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Vol. 2: 

On Identity



Short Story by Pat Sukore

Mgbeke, ​helep me ​bling that pot,” my mother said in her feeble voice. As I shuffle the ginormous earthen pot towards her, I reflect on the cycle of life and my impending dilemma. I recall my teen years, people usually considered my mum my older sister. We looked so much alike, the age difference, though clearly spaced, was not detectable. I remember some truants in my secondary school back then making catcalls on one occasion, as they sighted my mother approaching from the bush path that led to our school. My younger mother was a curvy, rotund and beautiful African woman.

Poverty and physical abuse has disfigured her transient beauty, she is only sixty but she looks eighty. She once narrated to my siblings and me how she had married our father, instead of the suitors her father had enlisted for her. Nine, out of the ten suitors, my mother had told us, were from “Obodo Oyibo.” Although they were sons of the soil, they spoke as if through pinched noses. They walked with their shoulders stiffened like the statue in the town square, she had joked.

Some of my mother’s recounts have been so incredible. I had thought, while growing up, that she made them up until my aunt told us they were all true. Moreover, I grew up to hear most of the hoary villagers calling my mother “​nwanyi na-emeghariri nwoke,” (a woman who wrestles men). She told us how she had—single-handed defeated all her suitors in combat. It was not a combat of words, she had pointed out, because ordinarily, everyone in Umudike respects my mother for her fluency in our local dialect even though she had spent the earliest part of her life living with her aunt in Cross River, a riverine state in Nigeria.


The experience of that day, my mother recalled, would remain a story she could tell even if she loses consciousness. It was a wrestling contest witnessed by all in Umudike at that time. Her father’s desire was that she marry one of her rich and westernised suitors, but she loved only my father to ​onwu​, so she had come up with a suicidal plot. The initial plan was that my father would fight her suitors, but my father had cowed at the last minute. The town criers had already announced the bout. The whole town would attend. My mother realised she needed supernatural intervention for her father to succumb to her marrying the only man she loved. She had no option but to engage her suitors in a fight herself.

The whole town had marvelled at the novel concept of a woman wrestling her suitors. No one stayed back at home, the old, the young, the maimed, the disabled, the good, the debtor and the indebted – they were all there to watch my mother cook a matchless history.

She had already thrashed seven of her suitors in quick succession, their backs smacked to the red earth in defeat when the remaining three fled in the full glare of the villagers.

It had been fun to watch, my father had added. To his amazement, my mother’s suitors did not put up any resistance. They allowed themselves to be brought down by a woman – ​one by one.

The villagers were not satisfied with the number of performances they had watched, my mother said. I deciphered from my father’s expression that looked as if he had swallowed a lizard, that he did not want my mother to narrate the remainder of the story. Nevertheless, my mother continued. The people had left their farmlands, wares at the market, women labouring at the birthing homes, choir practice at the monastery, repair of their broken thatched roofs and many other to do chores, to watch my mother wrestle her suitors. They had heard there would be ten contestants, but here, she had only wrestled with seven.

Uzo, puta bu agha ihunanya,” someone had shouted from a section of the raucous spectators.

All eyes turned on my father who was relishing his status as one of the spectators. It was then that a larger part of the spectators realised my father—who is also a suitor, was also supposed to tackle my mother. The fact that he was not an accepted suitor was irrelevant. Many began to chant:

Uzo, puta bu agha ihunanya!” They wanted my father to step out and fight for his love.

My father was unyielding until the people standing in a cluster all around him, shoved him forward, into the midst where my mother pirouetted, with her two hands raised in triumph, unaware of the crowd’s conspiracy. My mother did one more victory swirl, and she was eyeball to eyeball with my father. It was a moment of decision for her. Although she had taken eight shots of ​kaikai ​before she ventured into the wrestling enclosure generated by busybody onlookers, it had completely worn off at the time my father stood face to face with her.

The crowd held their breath. Not a sound. They all knew her father’s view about their entanglement. However, you cannot blame the spectators – they came to be entertained.


