A text by the 2015 Sozopol Fiction Seminars fellow Jekwu Anyaegbuna
The story was originally published by Dcomp Magazine
Our house is where women come to get pregnant. Men also visit to restore strength to their manhood. Papa smiles whenever he learns of a woman's irregular and painful menstruation. He beats his chest and says the woman will come and consult him, or she will end up with fibroids that chew pregnancies. He claims he has the cure to fibroids, that he will give the woman a "pump" to evacuate the rubbish that obstructs pregnancies. He even assures his patients of a hundred percent success rate, no surgery involved.
Pump, which Papa has trained my mother to use very well, looks like a baby's feeding-bottle. It has a hard, pointed mouth like the beak of a bird. Papa pours a purgative concoction into it; then he lets my mother take charge of the operation. First, she ensures the pump contains the concoction in the right quantity, and then calls the patient into the theatre, which is the bedroom where my parents gave birth to their twelve children.
The room has a flat mattress mottled with dry drops of blood. Two calabashes of pulverised herbs hang on the wall. The rest of the floor is occupied by bunches of roots and different kinds of dry leaves. This same room serves as the pharmacy, labour room and consulting room. We sleep in it on nights when there are no patients – my parents on the mattress, and the children on the mat or bare floor. The corridor, where we keep our clothes, doubles as the outpatient department.
In this suburb of Lagos where we live, a family of many members occupies only one room. Our neighbours grumble about the constant influx of visitors. But Papa always asks the most vociferous complainant among them, a man whose gonorrhoea Papa regularly treats, if he can afford hospital bills.
Papa stays outside when my mother pumps into women. He says men are his job, and my mother owns the women. I hang around the door in case my mother needs anything, and I lift the shabby curtain just a little as she asks her patients to crouch like monkeys and dogs, pushes the pump into their oesophagus, pressing its base to empty the concoction into their guts. Whenever the queue gets too long, she calls a batch of five women into the theatre to pump them all at once, to reduce the waiting period.
The women complain of severe stomach pains, saying they purge for days. But Papa, with the look of an expert on his face, says the pains are the signs of a complete cure ahead.
"When a nurse in a government hospital gives you an injection, does it not pain?" he has always asked.
I know a few women who have become pregnant. I know those who have lost their babies during childbirth. I have also seen some women die on the mattress, a situation Papa blames on evil babies or electricity failure because some operations are performed with candlelight at night. I equally know the women who have succeeded by chance, through the birth canal, smiling home with their babies – a good advertisement for Papa's traditional medical practice. My mother always gathers the rotting placentas into polythene bags and secretly sells them to witch-doctors who use them to prepare different kinds of charms for curing barrenness.
My elder sister has been married for two years, but she finds it very difficult to become pregnant. Today she comes to see us, looking sexy in her miniskirt as if her husband, a roadside mechanic, were not beggarly and devastated like adulterated engine oil. The man is also here with her. He complains to Papa that he wants children. I watch as Papa stares up at the ceiling, thinking. He then advises his son-in-law to borrow money and take his wife to a qualified gynaecologist in a government hospital, although my mother waits at the door, ready.
Jekwu Anyaegbuna is a Nigerian writer. He won the 2012 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa. His fiction and poetry have been published in Granta, Transition, The Massachusetts Review and in many reputable literary journals in the United States and the UK, including Ambit, The Lampeter Review, Dream Catcher, Black & Blue, Orbis, Oval Short Fiction, Word Riot, Other Poetry, The Journal, Bow-Wow Shop, Eclectica, Atticus Review, Yuan Yang Journal, The Talon Magazine, Dark Lady Poetry, Asinine Poetry, Vox Poetica, Breadcrumb Scabs, Haggard and Halloo, and New Black Magazine, among others. He was shortlisted for the Farafina Trust International Creative Writers' Programme in Lagos. He recently completed his first novel, which he is now seeking to publish.