I went back again and again before I finally picked up the courage to talk to her, to ask her who she was, where she came from. It was no mean feat because she spoke no English nor any other language I understood. I later discovered it was a language spoken on the outskirts of Bornu, because that was where she grew up and where she called home.
I remember clearly the first time I saw her, I had my window down as I like it in the mornings. I delude myself that what I get from the putrid Lagos air at that time of the day is fresh. I had air condition sinuses anyway so what did it matter. It was better at least than the bad mouth odour of my colleague with whom I shared a room in the office. All due to the goodness of my heart but that is another story. I saw this young girl, quite a lady really even in the rags that she was dressed in. She chose to work alone, away from the other band of beggar children. She was not exactly good looking but what immediately struck me about her was that she looked uncannily like me at that age. It was like looking into a mirror but in retrospect, then she did something that I always did back then in those days when the body was still limber, she twirled around on one foot and did a whole body shake all in one complete movement. That was when it hit me.
I was nineteen years old and very scared when I discovered that I was pregnant. It was not very hard to figure out, it was the year between A' level and university when you have all that time to kick around while enduring the insults the parents passed your way intermittently. I was home alone a lot so I took the time to indulge in my favourite pastime, sex. With myself. I discovered sex when I was very young, I must have been younger than three years old when the house boy first showed me his penis and asked me to touch it. Of course, I did not know what it was so I touched it and played with the pink eye in the centre. The sensation I got from doing that was thrilling and it became our very own secret. After a while, he took to touching me and I enjoyed that even more. Then he went away and I forgot all about our little game. I never spoke about it to anyone, there was no need to, I was very often left on my own to my own devices. I was such a child that enjoyed my own company. Neighbourhoods were safe in those days and I pretty much went where I pleased, allowed to roam free. I never went very far, just in and out of uncompleted buildings where I enjoyed scaring myself by imagining ghosts and bogey men. I alternately played with the ducks that swam in the puddles formed by the rain and with those chickens that have no feathers around their necks, they are not as common place as they used to be, if at all they still exist. I often wondered if someone plucked the feather off their necks deliberately but my grandmother explained to me that they were a special breed of chicken. They must be extinct now because I have not seen one since I was a child.
Anyway, I forgot about our little game until we moved house and I acquired a stepbrother who loved me very much and I loved him right back because he revived the game I used to play with the houseboy. He also taught me how to hold my legs together until those delicious little spasms over took me. He was only a few years older than I was, and to this day, I am not quite sure whether he saw our little game as wrong. However, we both had a very good time together playing with each other. I became hooked on masturbation from then, because when he left, there was no one else so I played with myself. The irony was that I did not seek nor did I need anyone else. Especially since I discovered pornography. To this day, I have no idea how the first set of books I found came to be in the house. My parents were both puritans and they would not countenance any such dirt.
By the time my mother started to talk to me about sex, and thankfully she admitted that it was pleasurable, but that I needed to be ready, mentally and emotionally to get into a sexual relationship, I was deeply involved with me and my books, I did not need a man. To look back, I wonder how I remained a virgin for so long. It was the era when men preyed on school girls, luring them with rides in cars and enticing them with money. I know because I had one such experience. I was on my way to school and had missed the school bus when this man – he must have been in his twenties then – offered me a ride. School was a good 24 kilometres away and the thought of getting on a public bus and having to change at least once before I would eventually arrive helped me, very quickly, to make the decision to accept a lift in his car. Besides, I was curious. I had heard the other girls talk about boy friends with cars who gave them money and I thought this might be my opportunity to get into the game, only I got more than I bargained for and lost my nerve.
