FREE TO EXHALE

My mind wandered back to the first time I caught him. It looks like yesterday now, but it’s been a while. Back then, I don’t know how I survived, but I remember thinking, I saw him again today. What am I going to do? I love this man, but I also hate him for what he’s doing. Who do I tell?” How can I say to people this is what my spouse is doing? My husband, my lover, my father, my friend, the only man who ever took any interest in me. What am I going to do? My name is AB, and this is my story.

CHAPTER 1- FREEDOM

Perhaps the first thing I should say is that freedom for me came at a price too high. I sometimes wonder if I would have been better off without it? But stepping out onto the balcony that dawn in New York City, listening to the birds’ chirp and the quiet noise of cars in the distance as the early morning crisp wind brushed against my face. I couldn’t help but enjoy the feeling of unexplainable joy that suddenly filled my heart. A feeling I never thought I would experience again. And as my mind went back to how we got here, the fear melted away, no longer a prisoner to it. That’s when I realized my children and I were going to be fine. I could already see the new turn in our lives and for the first time in a long time, I was free to exhale. 

 

Moments later, sitting outside the lovely home of our host, my thoughts shifted to our guardian angel, and I smiled as I Allowed the feeling of freedom to take over and knew that God must have been watching over us. My mind wandered back to the first time I caught him. It seems like yesterday now, but it’s been a while. Back then, I don’t know how I survived, but I remember thinking, “I saw him again today. What am I going to do? I love this man, but I also hate him for what he’s doing. Who do I tell?” How can I say to people this is what my husband is doing? My husband, my lover, my father, my friend, the only man who ever took any interest in me. What am I going to do?” My name is AB, and this is my story.

 

CHAPTER 2- ROYAL GIFT 

  The funny thing is, I wasn’t born into poverty or enslavement. I was born into royalty, opulence and love. Into a privileged life when my mum had me at 18, right after they gifted her as a fourth wife to her village king. I still remember all the stories my grandmother told me. 

When my mother was born, her parents couldn’t believe God finally answered their prayers. Having tried for years to have a child, with no success and just when they were giving up hope of ever having one; she arrived. They vowed to give her the best life they could afford, and they did. This was despite her father being a local chief and her mum a petty trader with a paltry income.  Notwithstanding their financial situation, growing up, my mum lacked for nothing. Clothes, the finest beads they could afford, and care and attention she sometimes found overbearing. But as she grew older, her parents realized she couldn’t be with them forever, and would soon go off and get married. As a result, they wanted a man who would take good care of her and was wealthy enough to give her the good things of life they couldn’t.

Therefore, when the time came for my mother to be married, a few suitors came along to ask for her hand in marriage. Some, her parents felt, were mature but not wealthy, others were wealthy but considered immature. So when the King of their village showed an interest in marrying my mum as his 4th wife, her parents didn’t think twice before giving the king’s request their blessing. In her village, a young girl gifted to a king or any member of the royal family was a privilege, bringing wealth, fame and fortune to her family. Unlike most girls her age who ended up being married off to poor farmers and spent their lives slaving for the men.

As for my mum, she didn’t mind that she was going to be married off to a man as old as her grandfather since her parents had outlined the benefits of marrying the king. The king had promised that once my mum became his wife and subsequently gave birth to a female child, he would give her everything she ever wanted. This included the promise to buy her a house in the city. And to confirm this, a few months before the traditional marriage, the king gave her parents a lot of money to go to the city, shop for my mother and scout around for a house my mum liked.

Two months later, just before noon on the day of the traditional wedding, the King’s entourage arrived at my grandfather’s compound with lots of fanfare. Led by sixteen males, ranging from the age of 7 to 48, all dressed in long flowing white gowns with blue damask caps, followed by ten chiefs. Behind them came the king, in a blue flowing gown with royal beads and a gold crown, walking majestically as his servants struggled to keep up with him while using a giant feather fan to keep the flies away. After which came The King’s three wives dressed in the same colours as the king, and behind them, female servants carrying many food items, cloth materials and money for the bride’s family. My grandmother said that day our family was the envy of the village. The other villagers gathered around our compound had their mouths agape and she could hear them gasp and pray under their breaths, wishing their daughters could also marry into royalty.

I remember my grandmother also mentioned that when my mum found out the sixteen males on the king’s entourage were his sons, she almost changed her mind about marrying him. And for the first time since the marriage discussions began, she had second thoughts despite all the promises of riches. She told my grandmother she wasn’t sure she could live with all these stern-looking men. But to put her mind at rest, my grandfather told her everything was going to be fine. Besides, he reassured her that the Sons didn’t all live in the palace. Most of them are married and living with their families or working in the city. Apart from that he reminded her of the King’s promise to buy her a house once she had a daughter for him, which he knew she would have. At that point, she will no longer have to live in the palace, he concluded.

That day, after the traditional wedding, my mum moved into the palace with the King, his three wives and the seven sons who still lived in the palace. As soon as she did, the king didn’t spare any expenses on her. She enjoyed a life of luxury. Gold, fancy clothes, maids and servants, all at my mum’s disposal all day long. The king took every opportunity to refer to her as the apple of his eyes. All in the name of believing she will be the one to give him a daughter. Soon after, my mum found out she was pregnant and ten months after the wedding, she gave birth. It overjoyed the king when I turned out to be a girl; he named me Abigael, AB, for short, after his beloved mother. And as promised, he bought my mum a house of her choosing in the city and furnished it lavishly. Then he moved in with her permanently. This was contrary to the tradition that expected the king to live in the palace and spend equal time between his wives. But he didn’t care that he was flaunting tradition. All he cared about was me, his daughter, AB. I was the only girl of his seventeen children and he had waited for me forever. Hence, he believed my mother deserved everything he did for her for finally giving him his heart’s desire.

Unfortunately, his action brought consequences for my mum from the other wives and children. They noticed the king’s obsession with my mother. Lavished her with more gifts than them, took her away from the palace, and always accompanied him on trips instead of alternating it between his wives. They realised he loved her more than them as he also spent four days of the week with my mum and the other three days he divided one day each amongst the other wives. As expected, they were unhappy with this development. Felt it was unfair for the king to neglect them when they already had sixteen boys between them. This was from trying and hoping to give the king the daughter he so desperately wanted.

Subsequently, the other wives took every opportunity to berate my mum. It got worse when every time she visited the palace, the other wives treated her like a leper. Refusing to sit with her, and barely acknowledged her greetings. They were envious that my mum, although the last wife, was the King’s favourite. Especially because the King had always said the woman who gave him a daughter representing his reincarnated mother owned his heart. Soon the intimidation and abuse from the other wives got intense and my mum got scared and pointed it out to the King. But he just laughed it off and asked her to ignore them. Reassuring her, she was his favourite and would always be the priority because she had given him me. Which to him made her his jewel of inestimable value, and she deserved everything he gave her. 

 

CHAPTER 3-NOT A BED OF ROSES

My mum soon realised that being married to the King would not be a bed of roses as she previously thought. As was the case, the king could only protect her to an extent. She still had to deal with his family, who gave her trouble from two angles: The wives berated her, and the princes hated her. Although most of the princes had moved out of the palace, married or gone off to university, seven of them remained in the palace. Who were in secondary school, just finished, waiting to get into university or dropped out of school.

One Prince in particular Dave was the worst of all the kings’ children. A dropout, who didn’t finish primary school until he was 13 because he kept having to repeat classes. By 17 he was a terror, everyone feared him. Soon the king got fed up with Dave and his lack of interest in education and sent him to be an apprentice to a well-known commercial driver, who plied the town to the city route, but he ended up being expelled for insubordination. Despite all the king’s efforts to make Dave successful, he remained unruly and a bully. Unfortunately for my mum, he was the one who picked on her. First, because they were the same age when she married his father, to him that meant she was on his level. Second, he considered himself the saviour of the other children and wives. He constantly said to anyone who cared to listen, “If they wouldn’t do anything about the king’s favouritism for his 4th wife, I will”. 

On this fateful day, Dave took it upon himself to follow the king into the city to find out where my mother lived. Until that day, the king made sure no one knew where she lived. His worry stemmed from the fact that if they did, they might go to her house and harass her. Therefore, he drove himself to her house without guards or a driver. One night, a day before he was due to visit my mum, Dave, snuck into the king’s car boot. The next morning the King, not realising Dave was hiding in the trunk of his car, drove to see my mum in the city. Once he got there, parked the car and went in, Dave came out of the trunk. Then stood outside and screamed my mum’s name several times. This brought the king and my mum outside and before the King could question Dave about how he found the house and what he was doing there, Dave yelled. “Father, how could you do this? You buy this big house for one woman and a tiny baby and 20 of us have to squeeze into one palace in the village….” He would have gone on but the king, by now obviously furious, yelled at him to leave or he would disown him. At that point, Dave carried out one last act. He. He picked up a stone and threw it at my mum’s car, smashing the windscreen before he ran off. 

Dave went back to the village to describe the life of opulence the king had given my mother, all because she had a girl child for him. As expected, the news only intensified the hatred, the other wives felt toward her. They even threatened that they would take back all the king gave her. But their plans had to be on hold because my mum had the king’s full protection.

 Unfortunately, despite significant efforts life had its own plans. It didn’t take too long before fate intervened. The king took ill and died after a brief illness without leaving a will. This was devastating for my mother on so many levels. First, she became a widow at a young age. Second, she lost the man who loved her so much and thirdly; she lost out on being set up for life, as the king was buying her a shopping mall in the city to secure our future. 

As soon as the announcement of the king’s passing got to my mother, she contacted the lawyer handling the sale. But sadly, said he couldn’t proceed with the purchase without the king’s consent and so she lost out on a piece of property that would have guaranteed both our futures. That’s precisely when our troubles really began.  

CHAPTER 4- RICHES TO RAGS

Trouble reared its ugly head barely a week after the King’s demise. As with tradition, for forty days after his burial, his wives must isolate to moan his death. For this period they are required to stay together in the same room receiving no visitors. However, this presented a problem. The other wives refused to stay in the same room as my mum for mourning, no matter what tradition said. They called her a traitor and accused her of monopolising the king’s affection and deprived them of his love when he was alive. 

The elders and chiefs of the village convened to try sorting it out. But eventually, from the other wives’ hostility, the elders realised isolating my mum in the same room with them could jeopardise her life. So she was permitted to mourn the King’s passing alone in an adjoining room. Second, while the wives were in isolation, the adult male children of the king, instigated by Dave, decided since my mother no longer had the King’s protection, it was time to put their plan into action to recover all the king had given her including the apartment, the car and jewellery. 

Eventually, the forty days of mourning ended and my mum returned to the safety of her house. After all, that was the only place she felt safe and, with the hostility of the other wives towards her, she believed the house would also be our only inheritance. But she was wrong. That night, ten hooded men invaded the house. They had matchets and clubs. Threatened to kill my mum and me if she didn’t hand over all her possessions; jewellery, the key to the jeep and the title deeds to the house. At that instance, my mum didn’t know what to do. The only one she could rely on for protection was the king, and he was dead. So fearing for our lives, she consented to their request, even though she recognised a few of their voices including Dave’s and knew the hooded men were the king’s sons. But without the King’s support, there was nothing she could do. And with no option to go back to the palace, we went back to her parent’s house in the village.

Arriving back at her parents in the village with me in tow made my grandparents very upset. Mainly because their good fortune of being the King’s in-law dashed impromptu. As soon as my mum had married the king, my grandfather didn’t have to go to the farm. From the monthly allowance he received from the palace, he paid labourers to do the farm work. And if my mum was allowed to stay in the palace after the King’s demise, her share of the inheritance would still afford my grandparents a life of luxury. But after a few days, my grandparent’s state of mind moved from disappointment to understanding, once they had time to ponder over the consequences of the death threat hanging over our heads. Realising it wasn’t my mum’s fault, they became more concerned about how their livelihood and hers would continue. 

 

Subsequently, to avoid village gossip about her situation, they encouraged my mum to leave me with them and go get a wealthy man that could continue from where the king stopped. For my mum, her parent’s suggestion to leave me behind seemed like a good idea. it would be easier to find a job and a new husband without having to worry about taking care of me or explaining to the new husband. Fortunately, the king had given her a lot of money while he was alive, which she had saved in a bank account and not the house. Otherwise, the princes would have confiscated it with the rest of her possessions. So she took her parents’ advice, went to the city first to find a job and then a husband. 

On getting to the city, she realised few companies employ non-graduates for office work. But after several rejections, she finally found one employer who gave her a chance. Shortly after she started work in the company, her new boss asked her out on a date. One thing led to another. He proposed and my mum accepted. The Boss had lost his wife of three years when she died in a car accident before they could have children and since then he had not remarried. 

A couple of months later, my mum came back to the village to give my grandparents the good news. She told them he was mature, kind, and wealthy. This made them thrilled as he fitted perfectly into my mum’s and my grandparent’s idea of a suitable husband. One slight problem though, I was in the picture, something my mum neglected to tell her new husband to be. 

 

CHAPTER 5- ERASED AND HAPPY TIMES

It took a few weeks, but the day for introductions finally arrived. Before then, my grandparents had put my mum’s mind at ease that I won’t be a problem. Their plan already hatched. My grandparents conveniently got a neighbour to take me to the market with her. The idea was not to tell the prospective new husband and his family that my mum had already had a child. If found out, the husband’s family would most likely call off the wedding. Because back then, the most eligible bachelors would seldom ever want to marry a single mother. Referred to as used, second hand with baggage. Neither would they want to raise someone else’s child when there were so many single ladies waiting to be married. As a result, they erased me from my mum’s life like I never existed. It must have been easy for them because the new husband’s family came from a different village, and would not know my mum married the previous King, regardless of having a daughter for him. 

Introductions were done, and they fixed a date for the traditional wedding. And on the wedding day, they again erased and conveniently took me away from my grandparent’s house. My mother’s choice of husband thrilled my grandparents. He was well mannered and generous, like she said. On the day of the traditional marriage, he came with 13 of his relatives and a Hilux pickup truck full of goodies and left a tidy sum of money behind. That same evening, my mum left me in the village with my grandparents while she moved to the city with her new husband. Of course, from that point on to my mum and her new husband, I didn’t exist. 

