The day Chiamaka disappeared, her father left the house in precisely three pieces.
The first piece left at sunset, when the world, consumed by endless night, became his sworn enemy. A cowardly enemy at that, who only struck among shadows and darkness, never in broad daylight, never man-to-man. This piece was primarily made of a violent mixture of anger and animosity, and in its wake, it was determined to strike back at the world around it, leaving broken china and shattered bottles on kitchen tiles — birthing millions more bits of pieces.
The second piece escaped through an open window well into the evening, when the house was lit by too many lights. Every room and hallway was illuminated in bright yellow, every room except Chiamaka’s of course, as if cheap light bulbs could replicate the sun that was Chiamaka’s presence. They couldn’t, so this piece was made of despair, the kind that perforates gaping holes through fragile sanity, so he made sure to save a few bottles. That way, he could fill up each hole with alcohol as they opened, like depressants can hold a man’s mind together, like red wine can circulate a body and call itself blood.
The last piece left through the front door with jangling keys two hours before midnight. They didn’t stop their tinkling jingle until their jagged metal was shoved in the ignition and outspoken by the rumbling engine, that cried like newborns about blame and shame and such. This piece was made of fear, the strangling kind, so the engine cried until the Nissan Altima pulled out of the driveway and sped down the road, windows down, gasping for air.
Chiamaka’s mother remained in the house to pick up the broken china and glass that her husband left behind. She never did, for she too was shattered, in millions more bits of pieces than china and glass, but she kept her pieces intact. She used a broom and swept her pieces across bright hallways and scattered kitchens, using Chiamaka’s bed as a dustbin. She wrapped her pieces in Chiamaka’s violet covers and fading scent, all as she whimpered to God to bring her daughter back, that He couldn’t take her yet, not yet.
Seventeen years before Chiamaka disappeared, she was plucked from Nigeria before coherent speech could roll off her tongue in one piece. Speech fell from her newly formed lips like vomit often did, in smooth, repulsive chunks that stained bibs and the backs of patterned dresses — a loud, sleepless speech that forced her mother to spend nights begging God for silence. In those long nights, her mother also begged God for a sign, and in a fit of tired tears beside a sleeping Chiamaka, she raised her heavy head to the sky and knotted her fingers in tight desperation. Oh Lord, how must I bring forth this child in your glory? The Lord’s answer came in the form of a ragged woman who reached her dirty hands into Chiamaka’s stroller, only scared off by a tired mother who chased raggedness away at the sound of loud, chunky speech. She returned home to her kind husband and his kinder mother and convinced him that they must leave this place for America, that the people in Nigeria have no shame, that this is no place to raise a child. Chiamaka’s father was easily swayed, so that year, they ripped Chiamaka from the arms of her grandmother and put her on an aircraft heading for a land of freedom and opportunity. Her grandmother cried and cried like the days when her womb flushed out children like water, mourned her like she had become one of them. She was not fond of America and its sweet promises.
Eleven years before Chiamaka disappeared, her punches came in two pieces, one to the eye and one to the nose. And Wyatt deserved it, she told her principal.
Wyatt, a little white boy missing one of his front teeth, told Chiamaka that she couldn’t play basketball because she was a girl, and that being Black didn’t help her any. Then Little White Wyatt put his hands on her, his grimy little hands, his dirt-under-chewed-fingernails hands, and pushed her off the court with a force that manifested in Chiamaka’s stomach as a heavy brick. The brick was made of humiliation and disgust, and it swam in her stomach, doing so many backflips it made her sick. Wyatt’s little white friends laughed at her with open mouths, jolting tongues, and the brick did spins in stomach acid. Chiamaka, a girl with too much anger at seven years, rightful anger, carved her fists into sharp-edged bricks and aimed one at his ugly, ocean-blue eye, and the other at his stupid little nose. Wyatt fell to the ground, crying out, and Chiamaka followed, releasing her bricks. Wyatt fought back and fought dirty. They remained in their tangle of fists, rolling and grunting at the halfway line until a teacher broke them up. By the end of it, Chiamaka lost a couple of braids and a chunk of skin by her eyebrow. The braids roasted on pavement like eels over fire. Wyatt’s little white friends picked them up with disgusted fingers and played Hot Potato.
The principal gave Chiamaka a three-day suspension. Wyatt lost three days of morning and lunch recess. Chiamaka’s father argued, saying that the boy pushed her, and that his daughter must be in school to learn. The principal put a hand up. “She attacked him,” she said.
The Nissan Altima was parked over angry lines of blue. During the drive home, Chiamaka’s father spoke wisdom. “Stop fighting with boys. Are you a boy?”
“No. You are a lady. Act like a lady.”
“Yes Daddy.” Chiamaka refused to cry.