I forget the fellow's name, he told me at the time along with his resume, including the fact that he was a manager at the Federal Palace Hotel. Instead of driving me to Ikoyi where I went to school, he took me to the lonely back roads of Victoria Island and showed me his dick. I mean, he brought out his long hard dick and asked if I would like to touch it. Perhaps because he was a complete stranger, I could not bring myself to do it even though I very much wanted to. The poor fellow assumed that it was because a corpse lay not very far away. He may have been right of course because I had never seen a dead body before and I was fascinated, so I looked more at that than at the dick. He asked if I was a virgin and proposed marriage immediately. He slobbered me with kisses and professed undying love. I had to stroke his turgid dick just once before he was persuaded to take me to school so that I would not be late. I was in form five and this was to be my very first opportunity at a relationship of sorts with a man. I see now with the benefit of hindsight that I botched it royally.
It was a good thing that I had the presence of mind to give this fellow a fake name. For weeks on end, he came to the school to ask for me and waited endlessly at the gate hoping he would find me. I know because I accidentally caught sight of him on the afternoon of that first day and managed to duck out of sight before he saw me. After that I looked out for him. He caught me once and I pretended that I had never seen him before. The poor fellow was beside himself and it took the intervention of the gate man to convince him that he had the wrong girl. I did not owe him anything after all so I felt no guilt. I expect he must have found another virgin to give his love.
I carried on my life never really picking up the courage to date anyone. The opportunity seldom came, save for a few of my father's friends who were old and in my opinion decrepit and not worth the risk. Apart from that I saw them as very base and uninteresting. I took pleasure reporting their advances to my parents when they visited and watched their discomfiture as my parents asked them to confirm the stories which was usually prelude to their being kicked out of our house never to return. That of course marked me for a good girl and I was constantly held up as a good example. If only they had an idea what I got up to in the privacy of my room and the bathroom. The number of times I brought myself off while we shared a meal at the table. No I won't say that I am a nympho, I don't have an uncontrollable urge and I don't have to do it with whomever, wherever.
In that year between A' levels and university, I had a free run of the house when everybody else had gone to work or school. I strutted around the house naked, with doors locked and the blinds drawn of course – I had no wish to be caught. I played with myself the whole day. I had dozens of orgasms and I wanted more. I bought all the books I could find, only books, never magazines and never pictures. When the covers are off, the books look like just any novel and since I was very much a bookworm apart from my porno materials no one around me suspected what I read.
I went to a school where lesbianism was the order of the day and you had to be careful in which room you slept if you did not want to be jumped. Rumour had it that the housemistress was involved, married though she was, so there was no point in reporting. Curious as I was in all these activities around, I did not have the courage to join the ring. One of my juniors who just had to have it, male or female, propositioned me once, but I managed to wriggle out. I am still very much interested in trying out lesbian sex but as I said, I am very cowardly about it. To crown that, I am plagued with religious guilt for even thinking about it. At boarding school, I pretty much kept away from my favourite activity. There was not enough privacy. This was why I played catch up when I got back home. I soon began to crave more than I could give to myself. I was convinced that I needed to feel a real man with a real dick, not the candles that were my substitute.
Therefore, when a very close ‘friend' asked me out while professing undying love, I seized the opportunity. It was then or never. He was a lot experienced and he dragged me out until I was practically begging for it. It was long kisses after long kisses and deep caresses. He always somehow managed to cut me off just when I had to have it. This went on for weeks but he finally took me away from familiar surroundings to a friend's house and took away my much-vaunted virginity. Guess what, it was an anti climax. I had assumed the earth would move but beyond the sharp pain and some blood there was nothing. Not even the littlest twitch of orgasm.
Still that one experience did it, I got pregnant. At first, I had no idea what was going on when I started to feel nauseous. I did not even notice that I had missed a couple of periods. It was my mum who inadvertently alerted me to my condition by asking in her usual flippant way, not that she suspected anything, she just asked her girls routinely if we were pregnant whenever we were slow around her. She never actually expected an answer. This time however, her question jolted me and I went to check my diary where I wrote down the dates. I was missing two periods, just. I started feeling ill about a week or two previous. That threw me in a quandary but I was angry too. Once, and I did not even enjoy it and I had landed myself in this trouble! The last person I wanted to find out was my mother, she would kill me and then it would kill her.