I have often caught myself wondering if our penurious condition would have been different if my mother had married one of her migrant suitors. My mother would have also adopted their phoney speech pattern. Besides, we, her children would have also flaunted our status at our classmates’ faces in school. Whenever I think about this, Ijeoma, my classmate back in standard four, always comes to mind. She never ceased to rub it in our faces that we – the rest of the class, the entire school inclusive, are primitives whose family members have never gone past Umudike border. There were times I wished Ijeoma’s mouth would turn backwards, in order for her to stay quiet, and the rest of us could continue to live peaceably in Umudike.

Money to spend and live like—at least other people in Umuidike, who have a change of cloth for every other day wouldn’t have been an issue. It wouldn’t, if my mother had just picked someone from my grandfather’s pack. Countless times, without the feeling of guilt, I wished my mother had indeed married one of them. I get angry with my mother’s foreign suitors in the dark lonesome confines of my heart, always throwing questions at their perceived look alike in my heart. Questions like: why one of them did not have the liver of a man rather than that of an ​okuko ​to beat my mother on that day. One of them could have beaten her just once, not twice, just once, and our lives would have witnessed untold transformation.

My father did not cease to harass my mother with all types of seasoned assault since the day of the contest until the day he snuffed it eight years ago. Aside from the physical assault of mother almost on a daily basis, and a sharp tongue, he had nothing to offer. My mother had ensured me and my seven siblings finished at least standard six before we parted ways with formal education. I wanted to be an engineer, a dream halted and limited only to that realm. My brothers and sisters also had dreams, but our parents would hear none of it – ​we are poor​, they would constantly say.

My twin brothers were the only ones who had the courage to venture out of our father’s house and our village. They left when they were thirteen years old. With nowhere in mind, and no forwarding address – they had left. Their incapacitation pained them in no little measure. My brothers had confided in my younger sisters and me that their departure was necessary so that they wouldn’t harm our father. They were the only ones who stood up to him whenever he turned my mother into his punching bag.

“I will curse the two of you, and no dibia will be foolish enough to lift the curse,” he had often said, anytime my twin brothers interfered in his fight with my mother.

The rest of us, six girls, would hide our gaunt kwashiorkor​ed bodies under our mats trying to escape the scourge of our father’s fiery words. I cried until my cheeks burned with the silent charge of selfishness, which prompts the moral reflection that life comprises sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating. I am helpless, rendered inadequate by my anatomy or my philosophy – I think, more by the later. We never matured in our fear of our father. Even in my twenties, my eyes always searched the floor whenever my father and I talked.

The only respite my mother had were periods we gathered for stories in the evenings after supper. This was the only time my father is happy, after eating my mother’s spicy full-bodied soup with​ akpu. H​is beam is amplified and his bitter kola ridden teeth, exhibited for all to see.

My mother bore her homemade soup seasoning for sale at Umudike border as early as when the first cockerel crowed. Contrariwise, my father occupied his moments with skiving off all day with his redundant friends to drink ​mmaya nkwu​. No one ate breakfast in my home, and until my mother returned from ​drudgery in the evenings, no one ate supper. He constantly blamed and chastised her for his hunger, his poverty and his lackluster life. She, on the other hand, grieved at his hands before she poured out herself into concocting supper from her daily proceeds.


The spectators’ chant heightened. My mother was sober. My father’s face, crumpled in a million places. A jeering smirk sat comfortably on my grandfather’s face as he watched. A resounding slap landed on my father’s unsuspecting face. My mother had warned him not to make an appearance. She imagined it would turn out this way. Another slap was on its way to my father’s face before he realised the certainty of the situation. He caught my mother’s hand mid-air, twisted it behind her and pushed her to the ground. She had allowed my father to defeat her.

Kwusi ya,” my father had interrupted mother’s story. “You tried to put up a struggle, but I doused it.”