I was three years old when my mum abandoned me with my grandparents. Too young to realise my life had changed from what I had in my father’s palace. And when I was old enough to be told my father’s stories of how I was born into opulence and was his favourite, I barely remembered anything that happened to me back then. All I remembered was the hardship I was experiencing. However, there was a silver lining to my childhood memory. Happier times a couple of years after my mum left. 

 I must have been five or six years old when my grandparents would take me to their farm for the weekend. They had a small hut as a meeting point for all farmers in the area. I remember arriving at the hut in the evening with my grandmother when the sun was just going down. Beautiful and serene, with a slim river running right behind it. We usually had our baths in the river and grandmother would give me a good scrub with black soap and a sponge, and then she would take her bath as well. After that, we get the dinner ready. 

Dinner mostly comprised roasted yam and pepper sauce. My grandfather kept stacks of yam in the hut, so my grandmother and I would take a few down to the river, and wash the sand off them. Then she cut them into small pieces and left them in water. After that, we will take a basket and walk around the hut, picking tomatoes and pepper off their branches. She had a stone mill where she would grind them all together. Later, make a fire with firewood, put a pan on the fire and pour in some palm oil, and locust beans and fry the pepper in it to make a sauce. On the side, layout the yam and roast them all. My job was to keep the flames burning, so I would sit next to the fire with eyes watery from the sting of the smoke and use my raffia fan to keep the flames going until all the yam roasted. 

Just before the sun finally disappears, the farmers will arrive one at a time, each bringing something for the evening meal. Roasted bush meat, palm wine, fruit and fresh roasted corn were among their contributions. It was always a large feast. Before you know it, between twelve or fifteen of them will sit around the fire with my grandfather eating and my grandmother and I would sit close by eating and watching them eat, dance, sing. Their stories were so fascinating, and the more I listened and struggled to stay awake, the drowsy I would get until I finally fell asleep. Soon everyone will be asleep outside under the stars and the next day the merriments will start all over again. Usually, it lasts for an entire month twice a year. I remember looking forward to it, as I got to swim in the river, sleep outside under the stars and watch grown men sing, dance and listen to all their stories. But once my grandparents got too weak to walk the distance to the farm, the hut slowly degraded and became a place to store farm tools.

 

CHAPTER 6-ADULT CHILD 

Few children can say this, but my mum ended my childhood before it began. And it all happened like this; The first year my mum got remarried, she came back three times to visit us in the village. She brought food and money and spent the night. The following year, she came back twice. But by the third year, her visits suddenly stopped with no explanation. Instead, she sent money for our upkeep through the commercial drivers who plied the village /city route. That lasted for another year before she stopped getting in touch altogether. My grandparents waited and waited, but nothing came. Even wrote letters to the address she had originally given, but no replies came either. Then, desperate to get in touch with my mum, they enlisted help from one of the commercial drivers she had sent to us, asking him to please check up on my mum at her address. 

Unfortunately, he came back to inform them my mum and her husband moved from that address years ago and no one in the neighbourhood knew where they went. So since there was no means of communicating with my mum to keep sending money to augment our upkeep, all my grandparents could do was wait and pray that she would turn up soon. But that meant extra work for me.

My grandparents were very weak at that point and did their best, but soon got weaker and weaker. Faster for my grandfather, who soon could barely walk a few steps without him running out of breath. When my mum sent money, he could still pay for labourers to plant and harvest his crops. But once the money coming from my mum stopped and he couldn’t afford to pay labourers, the lot fell on me to ensure that we had enough to survive. In short, I had to take care of them at an age when I was barely old enough to take care of myself. As a result, I became an adult child, and they became my responsibility.

Before then, my grandparents had kept me at home, refusing to enrol me in school like other children of my age. At seven, they finally enrolled me in primary school. I should have started a year or two earlier, but they felt school was no use to me since I would end up being a farmer’s wife. Luckily, a non-profit organisation whose mission was to make sure the female child had an education convinced my grandparent’s school was the best place for me. 

At that tender age, my life became a life of work and no play. Every day after school, I go with a neighbour to the farm or with my grandmother when she could manage. My role was to help harvest the crops my grandfather’s labourers had planted and later the ones I had planted. Once back home, I washed and packed them to wait for the next market day, when my grandmother and I walked two miles to the wholesale market to sell the crops. 

This manual labour took its toll on me, both physically and mentally. Tired always and nodding off at school and when I was home, I sometimes sat on my mat at night wondering why I couldn’t play like children my age. Once I asked my grandparents the same question and my grandmother said,” The devil finds work for idle hands. You need to work, so we can eat.” with that said, I accepted my fate and settled into my reality.

By the time I was 12 years old, by now my grandmother could no longer walk the distance to the farm or market. I was going to the farm and the monthly market on my own. Since no money was coming from my mum, I had to work extra hard to get us money to survive. I couldn’t really do a lot regarding the planting, so my grandfather solicited help from his fellow farmers and they would take turns to help with the planting of Yam and corn at the beginning of the season, but the responsibility of weeding and tilling fell on me. And because of the size of the farm, it took me a long time to go through it all. Through all this, my education suffered.

 Besides the farm work and the market runs, I had to do all the chores at home, which meant I only had nights to catch up on schoolwork. Schoolwork for me was tedious. All my age mates were already in secondary school at eleven. At that point, I was just getting ready to finish primary school. At some point, I wanted to give up and stop school, but being gifted, my teachers encouraged me not to drop out. But before long, all the combinations of farm work, trading, and schooling took a toll on me. 

Tired and frustrated most of the time, I couldn’t understand why my mother would not want me. My grandparents made excuses for her all the time. To make matters worse, I wasn’t like other girls my age. I didn’t have friends, and nor did I get invited to take part in the social gatherings or groups they formed. Usually, on my way from the farm or market, I would watch as the dance groups performed or the girls in the singing group practised and it saddened me I wasn’t part of them. And I would remember what my grandmother said about the devil finding work for ideal hands and the fact that I needed to work or else we wouldn’t eat. But despite the way I felt, I didn’t blame my grandparents for making me do all the work and never have a normal life. After all, they did their best. However, I blamed my mother, who erased me from her life. How she could leave me and never look back astounded me. Years passed, and we didn’t hear from my mum. And did not know where she lived or how to get in touch with her. So I kept taking care of my grandparents as best I could as the years rolled along. 

 

CHAPTER 7-HOPE 

Then one day, just before my final exams in secondary school, my headteacher called me and asked me where my parents were. Replying honestly that my father died and my mother was somewhere I did not know. Requesting to meet my guardians, I told her they were too sick to come to the school. It surprised her ‌I had not paid my exam fees and also that I seemed more interested in farm work than schoolwork and advised me to make a choice, school or farm. Because my final exams were coming up and based on my mock exam scores, I would most likely not make it. Reiterating the fact that I was smart, but recently my grades have suffered. She had high hopes for me and that’s why I got a double promotion in year three. But now I need to consider my future. I thanked her and left.

That day, on my way home from school, I decided. Since I couldn’t afford to pay the exam fees and I needed to focus all my energy on farming and taking care of my grandparents,  I stopped schooling. However, held onto the hope that one day I would reunite with my mother and my schooling would continue. At that point, with no distractions, no money. problems and no worries, I would have good grades again. Then one weekend, as God would have it, a glimpse of hope appeared. 

That day was a Saturday. just returning from the weekly market, when a woman came to visit my grandparents. She walked into our compound carrying a black plastic bag of fruit in hand; greeted them familiarly and extended that greeting to me. Then, offered a seat and a drink of cold water, she excitedly told us she saw my mum in the city. 

 Mabel, as my grandparent referred to her, was an old friend of my mum. Attended the village secondary school together but lost touch when my mum married the king. Mabel told my grandparents she moved to the city some years ago and about a month ago, she had gone to her salon to get her hair done when she ran into my mum. They exchanged pleasantries and my mum gave Mabel her home address. When Mabel visited my mum, she asked when was the last time she saw us and from the things my mum said; she knew my mum had not been in touch with us for a while. At that point, I could tell from my grandparents’ countenance that it did not surprise them to hear what Mabel said, that to her it seemed like my mum had intentionally cut us off. But said nothing to Mabel as she continued to say my mum was rich, had a brand new car and from her house, clothes and jewellery, she could tell my mum lived an affluent life. 

Sitting there, as I listened to Mabel’s narration, not minding my grandparent’s reaction to what Mabel was saying, I allowed my imagination to run wild. My mum was rich; that meant her house would be big and have many rooms. She would also have money to take care of me. I could go live with her, leave behind all this suffering. Even get to ride in her car and wear nice clothes. All my hardship will finally end, I thought. Before Mabel suddenly jolted me out of my daydreaming by calling out my name to say she was leaving. She got up, handed my grandfather a piece of paper with my mum’s address, and added, “In case you need to get in touch papa”. She also handed them the bag of fruit and some money. Then took a picture of us with her phone and said she will send it to my mum. My grandparents and I thanked her, and she left. 

 That day after Mabel left, all I could think was, thank God, at last, I can live with my mum. Even though I knew my grandparents would not give me their blessing, I overheard my grandfather tell my grandmother for the umpteenth time that my mum was dead to them and she could hold on to her money for all he cared. This was just before he crumbled the paper with the address and put it in his coat pocket. I didn’t care. At that point, how my grandparents felt about my mum for abandoning us was irrelevant to me. Yes, I know they took care of me, but I had been taking care of them longer than they did me and I wanted a different life. All I knew was that my mum was well and rich and I had to be reunited with her. Nothing was going to stop me. But one thing was sure, I needed that address. 

 I knew my mum’s address was in my grandfather’s coat pocket. These complicated things. My grandfather’s old coat was his protective charm, and he hardly ever took it off. According to stories he told me about the coat, a white missionary had given it to my great grandfather when he worked for him. And on the day neighbouring warriors invaded our village, they shot an arrow at my great grandfather, who had the coat on‌. The coat was so thick it prevented the arrow from penetrating through and perforating his stomach. So it became my great grandfather’s protection. When he died, he passed it on to my grandfather with the story of how it protects from evil. As a result, my grandfather never took it off unless he wanted to have a bath or for the once in three months wash my grandmother gave it.

 

CHAPTER 8-OPPORTUNITY

Opportunity comes but once and time goes fast when you have hope. And the hope of knowing I was surely going to see my mother soon made me more determined. All I had to do was wait for an opportunity to carry out the plan to get into my grandfather’s coat and retrieve my mum’s address. Once retrieved, I knew he won’t notice, because I couldn’t copy the address and replace it before the coat is back with him. It didn’t matter thou, because he forgot things all the time. 

To retrieve the address, I had two options. First, when my grandfather took off his coat to have a bath. Second, when my grandmother got the coat washed. Getting the coat from the bathroom would not be possible because my grandfather took it off once he got into the bathroom and I couldn’t get in there with him. Alternatively, intercepting it when my Grandmother took it away from him to be washed. That’s where the opportunity lied for me to get the address from his pocket.

So I waited, knowing my grandmother always chooses the last Friday of the month to wash the coat. That’s the day she fried her cassava and gathered starch from it. The starch extracts would then soak the coat after she washed it. My grandfather liked the coat starched because he believed it would replenish the thickness of the old worn-out coat, which to him will ensure he stayed protected. So my plan was to offer to help soak the coat in the starch, while my grandmother took a rest. Usually, at the time she soaks the coat, I am somewhere else sewing the bags together for the ready-made cassava flakes. But this time I planned to sew the bags the night before, which will free me up to help her soak the coat and fry the cassava the next day. 

The Friday of the last week in the following month finally arrived. Cooked dinner for us as usual and with no reading or homework to do, since I dropped out of school. I retired to my room with the ten strips of raffia to sew the five sacks needed for my grandmother’s cassava flakes. By 5 am, I was done. Quickly had a one hour nap and then dragged myself out of bed to do my chores and make breakfast before I went to the farm. Coming back from the farm around 3 pm that Friday afternoon, my grandmother was sitting with her cassava and separating the starch. I started dinner and waited in anticipation for her to go collect the coat from my grandfather. Soon, she went inside, and I took that opportunity to prepare the basin for soaking the coat. Once she brought the coat out. I offered to help soak it just before she checked the pockets.

 At first, she was hesitant, knowing how protective my grandfather was of the coat. But when I convinced her I would handle it with care and she could put up her feet and watch me, she agreed. So she handed me the coat, and I turned away slightly to search the pockets. My hands felt a piece of paper in the left coat pocket. Picked it up, put my hand in a fist and brought my hand out, pretending the pocket was empty. I had to do all that to give the impression nothing was in my pocket. If she knew I found something, she would take it off me, wrap it in a handkerchief and keep it in her bra. The coat washed and dried, she would replace it and take it back to my grandfather. At no time would the chain of custody leave my grandmother and grandfather. And that meant I would have to wait another three months to get my hands on the address. The time I could not afford. As I could already see myself living with my mum.

So, hiding it in my hand, I placed the piece of paper in my wrapper edge, tucked it in properly and went back to soaking the coat. It wasn’t until the end, and my grandmother said, “Thank you”, without asking about what I found in the pocket, did I take a sigh of relief. Now armed with the address, the next step was to enquire how much it will cost to take a bus to the city and start saving for the trip by taking on extra work. And once I had enough money, it won’t be long until reunion with my mum.

 

CHAPTER 9- NOW OR NEVER

Unfortunately, another year went by before the opportunity arose; before then, I had some savings but from enquiries; I knew it wasn’t nearly enough to pay for my bus fare to the city to live with my mum. So I had to work longer and take on extra work to make it up. Therefore, I grew lots of vegetables and pepper alongside my grandparent’s crops. Sold my grandparent’s cassava flakes, yam and corn and also my vegetables and pepper. In addition, I took on extra work by helping the village women fry their cassava flakes for extra money and eventually, after thirteen months of extra work and saving every penny, I finally had enough for a one-way fare to the city. Glad the time had come, and I was finally going to see my mum. But I still had to sneak away from my grandparents. For me, that was the hardest part. 

As far back as I could remember, my grandparents were the only family who cared for me and now they relied on me for everything. By now, my grandfather had been ill for a while and he had difficulty moving or doing anything. And as for my grandmother, who could still fry her own cassava a year ago with no help, had deteriorated. This led to her getting our neighbour’s daughter, Nancy, to help occasionally. Nancy was a childless widow who lost her husband to a sudden illness three years ago. And since then, no suitor wanted to marry her, even though she was just 27 years old. They believed she was barren. “She must be barren, after all. Married for five years with no child before her husband died,” they all said. 

