Surviving as an African

Bolaji Abimbola was my name; Bolaji meaning ‘’wakes with wealth’’ because a prophecy came with my birth. The priestess of my village said I would break my family out of poverty and make everyone proud, but how was that supposed to happen? When my father had a hatred for female children. I wish my father will send me to school. I envied my brothers when they go to school in their fancy uniforms. Was it my fault I was born a girl? I am still a human being?
As I lay on my mat daydreaming about how I wanted my life to turn with pictures I had seen in Temilade’s textbook; my dad called for me.
“Yes, Papa” I answered and jumped up immediately before he would come to beat me.
I entered my father’s room, surprisingly my mom sat with him.
“Papa I am here “, I looked at my mom trying to get a clue on where I was called, but the only thing I could see from her eyes was fear and discomfort like papa had hit her and she was trying to hide the pain from me. My mother Shola, a very beautiful slender woman, with beautiful long legs in her late 30s was now looking like Temi’s grandmother. If love led my mother to leave her rich father’s house to be with a short, ugly, wicked man with tribal marks all over his cheeks I don’t want to ever be in love. How could she marry this man as a fifth wife when the king of her village was asking for her hand. Do people realize the choices they make affect their generation to come? If only mother had made a better choice, I would have been in a school like Temi. I envied her a lot; she gets to meet different people from other villages and even knows how to read and write. But I love her a lot because she takes her time to teach me what she learnt in school and because of her I know how to read and write.
“I called you here because you are now 15” my father interrupted my thought, how I hated him. What is he talking about 15, I prayed I would not be forced into marriage like my older sisters?
“I have spoken to your mother about chief Tosan, who wants to take you as his third wife, you know you are a girl and you are just born to be married off, unlike your brothers who will carry the family’s name. Your brothers need the dowry to continue their schooling, so get ready next two weeks you will be going to your new home. Your mother has accepted”. Like she has a choice I thought; I looked at him in disgust, what did I do in my former life to deserve this kind of father. I am never going to end like my mother, I thought but could not say it out to avoid him hitting me. I am going to run away to the city.
“Did you hear what I said, omobirin” Papa asked
“Yes papa,” I said in a flat voice.
“You can go,” papa said; I looked at my mother one last time trying to read her thoughts but she looked at me like the pathetic dog that roams the village; telling me with her eyes that she had no choice.
As I stepped back into my mother’s room, I looked around. I had seven siblings and we all had to share a tiny room that is supposed to house only three people. It was hard to sleep comfortably at night. How does a man marry seven wives when he barely had money to take care of one and himself? The women had to fend for themselves and the children with no support from the man and they still marry him, were they blind? How do they not think of their unborn children before getting married? I cannot end up like my mother. But where do I go? I don’t know anywhere and have no money, maybe I will ask Temi for help.
Two weeks passed by so quickly and I was still not able to get to Temi as she was busy with her exams. I was not able to sleep through the night, I kept on tossing and turning. I know my mother was awake, but like the coward she was, she stayed quiet not even consoling me.
The next day, papa woke us up early like he just wanted me to leave his house so fast so he could get the dowry. My mother dressed me up and rubbed a candle-like object on me that smells like flowers. Chief Tosan was not present because he was too old to walk so far, so my father handed me over to his brothers and first wife who came for me. As we journeyed to his house, I could feel hot tears streaming down my cheeks, but I did not look back to see my mother, I was angry at her. How could she accept for her little girl to be sold off to a man in his 60s, why won’t she save me? All my dreams faded away from my heart, and the hope I had and held onto fell off my shoulders, my shoulders hanging like Billy the hungry village dog. The first wife held my hand like she understood what was going through my mind.
Night came his first wife led me to his room, while I got death stares from his second wife. Did she think I was happy here? Who would want to marry a man that can barely carry himself around because of his age? I trembled from fear as I finally entered his room, tears streaming down and sweat all over my body. Immediately she locked the door from outside, I bolted for the door screaming and wailing.
“Did your father tell you how much how paid for you, why are you screaming? keep quiet” Chief Tosan shouted. I jotted from the sudden voice and movement behind me; “Please sir let me go, I don’t want to marry you, I am too young and I want to go to school” I cried and begged him hoping he will listen to me.
