. Em…you returned early?” His eyes darted back and forth between his wife and his daughter.
“Yes, because you told me to. Can somebody tell me what is going on?”
Chief looked at his wife, pleading with his eyes.
“Oh so you can speak now okwa ya? I have been asking you for answers and you have been acting like you are deaf and dumb but your daughter arrives and you can speak?”
“Helen, biko-” Chief began.
“Asi!” She spat. “You will speak today! It concerns her too so it is even good that she is here.”
“Woman you will not speak to me like that!” Chief bellowed, charging for Helen.
Marilyn got in between them just in time. “Daddy!” She yelled.
Chief held her gaze for a moment, then his features slowly relaxed. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry.” He turned away and sank back into the couch.
Helen was just as mortified as Marilyn. In their over three decades of marriage, Chief had never hit her or even come close to it.
“I will tell you. I will tell you everything.” He said quietly, his voice breaking.
Her name was Mary.
They had met at a bar where Chief usually went drinking whenever his spirit was low – which happened a lot back then. He had been married to Helen for six years at the time, and they had been trying to no avail to have children.
Mary was at the bar sobbing in a quiet corner. Her fiance had called off their wedding due to ridiculous demands from her umunna.
She needed to vent, he needed a distraction; so they kept each other company the rest of the evening, and ended up in bed together that night.
Mary rushed off in the wee hours of the morning, and Chief never saw her again until six months after – when she happened to be five and a half months pregnant with his child.
Helen had also conceived in the same week as Mary did. Considering how long they had tried to have a child, Chief was worried that telling Helen about Mary and the unborn baby would put Helen in distress and jeopardize the pregnancy, so he kept it a secret.
As only fate could do, both women went into labour on the same day. He ensured they gave birth in the same hospital so that he could be present for both births. Mary gave birth to a beautiful baby girl but died from complications during childbirth, while Helen had a stillborn baby boy.
Chief was tasked with telling his wife that she lost her baby but he could not bring himself to tell the woman he loved, who had suffered humiliation and self-torture for the better part of six and a half years, that the child she prayed fervently for did not live.
In a desperate attempt to salvage the situation, he pleaded with the nurse on duty, Nurse Ene Attah, to swap the medical records of both babies. She agreed on the condition that he come clean to his wife.
He said he would.
Helen was already screaming and thrashing all over the floor. “You have killed me Nwannaya. You have killed me!”
Chief made for his wife. “Obi’m, I did not know how to tell you.”
“Tell me what?” She spat amidst tears, sliding backwards to avoid his reach. “Which one? That I had a son? Or that you did not give me the opportunity to mourn him? Or that you spread your seed outside carelessly and got another woman pregnant? Or that you…” her voice broke, “or that you made me raise another woman’s child as my own.” She cried loudly, her entire body vibrating from the force of the anguish. “Nwannaya you have finished me.”
Chief remained quiet where he stood; his head hung.
Neither of them noticed Marilyn who remained motionless where she sat.
Her entire universe had just fallen to pieces and nobody noticed.
The sudden sound of shuffling feet outside her door startled Marilyn. She looked at her bedside clock.
It was 1:30 A.M.
Someone was probably heading downstairs for a snack, or pacing. The activities of the day had sent sleep on a long errand from the entire household.
Her father had chosen to pass the night in the guest bedroom, so it was likely her mother.
Marilyn slid on her slippers, soundlessly opened her door, and peered out. She saw her mother’s receding figure descending the stairs. She was about to close her door when she noticed her mother head for the front door rather than take a detour to the kitchen or living room like Marilyn had expected.
She stepped out of her room quietly and followed from a distance.
When she poked her head out the front door, she blinked in confusion at what she saw.
Her mother undid her wrapper, then kicked off her slippers. It was when she saw her mother lift her blouse to pull it over her head that she realised what was happening and ran for her.
“Mum no!” She screamed, catching her mother’s blouse just in time and forcefully sliding it back down.
“Leave me alone!” Helen yelled, fighting Marilyn off.
