Looking through the window as she wondered what life held for her once this ordeal was over, Chinasa’s eyes filled with tears. “Why did life have a cruel twist every now and then?” She murmured to herself. Pressures from every side, none, not one seemed to understand her plight. “When will it be over?”
Her best memories are those she has from a long time ago, when she was just a little girl. Then everything was good and perfect, at least that was what she recalled. Though not very wealthy, they had had everything they needed and a few wants were satisfied too. Looking back over the years in her 24 year-old mind’s eye, Chinasa muttered, “When did it all go wrong?”
I can recall the day vividly as though it was being played like a movie before my eyes. I was struggling to catch up with my brothers as we played ‘catcher’, running from one end of the field in the compound to the other. Running as fast as my small legs would carry me. Mummy was inside preparing dinner. Suddenly, there was a loud knock on the gate. Oga Audu, the gateman came out from his duty post to answer as we halted the game in order to catch a glimpse of our visitor. I had stood, watching.
“Somebody has come to visit?” My eldest brother, Emeka had asked, for it was too early for Daddy to be home. On a good day, Daddy would be back from work by 6pm. As the gate was opened by Oga Audu, three men came in, two wore black shirts and trousers, and the third was in khaki trouser and a t-shirt.
“Those are Policemen,” Chibuike had whispered.
Though I never really heard what they told my Mummy that day, I knew it just couldn’t be good as she screamed loudly and began to cry, punctuating her wails with my Daddy’s name, Ndubuisi! An hour or so later, my Aunties were in the house: 2 of my Mum’s sisters, my Dad’s sister and a cousin. The children were sent outside to play, and we were seemingly forgotten. Mummy cried till we went to bed, after Aunty May gave us dinner. Strange as the events had been since the three visitors came calling, it did not occur to my 5-year old mind that this was a turning point in my life. From that day on, things were never the same.
Morning had brought more relatives and friends, some we knew, others we had never met before. Aunty May called us together in the boys’ room, and told us that our Dad had been in an accident the previous day and won’t be coming back as he had gone to heaven to stay with Grandma. I cried not because I really understood what she meant, but to my 5-year old mind, I knew that my Daddy not coming back home was not a good thing. Within two weeks, my Dad had been buried and it was time for life to go on.
Mummy had been a full time housewife, but now she had the task of providing for the family thrust upon her. Raising three children from ages 5-11 and running a home was tough on her. Though relatives had promised to be of help during the burial, there was no one when Mummy really needed them. Aunty May, Mummy’s elder sister was helpful, now and then. She would have us over for some weekends, so Mummy could rest. Mummy sold things from our garage in the evening, when she returned from work; a secretarial job she finally got after months of searching. Thus, we survived through primary and secondary schools.
School fees was paid for but at great cost to Mummy as she had refused to change our schools inspite of the enormous financial burden it placed on her. My siblings and I learned early to help Mummy once we were done with homework; from house chores to selling stuff in the garage.
Getting into the University had been a bit of a struggle in its own way for me. First my Mother refused to understand why I chose to study Law. “My daughter, why do you want to do this to me? Ehn! A lawyer finds it had to marry o! No man wants to marry women in that field o! Why not go for another course that won’t stress you?” she had asked.
From then on Mother would go on and on every day indicating her strong displeasure with my choice of profession. “Chuwkuemeka, Chibuike,” Mother would call my brothers over the phone, “Please talk to your sister o! I’ve talked and talked, this Law she wants to do, hmm…it’s not the best o!”
All the explanations I offered seemed to make no sense at all. Having missed the merit list, I had applied for the supplementary list; the process of waiting for the list of successful candidates seemed to take forever, and Mother’s constant nagging did nothing to help my wait.
Aunty May, was not the ally I had sought. “Nwam, my sis is right o! Men will feel threatened; she only wants what is best for you,” was her response to help talk to Mother to ease off on the constant nagging.
Where was God in all of this, I had mused. My safe haven was behind the doors of my room. Happily, I didn’t get to share with another sibling because I was the only girl. Sitting with my Bible on my bed, I had wondered, was I on the wrong path?
The list did come out, and my name was on it. Luckily, Mummy had Emeka help out with my fees as he now worked and lived in Lagos. Thus some of her financial burden was eased.
In the 5 years I was in the University I learnt how to juggle the housework [which never reduced] with my studies. Failure in either area was not allowed, for Mum had warned me about the course. Most mornings I woke up tired, and constantly looked towards Sunday when I got to sleep most of the day. The 5 years had their stories…
A year into my studies, life could not have been more beautiful for me. Having learnt to manage my time between my books and home chores, I had a bit of free time for me. Results from my 1st year were B’s and C’s, and Mummy happily told all who would sit long enough, how her ‘lawyer’ daughter was doing well at school. Chibuike was about to start his final year semester; he was studying English at the University of Port Harcourt.
I struggled to find my niche in the University. I had not yet chosen which fellowship I would attend while in school. I found the services at Shalom Students Fellowship nice, but they were pretty stiff in their doctrines: scarves must be worn, if you wore big earrings or jeans your level of spirituality was low, and most amusing was the way females where to relate with the males; a handshake was as far as the contact was to be. On the other hand Living Youths Fellowship seemed crafted just for me, though the youth wing of an orthodox church, yet I had to go some distance out of school. Mummy said to take my time and make the right choice. She had recently become a believer, and thus was pleased that I was taking seriously my relationship with God.