“All these little girls now want to grow wings to fly, why not be like your mothers who accepted their fate. Beautiful girls are only meant to reproduce. I don’t want to hear those screams, don’t let me call for your father. When you finish come meet me” Chief Tosan said.
I calmed down thinking he would not touch me as he laid back on his mattress. I don’t know how long I lay on the ground, but I must have been so tired that I slept off. I thought I was dreaming when I felt a pair of hands on my legs, before I could react, he held me down and started trying to force his Kòfe inside me. I struggled with all I had but to no avail, the man that looked weak had the strength of a cow. The sharp pain I felt in my “Abę” as he penetrated inside me, I stooped struggling because I knew I had lost. I could smell his breath which stinks of tobacco and his sweat dripped all over me as he continued. I lay there watching my dreams slip through my fingers in tears. He finally came off me and went straight to sleep, snoring like the sound of the old lorry that comes to pick up vegetables from the village to the city.
A month passed by so fast and I had not seen my mother or siblings because he would not let me off his sight as he still thought I would run away. His first wife Bimpe suggested that a party should be held to welcome me to the family. Chief Tosan accepted and told her to take me to the tailor’s shop to get new dresses. After we finished at the tailor’s shop, we went to the market to get vegetables. Bimpe started bargaining with the seller trying to convince her to sell the vegetable she wanted for a cheaper price. I stood by her side looking around, I saw a man loading the vegetable lorry going to Ibadan and immediately I saw my dreams and life flashed before me. I quietly left her side and went close to the lorry, after I was sure no one was looking I sneaked in between the vegetables and covered myself hoping not to be caught. Luckily, I felt the lorry move, I hoped and prayed so hard it was going straight to the city. I cannot remember how long we moved because I slept off till I noticed the lorry slowing down. I peeped out I was already dark, I slipped out after they finally stopped and ran without stopping so they would not see me.
I walked a very long distance wondering what I was going to do until I saw a shop and decided to sleep and think of what I would do the next day. I slept off immediately I lay on the ground, I dreamt of a good life and I could feel my lips smiling as I slept. I felt something cold on my hand so I jumped up in shock. I saw a man looking drunk with a bottle in his hand looking down at me like he was trying to get my image into his head. I tried to run off in fear but he held me back and forcefully pushed me down.
“Fine girl, why you dey run? Abi you no like fine brother like me?” he asked.
“Please sir allow me to go I am like your younger sister; I am just 15” I cried so hard wishing I had not come to see the city. He laughed so hard like I was putting up a comedy show for him;
“o ko mo awon oniwe-odo odomobirin bi iwo ti o dun ati alabapade. Just open lemme enter, I no go waste time”.
I struggled with him with all I had but he had his way. As I lay there after he left, I hoped for the earth to open up and swallow me. Why does He hate me?
“Why did you bring me to this world if I was only to know pain?” I shouted out loud not caring if more persons come to rape me. After all, what more was I worth is it not better to die. I lay there in pain waiting for the worse to happen.
Morning came finally and the owner of the shop came to start her day. She must have been used to finding mad and homeless people in the mornings because she was not surprised to see me. She just used her broom to chase me out without wanting to hear what I had to say. I just kept on wandering around with no direction and nothing to eat, all I wanted was to go back to my village, but how do I go back home? I cried walking around till evening came. I tried to find my way back to where the lorry stopped but to no avail.
The night was fast approaching, so I went close to the lady’s shop seeing everyone was retiring back home. The beautiful lady was about to close so I wanted to sleep there, I wished I was her and very beautiful too. The lady must have noticed me going around through the day so she called me;
“Young girl, why are you wandering, go back home to your parent” she spoke to me so nicely”, I did not know when tears fell from my eyes. I told her everything and how I came to Ibadan and to my greatest surprise she hugged me so tightly;
“Don’t worry I was once like you when I came to Ibadan, I had nothing to my name, but as God will have it here I am. Would you like to come with me home? You can live with me and even go to school” she said sweetly.
I saw a light at the end of the tunnel, a new life for me. No one has ever thought of me as a human enough to help me. I cried tears of joy, thanking God inside my heart that He finally came through for me. She took me to her house and after a really bad day, I had a warm bath for the first time in my life. She gave me rice and chicken; the kind of food I see Temi eat but have never tasted. So, my life has changed? I could hardly believe that tears started falling from my eyes because of the kind of joy I felt inside.