As for Nancy, she needed an outlet. She wanted to feel wanted, so helping my grandparents was one way to spend her time. In fact, she was God sent because I don’t know how I would have coped without her help. While I went to the farm and the market to sell the crops, she helped my grandmother fry her cassava. Sometimes she would make dinner before I get back from my extra job, or wash my grandparent’s clothes.

Knowing Nancy will be there to help my grandparents made me feel better about leaving them. I confided in her about my plans. But not until the evening of the day before I was embarking on the journey, in case she suddenly had a crisis of conscience and told my plan to my grandparents. And to my surprise, when I told Nancy I was going away to find my mum but couldn’t tell my grandparents, her response was not what I expected. She looked right into my eyes, smiled and said, “AB, my little sister, you are seventeen now, young and ready to start a new life. Please make a life for yourself. This village kills me off bit by bit every day. If I knew what I know now before I married my husband the farmer, I would have run away with my best friend to the city after we finished secondary school. But I was a good girl, trying to be obedient and do my parents’ wishes. They had promised me to a farmer twenty years older than me and I believed I had no choice. Now my best friend who successfully ran away is married to a rich trader and I am a widow condemned to a life of loneliness. I would not tell your grandparents where you went and don’t worry, I would take good care of them for you”.

 When she finished, I could barely contain myself. Was expecting a lecture on responsibility and all, but instead, got encouragement and support. Tears of joy rolled down my eyes. I grabbed her hands and said my goodbyes. As we hugged, I reassured her. And that I would send her money once I settled down with my mum. We disengaged, and I ran back home to complete my escape. With my homework done at the market, I knew which bus went to the city, how much it cost, what time it took off and how long the journey was? Also discovered there were two bus routes. Buses that left our village stopped at four other villages before arriving in the city the next day. Eager to be with my mum, I didn’t want to wait. So I chose the other alternative bus that didn’t depart from our village but arrived in the city on the same day. To get on one of those buses between 6 and 8am, I had to travel 3 miles to the 4th village. I could take a motorbike there, but that would mean extra money I didn’t have. 

In addition, I found out the journey would last just 7 hours. The shorter journey had one stopover for a toilet and a lunch break. I didn’t have enough for lunch, which meant packing something to eat. Not just that, they described the city as terrifying. “A hundred times larger than the village, people moving around and cars driving fast”. “Look properly before you cross the road or you could get hit by one.” One of the market women said. Another added, “if you forget yourself for a minute, you might get kidnapped.”

Despite all their scary advice, I kept listening. Luckily, one of the other market women advised me to write out my mum’s address on a sheet of clean paper. And once I get off the bus, look around for a woman with a friendly face, approach her and ask for directions. “You might be lucky she gives you the right directions because people in the city lie too much”, she added.

Armed with all the information needed and determined to go to the city, I got ready for my trip. The night before, I packed a few clothes into a small raffia bag, took a loaf of bread and some dried fish and put it in the bag and went to see Nancy. Got back from seeing her and went to my grandparent’s room to say goodnight, wishing I could add “Bye for now,“ to my greetings and explain why I needed to go. Then went back to my bedroom to wait until sunrise.

At first, the excitement kept me awake. Laying there imagining what it would be like finally seeing my mother again after so long and actually living with her. Didn’t know when I eventually dozed off, until suddenly, the cock’s crow woke me up. Looked outside; the sun was slightly peeking through the darkness; it was dawn and time to go. The house was quiet and so was the front path. I got my stuff, opened the front door, looked left and right, and ran. Kept running for about ten minutes before stopping to catch my breath and look back to make sure no one was following me. 

Rested for a while, then picked up running again. All my thoughts centred on not missing the bus. Having planned this for over a year, I would let nothing stop me. As I ran, I kept glancing at the sky. Didn’t have a watch or phone, but I was good at telling the time with the position of the rising and going down of the sun. And as it rose and got brighter, I knew I didn’t have long before the bus took off. 

Fortunately, I got to the bus garage just before sunrise and the bus was still waiting for 2 more passengers. A few minutes later, the last passenger arrived and at 8.00 am the bus engines came to life and we started the journey. Until that minute, scared, I felt someone would come and pull me off the bus because my grandparents were looking for me. But thankfully, when that didn’t happen, I allowed myself to relax and felt a great sense of relief as the bus slowly sped up along the dusty road towards the expressway leading to the city. I was finally on my way. So I sat back and thought of all the things I would say to my mother when I finally saw her.

CHAPTER 10- RECONNECTING

For years, I had imagined this glorious day when I would finally get on a bus and be on my way to live with my mum. So despite the long and uncomfortable situation on the bus, squashed like a fish in a can of sardine, I remained in high spirits. The bus, designed to sit three people at the back, four in the middle and one in front, was instead rammed, with four of us at the back, five in the middle and two in front. Guess the driver, in his wisdom and greediness, wasn’t thinking of his passenger’s comfort. Anyway, all those were minor issues that couldn’t affect the excitement I felt. For me, the most important thing was that I was finally leaving poverty and suffering behind, to live a life of riches and enjoyment with my mum. 

And as I sat there squashed between an obese lady, who kept using her elbow to hit me in the stomach, and a lanky man who snored all the way. I knew I could endure anything As long as it led me to my mother. Sitting on that bus, my mind wandered to the moment I would see my mother, how I would react, and what she would say to me. I imagined her hugging and kissing me, asking her many servants to show me to a beautiful bedroom, give me a bath and dress me in nice clothes and ultimately introduce me to all her friends. But just as the daydreaming was getting interesting, the bus stopped, and the driver announced we were at the rest stop for 30 minutes to eat and use the toilets. At that point, all the passengers alighted and went into the different food kiosks littering the rest stop, but I, not having extra money to buy food, found a tree trunk and sat down to eat. 

The dried fish and bread I packed, as the market women had advised, served as my rest stop meal. Sat alone eating and watched the several buses arrive and let out their human cargo. Later on, reload and drive off. Equally noticed as one bus left, two more pulled into the rest stop to take its place. The rest stop wasn’t fantastic, a row of 3 toilets and about ten food kiosks scattered around, that was all. But they sure had a lot of customers. I finished my food and walked around to see what was going on inside the kiosk and used the toilet. Kiosks filled up with people, all sold cassava flour, local rice, fried plantain and pounded yam. The difference was the soups they provided. Some specialized in soups from the eastern part and some from the north and south. No matter which part of the country you originated from; they were more than able to provide for your palate.

Thirty minutes later, our bus driver hooted his horn. All his passengers filed out of the kiosks and got back on the bus taking their seats exactly the way they arrived. The journey began again. By now exhausted, I dozed off. A couple of hours later, waking up, and my head was resting on the fat lady’s shoulders. Apologising quickly, I was grateful I didn’t complain about her roving elbow. She was nice, smiled at me and she asked me not to worry about resting on her. “Go back to sleep,” she added. Thanked her, and said I was fine, as by now I was fully awake. 

The next part of the journey was as long as the latter, but we finally arrived in the city by sunset. The driver drove into the motor park and all the other passengers got out of the bus before me. I sat there trying to remember what the market women advised me to do on arrival. At first, I was apprehensive, scared, and worried about how to locate my mum in this large city. But the stern voice of the driver asking me to get down brought me back to life. I clenched my raffia bag close to my chest and stepped out of the bus. Instantly, shivering all over from fright. The market women’s stories were true, the crowd was enormous, and had seen nothing like it. 

But as the saying goes, there’s always a first time for everything. So, pulling myself together, I looked around once more and this time, luckily, my eyes caught sight of a middle-aged woman selling fried bean cakes. I relaxed, as she reminded me of Nancy’s mum, who also fried bean cakes every morning back in the village. Quickly picking myself up, I went over to greet her. Then showed her my mum’s address and politely asked if she could point me in the right direction. 

 

Fortunately, she said she could. She was friendly and started her conversion by calling me her child and asking how my trip went. Shocked by her familiarity, I asked if she knew me. She didn’t, but knew that almost everyone in the motor park with luggage in their hands was coming into the city or leaving it. In my case, she knew I had just arrived because she saw me get off the bus a few minutes ago. By now I was feeling at ease, so I told her my reason for visiting and showed her my mum’s address. She read it aloud and said it was my lucky day. Her son, who lived a few streets away from the address, was coming to see her after work and he will take me there. In the meantime, she gestured to a bench beside her and asked me to sit, then handed me a plate with bean cakes and a large loaf of bread with a bottle of coke and said,” Eat.”

 

CHAPTER 11-PANIC

  True to her word, he showed up on his way from work. Just as I was waking up from the long sleep I had after eating the heavy meal she gave me. He spent some time with her and, when he was leaving, took along. He talked little, apart from asking if this was my first time in the city and pointing out that the journey from the motor park to my mum’s house by car wouldn’t have taken too long if not for the terrible traffic. Thanking him for helping me, I sit back and pray the traffic moves along quickly. An hour later, he finally turns to me and says we are here. He stops the car, points to my mum’s address and I get out of the car, thank him and he drives off, leaving me standing in front of the gate. 

My first impression was sheer panic, standing outside my mum’s house and not knowing what to do next. I had waited for this opportunity for years and now I was finally here and I stood there shaking like a leaf. It took a few minutes to gather my thoughts. Taking deep breaths to calm my nerves, I looked at the house over. Although it was really dark by now, the house had so many floodlights on that you would think it was daytime. The building was extensive, two stories and brightly painted, with beautiful tall trees growing along the fence. The fence was very high, so only the top half of the house was visible from the outside. Painted white, it had a huge black gate as an entry point. The height of the fence obviously prevented outsiders from seeing into the compound. I couldn’t believe my mother lived here in so much luxury and left me in the old run-down bungalow my grandfather built, over 50 years ago. This was intimidating. Initially, I sat down outside on the raised sidewalk, thinking of what I would say once the gate opened. After a few minutes, I decided not to waste any more time. I was on a mission to find my mother, and I was seconds away from completing that mission. So I mustered up all the courage I could, approached the gate, and knocked three times.

 At first, I wasn’t sure if anyone heard me knocking, because nothing happened for a few seconds. Then suddenly, I heard footsteps approaching and the pedestrian gate swung open. A uniformed security guard came out and, in a harsh voice, asked. “what do you want?”. Still panicky and taken aback by the security man’s hostility, I stuttered a bit before I got myself together once more and said, “the Madam of the house is my mother, and I want to see her, please.” I wasn’t expecting the Security man’s reaction, but my request obviously amused him. Because he burst out laughing, as he looked me up and down before he nonchalantly informed me the madam of the house only had two children, and they were not missing. So, ignoring my request, he yelled, “Get lost and go look for your mum someplace else.”

 All my pleadings to him I was living with my grandparents in the village and he should just tell my mum I was there, fell on deaf ears as he shut the gate in my face. At that moment, I didn’t know whether to scream or cry. Devastated, having come all this way to see my mother after all these years and now being denied entry to see her. What was I going to do? I did not know. So I did the only thing I could. Sat down on the curb outside her gate and cried. 

A short while later, while I was still sitting there crying, a car pulled up outside the gate, hooted and the security guard opened it. As the man drove in, he rolled down his side window and looked at me, but said nothing. I didn’t know who he was, but with the way he stared at me, I had a feeling that wasn’t the last. At that point, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. Was he going to ask the gateman to send me away or let me in? While I was still contemplating, the gate swung open once more and my mum appeared. Oh my gosh, I almost didn’t recognise her. Compared to the skinny mum who left me all those years ago, she had put on weight and looked so beautiful. And as she walked up to me, I noticed she had a picture in her hand. It was later I discovered it was the picture Mabel had taken when she came to the village. 

Anyway, my mum kept looking at the picture and back at me. I guess she was trying to see if I was the same girl in the picture since she hadn’t seen me since I was five years old. Then once she was sure it was me, she finally sighed and called out my name, “AB”. It was surreal; the sound of my name coming from her lips felt so good. I had waited for years to hear her call out my name. At that moment, feeling so happy and excited, I jumped on her, but she pushed me away and yelled, “What are you doing here? How did you find me, and why do you look so dirty?” Her lukewarm reaction took me aback. I was expecting something like, “How are you AB? hope you are well? 

So at that point, I didn’t know what to say or how to feel. On the one hand, I was excited and happy to see her, and her questions and attitude towards me threatened to destroy all I had imagined my reunion with her would be. It equally baffled me. She asked me those questions. Even though the answer to the latter was obvious. My mum knew she had neglected and abandoned me for twelve years. What else was she expecting me to look like? But Instead of me giving that response, I continued to bounce up and down in front of her like an excited little child, trying very hard to control the disappointment welling up inside me. I told myself this was not the time; I was here now with my mum and that’s all that mattered. 

After a few seconds, I noticed she was getting a bit irritated by my excitement, so I stopped bouncing just as she pulled me to the edge of the fence and sternly warned me to behave myself when we get into the house and she introduces me as her new house help from the village. At that point, I couldn’t let myself think of the ramifications of being introduced to her husband as a house help. All I heard was, “Am taking you inside.” I had finally completed my mission to live with my mum. So ignoring how I felt about her nasty attitude towards me and the house help title, I stood there in silence until she grabbed my arm and whispered sternly into my ears, “Am taking you inside now, do not utter a word”. 

 

CHAPTER 12- NEW LIFE

As my mum dragged me into her house, I couldn’t believe I was finally with her and will have a new life. I had so many questions for her. Even though her attitude hurt me, I didn’t let it show. I wasn’t about to do anything that would make her send me back to the village. This was my chance to start a new life and wasn’t going back to my old one. So, following her inside, I obeyed her instructions not to speak. Once we got inside the house, the opulence was mind-blowing. Everything looked so sparkling, the furniture, the blinds and the very large television. My mother sat down next to her husband and explained that her parents had sent me to work for them as a house help at her request. I stood there in silence as she introduced me to her husband and children as the new maid. 

Am not sure who was more taken aback by her calling me her maid, me or the husband. But her husband didn’t look too happy as he asked why she would employ someone who looked so sickly, referring to the fact that I looked skinny and unkempt. On hearing him say that, my mum let out a nervous laugh and said that I was fine and had always been skinny, as she knew me right from birth and I was hard working, and trustworthy, so her parents felt I was the best choice. And once my mum finished defending my presence there, her husband just shrugged his shoulders and got up. I could see her explanation did not convince him, as he sighed and walked away, shaking his head. 

