Creative Nonfiction: Hard Guy, Hard Guy by Ibrahim Babátúndé Ibrahim

Going through pregnancy with my love, Adunni, so much that didn’t used to matter began to trouble my mind. We did the ultrasound twice, but the baby hid away its genitals both times, and so we decided to wait until it was delivered before finding out its sex. Ordinarily, this was fine, or so I thought, but I’d been so worried about raising a boy-child in these climes that not knowing the baby’s sex heightened my anxiety.

Once, I expressed this fear to a friend and he was puzzled. “The boy-child will always be fine, my friend. It is if you’re having a girl that you should be scared like this.”

With the myth of masculine superiority so popular and most people believing that only the girl-child is prone to issues like abuse, rape, and general inequality, I kind of saw his point, but that itself was the problem. Because, really, is the boy-child truly immune to all of these things? Is the boy-child truly superior to his female peer. Is the boy-child truly always fine?

I looked back on how he chided me for crying over a girlfriend that left me for another friend; and when his dad passed, how he held it together all through the burial process, his eyes not once blinking a tear. I imagined how our other friends who all shook his hand and patted his back would have reminded him that crying was for women.

But, could I really blame him? I grew up with a father who was very much in tune with his emotions, who laughed heartily and cried with just as much vigour. I grew up with two sisters and no brother, oblivious to gender disparity in how we were raised and groomed. But even I conformed to society’s notion of masculine superiority once I ventured away from home.

My indoctrination started in secondary school, and though the rules were mostly unspoken, there was a seeming consensus that guided everyone; teachers, seniors, girls, and boys alike. When students were punished in class, it was taboo for the boys to as much as flinch, while girls on the other hand could wail a flood. Once, a teacher flogged me in class and I screamed for pain. Even the girls hissed and jested.

I’d been tutored to divorce my emotions, in public at least; they belonged to the weak. Only the older I’ve grown, the more I’ve seen the folly in this. Some experiences have shaken me to my core, and it was through crying freely and talking about them that I was able to escape depression. But, I’ve still continued to be peer-pressured into assuming the hard guy pose, knowing that if Adunni birthed a son, I must teach him to feel his emotions fully like my father had taught me, and hope that unlike me, he’s firm enough to put these teachings before whatever fallacies society would try to foster on him.

These were my thoughts with when one afternoon, Adunni and I heard a piercing scream while watching TV at home in Ajah—an upscale Lagos neighborhood: “Yeeeeeeeeeee! I’m dead o! Yeeeeeeeeeee!”

I leapt to my feet while Adunni grabbed her protruding stomach as though it was going to detach and run away.

“Uncle Ibrahimmmm! Uncle Ibrahimmmmmm! Save meeeeee!”

The voice became louder as a rush of feet got closer on the staircase. The voice belonged to Aisha, Adunni’s younger sister. I made for the door, but she was already in there, collapsing into the sitting room.

“What happened?” Adunni and I screamed in unison.

She sprawled on the floor, her entire body trembling with fright. She made to talk but the words remained stuck in her throat as she pointed outside.

“What? What?” I asked.

“S-n-a-k-e.” She managed a stutter after several minutes.

Without thinking, I picked up my old golf stick—bought second-hand on a road trip to Cotonou—and raced downstairs like a superhero. However, the snake was already dead, killed by the security guard and a few other people who had heard the scream.

As a big uncle, Aisha saw me as a hard guy. Perhaps it was my posturing, the one I learned from society, but it was misleading. Adunni on the other hand, knew me in and out, sometimes even more than I knew myself, and so she wasn’t convinced. She mocked my running downstairs only to remain at a safe distance when someone invited me to examine the dead snake. When she asked Aisha why she didn’t call her instead, all the poor girl could muster was that I was a man.

The true reminder that I was no hard guy, and that being a man was itself no measure of strength came just a week after the snake incident.

Adunni had gone into labour, and through the ever knotty traffic of Lagos, we began a mad rush to the hospital. There were a lot of scary factors, but it was mostly her eyes, rolled back until they were almost all white. I doubt I could even call them that, because by the time we got to the hospital, did the necessary checks and was given a bed, the veins in them had come alive and shaded them red. They say the eyes are a window to the soul. I peered into them and it felt as though I was tumbling down a bloodied, bottomless tunnel. I snapped out and looked away at once.

At first, before the pain turned her inside out until she could no longer see me, she held my palm and squeezed like it was a piece of paper she would crumble. I could feel her screams well up and gather in her throat, but they were whimpers when they rolled off her tongue.

She had taught me about the contractions earlier, so I could time them. When they became more frequent, with less than a minute between them, they also became longer, and at some point, she could no longer lay on the bed. She couldn’t stand straight either, but she would not accept any other position but on her feet. She bent her back a little and placed her palms on her knees, still whimpering and grunting.

I was in pain just by being there, watching the love of my life suffer, unable to do anything to ease any of it. I held out a palm. It got no embrace. I pushed it forward, so it could touch her hand on one knee. She smacked it away, groaning and crying in pain.

A doctor walked in. She had come to measure her dilation. I felt like the doctor’s demeanor was too relaxed, like she was immune to the human emotions that get pricked from seeing a fellow human experience pain.

“Try to lay on the bed so I can check it,” she said.

Adunni instead made to go from bending to a full squat, both arms around her waist.

“She said she doesn’t want the bed,” I offered, my voice shaking badly.

“She has to want the bed. How else will she deliver the baby?”

The grunting grew louder. “I-think-I-want-to-stool,” Adunni groaned.

“Ah!” exclaimed the doctor. “Don’t do that o, abi you want to excrete your baby?”

