My Husband Wants me to Feed Him Every Morning with My Breast [Short Drama Excerpts from Broken Lines]
Early morning, as the cock crows, the birds sing their song. The stage reveals a compound that suggests a poor living condition littered with dirt, unwashed pots and plates, pieces of cloth and broken pieces of plates. There are three huts, Belema walks out from the centre hut, sits on a bench by the wall, yawning. She is about 15 years old. She searches around to find someone; her mother suddenly appears from another hut on stage left.
Nne: Belema, you are awake already?
Belema: Mama, good morning… [Yawning and stretching out her body] Where were you this early morning?
Nne: My daughter. [She examines Belema from the head] I hope you slept well. I went to see your aunty.
Belema: For what?
Nne: For her to assist me with two bags of periwinkle that I can go to the market with. My customer from the neighbouring village refused to supply me because I still owe her some money.
Belema: [Still yawning and not bothered about what her mother is saying. She looks straight into her mother’s eyes] Mama, my stomach produced so much noise all through the night. It was an unusual noise like thunder storms, last night’s experience was terrible…
Nne: Why didn’t you call me or your father?
Belema: The hut was covered with darkness; when I opened my eyes, I couldn’t see anybody. I think the lamp ran out of kerosene.
Nne: I noticed that when the sun’s rays poured through the tiny hole on the window. It was my fault; I didn’t add more kerosene before going to bed. [She looks around.] Where is your brother and father?
Belema: Nemi is still sleeping as usual and I have not seen Papa this morning.
Nne: Get some water to wash your face and clean the compound.
Belema: Mama, I told you my stomach is singing an unfamiliar song this morning. I am hungry. You remember, we ate only once yesterday. Where is the strength to handle the broom and wash plates?
Nne: My daughter, all right wash the plates while I sweep the compound…
Nemi: [Comes from same hut as Belema] Mama, good morning. [He walks away without looking at his mother.]
Nne: Lazy boy, good morning. Young men of your age in the compound are already out trying to find ways to assist their parents. No… it is not my son… [Hisses] Now get the broom and sweep the compound.
Nemi: [Hisses] No… I can’t!
Nne: When did you learn to bark at me…?
Nemi: Since… you failed in your responsibilities…
Belema: Ah… why do you blame her…?
Nne: [Cuts in] No… allow him finish… How?
Nemi: Why ask how? You compare me with others but you cannot do those things parents of those boys you compare me with do…
Nne: Those parents do things like what…?
Nemi: Stand there and ask me…
Belema: But… Nemi… she provides food for us even when father fails to meet his legitimate obligation… must she shoulder all the responsibilities?
Nemi: Then why describe me as a ‘lazy boy’ this early morning…? And don’t bring father into this…
Nne: Like your father, you toil the path of slumber. The hand that fails to till the soil, doesn’t eat of its fruits.
Nemi: But… You cannot afford new uniforms and books for us to attend the community school. I used the uniform since JS 1; I can’t continue using it, it’s worn out. [Goes into the hut]
Nne: Belema, what’s wrong with your brother this morning?
Nemi: [Comes out with the uniform and shows it to his mother] What can you do about this? In fact, what are you doing to help my father?
Belema: Ah? Nemi, it hasn’t come to that… why are you pointing fingers at her? Is she supposed to be the breadwinner of the family? She is only here to provide support and especially, to take care of us and I think she is trying her best according to her ability.
Nemi: And is she taking care of us by over protecting us…? I want to go to fish, ‘No, don’t go, go to school and learn how to read and write’ but no uniform, no books and pencil. Yesterday, we only ate once and she is calling me a lazy boy.
Belema: Why are you talking like that? She is a good mother that wants the best for her children but may lack the means… Yet, she uses the little proceeds from her periwinkle trade to provide food and sometimes gets books for us. You really need to ask papa some questions too…
Nne: No, leave him… let him say what he has cooked up in his heart.
Nemi: Yes, I will say them. If I don’t get my school fees and a new school uniform by next week… I am going…
Nne: Not… ‘I am going’… Come and fight me now while you allow your drunkard father patrol the community chasing shadows of a better tomorrow without working or planning for one.
Okwenbipi: [Comes out from same hut as Nne on stage left] Mama Belema, I am out for the market, my son helped me carry the goods earlier. So let’s meet at the market place.
Belema: Good morning… Mama Iyo…
Okwenbipi: Good morning… my daughter. [Turns to Mama Nne] Let me see what I can do to help but you must refund my money.
Nne: Thank you, my sister. Yes, I will not disappoint you.
Okwenbipi: The last time, it took you five days to refund the money after selling the basket of fish.
Nne: Ah… Mama Iyo, don’t wash my dirty clothes in the public [Okwenbipi gives her a wave of hand as she turns to leave. Nne turns to Nemi] This, your brother’s son wants to kill me. [Okwenbipi looks at him and leaves without a word.]
Nemi: Why won’t I kill you?
