Tired and dusty from a day spent walking the roads of Oshodiand navigating traffic to sell bread, chips and popcorn to the commuters, Chioma made her way back to her family's ramshackled house in the slums of Ajegunle.
It is rumored that Waheed is a serial rapist and child molester, but Papa wouldn't listen as getting married to Waheed Mékoguarantees a steady three-square meal for the rest of the family. A tempting offer, she acquiesced. She shouldn't care about Mama and Papa, but she does.
‘I don't want to get married now,’ she mumbled on her way back home. ‘’I'm only just sixteen and still a minor. I want to go to school, too, like other children,’ she lamented dejectedly. Who would she talk to? Who would she call? In a society where the rights of womenfolk are continuously trampled upon, and life gets harder day after day; who would listen to her?
Who would hear her story of how Papa came to her room that night on her 11th birthday. He just wanted to ‘play around it,’ he said, but he had ended up penetrating and causing her so much pain than she'd ever known. Who would believe her when she say that just yesterday, she had the second abortion for Papa. ‘I'm just sixteen,’ she continued, lamenting. ‘I don't want to believe a sixteen year old anywhere in the world has to go through so much pain.’
Maybe getting married to Waheed Méko would be better as it would free her from Papa's lewd gazes and groping hands. But when Papa came to her yesterday night, after doing the deed, with her pretending to be fast asleep as always, he had whispered into her ear. “I'll never leave you alone, Nwanem. You're so sweet, and even in your husband's house, I'll continually visit you to get my right.”
She wants to go to school like other children, She wants to be happy, too. She's a girl, just like any other girl who doesn't want to be forced to have sex even on her period days. She wants to be free. ‘What have I done to deserve this? The more I try to keep my sanity and break free, the more Papa and Mama breaks my resolve.’
“Chi Chi, you're back so early?” Mama Ayo called out to her as she made her way from across the street to their part of the ghetto, jolting her out of her reverie.
“Yes, ma. Good evening, ma,” she replied, faking a smile and managing to keep her voice steady. Mama Ayo busied with what she was doing and didn't answer her anymore.
“There goes nothing,” she said. Getting to their portion of the ghetto area, she met Papa outside, smoking and sniffing tobacco.
“Papa, ndo o.” She said, dropping her tray.
“You don close? You see everything sell?” Papa asked. He's always oblivious to the pain he put her through. All he and Mama wants is money and more money.
“Yes. Bizness move well today. Wey Mama?”
“E be like she dey inside. Abi she fit don go that Lappameeting.”
Sighing, Chioma made her way inside to begin dinner. It's always women meeting where you buy expensive wrappers and lace for Mama. While for Papa, it's drinking, smoking and tobacco.
Rolling her eyes dramatically to heaven. “Baba God, help your pikin.”
Myth has it that a prayer said in a foreign language asides English gets a quicker answer. Because of that, she finds herself always muttering her short prayers in either Igbo, or Pidgin. “Chukwu za ekpere'm. Gozie'm, biko.”
The stove, smoking as usual, permeates the stuffed air in their one room apartment. For today, she decides to boil the only piece of yam left from two nights ago. It's not much but it's something. And that's the only food stuff left in the house. There's also little palm oil left in that plastic bottle she saw in the dustbin last night.
‘Why people would throw good food away still baffles me,’ she muttered to herself. Talking to her self has been the gig from the beginning. Being the only child of the family and always working with no time to socialize, she has learnt the art of being alone without being alone.
She still feels lonely sometimes, though. And when she sees boys and girls on their way to school in the morning, laughing and looking happy, the feeling intensifies. Maybe, just maybe I'm not meant for a life like this, she would conclude.
When she was younger, Papa used to beat Mama everyday. But as she grew older, the beatings and quarrels stopped. It stopped finally on her 11th birthday. Perhaps, there was a silent agreement between Papa and Mama that “you do what you want to with your daughter, and let me be.”
Mornings after the nightly visits, Mama makes sure she avoids making eye contact with her. Chioma—sure that Mama is aware of all that goes on in the house—has accepted what fate has in store for her. ‘But why will Mama still maltreat me after everything?’
As early as 4am everyday, she has to be up fetching water from Baba Olómì from two streets away. Then after that comes the daily routine of washing the few clothes they had in the house so as to maintain a clean appearance, always.
Some days, on her way to fetch water, she encounters some boys who wouldn't let her pass until they've ‘pressed’ her to their satisfaction. And what could such a poor lad do? The sexual harassment from an outsider pales in comparison to the one done by her own blood.
“Which ear dem fit take hear am? Which eye don see son tin like dat? Dem go ask say ‘no be juju be dat?’’’ she lamented on and on while peeling the yam. She was so engrossed in her sorrows that she didn't realize when Papa entered the room, made his way to her and rubbed his groin on her pointed ass.
“Wetin? Tell me say you no like am,” Papa smirked still smooching her ass. “Be like your yansh don dey big o. You don dey allow another boy press am?”
When life gives you lemons, you are asked to make lemonades out of it. But when life gives you a pedophile as a father, a demon as a mother and sexual harassers as neighbours; what do you do?
“I'm sixteen,” Chioma narrated to the reporter that came to help her. When she couldn't take it anymore, she had gone to the NGO in Oshodi to tell them about what she's going through. It took a lot of courage on her part, but she knew that if she didn't do it, she'll eventually take her life and Papa's life, thereby cutting short her plans and dreams.
“I'm sixteen,” she continued, “but I stopped living life immediately I came into this world. On my 11th birthday, things turned around for the worse, and ever since then, life has been hard. Really hard. Imagine not getting the necessary menstrual hygiene prep you should from your mother and having to get by stolen pieces of clothes from Iya Sikira's shop.
“Every month, I have to steal her pieces and use them as makeshift pads because Mama never asked about my bodily functions, and Papa never cared. Even before I was old enough to be a woman, I've been performing the duties of a wife. Cooking, cleaning, washing, sexually satisfying my own Papa!
“This is the 21st century, for crying out loud,” she was sobbing profusely now, “and this is Lagos! Things like this shouldn't have to happen here. At least not in this part of the world. A daughter having abortion for her own Papa? Where's that done?
“What about the vaginal discharge I had to suffer through after my first time. I was bleeding. Bleeding profusely, yet Mama never stretched forth her arm to help. I had tears in my vagina from the aggressiveness Papa used in entering me, but no one did so little as boil water for my bath.” She cracked a dry laughing, “who I'm kidding? No one even looked in my direction.
“All through the pain, shame and feelings of guilt, Mama still made me work. I fetched water, cooked and hawked. Everyday. No sympathy from anyone! Chukwu gozie'm because, I don't know how the discharge stopped. If it hadn't, who would have believed my story?” She concluded.
Facing the imaginary audience, she said; “I don't care how hard it gets, learn to speak up. Speak up to the right people so you'll get the help that you deserve. Don't ever accept lesser than you deserve because, eziokwu, no one ever has to go through so much pain and self hate.
“You're a queen, make sure you get treated like a queen that you are. You are a King, never accept lesser than you deserve. I'll heal, I know I would, but the scars will always remain. Some days I ask myself, ‘what if I'm not able to give birth again?’
Chioma hates Papa and Mama for all the pains they've caused to her, but she knows Papa couldn't help it. “They need help,” she says, pitifully.