Rosemary Esehagu

Rosemary Esehagu is an author, a novelist, and a poet. She is the author of THE LOOMING FOG.
Rosemary Esehagu is a native Nigerian. She is a mom, a novelist, a poet, and a physician. She is a believer in pursuing different interests and embracing one’s self. Her works typically focus on identity, self-concept, and social issues. The mind and the role external and internal forces play to shape the mind fascinate her, so it is no surprise that she majored in Psychology in college. She enjoys spending quality time with her family, dancing, traveling, and people-watching.
Award Category Finalist
Award Submission Title
The Looming Fog: a novel
In a rural village in Africa where everyone has to fit rigid gender roles, an intersex child and a girl who wants to be a healer—a male-only role—must figure out their place in the community.
My Submission
A happy couple (a farmer, Goshiuzo, from Hidaya, and a woman named Mirioma from the next village, Mlulu) looked forward to the birth of their first child, which would officially unite their two families. Goshiuzo anticipated working on his farm with his offspring, while Mirioma looked forward to being part of a highly esteemed group in the village: mothers. The couples families took every known precaution to ensure the safety of the pregnant woman and her child, and they thanked the gods and sought their mercy.
When Mirioma started having labor pains, Goshiuzo called for two midwives. Mirioma’s mother had already come to visit, so she could help her daughter with the transition into motherhood. As the birth progressed, Goshiuzo alerted family members about the birth and the upcoming naming ceremony. Even the unborn baby must have been excited to be the subject of the festive mood.
The midwives and soon-to-be grandmother coached the laboring Mirioma during the birth of her baby. Birth was the only time something good or desirable was preceded by rude screams... screams that forced new life into existence without much question. This birth was no different. Mirioma screamed in agony and verbally insulted her husband for his part in her pain. She begged the gods to relieve her immediately and showed exasperation when her efforts seemed in vain: “The baby does not want to come out!” she yelled with impatient anger—all the usual acts of a birthing woman.
Mirioma finally gave birth, but the baby was as quiet as a mute. Immediately, a midwife tapped the baby on its bottom, and as expected, the baby cried at the rude awakening. The sight of her healthy, crying baby, whose tiny fisted hands moved as if involved in a fight, overpowered Mirioma and her pain. Mirioma smiled at her child, her healthy child. One of the midwives knocked twice on the door so that those outside would know that the baby was alive and well.
Mirioma’s arms stretched out to take her newborn baby and hold the child close. She said with joy, “Give me my baby. Is it a boy or a girl?” The midwives, in their excitement, because the baby’s father was a rich man, had briefly forgotten to do the customary check. Unconsciously, however, they had assumed the baby was a boy. They looked intently now at the baby’s genitals, but instead of the instant conclusion of boy or girl, there was an instant frown of confusion and horror on their faces. There was a protrusion, quite like a penis, but it was too small, and there was a vagina connected to and directly underneath this “penis.” As if to thoroughly confuse the midwives, the baby had a pouch—every boy’s delicate and precious penile complement. The more curious and bold midwife felt for something in the pouch. There was nothing in it. She conveyed her finding to the other midwife by shaking her head with her mouth and eyes fully opened. Something was wrong. The midwives stared at each other, inconspicuously trying to hide their apprehension.
Mirioma’s mother, irritated by the midwives’ reaction and silence, approached them almost in a dance to find out for herself the sex of her grandchild. Upon viewing her grandchild’s genitals, however, her eyes widened in horror and then instantly shut, as both of her hands simultaneously flew to her mouth, covering it for fear that some terrible word might escape. The new grandmother, with her eyes and mouth still shut, turned her head toward her now panicked daughter and remained, from then on, nothing more than a stone.
“Is something wrong? Look at me, Mama. What is wrong?” Mirioma asked while looking anxiously at all who were present in the room. The baby was still crying, ever more loudly. Mirioma’s mother remained immobile, despite her daughters questions and distress. But her mind wondered with the frantic energy that her body had lost: what did her daughter and she do to deserve such a cruel and ever¬lasting punishment? The midwives could not speak either. They tried, but the words refused to come out. The midwife holding the screaming baby carried the baby to Mirioma, with the front of the baby’s body facing Mirioma, so the words that they could not speak might be revealed to her. Those outside the room waited for the third single knock to indicate that the baby was a girl or two more knocks to indicate a boy, after which the baby would be officially welcomed into the world of the living. But the midwives did not knock again.
Mirioma, seeing her baby as the midwife held the child out to her, frowned in confusion and disbelief. Then, when the implication of her child’s genitals dawned on her, she screamed—the only thing she could do to describe what she felt inside. My poor baby, she wanted to say. The child’s future and life, as she now imagined it would be, raced past her eyes, and she was convulsed by the vision. Why my baby? her screams seemed to ask. Not to my long-awaited baby. No. Not to my dear baby! Mirioma fainted. The midwives laid the baby on a mat on the ground, which had been covered with cloths, and then they attended to the baby’s mother. The long delay in announcing the sex of the baby prompted knocks from the outside, but the midwives ignored these knocks; they were too busy trying to revive Mirioma, and Mirioma’s mother was still motionless. Only the wailing of the child comforted those on the outside.
Mirioma did not awaken. The happiness that had filled the air ran away. The child who should have brought some comfort, instead, demanded comfort from those present. The child’s constant wailing became a reminder of the expectations that would not be fulfilled. Goshiuzo was in a stupor. His beloved wife had died, and she had not given him a girl or boy. She had not borne him a child. Goshiuzo had longed for a wife and child for many reasons, one of which was to help solidify his familial relationships in Hidaya. But the birth of this child seemed to achieve the opposite.
For the next few days following the birth, the child was stared at, out of curiosity and confusion, and people (elders, family members, and friends) spoke in hushed sounds. This cannot be the handiwork of the gods, can it? What is to be done? How will such a child live? What is this? What does it mean? Is this bad? It cannot be good. The baby doesn’t even look like any of its parents or grandparents. People felt that something was seriously wrong with the child. Every creature, they said, was only a male or female. Where did this child come from? Certainly not from the gods, they decided. People stopped staring and kept as far away as possible from the child and the house where it lived. None of the villagers, even the families involved with this unfortunate child and father, wanted to be aware of the existence of such an oddity because it made them think, it made them question, and it made them fear it could happen to them. If they denied the child’s existence, it would fail to be an issue in their lives. Having life and living were two different things, often mistakenly taken to be the same. The villagers understood this and lived by this idea ever since the gods first gave them such wisdom, which had allowed them to survive for so long.
Mirioma’s family knew the instant she died that they should not have given their daughter to a foreign villager. Her family demanded to have her body back. They were going to bury her in her home, her real home in the village she had lived and grown up in. As far as they were concerned, Mirioma had never stepped foot in Hidaya. Goshiuzo, an orphan, had lost any energy to protest the family’s request for their daughter. He had a child to care for, a child no one seemed willing to touch, as if his child were a contagious thing. He needed to leave, to forget that he was ever in Hidaya, but his strange child would not let him.