writing

Family Secrets III

You father taught you a lesson no father should teach a daughter

You were 6 or 7 when you found out you had a brother. A brother not born of your mother. Your father had taken you out to see his ‘friend’ . The lady who had opened the door was surprised to see you, there was a little boy peeping behind her. He looked about your age. You shook your head when offered snacks. You shook your head when asked if you wanted to watch cartoons. The little boy had a birthmark on the V where the index finger met the thumb. Daddy has the same. And he looked like Daddy.

He talked while you listened. He told you about his father, your father. How he father travelled a lot but sometimes spent weekends with them. You remembered that your own father spent weekdays with you and sometimes went on work trips during the weekend. Occasionally you would look up and glance at this boy that looked like Daddy. On your way home, your father would stop at your favourite place, Flavours where you had three scoops of different flavours of ice cream

“Nnenna, we went to my friend’s house and had ice cream later okay?”

You nodded your head.

When you got home and your mother asked how your outing was

You replied it was fine.

Over the years you would know what was expected of you. You were to cover up for Daddy. You never mentioned the little boy to your mother. The messages you read from girlfriends were overlooked or deleted . You would walk pass your parents room multiple times when you heard them arguing. Sometimes you would be called in during arguments. One person accusing the other, the other threatening to do something and you would be seated right in the middle, crying, mumbling words . A position no child should ever be in.

It was after your first year in the university, you were about 17 or 18 when your mother found out about your father’s son. You came down that Saturday morning to her sitting at the dining table, your father was on a trip.

“Fa ma, they know” she said while starring at the cup of tea she was stirring

“They know he has a son”

All these years you had tried to protect your mother from your father. You never complained as a child. You were the child that gave no trouble, always well behaved. The fulfillment your mother never got from your father you tried to fill in. You hid his secrets hoping your mother would never find out because you knew how much it would break her heart. A role a child should never have to play.Now there you were, seated at that table looking at your mother and confused on how to comfort her.

“They had always known”

She never did drink that cup of tea neither did she stop stirring.

You would be 23 when you find out that your boyfriend is cheating on you. Not with one. Not with two. This isn’t your father. You weren’t looking for clues, the clues found their way to you. He’s driving home while holding your hand, you’re smiling and mumbling words that cannot be heard . You would become that little child settling her parents arguments again

Nnenna tell her to read it properly

It says love, Hope .Nnenna show it to him

But your father had prepared you for days like this. Your father had taught you to be quiet, very observant but quiet. He had taught you to listen behind closed doors. He had taught every body movement a cheating man would have. You had learnt that it was possible to loathe someone that you love. He taught you how to silently cry tears that sting your eyes and left lumps in your throat. Many times, these men would remind you of the lessons you had learnt. Lessons no daughter should learn from her father.

There he was, your father. In the same sofa he usually sat on. Legs crossed, glasses on, reading a newspaper. He has that birthmark on the V where the index finger and thumb meet. You see the face of the boy from when you were 6 or 7. He looks up and asks you how your outing was. You look at him. He who taught you how to hide a thousand emotions behind a smile.

You smiled and replied it was fine

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Family Secrets II

You were the child that saved your mother’s marriage.

That family picture hanged on the wall, above the television in the sitting room was taken on your christening. Your sisters are standing beside your parents , two by your mother’s left, one by your father’s right. Your mother is seated with you on her lap, your father next to her. He has one arm draped across her shoulder and the other placed gently on your leg. Everyone is dressed in the same lace material. Your mother’s headgear was so big the photographer had asked her to adjust it a few times. One of your sisters had cried prior to the picture being taken because the bow that held her hair in a bun was too tight. In the photo, everyone had a big smile.

Our son is here.

It was said that after your birth , your father was so excited he started keeping a beard. Because he was now a father to a boy. Now your father was his mother’s only son and only child. The 3 children his mother bore had all died before the age of 2. His father took another wife who ended up having three girls. So you see it was up to him to keep his father’s name alive.

The first child born to your parents was a girl. They named her Ifeoma, something good. A child is a good thing, be it boy or girl right?

The second, a girl they named Ngozichukwuka , God’s blessings are better. They are always better aren’t they?

