For the past few weeks, I have been serialising my book, ‘The Cost of Our Lives – Pandemic Edition‘, and sharing a chapter with you every week. The Cost Of Our Lives highlights the story of how Ibidun was taken from Ajegunle to London by her mother’s friend. This novella details Ibidun’s London adventure of friendship, betrayal, freedom, and how she was able to return to Nigeria to begin a career as a celebrity fashion stylist.
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you missed the previous chapters, read them here.
The next few years were the most turbulent years of my life. Mama struggled to keep Jide and I in school. Everything from food to water and money were in short supply and we had to manage. I was in my final year in secondary school and I had just finished writing my Senior School Certificate Examination. I was unhappy and gradually getting tired of life, but then something happened – a ray of hope, a breakthrough.
I had gone to help Mama out at work when one of the parents who had come to adopt a child at the orphanage spotted me. “Mrs. Martins, who is this pretty girl?” The rich-looking woman asked my mother. Mama was busy cleaning up one of the children who had wet his pants.
“That’s my beautiful daughter, her name is Ibidun. She took after her mother, didn’t she?” They both laughed as the woman turned and removed her Gucci sunshade to look at me. She was extremely tall, dark skinned, very pretty with a long, thin neck. She was wearing a pair of tight blue jeans and a loose pink blouse with high-heeled shoes. I wondered how someone that tall would still wear heels, and why was she even wearing shades indoors.
“I’m Maria, how are you?” she said, smiling at me.
“I’m fine thank you, Aunty Maria.”
She rolled her eyes at me and said, “Oh please, don’t call me Aunty, just call me Maria.”
Without speaking further, I nodded my small head and managed a weak smile. The pretty woman kept looking at me as she and Mama spoke in hushed tones so I couldn’t even pick out what they were discussing. I tried to make out what they must have been saying because they kept looking at me but clearly, they were not ready to reveal anything to me just yet.
When we got home, Mama sat me down and began to ask me some strange questions. She started off by asking what if I had an opportunity to have a better life, would I always remember the child of who I am and where I come from? I answered ‘yes’ to all her questions, eager to hear what she had to tell me. I jumped up for joy when she eventually broke the good news to me.
“Well, my daughter, you see that woman you saw at my workplace,” Mama finally began as I nodded, “she has promised to take you to London with her.”
I jumped up and began to scream before hugging Mama tightly. Apparently, Aunty Maria had wanted to adopt a child from the orphanage but her application was declined because she didn’t meet the adoption criteria, as the orphanage couldn’t release children for adoption to parents who weren’t resident in Nigeria. She had therefore made an offer to take me instead after promising and reassuring Mama that she would take good care of me, send me to University and I could always come and visit my family in Nigeria when I grew much older. Obodo-oyinbo was a place I had only heard about from Rukewe because her father was Italian. Rukewe had never been there before but she knew many stories about ‘abroad’ and the ‘white man’. She even used to refer to herself as a white girl because of her father and her skin colour. She always said all white people were pure hearted as their skin colour was the same as the colour of their hearts and that black people were the exact opposite. This was a statement we usually argued about.
I was so excited that I didn’t even know when I started mimicking all the lines Rukewe had shared with me at school. “What’s up? Hey guys, cheers mate,” all began to roll out of my mouth in excitement. Mama couldn’t help laughing and I was glad to see my mother laugh again for the first time in as long as I could remember, and certainly since Papa died.
“Mama, but what about my studies?” I paused to ask amidst the excitement.
With a huge smile on her face, she said, “Omo mi, Oluwa ti se, God has done it!”
She raised one of her favourite praise songs and I gladly joined her like a member of the church choir, singing, “Thank you Lord, thank you Lord, all I have to say is thank you Lord.” If Mama said God had done it, then He had indeed done it. We sang and danced together and I wondered where Jide was and why he wasn’t sharing such a special moment with us. My mother was extremely happy that her only daughter would be travelling out of the country. It would be a great achievement for our family as a whole because no member of our family, nuclear or extended, had ever owned an international passport let alone set foot outside the shores of Nigeria. They hardly ever even left Lagos because we were all from Lagos and had no business whatsoever in other states. We had heard too many stories about how unsafe it was to travel on the expressway so we were never really interested in making trips outside Lagos. I was born in Lagos, this city was home and we loved it that way.
My travel arrangements were made within two weeks. I went to the passport office in Ikoyi to get my first passport and the next day, I went with Aunty Maria to submit my travel documents to the British visa processing office in Victoria Island. I had never seen a building as tall as that before then. I wondered if there was a church in the building which is why it was called Churchgate. I remember being so scared to even get into the elevator. It took the intervention of Aunty Maria and two security officers to convince me to get in by promising to hold me inside the ‘lift’.
I got my six months visiting visa and in no time, I was on my way to London. It seemed surreal that I woke up in Ajegunle and I would be sleeping in London on the same day. The whole travel experience was one that I would never forget. When we got on the plane, Aunty Maria turned left and I was about to follow her when she told me to turn right as my seat was located towards the back of the plane. I wondered why she didn’t get me a seat next to her. I told myself that maybe that was how things were done on planes; maybe you weren’t allowed to sit with the people you were travelling with, after all, rich people always did things differently from poor people. Many years later, I would come to realise that Aunty Maria actually bought herself a business class ticket and bought me an economy class ticket hence the sitting arrangement. As the plane was about to take off, we were told to fasten our seat belts and I wondered how to go about that. Even though the air hostess had already come to give us instructions about the flight, I hadn’t paid attention because everyone else seemed uninterested in her demonstration and I joined them by looking through the magazine in front of me instead of looking at her. I didn’t realise that the others on the plane had probably seen the demonstration several times and already knew what to do. I pretended to be scratching my right leg and quickly stole a glance at the man seated next to me as he fastened his seat belt. I did what I saw him do.
As the plane took off, I experienced a brief feeling of de javu, the fear I felt in the elevator at the Churchgate building, it was all happening again, but this time, I was seated so I held on tightly to my seat and prayed silently that I would survive whatever was about to happen to me. I thought about Mama, Jide and everyone I left back home in Ajegunle. I also thought about Uncle Femi and all the things he did to me. Even though many years had gone by, I just wanted to leave it all behind. I was happy to be going away into the sky, to wherever this place called London was.
When the plane finally became stable, I looked around and saw that the other passengers had started to relax. I also tried to loosen up by looking out of the window only to realise that the clouds I used to see above me were now beneath me. I was amazed by the beauty of the whole experience and I hoped this was how beautiful my life would eventually turn out. The air hostess was very nice to me. She served me sandwiches and juice in a disposable cup. I gobbled it all up in a second and I fell asleep afterwards.
Join me next week for the next chapter of The Cost Of Our Lives.