I sit up instantly as the screeching sound of my baby’s cry brings me back from the beautiful dreamland. I want to hate this baby, but realise to my chagrin that he is only an innocent child that never had a choice as to where or to whom he was born.
I feel the custodians of fate made a mistake by letting me have this child rather than giving him to the women that are praying night and day to have at least a child.
I am instantly awake on the makeshift bed in the uncompleted building that is housing me at the moment to nurse the baby while my stomach growls in protest – a less-than-subtle reminder that me, too, need food as I have barely eaten enough food to nurse my wailing child.
I sit up to nurse him and let the tears that had been clamouring to come ever since I woke up cascade down her cheeks. Along with the tears come torrents of memories, the reason I am in this dilemma and sleeping in an uncompleted building instead of a warm bed in a house.
The memories, not so beautiful flashes like scenes in a scripted movie before my eyes…
From the moment I could decipher my left leg from the right one, I knew no one liked me. My father accused me of killing his beloved wife, my mother. As if I had a hand in her dying barely an hour after she birthed me. My father never stopped reminding me that I should have been the one who had died at birth and let his wife live.
He would say, “Vivian, I still don’t understand why you didn’t die but killed my wife instead.” Words I heard as repetitive as a Monday. Words that marred my self-esteem, scarred me to the core of my being, and made me feel like a murderer.
I was made to stay with my paternal grandmother – my late mum was an orphan – right from the hospital where my mother had me but never lived to nurse me, not even once. I survived on infant formula, the one my father paid for grudgingly because he felt it was a waste of time and money to nurse a murderer like he.
My father married my stepmother when I was two years old. I knew the moment I saw her that things weren’t going to be easy for me because she reeked of undiluted trouble and never disguised the fact that she despised me.
“You don’t even look like a human being,” my stepmother would say. True to her words, she never treated me like a human being.
She made sure I was fed like an animal, as even the dogs in the house were fed better than I was. There were times I was forced to eat the dogs’ leftovers just to survive. Those days when I worked like a slave on an empty stomach. How I didn’t pass out from share exhaustion or starvation still baffles me to date. The sad part was that my father encouraged the ill-treatment meted on me by my stepmother because he felt it was retribution for her killing his beloved wife.
My stepmother never conceived and I was labeled a witched who had ‘tied her womb’ with my witchcraft to stop her from conceiving. One of the native doctors told my stepmother that it wasn’t as if she never conceived, but I had been eating the foetus in her womb.
If I was maltreated before, it increased so much so that I was stopped from attending school and was made to hawk – mangoes, oranges, steamed groundnut, or whatever was in season. I got beaten and starved at the slightest provocation. I remember a day when my stepmother heat a stone the size of two a seasoning cubes and when it was very hot, placed it on my left palm and close my palm for several minutes while the stone roasted my flesh. Her reason was that I stole fifty Naira from her bag – a lie just to have a reason to punish me.
The pain resonated through every part of my body. I was limped with pain that I couldn’t walk for several minutes thereafter. Let me not bore you with several of such cruel punishments that would have claimed my life, but I survived.
I noticed the handsome lanky guy the first time I went to the carwash – a carport stand – to sell oranges on a stifling afternoon. My throat was parched and I was so dehydrated that the shade of the carport felt like a paradise to me.
The guy kept stealing glances at me when I sat down there to rest for some minutes before moving on to God-knows-where to sell the oranges. He was my saviour that day, as he bought all the oranges.
“Why is a beautiful lady like you selling oranges,” he asked curiously.
I felt my head inflate and threatening to burst when I heard ‘beautiful’ at least, he looked past my bedraggled looks and called me beautiful. I was so elated, I grinned from ear to ear. It was all I could do to keep myself from jumping up and hugging the handsome man.
I flushed and unveiled a smile that I am sure was part of what attracted him to me.
“I am not in school, sir,” I responded smiling, but still unable to look at him in the eyes.
I guessed he saw my vulnerability and took advantage of me.
“Let me buy lunch for you, beautiful woman”
Did he just refer to me as a woman? I was only twelve, for Christ’s sake. Although I had developed quickly and had the body of an 18-year-old.
“It is okay sir,” I said, as the sound of having a decent lunch unnerved me completely that I didn’t even remember that I had never met him before.
He bought fried rice, salad, and chicken for me and it was like I was in heaven. That was one of the few times in my entire life that I had such a feast.
I savoured every bite of the food and crushed every bone. It then occurred to me that he bought the food without even knowing my name.
“What is your name, Beauty? He asked me
“Vivian,” I responded shyly.
“My name is Teju. Why are you not in school?”
“It’s a long story, sir.”
“Tell me, I have all the time in the world”
I gave him the abridged version of my story. I did so because I was already attracted to him. I had completely forgotten that I had made a point never to trust anyone, yet I could tell the feeling was mutual.
“I am in love with you, Vivian”
The banked feelings came rushing, a blast of gratitude, love, wonder, and even lust. Just hearing my name and love in one breath crumbled every wall of resolution I had built around me.
“What do you mean sir,” I asked innocently.
“I mean, I love you”
Those words sounded like magic to my ears. The words soothed every rough edges of my troubled soul. That was the first time I would ever hear anyone say those magic words to me. I didn’t want to wake up from this beautiful dream and I needed to hear him say those words again and again.
“What did you just say, sir”
“I love you” he repeated.
That was how we ended up tangled in the bed of a guest house close by, which made something to open up inside the battered interior of my heart. I kept coming back for more, and he kept feeding my stomach while I warmed his bed.
It lasted for only a month before Teju had enough of me and didn’t want anything to do with me because I was a ‘dirty girl’. By then it was too late as I was already getting weak in the morning and found out that I was always nauseous and would puke several times a day.
My dad and stepmother noticed the changes and threw me out after a test in the hospital revealed my worst fears – The devastating reality that I was pregnant.
I was thrown out of the house and made to walk the streets until I found this uncompleted building. I was able to have the baby and some baby things out of kindness from strangers.
Teju abandoned me after all, filling me with a kind of bone-deep disappointment because my naïve mind thought it was going to last.
I have named my baby Goodluck as I believe he will bring a lot of good fortune for me one day. Probably, it will make Teju love me again like he did that first time.
Roselyn Sho – Olajide works with an Audit Firm in Jos, Plateau State. She loves reading and writing and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org