Of the many things she felt when the midwife handed her the baby, love was not among them. She thought she heard the kind, elderly midwife with salt and pepper hair say it was a baby girl, but she didn’t care and just wished this whole thing was nothing but a nightmare that would end as soon as she opened her eyes.
“Ah, your baby is so beautiful,” the midwife’s voice yanked her from her reverie.
July didn’t want to look at the baby’s face. She wanted nothing that would tug her heartstrings.
The midwife carefully placed the light brown bundle in July’s arms. Grinning from ear to ear. “You can nurse her now, while I call your friend.”
If she saw the look of disgust spread like margarine on a slice of bread on July’s face, she didn’t show.
“Ma, please, can I at least rest for an hour before you let her in? I am tired and need to rest before I see anyone. Just tell her I am fine”
It is not as if July was an ingrate and did not appreciate everything Fervent did for her, but she just needed a little time to process the whole thing.
Nine months ago, her life was sliding, and she was looking forward to graduating and making her parents proud. She never saw the curve on the road. The curve that abbreviated her happiness and turned her life for the worse.
A frown pleated the midwife’s sweaty forehead. Then an understanding crept to her face. “It’s okay. Just nurse the baby and take a nap. You need the rest.”
The midwife’s voice felt like a soft blanket; July felt like wrapping it around her and letting herself bask in its comfort.
July looked at the bundle the midwife had placed in her arms a few minutes ago and tried to figure out what she felt for the baby. The light-skinned, pink lips and a head filled with black curly hair, but couldn’t. She felt several things at once, but love was not among what she felt. She was told several times that no matter the circumstances of conception, a mother would always love a child once she sets her eyes on the baby for the first time.
She could swear that what she felt was the complete opposite.
Memories came like a kaleidoscope and she could not help but let herself journey into the landscape of dark, thorny memories. Probably that would help douse the overwhelming hurricane of emotions.
Her first day at the University of Jos was filled with a lot of drama. From how she missed her way since it was her first time visiting Jos, the Plateau State Capital, to how she was almost killed for entering one community that she was not allowed to enter because of her religion and the long walk from the gate to the lecture hall.
The University of Jos was everything July had dreamed it would be, and even more. Spread over a sprawling land, which ran for miles and comprised so many beautiful buildings—mostly two-story—with long corridors and countless lecture halls.
It felt like she was in another world as the University of Jos was a world on its own.
July stopped walking for several minutes, ignored the fatigue that was warring against her, and drank in the campus’s sight. Reminding herself that it was the place she would spend the next four or five years of her life. She was not privy to what lay ahead, but she hope it would be something positive.
She was already fagged out by the time she reached the class. July was even tempted to go back home for a nap, but her aunt wouldn’t tolerate her missing any class and had told her so.
She wouldn’t even tell her aunty of how she almost got into trouble because her aunt had warned her sternly about how it was Jos and not Lagos, where she was born and bred.
After the lecturer had left, July brought out her novel, Kristin Hannah’s Nightingale, and was reading when she felt someone’s presence. She raised her head to a tall, light-skinned, and beautiful face. The lady had a 60cl plastic bottle of cold Coke, which she handed to July. “Hi, my name is Fervent. I noticed you trudging to class and figured out that since the sun is merciless today, and breathing down her fury on us all, you might love a chilled bottle of Coke.”
July didn’t know if she should laugh, scream, or cry. Because a cold bottle of Coke, which coincidentally was her favourite drink, was all she craved at that moment. She didn’t have enough money on her, the reason she opted to read instead of going out to buy one.
And who was this smiley angel that knew what to get and the exact time to do so?
“I am July. And how did you know Coke was my favorite drink?”
“I know my kind when I see them,”
“By the way, I love your name. It is a unique and lovely name.”
“Your name, July, is not the kind of name one hears every day, too. If I tell you the story behind my name. Well, it is a long story. Don’t let me bore you.”
“Well, Fervent, thanks a lot for the Coke. You are a lifesaver.”
“You are welcome, July. I can see you are a bookworm, too, or am I wrong to assume that?
“Don’t tell me you read, too?”
“Of course I do, and I have so many novels to trade. I don’t do motivational books.”
July smiled. “Me, too.”
That was the beginning of their friendship. They became like Siamese twins and one could hardly see one without the other. They became a pair whom their fellow coursemates admired—two 20-year-olds, tall, beautiful, fun-loving girls. While Fervent was light-skinned, July was dark-skinned, which earned the moniker Coke and Fanta.
Fervent lived in a single-room self-contained not too far from the University, and she urged July to move in with her. It was okay with July’s aunt since she had met Fervent and liked her instantly.
They lived in the same house and shared their clothes, food, money, burdens, tears, and laughter.
Barely three months after the resumption, Fervent met Deji. Fervent was the first to have a boyfriend since she was the more outspoken of the duo. July, an introvert, always had her nose buried in a book. She had a truckload of novels to read and barely had time for chit chats.
Days morphed into months and months into years, and July and Fervent were in their third year—their friendship still strong as ever.
The weather was unbearably hot one day and, the two friends sat down outside their room. It was dark with the Milky Way stretched across the sky with stars looking like small diamonds.
“July, you will follow me to my house, right? My parents would celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary and I want you to finally meet them. They can’t wait to meet my best friend and roommate,” Fervent enthused.
July turned to look at her friend. “You know, I have been looking forward to meeting your wonderful parents for a long time now.”
A few weeks later, on a Thursday afternoon, Fervent and July travelled to Abuja for the ceremony, which was to hold on Saturday. They had to go earlier so they would try the twin dresses Fervent’s mum had purchased for them.
