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Monday, July 23, 2018

I remember

I remember
Some memories don’t go well with your self-confidence and have a habit of tearing you to pieces when you do not want it. You have two choices, sink it deeper into your psyche and make a determined effort to rationalize it. It is easier to tell yourself that you are an adult now and should be able to forget all that. It becomes an issue though when you discover that the scars that you never noticed are bad enough to discolour aspects of your life. It has dammed up to a level that demands you should have an answer. At the very least, maybe I really should express myself and give myself some sort of release. I need a release from the rages. I need to come to terms with the agony of self-rejection that has made looking into the mirror an embarrassment.
I remember
There was nothing I could pinpoint, I was about maybe six, and there was talk about some horrible thing that seemed to have happened to me. My mum would stare at me and cry, hold me close to herself and sleep off from so much weeping. I never knew why. Never asked mum and she is dead now. But I have questions that were never answered. They would never be answered.
I remember
She was supposed to be my cousin, very fair skinned with really brown eyes that were so light that they looked transparent to me. I would stare at her for long minutes wondering about her skin colour and those eyes. Each time she was going to have her bath, she would call me into the tin covered shack we called a bathroom. She would then rub at my chest and the lower portion of my body for long moments making strange sounds. Then she would wash me off. She would ask me never to discuss with my mum. That it was just a little game of preparing for a bath. I didn’t like the game, but I was mesmerized by those eyes so I did not tell mum. I didn’t like the games as she called it but I did not like my body either. It was not a conscious decision. I just didn’t like looking in the mirror and seeing my body. I remember I was in elementary school then, we went back to dad and when mum finally decided she wanted to live with dad, I opted to remain with my father.  I felt safer with him. I didn’t ask why.
I remember
I was now in secondary school, the civil war had started. I was coming from the village to my father’s place and there was panic as news filtered through that the Biafran soldiers had taken over Ore, a town in the south-west of the country. It was the farthest they had gotten. There was panic in Ondo town. I was in a commercial bus in the park, the panic got to the park, the driver told all of us to step out of the bus, saying there was no way he could drive to the destination because the occupied town was halfway to our destination. The passengers dispersed. I found myself in an empty garage with my suitcase. I had nowhere to run to. I didn’t know a soul. I stared around and walked to the first house opposite the motor park and knocked on the door. People had closed their doors fearing the rebel soldiers were going to descend almost immediately on the town. The occupied town of Ore was only thirty minutes drive away. A woman fearfully opened a window to my timid knocking.  motherly, I guess she stared at my small frightened frame and opened the door asking me brusquely in her dialect what the problem was. I answered her in English, the only language I could speak with ease if she could allow me to sleep anywhere so I could determine what I could do the next morning. It was evening and there was no way I could get transport to return to my village or get to my father that night.
Her compassion was instant, she simply opened the door, gave me a hug and asked me if I knew how to get to my father, that the news was dire. Most villages along the route to my father had been taken over by the rebels. I replied to her that I would have to find a way to get to my father. I said he would be worried as he already is aware I am in transit. She said she had an older son who would escort me the next morning to be sure I was safe. She called a tall hefty looking fellow, told him to vacate his room for me and she took me to the room. I really could not put my thoughts together as I was still in a state of numbed shock. I simply nodded thanks and followed her to the room. The young man gave me a long look and took some things out of the room. I went in sat on the age of the hastily made up bed and tried to be calm. Gradually the excitement of the evening settled into the stillness of a night. My saviour came to see if I had eaten and I said I was too unsettled to eat but that I would be fine. I assured her that my father would be waiting for me just as anxious to know if I was safe. She assured me that a driver would be ready to make the journey to my father’s place and her son had agreed to escort me so I would be safe and she said good night.
I tried to sleep.