“And the next time someone insults you by calling you Black, tell them that you are not Black. You are Nigerian. Igbo. You came from a rich country, lots of oil, lots of intelligence. Not like these American Blacks. You hear?” Chiamaka heard. She watches her father run a yellow. “I am spanking you when we get home.”
That night, her mother clutches Chiamaka’s skull under cheap light bulbs and begs God to deliver her from violence and anger.
Five years before Chiamaka disappeared, her body was cut in three pieces — breast, waist, and ass. Chiamaka juggled with her pieces like afro-circus, so new and shiny, turning them this way in yellow light and that way in school bathrooms. She inspected them, finding which angle looked good with flash and filter, which piece of flesh looked hot in message box. Chiamaka was not satisfied with her product. There was no customer service, no return-by-mail; she tried to fix it herself. Chiamaka highlighted pieces in hot pink and black cherry and periwinkle and fuchsia, lips big and red like Sambo, big enough to swallow watermelons whole, spit out the seeds, red enough to take dirty slaps, because her mother and father didn’t bring her to America to become a prostitute.
The same mother and father cried devil, cried what has my child become? when Chiamaka discarded those pieces. Chiamaka concluded that the pieces didn’t fit. They were too soft and curved, too vulnerable. She wanted something rigid and sharp-edged, something straight and flat like heavy bricks. Chiamaka acted on this desire in the only bathroom that locked. She wrapped her piece in bandages, ankara, and duct tape. She bound and bound until she saw brick, flat brick, and gazed in the mirror. She struck a pose, model-like and seductive, smiling at her fresh sharpness, body like knives. Chiamaka wanted sharper, so she brought moving blades to scalp and ran from hairline to nape. Her mother’s banging on the bathroom door fell in tune with braids on tile, a strange song, only completed with motherly screams and demands, certain that a ragged woman is using moving blades on her daughter.
When the bathroom door finally opened, Chiamaka had successfully carved herself into one piece, one brown brick, and she was content with her sculpture. She stepped out of the bathroom with glossy eyes. They remained that way when her mother shook her, patted down her brick, crying where is your breast? where is my daughter? Her mother grieved when she met her shaved head, clutching her skull like prayer, begging and pleading with Chiamaka to put it back, to grab the hair from the trash bin and reattach it to her scalp. She mourned Chiamaka’s lost hair like it was her own, crying tears that Chiamaka found selfish.
Her father watched from afar and shook his head. “Chiamaka,” he said, “what have you done? You want to become a man?” He spoke as if his heart was wounded.
“Become a man? Tufiakwa. God forbid.” Her mother snapped both fingers. “Over my dead body.”
Her parents stared at her, awaiting a response, but Chiamaka didn’t answer. She knew the answer was no, not at all, but she didn’t feel like peeling open her lips for words. She knew her speech would come out loud and chunky, and she liked watching her new sharpness speak for itself. It cut her parents in ways that Chiamaka could never reach.
Three years before Chiamaka disappeared, she was caught in bed with a piece unwelcome. Chiamaka herself was already made of pieces unwelcome, brick-sharp pieces like binding cloth and piercings and hair so short it spiked like stubble. Her parents whispered among themselves, never to her face, that she was becoming an akata, acting like these American Blacks who don’t know where they belong, disgracing her parents, even saying nigga like them. Chiamaka heard all of their whispers, the sharp inflection of the T in akata was too hard to miss, whether laced with disgust or jealousy or hatred it cut all the same, jagged-edged and quick.
Chiamaka’s pieces, sharper than akata, flattened and made from fired clay, received upturned noses and questioning eyes, especially from those who’d loved her curves, who received them wrapped in bows and filters. The only one who embraced Chiamaka’s sharpness was her friend Molly, a tall and thin Indian girl that Chiamaka’s parents idolized for her respectable descent. Her father loved to talk about how similar the Indians and the Igbos were, in both intelligence and custom, and he was happy that Chiamaka made a friend like Molly, rather than those akata that she followed around. So when Chiamaka’s mother found the two entangled in limbs and nakedness on Chiamaka’s violet covers, she went mad. The noise that clawed its way from her throat was that of one who’d been betrayed by God and her child alike. Betrayed by God for claiming to hear her anguished prayers, her whispers of the night, yet refusing to use His glory to stop Chiamaka from committing an abomination, to stop Chiamaka from becoming an abomination. Betrayed by her child for acting against the body she spent nine months forming in the womb.
Her father came running after hearing screams of Chineke! and Chinekemeh! He found a spectacle — his wife beating his daughter’s naked body, beating her in the name of Jesus, and Molly watching from a safe distance, visibly shaking in nothing but nude underwear.
A year before Chiamaka disappeared, she and her parents arrived at their first therapy appointment in two pieces.