We believed my mother. She had allowed my father the victory to earn my grandfather’s approval. We also believed my mother had permitted her suppression far too long. Although my father died eight years ago, he is very much alive in her daily soliloquy.

I observed my shrunken mother cook the food we would serve my intending in-laws, and my discordant resolve haunted me. The thought of whether I was making the right decision sapped my energy. She was not going to pressurize. She had offloaded her mind to me a year ago.

By the tam you are ma age efritin go clear for ya eye. ​I ghotara?


I already made up my mind more than six years ago. Obumneme was the puppeteer of my heartstrings. We met in the market on one ​Eke day. My mother had passed on her heritage to me as the sole monger of homemade seasoning in Umudike. The light of the sun was already dimming, nestling behind the ​osisi oyibo trees, and the seasoning was only a quarter way sold. ​I would distribute the remaining to our neighbours for future payment. Mama Jecinta, aunty Blessing, mama Chikodi, mama Ijemma, uncle Ikeobi and uncle Ozobia – all of them – debtors, but I have no options left. The seasoning will spoil before next market day if I decide to keep it. ​I started to pack my wares in preparation for the long journey back home when I saw two dusty unshod legs standing in front of my semi-broken calabash of homemade seasoning.

“How mush be ya ​Osikapa?”

I looked up from his legs to his ragged uniform. A houseboy, I thought. As soon as my eyes caught a glimpse of his handsomely chubby face, my heart became a fluid of ​uto. ​From that day onward, I never argued with my sisters about whose turn it was to accompany me to the market. My tiresome trek to the market seemed less so with Obumneme’s presence. He waited for me at the Umudike River on occasions when he sneaked out from his master’s house. 


I imagined our bond with Obumneme had been destined and supernaturally approved. It was not a coincidence my name is Mgbeke, born on Eke day and met my soulmate on an Eke market day. However, my mother disparaged my convictions. She said her convictions had been stronger than my own. She and my father were both born on ​Afor ​day, in the same month of ​Onwa Ano. T​hey even answered similar names, my father Uzodinma, she Uzoma. Whose conviction could be more convincing? She had asked in her weak voice. Your life is yours alone and your sufferings would be your exclusive possession, not for anyone else, she had added.

Ahamefula, on the other hand, is my mother’s favourite. He proposed, or should I say, he visited my mother with a hoard of relatives, three ​Ekpe festivals ago, to say he wanted to marry me. I wondered where girls still married like that. I knew Ahamefula only fleetingly, before he travelled to Germany, ten years ago. He just started to bud into a man, as a newly metamorphosed ​nru ubu.​

Those were the days my father monitored me and my sisters like an exasperated hen would her chicks. He had spies amongst the youth age group. Whenever we, as much as speak with a boy, and it drifts somehow into his ears, we would wish he whipped us with his rod, instead of his scathing words.

Ahamefula was disappointed to learn that my heart was set as a flint, that I would never bulge in my decision to marry Obumneme. I heard he visited Obumneme for a man to man talk the other day. Obumneme had refused to disclose their discussion. Nevertheless, one of Obumneme’s flirtatious friend, Nkemdilim, who wished I was engaged to him instead, told me Ahamefula had offered his sister to Obumneme in exchange for me. I was convinced Nkemdilim only stooped to the depth because he desired my break up with Obumneme so much.


I love Obumneme, but not too long ago, I started to have nightmares. I see him teaming up with my deceased father to starve my children and me. My children whom I knew only in my unconscious state, cry until their eyes turned cherry and their faces thawed out. Whenever I wake up from such dreams, I snub every inference that it could actually happen. My mother and sisters’ behaviour recently must be accountable. My mother has been giving me the silent treatment. She answers me in monosyllables, and nods when she feels my bother deserves just that. My sisters have been foretelling my horrifying future with Obumneme, sorcery without internship with the priest of ​Chi.

