The Son of the House by Cheluchi Onyemelukewe-Onuobia

This book is about pain, the pain of being disadvantaged- the pain of Nwabulu. In this book, you will find Nwabulu and Julie, two women who have been dealt with by the hand of fate, whose lives intersect at a point unbeknownst to them.

Nwabulu is that ten-year-old orphaned girl sent out to work as a housemaid in Enugu by her stepmother, who sees her as a burden. Memuna being sent out to live with a family opened up a world of pain and uncertainties for Nwabulu. She wanted to be somebody in life, a big madam too, but in between living with the choices of her stepmother and the consequences of her actions, life denied her.

And there is Julie, a young, educated woman whose achievements in life are not enough to earn her family’s respect. Rather, she needs her husband to complete it, to be a full human being, a respected daughter. You would think getting married to her rich sugar daddy was enough happiness to earn her that respect. The thing about lies is that it’s an endless string, you tell one lie, and you would need to tell another to cover that and on and on.

I appreciate the structure of the book, how it took us through the lives of each woman, and how they came to exist in one space. When their paths cross, it is a mix of familiarity and pain; an exchange of stories, the pressure of society, the hand of poverty, and powerlessness versus societal pressures.

I loved reading this book. It is beautiful, so beautiful I have to close my eyes to digest the story. Cheluchi has given us a gem. But I wonder why it ended the way it did.

Did Nwabulu ever meet Ezinwe/Afam?

Did he acknowledge her?

Did Julie ever survive?

I have all these questions and more.

I often think of Nwabulu a lot. I imagine her small skinny 10 yr old self pressed under a big-bellied boss with her legs pried open and forced quiet in pain and confusion. I imagine her being emptied off of herself when she could barely pronounce her name in full. I think of her a lot, and even now, I am thinking of her. I feel her pain and fears as if they were mine, and it is mine too.

She was disgraced and shamed for something that wasn’t her fault just because she was disadvantaged. It reminds me of all the victims out there who never get to tell their stories, never be heard, and whose stories are buried by victim blaming and shame. I can imagine her teenage self deceived again by a man she thought loved her; love is really one deceitful thing.

Nwabulu keeps me up a lot; I think of her struggles and pain, I see her, I see her story, and I live all the women who have been emptied off through her. And I want to hug her ten-year-old self, her old teenage self, and her adult self and say nothing, just hug her, hoping that the hug will be enough to make her feel warm, loved, and safe.

At one point, she opened up and told her story to someone. But he, a man, in the limited way that concept is, man, took advantage of her position and denied her flat. I think about her pain, the pain of a mother with no child, with no parents, with no one- whose baby was snatched away from her, stolen, without a thought, a thought to think. Just snatched away...

Ha, Nwabulu lost! Life really cheated her in all the ways she could think of. Life did her bad. Cheluchi, I think of her a lot, and I’m curious about her, Nwabulu, as a character, her creation, how you molded her, how you thought her into existence, what inspired you, and what the motivation was.

Because Nwabulu keeps me up a lot. Because maybe in a way, I see bits and pieces of myself in her. Maybe I see some parts of my story in hers, even if it is fragments of it. I see it, and I live all the women who have been emptied off through her. And I want to hug her ten-year-old self, her old teenage self, and her adult self and say nothing, just hug her, hoping that the hug will be enough to make her feel warm.

Nasiba Mbabe Bawa

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