The third, another girl they named Chinweokike , God owns creation. Everything, he created isn’t it?

Things started to change. Your father’s uncles would come and hold meetings behind closed doors. Your mother’s greetings were replied with mumblings. The meetings they called your mother into, she came out crying . This part Ify told you because she was older, she understood what the others did not.

It’s around this time Nne Ifeoma would call her younger sister to come and look after her children that she was going away for three days. The child she wanted, that would save her marriage, she was going to ask God for directly.

Your mother was away , praying at the mountain or water side or somewhere. She prayed, she rolled, she cried, she screamed. With Prophet.

Few weeks later she was pregnant with you. Her greetings were still met with mumblings, this time a bit more audible. During this pregnancy your mother was unsettled. If she had another girl what would happen to her and your sisters.

It is at this time that her friend Abigail visited.

“Abigail, m mwuo nwanyi ozo… hmm. If I have another girl it is finished”

“What will I do”

During her 7th month of carrying you, she packed a few things and said she was going to deliver you at her mother’s place , na nukwu nne ya.

Your mother carried you for 8 months and three weeks before she bore you. Your sisters said your father came home dancing that day with so much joy. A few weeks passed before she came back with you in her arms. Vistors trooping in and out of the house.

Your mother’s greetings were replied with “Ehen our wife kedu. Kedu maka baby. How are you. How is baby”. Your mother went from being called Nne Ifeoma to Nne Chidera.

On your christening you were called Chidera, maka, chi dera o de si go , when God writes, it is written

Ifeanyichukwu, what we asked from God

Osinachukwu , it came from God

It was on that day, the picture was taken. Everyone dressed in the same lace material. Everyone with the big smile. Everyone dark skinned, you light skinned.

Prophet was fair in complexion.

The pregnant woman at Aunty Abigail’s hospital was fair in complexion.

Your father’s father, your grandfather was fair in complexion.

It’s the joy on your father’s face when he throws you up in the air. When he looks at you and says “My son”

Who gave you life does not matter. You saved your mother’s marriage.

You are your father’s son.

Family Secrets

You were the child that came unannounced.

Not a mistake but a mistake. It was all hush hush until your mother realized she had missed her period twice and she was feeling a bit sick. One visit to the doctor’s confirmed that she was 6 weeks gone. She waited three days before telling your father. She was pregnant, he would be a father whether he liked it or not because as Christians we do not destroy what man cannot create.

“Anyi ga-eme ego ya“

That was the first thing his mother, your grandmother said when she was told. God forbid you be a child born out of wedlock, from such a well known family. Even though a few protests came from his sisters

“Idikwa sure o nke nwanne anyi? Are you sure it’s our brother’s”

Just as quickly as you were convinced, his parents took the necessary items to your mother’s parents. This gathering had no three appearances , no maidens escorting your mother to look for your father. No akwa uniform was sold. Your mother did not dance with your father while naira notes were sprayed. This joining had just her parents, his parents and ndi umunna in attendance. As your mother walked to your father with that cup of palmwine , in that small parlor of your grandparents house at Abagana.

Was she sure she loved this man? Probably not.

Could forever be promised?

Did she feel completely at home in his arms?

She knelt down when she got to him. Took a sip of the palmwine and gave him to drink. Your father took the cup and drank. Him drinking signified that he had accepted your mother. That you were accepted. According to tradition they are husband and wife. Any child brought into this union is a legitimate child.

As he drank, there was a quiet applaud. An applaud of relief from the shame that had been averted. From here everyone would continue like all this had happened under normal circumstances. This part of the story would be told in hush tones. Later when you are grown , the small slips that fall from discussions on the family table is what you would gather to put together . One line from this aunty, one line from that aunty. You would begin to understand those days your mother was sad and took out her anger on you. The other days your mother told you you were her comfort in this marriage. You would understand why many times, your father was gone for so long. You would begin to remember and understand all the parables your mother spoke.

This is the story you would remember when your boyfriend tells you he wants you to have his baby. You would laugh and playful ask

“Gi na onye? You and who biko”

Are you sure you love this man?

Could forever be promised ?

Do you feel completely at home, at peace with this man?

Would you become your mother all over again?