I pulled myself together and my tummy in. As best as I could manage, I behaved as normally as I could. I was often alone in my room so it was not so difficult to continue to stay out of the way. Fortunately for me, my university admission letter came in the post and I was given an immediate out. I took myself off to campus so quickly you would have thought someone chased me. Things continued to go my way, I got a room – a two man room – when most other jambites had to squat in eight man rooms. My roommate was married and kept her room specifically because of exams when she moved in to the hostel. Apparently, she had bribed to get the room and picked me out of a crowd of girls waiting to get accommodation to be her roommate. My standoffish demeanour stood me in good stead that one time. When she warned me therefore that she wanted no squatters in the room, she did not know how much of a favour she did me because that was precisely the reason that tripped off my tongue every time someone asked.
I deliberately remained withdrawn and unfriendly towards other girls because I had this secret to keep. I had to think what to do when the baby came. I know the girls in the hostel whispered that I must be pregnant but I tried my best to hide my secret and their suspicions went largely unconfirmed. I was determined that it should remain that way and better still if there was never any baby to show. It led to my decision to abandon the child but I still had to cross the hurdle of delivering it. I had seen my mum and several aunties go through the pains of labour and I was not sure I could bear it. Yet I could not go to any hospital if I wanted to abandon the baby. I also did not know how labour came upon you and how long it lasted. I read dozens of books to try to prepare myself, but in the end nothing I read prepared me for what happened.
It was a particularly hot night and I got up at 2:00 a.m. to go for a walk. I decided on a very long walk and headed for the dam, which was several kilometres away from the hostels. It was a moon lit night and the roads were deliciously lonely. The only thing that bothered me was the sand, but I stopped worrying about getting my feet dusty when I resolved to take a bath before getting back into bed. I walked to the dam with no problem and just stood looking at the concrete structure at its centre for a long time and pondered who I could trust to help me with the delivery and to get rid of the baby. I must have been there for a little over an hour when I thought to go back before the world started to come awake. The dam was always lonely but closer to the hostels I was bound to run into those going to the mosque if I left it too late to return and I did not want that.
It was still hot, a sort of dry heat but I felt better for the walk and I was not sweaty so I headed back at a brisk pace. I did not expect what happened next. Mid stride, my left leg gave out from beneath me. It felt paralysed and I had little choice but to fall to my knees. It was then that I felt the pressure to use the toilet. I was a bit confused because I did not want to soil myself so I tried to hold it, but there was no holding this one. It took a couple of minutes before I realised that it was the baby coming. My cloth was wet already but I quickly packed it out of the way to see. It was not too soon. The baby's head popped out just then and had I not grabbed it quickly it would have landed in the dust.
I grabbed it and one more grunt after that the baby was out. Just as I made to get up to see what I could find to cut the umbilical, I doubted that I could find anything in the area, the place was clear of debris, the movement must have tugged at the placenta and that also came slipping out, big and white. It was almost as big as the baby itself. But I was free. I felt light and the numbness had left my leg although it was a bit shaky. I tried best as I could to extricate myself from the mess of my lose robe made slimy with my waters and the baby and its placenta that was tangled within its folds. The robe, a booboo, was all the cloth I had on. I had not anticipated this to happen. It was a good thing I stopped wearing underpants to bed and I came out just as I was because the booboo was comfortable and hid both my nakedness and the pregnancy. Anyway here I was, the child looked ok, it was sucking greedily on two fingers and it looked surprisingly clean. I did not know what next to do? Cut the umbilical, what? I guess even though I did not want it, I did not want it to die either but I needed more than anything else to save my own skin, so I arranged the baby with its head on its placenta – the umbilical is surprising long – and made quick tracks out of there with my robe wrapped around me. As I hurried off without looking back, I said a little prayer for its safety and asked God's forgiveness.
