All I ever wanted was to be loved and appreciated, most especially by my parents. I didn’t mind that my parents got into fits of arguement everyday, almost after midnight, I didn’t care that we lived in one of the most terrible places in Lagos, It didn’t bother me that the block/flat we shared with other neighbors was always so noisy that it was so hard to concentrate on anything neither did I care that the ceiling fan in my room had started making fearful noises, like a woman suffering birth pangs. All I wanted was to feel like I existed, that I wasn’t a burden to anyone. I wanted a warm smile, a sincere hug. I never wished for a comfortable life, in fact I had given up on all that. But my parents had too many worries that they seemed to care less if I even existed.
My dad tried the most. Even though it wasn’t the kind of love I had envisioned, he was still trying to make me feel like I was something. He’d smile at me everyday after he came back from the site where he worked as a bricklayer, though not a warm smile but still a smile making all that wrinkle on his face appear in all its glory. At 42, he looked so old and battered, as if life had cheated him. Sometimes he’d add a little “Kemi, Se wa pa?” to his wrinkled smile and I’d just nod. What more could I do? He was my hero in a way I couldn’t explain. He cared a little.
My mother was a different story entirely, If I were ever given a chance to pick a mother again, It would definitely not be her. She was so busy with all her jobs, apparently she worked three jobs and came home late most times. She never said a word to me when she came home, It was more like I was invisible. The few times we talked, I was her errand girl, “Go and buy pepper for me”, “Check if mummy Tobi is at home” or “Won’t you cook? Shey we will just be looking at ourselves?” When I started menstruating at the age of 11, I decided to confide in my mother, not because of any special reason but because I felt it was the right thing to do. I regretted waiting for her to get home that night, I might as well have slept, instead of wasting precious sleep on someone who cared less. When I told her, “Mummy, my period has come” all she said was, “E ku orire, Tommorrow we go kill fowl for you. You are now a woman.” The fowl that she never killed because it totally escaped her mind that her daughter had just started menstruation. I resented her for not telling me many things I should have known, for never being there for me. At least Adaobi, the girl who lived on the top floor of our block/flat told me that when she started, her mother told her things like “If man touch you once, you go carry bele oh”, “That thing too dey smell. Make sure say you wash your body wella.” Adaobi’s mother wasn’t half as educated as my mother but most of things she said to Ada made a lot of sense though funny.
Then the worst decided to happen. Father lost his job as a bricklayer at the construction site. They complained that all the bricklayers were “incompetent and trying to extort money for no cause”, those were his exact words as he sat on one of the mismatched cushions in our sitting room the night he lost his job. I felt bad for my father, I could see the hurt in his eyes, hear the unsaid words, because even though a bricklayer’s job was not something to be proud of, at least he could say he had a job. Mother who had been sitting across him the whole time he narrated the story of losing his job stood up and muttered something I made out to be, “What difference does it make if you lost the job. I have always been the breadwinner.” with that, she walked into her room. That was how insensitive she was.
As if things couldn’t get any better, Father started drinking and getting angrier as each day passed. There was more and more arguements in our home. He wasn’t even trying hard to look for a new job, he’d just sit at home all day and drink him self to stupor before unleashing his anger at any one at reach. One day, I was the sacrificial lamb. After asking me to get him a cup of water, he flung the cup filled with water at me, rendering me wet. I had to endure it because there was nothing I could do. I was so sure now that there was nothing like Love.
Some days later, he started visiting my room every night to tell me how sorry he was for getting angry and how he loved me dearly, he would always touch different parts of my body while he said this. I would try to stop him but he would tell me to keep shut so that my mom wouldn’t hear me. I stopped trying to stop him from fondling and kissing me on those nights, at least one thing was better about him, he stopped getting angry with me and that was something. Even though, most days, I dreaded nights, I wished nights didn’t have to come so my father wouldn’t get the chance to come into my room, but you know the nights still came and he was there every night, never for once missing a day. I tried to concentrate on other things while he did those bad things to me. I would sometimes count the ceiling or let the wailing noise of the ceiling fan drown the stupid noises he was making as he touched me. I was only 12. Soon enough, I shut my self into a numb core of non- feeling. I didn’t feel anything when he touched me, It was like I was never there anymore. I felt myself floating everyday. My mother never took notice of these things and how could I tell her that the man she had said ‘I do’ to 12 years ago was doing some bad things to me. She’d probably kill both of us. I felt bad for myself. I felt trapped, I was broken, bent, destroyed. My once upon a time hero was now a ferocious monster I was trying hard to run away from. I couldn’t run, I couldn’t feel any part of my body. Most times I felt handicapped like really handicapped.