Almost an hour later, the son gave a soft tap on the door saying he was sorry but he forgot something and he just wanted to fetch it. I opened the door to let him in. It was his room. He came in half naked with a towel tied to his midriff. He went straight to the drawer searching for whatever he was looking for. I returned to the bed and sat on it. He then came over to sit by the bed. In some instinct, I quietly drew my mathematical set from my bag and felt for the divider but said nothing. The door opened and another young man walked in and stood silently by the door. My fear left me but I was watchful. I didn’t feel comfortable but I didn’t feel fear either. The son of the house went on to tell me, he liked me and would like to be my friend. I started but said nothing. He then sat across the bed telling me he wanted to comfort me. I told him I was okay and held the divider very firmly in my hands. The one by the door spoke to him in the dialect. There was a whispered urgency to his voice. The son stood up abruptly and dropped his towel and I was face to face with male nakedness. It was a shock and I stared stunned. He pushed me back flat and I brought up my hands up gripping the divider with sharp pointed edges towards him. To this day I am sure I don’t know where the nerve came from as I told him very carefully and calmly, that I had every intention to use the divider to punch holes into him, or failing to do that successfully, I would kill myself before he has a chance to rape me. Then rage took over the shock as I hissed that I would scream the building down and fight him every inch. The boy at the door was obviously a lookout as he suddenly hissed that somebody was coming. He ran out, the would-be rapist gave me a confused stare. I pushed him from me and made for the door not looking back, another young fellow about my age was just coming through the front door. He held me and stared at the would-be rapist. He simply pushed me through a door.
I never knew what happened but I broke down as a young woman stared at me as I was pushed through that door. She was the sister to John, the boy who had pushed me through the door. John told her that he suspected that the landlady’s son was up to his tricks again but apparently I had refused to cooperate. He had imagined that I was some girlfriend playing hard to get. It was the sister that filled him on what had happened earlier in the day. He stared at me then in pity and told me very firmly that I was safe in their room. All three of us kept vigil for the rest of the night. They were from the east, the very tribe that had become rebels.
The next morning, I got ready to leave, the landlady, did not raise an eyebrow when she learned I had spent the night elsewhere. The son simply dressed and followed me to the park, he did not protest when John suddenly offered to come along. I got to my father without any further incident.
I ran into my father’s arms and collapsed into uncontrollable tears. He held me tightly trying his best to calm me down as I poured out what happened. He went still when I told him about the attempted rape. He left me in his room and closed the door gently after me. I never knew what happened to the wretch, because my father would always say with steel in his eyes and voice, that he thanked both boys very appropriately.
Our place was occupied for months and I stayed out of school for more than a term as the rebels seemed to be making bold advances. The village became emptier. One hot sunny afternoon the rebels came to our particular section of the village and arrested my father accusing him of abandoning the cause of the rebels. My father was very light skinned with tight curly hair and looked very much like an Igbo man. He could not even speak the language but they insisted he was lying and loaded him into a truck with other rebel soldiers. As we all wept, he looked at me, smiled and said ‘You are my brightest and best, don’t give up no matter what, you never know, I might still be back, look after your younger siblings’. I nodded.
He came back three months later with the Federal troops.

There were no vehicles. Each night, we slept with the sound of guns either close by or distant. I wondered about my father. He was not just my father, he was the only person I could talk to in any sense. My father’s wives would only ask me if I had picked any news about the progress of the civil war. I listened to the radio, but apart from the mention that An Englishman and the security officer had been abducted from the village my father worked in, there was no further news.
Just like my father was abducted abruptly, he returned in just about the same manner with the Federal troops shooting into the air. I remember the total fright these troops gave us as they drove into the compound, yelling and being generally rowdy.
I stood with my younger siblings clinging to me and the father’s tall light skinned frame became clear and we all ran to him crying and laughing, joyous to see him.
We were thrilled to see him back. I guess he gave useful tips to the federal soldiers because they would come late at night to hold long talks with father. Ore the camp town along the highway became a slang word as the federal troops gradually took it back from the rebels and also the outlying villages including the village where my father worked as the chief security officer.
Father saw that I was more withdrawn than usual and would ask me if I was okay. He would tell me that he was available if I wanted to say anything. What could I tell him? That I felt doomed? I am naturally a cheerful person and read a lot. Father liked that I was always reading something. Novels, whatever came to hand. I even read the traffic books! The wife of one of his English bosses invited me for tea while she waited for news about her husband. She would tell me about her country and asked if I want to visit her there. I knew it was impossible on my father’s wages soI would smile and beg her to tell me. My imagination made up for the rest.
