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First Look: How You Grow Wings by Rimma Onoseta

Sunday, September 11, 2022

We’re excited to introduce our First Look column, where you’ll find exclusive sneak peeks into upcoming novels, memoirs, nonfiction books, and more! Whether you’re looking for your new book club pick or just an addition to your TBR list, we can’t wait to share these new titles with you!

HOW YOU GROW WINGS is a YA debut from Rimma Onoseta, an up-and-coming Nigerian author, that follows two sisters as they grapple with issues of colorism and colonialization, mental health and intergenerational trauma, and what it’s like for young women to grow up in a patriarchal society. Fans of Ibi Zoboi and Erika L. Sánchez will love this emotional story, out August 9th.

Order your own copy here!



I WOKE UP with a headache the morning after Zam left and punished myself by not taking any Panadol to ease the beating in my skull. Why couldn’t I learn that Mama did not deserve my tears?

“Mama, dinner was at eight p.m., you were not here,” I said when I saw her seated at the dining table, drinking her morning cup of Bournvita.

“Ehen? And?” she said, not bothering to look at me.

I said nothing. If this was how she wanted to act, then I could show her that I was better at this game. I wore my shoes and got ready to leave.

“Where do you think you’re going to?”


“Better cook breakfast before you go anywhere.”

“I cooked dinner last night. It’s Zam’s turn to cook breakfast.”

“Are you stupid? Can you not see that your sister is not here?”

“That is not my problem,” I said, before walking out the door.

I heard Mama scream behind me. I knew she wouldn’t follow me out of the house. She had learned I was unwilling to tolerate her nonsense two years ago. It had been early in the morning. She had taken off her slipper and threatened to beat me with it because I had not ironed her clothes to her satisfaction. I just couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t take one more hit and for the first time in my life I defended myself by grabbing her wrist instead of curling into a ball and letting her do as she pleased.

Heewwooo!” Mama had screamed. “You have the guts to grab me like that? Nedi Cheta have you seen what your daughter has done?”

I released Mama’s wrist and she instantly brought it up to her chest, cradling it with her other hand as if she was in pain.

“This child is trying to kill me o! Cheta, I did not kill my mother, so I will not let you kill me! Did you hear me?! I will not allow it!” Mama shouted.

She stopped hitting me that day and started throwing objects, usually the closest thing to her, like textbooks, knives, shoes, remotes, and even a half-eaten chicken wing. She had good aim but I had quicker reflexes; it was a skill I had to hone fast.

She kept her evil concealed behind closed doors, lying to people about how I got my scars. Acting like the other mothers—strict but dutiful. The kind of mother that hated to discipline her children but had to because it was the godly thing to do. Everyone probably assumed she was heavy-handed with me because it was what was best for me, not because she was a sadistic witch.

I walked the distance to Ms. Okoye’s house. Ms. Okoye was my Primary 3 teacher who got married, changed her name to Mrs. Ochuba, and moved with her husband to Anambra. She came back to Alihame three years ago, husbandless and with burns covering the left side of her face, insisting everyone refer to her by her maiden name. No one knew what happened to her. At first the rumor was she had been in a car accident that killed her husband, but as rumors go that wasn’t juicy enough. When Ms. Okoye refused to confirm or deny anything, new rumors began to spread. Some said that she had been caught with another man and her husband, in a fit of rage, poured boiling water on her. Others said the wife of the man she was sleeping with burnt her face with an iron. There were many rumors, each much worse than the last.

I learned not to ask Ms. Okoye questions. The first and only time I did, she shook so hard, her teeth chattered. I had tried to let her know that I knew what pain felt like. Tried to show her that I understood what it felt like to live with scars. I raised my shirt to show her mine and she immediately withdrew from the land of the living. She wrapped her hands around herself and

started swaying from side to side, a loud keening noise coming from her closed mouth. It took me a moment to realize she was crying without tears. I learned to keep my thoughts to myself after that. She was half of the reason I wanted to study psychology; Mama was the other half.

