“Daughter” by Hauwa Shaffi Nuhu

It is that age where the sky is blue because we live in a giant blue eye, and brisket bone is biscuit bone. My hair is a thick wild bush and I cry every time I have to make it. That day, my friends from the neighborhood gather around me until I have finished washing my socks and am now free to leave the house and go with them to play. I am 5.

That day, we do not go out. We stay in my house, playing around with appliances until finally, I break something. I do not remember what it was I broke, but I do remember that it was something my father treasured, and that the sound of it breaking was so loud my mother heard it from her room and rushed to the living room to see what it was. There I was, standing and trembling like a leaf, wide eyed and terrified at what I had done, my friends around me, equally wide eyed but in place of the terror that rushed through me in gushes of tremors, were gradually getting excited at the prospect of the impending beating I would get. I was that girl whose father never spanked her. Whose father took her wherever he went and bought her whatever she wanted. But now, I had crossed the line and they would be there to witness the breaking of a law when my father returned. This was a historic day.

My mother stands over me, fuming. Still clad in the clothes she wore to work earlier. I am trembling so hard and my eyes are full. She asks rhetorically, “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!” and the only thing stopping me from crying at this stage is that the terror going through my small body does not give room for tears.

“Wait until your daddy returns. You will get the beating of your life”, she goes back inside her room.

There is silence in the living room as I slowly go to sit on the couch, my legs hanging in the air, not reaching the ground. My friends are sitting on the couch too. Each clutching their dolls and waiting for my father to return from work. We look like cups lined on a counter. Memory can be tricky, but still, I recall it to be the longest wait of my life.

When finally he returns, my mother has come to sit in the living room too, expressing over and over again her horror at what I have done. Assuring me that though she cannot bring herself to hit me, my father would definitely do it and I had better be prepared.

When we hear him drive into the compound, my internal body begins to riot. I will recognize it years later as my first contact with something that resembled a panic attack. The moment he comes in, my mother sits up and begins to inform him of what “this child of his has done”. My head is bowed, my fingers tangled in each other, and my shoulders trembling when I feel him grasp them. Now whimpering violently, I lift my head to look at him, ready to begin to wail.

Wordlessly, he scoops me up from where I am sitting and lifts me high up until his face is leveled with mine. He kisses my forehead and rests my head on his shoulder as he proceeds to his room.

This is when I begin to cry.


Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu is a Nigerian poet and essayist whose work has appeared on Popula, Ake Review, After The Pause journal, Brittle Paper, and elsewhere. She is a 2018 fellow of Ebedi Writers Residency. She writes from Nigeria where she is currently rounding up a law degree.

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