They had seen a picture of the two gorgeous dresses, but they needed to be sure the dresses would fit.
July knew Fervent had wealthy parents, but it did not prepare her for what she saw: a white-colored gate with golden roses emblazon on it. White-tiled walls flanked the gate. They walked through a stretch of the driveway that had beautiful trees and flowers. The mansion, which was painted cream, had a porch with four beautiful chairs and a glittering chandelier hung lazily from the white ceiling.
“Wow!” was all July could say.
The scorching Abuja sun made the stifling heat unbearable. July didn’t want to follow Fervent and her mother to the mall because she wanted to sleep and enjoyed the air conditioning (AC)since they would return to school the next day. The celebration stretched to the late evening the previous day, and she was tired.
July needed both the rest and the AC.
She slept and was floating in the dream world when she felt a hand crawling under her dress. Before she could process what was happening, she felt a hand gag her and stifled her scream. She struggled and tried all she could, but the person was way stronger than her.
The act didn’t take up to four minutes, but it took a piece of her. July knew nothing would ever be the same for her again. She did not want Fervent to meet her like that. She used every ounce of her strength and cleaned up and put up a façade when Fervent and her mum returned. She didn’t want to cause a rift in the family.
Behind the veneer was a broken woman, and a secret crouched behind it. She could not form in words what actually happened that afternoon and so she tucked the memories far down her heart. Where no one would ever get to it.
Three months later, Fervent reminded July that she had not seen her buy, nor used any sanitary pad. July didn’t want to think of the possibility of what had happened. She waited until Fervent had gone out; she quickly bought a test strip and glared at the stick as if it was a human being when she saw the two pink lines taunting her.
July forged a lie about how she and her boyfriend, Jude, had had a quickie and she didn’t bother to tell Fervent because she was remorseful and had promised herself not to do so again.
Fervent was there for her friend when Jude broke up with July, when he realized she was pregnant. It was on Fervent’s shoulders that July wept, and Fervent said Jude was wicked for ditching her friend when he knew he was responsible for knocking her out.
If only she knew.
July had contemplated aborting the baby several times but was afraid of losing her life. She stayed away from home for a long time and was afraid to tell her parents. She was the firstborn and the only one in a university among her four siblings. Her parents wanted her to get a job and help to finance her three sibling’s education. Her parents were retired school teachers, who were still struggling financially. Unlike Fervent, who was the only child and had wealthy parents.
This news might kill her mum. She had let her family down. Her siblings had looked up to her. What would they think of her? She stayed back in the room they shared with Fervent during the semester break and told her parents that she needed to finish up some school work.
Studying with pregnancy was not a smooth path for July. There were times she felt like ending it all. Like taking her life and burying the whole drama under the sands of time.
Fervent was there for July from the day she discovered she was pregnant and tried to provide everything July needed with the monthly allowance she received from her parents. The measly allowance July got wouldn’t have done anything. Her aunty was transferred out of Jos, thankfully, and so, July had only Fervent to lean on when her life took a turn for the worse.
She swam alone in her past that forced its way into her future.
“Awwww…She is so adorable,”
Fervent’s voice startled July and brought her back to the present.
“I went home and made pepper soup for you when the midwife told me you needed to rest for a while. How are you?”
“Sore,” was all July said in a deadpan voice.
“What are your plans, July? We have to know what to do. You can’t hide this from your parent forever. You have successfully hidden it from them for the past nine months. Thank God for the distance between Jos and Lagos, but the school would soon be over and what will you tell them?”
July had put off this conversation for a long time, but knew time was running out and she needed to tackle it once and for all. “It’s a miracle my aunty was transferred from Jos and no on I know had seen me in the past nine months, but I can’t let my family down.”
How would July confess to her best friend the secret she had kept for nine miserable months?
How would she confess to her that the newborn was Fervent’s biological sister? That it was Fervent’s father who took advantage of her the day Fervent and her mum had left for the mall.
It happened so quickly that she would have thought she imagined it all if not for the fact that he took her innocence that day and left her broken both outside and inside?
Telling Fervent would bring an end to their relationship and drill a cavernous hole in Fervent’s family; she did not want to be responsible for that.
Fervent had believed Jude, who had graduated months earlier, was responsible for the pregnancy and hated him for putting her friend in the family way and abandoning her. July had stopped her from approaching him because she knew in her heart of hearts that Jude was innocent. She just couldn’t tell Fervent; July allowed her friend to wallow in ignorance.
July looked at the baby closely, when the baby’s minuscule fingers closed around hers and told her best friend that she would have named her after Fervent if she was keeping the baby, but she wasn’t because she had final exams to write and a future stretched before her.
She still wanted to feel a little love for the baby, but could not bring herself to do so. How could she love the child that was conceived out of betrayal? Fervent’s father betrayed his daughter by raping her best friend?
Could she love a child that wanted to snatch her future away from her? How would she graduate and help her sibling through school with a child?
She looked her friend in the eye, and couldn’t hold it anymore. An overwhelming storm of emotions swept over her. She broke down like a stack of cards and wept for all the secrets she had to bury in her heart because of her friend.
For Fervent for taking care of July, oblivious to the fact that she carried and birthed her sister. No rapist should be spared. Every rapist should be made the pay the price for their heinous act and should be made to face the full wrath of the law.
She will plot her revenge carefully and make her best friend’s father pay the price for what he did to her.
But for now, it was one secret she would take to her grave. She knew what she needed to do and she was going to do it fast.
She would give up the baby for adoption and pray never to set her eyes on the child again.