“Why are you crying? Everything would be fine”
She said to me while holding my hands
“Honey, is this the girl you told me about over the phone?” someone said. I looked up to see a man, it had to be her husband I thought so I said; “Ka a ale, sir”
“How are you, fine girl. Why are you crying? Don’t worry you can trust us. Everything would be okay”. He said reassuring.
I felt so calm and happy inside that some strangers have accepted me as one of their own and even want to send me to school, my luck is changing.
“Thank you so much sir,” I said to him kneeling and crying with joy.
I slept that night happy I ran away from home and dreamed of school and how my life was to change for the best.
Three months passed by but they made no effort to send me to school. I was a slave; I wash, clean the house, took care of their kids, and practically did everything with no pay and only one real meal a day. I ate their leftovers but I did not mind because I wanted to go to school. I decided to ask her about school maybe she must be too busy that she had forgotten. While they ate I decide to ask;
“Ma, please I just want to remind you of school. You told me you would register me but you have been so busy. I can go do it myself so as not to stress you” I said in a very high spirit hoping she would remember and accept for me to go register myself.
“Look at this girl, it’s like you still don’t know your place in this house, you see me eating and you are asking me stupid questions” she shouted at me and threw her cup aiming for my head. “Pick up that cup and mob that floor. You should be grateful we picked up a gutter girl like you. How many people from that your village will dream of living in a house like this, better be grateful for the roof over your head. Now get out” I stood still looking at her in disbelief, was this the same person that took me off the streets three months ago? I could hardly believe it. This is why my mother says “gbekele enikeni” but I was too naïve to understand.
Later that night, as I lay on my bed, I could hardly believe everything that happened earlier that day. She must have been stressed that is why she reacted like that, I thought to myself and decided to try tomorrow. I slept off hoping tomorrow would be a better day. I had just closed my eyes planning to drift away to my fantasy land when I heard my door open. I got up thinking it was madam wanting me to help her with something, but to my aftmost surprise, I saw her husband.
“Oga good evening, do you want my help with something?” getting up from my bed while trying to hold my wrapper from falling as I had nothing on. He walked in smiling like he won a lottery and closed the door behind him.
“You cannot help me, rather I would be the one to help you. Do you really want to go to school?” He asked. I looked at him in surprise trying to understand what he was saying; was he trying to say he’d send me to school? My face lit up in happiness.
“Will you send me to school, sir?” I asked
“That is up to you. If you make me happy, I will send you to school”. He said.
“Make you happy? Oga you want me to cook or wash?” I asked already making up my mind to make him happy.
“You know what I want nah, why are you acting naïve? I know you are not a virgin anymore”. He said touching my shoulders.
I looked at him trying to understand, then it dawned on me. He wanted to put his Kofe in my Abe. The fear I had from my former experiences gripped me.
“Sir please, I don’t want to go to school…”.
Before I could finish, he pounced on top of me like a tiger on its prey. When he finished, he went out locking my door behind him.
The next day I went to his wife to tell her what had happened but she shoved me away. I looked at her realizing she was the second voice I heard after he had left my room. Where will I run to? I thought. I don’t even know the way back to my village, is this how my life will go from now on?
For the next two months, I had become a sex slave to the man and a housemaid for the children and their mother. This was not the life I wanted but what can I do, I have no place to go. The only consolation I had was Mrs. Atinuke a woman I buy things from on the same street. She gives me food, some new clothes and even teaches me how to write. When I pass by people on the street, they stop to whisper as if they knew but why not help me. One day I asked Mrs. Atinuke. “Why is no one helping? Why can no one take me away? Why do they look at me suffer and not take me away?” I felt my heart fall to the ground.
“You think I would not have helped you if I could? The man you stay with is a very popular politician and anyone who tries to cross him ends up very bad”. She said calmly while putting me.
“So does it mean I will die there? I am tired I want to make to make something out for myself”. I said crying out loud.
“Do not cry please, you are breaking my heart. I am looking for a way to help you. Just be a little bit patient”. She hugged me tightly saying. I felt loved by her hugs and words and decided to trust someone.
Time ran by so fast that my sixteen birthday was the next day. I had never celebrated my birthday so I was not bothered about it. Mrs. Atinuke called me to her shop, sang for me, made my favourite food and even baked a cake for me.
“Bola, I remembered you are not interested in writing. There is a competition now ongoing and the winner gets a scholarship with a sum of N50,000”. She said to me.
