25 November 2013

DUSTING THE PATHWAYS OF TIME (For International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women)

Guest Writer: Mary Ajayi
(Image Credit: dreamstime)

He sat before me in the living room, sketching on a piece of paper and humming the nursery rhyme he learnt in school. Starring at him, I can’t help but wonder what my life would have been without him, this child –my anchor and hope. I sit watching his chubby hands sketch the image of a football, face concentrated in a serious attempt at doing it just right so he could show it to me like he had several others he had drawn weeks back.

‘Mummy, have you been keeping my football drawings?’ he asked, still concentrating on the task at hand.

‘Yes dear. I have them all tucked away in our secret place.’

‘Okay. I want to show these sketches when I become a footballer like…er…erm…’ face scrunched in remembrance, he searched long and hard for the name of his role-model.

‘Messi…’ I whispered close to his ears and he smiled with joy, nodded and kept on sketching. Simply watching him reminded me of my own life, which seemed several centuries away; reminded me of a time I wanted to be a model like the beautiful Asikya amongst other things…reminded me of all that stood in my way and how I got here.

I had just come home from a friend’s place where I had gone to see pictures of models and runway shows on their TV because we couldn’t afford one. Stepping back into my house after mock-model practice her, I encountered my mother and three siblings seated in the living room, obviously waiting for me.

‘Anike, have a seat’ Mama said in response to my raised eyebrow. I took a seat, looked at my siblings and tried to use our coded signs, trying to get an inkling of what was happening before Mama spoke but got cold responses. I tried the shifting of my legs a little, scratched my head once, and looked upward. That was a sign for Tope, my pal in the house to give me a clue as to the going on. It didn’t work. I sat up straight, faced Lydia, my only sister and scratched my nose, clearing my throat and waiting for her response but nothing came. She only looked away and at this, I began to get worried. Almost in frustration, I turned to Jide and screwed up my whole face, sneezing almost at the same time but he gave a shrug, looked apologetic and turned away. Now, I knew whatever was on ground was serious matter. I braced myself and faced Mama, who sat on the worn-out sofa, patiently waiting for me to give her my attention. Having it now, she began, speaking words that will later change my life.

‘You are aware of your father’s sickness, abi? And you know how much the hospital is asking for…’

‘Yes Mama.’

‘You also know that in this family, we stand for each other. We may be poor, but we take care of our own in all the ways we can, and not passing up opportunities no matter how much they cost us.’

‘Yes Mama. I know.’ Was that not why I lost a year before gaining admission into the university this year to study Mass Communications instead of Law which I wanted? Lydia needed the money for NECO GCE and I had to pass up my admission into Obafemi Awolowo University where I now study Law. Of course, I understand sacrifice. Sacrifice is when you give half of your lunch to a growing teenage boy who couldn’t survive on his own because of his appetite. Sacrifice is when you tell your sister to study for her exams, the same who cost you a year of your career while you go out to sell recharge cards. I understand sacrifice too well. I nodded at Mama, signifying for her to continue.

‘Mr Chukwu has offered to pay for your father’s hospital bills and every other thing he will needs.’

‘Really, why…?’

Mother and my siblings whispered ‘why…’ like they couldn’t believe what I had just said. Mr Chukwu is the area’s rich man and sucker too. He has never given anything without asking for something in return. The other time, he got Mama Tobi to give him her plot of land in Anambra in exchange for sponsoring her three children through secondary school. I remember him asking to have Tade, a beautiful lady in the area to come clean for him every day despite having three wives in exchange for helping her through the university. I wonder what sort of cleaning that was. He always asks something in return for whatever he gives and his major angle is using education against people. He knows the thirst for education in this area, age and time. What does he want now?

‘What has he asked in return…? I asked as I faced my family squarely.

‘He wants you to marry him’

‘Excuse me, what did you just say?’

‘Yes Anike and you have to’ Lydia chipped in.

What is this I’m hearing? And why is Lydia, my own sister being so authoritative? Is she mad? I looked around; saw Tope with a sad face but resolution in his straight shoulders, Jide pleading with his eyes, Mama without expression and Lydia, fiery with her arms crossed. What is this? Whatever it is, it is not happening. I stood up to leave.

‘Anike, I know this is hard’

‘This is hard? Mama, this is hard? He is married to three different women, he is old, and I am just 21 and in my first year in the university. No, this not merely hard. And you know what? I will not do it.’

‘What do you mean you will not? You better get your head in order and go pack your things. You move in with him next week!’

Lydia had just spoken and I was tempted to strangle her. This is the sister that cost me a year of my life and she is the one championing this cause. I turned to Mama.

‘What else is involved in this transaction?’

‘He offered to sponsor Jide and Tope for their university education and send Lydia abroad for her school. You know she wants to study Medicine and their education is better over there.’

I turned to Lydia who by now stood beside the door in an attempt to stop me from stomping out; I looked at her and remembered my sacrifices to her all through the years and couldn’t stop the angry feeling that welled up inside me at this betrayal. She is my only sister and meant to fight for me but obviously, the prospect of schooling abroad is enough to erase all forms of loyalty. I looked at all of them, Jide, Mama, Tope and finally, Lydia.