She made to pull Adunni up and I joined in. Together we overcame her reluctance and got her to the bed. A pool of leaking liquid sat on the floor, little drops dotting a path to her feet by the bed.

I looked away, keeping my palms clasped. My mind shot from one thought to the other, leaving me with no particular one to hold on to.

“Nine centimeters!” Shouted the doctor. “Wow, didn’t she just arrive? The baby’s head is almost all out. We need to take her in for delivery now!”

Two nurses soon came in to help Adunni to the delivery room. Aisha came in with them, looking like a wide-eyed kitten.

The nurses wiped Adunni’s legs with wool, propped her properly on the bed, and unlatched the hooks on its tyres. She kept wriggling from one side to the other, her pain captured in low hums. I made to hold her hand and again she smacked my hand away. I recoiled from how cold her palm felt and quickly bombarded the nurses with questions, looking for reassurances that everything was going to be fine.

“She’s going to be fine, oga,” one of the nurses said with too much levity for my liking.

They wheeled her out of the small room and through a hallway where we could hear other women groaning as Aisha and I trotted after them. I didn’t know how to feel. My system had crashed into a melee of provoked nerves, all touchy and raw, pricked by the second by Adunni’s constant pain.

Since we got there, Aisha had gone from looking at me for strength to actually being the stronger of us two; constantly saying sorry, eagerly putting herself forward to do whatever the nurses asked, generally motoring about the place. All I could do was feel sorry for her, for my Adunni, and for myself, knowing that the cover I always was in times of despair had refused to shield any of us this time.

The doctor waited for us in the delivery room. She stood behind an elevated bed with a huge light hovering over it, clad in a white coverall, her long hair tucked into a white cap, her hands in gloves and her nose and mouth behind a mask. All the while, I thought it was a different person, praying beneath my breath that this person be, at least, as calm as the first doctor.

Adunni had relaxed a bit on our way to the delivery room, but her energy surged as soon as we got in there, getting herself off the bed and making to forcibly squat. The nurses and I struggled to stop her while Aisha sobbed in the background. With the doctor carrying on setting up her tools as though we weren’t there, Aisha’s sobbing ironically was the only solace within reach; a sort of unity and companionship in despair.

I grabbed Adunni by the shoulders, begging her to look into my eyes so I could explain that the doctor had said to squat was to excrete the baby. It didn’t work. Her eyes darted aimlessly around in their redness, like the beam of a torch in the hand of a running person. The nurses pulled and pulled until she was standing by the elevated bed, then I forced her legs off the ground onto it. She struggled and shouted at me to stop the whole time

The doctor finally looked down at her on the bed, slid off her mask and, alas, it was the first doctor. I heaved a sigh of relief at seeing her familiar face as smiled and gave a rundown of the procedure. I hardly heard a word.

I’ve always had a thing for blood. It made me sick to my stomach. I hardly remembered on that day, but at the point where the real pushing began, something snapped, and my knees threatened to buckle. My head began to spin. I quickly held on to something for support. One of the nurses had to escort me out so I could cool off. I didn’t want to, but I had no strength to resist.

Outside, I found some strength again and paced. Several people walked past, offering nice gestures and words my ears refused to pick. I could only nod back in appreciation. A loud scream was keeping every other sound out of my ears.

It doesn’t sound like my wife’s voice, I told myself.

A few minutes later, Aisha walked out of the delivery room and I rushed towards her. Her face glistened with tears.

“Someone was screaming so loud.”

“It was her,” she said.

My heart sank to my stomach and I slumped to my knees.

“But she has delivered. It’s a girl!” I hadn’t noticed the excitement on her face until then.

I sprang back to my feet, in time to see the doctor strolling out with a covered-up baby in her hands.

I stood rooted to the spot. The doctor soon reached me and with a smile, handed the baby over.

My heart pulled out of my chest and melted into the baby, into its beauty and sheer innocence as it wriggled its little frame.

“Is she an albino?” I asked, my voice quavering.

Aisha, the doctor and some of the people in the reception laughed.

“How is my wife?” I asked with renewed vigour.

“She said I should tell you that, ‘hard guy, hard guy, but you fainted before the baby’s head even came out,’” Aisha demonstrated the jest.

The laughter grew louder.

I shook my head. I looked down at the baby. A side of its mouth titled upwards, as though she was laughing too.

The frozen muscles on my face eased up and collapsed into a potpourri of emotions. I laughed a little and held out the newborn to Aisha as my tears threatened to soak up its covers.

A little distance away, by the delivery room door, my eyes caught my newly crowned strongest-human-ever. She was standing with one hand on her waist, slightly bent like a spent marathoner just off breasting the finish line. She shook her head, her tired face wearing a huge grin.

The woman was laughing at me!

This was my epiphany; the point where I accepted ownership of all my exiled emotions. From now on, I would laugh, cry, dance, hug, scream, be happy or sad. Still in awe of what my queen just did, I was done living by an unrealistic manual of lies. I was done with society and its ironclad, stifling ‘pose.’

For good this time.

After he was forcibly sent to science-class in high-school, it took Ibrahim 20 years to finally find his way back to his passion, in 2019, when he left a successful ten-year career in media & entertainment to become a writer. In that time, his works have appeared in Door is a Jar Magazine, Ake Review, Agbowó Magazine, Black Muslim Reads Anthology, Analogies & Allegories Literary Magazine, and more. He was a finalist in Goge Africa’s #GogeAfrica20 Writing Contest, as well as Ibua Journal’s Packlight Series. He has also been nominated for the 2021 Pushcart Prize. Ibrahim’s work explores the human experience from an African perspective. He’s @heemthewriter across social media.

2 responses to “Creative Nonfiction: Hard Guy, Hard Guy by Ibrahim Babátúndé Ibrahim

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