“What is going on here?” Chief asked, his voice hoarse but audible.
At the sight of him, both women froze. Marilyn suspected that her mother had the same thought as she did: He had actually slept.
Helen wriggled out of Marilyn’s grip, her anger intensifying at the sight of her husband. She gripped her waist slip with both hands and yanked down, exposing her panties.
“Mummy stop!” Marilyn shouted, struggling to get the slip back up. “Don’t just stand there, hand me her wrapper!” She bellowed at her father.
“What are you doing Helen?”
“Leave me alone!” Helen continued to shout, struggling with Marilyn. “Leave me alone let me swear for this man.”
“Helen!” Chief exclaimed in horror.
“Don’t call my name oh!” Helen spat, switching to Igbo. “Don’t call my name. It will not be well with you. I will curse you. It will not be well with you at all. You know I am a twin so the curse will be effective. In this life you will suffer. My God in heaven will not let my tears go in vain.” She cried.
In Igbo land, it is said that when a person strips themselves naked and curses you, the curse is more potent and likely irrevocable.
Cursing in itself was a pagan act and if it did not hurt to see her mother this way, Marilyn would have teased her mum about the hypocrisy of her statement.
“Mummy biko, biko.” Marilyn persisted, holding onto her mother tightly in an attempt to calm her.
After a few more seconds of struggling, Helen slouched into Marilyn’s embrace and sobbed loudly. Gradually, she went still, her heavy breathing the only sign that she was conscious.
“Helen, has it come to this?” Chief asked, a pained expression taking over his features.
Helen snapped her head up then flung herself forward to pull away from the grip Marilyn had on her.
Marilyn stumbled to the ground, startled by the movement. “Mummy!”
Helen got up, and spun around to face Marilyn, eyes blazing. “I am not your mother!” She screamed.
Chief’s face was expressionless as he stood in the driveway watching his daughter put her belongings into her car.
He had put up a good fight, but even he knew it was better this way.
Helen had not only become a recluse, but she had become hostile towards Marilyn.
He had watched Marilyn take it all in stride, being patient in spite of the fact that she was hurting herself.
He could not say he was entirely surprised when Marilyn brought up the matter of getting her own apartment. She had always wanted to do so because of how much time it took her to get to and from work each day but he knew that this time, proximity was not her only reason and he could not blame her.
What surprised him, however, was that Marilyn had not confronted him about the confession. They had become distant, no surprise there, but she had not brought it up at all. Any of it.
This bothered him.
She placed the last piece of luggage in the boot of her car and walked towards her father.
“I have a question.”
He blinked and cleared his throat, readying himself.
“My name; that was not a coincidence was it?” She asked, her face unreadable.
His eyes softened.
“I thought as much.” She sighed.
“She never told her parents about me.” He began, “She went through a lot because she decided to keep the pregnancy. Even when I tried to reach her parents with regards to her funeral arrangements, they said she was already dead to them… I..I just wanted her to be remembered.”
“And your only solution was to force the woman you betrayed to say the name of the woman you betrayed her with every single day for the last twenty six years?”
Chief opened his mouth and closed it again.
It was only the hardening of his jaw that indicated to her that he was biting back his words.
He probably wanted to say “you better watch your tone young lady”, but he knew she was right.
She slowly removed a folded piece of paper from the back pocket of her jeans.
“Please give this to her for me.”
He took it from her.
He reached for her but she had already turned away.
She walked to the driver’s side of her car and stopped.
She looked back at him. “I don’t hate you.” She said.
It was all she could give him at that moment.
Chief watched his daughter drive out of the compound. His eyes glassy with tears he was fighting back.
He glanced down at the piece of paper in his hand, then glanced back towards the house.
He was not sure how he was going to get her to read it but he knew he had to. He opened up the letter to ready himself for whatever reaction to expect once she read it.
“I am sorry for everything.
It may not make a difference but you should know that you are the only mother I know.
-With Love, Ifeamaka.”
He stopped fighting the tears.