By Ewa Gerald Onyebuchi

“Nigerian men, fear them. They are wicked. Wicked! Especially Igbo men. They can be at home or at a friend’s place drinking beer and talking nonsense, while their wives are out in the sun, farming. And when the women returned home tired, they would expect her to go to the kitchen in that state, while they crossed their legs on the table, waiting for food.”

I was supposed to be marking an assignment submitted by my pupils but I was drawn to this conversation between my colleagues. We were in the classroom, in a privately owned primary school.

Woman Y was speaking to Woman X, whose fierce gaze flickered from woman Y to me. “Yes, do you mind these men? So wicked!”

She poked a hand in my direction, as if rebuking a pupil in class. I could have said something. But I didn’t.

“You are talking about Igbo men. What about Ebonyi men?” Woman X snapped, slapping the wig on her head. “You see men from Ebonyi State,” she said, drawing closer to me, her finger a shouting distance from my face. “They can do and undo. That tribe, fear the men there.”

She turned to woman Y and I felt a pea-sized relief. “You see that thing you said…these people… Ebonyi men…they are fond of that.”

Now, she faced me. The words exploded from her lips. An Ebonyi man could be at home all day or somewhere, say, a drinking joint in the midst of friends, chatting away, while his wife laboured on a farm. In the cool of the evening or whenever she returned home, exhausted and hungry, she wobbled to the kitchen to make dinner, while her man sat in the living room, legs crossed, waiting for his meal.

Her contributions were true. I should know. I am from Ebonyi and until I left for school, I lived with my father, a man infallible in his own eyes. Whenever I was around him, I walked on egg hells, trying to fit into his big shoes. To live up to his expectations meant hurling my feebleness into the shadows. I pretended it didn’t hurt me each time he said I was acting out of character, each time he said I was too soft to be a man, each time he repeated his mantra: Nobody takes a soft man seriously.


At the time, my parents and their five children were living in Kogi State, where my father worked as a mining engineer at the National Iron Ore Mining Company and my mother, a bursar at the secondary school owned by the company. Ours was a two-bedroom bungalow attached to another bungalow, with cream-coloured walls that took on a brown hue each time dirty fingers or a leather ball landed on them. Back then, I did not know if wearing pride like an insignia was a thing common with all Ebonyi men. It certainly was a thing with my father.

At an early stage, the use of belts or long sticks plucked from the gmelina tree behind our neighbour’s house became a pivotal dish in serving Papa’s punishments. Sometimes, he went overboard with his punishments, stopping only at the sight of blood. Irritated, he’d yell at us to go wash it off.

Mama was different. The sight of blood frightened her but she was also capable of punishing us when we erred. In time, she became a victim of my father’s violence. In public, she’d wear heavy make-up and an enchanting smile. Anything to conceal the wounds. I saw her pain and the seed of resentment I had nursed for my father began to sprout in my heart, gathering thorns.


Woman Y paused. Woman X kept talking. “I have a friend, now late. That woman suffered in the hands of her husband until her death. Maka chukwu!” She kissed the tip of an index finger and raised it above her head.

“Why didn’t you advise her to leave the marriage?”

“I did. Honestly, I did. But you know some women now, when they love a man, they make him the centre of their universe, as though nothing and no-one else matters. This woman was stinking rich. But the husband reduced her to nothing. Every blessed day, this man would beat this woman. There was nothing this woman did not give this man.”

I listened. Eventually, X said, the woman found her husband and another woman making out in their home.

“Tufiakwa! Alu! Abomination!”


One night, in 2009, we heard Papa’s car as it rolled into the compound. We scattered from the living room into our shared room before Mama yelled our names, nudging us to go welcome our father.

Whenwegreetedhim welcome,heasked us,”Where’s your mother?” He was speaking Igbo. My sister replied him in English and he snarled at her. “Onye nzuzu. Common Igbo, you can’t speak. Fool.”

My heart hammered against my chest as he bounded up the cemented walkway into the house. He was a bomb about to go off. Once inside, he raised his voice at Mama. His Igbo was thick and almost indecipherable. Something had happened at work. It appeared he had a disagreement with Mr N, a stout, smug geologist who was two levels ahead of my father. He had visited the house a few times and chatted with Papa over bottles of Star and plates of nkwobi.

But he had failed to append his signature to a couple of documents necessary for a contract Papa had worked on for a while. Now, Papa blamed Mama for this misfortune. After all, Mr N and Mama were both from Imo State. Before we realised what was happening, he drew closer and slapped her.

 “What did I do?” she cried. “Gini ka mere gi? Whatever happens at work or between you and him, you take it out on me. Why?  Was I there when you both had the fight? Was I there when he had refused to sign the documents? We are from the same state but he’s not my brother.”

He raised his hand to hit her but stopped midair, noting her transformation, the fearlessness in her eyes. Now, she charged at him, raising her voice. “Kill me! Eni, kill me! It’s on my body you can wield your strength. You cannot stand up to your fellow man. Coward!”

In time, Mr N became the reason for Papa’s failure, his delayed promotions. If he wasn’t the sole reason for the quarrel between my parents, he contributed to it. Mama no longer greeted Mr N’s wife whenever they passed by each other. Otherwise, she smiled too widely at this enemy my father had constructed.

In 2005, the ore mining company was privatised and my familysuffered, especially Mama. The Nigerian government handed Itakpeto the Indians, leading to a flood of laid off workers.

