Hurt

Let Courage Speak

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On Thursday mornings, the wind of excitement that got caught in his Agbada and swept out of our house whenever he left, returned to lie in wait, ready to welcome him when he breezed in without fail come the evening.

When I was younger, I looked forward to Thursdays. It was the one day in the week when she woke up on the right side of her bed, the one day I didn’t get beaten for existing. She would sing loudly, out of tune, as she made breakfast, and pepper my face with kisses when she dropped me off at school. Wisdom taught me to save any requests I had till then because joy turned her into Santa, doling out gifts and granting wishes like it was Christmas. As I grew older and began to understand it for what it was, Thursdays became the worst day of my life. It was the day my mother dolled herself up and allowed that man treat her like a prostitute.

I would come home from school to find him dressed in his white vest and briefs, sitting in front of the TV watching CNN, a tray of eba and ilasepo balancing on his thighs.

Omo mi, my daughter! Come, come and greet your daddy!”

I hated it when he called me that. Technically, I was just a girl he saw for a few minutes on a Thursday evening before he dragged my mother off to her room to earn her keep.  I never debated the point though, after all, it was his money that kept a roof over our heads and food on our table. I would shuffle over to his side and pause as I reached him, unsure of what greeting him entailed that day. Some days, he would draw me onto his laps and wrap his arms around me in a cassava infested hug. Other days, he would gently push me to my knees saying, “In our culture, we kneel to greet our elders. Your omo igbo of a mother is teaching you her nna ways!”

I hated the way he breezed in and out of our lives, an unsettling wind knocking over everything in its way and leaving pandemonium in its wake. She would be angry and irritable the second he left and a cloud of danger would hover over my head, raining down drops of hell. In that state she was quick with her hands so I learnt to disappear, donning my cloak of invisibility.

I hated that the whole world knew I was his bastard child. I hated that even though he provided for me financially and deemed me fit to adopt his name, not once in my 18 years had he acknowledged me publicly. According to his company website and all his media profiles, “Chief Cadrew is blessed with a lovely wife; his childhood sweetheart, and four beautiful sons.”

The devil must have taken her sanity captive when she insisted I attend the same high school as my half siblings. The one time I tried to explain to her how it felt to walk past my brothers in the corridors at school and have them look through me like I didn’t exist, she beat me so badly I couldn’t sit for a week. Her beatings I had learnt to live with but I couldn’t live with my brothers’ indifference. I wasn’t even worth hating; I was nothing to them.  The whole school knew we were related but no one talked about it. They had parents who loved them and friends that idolized them but I, little miss bastard child, had no one. None of the kids at school would talk to me and I didn’t know why till one girl decided to inform me that they were all afraid my mother would decide to target their fathers.

Couldn’t she try and understand how it felt to see my father come to my school on parents day and not as much as glance in my direction? The same man who called me “omo mi” every Thursday. I would watch them from a distance; him and his wife. I could never get over how beautiful she was. She looked so regal, spoke so eloquently. And when she smiled, her eyes sparkled like the diamonds on her fingers. I could see why he wouldn’t even consider trading her in. Pretty though my mother was, she was in a class a lot more ordinary.

I hated that she thought the life she was living was good enough for me.

“My dear you don’t need an education to survive. What you need is a good man that will look after you and provide for the children he will give you.”

I wanted to go to University, to make something of my life, but she wouldn’t hear of it. I should have known better, shouldn’t have dared to dream. What else did I expect from a woman who had earned every kobo in her bank account by lying on her back?

I hated that she had turned me into a show horse, parading me before rich old men, like a lot at auction.

“Someone is coming to see you today so you had better wear a nice dress and put on some makeup,” she would say, her eyes twinkling with excitement.

I was her retirement plan, her pension fund.  As much as I hated her, I hated myself even more for not having the courage to stand up to her and demand better, fight for better. Every night, I cried myself to sleep knowing it was only a matter of time before I caught some slobbering old man’s eye.