Father came home from work one evening and gave me a smile as he announced that we were going to make an attempt to find a way to get to another town. He knew I wanted to return to school. He said we could travel by boat to another town and he knew I could find my way to Lagos from there. I was happy. He warned that it was going to be fairly dangerous as there was no chance any other way. Father was going to be with me, I trusted him implicitly so I just smiled and hugged him.
There is something odd about me and my father. In my culture, in those days, children were seen, disciplined and never befriended until maybe they had to be married off. Everybody in my family always thought my closeness to my father was odd. We would sit for long hours together as he told me of his plans, and crazy as it sounds, my father would tell me about his affairs as well. It was okay to marry many women and I never felt it strange that he would share such confidences. His wives tolerated me because they could not tell my father anything negative. I grew up more comfortable in the company of boys. I never saw my body. It was just a body to put clothes on. I never had a crush on anyone male or female. I never saw my body as either beautiful or attractive. I just wanted to be me.
I remember
I returned to school to a very warm welcome by the principal. He called the school to the assembly hall and talked about how the civil war had been brought close to them by my experiences. I was in form three, had missed a whole term plus. When he invited me to tell the assembled students what I had experienced, the near rape flashed through me and I stood frozen in horror unable to say a word. Just trembled and stared. He excused me from speaking and I ran to the dormitory and just lay there.
I became occupied with catching up on lectures missed. I copied endless notes from my friends. I wanted to be a doctor so I did not want to miss my classes. I loved stories that had medical content. I rarely went home for holidays as the principal would claim that the roads were dangerous. So holidays, missing my father sorely, I would wander from one empty class or dormitory telling myself stories. It was strange to have one child left in the school while other children were home with their families. I was very lonely.
As my body developed and I started looking more like a female, my male classmates would tease me saying it was time I had a boyfriend. Something inside me would flash that male naked body in its frightening glory and I would shrink inside but shake my head at the boys and tell them I was waiting for the special boy.
But, Mr. Galadima our physics teacher took notice.
Mr. Galadima came in as the Physics teacher. I was a science student and actually loved the subjects. I had maintained pretty good grades and maybe that was what got the unwelcome attention of my Physics teacher. My hand would shoot up every time in class, so he took notice. I didn’t understand the looks he would shoot my way until one evening at prep when he sent for me.
I innocently responded to his invitation that he wanted me to get him something from the physics lab. I got there and kept searching for what he had asked me until a pair of hands grabbed me from behind and spun me into his arms with such force that I almost screamed in fright. He covered my mouth with his hands and held me tightly. I was terrified. Mr. Galadima tried to calm me down by running his fingers all over me and kept saying I should calm down. He kept apologizing and said he had asked me to come to the lab because he wanted to talk to me in private. He said he had fallen in love with me. I was an unformed 14-year-old.
I was tense in those masculine circle he had made with his hands and I felt my heart was going to jump right out of my body. It was beating so loudly. He kept pinching my breasts as I squirmed to get out of his reach. Then he begged me to kiss him. I had never been kissed so I gave a horrified no and tried to fight free. There was thus a silent struggle as I tried to duck from under his arms. He smelt awful and had bad breath as he roamed his face all over me. I was by now sobbing and doing everything I could to be free. I was scared that he was going to do something awful. Mercifully I heard the principal asking who was in the physics lab Quick as lightning, he pushed me under the table with a fierce whisper for me to stay still as he raised his voice, telling the principal that he had come to pick his lesson notes. He stepped out and went on the inspection with the principal.
I crept out and ran to the hostel, fetched water and scrubbed away at my painful unformed breasts. I did not go to my physics class the next day, and from then on failed my physics test. I lived in silent terror of being touched by a man because I always felt dirty.
I remember
I still had the silent horror of the near rape and now had to add this to my nightmares. I definitely didn’t want anybody paying attention to me. I struggled with my subjects since then and gradually found peace with the art subjects like Literature, drama and such subjects. I started keeping a diary. Would turn up at cultural dances and learn tribal dances. I even was asked to lead the cultural dance of the Northern tribe.
