Mama and Papa eagerly await your return from school. Mama prepares your favorite dish of Ofe Onugbu and Fufu, with half a bottle of Fanta to wash it down. They both sit under the Mango tree watching as you wash and spread your uniform to dry. They chatter excitedly. It is the first time in a long time you see Mama have a hearty laugh. Her fair face, now wrinkled and darkened from poverty and charcoal, light up as Papa whispers something into her ear. She smiles and says, ‘Okay, let the night come.’
It is night. Obinna and Emeka are asleep. Mama calls you into the sitting room.
‘Ugochukwu asks for your hand in marriage.’ She says.
Confusion masks your face, as this Ugochukwu of whom she speaks, you have never seen nor heard of.
Understanding your confusion, papa clears his throat loudly and responded,
‘He is Mazi Ezeanya’s son and he lives abroad. Our reverend father sent your picture to him, along with those of three other young girls. Ugochukwu chose you over them.’ Papa ended his speech with a triumphant laugh.
Now you get really angry. ‘What about the scholarship form I brought home last week? What will happen to my education, mama? Anger filled your voice.
‘Don’t worry about that, Adannaya.’ Mama sounds like she has everything taken care of. ‘Ugo has promised to sponsor you to whatever level of education you want. He is a very rich man o!’
You go to bed thinking of this Ugochukwu. What does he look like? You have a dreamless sleep.
The next day, you tell your best friend about the news. You expect her to mourn with you, but surprisingly she is happy. She teases you the whole day, calling you Abroad Babe.
‘Not every man will agree to sponsor his wife-to-be in the University.’ She says. ‘You are a very lucky girl o!’
Before long, all your agemates start calling you Abroad Babe. Somehow, you get used to this new name, and the identity it bequeaths you. So, you think to yourself, ‘Maybe Ugochukwu is not a bad man, after all.’ Now all your dreams are filled with Ugochukwu, and the life you hope to live, Abroad. Even though you’ve never seen him.
The day of your wedding comes like the second coming of Jesus Christ. Your family, friends and well-wishers have all gone to their respective homes, and you are left alone with this stranger who has become your husband. You take a good look at him and he is even better than what you saw in your dreams. Tall. Handsome. Six-packs.
After a week of bedding, he tells you that he needs to travel back to America, in that slurry American accent which you suspect to be fake.
‘I will send some money every month.’
Those were his last words before he got into the taxi that took him to the airport.
You wave him goodbye, but he doesn’t wave back. He hasn’t said anything about your education yet, but you decide to be patient and wait till he comes back from America.
It’s nearly a month now since he left, and you feel tired and sleepy most mornings. Your breasts have become as large as yeast-filled dough, and your Woman Thing has delayed her visit. You go to your local drugstore for a pregnancy test and it comes out positive. You go home to announce the news to the walls of your bedroom, because they have now become your new husband, at least they listen to you, and sometimes you hear them talk back. You go through the birthing and dedication of your twin boys feeling invisible.
Your boys are six years old now, and Papa is already dead. You tell Ugochukwu’s parents to send for their son. You miss him but you do not tell them this, you only tell them that he should attend Papa’s burial. So, Ugochukwu comes home for Papa’s burial, and he brought a strange woman with him. She is fair and attractive. You catch your husband staring at her plump chest several times. He introduced you to her as his maid and his sons as your children. You feel dumb.
She looks at you without interest and points in the direction of the bedroom. They both go in and your husband shuts the door. Her moaning fills the night and the contempt you feel for your husband steals your sleep.
He did not attend Papa’s burial, after all, instead, he stayed at home with his strange woman. You come home after the burial to find a note that says he has gone back to America. So much for keeping yourself for a husband that cares nothing of you.
You take your sons to Port Harcourt for a change of environment, and that is where you meet Charles, the bank manager. Charles is good-looking and kind, too. The way he looks at you makes you melt. You quickly move in with him when he suggests it to you. Three months in and your eyes are swollen from the fist that connects with them. You are afraid to tell anyone because you are ashamed of yourself. He apologizes to you only when he feels like taking his due. You close your eyes as he sweats on you each time, wishing that he would be quick. You see the pity in your sons’ eyes as you prepare them for school. They know everything but say nothing. They are terrified of him too.
You decide to see a therapist and on your way out, you meet Chief. He offers you a ride and you don’t say no. He gives you his phone number and you both make midnight calls, every night when Charles is fast asleep. Chief promises you heaven and earth only if you will be ‘his girl’. Charles hits you again, and you accept chief’s offer. You move into the duplex he gifts you, with both of your sons.
Thoughts of Charles quickly leave your memory. All you care about now is Chief, and the money you no longer lack. He showers you with money and lust. He takes you on fancy dates; dinners and cocktail parties. For a while you forget about Ugochukwu and Charles, and the heartache that came with them.
Then comes Chief’s overweight wife. She beats you up and calls you names.
‘Ashawo! Ole Barawo! Go and get your own man! Leave the ones that have wives and children!’
To ice the cake, she breaks a bottle and tears your face with the pieces.
You sit in front of your mirror and touch the scar on your mouth and imagine what your life would have been like if your dreams of going to the university had come true. What if you had gone abroad and became an Abroad Babe indeed.
You stare at the bottle of Sniper insecticide and wonder if you are any different from a Runs Babe. Three gulps and the undiluted liquid burns your throat.
You pray your sons will forgive your selfishness.
Your spirit and your soul elope out of your body, and your lovely heart stops beating.
So much for being the babe that dreamt of going abroad.
Just as a suckling finds it hard to detach from its mother’s breast, Oriji Chizoba Frances finds it very hard to put down a book. She dissects cadavers, discusses Human Anatomy and writes during her “Me” time.