At that point, my mum took me into the kitchen and shut the door behind us. I saw the worrying look on her face, but ignored her and focused on the kitchen. It was so beautiful, nothing like I had ever seen before. Everywhere was shiny and clean. Different gadgets littered the countertop. She asked me to sit at the kitchen table and offered me a bowl of rice. As she did, she looked at me sternly once more and said, “AB, I don’t know how you found me or what you are doing here but you are lucky the gateman saved you or by now you’ll be back in the village. If you disobey my instructions one bit, or open your big mouth and repeat that you are my daughter, I will make you disappear. Do you understand me?” I didn’t understand, but with the way she was glaring at me and how angry her voice sounded, worried that if I said I didn’t understand, she might just make me disappear as she promised. So I shook my head nervously and said I did.

 But I guess she noticed my confusion and felt she needed to elaborate. She explained that when her husband arrived home and asked the gateman, who was sitting outside his house crying. The gateman said I was claiming to be madam’s daughter from the village. Her husband, obviously confused as my mum didn’t tell him she had a daughter, was about to storm out of the gate to interrogate me. But luckily for my mum, hearing all the commotion, she came out of the house and asked her husband what the matter was. He told her and she said will handle it, saying,  “It must be the girl my parents adopted. She called me mummy when I lived with them. They must have sent her to me.”

By the time she ended her explanation and the need for her to threaten me, tears were welding in my eyes, but I fought it back. Mainly because I wanted nothing to spoil this reunion with my mother. I sat there trying to find a positive side to all she said. So I rationalised that at least I would live in this house, whether as a maid or a daughter, it would surely be a better life than what I had back in the village. After my mum’s long speech, she took me to a room at the back of the house and asked me to bring my food along. She then warned me not to come out until she came to get me the next morning. 

As she left, I dropped the bowl of rice on the side table and laid down on the bed. It was so soft; I had to get up to examine it. For as long as I remember I slept on a mat in the village and now, here I was being offered my room, a bed and to top it all, next door was a proper bathroom with a shower and toilet that flushed. Wow! This was overwhelming. After eating some of the food, I wanted to have a bath but couldn’t figure out how to work the shower, so I took off my clothes and laid on the bed and refined my dream to include me as a maid instead of a daughter, living a good life with my mum and her new family before I finally fell asleep. 

 

CHAPTER 13 – BITTER SWEET

Living with my mum was nothing like I had imagined, as she treated me like a slave instead of being pampered like a daughter. My mother had given birth to two other children, a ten-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl. And from my calculations, the boy was born the year my mum stopped sending money to us in the village. Sadly, this realisation confirmed my grandparent’s statement about my mum that she had a new family now and no longer cared about us. For me, that was devastating because all this while I had given my mum the benefit of doubt and made excuses for her behaviour. She couldn’t just write us off, but now I realised I was wrong. However, regardless of how it made me feel, I put it all behind me and focus on making a new beginning with her and my half-siblings. Through all this, my mother kept reminding me never to reveal my identity and insisted I call her madam. 

Being with her in that house was bittersweet. On the one hand, elated that I was living with her and met my siblings. But on the other, I was sad that she merely considered me a maid and not good enough as a daughter. The relationship I had with my new family was certainly different from the one I had with my grandparents. For instance, with my grandparents, although life was hard, I was in charge of myself. I had the freedom to plan each day as I went along and choose what to do and in what order. As long as I got everything done, how I did it was my business. But with my mum, I lived in a delightful house, and ate better food but treated like a slave, having to adhere to strict instructions without deviating. 

My mother drew up a timetable for me. I was to wake up at 5.30 am and go to bed at 11pm. In between, I was to clean all the rooms downstairs, make breakfast, go with the driver to take the kids to school. Come back home tidy all rooms upstairs. Then go to the market, help the cook, then go with the driver to pick up the kids. Feed them, watch them do their homework, help with cooking dinner and so on. It was a strict routine I had to go through every single day and on the weekends she filled in the school runs with washing and ironing clothes. I barely had time to eat during the day. Most times, I combined my breakfast and dinner on a plate and ate just before I went to sleep. It was tedious, but I dare not complain. And to top it all, my schooling was not even a factor.

However, after a few weeks, I got used to the routine. By now, with help from the cook, I could operate every gadget in the kitchen, blender, juice maker and microwave. I knew how to switch on the shower and gas cooker. I could also find my way to the market and back. Soon I became very useful to my mum and her family. Even though they had a cook, her job was to do the cooking and nothing else. She came in the morning did the meals and left around 7pm once she prepared the evening meal. I was there to do everything else, including reheating, serving, and packing up the leftovers in the fridge. My mum had to do most of that before I arrived. But unfortunately, rather than me being appreciated for relieving her, she continued to treat me like she hated me.

For instance, she yelled and disciplined me at every opportunity she got. Also, it took me pleading with her for almost a month, before she grudgingly sent a message to my grandparents that I was with her. I knew they would worry and Nancy wouldn’t betray my trust by telling them. And all this was contrary to the love she showered on my siblings, who seemed to have everything they wanted. They had toys, nice clothes, a private school, and a mother’s love. I would watch her kiss, hug and play with them and my heart would ache. Longing for the day, I would feel the warmth of my mum’s embrace rather than the sharpness of her tongue.

 Truthfully, I was envious that they got all her love, and I didn’t get any. But I took solace in my current situation and pretended that I was enjoying the love of a mother. I took solace because at least I still got to see and talk to her every day. 

 

CHAPTER 14-LOVE AND BLOOD

Whoever said, “Love is blind” and “blood is thicker than water,” was absolutely correct. Despite my mum’s cruelty and hatred for me, my half-sister fell in love with me and wouldn’t let me out of her sight. Every day she brought me treats, insist on staying with me in the kitchen and watched me wash plates and tidy up. Sometimes she would even insist she wanted to go with me to the market and to school. In short, she wanted to go with me everywhere. And even though my mum didn’t tell her I was her sister, she loved being around me all the same. I guess she could feel it in her spirit that we were blood-related. That someone finally loved me and could give me the love and affection I craved from my mother made me happy. 

Coincidentally, my sister wasn’t the only one being affectionate to me. After a few months of living in the house, my mum’s husband also took a liking to me. I realized how he felt about me when one day he came back from work and said he had registered me in an evening school to learn English. Not only that, but he also enrolled me in elocution lessons to brush up on my vocabulary and accent, pointing out that he wanted me to speak properly because his children emulated everything I said. He said his son had said something to him in the past tense the other day and he was actually talking about a present situation. When he pointed out the mistake to his son, the boy said, “That’s the way Aunty AB says it.” I didn’t know what to say, but I thanked him and promised not to let him down. 

 He then asked if I went to secondary school. I told him I did but dropped out just before I finished because I was finding it difficult to combine farm work with schooling, and besides, I didn’t have enough money to pay for the exam fees. He said little about that but told me he will look into it. I thanked him, once again and decided not to mention the conversation to my mum until he did. Because I had a feeling, she won’t be happy. I spoke to her husband about my issues. Luckily, a couple of days later, he told my mum about my English lesson and explained how beneficial it would be for their children. She relaxed, and all I got from her afterwards was, “You better learn quick”. 

After that, my life continued as usual, with a slight change. I was still responsible for my half-siblings and making sure the house was in order, but I had three hours free from housework in the evening to go for my English lessons. Then, about seven months into my English and elocution lessons, my mum’s husband came back from work and called me into the living room. My mum was out, and the children were upstairs in their rooms. Sat me down and praised me for all my hard work and express how much they all appreciate me. He said the reports from the English school were impressive and that’s when he reached into his briefcase and passed me an envelope. He watched as I opened it and then he said he had, “Congratulations Ab, I have registered you in a school to sit for your secondary school final exams. In addition, extra lessons to get you ready.” It shocked me as he outlined everything. I didn’t even realise he remembered our discussion about me not being able to take my final exams. Immediately, I knelt down at his feet, tears rolling down my face, and thanked him with all my heart. I couldn’t believe my life was finally turning around for the better. He just smiled and replied, “AB, you deserve it, all you need to do is make us proud.”

Despite her husband’s confidence in me, my obvious success at the English school and a chance for me to have a better life my mum was unhappy when she came back that evening and her husband told her he had paid for me to sit for my examination. I could tell by the way she responded. She argued with him I was just a house help and asked him why I need to go to school. She said it was a waste of money and besides the housework, which I was barely combining with my English lessons alone, would now go completely undone with me going for some more extra lessons. But thankfully for me, her husband, unperturbed by my mum’s cynicism, looked at her and replied, “My dear, AB is going back to take her exams, make it work”.

That day, I couldn’t control my joy. I had quietly stood behind the living room door, listening to them argue about it and was praying silently that my mum would not win the argument and thankfully, she didn’t. And Even though I knew my mum would make me suffer for her husband’s kindness, I didn’t let it bother me. Instead, I choose to enjoy my victory while it lasted. I was happy, finally, someone cared about me And to top it all, not only did he register me for my final exams, but he also reassured me I was part of the family now and living with them should have a positive impact on my life. Getting back to my room that night, overwhelmed, I knelt down to thank God that things were finally looking up for me. Although I did also ask God to put my love in my mum’s heart, I was happy her husband liked me. 

After that, my mum’s husband won a few more arguments. For instance, he made my mum move me from the back of the house into the main house. Basically, because their daughter spent most nights sleeping in my bed. The new room was large, beautifully furnished and had a bath and shower ensuite. A far cry from the previous back room. He also asked her to employ another maid to take over most of my chores, to enable me to attend and concentrate on the extra lessons he registered me for. Coincidentally, the love my mum’s husband showered on me only made me determined to concentrate on my schooling, excel in my exams and ensure I didn’t disappoint either of them, but my mum had other plans.

First, she ensured my education suffered by refusing to decrease my chores despite another house help. This meant I was always late for my evening classes. It got so bad that sometimes when I got back, an enormous pile of clothes would wait for me to iron, which would prevent me from getting my homework done for the next day. Even though the laundryman did the ironing usually, my mum would ask him not to bother and say to him, “AB would iron them when she gets back from school”. Despite all this, I refused to let her cruelty depress me. It only made me more determined. So after my chores, I would stay awake most of the night reading and doing my assignments. I wanted her and her husband to be proud of me. I mostly didn’t want her husband to regret believing in me. 

Second, she got really embittered when her husband also insisted she buy me nice clothes because he didn’t want his daughter to think the way I dressed was okay. Before, all I wore were the old clothes brought from the village. That day, she pulled me into the room and asked me what was going on between her husband and me. Because she didn’t understand why he was interested in my education and now, he wanted me to dress well. She was suspicious, and I was shocked she would think that way and didn’t know what to say. He was treating me like a daughter and nothing else. But when I didn’t answer mum’s question, she screamed at me and demanded a response. Eventually, with no response from me, she stormed out of my room. As she left, I allowed myself to focus on the love and care her husband showered on me; it made me feel better. I pushed aside the ugly insinuations she made about his love for me and focused on the opportunities for my restarted education. 

However, after that day, although she didn’t like her husband’s suggestion, she obeyed his wish. She made me dress nicely when he was around. She would also encourage me to wear one of the new clothes he got me and treat me affectionately in front of him. But as soon as he left the house, she was back to her usual self. Yelling and calling me names which now included, “Home breaker.” Regardless, I got used to it after a while and didn’t let it bother me. All I did was look forward to the times her husband was at home. I made the most of it and prayed his trips got cancelled. However, although my mum got away with playing on his intelligence regarding her attitude towards me, one thing she could not stop was the extra classes he registered me for. She knew at the end, he would demand to see my results. 

CHAPTER 16-  CONDEMNED

Subsequently, time went by quickly, and a year later, at eighteen, I finally sat and passed my ordinary level examinations. As God will have it, my results were excellent; I had A’s in all my subjects except the C I had in English Language. My mum’s husband was pleased and discussed my prospects of going to university with my mum. Elated, I finally thought my life was about to be great. But for some strange reason, everything went downhill from then.

It all started a few weeks after my mum’s husband discussed my prospects of going to university. That night, my mum waited for her husband and children to go to bed. Then she called me into the guest bedroom because her daughter had once again fallen asleep in my bedroom. As I approached the guest room, expecting her to scold me for something, as was her usual practice. But her niceness took threw me off guard when in a calm voice she just asked me to sit down. At that moment, I actually thought my mum was finally happy with my progress this time and maybe she reconsidered her attitude towards me. So I took a seat and waited enthusiastically for what she had to say. But rather than talk, she just sat there staring at me for a while, which made me uncomfortable. As a result, I kept fidgeting in my seat. Eventually, after about five minutes, she sighed, pulled her chair closer to mine and looked at me as if she was burrowing into my soul, before she said, “AB, you have come into my life to disrupt it and you are straining my marriage. My husband now thinks you are smarter than me because you are going to university and I didn’t. For that reason, you can’t live here anymore. I have planned for you to stay with a friend who lives next to a university. I will send her money to enrol you and pay your fees and upkeep. But you can not live here with us. Do you understand?” 

As she spoke, I had my face down, and I was shivering all over. There was something about the way she spoke that scared me and made me feel sorry for her. So when she stopped talking and asked if I understood, I looked up into her eyes and could see she really believed what she was saying about me and her husband. The funny thing, despite how cruelly she treated me, I loved her and didn’t want her to hurt like this. So if I was the reason her husband was berating her, I wouldn’t want to cause her any pain by remaining in her house. So when she asked if I understood, even though I was heartbroken for having to leave after such a short period. I said, “Yes, I do”. With that, she seemed satisfied because she let up on the staring and immediately asked me to go pack my bags as I leave before daybreak. As I thanked her and walked back to my room, I wondered why the rush. University doesn’t start for several months and besides, I had not even applied. Also, I had mixed feelings. Sad I was leaving my mum and siblings but happy I was getting a university education, which meant I would get a good job, earn enough money to live a good life and take care of myself and my grandparents. 

A few hours later, around 4 am, my mum, woke me up and said it was time to leave. She had a driver waiting who was going to take me to her friend. She went further to explain that the destination was far, so I had to leave early. I told her I wanted to say goodbye to her husband and children, but she said there was no need to wake them as she would say my goodbyes. So while she waited with me, I got out of bed, got dressed and picked up my already packed bag. It was still dark as I followed her outside the house. We walked out of the gate, and in a car parked beside the house sat a man patiently waiting and smoking a cigarette.

