The next week, I was withdrawn from the private school to a public school with very poor infrastructure. Most of the students are house helps in different homes or from very poor back grounds. The teachers could barely construct good sentences so the lingua franca in the school was Pidgin English. The school is very close to the Woji creek, thus the name Creek view community secondary school. Most of the students come to school very late daily and we have assemblies on Mondays alone.
At ten years plus, I was very smart and tall for my age, I was almost as tall as mummy who is actually a tall woman, she is actually taller than daddy. At this age I was knowledgeable of happenings around me and I knew that all was not well. The problem was “what was wrong”?
Daddy had not left his job; he still drives to work daily and returned as usual. Everything was normal except for the way I was being treated. But I was doing very well at school all the same. In fact I had no competition in the new school as I came top of the class after the first term examination in JSS 2. My average score was 82 percent while Julius came second with 65 percent. Julius used to be the best in the class before my arrival
Julius Odeh is a year older than me, his father works at Genesis fast food as security opening and closing the door for customers as well as directing them on where and how to park their vehicles. He thrives on tips. He said his father used to be a police officer but was dismissed with some of his colleagues for collecting bribe at an illegal check point from the wife of the state commissioner of police. But Julius is a very quiet and ambitious young man. We became friends and solved mathematics equations together. He used to be in a better school too but after the dismissal of his father without benefits, his mother ran away from the house with a strange man and things fell apart for the family. The mother used to be a business woman that goes to Aba to buy textile materials and other accessories and sells directly to office customers with her car boot as her ware house. She was doing well. But she could not cope when the dad lost his job. The father became temperamental and edgy so she fled.
His father focused all energy towards fulfilling his dream of educating all his children especially Julius being the only male child. His resources are very lean but he became unnecessary friendly with every customer that visited the fast food and took in all insults just to get his tips. The amount he realized from daily tip kept him going and meeting daily family needs.
Julius talked a lot about his father and how he advises them and challenged them to be the best they can and make a success out of life, he advised them to shine their eyes and never let an opportunity to slip by them. Julius has an elder sister and two younger sisters.
The treatment I received from my home did not improve rather it grew from bad to worse, I no longer ate on the dining table, my food was being dished in a plastic plate, the same type we used for the dogs but a different colour. The plates were actually purchased together.
The first day mummy served my food in the plastic plate and handed over to me, I took it to the dog’s pen and came back to her for my food. I used to eat with a ceramic breakable plate just like daddy and mummy. I had to rush back and retrieve the remnants from the dog before they licked the plate. That was after mummy had slapped me hitter thither for giving my food to the dogs. I ate the dog’s left over under her supervision
At thirteen years old in JSS 3 my world had always revolved around my small nuclear family. Extended family seldom visited and as such the way my life metamorphosed from grace to grass seemed normal to me. I gradually adapted to the life of servitude in the house. The kind of stories I heard from my classmates who were mainly house helps in their various homes did not make me feel out of place. The quality of teachers in the school did not help matters either: they did not care, all they do in the teachers office was chew bubble gum, gossip and sell. Our female teachers bring clothes, shoes, perfumes and different kind of commodities to buy and sell among them. No one cared if a student failed or passed an examination, as long as the student paid his or her school fees and other levies.
Julius my new found friend is an exceptional guy, he has this knack for success in life and I dare say he took life too seriously. He had his life planned out; he knew what he wanted to be in future and how to go about achieving it. He always knew he could not rely on his struggling father to see him through to the university so he had planned that immediately after his secondary education, he would be apprenticed in the skill of underwater welding and subsequently seek an employment with which he would see himself through the university to study chemical or petro chemical engineering. He probably would be working off shore which would be taking him in and out of town at intervals. He planned to be buying portions of Land whenever he returned from the rig instead of lavishing his money on frivolities. After buying sufficient plots of lands, he will start to develop them into houses and before he is forty, he would have become a real estate mogul. I liked it whenever I hear him talk like this, like an adult with so much confidence. He knows where he is going and how to get there.
For me, my future was just in front of my nose. I took every day as it came. I had no worries because I had been spoon fed until lately when the page turned. Julius had asked me severally about my future ambition and I could not give a definite answer. I had no future ambition. Every time he asked I gave him a different answer.
“Make up your mind Ceece” he would say. “Stop being a pendulum!”
One day after my daily chores at home, I got to school after ten o’clock: no one questioned lateness in our school. Daily roll calls were not taken. The proprietress would always say” If you like you come to school!” if you like do not come!” it’s not my business” Just pay me my money! That’s all!
We normally chorus the last statement with her “That’s all!”
During the break session thirty minutes after I got to school, Julius approached me.
“Ceece I need to talk to you” he said and “it is very important” he added
Really? Okay nah! I am listening” I said
“I have an eerie feeling towards you” he said
“Me?” what is it about?” I asked
Are you really sure this people you live with are your real parent? He asked and continued as I stare at him.
I asked because no reasonable parent would intentionally delay their child or ward from coming perpetually late to school every day! No parent would change their child from a prestigious private school to a lousy public school like our without having lost their job or source of income. They stopped driving you to school! They chased their house helps away and replaced them with you, they even relocated you to the BQ! These are things you told me nah abi?”
I nodded my head.
Good! He continued, Ceece shine your eyes o! Something is not right here! Have you seen your birth certificate before? He asked
No! And why? I asked
Look out for it! Get it and go to the hospital to confirm if your birth is actually in their records and who your real parents are!
I am told I was born in Europe! I replied.
