This piece tells a story of how one woman's struggle can transfer not only to her daughter, but her granddaughter as well. It's a cautionary tale on how trauma not dealt with, can affect generations down the family line.
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Created by Francisca Umeh

Published on Mar 20, 2024
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Please note: this article includes sensitive topics, including strong themes of domestic abuse that some people might find difficult. Please visit our Resources Page for help.


I never knew love as a cushioned fairytale. When I was two, I witnessed my mother hurt for the first time. My father towered over her while I hid behind the couch, sobbing. When my father was done, I watched my mother slowly pick herself up, and clean the blood from the cold concrete floor.

I had witnessed them fight multiple times, and each time, my mother would gather me in her arms and whisper in my ears to not hate my father. She would say it was her fault, and that in her own words, "your father loves in the only way he knows how to".

When I was eighteen, I had finally had enough and ran away from home. Prior to that, Baba had lost his job and Mama had to spend extra hours working odd jobs. She would collect bags of clothes from strangers to wash and iron them till the skin on her palms were covered with calluses. She would buy some goods in the market and go out to hawk. One time, when she was rushing to catch up with a customer, she fell and was stuck with a permanent limp.

I watched her gather the little money she struggled to make and give it to my father, and I watched him squander the money on alcohol and women. I watched him come home to abuse my mother for whatever foul mood he got into as a result of his multiple mistresses, or a scuffle with some man at the bar. There was no money to eat because Baba thought a bottle of beer was more crucial. There was no money for JAMB (school entrance exams) or to go to the University because Baba thought Sekini and her wide hips were most important.

Six months after I ran away from home, I got a call from my aunt that Mama was in the hospital. I remember walking into the hospital to see my mother with half her body covered in burns and writhing in pain. Her beautiful hair was gone and memories of all the times I watched her comb out her hair in front of the mirror flooded my mind. All the times I wished I had long black hair like hers. Above all, my mother was beautiful, and he took that away. 

Her dimpled smile would never be the same again. He was so insecure that he poured boiling water on her all because he caught her speaking to a male customer. I never understood years later why at Baba's funeral, Mama had wailed the loudest.

So when Emeka hit me, I thought it was love. I clutched my face and apologised for preparing his food and serving it ten minutes late. 

When Mama came to visit and my child Ada was just two years old, she witnessed one of Emeka’s episodes. Mama pulled me aside and whispered into my ears, “Nne, you should take it easy. Not many women have what you have and will fight you to take your place. Stop frustrating your husband so that he won’t look outside.”

Fifteen years of marriage later, and I had learnt that when he hurt me, it was because he loved me. He provided food to ensure we never went hungry and that was proof right?

He gave me a beautiful house afterall, and even built one for my mother as well. He didn't have to, but he did. When his arms were wrapped around my neck in his rage, and my daughter sobbed and cried, “daddy please you're hurting mummy,” behind the couch with big puffy red eyes. Of course he loved me even then. Proof? The proof was in the fact that he gave me the best gift in the whole world; my daughter.

When he died suddenly in his sleep, I found myself wailing uncontrollably at his burial and refused to be comforted. His family were vultures and had waited till his death to take for themselves, everything that had belonged to him under the heavens. My husband had never written a will because "he was still young" in his own words, and no man ever prays to die an untimely death. He died and his family had left my daughter and I with nothing. I finally understood my mother.

Today, I watched my daughter try to smile as her arms stroke a small bump on her belly. She says she's four months now, and the doctor says it’s a girl. I’m distracted by the black eye she tries and fails to hide under a thick layer of makeup. I want to hold my child in my arms. I want to tell her that this is not love. I want to tell her that love should be warm and embracing and forgiving and warm. Very warm. Instead, I fake a smile and say that's wonderful news. I cannot help her because I have never known love any other way.

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