Walking out of the compound, I noticed my mum had two envelopes in her hand. Just before we got to the car, she asked me to wait as she approached the driver, whispered in his ears and handed him one envelope. Then to me, she handed me the other sealed envelope, saying it was for her friend. At which point she asked me to get in the car. As I did, the driver ignored me while starting the car and we drove off. As we drove, he didn’t say a word, and neither did I. Instead, I just sat there wondering what my new home would be like. 

 A while later, we must have driven for two hours when he suddenly pulled over to the side of the road. By now, because of his scary looks and lack of communication between us, I was nervous and my heart was beating fast. Twice as the journey progressed; I stole glances at him and noticed the stern look. A few times I tried to start a conversation, He ignored. I didn’t know how far we were going or why he stopped the car, but I could feel there was something wrong. And as the car came to a halt, the driver turned to me and with a calm voice asked me what my relationship was with the Madam who hired him.

 Even though my heart was beating fast, his calmness gave me some relief. I told him she was my mother but insisted I call her my madam. Just then, I noticed he seemed shocked just before he sighed, paused for a few seconds, and then told me the most awful news, my mother had called him and said she wanted to get rid of a girl trying to kill her and snatch her husband. She asked him to drive me far out of town and bury me alive. At that moment, I froze and tried to scream, but no sound came out. Wanted to jump out of the car but couldn’t move, so I just sat as far away from him as the locked car door would let me. At some point, I remember trying to open the door on my side, but couldn’t. So I just sat there in shock, shivering so badly and trying to comprehend why my mum would want me dead. 

After a few minutes, as the reality of my situation set in, tears streamed down my eyes as I begged the driver not to kill me. But rather than say something back to me, or reassure me he wouldn’t, he lit a cigarette. Then turned his head to face the road and stared into the darkness, as if pondering on my request for mercy. I didn’t know what the man was going to do next. My mind was racy and thought I would pass out. I couldn’t believe my mother wanted me dead. At that point, it occurred to me why she had to get me out of the house so early without her husband’s knowledge. I couldn’t believe she felt so threatened by me. She would rather have me dead? 

Despite all my loud crying and pleading, the driver seemed oblivious. And a few minutes later he held up his hand and asked me to be silent, before he said, “Look, when I am paid to do a job, I do it. I don’t ask questions. But with you, my conscience wouldn’t let me kill you.” He saw my reaction and when he noticed I was calmer, he continued; “Take this envelope”. He handed me the envelope my mum had given him earlier and asked me to open it. It had some cash in it. He then told me this is what she paid him to bury me alive, but he wanted me to have it and before I get out of the car, I should read the letter my mum gave me. Because she insisted I read it before he kills me. 

CHAPTER 17-SECOND CHANCE

That day, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. A man who killed for a living suddenly had a crisis of conscience and let me live. God must have been watching over me. As I opened my mum’s envelope, my hands were shaking, and I had tears rolling down my eyes. And It read:

 “Dear Abigael, this is the last time you will ever read from me or see me. I need to make you understand why. Before I had you, I was rich and pampered, but as soon as you were born, your father, the king, transferred all his affection from me to you. He dotted on you and I became his second love. And then he died, and you deprived me of all that love. And now you come to my second husband and he’s already comparing you to me. Even mentioned you could be my daughter as thinks we look alike, but you are more intelligent because you are going to university and I didn’t. Adopting you has also become an option for him and sending you to school in Europe. My husband, who has not even taken me on any of his trips abroad and now you want to go abroad before me? 

That couldn’t happen. Did you know he gives me money every month to buy you new clothes and give you pocket money? I just didn’t tell you, that my husband has fallen in love with you. I can see how his affection for me is being transferred to you, just like the king transferred his affection to you. And I can’t have that. So you need to go. Am sorry I couldn’t love you like a mother and I hope the next life you come to, you will get a mother who can give you what you want, that I couldn’t. Don’t hate me too much, I just can’t bear to lose everything. I have worked hard for a second time. Rest in peace, Your mother.”

Oh my gosh, Am not sure how, but I read it twice to make sure the letter was real. And it was. My mum wanted me dead. While I was still drowning in my sudden reality, the diver got impatient and asked me if I finished reading the letter? I nodded and tried to hand the letter to him, but he refused to take it off me, so I dropped it in his car. The letter was poison. I could not have that memory follow me around. Besides, I knew God had given me a second chance to make the driver reconsider. As I pulled myself together; still mortified that my mother wanted me dead. I literally felt my heart in my mouth. I wanted to move, but my body had its own idea to stay put. Eventually, after much effort, I could pick up my bag and get out of the car, as the driver told me there was a bus stop a few minutes down the road and advised me to get on it and keep going. But not before he warned me never to return to the city. In short, I was about to disappear. As he stopped talking, I didn’t know whether to jump for joy at still being alive or keep crying for almost being killed, but there was no time to think. So I thanked him for not honouring my mum’s request and he drove off. 

I remember that day like it was yesterday. The sun was just coming up. It must have been around 6.30 am. The deserted road lined with trees and bushes was all I could see as I sat down for a while on a tree trunk, watching the sunrise. Just then, despite my near escape from death, I wondered why I was so unlucky. Barely two years old, my father died, my mum also abandoned me and now she also wants me dead. I couldn’t understand it, but I knew now that they had given me a second chance and I shouldn’t waste it moping about my near-death experience or my mother’s hatred for me. That’s when I suddenly noticed my surroundings and realised it was dangerous to sit there all alone. So I got up and walked towards the lights I could see in the distance. I wasn’t sure how far away it was, but that I could see them gave me enough courage to go there and within an hour, I was in there.

At first, the place looked deserted, with a few houses scattered around. But as I kept walking, the more houses I came across, until I walked another twenty minutes and came to the major town. That’s when I realized the place I had gotten to initially was the outskirts of the town. By now it was around 8 am and the main street was bustling with people. Cars and buses were driving past me so fast, shops lined the street on my left and right. Tired, hungry, and having no clue where to go, I walked further into town. Soon exhaustion set in and just as I felt my feet give way, I spotted a food canteen with a vacancy sign for a salesgirl. I got renewed energy instantly and although I had never worked for someone, apart from the women I fried cassava for in the village, I knew I could do the job. Although I wasn’t sure if they would employ me, I had to try because I had nowhere else to go. So I stood there for a few minutes trying to decide the best way to approach the woman sitting in an open shed by the side, making yam flour and pounding yam. As I did, I also saw young girls dashing from the open shed into the canteen with trays full of food serving early morning customers and approached one of them instead. So I dusted myself up, straightened my dress and went into the canteen to make enquiries about the vacancy, and one salesgirl pointed me in the owner’s direction. The owner, a middle-aged woman, sat in a corner behind a table collecting money. She had a friendly face and smiled at all the customers as they walked in. I suddenly felt confident that if I approached her, she would give me the job. 

Thankfully, the interview wasn’t about me working in a canteen before. First, she asked me to tell her about myself. I told her how I grew up with my grandparents, did everything for them and later went to live with a lady in the city taking care of her children. I didn’t mention that the lady in question was my mother, nor that I got here because she was trying to get rid of me. The owner paused for a while, then asked me why I left the lady. I blotted out the first thing that came to my mind; I said she sent me away because she claimed her husband liked me too much. The owner smiled and said it was alright. She could see I was a very hard-working girl and my work experience was impressive, so I could start work immediately. I could not believe it. I was so happy that I got off the chair and knelt down to thank her. Then she called one girl and asked her to show me what to do. The good thing for me as she had a room in the building behind the canteen, where two other girls slept and I could move in with them.     

 That day I started work, everything went great. One sales assistant, Ngozi, showed me the ropes. First, she took me to the sleeping quarters. A room with a ceiling fan and two bunk beds. The two spaces below were occupied, so I took one of the top bunks. I also had a few clothes to put in the locker provided. Ngozi gave me a bedsheet and a pillowcase and promised to get me a wrapper to cover myself later when we finished work. Next, she took me back to the canteen and showed me the kitchen area, the wash area, and the toilets. Then she explained how things worked and what my job was.

The canteen was bigger than what I saw initially. From the outside. It extended into a bungalow and another building at the back, which housed the owners’ living quarters and our bedroom. For clients, they made three large spaces available furnished with dining tables and chairs. Each sales girl had several tables she attended to. They had a notebook to write the orders in, served the customer and made sure they paid the bill. The kitchen staff work out how many plates you collected and the owner balances out your account. They kept all tips received in a safe. At the end of the month, got shared equally amongst all the sales girls. I made the 6th sales girl and my job was to work alongside Ngozi in the VIP section. She pointed out a partitioned area. The section was in the front bit of the bungalow and had linoleum on the floor and the 4 tables there had 2 seats each, a wash-hand basin, and 2 standing fans. “That is our area”, she said, and my job was to keep all the customers happy. 

 Within a few weeks, blended in, I learnt how to attend to customers and I loved it. The work wasn’t anything I hadn’t done before. It was easier than working on my grandparents’ farm back in the village and at my mum’s house. My mum treated me like a slave. This was a much nicer environment to work in. As a result, my customer service was excellent and sales increased. The customers were mostly travelling salesmen, who ate a lot and gave great tips. At the end of the evening, I always had the most tips. The owner was happy with my service; the customers made excellent reports about me and most came back just to be served by me. 

The madam was happy; She increased my salary and bought me some new clothes. I worked hard and saved up every penny, including the money the driver gave me. I knew I would not stay there forever and at some point, I would need the money to stand on my feet. Then One day everything changed.

CHAPTER 18-ONE DAY A SLAVE

After about 9 months of working in the canteen, one evening, the owner called me into her office. Walking in, she instructed me to sit down and praised me for all my dedication and hard work. Saying that it was time to elevate me to a different level. When she paused, I thanked her for appreciating me and asked what level I was being elevated to. She smiled and explained. 

Apparently, her food canteen was only part of what they knew her for. She was also a matchmaker for men who wanted to marry young girls without the complications of family introductions, engagements and formal marriage ceremonies. I wasn’t aware she only employed girls who had lost their family ties and had nowhere else to go. In her office that day, she praised me and said because I had proven myself responsible enough to take care of a husband; they have elevated me as next in line to be married off. She also reassured me I will be in excellent hands, as they would vet the man, to find out his education, wealth and responsibility. Now that didn’t sound so bad, being married to a nice man. Although I still felt surprised that anyone would want to marry a woman who he didn’t know where she came from or who her family was. But I didn’t have to ask too many questions as I was about to find out. 

Three weeks went by and they again called me to the madam’s office and this time as I walked in, a man was sitting at her desk. The madam invited me to take a seat beside him and she talked. “AB, this young man has shown his interest to marry you”. She paused, and I looked at him closely. I remembered his face. He was a travelling salesman who stopped by to eat and had left me tips a few times. The madam went further, “He has been our customer at the restaurant but this time he has come specifically to ask for your hand in marriage”. 

At that point, even though she had informed me I was next in line to be married, I didn’t know it was going to be that soon. A few months, maybe a year, but a few weeks? That was too soon. So I jumped up and turned to the man and asked why he would come to a restaurant, not a dating service, to find a bride. The madam and the man, although taken aback by my sudden outburst, ignored me. And once the questioning ended, he looked at me and told me to turn around. 

At first, I would not give him the satisfaction of taking a proper look at me, but my eyes caught Madam’s gaze, and she had this intense, scary look in her eyes and I knew I had no choice. Tears rolled down my face as I did a 360 turn and watched as the man scanned me up and down. I couldn’t believe I was once again put in a position where I had no choice. The travelling salesman who had remained silent all this while noticed my tears got up from his seat and came towards me. Then he hugged me and said I shouldn’t cry, I was a lucky girl; he chooses me among all the girls here; he was going to take care of me and show me a good life. I would become the envy of my friends the next time they see me, he added. Then he turned to the Madam and said, “I love what I see.” 

Right in front of me I watched as she grinned picked up the envelope and put it in her bag, then she turned towards me smiling and said, “you are lucky this man wants you, make him happy and take good care of him and above all behave yourself. Be happy, go with him”. By then two hefty guys who madam used as security were standing by her office door, I guess preventing me from running out. Obviously, I had no say in the matter? If I dare refuse, or try to run. The two hefty men were there to prevent that. And even if I could escape them, where would I go? So, with no alternative, they walked me to the room I slept in, watched as I packed the few things I owned into a bag, and then they took me to the salesman’s car.

 

CHAPTER 19- DAUGHTER, UNLIKE MOTHER 

 Becoming an emergency bride, like my mum, was scarier than I imagined. I guess being gifted to a man would have been bearable if I ended up in a loving, comfortable life like she did. But unfortunately, I ended up with a scary, stingy uptight slave master who ill-treated me at every opportunity. My ordeal began the day he took me from the canteen. After driving for a few hours and with traffic, around 8pm we stopped in front of a gate, then for the first time since we left the canteen, he spoke to me. He asked me to get out of the car and wait for him as he walked back to the gate to lock it, then rather than take me into the house through the front door, he led me around the back through the kitchen door. 

The first thing I noticed as we walked in was the size of the kitchen. It was small and barely had enough space to contain the four-burner cooker, a small fridge and a row of cupboards along the two sides of the wall. From there, he led me into the living room, which wasn’t any better, as it was bare. It had a 3 seater couch, a centre table and a television and the adjourning dining area had a small table and four chairs. This was a far cry from the opulence I had experienced at my mother’s house.

Then he led me to the bedrooms. We went past a bedroom and when we arrived at the second one; he asked me to put my stuff in the wardrobe. Then he turned to me and said, “AB, this is your bedroom and the other room we walked past is mine. You will sleep here and only come into my room when I request for you.” Then he led me back into the dining room and asked me to sit down opposite him. At which point he looked at me and for the first time since we left the canteen he told me his name, “AB, my name is Edward. My friends call me Eddy. But you are not my friend, you are my property, so you call me Sir Edward. Your daily routine will be as follows; have your bath very early in the morning, make breakfast, then come to the bedroom to wake me up with some lovemaking.”

Ensuring I was taking it all in, he continued, “Once that’s done, you take another bath and clean the house. Then wash any dirty clothes before you prepare lunch. I will come back for lunch at 1pm by which time you must wait for me in bed. I will make love to you, after which you will serve me my food and then I will go back to work.

