There was no money to steal. One of the night prayers must have been for provision for the next day which we had no clue where it would be coming from or when. Having come around before, these thieves were also aware of our unpalatable financial status but they also knew my mum makes good meals with whatever we do have at home.
So, they kept coming.
If dinner remains, they clean it up. If it doesn’t, mummy makes their own. There was a day all we had in the house was a crate of eggs and our armed visitors were around again. They sat down and as mummy kept frying the eggs, they kept eating them. I am not sure if they finished the whole crate that time but I can imagine that if any was left, the family would have left it untouched, as per, “It belongs to them.”
I was too little to comprehend these scenarios then. One of the stories has it that one of the days they visited, I was crying so hard, one of them pointed a gun at me and ordered whoever owned the baby to make me stop or he’d shoot. I don’t know how my mother accomplished that feat but here I am today. So, congratulations, Maami.
I was little. I was most likely unaware of the implications of my cooperation. But, I think a part of me was registering the fear and helplessness that loomed when these guys were around. The frustration and not-to-be-helped surrender was seeping through my pore whether I liked it or not.
So, when I was in that moment, having a cake of my own and sensing something akin to those unwanted visitors, could it be that I realized that, this time, maybe I could defend my property. In my little mind, I was saying something like Claire said to Fleabag, “…get your hands off my miscarriage!!!”
Whatever the case was on that birthday, that moment was captured and kept alive for years, providing a prompt for all sorts of imaginations. I am not sure what other memories exist between that 1st birthday and the next memory and memories I am going to share. Also, as much as possible, I’ll try to make them chronological. But, I cannot promise to be accurate about that.
Sometime after, we moved out of the SU compound at Samonda to Ashi. I think I remember quite a lot about living in this place, although, some of these memories may have been implanted by the stories my brothers told.
We had a living room, a kitchen which I do not remember and a master’s bedroom. At night, there was a general scramble to finish eating fast enough as the last person to do so ended up doing the dishes. This was a barely four year old me competing with my eight year old and ten year old brothers. There was no winning. I am a naturally slow eater and that is minus the societal expectation to be lady-like. In summary, I had to do the dishes. Again, I have no recollection of how that kitchen looked. I have been told our dish washing was done on the floor with two big bowls; one for washing and the other for rinsing. That is understandable as I can’t imagine my short self standing on a stool or chair and getting those dishes done. Anyway, I think I fell in love with dishwashing because even as an adult, that is one chore I don’t run from.
After the dishes are done, all of us would go outside, all six of us at this time because, Debby, aka Evangeline, had come. (I’ll get round to how she got to be called Evangeline). The family would put out mats and we would listen to stories, both Yoruba folklore and Bible stories. We would admire the stars and bask in the coolness of the night. Then, when it was getting too dark and the mosquitoes were getting too familiar with our veins, we would go inside.
There was a huge mattress on which I and my two brothers slept. I imagine that we would push the centre table to the left and place the mattress on the right, in front of the door which we sometimes left open, save the net door, so as to allow in some air. The Power Holding Company was very diligent in holding power and as typical Nigerians, we had found ways around it.
Now, while the net was to keep out the mosquitoes, its open state was a scary thing to me. I was scared of some animal or evil spirit walking into our house and carrying me away. I most likely have a hyperactive imagination on my own but watching those Mount Zion movies of three women with their faces painted black, sitting round a pot on fire and making weird faces did not help. Neither did watching them just before bed help. And praying about them at night prayers definitely did not help.
Because, think about it; If those movies were just movies, I see no reason why they should be tabled before God in whatever form. But no, my parents would ask us what we had learnt from the movies and how they related to life and our Christian living. Truth is, I did not understand much of what Christianity involved then but one thing was clear, God just had to keep us safe from, not just the hungry thieves of life, but the spiritual dark forces too.
So, my fear explained, you understand why I preferred sleeping in the middle, flanked by my brothers, who, although also little, were supposed to protect me. But, they often ganged up against me. They would choose to sleep beside each other and leave me to the edge of the bed. Daddy allowed us pick but of course, the picking went from oldest to the youngest and in the end, I really had nothing to pick.
A particular night stands out for me. I had become used to being left to the edge of the bed. So, when I woke up later at night, I would find my way to the master bedroom and keep knocking till either dad or mum opened the door for me and I would climb their bed and sleep in between them. I think they got used to it and indulged me because they knew my brothers were not being nice.
That night though, I kept knocking and no one was answering at first. Later on, I’m not sure which of them answered from behind the door that I should go back to our mattress.
I was not happy but more than that, I was scared and getting more scared because I was hearing strange sounds behind me. These sounds were not in my head and they were getting close. I could feel them. I kept moving close to the door of the master’s bedroom, my knocking torn between being earnest and conveying a sense of urgency and being quiet so as to not attract the sounds. Although, I was quite convinced that whether I knocked or not, they were headed for me. The moment I felt those hands on me, I think I peed on myself and I was already in tears.
Looking back and realizing it was my brothers playing a prank on me did not make me feel better. I just kept crying. I think the main reason why I kept crying was because finally, one of my worst fears had come to pass and those I expected to protect me, especially my parents, had betrayed me and left me to fight for myself.
When I remained inconsolable, my brothers tried to compensate by allowing me sleep in the middle for the rest of the night. But, really, how could I sleep when the two flanking me could decide to still wake up and pull another prank on me? At that moment, I probably realized that truly, only God can save me. Not my daddy or mummy and surely not those sly brothers.