Mama put to bed that year, and a gathering of neighbours and church members felicitated with us. It was a boy, a chubby creature neatly tucked in his crib. See this Oyinbo pepper, a woman cheered as she tweaked at his cheeks. Congratulations hung in the air like confetti. Mama smiled and nodded to each greeeting. Then, she answered a call. My mother froze. Something was amiss. But she snapped out of her stillness and became unduly excited, smiling too widely at everyone. She began to laugh, almost hysterically, at the jokes Papa made.

That evening, after Papa had made the announcement about Mama being laid off  (he didn’t say sacked) I leaned by the door of their room, watching as she rocked my little brother in her arms. She was singing a lullaby to put him back to sleep but I knew she had been crying. She was snorting and wiping her nose. Perhaps, she was wondering how she would survive the turmoil of her home with the baby, without a job. Papa only took care of our school fees and textbooks; what he had left he lavished on latest clothes, shoes, and alcohol.  Luck had smiled on Papa; he wasn’t among those, like my mother, forced into an early retrenchment.

It took a while before Mama could bounce back on her feet, before she became a shop owner at Abobo. Before that happened, she was always home, in front of the TV, watching Africa Magic. Sometimes, we prayed she was not at home when we returned from school, that, at least, she had gone out. I was all about her getting a job in those days and was enraged by her nonchalance, her self-pity.

One day, I lashed out. “Are you happy the way you are? African Magic from morning to night. Are you not tired of Papa’s insults?”

She froze and tears pooled in her eyes as she responded. “Do you think I enjoy the way your father insults me in this house? Do you think I am happy knowing that I can’t afford common soap for myself or textbook for my children without asking him?”


When Mama finally paid for a shop out of her small savings and with the help of a few friends, she invited the parish priest over to anoint the place. He walked around the small room, the priest in bone-white cassock, ceiling subtly caving in on us, sprinkling water from a container.

Leaning at a corner of the wall, I made the sign of the cross over my forehead, heralding the end of the prayer. I followed the priest’s eyes as they flipped around small bags of semovita, tins of milk, loaves of bread, all placed neatly on wooden shelves. The priest turned to Mama. “I know my friend must have spent a lot to stock up this place.”

My blood seethed. I had begun to suck my teeth when Mama smiled at me—a sign for me to swallow the words welling up my throat.


The wick of conversation between the women had burnt out. They turned to the board. Woman Y was teaching algebra; woman X held a phone, recording the moment.

The ghosts of their words still hovered in front of me. Men, fear them. They are wicked! Especially Igbo men.

But this was not the kind of man I had become. I was different. But I saw my father’s face in their words, his bulging forehead, his yellow eyeballs that widened in their sockets each time he was furious. I remember challenging him to a fist fight.

On a Saturday morning in December, 2011, we had rolled out of bed quickly to our parents’ raised voices. Their words rammed into each other. Without pausing to understand the reason for the tussle, I lurched at Papa the moment he hurled his fists at my mother. Although he threw a few punches that met my nose and cracked a bone, I balled my fist at his back.

Moments later, he began to call his people. First on the list was his brother in Lagos. He told him that I had signed my death certificate, that he was going to disown me. Next, was his sisters, the ones who supported him, the ones who fed his hungry ears with the things they wanted to hear.

“I did not treat my father like this o,” he yapped. “I never raised a finger on my father.”

After the calls ended, he turned to me. I was sitting on the floor, in a corner of the living room. My face was buried in my palms. His Igbo rang out dry and spiky. “Go and ask them, those who raised a finger on their fathers, where they are today.”

When my mother pleaded with me to beg my father for mercy, I could not believe it was her speaking.

“He is still your father, Onyebuchi,” she said, facing me in the kitchen.

It had been his fault not hers. Papa did not know how to talk to a woman kindly, to make her do what he wanted. Maybe, just maybe, if he had asked Mama politely for some money, not coerce her into handing in her savings account booklet, as though he had equal rights to her money, she would have obliged him.

Although I apologised to him, he acted like it did not matter. But I was glad I had stood up to him because he never laid a finger on her.

He also began to treat me differently, as against the rest of my siblings. Especially my immediate younger brother, whom he preferred, perhaps because he thought my brother had no qualms with his actions. But everyone suffered differently. My father’s children were broken. We shared our pain when we were alone. My brother had complained bitterly about Papa’s ruthless manner, saying, “He does not know the emotional pain he’s causing us.”

Those moments with my immediate brother helped me resist the anger I felt when Papa had nightly meetings in the living room with him, instead of me, his first son. Each time my brother refused to let me in on the places Papa had taken him to, the people he had been introduced to, I took it lightly. I got better and better at bottling up the flames, pretending that I wasn’t hurt each time Papa said he was better than me.

Our rift has tapered off over the years. Although we do not talk as much as we should—like father and son, like friends—I do not cringe at the presence of my father anymore. I do not stand up to walk into the room at the hum of his car easing into the compound in Enugu. When my father prances into the living room in briefs, I greet him in the dialect of our people. Jowka, sir.

I do not stand up to leave the room. I sit on the sofa, staring at the characters on the screen, dipping into the silence hanging in the air. E

Ewa Gerald Onyebuchi is an Igbo writer from Nigeria. He writes short stories and poems.