 Once I’ve left, cook dinner and then have another shower and change into the underwear I am going to give you later. After which you will stay in my room all night long and make me happy”. Throughout his talk reeling our rules and regulations, I wasn’t listening attentively. My mind was busy trying to comprehend what was happening. I couldn’t believe misfortune reared its ugly head one more time. Anyway, he didn’t stop there. “I am your husband now and your job is to do anything I demand and make sure you do it well. Do you understand?” he concluded. I understood nothing he said apart from the bit where he said I should call him Sir Edward, but I nodded my head all the same. 

That night he showed me where all the food was and asked if I had used a cooker before. I had at my mother’s house, which had modern gadgets like a blender and microwave and all. He made me cook rice, and we ate it with some stew he had in his fridge. After dinner, he asked me to go have a bath and put on the nightgown he left on my bed. I went into my new room and ran a bath of hot water. It was soothing and shortly the aches and pains I felt slowly disappeared. I got carried away with the refreshing effect of the bath until Sir Edward jolted me back to reality, calling my name.

And as I stepped out of the bath, Sir Edward badged in, took one look at me and lifted me off my feet and put me down on the bed. Then he took off his clothes and laid down on top of me. I was still a virgin and was not sure what to expect. So I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth. I guess he felt me stiffen up because he stopped rubbing his hands all over my body and his expression changed. He had a smile on his face as he said, “AB, is this your first time?” Still petrified, I nodded quickly. Then he slowly rubbed my face with his hands and planted a kiss on my forehead and said, “Don’t be afraid. I will not hurt you. This act husbands and wives do every day. I will teach you and I promise you will enjoy it.”

The funny thing, at that point, his words didn’t comfort me, but his voice did. Since I met Sir Edward, he had barked orders at me or given me the silent treatment. And now this soothing voice was a side of him I liked better. So, as he asked me to relax and rub my hands up and down his back, I did that while he poked and prodded me. Finally, he let himself inside me, and the pain was excruciating. His manhood was so large, am sure he tore something down there. Because in the end, I was on fire down below and the bedsheet had a bloodstain. I lay there for a while as he got up and went into the bathroom. 

Then, as he walked back into the bedroom, he took one look at me and his tone went back to the commanding one as he asked me to get up, wash and put some Vaseline on my privates. He told me my privates hurt because it was my first time, but my body will learn to adjust to the size of his manhood as time went on. Then he gave me two tablets of paracetamol. Not before he instructed me to ensure I washed the bedsheets before I went to bed.

 

CHAPTER 20- MONSTER HUSBAND

The next morning, when he called me for his morning lovemaking, he saw me walking funny and realised I was still sore, so he left me alone. He then told me he would be back for lunch and I was to ensure I had his meal ready. Then he handed me a list and some money and asked me to go to the supermarket across the road and get some provisions. Not before he added a stern warning, asking me not to talk with anyone at the store.  

As soon as he left, I went back to my room and ran a bath. I had learnt that from my mum’s house. She always made me run her hot baths once she had a long day and told me it helped to relax tired muscles and rejuvenate one’s body. I had a few hours before Sir Edward came back and besides; he wanted me to make some peppered beans and boiled yam for him, which won’t take me long to prepare. As I lay in the bath, my mind went back. First to my mum’s husband and the wonderful way he treated me. And I wished Edward would be like him. Second, to my grandparents, whom I hoped was still alive, and wondered what they were going through. I also wondered why Edward was so bothered about me talking to the supermarket people? 

Anyway, a while later, I got out of the bath, put on some clothes and walked across the road to the supermarket. As soon as I walked in, the salesgirl came towards me and said her madam would like to see me. “See me for what?” I asked the girl. And she said she didn’t know, as she led me to her madam. Her madam was a young lady and, from the lack of a wedding ring on her finger, I guessed she was still single. She introduced herself as Ms Ella and asked my name. I told her AB. She then asked who I was to Eddy, and I told her about his wife. All this while I kept wondering, who is this woman and what does she want with me? But I was about to find out.

As soon as I told Ms Ella, I was Edward’s wife; she gave me this scary look and shook her head as if she felt sorry for me. Then she asked, “who gave you to that monster?” Taken aback at her reaction and the mention of the word monster. I too had questions, so I asked, “Madam, I don’t know you and why would you call my husband a monster?” Ignoring my question and still staring at me, Ms Ella gestured for me to sit down and then went into this long story of her relationship with Edward.

“My dear, I am sorry I confronted you this way. I should have explained myself better. I saw you arrive with Eddy yesterday and knew I had to talk to you. That’s why I instructed my staff to bring you to me anytime you come to the store. Eddy and I dated for five years. We were popular among our friends, and everyone knew us. Three years into our relationship, I had to go abroad to study business management. During that period, I came back twice to spend a week with Eddy. And a year later, education completed, I moved here across the road from Eddy and opened this supermarket. 

ed

It upset Eddy. He wanted me to move in with him. I knew if we did, we would definitely start having sex and I was a virgin and wanted to keep it that way until we got married. He tried to persuade me to move in, but I stuck to my guns and told him I would do no such thing until I was his wife. So he proposed and within a month he brought his family to meet mine, for an introduction and shortly after an engagement ceremony. After that, he manipulated me. He kept convincing me we were more or less a couple now and that our families already saw us as husband and wife since the engagement party. So it was time to consummate our union. At first, I refused to listen to him. I asked him to wait a while longer since we had already waited this long. But Eddy accused me of not loving him and that I was just toying with his emotions. He said he had proposed, given me a ring and brought his family to meet mine and even had an engagement ceremony. What more did I want? At that point, I didn’t want to lose him, as I was madly in love, so I consented. But as soon as Eddy took my virginity, he told me he was no longer interested in marrying me because I was too old and too ambitious for him. He had tricked me into sleeping with him and then dumped me. I couldn’t believe how evil he was. He had hatched the plan perfectly. All he wanted was to sleep with me, so he made the fake proposal. It was later I found out he hired actors to be his relatives on the day of our introduction and engagement. Since then, I vowed to tell every woman he brings home that he is a monster.”

As she ended her story, for some strange reason, I had mixed feelings. Yes, I too could see Sir Edward was cruel, but how could anyone go to the extent Ms Ella just narrated. I thought to myself, could she be lying? Or maybe she likes him and is jealous to see me there as his wife? The truth is, I didn’t care about her. All I wanted was to have a happy life and so far, I didn’t think being married to Edward was it. But I also didn’t know what to believe. Because in the short time I have been alive, people have turned out to be not what I thought. Even my mum disowned me and then tried to have me killed. So, thanking Ms Ella for her revelation, I bought the provisions I went there to get in the first place and went back home.

Unfortunately for me, Ms Ella had taken too much of my time. By the time I got back home, I had just 45 minutes before Edward returned. I rushed around, put the beans on fire, peeled the yam and chopped it up, put it in the steaming pot, and went to have my bath. And just as I finished my bath, the water had dried in the beans and I could smell it burning. I dashed back to the kitchen and turned it off, just as Edward walked in.

At the sight of the burnt food, he yelled and demanded an answer why I had no time to cook since early in the morning when he left for work. He was shouting at me and waving his hands all over the place, which scared me, so I told him the truth. The bath and trip to the supermarket and, of course, Ms Ella’s long conversation. As soon as I mentioned Ella and told him what she said, he came towards me and shook me so hard as he asked me never, ever to go there again. He then added that from then onwards he will buy whatever we needed. Not before he said I seemed like someone who needed tough measures to ensure I obeyed him, since I seem to have too much time on my hands. 

Some months later, Ms Ella turned out to be right. The statement she made Edward was a monster, unveiled itself. That night he drags me from the bathroom into bed and makes me sleep next to him naked without covering. Even though the air conditioner was blowing at full capacity and I lay there next to him shivering from the cold, he still won’t allow me to cover up. Holding me tight, he said, “I own you. Even if I can’t make love to you now, I can see what I paid for.” It took a few days before I found out why. I overheard him speaking to a doctor asking how long before gonorrhoea disappears and he can make love to his wife”.

 As soon as he got healed, he made love to me at night, early in the morning, and came home at lunchtime to have another go. And each time I had to shower, spray perfume and lay in bed waiting for him. And God help me if I didn’t complete my chores and schedule. Painfully, once he got on top of me, he would pound away, sometimes even bite my bosom. The worst part was he would make me go down on him repeatedly. The first time he asked me, I didn’t know what to do, but after several slaps, I learned. But when he started asking me to go down on him while he was having his lunch, I knew this man was pure evil and he was only going to get worse. He slapped me if I talked back or asked a question he didn’t like; he hit me if he felt the food I made was too salty or peppery. 

For months, this went on. I was weak and sore all over my body; he was rough and very well endowed; I had cuts all the time, he just gave me painkillers and asked me to suck it up. With no one to talk to, I endured all his abuse. After all, my mum wanted me dead. I couldn’t go back to the village, so I was at the mercy of this man who always reminded me he had paid for me and I belonged to him. To keep me under control, he would switch off the electricity, take the fuse to work with him, and lock me in the house. When he comes back, he puts the electricity back on and then has sex with me all over again. 

One day, I was having period pains and couldn’t fulfil my evening schedule. He came home around 6pm and I was just making dinner. That day, he beat me so much that I passed out. When I finally woke up, I couldn’t stop screaming, because my arm was in so much pain. He came over and tried to make me stop, but the pain was too much. I continued to scream continuously. So eventually, when he got worried the neighbour might hear me screaming, he had to take me to the hospital to shut me up. 

That day we saw a doctor who asked me what happened. And before I could talk, he said I fell down the stairs. The doctor didn’t look convinced, but she ordered an x-ray and said I broke my arm in two places so I would need a plaster of Paris cast. Instantly, Edward protested because he knew I won’t be able to do anything and asked if the cast was necessary. The doctor informed him; that it was the cast, or losing the use of my arm. And so he grudgingly agreed, and they put my arm in a cast. The good news for me was that I could hardly do anything, as the cast was on my right hand. That’s when he had no choice and brought in a guy who cooked and cleaned and all I had to do was make love. And for the first time in the six months I had been with him, I had some rest.

 

 CHAPTER 21- ESCAPE

Reflecting on my life was all I could do as I rested, while the help took over my chores. Since Edward brought me to his house, I barely had time to do anything else but serve him. If I wasn’t cleaning and cooking, he was beating me into submission. Or making me go down on him as he ate his lunch. So the first day the houseboy took over my chores, as soon as Edward left for work, I lay on my bed for a few hours, reflecting and thinking about my current situation. Here I was, slaving away as a giveaway bride, no parents to make sure he cared for me, no hope of being treated like a wife. It slowly dawned on me I would never feel the joy of a loved wife. My stomach would never flutter when he touched me. His warm arms would never console me or make me feel safe. Stuck with a man who knew I had no one to deliver me from him, and so he owned me outright.

But then my mind went back to my mum’s husband. I saw the way he treated her despite my mum’s snappy nature. He cuddled her at every opportunity. Gave her a kiss when he was leaving the house and when he got back. He hardly ever yelled at her and the best part was he also treated me with love and kindness. I prayed for a man that would treat me like my mum’s husband, but I knew that would never happen for me with Edward. That’s when I knew the only way to fulfil my prayers was to run away from him. For me, running away had become a common practice. I had done it twice. Once from my grandparents and the other from my mum, even though I had helped with my mum’s situation. But this escape wasn’t any different from my grandparents’ one. So I contemplated how to do it. I thought I could run away when Edward goes to work. But I realised that presented a problem, as he still locked the door and took away the key, even with the young man in the house with me. At that moment, I couldn’t see any other way to escape. So I kept thinking about it. 

Nine weeks later, it was time to remove the cast. The doctor examined my arm and said it was healing well. I just had to keep from straining it. So for another two weeks, the house boy remained with us to carry on with my chores, and then he left. Once again, left alone to resume my normal schedule. For a few weeks after that, I did my duties and thankfully Edward complained a little. No beating, just yelling commands and lovemaking sessions. This gave me some respite and time to come up with ways to run away. Prepared for the escape, had the money saved from my mum’s driver and the canteen job. Which, thankfully, Edward did not know of. I also had my bag packed. All I needed to do was wait and pray for an opportunity to present itself to my escape. I hoped soon God would answer my prayers. In the meantime, I kept serving Edward and enduring his cruelty.

Then one day I finally had my chance, early on a Monday morning, Edward got an urgent phone call from a client, his mannerism and tone during the call made me aware that something was wrong, from what he was yelling back on the phone, police already involved in the case. As soon as he dropped the phone call, for the first time since he gained me, he refused his breakfast. Instead, he just picked up his briefcase and car keys and left the house in such a hurry that he forgot to lock the door.

At first, I couldn’t believe it. Expecting the sound of his key turning the lock twice, then his usual practice of checking to make sure it locked, but nothing happened. I was astonished that I couldn’t even bring myself to check if the door was locked. Stood by the window and watched him drive out without getting down to lock the gate either. Then waited for fifteen minutes, and when he didn’t drive back in, I opened the front door and it opened. My first thought was I can’t leave, he will find me, so I stepped back inside and shut the door. Again, stood there staring at the door for a while, contemplating what to do next like a caged animal who had been in captivity for a long time and didn’t know any other way of life.

Then I tried once again. This time I walked outside to the gate and peered out gently to make sure he wasn’t just testing me. When I was sure he wasn’t there, I pulled the gate together and gently shut it. I couldn’t believe this was happening. Having endured months of isolation and being kept indoors like a prisoner, now the front door and the main gate were unlocked. I thought to myself, this was my chance. I had to take it now or God knows I might never get another.

CHAPTER 22- A GREAT TURN

At that moment, it suddenly dawned on me, that if I didn’t go now, by 1. pm, either Edward’s driver would turn up to pick his lunch or Edward would be back to make love and I knew this was my only opportunity to escape before that happened. But the big question was, where do I go?

