violence

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.

19 Bush Street : Part 1 of 2

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His face was redder than I’d ever seen it, eyes bloodshot and spilling hot tears, scalding tracks along his cheeks. I’d see him cry many a time, usually in silence, but this, the state he was in, was new territory. I heard the cracks as his heart splintered, the sharp edges piercing his lungs, drawing blood and cutting off his air supply. I caught him in my arms as his knees gave way. It was then I felt the throbbing welts peppered across his back. Anger burned within me.

How could he do this to him?!

Yet I was powerless to act. I lowered myself to the ground, taking him down with me, gently rocking him as he cried out in agony, silence, no longer an option.

“It’s okay Baba, it’s okay,” I whispered over and over again as I continued to rock him in my arms.

“Why does he hate me so much, Tega?! What have I done to him?! I want to die Tega, I want to die! God please let me die, I am tired of living!”

I wanted to tell him everything would be alright but knew I’d be lying. If the things I had witnessed in the two weeks I had been living with them were anything to go by, it was only a matter of time before Baba’s wish would be granted.

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I’d met Big Uncle once before I came to live with him; when he came to Warri for Papa’s funeral. He was the golden boy of the family, the only one for generations to break free from the clutches of poverty. His hands fed many mouths, mouths that multiplied as poverty continued to breed poverty. He was a demi god, the saviour of the family. When he mentioned in passing that he was in need of domestic help, Mama latched on to his words like a baby suckling its mother’s breast. She offered me up speedily, eager to please her saviour. With Papa gone, life was about to get even tougher for her. Being in our benefactor’s good books was of the utmost importance.

I was excited, eager to see Lagos, the land of opportunity and the birth place of Big Uncle’s fortunes. The schools they said, were better and to Mama’s horror, Big Uncle had agreed to fund my education when I cheekily asked. The only reason she didn’t beat me black and blue was because He seemed pleased with the idea. I would go to school during the day and cook and do chores at night. I had dreams of going to University and the thought that I could potentially be the second ever graduate in the family, a student of Unilag, made me giddy with excitement. My chest thrust itself outwards and I walked around the family compound like a peacock about to take flight.

The day I told Papa I wanted to go to University, he laughed so hard, Mama had to pat his back furiously to stop him from choking. To prove a point, I sat JAMB and passed with flying colours. Not that anyone cared. I wasn’t going anywhere when Mama needed a hand frying akara in the market. Yet, here I was, packing my meager belongings, getting ready to leave the smell of stale oil and soaking beans behind.

When I arrived at 19 Bush Street and realised I would have a bedroom all to myself, I danced in circles till I became unsteady. I would no longer have to share a room with all three of my siblings. After years of dodging my younger sister’s fists as her subconscious dealt blow after blow in the midnight hour, I would have a bed all to myself. A proper bed complete with a mattress and bed sheet! Collapsing on the bed, I stared at the ceiling in awe. A fan stared back at me. A fan, a ceiling fan in my bedroom?! Heaven was finally smiling down on me.

The first time I saw Big Uncle beat Baba, I knew for sure that heaven had tricked me. I had traded in a lesser form of hell for the ultimate damnation. I had seen many parents beat their children, received many beatings from Papa myself, but this beating, was like nothing I had seen before. He unbuckled his belt, backed him up against the wall and flogged him till he collapsed to the ground. But for the sound of the leather slapping against Baba’s skin, the room was silent.

The speed with which Big Uncle’s hand contracted and relaxed as he swung blow after blow, left me speechless. Tears pricked the backs of my eyelids but I didn’t think I had the right to indulge in tears. If Baba could lie in silence while Big Uncle beat him for dead, who was I to cry?!

I stood motionless till satisfied with his handiwork, Big Uncle left the room. A part of me feared the blood stained body lying still against the wall, was a corpse. Staring intently, I willed it to come alive. What would people say if they heard that a man had used his hands to kill his own son?!
And then I saw his chest heave. Tears of relief streamed down my face.

Everything would be alright.