I won prizes in literary and debating, represented the school at dances and one time danced for the president. I felt I was happy. I learned to stay close to my girlfriends in school particularly during study periods. When the Physics teacher came round and wanted me to do something I would tell him I was on an errand for the English teacher Miss Tinu.
There was a tradition of having older students look after younger students and being a co-educational school, we had what was called school father and school mum. We even had school sister and the like. It was all wholesome in those days. Our school fathers took the job of being ‘parents’ seriously. I had a school father, he was called Albert. He was also a school prefect. He always looked out for me. Uncle Albert as we called him also good at singing, could act and was quite popular.
I told him about the physics teacher and one evening he simply walked into my class and sat at the back. He invited me to sit next to him. It was an open display of protection. The physics teacher never came to our class again at study times. Uncle Albert said I was going to be fine.
The following year in his first year of lower six, Uncle Albert did a surprising thing, he ran away from school to join the army. I was shocked, inconsolable. Then one weekend he sneaked back to tell me he did not want to miss being in the civil war. Said he would find ways to get in touch with me regularly. He kept his word.
Then I entered my last year in secondary school. The principal insisted I was still a science student and I still failed physics every term.

There came a new vice principal who also taught the senior classes Biology. He was young looking had a foreign surname and every girl in the school had a crush on him. I didn’t know if what I felt for him was a crush. Remember I said I loved reading. By the time I got to form five as it was called, I had read so many novels. Mr. Fellows the new vice principal found me reading a Hadley Chase and we started talking about detective series. Yes, you guessed right, he became another person in my life.
I remember
I had always imagined myself a virgin. I also had never paid any particular attention to my physical body. When Mr. Fellows said he had fallen in love with me, I was flattered. There were my seniors who hung on his every word. Apart from the fact that he had a foreign name, he had been living in the United States before coming over to Nigeria. He had lived in Ohio, went to Marietta. You can imagine I was over the moon that such a person would tell me he had fallen in love with me.
We would chat for hours. The principal tried to break it up but I paid him scant attention. After all, students knew the principal was notorious for groping girls and actually had been known to take a few willing girls to bed.
My disappointment was always that each time he held me I became instantly tense and uncomfortable. I could not relax. I would point out to him that there was something sticky in his trousers that pressed against me. I didn’t know then that what I felt as sticking into me was his arousal. So I would push him away. He bided his time I imagine.
One day, we were all giving a day out of boarding school. I went with Mr. Fellows to see his friend in town.  He took me to a bedroom, I was nervous, he removed his clothes and I closed my eyes as he attempted to make love to me. I screamed that it was painful that he should stop. He said it was because it was my first time, I hurt and waited for it to be over wondering why in heaven’s name anyone would call this pain a pleasure. Later when I got to the bathroom and cleaned myself up I still felt blank.
So this is what they call lovemaking?’ I said to myself and felt betrayed by all the Denise Robins I had read. I had felt nothing at all.
It would be 12 years later and 3 years after separating from Mr. Fellows before I would have my first unassisted lovemaking.

I went home for the holidays to see my father. He had been ill and was in our hometown away from his town. We talked as usual. Father said he was going to resign from his security job and set up in Ondo town. He planned on releasing his other wives except the youngest of the wives. He had explained to the woman he had an affair with, who now had a girl for him. According to the culture, he could not claim his daughter until she attained the age of seven. Father said I was to ensure I kept a tab on the daughter. She was only three months old then. I made friends with the mother of my step sister.
Father kind of sense he would not be around for long, we talked about school. He asked me to pick up forms for whatever school I wanted to read for my ‘A’ levels. I told him about my frustration on the science subjects, particularly physics.
As I was leaving to take the bus to return to school, Father called me back and gave me more money. I looked at him in surprise and he grinned that he just noticed that I was evolving into a woman and I may have needs that I would be hesitant to tell him. I remembered laughing back and saying he took his time noticing me.

I remember
I returned to school, happy excited about getting ready for the West African school certificate exam or ‘WAEC’ as all Nigerian students knew it. There was no tension as I prepared for that exam. Then, students prepared for the independence day celebration of October first. The principal announced that boarding students could go home on Friday and return to school on Sunday.