Edward never let me go out on my own after that chance meeting with Ms Ella at the supermarket. After that day, whenever I went to the market on the weekends, he took me and waited in the car while I shopped. If we had to go anywhere else, it was always with him in the car. As a result, didn’t really know anywhere in the area. Or know anyone else. Also, he won’t let me have a phone, socialise or speak to anyone else besides him. But I couldn’t allow those things to bother me. I knew was I had to leave his house right then.  I thought to myself, If God helped me get to my mum’s house and left this door unlock, my escape would be successful. So I ran back into the house, picked up my already packed bag with the few clothes I had before I came to Edward’s house and left the ones it got for me. Because once I left him, I didn’t want any reminders of him. Then I lifted the mattress to retrieve my saved money from my mum’s driver and the canteen work and ran out of the compound as fast as my legs could carry me. I didn’t know where I was going but knew I had to leave. At that point, I knew God had finally unanswered my prayers for an escape. My heart was beating fast as I exited his compound and ran on the main road out of his area. Not minding the fact that I had nowhere to go, my mind just told me to keep running, and I knew I had to get as far away from the house as possible. 

That day was a Monday. The streets were busy, and I had to avoid knocking into people or being pushed to the ground. So I ran fast when there were fewer people around and slower when crowded. But I kept moving even though my feet soon hurt. I must have run for close to an hour when, because of the crowded pavement, I had to run on the road. I obviously didn’t look properly because it was too late when I saw a car coming towards me. The last thing I remembered was seeing the car from the corner of my eye, a great big thud, and blacking out. 

Waking up suddenly, I found myself in an unfamiliar place. I noticed I was on a bed with bandages on my leg and around my head, also a drip attached to my arm. I tried to move, but my head hurt badly. Disorientated and sacred, I couldn’t remember how I got there. A few minutes later, a nurse came in to check on me and I asked where I was. She said I was in the hospital because two days ago I got hit by a car while crossing the road and slipped into a coma. I tried hard to remember what happened, but I couldn’t. All I remembered was running away from Edward’s house. The nurse noticed how confused I was; she suggested I rest a bit more and that the memories of the incident will come back to me later.

After the nurse left my room for a brief second, I felt scared. What if Edward finds out I am here? He will surely kill me. At that point, I tried to get out of the bed but couldn’t. I felt weak and my head hurt badly. Coupled with the medication the nurse gave me, I felt woozy and sleepy, barely giving me enough time to contemplate the issue. I dozed off almost immediately and didn’t wake until 7 am the next morning when the dinner lady woke me up to have some food.

Shortly after, the doctor came in to examine me. A nice-looking man with kind eyes and a gentle voice. Introduced himself as Dr Fola and asked me how I felt. He examined my head and asked if it still hurt; I replied it didn’t. Then he took my leg in his hand and adjusted it from side to side. I winced a bit, and he apologized for the discomfort. He told me I had a sprain, nothing serious, they should discharge me tomorrow. I thanked him and as I did, tears ran down my eyes. Dr Fola looked confused, and he asked if the pain was making me cry? And tried to explain that nothing serious was wrong with me and from his examination, I would be perfectly fine. I nodded. but still continued to cry. That’s when He pulled up a chair and sat down beside my bed. Taking my hands in his, he asked where my parents were and where I lived. I told him I was an orphan and homeless and that I didn’t have anywhere to go. 

That’s when Dr Fola sighed and apologized to me. Said he was sorry he hit me. He had just stopped to buy his morning newspapers from the vendor on the side of the road and as he pulled away, I suddenly appeared from a crowd right in front of him and ran into the road. He saw me too late and couldn’t completely come to a stop before hitting me. As he narrated what happened, I could see the regret in his eyes, which made me feel bad, since I caused the accident. I told him it wasn’t his fault, and that I was the one who should be apologizing. To which he replied, “I am just grateful the accident wasn’t more serious.”

After that, for a while, Dr Fola sat there looking at me before he asked what was chasing me. I didn’t respond immediately but when I did I said, “Life”. Life has been chasing me all over the place. I can’t seem to get a break from it, I said. When I paused and he saw how distressed I was, he got up from his seat and gave me a hug. He asked me not to cry and said everything would be okay. That’s when he told me, although he didn’t understand how life could be so bad for a young girl like me. He understood how I felt and loved but asked  I could take up his offer. I asked, what offer? He said he lived not too far from the hospital and also lived alone and had plenty of room in his house. Would I come to stay with him?

 This came as a surprise to me. I was expecting a long line of interrogation and explaining why I was homeless and questions about where I was coming from before the accident, but Dr Fola didn’t ask any of those. And that made me wary. Why would he just offer a stranger his house to live in? Yes, he hit me in his car, but it was my fault. Besides, treating me for the accident without charge made up for that. I sat there thinking; I had just escaped an abusive man, Edward, and I wasn’t about to stay with another man whom I didn’t know, no matter how nice he seemed. At that point, I trusted no one. Everyone had betrayed me so far. I just wanted to be alone. So I thanked Dr Fola for his kind offer but said I had to decline and assured him I was fine and could take care of myself. 

 But Dr Fola was very persistent, he didn’t give up. He told me how dangerous the city was for a young girl like me who didn’t have anywhere to go. Rape, stabbing, or death was a reality. Kept going on about how it won’t be any trouble staying with him as he was single, and had a big house, with lots of spare rooms. Even added that I will be free to come and go as I please. He then got up and asked me to sleep over it and give him an answer the next day. As he left, I sat back and recollected how far I had come. From being abandoned with my grandparents, to finding my mum and her wanting to kill me. To slaving with Edward and now here I was being offered an opportunity to live with another man. What was I going to do?

 The next morning, just before I was about to be discharged, I realized I truly had nowhere to go. I didn’t want to go back to the village. Neither could I go back to the town and work for the owner of the canteen. And as for showing up at my mother’s house, she would definitely kill me herself. Besides, Dr Fola had promised me freedom, something I hadn’t enjoyed before. So I felt what harm could it do? I could stay with him for a while until I got myself together. Then I will be free to leave. That’s when I realised Dr Fola’s offer made sense. So with that settled in my mind, I went to Dr Fola’s office and accepted his offer to move into his house. Thinking, God must make a way for me where there seems to be no way.

 

CHAPTER 23-MY KNIGHT

Moving in with Dr Fola at the time turned out to be a wonderful decision. He was a true gentleman and my knight in shining armour. I had prayed for a man who would love me and take good care of me as my mum’s husband did, and Dr Fola didn’t disappoint me. As soon as I moved in with him, he pampered me so much. Initially, I thought it was because he wanted something from me, but it soon became apparent that I was wrong. All he wanted to do was take care of me. First, he took me on a shopping spree to buy clothes, shoes, bags and jewellery. Then he inquired about my education and found out I had an excellent result in my final exams, so he got me into university and paid. And as soon as lectures began, he hired a driver to take me to university and back. At home, he wouldn’t let me out of his sight. We went out every weekend for dinner and parties and travelled all over the country. Throughout this, he didn’t touch me, because he said he will feel as if he was abusing me if he made love to me when I was under the age of 21.

On my 21st birthday, he woke me up with a kiss. He was holding a box in his hands, opened it, knelt down by the bed and asked me to marry him. Elated that finally, all my wishes had come true, I accepted his proposal. I had grown to fall madly in love with him as well. He was the only person who had taken superb care of me. Dr Fola took me out that afternoon for lunch on a beautiful boat. I was so happy, all my suffering no longer mattered, and for me, it was this result that mattered. 

Our romance continued when we got back home as he carried me to the bedroom, slowly undressed me, and we made sweet love so passionately it was divine. He was very gentle, made sure I was before he stopped. Also surprised that lovemaking could be so sweet, Unlike Edward who was an animal. Edward treated me like a sex slave. After every session with Edward, I would get torn down below and all he would say was suck it up and use some pain killers. But as I lay there next to Dr Fola, I thanked God for giving him to me. I appreciated him so much because I had seen the other side of love, care, gentleness, and compassion.

Time went by quickly and a year later, I graduated with a first-class in business administration. Dr Fola was so proud of me, he celebrated by buying me a car and fixing our wedding date. I was gloomy on that day; thought to myself how lovely it would have been if my grandparents, mother, siblings, stepfather could be there for me. I thought about it and decided even if my mother and her family couldn’t be there; I was going back to the village to see my grandparents with Dr Fola. He needed to know I came from somewhere. Edward always rubbed it in my face that I had no one. I was alone on earth, so he could do whatever he wanted with me and no one would ask him.

A few weeks later, Dr Fola told me we would go to the village by the weekend to see my grandparents. I was so happy, looking forward to seeing them after almost 6 years. The weekend came, and we loaded the trunk of the car with foodstuffs, rice, yam, vegetable oil and salt. Dr Fola had also given me some money to buy 4 wrappers for my grandma and two full native attires for my grandfather.

The journey took just over 5 hours, shorter than I remembered it by the time I came on a commercial bus. We got to the village around 12 noon, drove straight to our compound. The first thing I noticed how deserted the village looked. The old wonky houses, dusty mud-filled roads and the few people walking around looked so sad. I couldn’t imagine I had grown up here and thanked my God I had escaped. And as we drove into my grandparents’ compound, the place was dusty. I wasn’t comfortable with what I saw, but Dr Fola stopped the car, and we got down. Walking up the stairs, the main door locked. I went around the back; the door and all the windows were locked. Panicking and wondering where my grandparents could be, I ran next door to look for Nancy and her mum but found the house deserted. Just then my grandparents’ other neighbour, Pa D, as we fondly called him, appeared. I knelt down to greet him and he helped me up from my knees and asked me to come with him. I motioned to Dr Fola, and we both went into the bungalow in the next compound. 

I couldn’t wait to sit down before I asked him if he knew where my grandparents were. He ignored my question and asked who the man with me was. I told him, my husband, to be. He said that was good and then explained. Shortly after I left, my grandparents’ health deteriorated. They were heartbroken. There were so many rumours about what happened to me. Some said they killed me for a sacrifice, some said I drowned. He went further to say my grandparents tried to contact my mother but couldn’t find her address and my mum’s friend didn’t come back to the village. A month later, a driver came and informed them I was safely staying with my mum, but by then, the pain of losing me had taken its toll. A few months after that, my grandfather had a heart attack and died, and three weeks later my grandmother died in her sleep as well.

At that moment, as Pa D spoke, I felt the room spinning, and I lost it completely and slumped onto the floor and cried my eyes out. I kept yelling that it was all my fault. I blamed myself for their death. If I hadn’t run away, they would still be alive and if I hadn’t compelled Nancy not to tell, they would know where I went. Dr Fola and Pa D tried to console me by reassuring me it wasn’t my fault. Pa D said Nancy couldn’t have known what will happen if she didn’t tell my grandparents because shortly after I ran away Nancy and her mum also moved to live with their family in another village. He said my grandparents were both old and sick, and it was their time to die, but I still felt terrible.

An hour later, once I calmed down a bit, Pa D took us to their burial site. Two make shifts graves, exposed to the elements of the weather, looked so unkept. At that point, I felt so empty, knelt down in between both graves and begged for my grandparents’ forgiveness. Dr Fola pulled me up and asked Pa D if we could get someone to cement the graves and make it nice. He said yes, told Dr Fola how much it would cost and gave Pa D the money. He also gave Pa D some more money for his own upkeep. Then We took him back home and dropped all the foodstuffs and clothes we had brought for my grandparents in Pa D’s house and drove back to the city in silence. The trip back was very long, we didn’t talk, Dr Fola asked if I was okay occasionally and all I did was nod my head. 

The wedding day finally came. By then I had accepted my fate and adopted the excuse that old age killed my grandparents and not me. That day, as much as I missed my immediate family, my friends from university and Dr Fola’s relations made it worth my while. They were there for me as parents and family. Dr Fola was at his best. The day was a really great one. A week after, we went to The Gambia for our honeymoon. We had a lodge with the back door opening up into a swimming pool. Waking up every day to a beautiful infinity pool. I couldn’t swim, but Dr Fola was an expert. He was also a brilliant teacher. The week we spent there went by so quickly. On the last day, I asked if we could stay a few days more. Dr Fola promised we would come back on our first anniversary. 

Back at home, things also worked out well. We moved into a bigger house. It had 6 bedrooms, 2 living rooms, a guest chalet and a swimming pool. He also bought me a new car. As far as I was concerned, I had a wonderful life and nothing could go wrong.

 

CHAPTER 24-FEAR

 Life could be hilarious. How things that would be obvious to everyone around you wouldn’t be to you. Dr Fola, my husband, was the perfect man in my eyes. I saw none of his flaws until I began working. Shortly after I got a job with a software company, his possessiveness became apparent. Things I mistook as care and love now became glaring as control and possessiveness. I couldn’t believe I was heading back to the same place I hoped I’d never be again; fear, abuse, and intimidation. First, he started dictating what time I should come back from work; he said I closed at 5.30 pm and he wanted me at home before 6 pm. He knew on a day without traffic my trip to work took 25 minutes. How would I get home in 30 minutes with rush hour traffic? That created a crisis in our home almost every day before I had to plead with my boss that I would forgo my lunch break so I could leave work earlier. 

Next was how I dressed for work. He said it would attract too much attention from Men. They were too tight or too short. He insisted I wear only long skirts and baggy trousers to work. Then it was the way I smiled at a colleague when we both bumped into him at a restaurant. Then the phone calls I got occasionally from my boss while he was at home. Soon, he became irritable most of the time and aloof. Things got really worse and changed drastically when I gave birth to our first child.

Although Dr Fola was ecstatic when our son was born, it only lasted until I brought our son home from the hospital. Dr Fola suddenly became possessive and irritable, differently. He started by complaining that I neglected him and instead gave our baby son too much attention. At first, I thought it was a joke, so I would make fun of him and ask how he could be jealous of a tiny little baby, especially his own son. But when he started timing my stay with our son and insisted he stay in a separate room on his own. I knew something was definitely amiss, but I took it in my strides. Bought baby monitors and listened to him from our bedroom.

 Then Just before my maternity leave ended, my husband informed me he had called my boss and told him I won’t be coming back to work. I was now a mother and my duty were to stay at home and look after him and our son. When he told me that, I was so upset and protested. So he asked me how I was going to combine work with taking care of him, our son and the home. When now that I was on maternity leave, I couldn’t manage? I tried to explain that this was my first child, and I was just learning the ropes and in time I would get used to it. I pleaded with him to let me get some help, but all my pleas fell on deaf ears. He said their mother and not some stranger will look after his children. His decision was final. “no more going to work for you”, he said. 

That day, I went from a happy, lucky, full of life and perfect married girl to a sad, downcast and miserable married girl. I sat in our room feeding our son and thought of what just happened. But then my thoughts went back to my mum, Edward, and the life I now had with Dr Fola, my husband. Comparing them, I saw that stopping work wasn’t the worst that could happen to me. So I snapped out of my depressive thoughts and doubled up my efforts and make sure I pleased my husband and I was sure that would make our marriage happy and blissful.