At school, I had another storyline being written. Suddenly a new concept called ‘missing scripts’ hit me.
“Young lady, it is not that you failed,” the Exams & Records Officer had explained, “But your exam script cannot be found, so it was recorded as F and you’ll have to write it again as a carryover course”.
“How?!” This was the million dollar question I never got a response to; just when everything seemed to be falling in place. “Dear God, what is this?”
Mum was sympathetic to my plight. “Nkem, Chi baby, don’t worry ehn, it is well,” she encouraged me. “Just continue to read and you’ll pass.” Looking at her face and noting that she seemed to be aging faster than her years, gave me the boost I needed to give my best.
Making friends was not an easy task, and not being an extrovert, I was happy to have Cindy and Dienye as friends. They made up for my reserved self with their zest for life which was quite contagious. I did everything with them, from reading to fellowship. They both lived on campus, while I came from home daily, spending nights on campus when expedient.
Then I met this guy Kane at the bank, while running an errand for Mummy. I was 19 and he was 22. We got talking as I stood on the queue waiting to carry out my transaction. With a lot of common interests, we fast became good friends. He was fun to hang out with, and a great story teller. My Mum was a bit apprehensive about his tribe; he was Kalabari. “Inter-tribal marriages are unnecessary problems you and I don’t need,” she advised me.
Being more active in fellowship in 3rd year carried a lot of responsibilities, and the adaptation was hard on all those I loved particularly Mummy who was home alone as Chibuike who had since graduated had moved to join Emeka in Lagos. I moved into the hostel on campus, and rarely went home for weekends as I always had programmes to attend. My Mummy could not understand this new found love I had.
“Chi-Chi we all love God,” she said, “School is for reading book not this active church thing you now do, don’t let it affect your studies o!” As we sat in the parlour and I explained the effect of serving in my fellowship executive. “Hmm, I am a believer too Chi but the way you are going about this thing… hmm, ok o.”
Cindy and Dienye encouraged me to maximise my time, so my education would not suffer. For Kane it was just: “If you had asked me. I would have said no, focus on your studies.”
“Chinasa, guess what?” Mum called to me as I prepared lunch one weekend I was able to go home.
“Shei you remember my friend Gloria?” Nodding, I turned to look in her direction. “The one that has the nursery school at Rumuogba?” she continued.
“Yes, I do; what happened to her?” I inquired.
“Her second daughter is getting married in two weeks’ time, she just sent the aso-ebi now,” my Mum said holding up the material for me to see.
“That’s nice, I replied,” turning to continue with my cooking.
“Hmm, is that all you can say?” She inquired, “Abi you don’t want me to give my friends aso-ebi?”
“Mummy you’ll give them, not just now,”
“Ok o! Don’t forget you are not getting younger, 21 is ripe for marriage o! You’re in your 4th year and would soon be done with University. Besides your Father’s relatives are asking me if I want to marry you o!”
Relatives of my Daddy, who had ‘disappeared’ after the burial, had begun to resurface since my 3rd year in the University. This was not for our good. Each time they came and went, Mummy would be depressed. Suddenly, they had remembered that their late brother had children, and one was working in a big city called Lagos. Hence, there was always one donation allocated to us for every event…from burial ceremonies of people we knew and did not know, to book launches and weddings. It bugged me a lot, because when we really needed them, they were nowhere.
With each visit they made, they seemed to take a piece of my Mummy with them. And in all of this, Mummy never seemed to see what they did as wrong. “It is our culture,” she would say, “besides they have been good to me, they did not stress me when your Father died.”
At least they hadn’t taken his property here in Port Harcourt from her, though they had since shared his property in Ugwachachi amongst themselves. This left me wondering, if they thought we would not need a place to come home to when we travelled to our village.
Two years down, my friendship with Kane made less sense and I sure was not ready for marriage anyway. Not with my plate full with studies, and fellowship activities. Out of the blues, his Mother realised that ‘the igbo’ girl he had dated for over 2 years, might not make the best wife. We disagreed over a number of issues; the main one on which I simply did not relent, was his opposition to my practise as a Legal Practitioner when I was through with school. What really did he think I went to do in school, if it was to just answer ‘lawyer’? Hard as I tried to make him understand that I won’t make the same mistake my Mummy did, he just didn’t get it.
Mummy had given up her career in banking to be a housewife full time, so when tragedy came calling at Daddy’s death, she had nothing to fall back on. Then there was the issue of wanting to be financially stable before I enter into marriage. For one can never tell what the next day will bring.
Turning from the window, Chinasa sighed deeply. Now pressures on Mummy for me to get married are mounting as my Daddy’s relatives won’t just let us be. Why are they not asking Emeka and Chibuike to get married? “Women are supposed to marry early, a man can marry anytime,” is the favourite response I always get. Yet there are the unresolved troubles from my University which has kept me at home from law school for two years running; neither have I gone for National Youth Service, as the same school is yet to send my name. On another hand, I am back in the market, as Kane and I parted ways a few months ago, after four and a half years.
Looking into my future, I see brightness, but the road is laden with obstacles with little extras for the women folk. All I want is the best, so I can give my Mummy back the years she lost struggling on her own with 3 children. Surely that is not too much to ask for.
© 2013, Oghale Otokunefor. All rights reserved.