Belema: Why will you kill her? Is she solely responsible for our upkeep? She deserves some commendations. There are men in this community that use fishing and farming to provide for their homes, but our father will never indulge in any productive activities but always waiting for compensation from oil spillage in the community. Or he waits when the oil company pays them royalty which they never struggle for… which we don’t know when it comes.
Nemi: This girl, close your mouth before I use needle to sew it. In this age, you expect my father to carry net to fish or carry hoe to the farm? Come let me examine your head… I am sure you are mad.
Belema: I am mad…! [Walks away from him] We will continuously remain at home until the veil covering your eyes and those of papa falls off. Do you think somebody will work for you and you reap what you didn’t sow?
Nemi: [Points at his mother] Tell your daughter…
Nne: Nemi, you should be ashamed of yourself. Listen to the words from your younger sister… [Someone stands afar listening to them] Have you heard that a woman pays the bride price of a man in our land? It is the primary responsibility of a responsible man to protect and provide for his family. Your father is a failure, don’t follow after his footsteps.
Owubokiri: Woman… Men differ, I am different! [Enters aggressively, overpowered by the influence of alcohol] You called me a failure and irresponsible man this early morning, before my children…?
Nne: [Cuts in] If not… who are you? A man that cannot feed his family but leaves home early for a drinking spree… you who find pleasure in the content of the bottle. You have turned yourself to a laughing stock in this community. Who is that man that uses alcohol to clean his mouth…?
Nne & Belema: Men differ, I am different… a.k.a Owubo… Kiri.
Nne: [Owubokiri tries to hit her and she holds his hand due to his state] Those days are over. Your strength should be translated into working on the farm or fishing. Pull yourself out of your past mistakes.
Nemi: Mama, leave him, you’ll kill him!
Nne: [Ignores Nemi, faces her husband] Look at the outcome of your irresponsible attitude… Nemi, now points fingers at the woman that bore him because his father is never with the family to carry out his obligations as the man of the house.
Owubokiri: You who are around with the family… What have you done?
Nne: Shameless man… I should be the breadwinner now… bear my father’s name… since I am the man marrying you…
Belema: Mama… remember today is a market day… leave them, let’s go to the market.
Nne: No… Belema… your father is setting a bad example for your brother… And he is learning very fast. He keeps late nights. He disappears and re-appears at will. Your father is quiet over it… As a father… [Turns to her husband] you should set a good example for your son…
Owubokiri: [Cuts in] Did you call him my son?
Nne: [Reflective mood] Okay… because your mother did not complete the payment of my bride price… So, you have intentions… Your sudden change of attitude. The labours… maltreatment… You have fooled me.
Owubokiri: ‘You have fooled me…’ [Tries to mimic her.]
Nne: That’s why when the boy does something wrong, you can’t correct him… you want to attack me. [She tries to attack Owubokiri.]
Nemi: Mama… Don’t kill him… [Tries to hold the mother.]
Nne: [Turns to Nemi and holds him] Keep quiet, I am talking… [She leaves him.] ‘Don’t kill who…’ but you threaten to kill me. He is supposed to be the breadwinner but the reverse is the case in this house. Watch other homes in this Iwoama? Don’t learn fast… He is denying you of your paternal origin…. Did you hear him?
Nemi: You are responsible…
Nne: Because he didn’t pay my bride price and I opened my thighs for him…
Nne: Shut up! You must learn from industrious men who set good examples and not from an unproductive man like your father. [Points to Owubokiri and takes a deep breath] Belema, try and manage whatever you see. Let me go to the market; I pray to get something from your father’s sister.
Belema: All right, ma… you’ll find something to sell.
Nne: Thank you my daughter [As she tries to leave]
Owubokiri: Mama Belema, as you rush out, I hope my meal is served?
Nne: Did you give me money before you left the house? Oh… the father of my children, forgive me, I forgot… [Turns back angrily and gives him her breasts] Yes, cut my breasts as your breakfast… [She sighs] Please, let me go before you curse my day with your alcohol-filled mouth. Did you pay my bride price… But you ask for food from me…? You even deny my children. You’re not ashamed!
Owubokiri: Ashamed of what…?
Nne: Nothing… continue to roam the village path like a helpless he-goat looking for a she-goat… what example do you show your son? Despite the several cuts on a plantain stem, it grows and bears fruits continually except it is uprooted…
Owubokiri: [Tries to hit her again, she runs away] So this woman will not stop this habit of harassing me before my children. Men differ, I am different!
Belema: But, papa, do you remember that you have not given us our school fees?
Owubokiri: So, your mother has taught you how to disrespect me, too?
Nemi: Papa don’t mind her… she is living in the past! She said you should start farming or fishing. [Laughing as he leaves.]
Owubokiri: Me… your father to go to the farm or carry net for fishing…
Belema: What’s wrong with that…? At least you can assist mother… but I don’t mean to insult you. Papa, I am sorry.
Owubokiri: Keep your sorry to yourself. Go get me dry garri, let me enjoy my drink.
[Light fades as she enters their hut.]