The bus I boarded today was packed full, actually I was extremely lucky to get a place on it. I got there late, Madam did not let me leave the house until I had washed her favourite party buba and iro for the party that afternoon. Why she suddenly remembered that she wanted to wear this outfit, I don’t know, but I suspect that she did it on purpose. She must have sensed the dread I had been feeling all week that my plans would go wrong. I got out of the house half an hour later than planned and sprinted to the bus stop praying like crazy all the way there. I had not budgeted for a taxi or okada so I could not take either. Tears slid down my cheek as I thought of how horrible it would be if I had to return back to the house, because I had missed my bus at the border. I had to get to Lome for 9am latest, Tunde would leave for Ghana without me if I did not show up. A heavy set woman in her fifties dressed in green and brown print Ankara asked me in pidgin, Why you dey cry? I replied her with a smile, and tried to convince her nothing was the matter. How funny life is. This woman, who was about the same age as my madam, but in spite of her poverty, had enough goodness in her heart to take pity on a strange girl. Madam was immune to my tears. Instead, they encouraged her in her fits of madness, so I learned to hold them back as they always seemed to do more harm than good.
I got there, 40 minutes late. I had mentally screamed my way through every hold up, every errant driver, every one who had to alight. By the time I got there I was so exhausted, my heart felt like it would tear right out of my chest at any moment. I ran around the bus garage, frantically looking for the yellow and black bus with ‘God is great’ emblazoned on both sides that would take me away. I found it and ran towards it. But as I drew closer, the engine started and I noticed the bus was full. I felt as if I was about to choke. I ran beside it and shouted through the rolled down window ‘No! Oga driver sir abeg, no leave me! I need to get on this bus abeg sir.’
The conductor looked at me and tapped the driver to urge him on. ‘Look at you just coming at this time. The bus don full pata pata, oya comot for road jor’, he said with disdain.
I started wailing and stood in front of the bus. The people started shouting. ‘You dey craze? Comot for road, yeye girl!’ Every kind of abuse under the sun was hurled at me but I refused to budge. The whole world seemed so hot and unbearable and I tore of the scarf from my head and my knees collapsed to the ground in a heap, pleading with the driver. I had no where else to go so no one else was allowed to leave.
A minute passed and then I saw a male figure approach me. ‘Young lady you can take my place. I can tell you need it more than I do.’ I registered what he said, but I could not believe it. I mumbled my thanks, handed him the fare and ran into the bus before he could change his mind. ‘Conductor please allow her on. No stress am.’ I took his place at the front of the bus hugging my little bag tightly. I heard mumbling from the back. I was on the bus and that was all that mattered. I was going to see Tunde.
I was taking a big chance, a very big chance for a 15 year old. Any normal person would turn up their nose at the thought of a young girl like me running away with a 23 year old man. It was irresponsible and dangerous. I could be trafficked, or worse. But then, I am no ordinary 15 year old. My parents left this world in a car accident 3 years ago. I loved them, but I never cried. I do not think, even now, that I have fully accepted what happened to me. I was the only child, so it was easy to sort me out. I was sent to my great aunt’s because she was rich and did not have any children. Everyone else was reluctant because they suspected that my lack of emotion at both deaths, pointed to something more sinister in my overall behavior.
Madam (I was not allowed to call her anything else) was quick to settle me into a routine. Clean, clean, clean, clean, clean, clean. Her old housekeeper had just retired to her village. Any requests to go to school were denied, even though I was already in SS1. “With which money? Did your parents have any money in that useless shop business to support you?” she would reply me with eyes boiling over in rage each time I brought up the subject. In actual fact they did, and the relatives gave her the business to support me. But it was not enough apparently. Even though Madam still somehow managed to purchase new gold jewelry every other month, it was still not enough. I learned to stop asking and made up my mind to read by myself and save up to do the GCE when I could. So any time I was sent out to buy groceries, I would keep any excess money for myself. Any money I found lying around I would take. One day, I found a thick wad of money whilst cleaning out madam’s closet. Without thinking, I took 3000 naira out of it, it still looked pretty thick. I was so happy, I finished up quickly and ran to my room and started dancing. It was the first time I had felt alive since the accident. I cooked Madam dinner when she got back home and we retired for the evening. It seemed that all was well after all.
I was woken up by stinging sensations on my body. I quickly realised I was being beaten by a cane. I jumped out of bed and landed on my knees. ‘Thief, ole barawo! See this evil girl! Stealing my hard earned money, after all that I have done for you.’ Madam screamed at me. She had my savings in her hand, all 10,000 naira of it. I was beaten out of the house and I had to sleep outside. My fair skin still bears the marks of that fateful day.
As I sat outside the house crying, a young man, who looked to be in his early 20s walked up to me. He said something to me, but I could not hear amidst my sobbing. He took my hand and led me to his house. I recognised the street, Oriolowo, it was a 5 minute walk from Madam’s. He lived in a boy’s quarters, at the back of the red house that Mr Kamson’s the owner of the video store, lived in. He cleaned my wounds with Dettol and made me some garri with cold water, which cooled me physically and soothed my broken spirit. He left me his bed and slept on the floor. I wasnt worried that a strange man had taken me to his home, rather I relished in the first act of kindness I had recieved since my parents fatal accident.