So many ‘what ifs’ have been bubbling in my rational spaces. I am aware, when a woman marries in igbo land, there is no retreat. There is no retreat after embarking on the journey relinquished only by death. The actual parcel that lodges Obumneme would not open until my vow of ‘in good and in bad’. My mother once said that one thing constant with impoverished men is their anger. They can upturn a village if their ​ukwu iwe awakens. I had refused to tell any of them about Obumneme’s anger, painting him with glitzy happy colours.

My story resembles one whose blindness resides in more places than the eyes. Nobody prompted me before I suddenly received the ability to ponder sagacious thoughts. I decided to pay ​Ahamefula a clandestine visit three days ago, I needed to tell him of my assent to his proposal, love will come after—I needed to think—to act wise without Obuneme’s love interfering.

I hid behind the ​nkwu​ tree closest to his father’s concrete built, one storey building.

Many people were dressed in festive garbs entering and exiting the house, I even saw a few

of his siblings who also live abroad, they were all back in Umudike. I wondered what the occasion was. They all donned pretentious smiles, possessed only by people who have crossed several seas. One of their male helps walked hurriedly past where I hid.

“pssst, pssst.”

He was startled as he turned to face me. I beckoned to him to come close.


"Kedu ihe na-eme n’ụlọ gị?” I asked, desiring to know what was going on.


“You no know?” his face puzzled.

I shook my head.

“Only you no know ​wetin dey happin.​ Oga pickin, you know ​am nau?​

I had no idea who he was referring to. His employer had many children.


He continued, “erm, Ahamefula, Ahamefula ​wan​ marry him ​enyi.”

My world spun, I leaned on the tree for support.

“You dey fain?”

“I’m okay.”

Why was I flustered by this news? I queried my self-centred conscience. He certainly has moved past the pain of rejection. It was my fault. I rejected his proposal. Did I expect him to remain a ​fada a​ll his life?Besides, my ​agbamakwụkwọ ọdịnala with Obumneme was in two days.

I just needed to accept my impending fate, my mother’s story was about to be rewritten in my life. All five of my younger sisters have wealthy betrotheds. My youngest sister who everyone had thought would marry the palm wine tapper’s son because of her pig-headedness, surprised us all when Okafor, who works at an oil company in Lagos, visited our house with his parents, with gifts of expensive wine and schnapps to indicate his interest in her. From the way my sister and Okafor exchanged glances, we could tell they have been dating a long time.


My mother has spent all her life’s savings preparing for my a​gbamakwụkwọ ọdịnala. Obumneme had not dropped a single dime. He said he would repay my mother after the wedding, which I doubt. His complaint was that his master owes him arrears of salary—this jingle—I have been used to since I knew him.

If I have learned anything, it was that you could not ascribe great cosmic significance to a simple earthly event. Coincidence - that is all anything ever is. Nothing more than coincidence, it took a long time, but I had finally learned. There are no miracles. There is no such thing as fate. Nothing is meant to be. I knew. I was sure of it now.

Cock sure.

“​Nne m,​ I have decided, I cannot marry Obumneme.”

My mother’s hand stills for a moment on the cover of the boiling ​Okazi soup. She continues to raise the cover without uttering a word. I assume she is calculating how much she has spent towards this occasion, and how she is going to get Obumneme to fulfill his promise now that I am retracting my commitment.

“​Nne, ​don’t worry about the payment, I will go to Aba for work.”

My mother is quiet.

“I will follow Adaku’s mother to help in her shop in Aba. I will pay you back all you have spent. ​I ghotara ihe m kwuru mama?”

My mother continues as if no one is there.

My immediate younger sister, Ketandu, appears at the kitchen door. “Mgbeke, you are not dressed yet? Ahamefula is already here with all his people.”

I turn a quizzical face to my mother.

She continues her chore, a conniving smile dancing at the side of her mouth.

Patricia Sukore is a lawyer and a writer. She lives in Nigeria with her husband and children. Her works have appeared, or are forthcoming in Kalahari, Nigerian Writers Publication, Icefloe Press, Barren Magazine and elsewhere.

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