I rehearsed my speech; planned the words I would use to express the pain I had endured over the years, the shame I felt at the circumstances of my birth, the life I envisioned, the dreams I longed to achieve.

But every time my feet found the boldness to walk up to her, my mouth couldn’t find the courage to speak.

A Time To Die: The One With No Title

I feel the moisture crawling down my neck, slowly making its way towards my spine. The air is still, the heat hovering, suffocating. A violent kick sends the duvet flying off the bed. Even before my brain is fully alert, I know she’s been in my room.  Why won’t the woman mind her damn business?! Reaching above my head, I flick the switch on the air conditioner. The low hum as it comes to life soothes my irritation. Eyes still shut, I rehearse the speech I’ll be giving that woman come the morning.

“Mum, I’ve told you to stop turning off my air conditioner. You may not like the cold but I do so please, for the zillionth time, leave it alone!”

“Your air conditioner, did you buy it with your money?”

“Whatever mum, it’s in my room so please, just leave it alone.”

“You can’t tell me what to do in my own house. If you’re tired of me, pack your load and go to your husband’s house. “

Here we go again.

“You are so unbelievably predictable! What does your turning off my a/c have to do with me getting married? Is the fact that I’m not married your only problem in life?”

“Yes, it is! How many of your mates are still living in their parents’ houses?”

“Do you think I like living here? Believe me, the minute my man appears I’m out of here.”

“That’s your problem, is it by magic he will appear? Instead of you to ask your friends how they found husbands you’re there waiting for him to appear.”

“Am I God?! Or am I supposed to parole the streets of Lagos begging men to marry me?”

“Has God not already created men?  If you like don’t pick one, be waiting for heaven to deliver him to you. “

“ I’m sick of this nonsense mummy, when he comes, he comes and if he doesn’t, he doesn’t  I’m not about to kill myself because I’m 35 and single. You are my mother for goodness sake, show some support!”

“Support your manlessness? Aren’t you ashamed? Your younger sister is married and you’re there chasing a career.”

“Well excuse me for wanting to make something of myself. It’s my fault for living in this house. It’s about time I got a place of my own where I don’t have to deal with this crap.”

“Over my dead body! You want to bring disgrace to this family? You will not turn into one of those wayward girl that are proud of being single. What kind of woman moves out of her father’s house before marriage?!”

“In that case feel free to drop dead. I’m getting a place of my own. I’m done tolerating your insults!”

“I should feel free to drop dead?! You are a stupid girl, that’s why you won’t find a husband. I blame your father, he is the one that sent you to England where they talk to their parents anyhow. Idiot…”

I’d had enough. Picking up my car keys I stormed out of the house, her insults trailing after me, hot tears burning my eyes.

Does she think I don’t want a husband and children? Does she think it doesn’t hurt knowing she’s ashamed of me?

I drove to the nearest estate agents to find myself a place to live and three hours and two viewings later, realised I was kidding myself. I couldn’t afford the extortionate rent on the Island, not comfortably anyway. Anger deflated, I made the journey back home and headed straight for her room. Annoying though she was, she didn’t deserve to be spoken to the way I’d done.  I could just lock my bedroom door before going to bed to keep her out of my room and give us one less thing to argue about.

“Mum, are you there?”

Knocking gently, I let myself into her room. She was there, slumped against the wardrobe, inhaler lying next to her lifeless body.

The Trust Series: Stranger In My Bed

         

                Image © Nevit Dilmen 

           Today is like yesterday and yesterday, like the day before. Time is in limbo or perhaps it’s me? I can’t make sense of anything anymore. Thinking conjures memories and memories, emotions. I can’t have that, so I lie here desperately trying to murder my ability to feel.
          It’s not working.
          Is there no respite from this pain? Ten years, Kunle, ten years of selfless love and endless sacrifices and this is how you repay me? Oh God! You have allowed my enemies to mock me. What happened to preparing a table for me in the presence of my enemies? What happened to all things working together for my good? Have I not served you faithfully? Have I not done all that you require of me?

