A Son Is Worth Everything
by Cheluchi Onyemelukwe
My daughter, Adanna, is staying home today. I have not paid her fees this term, and the teacher tells her not to come to school until the fees are paid. Chinyere, my wife, is furious. "Your money goes to prostitutes while my children and I starve," she says.
That is not true. I give her money for food. Sometimes I am late with the school fees, but why pay school fees for girls? Tomorrow, some man will come and marry them. What kind of investment is that? Five daughters and no sons – too much for one man. I am, after all, a big, strong man. My strong muscles and thick, shiny, dark body tell me so. The pretty women I see on the road, driving my truck from Kano to Enugu and back, carrying supplies to and fro, tell me so. I have never left a woman unsatisfied; they tell me so in the bedroom and out of it, when I put money in their palms. I know I am able to sire sons, but my disobedient wife refuses to produce any.
"You are not leaving the house," she says, grabbing my shirt. "You must give me Adanna’s school fees."
I do not like when she is aggressive. The muscles in her face become tight. The veins on her neck, the thinnest part of her, stand out. It makes her ugly and I cannot stand ugly women. She was pretty when we were first married, with her tiny waist and generous hips. Now that she has five girls, her waist is non-existent, and her hips have enlarged too much for me to hold on to at night.
Still, I am gentle. I tell her that I have no money, and that I will give her the money as soon as I get it.
"You lie," she says. "You came back only yesterday. What did you do with the money you were paid?"
I cannot give a truthful answer to that question. She would not like it. Women do not like to hear the truth. So, I tell her that I was not paid. The truck owner said he had no money.
"That is a lie!" she yells.
Does she not know that yelling makes women ugly and men do not like ugly women? Men like pretty, obedient women who give them healthy sons.
I tell her that I have no money to give her. "Adanna has done class three in the secondary school. Can she not stop school now?" I ask. "She can help you in the shop."
"You mean the little table on which I sell vegetables, pepper and dry fish in front of this house? Is that what you call a shop?" she asks. "My daughter will go to university!"
"That will be in her husband’s house, not mine," I say. I tell her to let go of me. I am beginning to get angry with this woman. I want to go and drink beer at the beer-parlour down the street and I am getting impatient.
"Let go, before I..."
"Before you do what?" she shouts, her defiance biting. "You are not going anywhere without giving me that money. You pay prostitutes, but you won’t pay my children’s fees."
I am tired of the wrangling, the insolence of a son-less woman, so I slap her and take her hands off me. She scratches and bites, but I am stronger and I beat her thoroughly.
I hear her crying as I leave the house. I feel bad, just a little bit, but I really have no money. I had gone from the truck owner’s house yesterday to see Nnenna. My mind conjures up the image of her young, beautiful, fair skin. I gave her money a few days ago. She needs money to look after herself and my son, now growing in her swelling belly.
When Nnadozie leaves the house, I sit down on the worn sofa we bought years ago when he got his first big job, and wipe my eyes. The tears that I have cried in our seventeen years together could fill a lake. Tears from beatings. Tears over cheatings. Tears over money. All sorts of tears.
No time for tears, my ever-practical mind is already telling me. I will go through his pockets again – I may have missed something last night. I will have to pay Adanna’s fees tomorrow with the little money I put away. My daughters will go to school. They will have a future. I love them dearly, though my heart grieves for the son that I do not have.
It is Nnadozie’s fault. He spends all his strength on prostitutes and sleeps like a log all night. "Whoever got sons from sleeping all night?" I ask him. He tells me that I am too fat. I tell him that I grew fat giving him children.
But it is not all Nnadozie’s fault. It is God’s fault for shaming me. He has given me only girls, as if He does not know that a son is a woman’s security in her husband’s house. My sister, Nkemjika, the prayer warrior of Mountain of Heaven Church, tells me that it does not really matter. "It is only tradition," she says. What does she know? Still, I fast and pray like she tells me to. God does not answer; my conceptions after my fifth daughter have all washed down in the blood of miscarriages.
Nnadozie lets me suffer while he shares his money and his manhood with all the women on the road. This time he has gone too far. Impregnating a girl almost his daughter’s age? Alu, abomination. What if it is a boy? God forbid.
Okenna, my brother, will bring me the chemical on Wednesday. He works in a chemical factory at Ninth Mile. He tells me to be careful. He says it is Nnadozie’s fault, not the girl’s. What does he know? It is not Nnadozie’s fault; the girl tempted another woman’s husband. I do not say this to my brother. I tell him, with reassurance in my voice, that I only want to threaten her, scare her away. I do not tell him that the time for threats has long passed. Her burning face lights up in my mind’s eye, her screams fill my mind’s ears. That will teach her not to steal other women’s husbands, not to grow big bellies for them.
But perhaps my brother is right. Nnadozie thinks he can deceive me. Let us wait and see what he thinks when the stupid girl has her face worn-off.
Cheluchi Onyemelukwe was born in Nigeria. She is currently completing a doctoral degree in law at Dalhousie University, Canada. Her short fiction has appeared in several journals, including, most recently, Conte: A Journal of Narrative Writing and The Danforth Review. Cheluchi can be reached via e-mail, and you can find more of her work at her website, Cheluchi.com.
April 1, 2008
A Son Is Worth Everything