For some reason, I felt so lonely and I sent in my own exeat form assuming that it will not be signed as usual. I was stunned when a signed exeat was given to me as well. In excitement, I told Mr. Fellows that the principal must have made a mistake for he had never signed my exeat releasing me from school. Mr. Fellows smiled and said maybe we might make the journey together as he was heading home to Rivers state to see his Mum. I took that at face value, not suspecting there was more to that.
We took a taxi together and Mr. Fellows was kind of quiet, so I asked him if there was anything on his mind. He smiled and invited me to tell him about my father. I was happy to oblige. He then gave me a strange promise. He told me that he would do everything within his power to make sure I got as much education as I might want.
I remember that I replied airily that my father had promised an education and thus there will be no need to make such a promise. I didn’t make much of the reason he gave when we got to my village and Mr. Fellows offered to see me to my father’s front door and then depart. However, he took me straight not to father’s front door where my grandmother, father’s wives, aunties had gathered to receive me. My father had passed. I stood and stared in numbed shock disbelieving and uncomprehending.
The principal had been informed and Mr. Fellows had always known, he had offered to deliver me safely to my family so they could let me know that my father had passed. I felt the most searing pain at his abrupt departure. I could not even cry. I just stared at everybody. I had a sensation of falling into a very cold dark place. It took a while before I could crawl out of that cold dark place. I never felt warm again. The heat was around me but I shivered from the loneliness. That place was never filled.

The Principal hovered over me like some strange bird. I felt nothing. I would sit for hours staring at nothing. I talked about my father like he was still alive and looked forward to going home. I prepared for my final examination in the secondary school.
We were to be allocated numbers for the exams and I was puzzled when my name was not listed as one of the students. I went to the principal’s office to inquire. I was a student enjoying the full scholarship of the school. It was on the condition that I maintain good grades. I had maintained those good grades in the five years.
My jaw dropped when the principal explained that he felt I was not going to make good grades because of my father that had passed so close to the exam period. He explained that he knew I was a very brilliant student… I did not wait to hear that, I made for the door telling him my father was going to hear about this. I was very angry. His face went funny as he grabbed me speaking with an urgency I could only sense. He kept saying he was my father now. I yelled back that he was speaking stupid, totally forgetting myself. He just held on as a teacher rushed in. I turned to the teacher and asked her to please explain to the principal, that there was nothing wrong with me. In desperation, I explained to the teacher and principal that I was fine. I promised to make very good grades. The teacher wept and very slowly what the principal said sank in. My father was dead. It was painful. My pain was intense,  the tears did not seem enough to fill the hole in my heart.
It was excruciating watching students prepare for exams and me just wandering around feeling shame like I had done something awful. Sometimes unable to stand the excited chatter of my fellow students I would take long walks away from people. I wanted my father. I would hold long conversations with him. I barely remembered I had any relationship with Mr. Fellows. I had to think about my future now. Not able to graduate, I wondered how I was going to continue. I wanted to be educated.
Then I find that I was pregnant. I did not know what to do. I had received zero guides about how not to get pregnant. I was indifferent to lovemaking. Just made the right sounds from what I read in the romance books. I felt frustrated all the time but there was no one I dared to confide in. Timidly I told Mr. Fellows, he gave me a long look sighed and said I could not very well go back to my parents pregnant. He asked me to look for boys’ clothes and he would sneak me into his room at the boys’ hostel while everybody was at prep.
I did and a new life of horror, pain, and imprisonment started for me.
Why did I say that?
Mr. Fellows lived in one room at the end of the boys' hostel. When he sneaked me into his room, he brought in an iron bucket. I peed into that bucket. I could come out only in the dead of night to move my bowel into the surrounding bushes. I was pregnant but was never taken an ante-natal class for one hour never mind a day. The room was always locked, the windows locked except in the dead of night if happened to be sleeping with me. He slept with me alright. I told myself he loved me so I stayed hidden in that room.
At night I would listen to the highlife music being played some streets away. It felt mournful but I would listen. During the day, I would listen to the voices of the boys in the hostel. They would come by the door and imagine their housemaster was around and knock. I had to stay very silent so they should not think or suspect someone was in the room.