I got to the hostel before I realised that I did not even check what sex my child was. Still, I considered that it might be better that way, since it reduced the sense of attachment. I was wrong though. I was on tenterhooks for days, weeks even, waiting for news about an abandoned baby, dead or alive but none came. I suffered bouts of depression but no one noticed since I never talked to them anyway. By the time the parents came to search for me and to confirm that I was ok it was all over and done with, pregnancy and delivery. My stepfather kept repeating to my mum that I told you she was all right; she was just being her usual self, keeping everybody at arms length. My mother told me of a vivid dream she had that involved me giving birth to twins and losing one. She hoped I had not had an abortion. I even offered to take a virginity test. It was two weeks after I gave birth to the child, by the roadside on the way to the dam. Thankfully, the 900-kilometre distance and bad roads kept my parents from coming to see me in school arbitrarily and I had the excuse of poor telephone lines and long queues at the exchange for not getting in touch by phone. My parents remained blessedly ignorant of what had happened. The other girls in the hostel also began to review their suspicion that I could be pregnant as I continued to wear my booboos all over the place. One or two picked up the courage to poke me in the stomach ‘by mistake'. They were too late there was nothing there. Those first months set the tone of my relationships at the university. I made no friends and I had the reputation of being hostile and unfriendly although a few stuck up for me and said I was quiet and retiring, a private person really. I bore the burden of my secret alone never having had an opportunity or reason to share it with anyone, not even the boyfriends that I had.
Thus, when I saw this child, this adolescent of about 13, 14 years old, I knew, albeit instinctively, that I had come face to face with my secret. The memories came crowding back and I did a quick mental calculation. This could be that baby I had and abandoned in the dust, grown into a beggar girl. So I went back again and again trying to study her surreptitiously and to identify other resemblance that I could hold as proof. Intelligent child that she was, she noticed that this woman hidden behind dark shades had taken an interest in her and she played games with me with each recurring visit. She would stay out of sight until the last minute when I start to show signs of agitation craning my neck in all directions as though I was looking for someone, which of course I was.
Oh, I should have told you, the traffic was always slow at that point. It mostly slowed to a stand still for a few minutes at least. She told me later, much, much later that she saw I had taken more than a passing interest in her and decided to play games with me. She would send other urchins to try to wipe my windscreen with their grubby cloth and then come to chase them away. On such occasions she made a point of saying "mami, I don dribe am po you." Each time I made to give her money she turned it down and asked me to give it to the other children, but I never did. I hate to give money to beggars because I believe they should not be on the streets and giving them money would only encourage them to remain there.
Finally one day, I pulled over out of the traffic and got out of the car in my power suit on a cloud of perfume. I love perfumes, my colleague in the office says that the strong fragrances I use give him a headache, and he disparagingly calls my perfumes devil water. I wish I could take the liberty to tell him that his mouth odour gives me nausea. The upside is that it has helped my diet because it stops me eating for days. I still wish I was as despicable as him so I could tell him though. That is another matter. I am considerate of people to a fault. To be honest, I think I am just a coward, afraid of confrontation in any guise and always wanting to promote camaraderie even if all I need to do is buy chewing gum from a roadside vendor. It gets so that I would rather sweep the floor myself than tell my maid that she has not done it right. The blighter stole a thousand from my wallet and I am afraid to take it up with her, can you beat that? All of this comes from a lifetime of being told that I am aggressive, that my personality is abrasive even when I have not opened my mouth. It has bred a desire to be humble that even I know I have taken to extremes such that to describe me as timid would be an understatement even if you would not believe it to look at me. I am after all a high-powered trainer and I go into training rooms exuding enviable confidence. At least that is what I have been told. I have also been told that I express my point of view in a tone that brooks no argument. If only they knew that I am afraid even to upbraid my maid. There is my contradiction, the conundrum that defines me.
