Above and Beyond
- Title: Wrecked
- Author: Dumebi Ezar Ehigiator
- Publisher: Winepress Publishing
- Number of pages: 208
- Year of publication: 2016
- Category: Fiction
By remembering me you remember all those innocent victims. Moving forward and forgetting what happened is forgetting me. Then there will be no reason for me to live. I live to bear witness, to tell my testimony. Once I was wrecked, maybe I still am, but now I have hope. As for my son, if there is something that tortures me, it is the tomorrow of my son.
Wrecked is the story of five remarkable women who represent a large percentage of women in Nigeria, damaged by circumstances that were set in motion before they were born, circumstances that shape what they become, some with devastating effects.
Wrecked begins with Anaya, who is circumcised at the age of six without anaesthesia or proper sanitary measures, a horrific experience that scars her for life and determines her subsequent sexual interactions with men, especially Jubril, her husband. Described as tall, fair, beautiful and calculating, at twenty-three she is determined to escape her humdrum life in Aba by moving to Abuja with her weak, sweet-natured mother, her father having died while consorting with another woman. He had also managed to fritter away the family wealth, leaving Anaya with a lifelong disdain for men. Once in Abuja, she hopes to snare a northerner because, as she sees it, ‘Northern men were sought after and popular; many were wealthy’. She tells her mother, ‘If we go to Abuja, I will meet the sort of man I want, I know I will’.
The second character we meet is Kuku. She is ‘sweet faced as an angel’ and a genuinely nice person, loved by all except her father, ‘a simple man with rigid traditional values and little imagination’ who is relentless in his hatred for her. ‘Blind horror and disgust drove him to cruelty…. He saw her as a curse and could never forgive her for living while her twin brother died’. He beats and shames her at the slightest provocation, imagined or real, even as she craves his love and approval. At fifteen, she discovers sex at the hands of her teacher, which awakens in her a deep yearning that cannot be assuaged by one man so she flits from one to the other. Consequently, ‘Men became nothing more than some psychological canvas on which she continually repainted her relationship with Daddy’.
The third character we meet is Hauwa, who is betrothed at the age of nine to a twenty-five-year-old man. When she is fifteen, her mother dies. Her life becomes unbearable and, together with a friend, she makes a dash for freedom. This proves short-lived when her travelling companion is mysteriously murdered. Shortly afterwards, her father marries her off to her now thirty-five-year-old fiancé, who beats her incessantly, resulting in her first miscarriage. Her second miscarriage occurs because her young pelvis is unable to carry the foetus to term. By and by, she develops obstetric fistula, whereupon her husband abandons her.
One story that draws quite heavily from current happenings is that of Laraba who, with her twin sister, is a final year student at the local secondary school in Chibok. She dreams of becoming a primary school teacher and marrying a good man. Her life changes irrevocably when the town is invaded by militants. She and her sister are abducted, along with two hundred and fifty other girls. She is forced to watch her sister gang-raped and murdered while she is ‘married’ off to the camp head, who himself rapes her every day.
The final character we meet is Eni, the ‘Watcher’ and the ‘Guardian’. Described as tall and slim with sharp cheek bones, hers is a tale of intergenerational incest. She was born to a fifteen-year-old mother who was raped by her father. Eni is, in turn, raped by her father, beginning when she turns eleven. Even though she knows what he is doing is wrong, she does not have a name for it and feels dirty, defiled and ashamed. At fifteen, she can no longer stand the abuse and complains to her mother, who asks her to forgive him because that is what Jesus would want. She feels betrayed and runs away. She lives first on the streets and then in an orphanage but has to leave at eighteen. She manages to secure a job as Anaya’s personal maid, whom she grows to love and who in turn makes her feel wanted.
Anaya herself slowly changes in the course of the narrative, from a calculating woman to a caring and loving wife. She opens a skills acquisition centre for the community and when a state of emergency is declared in Maiduguri, she opens her home to troubled young women. As she explains to her husband:
Maybe you should love the unlovely and I do not mean just tolerate them or be nice, but really truly love the people that our society has stamped as dirty, scary, difficult or beyond helping. We made them that way. Now I am choosing to be part of the solution, part of the meaningful communities that come together to change how these people are perceived.
Here, the author is sending a clear message: that there is much work to be done to re-educate the modern-day woman, and that when women work together as sisters, they achieve more. She denounces circumcision and child marriage on the grounds that psychological violence is insidious and as damaging as physical violence, being more easily ignored because there are no tell-tale, visible signs. She also encourages teaching boys that their sisters are of equal value to them since, as she argues, internalised misogyny is passed from father to son.
Wrecked is a powerful, thought-provoking and enlightening novel about five very different women whose lives become intertwined. It should be noted, however, that its aim is not solely to highlight the suffering of a large percentage of Nigerian women but to also show that they are able to rise above their individual circumstances, as shown through the development of the various characters, with Anaya at the forefront. In other words, all is not lost. There will always be ‘curveballs’ thrown their way but women should face each one with equanimity.
Photograph: ‘Broken’ by ricardo lago
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