**********

          Meeting Kunle Kunle ten years ago was an answer to prayer. We were both Christian and determined to do things God’s way. We prayed and got people to pray with us till we were convinced we were meant for each other.
          Our wedding night was beautiful. It happened eight years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a first for us both and unlike the many stories I’d heard, wasn’t awkward. There was no confusion; we instinctively knew what to do. I felt so much closer to him afterwards and he said he felt the same way. We were eager to start a family and didn’t use any contraceptives. Kunle was thirty-two at the time and I, twenty-eight. We had our whole lives ahead of us and stayed up many nights sharing our dreams for the future.
          The dreams started to develop a mind of their own when a year into our marriage, I hadn’t conceived. Who has sex every other night, without contraception, for a whole year and doesn’t get pregnant? We were concerned and decided to get tested. We visited the best fertility clinic in Lagos, emptying our pockets for the privilege and the news was good; there was nothing wrong with either of us. His sperm count was above average and his swimmers were Olympic quality.   My eggs were healthy and gagging for a hatching. The doctor told us not to worry, it would happen soon enough.
          Two years later, it still hadn’t happened. At this point we’d been married three years and both sets of parents were getting restless. We couldn’t bring ourselves to tell them we were trying so we lied, said we weren’t ready to start a family. They didn’t believe us. What thirty-one year old woman in Lagos didn’t want a child? Desperate, we decided to get a second opinion at a fertility clinic in London. Thankfully, on the fat salaries we both earned, we could afford to. We flew 6,218miles, coughed up thousands of pounds and endured intrusive pokes and prods only to be told the same thing; there was no medical reason why we weren’t pregnant. I broke down. Had I offended God? Why wouldn’t he bless me with a child? It was Kunle who comforted me and encouraged me to trust that God would give us a child when the time was right.
          On returning to Lagos, we came clean to our parents. My mother, true to form, broke down and started wailing about how I was bringing shame to the family. My father just looked on like I hadn’t said anything. Kunle’s dad told us not to stop praying and believing it would happen but his mother smirked and muttered something about bareness being incurable. My spirit broke as a woman that once declared me the best thing to happen to her son stared at me with venom oozing from her eyes.
          I begged Kunle to consider IVF but he refused, said it was us sending a message to God that we didn’t trust him to give us a child the natural way. Sometimes I agreed with him, other times, I didn’t. Didn’t God create science and give doctors the wisdom to come up with the whole IVF thing? Be it by IVF or other means, I wanted a child. I watched my friends children enter the world, say their first words, take their first steps and celebrate birthday after birthday with a heavy heart. Kunle on the other hand refused to be depressed about it all. His faith that God would bless us eventually was so strong that on my dark days, I drew strength from it. I thanked God for blessing me with a man of faith, a man that wasn’t swayed by his mothers repeat suggestion to take a second wife. My love for him grew in exponential proportions as I watched him protect me from his mother’s razor sharp tongue and my mother’s wails of despair. In time, I was able to match his faith and together, we prayed and patiently waited for God’s time to coincide with ours.
          It’s been eight years since we got married and still we are waiting. I am now thirty-six and truth be told, have accepted the reality that I may never have children. I have suggested adoption but Kunle says we’ll consider it in a couple of years if we still haven’t gotten pregnant. What did I do to deserve such an amazing man?