As for this hind leg of a louse, that calls himself my colleague whose only claim to fame is having been born male. Excellent paper qualifications but nothing in the head – might be the reason he never shuts up. He is your quintessential Yoruba man, accents and all. When nobody else in the office would have him, even the clerks revolted at the suggestion that he should sit in the general office, I offered to take him into my office. At my level, I was a single occupier of a sizeable office, but I did not value the peace and privacy this granted me until the colleague moved in. Endless rounds of visitors, conversations at the top of his voice such that if we leave the door open, someone comes to shut it for us. That is what I let myself in for. I have lately taken to working in one of the meeting rooms and my boss has ticked me off for this, accusing me of not disciplining the colleague who reports directly to me. I do all the work in my department because the colleague does not do anything right and I still cannot find it in me to put it in his appraisal reports that turn out to be glowing tributes by the time I am done with them. Yes, call me fool, all I crave though is peace of mind. I don't want to be blamed for having cost him his job. I value it for him.
To get back to my story, as I pulled over and stepped out of the car the beggar children immediately swarmed round me, all but the one I wanted most to see. Some instinct must have told her too that there was more between us, a spark of recognition by ESP maybe. In all sorts of ways so far she made it clear that she would have nothing to do with my money, even if money was the reason she was on the streets to beg. I looked from face to face to make sure that she was not just blended in with the crowd of beggar children. I could tell she was not but I wanted to be sure. So I asked in halting pidgin, for that girl, the big one that wore a hijab. The children giggled, they did not understand, they tugged at me and asked for money. Some even launched into the rhythmic chant composed to elicit alms from deep-pocketed Lagosians. When I could take the press of bodies no more, I feared that the smells would get in my clothes, I hurriedly retreated into my car, threw out a wad of notes – more than I should have given I bet - and drove off. Just as I pulled out into the traffic stream, I saw her step from behind a lamppost. She grinned broadly exposing teeth that could not have been washed in this century and waved at me. It confirmed to me that she knew I pulled over because of her but she did not want to talk to me. All that did was to strengthen my resolve to come back.
When I stopped by next, I did not come in my car, I walked. As I approached, I saw that she was engrossed in a game with a group of girls so she did see me come. Fate played out in my favour after that because when she looked up and saw me almost upon her she dashed suddenly into the road, straight into the path of an oncoming car. I took over from that point pretending that I wanted to help in the emergency. Well I did want to help with the emergency but I had other motives too. The driver of the car was only too pleased to let me do so even though he was astonished that I suggested that she should be taken to a private hospital nearby, a well known one but very expensive. The poor man tried to dissuade me, letting me know that he was a driver and that he could not afford to pay even the registration fees. I reassured him that it would be no problem, I would pay as long as he agreed to take us there, me riding with him in his car. Something about me must have told him that I could afford it, or perhaps he had decided already to run away, as soon as he deposited us at the hospital
The queerest thing was that the group of beggars, after the initial spontaneous cries of Allah wakhbah, slowly melted into the crowd that had gathered. Not one of them made a fuss about their wounded child, ward, colleague, what? I have no idea what the relationships are within those communes. But it was apparent that they did not want to be involved in the tragedy. Just as the driver pulled in to join the flowing traffic, a policeman, sweaty and smelling shoved his way in to the car. Vultures are quick to smell carrion. I doubt that he would have given the poor beggar girl whose interest he was now so eager to protect, the light of the day. But I made no protest. I knew my rights, was well connected and would not allow myself to be roped into anything I was not involved in. Only I knew that it was me who caused the poor child whose head was now lying in my lap, to dash heedlessly into the street.