I told my mom all about the assault four painful years after. Something did trigger my action because I never really wanted to let her know what had been happening almost every night for four years. My initial plans were to kill my father with my bare hands at the appointed time, but I guess the right time never came. This was what triggered it : One evening, mother had asked me to boil yam for her and unfortunately there was no matchstick anymore. I didn’t want to bother her neither did I want her to glare at me like an angry lion so I decided to ask the neighbours. Aunty Onome was my first point of call but she wasn’t around. I checked on Kola who lived on the third floor of the block/flat with his parents. He asked me to come in and went inside to get a matchbox, before I knew what was going on, he started touching me, really touching me and all I did was stare. I had started my usual floating again then something hit me so hard that I sank. I slapped Kola’s hands off my body and ran home crying. Why was I always the target? Was it written on my face that anyone had the right to that to me and get away with it? I cried, cried, cried. I felt something for once in a long time, PAIN. I was worthless and shameless. I cried and that was how mother met me when she sashayed from her room to ask if I had boiled the yam. I told her everything without leaving out a single detail. I saw the color drain off her face, I wanted that effect badly. I wanted her to feel what I had felt for close to four years, she too was crying but she didn’t try to console me like I wanted her to. Instead she walked back into the room which she and my father shared.
I heard whispers from both of them. Angry whispers. It was as though they were afraid the walls would carry the shameful conversation to the other neighbors. They weren’t shouting as usual. I expected that. The situation at hand was too rotten to be said out loud. The air that evening was so thick, I cried myself to sleep and for the first time in a while, father wasn’t there.
The next morning, two police officers were at our home. One wore an oversized uniform, the other wore a tightly-fitted uniform. I watched as they took my father away. They were taking this wild animal to where he belonged. I could tell that the neighbours were already making up stories on the reason for my father’s arrest but I didn’t care. My father didn’t try to struggle with the officers, he kept his head low and followed them, never looking back. I resented him and yes, it was my mother who called the police. Immediately the police car sped off, my mother came to the sitting room where she met me staring and dragged me to her room whilst tugging at my ear. She beat the daylight out of me. She called me names but the one that sank in was ‘Ashewo kobo kobo’. I was so happy she was doing all that beating and insulting, I was starting to feel something for the second time since father’s assault, another phase of pain. Pain that my mother hated me. Pain that I hadn’t tried to do anything to stop him. Pain that I had broken a marriage. Pain that my own mother never understood even up till now. Pain that no one loved me. All that pain I felt.
Then I met Dogo, he was a hard drug dealer. He convinced me that the drugs were like painkillers and I decided to try them. I started stealing my mother’s money just to get those drugs. She knew that I was stealing her money but she obviously felt that I was too hopeless to be corrected. I hated her too. I wanted her to beat me for stealing but she didn’t. She would just look at me and shake her head at how hopeless I had become. The drugs helped a bit, at least I thought. I stopped taking the drugs for a week and all that pain came back, I even started imagining a lot of scary things, I kept seeing my dad in my dreams and no one was there to run to. I became a shadow of myself.
Some days later, I decided that I had to see Dogo for the drugs so I stole again. I got to his supposed compound which was a block/flat like mine, knocked at the door of his apartment but no one answered. After a while, a pot-bellied man walked up to me and asked, “Na dogo you dey find?” I nodded. Then he went on to say, “Ahh. Police don carry am oh. We bin hear say im dey sell Igbo. You be im friend?” I shook my head and walked back home. This was the end of my life, there was nothing to drive this pain and nobody even cared, so what was the point of living? I took the knife on the kitchen table. Initially, I had planned to stab myself and get it over with but I wanted something more painful. I started cutting my self, giving myself ugly marks around my body with the knife. Blood was already sipping out. It was painful but I carried on.
Aunty. Onome came in just then to look for my mother. When she saw what I was doing, she exclaimed, “Ewoo!!” and collected the knife from me. I didn’t struggle with her. She sat down beside me on the floor and asked me what was going on. I didn’t answer her. What was the point of telling people who would only judge me? She embraced me and told me it was okay if I didn’t want to confide in her, she told me everything would be fine, she said many soothing things, she also said she would pray for me. For the first time in 16 years, I felt so safe in Aunty Onome’s embrace. I held on to her like I was struggling for breath. There was something about her I couldn’t quite place. But my safety was waning because if Aunty. Onome ever found out about my rendezvous with my father, she would hate me as well. I told her after all. She didn’t look down on me or insult me. She consoled me and told me that Jesus loves me and was ready to forgive me even if my mother wasn’t. She said she also loved me. She told me of how Jesus had helped her mend the broken pieces of her life and he would do same for me. I knew about Jesus from Sunday School but not all these things she was saying. She asked me to accept him and I did, though I was reluctant at first. She prayed for me and at that moment I felt something was lifted off me. She took me to her prayer house at the end of our street. There was a kind of light in that house that didn’t just come from the light bulbs in the house. There were some people in there who welcomed me, shared their stories with me, some similar to mine. They smiled at me, hugged me, sang songs even after just hearing about my terrible past. They showed me what love was, they showed me how Jesus loved, never wanting anything in return like my father, never for once judging me like my mother. I felt really good.
That night, when mother came home, she exclaimed, “I hear say you don tell Onome dem dem about your ashewo works. You think say God go help you. Oloriyamayama!” I didn’t care what she said, I had Jesus and that was all that mattered. He was mending my life everyday. When everyone forsook me, Jesus stood firm.