God forbade you were born a bastard

God forbid you bore a bastard

Sisi Eko

Gold and blonde highlights

Sitting in a chair in a barber’s shop along a busy road

Today’s the day I become a new person. I become my own person she thinks to herself

Staring at the mirror, watching him massage the mix into her hair

Nervous and excited at the same time

Make we wash am” , her black is all gone leaving a gold colour behind

From tip to root

Sisi mi is a new person

She would walk in between market stalls and feel the eyes following her

She would feel them and hear the words

She would demand attention, ‘such hair colour on such black skin’

She flags down a keke napep

“Ogba”

“Enter”

She sits in front and holds for support

I would end up staring at the back of her head half of the time

Intrigued by such hair colour on such black skin

I don’t know her name so I call her Sisi mi

Sisi mi be daring , be unapologetically you

Sisi Eko, This is Lagos

Red

My mother would always warn me

“Don’t drink that without blowing”. I took a sip and burnt my tongue

“Don’t play with matches”. I didn’t listen, it burnt my fingers

“Don’t touch the iron”. I chose not to listen, it burnt my skin

“Don’t listen to these boys”. Did I listen? They set a fire in my heart and watched it burn

“Don’t let them touch you”. And as always I didn’t listen and they left burn scars on my thighs

I’m full of scars, I never learn from my mistakes

Fire only burns, nne ge nti, listen

In whatever form, enjoyable or heart wrenching

Fire will always burn

Corper Shun!

So about a month ago I travelled to Kaduna for NYSC Orientation Camp. I joked about Kaduna, I was expecting Nassarawa, somewhere in my mind was a voice that said “You might just end up in Enugu.

Now the four choices that were given to me were Nassarawa, Kaduna, Enugu and Rivers. The two weeks after registration I always joked that all my friends that had Kaduna that we would end up there. But in secret I would tell my other friend “Something tells me I’m going to the North . I just feel it”

So Friday morning I woke up to messages on the group chat. We had been posted! I refused to check mine out of fear. Most of my friends from my ‘squad’ got Lagos while one got Taraba. I had none of that as a choice. So I called my life line Pelumi , “I’m going to Kaduna o”

“Kaduna *laugh* wait let me check mine” she hung up

Few minutes she calls me back ,” You can call me Halimaaaaaa. Nassarawa here I come! My guyyyyyyy, we move!!!!”

Here I was sitting in my 4 years old niece’s Dora themed room, all down and she took my mood from 0 to 100. Immediately my Snap said ‘Adventure Time😎’

But I can honestly tell you I was not ready for the adventure I was going to get.

After a pep talk from my older cousin, my father freaking out that I was going to the North and my mother telling me “You can’t wear what you wear in Lagos o , cover your body, wear jalamias” . I was ready to go to Kaduna, I thought. Here I was seated at the airport on Wednesday after I had missed my flight on Tuesday and a flight for 2 pm left Lagos by 9:30 pm. We got to the Kaduna International Airport by 10:30 something, there I met Jumoke ( name later to be changed to Jummy Baby) and Steph. Luckily for us Steph had a drive waiting so we all tagged along. After driving on the express for another 1hr and some mintues we got to the camp. They looked at us like ‘at this time , from where, why’ but we weren’t the only ones. By the time we got mattresses and rooms I looked at my phone, the time was few minutes after 12.

After 4 mornings of waking up by 4/4:30 , walking half way to Mammy to get hot water, shivering on the parade ground, always wearing a cap that gave me a headache, ‘the sounding of the biggle’ , going to bed on a mattress that wasn’t more than 6 inches thick… And after my first 5 hours SAED Lecture. I. Was. Tired. Frustrated. Wanted to Just Go Home.

I was ready to redeploy. I was going to redeploy. That night I was literally about to cry just like my father said I would. Then my cousin calls me and we have a lengthy conversation. My mum calls while in transit. Another friend calls and says “Don’t die on me, you better bring yourself back to Lagos in one piece” . After almost crying and not which surprised me, I decided to enjoy camp as much as I could.

I made friends with anyone who was willing to be friendly. Decided to be involved in activities. I joined the parade, I ran relay which we lost (obviouslyyyyyyyyyy 🙄) . Then Man O War. Standing in front of the obstacle I shook my head like “Hell naaahh” but eventually I did the whole thing.