The car reeked, I am not sure who smelt worse, the girl or the policeman and those smells did not mix well with my strong perfumes. I begged the driver to turn off the air conditioning and take down the windows. He did so with relief. He was a man used to taking instructions. He would not survive if he does not have a boss. Beyond carrying out by now automated tasks of waking, bathing and sleeping with his wife if he had one, I doubt that he could think for himself. He had reached the pinnacle of his career, a driver forever. He will be safe and happy as long as he remained in the care of a master. I prayed that his master will care enough to make retirement plans for him, in addition to subsidising his existence by setting his wife up in a trade and paying the occasional school fees as we who take drivers on are expected to do. As a retirement plan though, private employers are hardly dependable. They could die off before maturity of the retirement plan if they do not themselves become bankrupt. Spouses and children seldom care enough to carry out wishes with regard to hired help even when it is outlined in a will. Should a private employer fall victim to armed robber's or assassin's bullets, the driver might even get blamed and get locked up with no trial or hope of parole. However, drivers seldom think that far ahead. They depend on the good will of family and friends to help protect their jobs, not understanding the connection between performance and continued employment. They are not alone, it is what the work culture in Nigeria has evolved to be.
The hapless driver turned a corner and screeched into the gates of the hospital, yelling emergency at the top of his voice, ‘nurse, nurse come o'. The commotion brought curious hospital staff rushing to the entrance, pushing and shoving to get a vantage point from which to see was happening. But would they move to respond to an emergency? They were more interested in taking in the spectacle and all but made it impossible for me to get out of the car. I looked around and identified the one that appeared to be the most senior of the lot and asked for a stretcher. That seemed to snap her back into the responsibilities of her job. She called for a porter and immediately gave instructions for a crash trolley to be made ready. Crash trolley? I wondered vaguely what that was, but hoped she knew what she was doing, the crash had already happened, if this accident could be described as such. There is a lot of hospital jargon used to intimidate the rest of us mortals, to keep us in our place so that we are unable to ask questions about the care and treatment we pay for but seldom get. We simply pray to God to take control while the doctor plays Russian roulette with our lives. Diagnosis is a guessing game at best and with egos larger than life, doctors are reluctant to call for a second opinion. I often wonder what theatre procedures are, given how common place the stories that small pieces of equipment, gauze, cotton and such like are left behind in bodies. Every one knows someone to whom it happened and who had to have follow up surgeries or died from related complications. As far as I know, no doctor has yet been brought to book. In response to the horror stories, those who can afford it identify private hospitals that appear to be a cut above the others and put our lives in expensive and therefore hopefully competent hands. At least we get courtesy and the doctors are quick to refer you to specialists abroad and then recommend that they come with you while you pick up the tab for their working holiday.
Private hospitals have their up sides. That day at least, because although I could see repulsion on the faces of the porters and nurses as they loaded my beggar girl onto a trolley, they still attended to her. They knew someone would pick up the tab. At the general hospital we would have expired, patient and escort both, while we waited for someone to attend to us. The girl was beginning to come round. She whimpered and opened her eyes, then quickly shut them again when she saw the mêlée around her. As she was taken into the hospital, the nurse drew me aside and made me sign a form indemnifying the hospital from responsibility in event of death. I wonder how legal that is, but I had no time to ask because she shoved a list of prices, showing the deposit I must pay in cash before my girl would be attended to. I explained that I would sign her on to my account but was told they wanted cash. I lost my top then because I deliberately keep my account with the hospital in credit. I am paranoid about what might happen to me and so I always left a healthy balance, more than 5 times what she was asking. The nurse asked me to wait while she checked with accounts and then was back immediately full of apologies.
Her apologies mattered little to me, my concern was more with the young girl that I brought in. The policeman hovering at my elbow was however getting on my nerves because I could not think what my business with him was that made him stick so closely to me. When I asked, he said I had to make a statement. About what?! My car knocked an innocent girl down, the girl might die and I was to be locked up. I took a deep breath. There was no point asking him about judicial procedures, he had no idea, but I told him as calmly and firmly as I could manage that, I was only helping. I did not know the girl, nor did I know the driver. His quarry must be outside waiting to be arrested I told him sarcastically. He stood looking perplexed while his brain slowly turned over then he dashed outside to look for the car and driver.