“Ma, do you think I can do it, I don’t know much about school and you know a lot of other persons applying too will be better than me. What is the essence of trying when I will not win”. I said to her while eating.
“Bola do not say that. How can you look down on yourself, you are a bright girl; do not worry I will put you through and help you send it. Just have a little faith in yourself” Mrs. Atinuke said.
“Okay Ma, I will do it,” I said.
“The topic is Real Life. So go home and sleep over it. Tomorrow we will start writing” she said.
“Okay, Ma. Thank you very much. Let me go home before they will look for me” I said, jumping up and running back home.
I got home and after I had finished my chores, I thought about the topic “Real Life” and decided to write whatever comes to mind the next day. The next day I went to her house still contemplating what to write when she gave me the paper. But then it all just started flowing out; “REAL LIFE” BY BOLAJI ABIMBOLA.
My name should have been “Ibanuje”,
All my life I have known only pain and sadness,
I cannot remember any happy moment,
My mother said the village priestess saw I was to bring her out of poverty,
Hehehehe; who is kidding who?
I had dreams and goals,
I always wanted to be a writer but that is a dream of the past.
This is real life,
Now I know I will never make it,
My father told me but did I listen?
He said, “female children are just born to be married off”.
I wanted to prove him wrong so bad,
Now I see he was right.
This is the story of my life,
This is real life.
Married off at fifteen, ran away from home,
But why did I run?
I thought life was fair,
But this is real life.
Pain and sorrow my best friends,
The city of gold, Ibadan showed me life is pain.
My helper’s husband rapes me every time he likes,
I have become a living corpse,
I have seen the real world.
I want to go back to my fantasy,
But maybe one day I will make it,
Maybe I will be somebody,
But I cannot say.
My candlelight is going off,
I see no bright future for me anymore,
I have seen the real world.

“This is very nice, well done. I told you to have faith in yourself” Mrs Atinuke said smiling so hard as she typed it out on her computer to submit it.
I could not say a word back because if I do, I would cry. I looked at her thanking God for sending someone true my way after everything happened to me.
Weeks and weeks passed by turning into months but there was still no news about the competition, so I gave up and decided to go about my normal day. On the day I least expected it, I got the greatest news of my life. Madam Temitope and her family sat in the sitting room seeing the news while I mop. The competition came as headline news so I stood to watch just to know the winner. It was then I discovered that madam’s daughter also applied. The news started in full;
“The news in full. The popular African Poetry contest held every year has finally come to an end and the judges have decided that the winner is Bolaji Abimbola, she has been a scholarship to study in any of her preferred choice of school. The reporter said.
I turned back to my chores congratulating the person inwardly. It was then it dawned on me that my name is “Bolaji Abimbola”. I raised my head in excitement to continue the news and run to Mrs Atinuke, I saw madam and her husband looking at me in anger.
“How dare you? So, you think you can leave this house” madam said angrily as she walked toward me giving me the beating of my life.
I was grounded for the rest of the week with no way to reach Mrs Atinuke or the outside world. The NGO tried reaching me but to no avail, so they got to Mrs Atinuke. They came to my madam’s house with police officers to rescue me and they arrested Mrs Temitope and her husband for human trafficking and molestation.
Three months passed by, and I was living a better life, I was now in school, and I had written other articles and even a short story. My story was well-known all-over Oyo state because it aired on most television stations.
Five years later, I had been able to establish myself in school and make a name for myself in Ibadan. I decided to go back home to see my parents and siblings. As we drove into the village, I looked at the place that almost ruined me. I passed by the market, my husband’s house chief Tosan and then I finally got to my father’s compound. I saw my mother sitting outside with a young girl on her lap plaiting her hair. She lifted her head looking at the car driving in trying to figure out who it was and probably admiring the car. I saw my father step out looking so old and frail. My mother recognized me and ran towards me crying;
“Is that you Bola? Oh! My Bola, we thought something bad had happened to you”. She said as she hugged me tightly.
“Mama, how have you been?” I asked quietly.
“I am now better. We must have a celebration; my daughter is back. God thank you” Mama said kneeling and throwing her hands to the sky.
I looked at my father not saying a word, but the silence said a lot. A teardrop fell from the corner of his right eye. I went to him, hugging him tightly and he hugged me back while crying.


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