“Tribal Mark” by Iroakazi Ifeanyi
[W]here I come from, scars are just enough to tell if you are good enough, especially when they appear on your face. They are not just the regular scars from mosquito bites or accidental injuries. They are deliberate scars that you carry from cradle to grave. So they come first before anything else. Your tongue is next before whatever hidden treasure you may think hiding beneath your skull, in your heart, or wherever- it can suit itself for any occasion!
Sometimes the scars appear on your cheeks, close to your nose; at the corners of your eyes, close to the brow tails; between the brows on your forehead, and other time they appear like a cat’s whiskers, growing from the corners of your mouth up until they ended just below your ears. You could get any of these and they set you apart to either make or mar you, but it all depends on the scars of those you meet.
I remember the day I took Amina to see my parents years ago. Amina suggested that because she had just said YES to me a week ago, and I was so happy and eager to show this narrow-faced, slim, and tall beauty to my parents that I decided it would be the following weekend. She was a perfect woman for me-maybe I never stared into her face long enough-she always teased me about being too shy to gaze at her without blushing. You’re too shy for my liking, she would say, laughing and tickling my nipples. I so much love to be tickled because it makes me laugh like a fool even at thirty-five. I would laugh until my head muscles begin to ache.
My parents were much happier when I called them. My only son is finally getting married, I heard my mother say in the background as she handed the phone to my father. Congratulations son, my Dad said. He has never used plenty words- he only give orders. My father was an ex Biafran soldier; one of those gallant soldiers who taught the Nigerian troops an unforgettable lesson at Abagana. He would often recount how he was nearly blown up while igniting the local made explosive, Ogbunigwe. One morning he had fallen off his wheelchair and after helping him up, he began to sing a particular Biafran war song that he always reminiscence his soldiering days with and as he sang, he looked up to the sky, saluting half of a yellow sun that was just breaking in the East. He began to grow gradually hysteric and soon he fell off again. It had always been funny but this time, he was seriously shedding tears and cursing Nigeria, Britian, Russia, and Egypt for confining him on a wheelchair for almost five decades. He was a boy when he lost his feet in the war and he has nursed the pain, and his hatred for the enemies to this day.
When I told Abike, my ex fiance, about my father, she said hers was like him, and for sure it did end things between us few months later. Amina had something similar to tell about his uncle. Thank God it wasn’t her father.
My mother was so happy that I was coming home with a woman that she prepared a mountain of Fufu and a full pot of my favorite soup as though a community of people were visiting. When we arrived at a park close to my mother’s wretched bread store, I noticed her running towards us with her whole snow-white teeth bare; her face bright and lovely; her cooing voice endearing and warm, but as she drew closer, her lips began to gradually hide the teeth and soon the smile was gone; her mouth twisted, her face furrowed.
Her ‘ welcome son’ , her ‘ nwunye m’ all lacked life, though I made it looked as elaborate as it could have been if I had come with a girl with a round face, broader nose, and who doesn’t pronounce ‘Papa’ as ‘ Fafa’ when greeting my father. Amina was beginning to notice the death of the distant excitement but she just kept her calm. She was before me, rushing to embrace her soon-to-be Mother-in-law whom she had prepared so much to meet. Ndewo Mama, she greeted in my dialect, swatting. I taught her that greeting for only one night and she learnt it perfectly.
My mother opened her arms, Amina hurried, I was flustered; smiling stupidly because I knew my mother was already praying in her heart for her God to intervene. Not again, she must have said countless times. When Amina buried herself in her embrace and she began to run her trembling fingers about her facial scars, it became obvious from the disappointment in her eyes as she stared still at me over Amina’s shoulder that my beauty wasn’t good enough for me. Although she pretended everything was alright afterwards, I did too, but Amina understood it was over. Her kinsmen maimed mine and crippled my father and we must punish her for that. She bore the scars of an alien, the mark of the enemies, so we had no place to exist together. That was my father’s verdict and it can’t be appealed.
by Iroakazi Ifeanyi, 2019.