Occasionally, Mr. Fellows would take me to town and I would manage to watch a film with him, then I would return to the one room. The room had to be kept dark. It was always very hot and there was always the urine smell. I was becoming miserable as my pregnancy progressed. One time I took a whole bottle of sleeping pills. I had reason to think that Mr. Fellows was becoming interested in another girl in school. I could not do a thing. He watched me take the pills and I found him watching me very calmly the next day when I opened my eyes. I felt shame and pain. I told myself that I could not even hold the love of a man. What was the use? I read whatever book I found on his bookshelf. That gave me an outlet so gradually I started reading again.
I took a look at my old diary and started making small notes that evolved as poems. When Mr. Fellows discovered what I was writing, he laughed at me and I felt silly and stupid. Those times he shared what he wrote I would be the adoring one lapping everything up. There was no talk about education in that one dark smelly room. One day I felt real pains. It was not yet dark enough to sneak me out, so I gritted my teeth and hoped he would come home early. I was lucky, he did. He saw my pain and discomfort and told me I was about to have a baby, said there was no need to go into histrionics, that goats have babies without help. I felt slapped by those words so I kept quiet struggling not to call attention. Mercifully it got dark enough for him to take me to the clinic. I was a pale ghost because the doctor stared at me in shock. I had never been to an ante-natal so I had received no care at all.
The nurses stared at me, made me walk around the ward in that pain. They said my muscles were weak, and that I had a narrow cervix. For the first time, I wanted my father and wept. Finally, after hours of pain, I gave birth to a pale little ghost that died some two days later. Mr. Fellows had disappeared since he brought me to the hospital. When he showed up later, I informed him about the new development. He gave me a blank stare and hurried out. I never knew what was done with my little girl. Was she ever buried? Sometime, years later, I would go to the front of the hospital, I wove a fantasy that she did not die, that she was revived and stayed on in the hospital and waited for me to come back for her. I never told anyone. I never forgot her birthday either. June 4 was a special day for me, it still is, as I silently apologize to Yvette (her name) for being such a dumb idiot.
She was one of the reasons I became concerned about teaching young girls about sexuality issues. I remembered my mum and I never forgot about Yvette. I became determined that no child will cross my path and not receive as much guide as they can receive.

I had nowhere to go so I returned to Mr. Fellows. Mercifully not to the one room hell-hole, but to stay with his friend in one room of a three bedroom flat. I was traumatized enough that I rarely wanted to stay in the room.

One evening, Mr. Fellows made me an offer, if I agree to marry him, he would ensure I went to medical school and become the medical doctor I wanted to be. I jumped at the idea and told him that I would have to talk to my mum. He agreed. I returned to my village to my mum.

I remember

I felt strange returning home to people I considered strange. My mother was one. She had left my father when I was only seven. I grew up under the close protection of my father. It was a polygamous home with wives paying attention to their own children, I did not feel my mother’s input because my father filled in for me. I only got to know my mother properly when I got into secondary school. We were not close.
I was now home and asking permission to marry my teacher. She listened to me. We did not talk about love. A man had offered to allow me to finish my education if I would promise to marry him. So I talked to my mother about him. She wanted to know more. I shrugged that he was nice and I said I did not want to be dependent on a relative who might not be interested in picking up my educational fees. It did not even occur to me to discuss with her that I had had a baby who had died. I was pale white but nobody ever asked me. So I shrugged and kept my pain to myself.
My mother hesitated, not for any reason but she felt I could pretend to agree to a future marriage with the fellow, avoid getting pregnant until I had gotten my education or some other guy from the village might make such an offer. I stared at her appalled and shocked. The conversation degenerated into a shouting match with me yelling that I never suspected she was such a mercenary person, adding with some relish that I was not brought up that way and expressed my disgust at such a calculating tendency.
I believed giving my word was my bond and I had no intention of breaking my word I had given. It became a very messy situation, my mother told my grandmother, it became a general discussion. My paternal aunties and grandmother were not particularly interested one way or the other, I knew, my mother knew but she said she had to save face and pretend she was angry. That puzzled me, but she asked me to play along. She predicted that my father’s relatives would attempt to persuade her and she would then pretend to reluctantly agree, thereafter she would send for Mr. Fellows and everybody will agree. Mollified and trusting that plan I kept quiet. I searched for places to study and waited.