I used my key to enter the house. She had given me the key a year ago when I started cleaning for her. On the kitchen table, I found a list of items she wanted me to buy and a stack of notes on top of it. How did she make money when she never left her room?

“Ms. Okoye,” I called out, knocking on her door. “It’s Cheta. I’m going to the market.”

There was no verbal response but I heard the thump of her knuckles hitting the bedside table. We had come to an agreement. If she didn’t want me to burst into her bedroom to make sure she was alive, she had to respond in some way when I spoke to her.

The first time I shopped for Ms. Okoye was the day I had found her unresponsive on the market road, mud seeping into her clothes as she rocked and muttered nonsensical words. There was a crowd gathered around her, watching and shouting for someone to help her, yet no one did. They probably thought whatever she was going through was contagious.

I elbowed my way through the crowd to get to her. She didn’t seem to know who I was but she followed me as I guided her home. I forced her to drink a bottle of water, unsure if it would help but sure it wouldn’t hurt. She came back to herself

after she lay on her couch for a few minutes. I offered to return to the market and finish her shopping because I had noticed how empty her fridge was when I fetched the water, and she was in no shape to go back there. She offered me a job when I returned.

I loved going to the market. The air was thicker, it smelled like spice and sweat and dirt. Voices mingled and clashed in the air as vendors called out to customers, each one trying to outshout the other. I liked the controlled disorder of the market. There was so much happening, so many scents, so many voices, it overwhelmed me in a good way because it matched how I felt inside.

As I walked through the market, hands reached out of market stalls, trying to grab me. Voices called to me, telling me they knew what I wanted, they had the lowest price, their product was the best. I ignored them all, expertly navigating the stalls.

“How much is your tomatoes?” I asked.

When the woman told her me her price, I laughed. “Are you here to sell your market or are you here to play? Dodo, be serious.”

“Sister, times are hard, o. Price don go up,” the woman said, the edge of her lips pointed downwards in an exaggerated frown that made her face look like it was melting.

“Hmm,” I said, my tone conveying I didn’t believe her.

Ehen! Make I even show you this shoe I dey sell.” She bent down to riffle through the Ghana Must Go bag by her feet and brought out a brown leather shoe with a ridiculously high heel.

“Look at this shoe. Fresh from Italy. Very good quality. Will last you ten years.” She hit the shoe on the ground twice before lifting it and knocking on the sole twice with her knuckles.

“See. Strong material,” she said, and thrust the shoe at me. “Which size you be?”

This was one of my favorite things about coming to the market. The hustle. Everyone was working hard, doing what needed to be done to make money to eat and keep a roof over their heads. “Wetin concern me, concern Italy shoe? Is that what I told you I wanted to buy?”

The girl put the shoe back in the bag, muttering under her breath about how I would regret not buying the shoe when I see all my friends wearing it.

“The heat is too much for this nonsense. How much for tomato?” I asked, impatience making my words come out in huffs.

I was a good negotiator. I got good deals and always convinced them to add a little jara. It was why I didn’t feel guilty when I pocketed a quarter of Ms. Okoye’s change. I earned it.

I liked Ms. Okoye but the money she paid me wasn’t enough for the plans I had, and as a rule, I generally don’t regret actions that are for my benefit even if it puts someone else at a disadvantage, because no one put me first. I had to put myself first. Every moment of the day something in this bloody country tried to kill my spirit and I was too stubborn to allow it. I refused to leave this earth before I got a chance enjoy my life. If I had to cheat Ms. Okoye in the process, so be it.

Mama was in the living room waiting for me. She sat on the couch, her legs crossed and her foot shaking with anger.

“If you want to live in this house, you will do housework.” “Okay, Mama.”

I watched her eyes widen in surprise before narrowing. Then I smiled and continued, “But only on the schedule that we’ve been using for the past six years.”

“So who is supposed to do the work on Zam’s days?”

I knew she was daring me to point at her and say she should do it but that was a fight for another day. Instead I shrugged and said, “Hire a house girl.”

“What will people say? I have a daughter and I’m hiring a house girl? How do I explain that?”

“Daughter, not indentured servant, Mama,” I said.