I tried as hard as I could to please my husband, but no matter how much I tried, he only got worse. He got grumpy, snappy and abusive. The peak of his abuse came after we had the other two children. My husband now felt it was wise to draw up a rota for attention. I had never heard of that before. One day as I went back into our bedroom after I had put the children to bed. He had it all printed out. The paper had a chart for spending time with each of our three children, time I spent cooking and cleaning and finally time I spent with him. I looked through it twice, with hours and minutes allocated. His time was the most. The times he allocated for the children would barely give me enough time to bathe them in the evening and read them to sleep. I didn’t query him, rather I was already calculating in my head how I could make it work. But I noticed he had allocated no time for me to be by myself, so I pointed this out. He smiled and said what do I need time alone for? Anytime I spent with him was my time. 

At that moment, I knew I was in big trouble and the way he emphasized it; I knew if I didn’t keep to it, anything could happen. Before this time, he had only threatened to hit me. But I lived in fear that one day he might carry out his threat to beat me up. And unfortunately, I didn’t have to wait long.

The first day he graduated from verbal abuse to hitting me, our first son had been unwell. That day I got a call from his school that he was running temperature. So I got the driver to take me to his school and from there we went straight to our hospital. My husband ran some tests on him, discovered it was malaria, and gave him an injection before we went back home. That night I deviated from my husband’s time schedule and spend a bit more time with our son because he still had a really high fever and was very clingy. I knew it was time outside the rota for spending time with our son and it will encroach on the time I spent with my husband, but I thought he would understand. As I lay there next to our son, cuddling him and rocking him to sleep, I mistakenly dozed off in our son’s room.  

I couldn’t have been asleep for over 20 minutes when my husband woke me up with a painful slap. Dazed, the next thing I knew, he was dragging me by my hair to our room. I was pleading with him, trying not to scream in pain so as not to alert the children. When I tried to wriggle myself out of his grip, he went mad and that’s when he hit me. I tried to lift my knees to defend myself, and that only infuriated him the more. That night he beat me so badly, that I fainted. And being a doctor, he could revive me and patch me up before the next morning. That began my beating saga. 

The beatings went on for years. And every time I always believed it was my fault and that if I just did what he wanted, there would be no reason to be beaten. I became so afraid of him that sometimes, at the sound of his voice, I would literally wet myself. The stress from his verbal and mental abuse affected me so much that I lost weight, couldn’t concentrate for long periods, but still had to stay strong for my children. Years went by, I hid my pain from them and he hid the abuse well. He will make sure the children have gone to school before he comes back home to beat me for something I did earlier in the day. I was always ready to be beaten; it had become part of my routine. I soon realised my relationship with my husband was one of fear and no respect. 

 

CHAPTER 25- THE DEVIL’S SPUN.

The dangerous thing about silent alarms, bells are ringing, but you don’t know you’re in trouble. I thought Edward was an evil monster but paled compared to Dr Fola. At least with Edward, I knew what I was getting from day one. But my husband, Dr Fola, lured me in gradually. Stuck with three children and an evil husband, this time there was no running away. I accepted that my marriage to Dr Fola was that of fear and not of respect. I was here now, and I had to make the best of it, and accept my fate. So I took everything he threw at me. Learning to hide the abuse and beating. Cover the scars with makeup. Laugh around my children even when it hurt so badly, I wanted to die. I had to be strong for them. Who was going to take care of them if I ran or worse, something bad happens to me? I believed if that I just obeyed my husband, and did what he wanted, had a good chance of surviving his brutality. And I dutifully carried out my duties as a wife and mother. 

Then one weekend, as usual, I went to the market on Saturday morning and found I forgot my purse in a different handbag. So I hurried back home to get it. As I approached the house, I saw my husband’s car outside. This shocked me, as he wasn’t supposed to be home. Usually, on Saturday mornings he goes to the gym and doesn’t get back until 10 or 11 am, this was 9 am. By now, we had a maid who mainly did house chores. I still had to go to the market and do the cooking, as my husband demanded. I would have called the maid to get my purse for me, but if the home phone rang, my husband would most likely pick it up. And I knew he must not find out I forgot my purse or he will beat me. So I planned to sneak in, get my purse and get out before he saw me. But as I walked past my 9-year-old daughter’s room, I heard noises. Stopped to listen before opening the door but then heard my husband’s voice. I couldn’t open the door because he will know I came back home, but I peeped through the keyhole, and instantly what I saw made me vomit right there. Could not believe my eyes. My husband was putting his hand in my daughter’s pants and she was touching his manhood. I quickly took off my scarf, scooped up the vomit and ran so fast away from the door and forgot about the purse. When I finally stopped running, I was just around the corner from our house; I sat down outside the gate of the first house I saw and cried. Oh my gosh, this was not happening. His own daughter. How could he? I contemplated going to confront him, but I knew he might kill me. Then who would take care of my children? I didn’t know what to do. I definitely couldn’t confront him, so I tore my top and went back inside to make him stop. 

But by this time, my husband finished his evil act. He saw me and asked what I was doing back home. I told him someone snatched my bag in the market and in the process my top got torn. I couldn’t tell if he believed me or not, but he said nothing, just picked up his keys and drove out of the compound. 

I ran straight to check up on my daughter. She was fine. With tears in my eyes and not being able to ask her directly what I saw, I asked her what she had been doing with her daddy. She looked at me innocently and replied, “Daddy was just playing our game”, but she couldn’t tell me what it was because her dad said it was their secret game. Holding back my tears, I asked if she played it all the time and asked if it was painful, and she said, “yes, sometimes he comes to play at night and no, it wasn’t painful anymore, only when they started playing the game.” I forced a smile, gave her a reassuring hug, and walked out of her room. At that moment, I barely held myself together as I ran into our bedroom and screamed into a pillow. I lay there crying and yelling for a few minutes before it occurred to me to ask our sons the same question. So I went over to ask my eldest son, who was 10 and he said the same thing, as also did my 7-year-old son. 

 

CHAPTER 26- LIGHT AT THE END 

I could not comprehend what I was hearing. My entire world was crashing right before my eyes and I was completely hopeless and felt there was nothing I could do about it. That day I realised my husband was abusing our three children. I cried for hours. I couldn’t eat or drink for a week. My husband asked what was wrong with me. I made an excuse and told him I had a stomachache. As a doctor, he prescribed some drugs and asked me to pull myself together. He didn’t care, and I didn’t care that he didn’t. I was happy it gave me time to be on my own and think. At that point, I hated him so much and every time he touched me after that I cringed, but tried so hard to hide it after he slapped me a few times for not taking part in our lovemaking. The question that kept ringing in my head was, who do I tell? And how do I stop this? I definitely knew confronting him was out of the question. If he even knew I knew, I will be dead, not to mention telling someone else. I was so scared of him that the sound of his voice made me break into uncontrollable shakes most time.

Not having anyone to tell and believing there was nothing I could do to stop him, my husband continued to abuse our children for several years. And I pretended I didn’t know, shut it out of my mind and took it in my stride. How I did that, I do not know, but I did. After a while, I was too afraid to even think about it for fear that he would find out I knew and kill me. He always could read my mind. He controlled every decision and every aspect of my life. I had no choice but to conform. What else could I do? I was his slave; he abused me every other day. If it wasn’t a slap, it was a kick or full downright beating. I didn’t know what to do. This man was the only one who ever cared for me. He rescued me from poverty and the sex trade, sent me to school, married me and gave me a life of comfort. I have known no other; he was my parents, my brother, my husband and my friend. I practically had no one but him and my children.

Then one day everything changed. I saw a movie on cable TV about something similar. Her father abused this woman as a young girl. In her case, she eventually killed her abusive father. I knew I couldn’t allow my daughter to kill her father. It was my responsibility to save her from him. That’s when the thought came into my head that I could actually kill my husband. The challenge was how? He was stronger than I and besides; I didn’t want to go to jail for murder and leave my kids with him. I slept that night thinking of ways to kill him and not get caught. For weeks, as I re-watched the movie, I pondered over this. Soon, just like the woman in the movie, I believed I could actually do it and get away with it. 

 

First, like she had done, I bought the poison and kept it in the kitchen where our maid couldn’t find it. Second, just like the woman in the movie, I needed to establish an alibi. I needed a routine of leaving him at home without the children. So I devised a plan to go to church on Sundays with the children. This would get us out of the house. I knew he wouldn’t come with us to church because he said he had enough of it growing up and thankfully he agreed we could go without him but insisted the driver take us. 

That wasn’t a problem. I knew I had to build up his confidence for him to allow me to drive on my own. That week we went to church and every week after. Soon I made a few friends, especially the pastor’s wife. She took an interest in me. One day she saw a bruise on my arm and asked how I got it. I told her I had fallen in the bathroom. She smiled and just said, “It is well’’. After that Sunday. Every time she would ask me how it happened when she saw a bruise on me, I kept repeating that I fell, although it would be in different locations. The pastor’s wife will just smile and make the same comment, “It is well.”

 Soon my husband got really comfortable with me taking the children to church. He decided I should learn how to drive and so I did and he let me drive one car in the house.

 

CHAPTER 27- OUT OF THE BLUES

Then, a year and two months later, out of the blues, the pastor’s wife asked me how much money I had saved. Although taken aback by her question, I told her and she asked me to bring it all with two passport pictures each for me and the children. Looking back now, I don’t know why I didn’t ask questions. I gave her all the money, which was a lot. And eight weeks later, she came back with official passports and American visas with four flight tickets dated for the following Sunday. She gave them to me and said two words, “Liberate yourself.” Couldn’t believe it. Imagined and even dreamed of the day we will be free from my evil husband, but never thought the church would make it possible. So, thanking her, I gave back the documents because I couldn’t take them home and said I will.

At that point, I knew what she meant by “Liberate yourself”. Prayed for months for the courage and opportunity to present itself, and now it had. It was time to get rid of my husband and flee. Don’t know how the pastor’s wife knew where my heart was or what I had planned, but by some divine intervention, I got answers to my prayers and the solution to my dilemma of what happens after my husband dies. I knew the ball was in my court now. I had to poison him the following Sunday before we left for church. Thankfully, the maid was off until the end of the month. So It was then or never. 

So I got back home and said nothing and tried not to do anything to arouse his suspicion. I was more submissive. But that didn’t help me because as the week progressed, I got beaten twice, although fewer times than the previous week. I didn’t even have to do anything wrong to get beaten. He even beat me for apologising too much. I didn’t care; I knew it was the last time he was going to lay his filthy, perverted hands on me or my children. 

That faithful Sunday morning finally came, the day they issued our flight tickets. As usual, we got ready for church. The pastor’s wife had warned me not to pack anything, just come to church with our bibles as usual. I told my husband his food was in the microwave and walked towards the front door. But to my utmost dismay, he said not to bother, as he was coming with us to church. I froze. That wasn’t the plan. I had poisoned his food, and the plan was we get to church and go straight to the airport. He eats the food and dies. 

Now he wasn’t eating, and he was coming to church. Perplexed, and shaking all over, I quickly excused myself with the pretence that I suddenly had a stomachache and needed to go to the toilet. He grunted, “Hurry,” and took the children into the car. I ran to the bathroom and in a panic called my pastor’s wife.

 

CHAPTER 28 – FREE TO EXHALE

As soon as she picked up the phone, I was babbling, incoherent, half crying, half speaking. But I didn’t tell her I poisoned his food. She allowed me to pause, then calmed me down and reassured me everything was going to work out fine. When she saw I was calmer, she said, “Pull yourself together and come with him to church. We’ve got you.” As she said that, I felt relieved. They’ve got us. Those 3 words were very reassuring. So I wiped the sweat off my face and went to join my family in the car. We got to church. The pastor’s wife took the kids off us to Sunday school, or so I thought. Just as church service began, she announced that all women in my church group should come out for a meeting. I got up and joined the other woman walking out of the service. My husband, unperturbed by my exit with the group of women, sat there ready for the sermon. As I got out of the main church door and was about to follow the other women into the adjacent building, the pastor’s wife pulled me out of the line and took me behind the church building and Shoved me into the waiting car that already had my three children. Then she gave me the documents and said, “God be with you, go, don’t worry, I will call you when you get to my sister in America. she will wait for you at JFK airport.

The next morning we landed at JFK international airport in New York and a lovely lady had my name on a piece of cardboard. She took us home; we had no luggage. Shortly after, she called the pastor’s wife, who informed me after church service yesterday my husband had ranted and raved. Looked for us in the whole church and called the police and suggested someone had kidnapped us. The police asked if he was sure we didn’t run away; they asked if there was anything he could think of that would make us want to leave him without notice. He said it was impossible because we loved each other dearly and I would never leave him. He was grossly mistaken.

A few months later, the pastor’s wife called me and said, Congratulations, God has intervened on your behalf. I didn’t understand what she meant, so she explained. The day before in the morning, she went round to the house to see my husband, show concern for us missing but on her arrival at our house, she met the police bringing out his dead body. Apparently, he had died overnight; someone bludgeoned him to death with a metal object. I screamed, asked if she was sure, and then I knelt down and cried. The children had asked about their father for a few weeks but now settled into their new life. I knew God was a miracle-working God. I couldn’t kill him, and I was glad I didn’t. But the things he did, he was better off with God. My conscience was clear. He didn’t die from poisoning. Who killed him? Nobody knows. We were safe now. He couldn’t harm us anymore. The pastor’s wife’s sister treated us really nicely, made us feel welcome and said we could stay with her until I settled in and got myself a job. I also found out from here that the pastor’s wife and her network had rescued so many women from abusive men and paedophiles husbands. Her sister was one.

And just like that I knew, Everything will be alright in the end, and if it’s not, then it’s not the end. I was finally free to EXHALE.

 

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10 COMMENTS

  1. Whaooo. I was practically having palpitations while i read this. Thank God you got liberated. God bless that pastor’s wife .

  2. Thank you for another magnificent article. Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such an ideal way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I’m on the look for such info.

  3. What’s Taking place i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I have discovered It positively helpful and it has aided me out loads. I hope to contribute & aid different customers like its helped me. Great job.

  4. You are truly a blessing, I have sent this to a friend in similar situation.i pray this will give her courage to liberate herself

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