I was the seventh child, seventh girl, and hopefully the last child of mother. No one could tell, not even mother nor father, if I would retain that position for too long since the main goal has not been accomplished. Beyond having children, father’s goal was to have a custodian of his last name, one who would bear it and wear it like a crown forever, a son. This was his lifelong goal that had not seemed impossible until he married mother, until all their offspring were female, until they had me.
Since the number seven represented perfection, I was supposed to be perfect, the miracle baby they had consistently kept trying for. The other children, who looked like duplicate of the first child and were all carbon copy of mother, didn’t really matter and for this my parents were relentless in their try for the one true child. The boy.
The scan had promised much, awakening father’s dying hope, not until I was pushed out of the uterus I had been hiding in for nine months. I should have been the true one only for the twist- my female organs and my striking complexion- I came with. I was the only one painted with the distinctive colour, black and particularly looked nothing like the fair buttocks I was dragged out from.
If I was at least light brown like mother’s father, or mildly fair as olive like father’s parents, I would have been accepted as one of those children who settled for the gene of the generation before their parents. But there I was, with no atom of lightness, not light brown or even deep brown, not brown at all. I was a rare blend of oil and black, like a walking version of an oil-black-paint.
With my shiny black skin, I kept raising questions and the eyebrows of strangers who came visiting home as it is the custom for them to visit when one gives birth. This was their seventh trip to our home hoping that each child will break the chain so my parents could finally give them a break from the stale news, “we don born again.”
They came, this time, with false expectations, to see a fair bright little angle, as usual. But there they were, standing over my cradle, staring at what, to them, looked like a little black demon.
“Chim o! God, how can a child be this black at infantry?” one of the strangers questioned, not God, the other one that stood by.
“It baffles me too. The pikin no even try yellow small as par baby then as e dey grow e colour fit change. At least we go blame this our sun for the change in colour,” the other one said and shrugged.
“Chineke ekwela– God forbid. I never see this kind thing since dey born me,” the first said.
They all sneered at the sight of the unfortunate out play of events, me, but changed their countenance as soon as they saw my mother close by.
“Madam the madam, this one is different and very fine o!” one exclaimed
“Eh?! This black one, are you serious?” mother asked in an unbelieving tone.
“Yes o! Unlike the other ones that look like oyibo, this one looks truly African. Òjí ya di öcha– Her blackness is pure,”
“She will grow to be an African queen, the type 2face sang about, you know na,” the other one added and winked at mother.
Mother had expected them to show their honest surprise, to express what they truly felt so she could in turn share her grief. Letting them know that she and her husband were not prepared for the result they had gotten for all their hard work in bed and that she felt as though God was trying to punish her for an unknown sin has not confessed yet.
As I grew older, my parents knew not what to expect. They continued to hope that the bleaching wonders will occur as mother constantly tried all kinds of bleaching creams on me. And when she heard bleaching creams were harmful to the skin, she changed to lightening and toning lotions to make the transition sound milder.
Nevertheless, my complexion remained an ever stubborn oil-black.
They never acknowledged my excellent performance in school or how well-organised I was but were more concerned about the ruin I gave their perfect family. From the dark glow I gave the family photos yearly, the unusual maturity a child shouldn’t posses, and the strange sparkle in my eyes and a smile that showed my white teeth, which always amplified my blackness.
Father, when mother’s creams refused to work, took it upon himself to bathe me. Somehow, he felt my skin colour was a stain that could be scrubbed out like a dirt on a stainless plate. I hid my sob, as he tried to please his conscience that his idea will work better, and endured the blisters the hard sponge left on my body. He later gave up after few months of the repeated morning and night scrubbing. “This your colour no be here o!” he said and hissed.
I had my own cup, spoon, plate and none of the other of my parents’ children shared their clothes with me. My room had an invisible quarantine sign in front of it, I felt, because no one dared to enter except our maid, Ezinne. She was the only one who spoke to me frequently too and looked at me with normal eyes. For this, I felt indebted to her.
I became a mystery to my own self, spent several hours pondering what must have gone wrong in my gene and blamed myself for the disappointment my parents felt.
I heard the whispers of strangers who said I resembled our gateman, Suleman. They accused mother, secretly, for having an affair with him while father was on one of his regular trips.
Little did they know that long before my family lineage began to have light skinned people, an adulterated version of the white people, my ancestors only consisted of those whose skin glowed like crude oil when the sun rose to its peak and blended with the darkness of the night. And that this chain was broken when my ancestors married the oyibo women, whose genes left a permanent stamp, from England.
As I researched about our lineage, climbing our family tree to trace back to my origin, I became more aware that I was truly the chosen one. The one called to preserve the rich thick blackness of my ancestors.
When I discovered this, my demeanor changed. I began to walk around with the pride of an eagle, with the mind-set of a preserver, a custodian of the long lost family treasure.
Just when I was beginning to embrace this feature, my blackness, guiding it like an egg, mother’s lightening therapy began to take its toll on me with an aggressive rapidness.
Gradually it changed me, my skin, to a colour that hung between different variations of lightness, snatching my treasure away like a thief. Before I knew it, my black was gone, its pigment peeled out like potato peels.
As the changes occurred, mother smiled at father, “shebi I told you to leave it to me.” She danced and sang songs of victory. Though not a total victory because they couldn’t change me to a boy. But for this singular victory, they rejoiced.
But I continued to weep.
Written by: Jennifer Chioma Amadi
“IT CAN ONLY GET BETTER”…