Chiamaka, now driving a beat-up car, arrived sharply on time. She insisted that the therapist, a kind, wrinkled woman with a smooth European accent that Chiamaka couldn’t identify, please wait for her parents, that they were on their way. They sat on lavender leather that chilled Chiamaka through her favorite pair of men’s jeans, and waited. Her mother and father arrived African time late, as if two hundred dollars per session wasn’t being torn from their wallets, and they arrived wearing their Sunday best and Sunday smiles. Her father was dressed like Naija Big Man, in black pants, a black top with elegant gold patterning running down the chest, and glasses that he didn’t need. Her mother wore a dress made from red and yellow ankara that flowed from her back like a golden river, a matching headscarf, and bright red lipstick, lips big and red like Sambo. She carried sunglasses in her wig like a Nollywood movie star. Chiamaka’s parents beamed when the therapist, Ms. Enache, called them beautiful. They took their lavender seats beside Chiamaka and pursed their lips like proud children.
Ms. Enache went straight to the point. She wanted them to discuss what’s breaking the family apart. She turned to Chiamaka, the child. “Chiamaka, how about you go first?”
“Chisimdi.” A whisper.
“What was that?” The parents leaned forward in their seats, straining to hear chunky speech.
“Not Chiamaka, Chisimdi. I’ve changed my name to Chisimdi.” Chisimdi’s voice reverberated through the room, hanging suspended in air until her movie star mother clipped its wings.
“Say gini?” She pulled on her ear like it would lead her to answers. “Change your name? The one your late grandma gave you? Hey! This girl wants to finish me o.” She wiped imaginary dust from her palms.
Naija Big Man removed his glasses and entwined his fingers. “Chiamaka, why would you change your name? Are you trying to hurt us? Leave us behind? Because when you do things like this, it hurts.”
Chisimdi took a deep breath. “I changed it beca—”
“Do you know why your grandma gave you that name?” Her mother cut her off. “Chiamaka means God is beautiful. She named you Chiamaka because when you were born, you had fair skin. She thought you would be beautiful. And look at you know, parading yourself like a man.” She gestured her hand at her brick-like appearance. “Your grandma would turn in her grave.”
Ms. Enache silently took notes.
“It’s a lie!” Chisimdi’s voice came out loud and chunky like baby vomit. “Chiamaka is a lie. God is not beautiful.”
“Chiamaka how can you say that!”
“Stop calling me Chiamaka!” she snapped. The anger that her mother failed to deliver from Chisimdi’s fighting body through prayer etched the lines of her face, pulling it into a frown. The world was silent. “If God is beautiful, then why is the world that he created an ugly place? What beautiful God would watch His children hate each other and kill each other and fuck up their minds?” Her speech fell fast, chunky. “What beautiful God would make me like this Mom? Do you think I want to be an abomination? Ehn? Answer me!”
Her father stood and shouted back at Chisimdi, sweat tracing the Big Man fabric around his armpits, because that is no way to talk to your mother, and that is no way to talk about God. Ms. Enache took more notes as Chisimdi’s mother sobbed into her ankara — she couldn’t answer the question.
Chisimdi’s speech was sleepless. “My name is Chisimdi because Chisimdi is who I am! If you won’t accept that, then so be it!” Tears carved paths down Chisimdi’s face, sharp as knives. Anger and strife fatigued her.
The crying mother rose from lavender and announced her analysis of her astray child. She told her that that thing she lives with, that thing named Molly, is brainwashing her and leading her to hellfire. As long as that thing is calling her daughter Chisimdi with that sinful mouth of hers, then the name Chisimdi will never leave her lips, for the Lord is her witness.
Five months before Chisimdi disappeared, Molly called Chisimdi’s former home, shaking harder than she did when discovered under violet sheets — her heart had been cracked to pieces. Molly called and called, hands trembling like Parkinson’s over the keypad, and she cried each time her call wasn’t picked up, only stopping when vomit came with her tears.
Chisimdi had tried tasting death with pills that were bitter and round and curved at the edges. Her parents had no daughter named Chisimdi, it seemed.
The day Chisimdi disappeared, she realized she had to crumble her adopted name into a thousand pieces. She did it with sharp teeth, crunching the curved m into jagged bits before swallowing, cutting the horrid roundness from s before pushing it around with forked tongue, flattening the C with molars and bandages and ankara — mixed together it tasted terrible. Chisimdi had to down it with heavy bricks and red lipstick, and when it finally passed through her esophagus, her name did backflips and spins in stomach acid. She closed her eyes hoping the nausea would go away, but she was so fatigued from strife and anger that her eyelids became heavier than bricks and dirty slaps, so they remained closed until that thing who gave her love found her buried under names and little white kids, but she couldn’t dig her out because Chisimdi was too far under. That thing became pieces, and when more learned of Chisimdi and her unfortunate name, more pieces emerged. One piece left at sunset, one escaped through a window, another piece gasped for air, and one groveled and pleaded under violet, and their plea ended in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Meaning: God said I should live
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