pain

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.

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19 Bush Street : Part 2 of 2

For eight years we pleaded with God to bless us with a child. I prayed fervently, cried diligently and fasted religiously, starving myself until my pot belly deflated, my cheeks became hollow and my collar bone threatened to break free.

“Eat my darling, please eat!” she would cry, fearing for my life. Eat? Was food going to improve the quality of my sperm?  How could I eat, knowing I was the reason we were childless? Every night we knelt to pray, I asked God to forgive me for not telling her the truth; for not telling my wife that my non-existent sperm count was the reason we were childless.

My fast was a signal to God; I needed Him to feel my desperation, needed Him to see how much I was willing to sacrifice if He would only make a real man out of me.

“It is God that gives children,” they said, but that was no encouragement to me. Had I done something wrong, something that deserved such a severe punishment? I gave to the poor, fed the hungry and looked after widows hoping that God would see what a good person I was and have mercy on me.  I clung to hope, to the belief that the God I believed in would end my misery.

And then one day, the very thing I had been praying for, we had been praying for, finally happened.

That day, the day she told me she was pregnant, everything changed. Hope turned to the darkest form of despair, sorrow to a blinding rage. I knew then that I had surely offended God. After everything I had done for him, given up for him, how could he sit back and let this happen to me?

I saw fear in her eyes as she stood before me, silently begging for my understanding.

Shame embraced me tightly as the reality sunk in; another man had given her what I couldn’t. A better man, a real man, had stepped in and excelled where I had failed so miserably.

Shame turned to anger and I struck her across the face; twice. She stood still, tacitly urging me to carry on if it would make me feel better. It didn’t but I slapped her a third time for good measure. Still she said nothing, gave no explanation and in that moment, I knew that she never would.

There was no miracle about her pregnancy; no divine intervention or immaculate conception. Someone had impregnated my wife and neither I nor God was responsible. I knew it, God knew it and she sure as hell knew it. For months I had been unable to handle matters in the bedroom. The pressure to father a child and the guilt of the secret I was carrying had taken its toll on my libido.

Anger coursed through my veins as I imagined another man flooding her womb.

Did she love him? Did he love her? Was it a one night stand or were emotions involved? Who was he; someone I knew or a stranger she just met? Did she even know or were there a number of potential candidates?

Months went by and the bigger her belly grew, the hotter my anger burned. I wanted to tell the world she was no better than a common prostitute, selling herself for the seed of a man. I wanted the world to hate her for betraying me in the worst possible way but to do that would be to admit that I, the same man who cruised the streets of Lagos in cars ten times the size of my flowing agbadas, could not impregnate his own wife.  So I smiled when people congratulated me and sang praises to God on my behalf. And the more I had to smile the more I loathed her for making a fool of me.

I gave him my name but even before he was born, I knew I could never love him. I watched him as he grew to see if he resembled anyone I knew but he was the spitting image of his mother. I saw how her eyes would light up when she looked at him and hated him with every fibre of my being. He was a constant reminder of my inadequacy as a man and yet I had to feed and clothe him and pretend he wasn’t some faceless man’s bastard son. I prayed she would go and take her trash with her, but I should have known better. If my prayers didn’t work when I was giving away my wealth and starving myself, it certainly wouldn’t work now that I was at war with God.

I pummelled her, hoping she would pack her bags and leave, but she didn’t. I beat the crap out of him hoping the so called love of a mother would compel her to whisk her bastard to safety, and still she stayed. No matter how mean I was, how monstrously I behaved, she wouldn’t leave me.

I knew what she wanted, what she craved more than anything, but over my dead body would I give it to her. She would have to turn to God to absolve her of her guilt because I would never forgive her for defiling our marriage, for taking what was left of my pride and burning it to ashes.