I went to find the girl and to determine how badly hurt she was. Belatedly I wondered what I had let myself into; this move was not wise. I found her in one of the little bays fully conscious and chanting her Wayo Allah. A nurse was busy cutting her smelly garb off her and my beggar girl was putting up some resistance. She was clearly afraid, this experience was alien to her. When she saw me, she screamed even louder and nothing I said made any difference so I gave up trying. I waited in the reception while the nurses got on with their business. They must have been chagrined, having come to work in a hospital like this precisely because they were not interested in caring for people like that, only to have one thrown at them anyway. It was apparent from the noise filtering through, that their latest patient was not making it easy for them to tend her.
No matter, I drowned myself in my thoughts, trying to work out the story to tell. I wanted some tests done without raising suspicions. Something in me knew that this was the child I abandoned so long ago and I wanted confirmation. I was determined to get it, even if I could not yet fathom what to do when I know for sure, We were from different worlds, this girl and I.
The Doctor came through and beckoned that I should follow him, he wanted some coherent information. Did I see her fall, where did the car hit her and all that? What is her name? I started to say I can't tell you that, then gave a name off the top of my head, Aisha. I realised that I needed to establish some relationship and that was my opportunity to do so. Aisha I said louder very firmly. The girl looked at me puzzled and asked a question in her strange trilling tongue. She repeated the question but no body understood. She jabbed herself furiously in the chest with her finger saying "me, me, me Aisha". Her name really was Aisha! I must have picked that up in the weeks that I haunted her patch of the road. Aisha, a pretty name.
The doctor turned to me then and asked if I knew her. I said sort of, I would explain to him later. I bought time to make up my story only I could not think of a good one. Should I tell him about my sister who ran away with the maigadi that supplied her drugs? Many were ignorant of the fact that the mallams hired as security guards for their houses peddled drugs, especially to teenagers. There is a large drug distribution chain in Nigeria, managed from the North by the big moguls that masquerade as traders. They are humongously rich and people make up tales about the source of their wealth being rituals involving the use of humans. Not true. They are mostly drug barons. Name it they have it, hashish LSD, speed, acid. Any new drug that hits the streets in Europe hits the streets in Nigeria, brought here through the dusty trade routes of the Sahara. So my sister having become hooked on something or the other paid the mallam in sexual favours and eventually went away with him. We don't talk about it. This could be her daughter? But then again maybe not. How could I have recognised her if I never met her? I had not seen my sister since the last time I saw her, spaced out on the floor of her bedroom nearly 15 years ago. It was a relief to the parents when she eventually left, never showing up to this day. Nobody talks about her, not even a mention of her name. I would have to think of something else.
I did eventually say that I was only trying to help, that I had come to know the girl from seeing her in traffic. I explained that when the car knocked her down I was moved to adopt Samaria as my country so here I am. Would he please look after the girl? I would pay the bill. The doctor explained that she had suffered no lasting damage. A few bruises and a concussion not more but he wanted to keep her for a couple of days to see. I was uncharitable. As far as I was concerned, he wanted to keep her for a couple of days so his hospital would make that money. More expensive than any hotel I know, they charged fifty thousand naira for over night stay in a cot bed. But the sheets are clean and the food first class. I agreed and promised to come back the following day to see the girl. I planned to bring clothes and items of toiletries. For now she would have to make do with what the hospital provides.
The nurses were full of stories the next day. Aisha as we all called her now had attempted several times to escape, she could not, would not use the toilet even after she was showed how. She kept the hospital up all night with ululations. She was crouched in the corner of the room crooning softly to herself when I walked in. She had the hospital gown wrapped tightly round her and did not appear to have taken a bath yet. I crouched next to her and said nothing. I wanted to communicate without words and I sent my thought waves in her direction, I thought of scenes that bring me peace and serenity and pictured myself and her as friends. I am not superstitious nor do I believe in extra sensory perception, but it was the only thing I could think to do seeing that I did not speak her language. It seemed to work. She stopped her crooning and stared at me curiously. I kept my face deliberately free of expression and waited for her to make the first move. She got up and offered me her hand so that I could get up too. I sat her down on the bed and showed her the things that I brought for her. Indicating by gesture what each one was meant for. The clothes were easy enough. I even showed her the hijab. She started to get dressed immediately but I stopped her and showed her first to the bathroom. From the drama that we enacted it was obvious she had never experienced taking a shower before. But she enjoyed it while I got thoroughly wet in the process. I showed her how to use the toilet by using it myself. I took the trouble because I wanted Aisha to live with me, to get to know her even if I could not yet confirm that she was mine, I loved her like she was.