Most of all I enjoyed every conversation I had in camp. From talking about Igbo politics to the geography of the North, to photography, to relationships, to getting someone to translate to someone else that she was beautiful, to talking about life with 18years Emeka who’s going to be an engineer . I started to enjoy camp that I didn’t want to redeploy anymore.

At Kaduna I saw a shooting star. There we were at the parade ground, morning cold, not listening to what was being said, gloves hands holding hands without gloves and above us goes a shooting star.

If there’s one thing Kaduna camp blessed me with its amazing sunsets

By three days to the end of camp I honestly prayed my redeployment would not work out but it did. Coming back to Lagos and having things change for me the way I never expected had me longing to go back to Kaduna. But remembering the Man O War instruction ” Do not look down. Slowly , slowly. If you feel the rope shaking , breathe continue to take breaths ”

Funny how not being in Kaduna right now and definitely not being on a rope, that instruction is very applicable.

Kaduna gave me memories I will forever hold dear. Taught me to find beauty in the simplest of things.

Kaduna was a blessing that came disguised.

3:45am

To be restless at night

Burdened with conversations that never happened, that need to happen

The urge to say “I’m sorry”

To ask “At any point did I mean anything”

To hear “I did not mean to hurt you”

Just for peace of mind

To lay down and not be haunted

A void that might never be filled , weight that we would continue to carry

Words are light but heavy, in the heart and in my mouth

Travel Chronicles

I met a boy once.
His name was Alex.
Okay I didn't necessarily meet that boy named Alex , I sat two seats and an aisle away from a boy named Alex.

So I sat two seats and an aisle away from a boy named Alex on a flight from Los Angeles to Paris. No I don't go on fancy vacations because I can't afford it, Paris was a stop over. I know his name is Alex because I heard him introduce himself to the lady who sat next to him. Alex wore glasses and had a stripped cardigan on which matched his socks. Both stripped but different colours. Alex had light brown hair with streaks of blonde. And also a beautiful smile. He was super nice to the old lady who sat beside him. Not technically beside beside because there was an empty chair between them. From the conversation, Alex talked about how beautiful Tahiti had been when he visited. I just listened and stole glances when I could because the lady besides me wasn't much of a conversationalist. I mean I smiled and said hi but didn't get a response. I met Alex's glance twice or thrice, I can't really remember. I'm sure he won't remember the girl in a grey cardigan with blue twists. And there's a greater possibility that he was just looking over my head or pass me.
We would never find out.
So I took got off that plane with my hand luggage and an unrealistic funny short story on how I fell in love on a 12 hours flight. I would tell this story to my friend while at the airport and almost miss my flight back to Lagos.

Months later I would be reminded of Alex when I sat next to a girl at the airport in Ethiopia waiting on our connecting flight. No I don't go on fancy vacations because I can't afford it, Ethiopia was a stop over too. She had a 3b/c afro which I thought was beautiful and I couldn't stop admiring her piercings. We shared a smile and confusion on whether the next flight boarding was ours or not. While sitting there , I noticed she had a bag of things, looked like souvenirs to me from where she had visited.
I would stand next to this same girl at LAX waiting to pick up our luggage. While I waited for my two boxes which of course one was filled with food stuffs ( a Nigerian that travels without food stuffs is that a Nigerian?) , she picked up her over sized camp bag and left. I stared at the fully grown tree tattooed on her ankle, silently wishing her good luck with whatever growth she had or wanted in life.
I should have asked her for her name.

I am grateful for French air hostesses who mispronounce your surname but escort you to board your almost missed flight.
I am grateful for different stop overs that make me feel like a seasoned traveller even though I have only two stamps from two different countries on my passport.
I am grateful for friends that keep you company with the aid of airport WiFi.
I should start collecting souvenirs , even from stop overs.
I should have taken a picture of that beautiful sunrise I saw from an airport window.
I should tell strangers that they are beautiful.
I should ask for names.
So I am grateful for Alex and the girl with the tree tattoo on her ankle.
It feels good to write again.

– for Alex and the girl with the tree tattoo on her ankle.