**********

          Kunle’s job sees him clocking plenty of air miles so when he said he had to go to Abuja for the weekend, I dropped him off at the airport as usual, kissed him goodbye and told him to hurry back. He stroked my hair, said he’d be back before I knew it and disappeared into the crowd of travellers struggling to get past the police men at the entrance to the departures terminal.
          Kunle and I typically spent Friday nights at a couple’s fellowship but that night; it was the last place I wanted to be. I missed my husband and didn’t want to be surrounded by couples making gooey eyes at each other all night. Instead, I decided to grab a take-away dinner at Marco Polo and sit in front of my TV catching up on the last series of 24.
As I walked into the restaurant, I noticed a couple tucked away in a corner. The man had his back to me but something about him was familiar. The lady was stunning, super model stunning and her laughter which was what caught my attention, had a warmth to it that was endearing. Our eyes met and the startled look in her eyes had me puzzled. Had we met before? I smiled tentatively. Startle descended to panic and I wasn’t the only one who noticed. The man she was with turned around to find out what was causing her distress and it was then, life as I knew it, ended.
          Kunle, my Kunle, whom I had personally dropped at the airport less than six hours ago, was sat at the table opposite this mamiwater of a woman. I stared straight into my husband’s eyes, down at their linked hands across the table and then back up into his eyes. The guilt in his eyes said it all. I spun around and fled from the restaurant.
          I waited three days for Kunle to come home and explain himself. Three days filled with an endless flow of gut wrenching tears. When he finally showed up, it was to tell me our marriage was over. The woman from the restaurant was the mother of his two children. Two boys he said; Kunle Jnr and Kayode. I stopped breathing, I swear it, my heart stopped. Kunle had children?! The older of his sons had recently turned five and the other was two years younger, he causally informed me as he folded his clothes into suitcases.
          “I’m sorry Kemi, I know this must be a shock for you,” he said apologetically. He would allow me time to come to terms with what was happening before beginning divorce proceedings. He was a reasonable man, he was willing to split our assets 50-50. I could keep the house; he had another where his whore and children lived.
          Was I supposed to be grateful?
          I stared at this stranger I’d dedicated the last ten years of my life to, the only man I’d given myself to; mind, body, soul and spirit. My heart had a lot to say but my lips refused to cooperate. I watched in silence as my husband packed himself out of our house.
          It’s been six months and still, my lips have refused to speak.

The Trust Series: My Auntie Pearl

Saturday 3rd of September, 2011

Auntie Pearl is my favourite auntie! Whenever I get into trouble with mummy, she always helps me out. She takes me out and buys me treats on her way home from work. I’m no longer mad that I have to share my room with her. She is fun!
She tells funny tortoise stories at bedtime that make me laugh and when mummy pokes her head round the door to find out why I’m not asleep, we both make snoring noises so mummy thinks we are sleeping. He he.

Monday 5th of September, 2011

Why was Aunty Pearl crying last night? I heard her when I woke up to go to the toilet. I asked her who made her cry and she said she wasn’t crying. I don’t believe her.  😦

Tuesday 13th of September, 2011

Aunty Pearl cries a lot but she tries to hide it. Sometime she comes out of the bathroom and her eyes are red, like mine after mummy’s spanked me for being naughty. It makes me sad. I asked mummy why Aunty Pearl always cries and she told me to mind my business. Hmph! Nobody tells me anything, they say I’m only a little girl but I’m 7! Hmph!

Sunday 18th of September, 2011

She told me! She told me why she cries a lot. She misses her husband. They had a fight that’s why she came to live with us. She says she can’t have babies so her husband doesn’t love her any more. God, please let Aunty Pearl have babies so her husband will love her. She is sad without him and I don’t want her to be sad. She cries a lot God, please don’t let her cry any more. Amen.

Friday 4th of November, 2011

Aunty Pearl has gone.  I’m sad but I’m happy too. Can I be sad and happy at the same time? Her husband loves her, he came to the house to tell her. He is nice, I like him. His name is Uncle Kenny and he’s REALLY tall, like a giant. He carried me on his shoulders and I touched the ceiling! He he. He said I can come and visit anytime and Daddy said I can go as long as it’s during the school holidays. They live in Port-Harcourt though so Daddy says I’ll have to fly in an aeroplane!!!!!! I’ve never been in an aeroplane before, I can’t wait!

Saturday 10th of December, 2011

I’m going to Port-Harcourt tomorrow! Daddy said I have to come back before Christmas though so I’ll be back in Lagos on the 22nd of December. Mummy told Aunty Pearl she mustn’t spoil me while I’m out there and she agreed but when I spoke to Uncle Kenny, he said I’d be so spoilt, I’d be rotten and they would have to throw me away. He he. Adults say silly things sometimes.