It was my first lesson in subterfuge. My mother had no intention of giving her permission. Mr. Fellows came bearing gifts that served as his formal introduction to my family. My mother spiked it. She changed completely. There was the constant fight. There never was talk about how I could negotiate the relationship. One day at the height of another bad fight with mother I packed my bags and returned to Lagos.

I remember
I now openly lived with Mr. Fellows. It was a strange relationship. I obeyed him as much as my nature permitted. I did not like showing my body to anyone least of all Mr. Fellows. He did not like me calling him by his first name saying that would be rude of me. I was mystified by him so I simply refused to call him anything always waiting to catch his attention. He had a habit of leaving for work but would go visiting his friend and may not return home for days on end. At first, when that happened I would make myself sick with anxiety. The promise of an education never came up again so I took myself off to the library, paid for forms to read for A level. He would laugh and mock, saying he never heard of anyone studying alone for an examination.
I ignored that. Sometimes I would arrive home from the library to find him in bed with another girl. They were sometimes girls from my old school. It was like a taunt to see how much of that I would take. I assumed that marriages were not easy things and that I just needed to survive. I started looking for a job because Mr. Fellows would give me the pittance for feeding. I had a son and that son was quickly followed by another.
He went to a sports programme outside town and my second son had an infection. I did not have money to pay for his admission and drip so by the time I could get him to a second hospital, he was a lost cause. I was wild with the pain and promised myself never ever to look to a man for my financial security ever. I have kept that promise.
When I got myself a job, things eased a bit for me because Mr. Fellows saw I was not that totally dependent on him. I even proudly bought him a few things. I now accepted that I could no longer be a doctor, there was nobody going to pay for that. I asked Mr. Fellows permission to start using his surname. He shrugged saying signing a piece of legal nonsense would not necessarily ensure his fidelity. He had told me he was divorced so I agreed he had a point.
I remember
Mr. Fellows finally moved to another country next door as it were and I joined him. This last bit almost unhinged me. Do you remember Uncle Albert? I had not seen him in years and he suddenly turns up one evening while I was sitting outside chatting with a couple of ladies. I was over the moon because it was the last place I had ever expected to see him. The next morning he came over to say hello to Mr. Fellows. He had known about him while I was at school. Everybody chatted and Uncle Albert left.
The inquisition began thereafter. Mr. Fellows wanted to know if ever I had had a crush on Uncle Albert. I said that was crazy. I explained that he was just my protector at school. But the questioning continued and there is no point continuing in that thread. I assumed one day I had in frustration tried to explain that I played with myself and it was the only way I got sexual relief. He was angry at that confession, that he would mock me and show his contempt for my being less than a woman. I was shamed to such a level that I had to act grateful if he touched me while my body cringed at being touched. It was torture. I simply hated being touched by him or any man for that matter but would groan and gasp like I was in sixth heaven. Each time I would be in an ocean of shame. Then he started sleeping with another student of his and I was so desperate to hold on to him that I I made love to the girl myself in an effort to convince myself that I was not jealous. I actually threw up in the bedroom after the very silent act. I was so sick of myself. I called the girl quietly, apologized to her and promised that it would never happen again. She held me and said she was sorry if she had given me pain but had no intention to marry Mr. Fellows. A measure of cold comfort, maybe. Years later I found out that Mr. Fellows was never really free to marry anybody. He was never divorced. Something inside me changed that night. It was time to grow up. I decided my life was mine after all. Mr. Fellows was just a man who wore trousers, cheated, and it was up to me to decide if another being should have permission to ruin my life.
One week later I packed up and returned to Nigeria. I have mended some broken parts of me. Some things will never be right. I am still fighting to look in the mirror and see my body and not cringe away in shame. My husband has done all he could to help me step over that. I did not tell him about the rages. He has experienced my rages, my distrust of men first hand himself.
I try this experiment now in the hope that writing down those things I could not talk about or even share will release me and make me laugh with me.