‘I will not do this. If you are looking for a sacrificial lamb, one who will die for this family to live, go find another person because I am not available. God will heal Papa and we have made it this far, we will make it.’ I walked out on them all, ignoring expressions especially Lydia’s murderous looks. If she wants to school abroad, let her marry the man himself, and arrange that with him personally.

‘Mummy, mummmmm-my!’ I felt someone call quietly and several tugs on my blouse. Out of the fog of the past, I looked around, trying to recollect myself and saw my son looking up at me with anxiety, paper and pencil in hand.

‘Yes dear…?’

‘I am through with my sketch. Take, let me sketch another so we can go and keep them in our secret place.’

‘Okay dear, but just one more.’

With that he turned to go and as he walked, I saw myself walking away many years ago, walking to think because I never cry. I haven’t in my entire life even on the day I married Mr Chukwu, oh well, till the day my son, Hope was born.

Lydia had made life bitter for me, and eventually enlisted the help of Tope in doing so. Several times I came home from school, which was near home, to meet nothing I could eat. Lydia made sure of that. Every day, my siblings wailed at my hearing about how I am the death of them, how God blessed the entire family with an opportunity and how Iam the devil standing in their way. Worse was when Papa’s condition got worse and Mr Chukwu wouldn’t help with a dime till I moved in as his wife. Mama cried daily, Lydia insulted and cursed me, Tope petitioned me daily to end their suffering and save Papa’s life, Jide though sympathetic pleaded and stuck notes in between my books, notes bearing the words ‘ sister, I understand how you feel but because of Papa, because of us, because of God, do this. Thank you.’

Eventually, when I couldn’t stand it anymore, especially Jide’s notes, I agreed to marry Mr Chukwu to the delight of everyone except me, but I pleaded with Mr Chukwu to let me finish my university education to which he agreed though I had to move in with him. There was no joy for me but I managed till one night, second year, and first semester.

My husband had come in to my room. It was not a first but that night was different. He wanted sex. I had told him to bear with me and make do with his other wives till I get to final year at least and though he agreed before I moved in with him and didn’t touch me, this night was different. He had been giving signs all week and I had reminded him of our agreement to which he had snorted and said ‘you are my wife and subject to my bidding’. I had let go of that statement instead of arguing but he had come to collect that night and he planned to really collect. Worse, other wives have complained about a special treatment –I don’t know how not getting touched by a man several years older than you classifies as special treatment. That night, after struggling and occasionally calling for help, hoping that one of the wives will have mercy and come knocking, perhaps putting a stop to what was about to happen, he raped me. Yes, he forcefully had sex with me and left me with a promise to come back the next day. He did come the next day and the next after that. Oh, I got several knocks and slaps when I didn’t cooperate with his sexual leading, struggle or didn’t moan with pleasure. And for one month, I got raped every night by my husband. The wives were glad. He was happy he still qualified as a man and I was miserable. There was nothing I could do. And as if things were not bad enough, I got pregnant and had to attend classes that way. Those who didn’t know I was married were shocked and began to wag tongues. Then in third year, 1st semester, I delivered a male child, one which my life will later centre around.

I had to skip classes after delivery for a month, and for several months, I attended classes with my child, mostly running out to feed him because he has a healthy appetite. Mama came to visit for a day, just to get a look at the child, Jide came with her, Tope couldn’t make it, and Lydia never came. She was now in the States; she didn’t even call. I took comfort in the knowledge that she hadn’t called others after the single call she placed home to acknowledge her safe arrival when she got to the States. She had Mama ask Mr Chukwu deposit her entire tuition fee in a bank account she also got him to open for her so she doesn’t exactly need anyone just yet. My child was growing and I needed someone to watch him. I began to beg other wives to take turn getting him from the day care I enrolled him in and watching him till I came home in the evening, till the day they all started giving excuses. Final year, 1st semester now with a whole lot of things to do academically, and he now over a year old and in need of my attention, I needed to decide something fast. I stopped going for classes and had a friend drop by weekly with photocopied notes which I read at home and then went for tests and exams, baby in tow. I finally made it through the university with a second class upper and NYSC, but right now, my focus is my son, Hope. I do not derive joy in my certificate, not with the situation surrounding me even though I am grateful for having finished university education. I’ve become a full house wife, staying home to take care of Hope, and living on what my husband gives and what I make from art works which I had learnt some time earlier in first year. With the fight now gone out of me with the attainment of education in the tertiary level, life’s experiences hit me hard and Hope is who keeps me going. He is the one I live for, seeing my own family hardly care about me, even Papa who is now getting back on his feet; the sickness had him down for years.

‘yeeeeeeees! Yes! Yes!’

I heard a scream and stepped out of the dusty corridors of the past to see Hope jumping in excitement, waving paper in the air like a flag.

‘What is it, honey?’

‘I finally got that curve I’ve been trying to make around the football. Now, we can tuck this away.’

And with that, he tugged on my hand, picked up the sketches and began to walk to my room, straight to our secret place where we keep our treasures –his football sketches. As I walk, I made mental plans to cook and make sure Hope goes to sleep early tonight before my husband comes to collect like he told me earlier he would. 

Connect with Mary Ajayi on twitter @megadoxa

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