Sunday 11th of December, 2011

I’m in Port-Harcourt! The plane was scary! It kept shaking and I cried all the way. The lady looking after me said it wasn’t always like that but it was really windy so the plane had to fight the wind. I don’t know if I believe her but I’ll try one more time. If it happens on my way back to Lagos, I’m never flying in a plane again!

I like it here. Uncle Kenny’s house is big, bigger than our house in Lagos. He has many cars. I think he is very rich. Auntie Pearl took me out for ice-cream this evening and when we got home, Uncle Kenny had loads of DVD’s for us to watch. We watched Shrek. The donkey was so funny! Uncle Kenny said there’s a part two and three so we’ll watch them tomorrow. I love Port-Harcourt!

Thursday 15th of December, 2011

Auntie Pearl beat me today and I cried! It wasn’t my fault that I broke the handle of the kitchen door. She told me to get her a glass from the kitchen and when I tried to open the door it wouldn’t open. I went back to tell her and she slapped me and said I was a lazy girl. It really hurt so I cried. She said I shouldn’t come back to the living room unless I had the glass with me so I tried really hard to open the kitchen door and the handle fell off. She beat me with her belt and there are marks on my arm. They hurt.

I was still crying when Uncle Kenny cane home from work and when he saw the marks, he was angry with auntie. I could hear him shouting and I was scared so I went to my room. Not long after, auntie came into my room with the belt in her hand. She said I came to her house to destroy her marriage and then she beat me again. I didn’t tell Uncle this time.

Saturday 17th of December, 2011

I don’t know why auntie doesn’t like me anymore. She treats me differently and doesn’t talk to me unless she wants to send me to get something. I tried to hug her yesterday and say I was sorry I broke the door handle and she pushed me away. I wanted to cry but I didn’t so Uncle wouldn’t get angry with her again.

I still like Uncle, he’s nice to me. He took me to the amusement park today and we had fun. Auntie didn’t come with us, she had a headache. We went to the supermarket and uncle bought me plenty of toys and a new dress! I really like it! It’s yellow and has black flowers all over it. We had dinner at Chicken republic before we went home.

Auntie didn’t look happy when we got home. She asked Uncle why he was carrying me when we walked in. She said if my legs weren’t broken, I should get down and walk. Uncle put me down, kissed my forehead and told me to go to bed. I tried but I couldn’t sleep. Auntie was shouting at Uncle and I could hear her.

Sunday 18th of December, 2011

I want to go home! I told Uncle Kenny to call my Daddy, I want to go home! What have I done to auntie? Why does she hate me so much?

This morning we all went to church together but Uncle had a meeting so he didn’t come home with us. As soon as we got home Auntie told me to go to the kitchen and chop some onions. When I told her I didn’t know how, she got angry and called me a spoilt brat. She dragged me by ears to the kitchen and told me to start chopping the onions. I wasn’t happy anymore so I told her I didn’t want to chop onions, I wanted to go home instead. That’s when she started beating me and shuting at me. She said I’m a prostitute, that I came to her house to steal her husband. I don’t even know what a prostitute is. She pushed me to the floor, took off her belt and wouldn’t stop hitting me. I screamed and screamed but no one came. I think I slept because when I woke up, I was in Uncle Kenny’s bed and he was stroking my hair. He said he was sorry for what auntie did but I still wanted to go home. I tried to move but my body was paining me. I started crying and told him to call my daddy.

Daddy sounded angry. He said he had missed the last plane but he would come and get me first thing in the morning. When Aunty Pearl came into the room I screamed until uncle told her to leave. I made him promise not to leave me so he lay beside me and sang silly songs to make me feel better. His voice is funny, just like mummy’s voice.

Monday 19th of December, 2011

Daddy is here! I’m going home. I hate Port-Harcourt and I’m never coming back.

I hope I see Uncle Kenny again. He promised to buy me a Nintendo Wii if I come first in my class!