We made quite a pair, Aisha and I. Everybody was curious, my mother simply accepting. I think my mother knew, she was just never ready to confront me. I was hers, she raised me and so she knew me even if she respected the walls that I carefully constructed around myself. She was the only one that did not want to know why I'd taken a beggar girl off the streets to live with me. She helped me to register Aisha in school and helped her with learning the alphabets and to read. My mother put more energy into teaching Aisha than she ever did anyone of her own children. She taught Aisha how to toilet. The whole routine, starting her off with a piece of rag for her menstruation then moving her gradually to sanitary towels. I never knew that people used rags as sanitary towels and that beads worn around the waist served as sanitary belts. My mother knew. She also understood why Aisha insisted on burning used sanitary towels instead of merely wrapping them up in old newspaper and canning them as we do. I insisted that she use tampons instead, it was simply cleaner. She could then only just flush it down the toilet.
We lived together, we grew, we melded. I got to know her and she me. Like me, I discovered she was not much of a talker. She spent hours with her nose in books and she was soon able to read at a scale and level commensurate with her age. Progress in school was slower, she was older than her classmates and the teachers made her life miserable, because she had a peculiar accent and because she wore a hijab to school. We had to take special permission for that. Aisha refused to step outside the house without her hijab, I guess she would always be Muslim and I respect that. I take care to observe the muslim feast days, being catholic and steeped in ceremony myself, it is not difficult do so.
Whether this story is fictional or factual reminds me of two things: why I became an NVS member initially -- the real stories from which I learned and was inspired; secondly, the reason I continue to visit so as not to miss classics like this.
Your article rivets comments such as ‘caution in expressing one's realness' -to- permanent penance. I hope those who utter such are reading you…
Many do not comprehend the great catharsis which emanate from stories told; little "secrets" revealed. Being true… The freedom that follows, naturally, from sharing and with which others can identify such that they do not feel alone; a childhood that may have been confusing.
For whatever this is worth, it definitively adds substance to your handle in my view. Real character! "Uncaged".
Some Nigerians want to talk/write about their experiences to inform the world that we are just as human with "real" feelings and similar experiences as the rest of the world. Some are so ready to stop sweeping things under the carpet. That would be the "New Nigerian". Perhaps, thereby, enlighten our children...
Perhaps another "Aisha's" fate will be different, if you will.
The peace and tranquility that accompanies the birth of a story such as yours can probably never be expressed.
The courage with which you wrote it cannot be ignored. I respect you even more.
A story of childhood, loss of innocence, sexuality, fears which led to the decisions. Understood!
Thanks for sharing. Thanks for taking time out to write this…
It blew my mind.
So much that I attempted to have someone read it immediately, a few days ago, when it was posted and I almost got my head bit off! This is what was said: "This is why you almost woke me up? That's an old story!" I decided to curb my astonishment and delay posting a comment. I wanted to be certain I'd feel the same way in the following few days, and I still do. I also wanted to see some of the true folks in this village. Gutsy!
And oh! It may be old alright, I don't care. No monkeying around, Mutti, this, is timeless…
When i saw this story in Inkpot i was like wat's admin up to now? I was expecting a continuation of the old story.....i wish that u will publish all this short stories...something like a compilation of short stories...there's quite a lot to learn from this.
Life is good....
PS>>>>The INKPOT Section is just so hidden......Admin