At first, sleep failed me. I tossed and turned as memories of my parents filled the night and heavied my heart. I remembered the times I cleaned beans with my mother, the times my father would place me on his shoulders and run around the compound, making me scream with absolute glee. I remembered the family trips to Mr Biggs on my birthday. We were not rich but I was never in doubt that I was loved. It was this thought of love that finally sent me into peacefulness of sleep.
I awoke the next morning to a tantalizing smell. I sat up and saw a plate of yam and fried eggs with tomatoes and onions. Tunde was at the door and he said he was off to buy some tea. I nodded and dug in. I ate like a starved animal. Like a beggar who for the first time was seeing food. I might as well have been one, the food tasted better than anything I had eaten in madam’s house.
When he returned, we talked. As if sensing my reservations, he didn’t ask any questions, instead he told me all about his life. The owner of the house was his father’s childhood friend, they had gone to school together. His father did not do very well for himself, so his mother assumed the role of breadwinner and sole caretaker. Tunde had left home to live with Mr Kamson after secondary school because there was no money to send him to university. Mr Kamson was very generous to him, he let him live with his other servants and paid his university school fees. All Tunde had to do in return was work at the local video store which he owned every weekend, and do chores around the house, a deal which was more than fair. After his story, there was a moment of silence and I understood that it was his way of him urging me to tell mine. I was not very keen and I occupied myself with biting my nails. I began to ask him questions about school. I liked having him as a distraction. He obliged and we spent the morning chatting.
A knock sounded on the door. ‘Tunde, Mr Kamson wants you to take them to the country club today’.
‘What time?’ he replied.
‘3 o’clock’ was the answer. It was 11 o’clock by the clock on the wall.
He turned to me. “You cannot stay here. Oga won’t allow it. You need to go back home”.
I nodded. I understood. I needed to go back home and apologize to Madam. She would take me back. I would show her how broken my spirit was, how contrite I was. She needed a housekeeper, I needed a place to live.
I said thank you to Tunde and left. The walk to Madam’s took forever. The gateman let me in, I saw the pity in his eyes. Madam was in the kitchen having tea with a friend, a neighbour. She let me in and immediately instructed me to take a shower and clean her car before she went out. I nodded, thanked her and did as she asked.
Madam never brought up the topic again. Her tasks were more difficult after that but I did not mind. I was grateful. But my meeting with Tunde had ignited possibilities in my heart. Was there a way out of of life with madame? Lagos is dangerous, and very different from Ife. Could I survive on my own? I did not know the answers to these questions, but I made up my mind to find them.
I saw Tunde regularly; I visited him at his shop whenever I could. I was so grateful to him, and he was generous. No matter what I needed, he would get it for me. He knew I wanted to go back to school. He gave me his old books in mathematics, English and Biology so I could study. I devoured them, and wanted more. I loved school and missed it very much. Finally, one day, I opened up and told him about my life. He didn’t say a word, but the gentle way in which he looked at me and stroked my back told me he understood. From that day he took to calling me ‘his little sister’. I didn’t mind, even though I knew full well that the way my heart fluttered each time I saw him had nothing to do with brotherly love.
He finished university with a first class in Engineering and moved back home, working at the video store fulltime until he found a job. I made time to see him everyday. One day, he announced to me that he was leaving for Ghana, Mr Kamson had found him a job and he was leaving in a week. His eyes searched the ground as the words escaped his lips, and I knew right there and then that he had known this for a while but couldn’t bring himself to tell me. I felt like the world had collapsed beneath me and I was drowning in a sea of my own misery. Was it not enough that my parents had died and I was forced to live with a woman so wicked, children had refused to take root in her stomach and now I had to loose Tunde as well? Surely, the gods must have been asleep on the day I was given my destiny.
I made to walk away, I didn’t want him to see me cry. He caught my hand and uttered the words that both petrified and excited me.
“I want you to come with me”
I turned round and this time his eyes were focused on mine. We didn’t have to say anything more. The intensity in the meeting of our eyes was enough. Later that day, he stuffed 5000 Naira in my hand for the fare and gave me the details. I was to meet him in Lome in 2 weeks and we would go together. He would send me to school and I would not have to worry about anything.
The days leading up to my travel date were a blur. Even Madame noticed my absent mindedness. One day she caught me stirring a pot of boiling water, I was meant to have boiled the meat for the soup she would eat that evening but I had completely forgotten. She slapped the back of my head and cursed my already dead parents, but I didn’t care. In a few days I would be in a different country with the man I loved living a completely different life. Even Madame could not take the happiness I felt. For days, I occupied myself with thoughts of what Ghana would be like. What would the people be like? What would going to school in a new country feel like? But more importantly my mind stayed on what living with Tunde would be like. My cheeks flushed each time I thought of his name.
My plan was to leave on Saturday, I had overheard Madame over the phone telling a friend that she would be at a party all day. I did not want her to try to stop me, she might try to take the money off me and accuse me of stealing again. We agreed on the time I had to get to Lome. It had to work or he would have to leave without me. He was in Lome to sort something for Mr Kamson and had to leave at a specific time.
I couldn’t not sleep throughout the 10 hour trip to Lome, I was so excited, the plan finally came together. I got there at 6am in the morning, I waited at the entrance of the station as he had instructed. At 8am I saw him striding towards me, soft rays of the morning sun shining behind him. He was dress in a danshiki and formal trouser and looked so tall and handsome. ‘Little sister, welcome’ he said as he hugged me tightly and took my little bag, carrying it along with his own suitcase. As we waited for our bus to Accra, my heart soared in anticipation for the next stage of my life, and the goodness it would bring.
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