Europe? He teased, okay nah! No wahala, but just get the birth certificate all the same, you will know if it made in Europe or made in Nigeria!” he said.
Hmm, Julius you are getting me scared o! Why all these assertions nah? Because you have to know who you are Ceece! You need to where you stand early now, if you are a house maid, then so be it! If you are a bonafide daughter of the Harts, then so be it! But being in between is not good at all, are you a Bat?
Bat! How? I asked
The butterfly and the bird both fly but they are different. Any butterfly that dares to fly as high as a bird will lose its wings. Its better it maintained its own altitude. Ceece, I am from a poor background but I know I will not be a poor man! He said with emphasis eating his chest. “I will work hard and cut my coat according to my size. My father made some mistakes which I have learnt from. I will not follow his footsteps even though he has learnt his mistakes and is paying hard for it now by bearing the family burden alone, my mother that was assisting him before has run away with another man. My father is still a police man even though he was dismissed some years ago! That police mentality still dey him blood, so I have vowed to be a better version of him. We live in an abandoned building free of charge. We don’t even know the owner of the building but all the families occupying the building know that one day, the owner or his relatives will come and chase us all out of the building! They may even sell it off and the new owner would chase us out! When this happens, where do we go to? He asked
“Ha! Me I don’t know nah!’ “Maybe you people will rent another house”. I said
“No way! I can’t see my father paying for a decent house! I ask my father this question every day and he does not have an answer instead he says when one road closes, another opens!” “Imagine! Such a lazy mans philosophy!” “About twelve different families live in the building illegally without paying house rent. There is no water there! There is no electricity, no toilet or bathroom but we all survive”.
“Ceece, my point is that we know we are poor and we do not deceive ourselves. Ceece you need to know who you are!” with much said, he walked away. I began to think.
At fifteen in SS2 my position in the family was unquestionably that of a maid. No show of affection from my mother at all, she sometimes referred to me as “This girl” or she asks:”What’s that your stupid name again”.
I had withdrawn into my shell. I used to be a bubbling happy girl. I now wear under sized tight clothes or over sized clothes given to me by mummy, there are clothes that were given to me to use as rags for cleaning the floor that I converted to personal wears. No under wear was ever bought for me and I dare not ask mother for clothes because I was afraid of the consequence. I degenerated. All I do is wake up and work, there is always enough clothes to wash from Daddy’s to the Kids who are now in nursery and primary school. Expensive private schools with a car and driver attached to them.
Upon return from school, I change into my domestic clothes and continue to work. Mummy always bags of melon to ensure I am kept occupied until mid night and upon all these I was still tops in my class to the bewilderment of my friends. My parents never uttered a word whenever I give them my school result. So I stopped giving it to them.
I do not have a tooth brush in the house, no bathing soap. I was restricted to the boy’s quarter and nothing is bought and sent there. I only come to the main building to work then I go back to the BQ to sleep. I bath with the bar soap I used in washing clothes, I used my finger to brush my teeth which has lost its sheen. I don’t use cream let alone pomade. It was Julius that gave me the first shaving stick to go and shave my arm pit when he was bold enough to tell me that I smelled.
At fifteen I was I was fully developed in puberty. My first menstrual flow came in the third term examination hall. I was experiencing some sort of stomach disorder and releasing some farts into the air to relieve myself. I did not know that I was stained until I stood up and proceeded to submit my answer sheet when the hall was full of laughter and jests from the boys. Some girl pulled her cardigan and gave me to tie around my waist and I went home in shame. I told my mother about my flow and she gave me some old news paper to use as Pad. I told her I had no pants and she gave me two of her old tights to wearing. The tights have faded and have holes beneath.
When I got to school the next day, the new had gone round that I was stained the previous day. I returned the cardigan to my class mate and went in search of my friend Julius. He laughed and teased me then he observed the way I was walking because of the paper pad I was putting on.
“Why are you walking like a crab? He asked laughing. Is it paining you or what?”
I told him about the news paper I was wearing.
News paper? He exclaimed. Who does that in this time and gage? Not even toilet tissue? He asked
“That is what my mummy gave me I told him. Please keep your voice down “I begged.
Okay o! I have never heard of such in my entire life. At worse you could have used an old worn out clothe or rag instead of news paper. My sisters use old clothes or tissue paper. He said
So did she advise you to stay off men or you will be pregnant now?
“No o! Stay off men like how?” I asked him.
“Didn’t she tell you anything?” He asked feeling genuinely concerned
No! I snapped. What is she supposed to tell me? I asked
Na wa o! Listen let me tell you what my father tells my sisters. Now that you have started menstruating, it means you have started releasing eggs in readiness for pregnancy.
Pregnancy! I exclaimed.
Yes nah! Didn’t you read in biology? They taught us in reproduction nah!
Okay! But I do not really understand it then.
What don’t you understand? He asked. You don’t know that if you are indulged in a sexual intercourse with a man now you could become pregnant? That is if you have eggs waiting in your ovary or is it uterus sef! He said
That is biology nah! I said
“That is reality! My sister!” He added
“Ceece! At this stage of your life you need a mother figure to guide and advise you”. “There is a lot you need to know now about life!” About men!” He said.
“But you are a man nah!” I said.
“Yes! Men like me!” He said
“Please tell me nah! What is it about men?” I asked
“Ceece, I can’t teach you about men! I am still a boy. Get your dad or mom to tell you about men please”
The bell rang for the beginning of the day’s examination paper.