Emma Emeh (2001). Acrylic on Canvass

I sit quietly, holding his tiny body in my arms. The fever that wracked his body last night has left him cold today. He hasn’t cried in days and I long to hear that sound that tells me my child is fighting, the sound that tells me he hasn’t given up, that like me, he is holding on for dear life.

I know some medicine will help him but Mataima won’t give him any. Even when I dared venture outside my uncle’s walls to go to the hut that serves as the health care centre, she turned me away.
Boko Haram Bride she spat but I didn’t care. The other women have called me worse. I clung to her shawl, begged for mercy, for the child I said, not for me but for the child.

She dragged me into the hut by my arm, showed me the maimed, wounded men within, the stench of death and decay choked me, brought fresh tears to my eyes.
They are the ones who deserve mercy she hissed. Your lot did this to them, to their families. I will not squander medicines on your bastard child.

I’d turned and left then. My little Boy did not do this I want to say but the words didn’t come.
As I returned to my uncle’s compound, I heard the whispers. I saw the fear in the averted faces.
They are afraid of me. That thought shocks me the most. Their disdain, repulsion and whispered Karuwa, whore, I have somewhat come to expect, but the fear baffles me. How can anyone be afraid of me? I’m just seventeen, not much more than a little slip of a child.

You will bring them back here, you’re the ruin of us all.
Are we sure she doesn’t have a belt under her hijab?
You lay with a man who kills your people! How can you live with yourself?

I desperately want to tell them I didn’t create any of this. I didn’t ask for this. I don’t want to be damaged. I want to be fifteen again, dreaming of flying a plane in the open skies one day. I want my mother to hold me in her arms as I hold my son, but they tell me I killed her the day I left.

I feel it when my Baby takes his last laboured breath. I am too weak with anguish to take one of my own, so I sit still with his lifeless body in my arms, arms as empty as my heart.
I know the family will be relieved, jubilant even, that the blood of Boko Haram has gone from them. They will say it is God’s will, God’s way of exacting justice for the atrocities of Boko Haram. They will say it is atonement. I want to scream that I don’t believe God would punish a little child like they have, that the face of God can’t possibly hold their self-righteous sneers. But the words won’t come still.

Thoughts of the forest start to come to me. The longing for it is so strong in my empty heart that I think I will lose my mind. It both terrifies and draws me at once. I want to go back, go back to the rocky heights that make me feel like I’m flying, the leafy shea trees that provide respite from the sun. I want to hide from these people, from the family that has turned on me, from the friends that now hate and despise me. I can’t help but think that my son would still be alive had I stayed in the forest.

The thought of wearing a belt flits through my mind. The peacefulness of death would be better than this sham of a life I now live. Maybe then Boko Haram will hail me a hero, not the outcast I have become to my people. How ironic would it be if I followed in the steps of the ones who have stolen my life from me? By a twist of fate, I would also be following the steps of the ones who are stealing my future if I let my anger and pain take over, and I kill and maim them. Life sure is full of ironies.

Or maybe I should go like a coward, swallow some guba, poison. You never live beyond the day you become a captive. All you know is torment as you wait and hope for rescue. All you know is pain and shame if you survive and return. Same side of the same unfortunate coin.

One day, maybe I will forget. Maybe I will forget everything; the forest, the thoughts of dying, the hateful looks, the cruel words, the pull of my son’s lips on my breasts. Maybe. But today I am consumed by pain and anger and shame and confusion and this deep dark hole that seems impossible to fill.


In April 2015, 276 schoolgirls aged 16 to 18 were abducted from the Government Girls Secondary School in the town of Chibok in Borno state, Nigeria, by the terrorist group Boko Haram. Several rescue attempts have been made over the years by different organizations. Over 90 of the girls still remain missing.

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