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.
As the days turned to weeks and the weeks became months, I became completely introverted. I felt disconnected from the entire world and I made a conscious effort to disconnect myself from everyone. I was extremely sad because the people closest to me – Jide and mama – didn’t even notice I was going through anything. I was depressed and suicidal. My emotions began to play out like a roller coaster. One minute, I would be happy, the next minute, I would be considering ending it all. I often thought of the fastest way to kill myself. Through it all, no member of my family noticed my pain.
I guess everyone was more interested in their own personal problems and Papa’s sudden illness. Papa was very sick but he didn’t take it seriously until he started finding it hard to pass urine. To his horror, one day, he went to urinate and all he saw coming out was blood. That was when he realised it was time to go to the hospital. He did a couple of tests and was later diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Papa died exactly two weeks after that. I still remember that day like it was yesterday. I was only fourteen years old yet I felt like a grown-up maybe because I didn’t feel taken care of the way a teenager should be cared for by her parents and perhaps maybe because I was already doing the “things” only older people did.
This is how Papa died: as we left home for school that morning, Papa was extremely nice to us. I had a strange feeling that would be the last time I would ever see him but I refused to entertain the thought. For the first time in my life, I gave my father a hug. It felt really awkward as I asked him, “Papa I’ll see you when I get back from school right?” and he simply nodded as if he also knew what I knew. I turned to see the expression on Jide’s face. He looked disinterested in what I was saying to Papa. I thought it was probably a boys’ thing not to appear soft in front of one’s father.
We got back from school that afternoon looking dirty and untidy as usual. As I opened the door, our room felt unusually quiet. I walked in and my heart began to beat faster for no apparent reason. “Papa…Mama…Eku ile o,” I greeted loudly but there was no response. I walked outside to the backyard where we had our bathroom – two rusty, banged up and worn out aluminium sheets standing opposite each other with a dirty wrapper hanging between them. It also housed the pit latrine which when covered with the slimy wooden plank, became a slab on which we placed bath buckets. The wrapper was used to shield the person bathing or defecating from the prying eyes of the neighbours and passers-by. The smell from the latrine was thick in the air. I almost didn’t believe what my eyes saw when I looked down from the entrance of the bathroom. I had never seen my father in such a helpless state. “Papa, noooo…” I kept screaming as I saw my father lying face down on the floor. I didn’t want to believe he had stopped breathing. His trousers were down and he looked as if he had slumped while using the toilet. I screamed and cried but he didn’t move. His mouth was wide open. I touched his face and realised it felt extremely cold. I shook him and screamed at the top of my voice, “Papa! Papa!” He didn’t move, his body was lifeless. He was gone.
I quickly ran out to call Jide from the field where he was playing football with his friends. He ran back home with me to see Papa’s body still on the floor. I cried helplessly as I began to think of all the memories I had of Papa. Sadly, most of those memories were not so great. This was a man who was very brilliant but had gradually become lazy. This was a man who had a university degree but refused to get a job because he was waiting for a ‘big’ business break. He was a mean man and he certainly didn’t deserve my tears but he was my father and he was no more. Knowing that I would never see him again brought more tears to my eyes.
I turned to look at my brother with my teary eyes but his face was expressionless. In fact, instead of tears, he had a mischievous grin on his face. “Jide, he was our father, you don’t look sad at all,” Jide’s response to me was unbelievable, “It’s not a sad day for me. In fact, it is a happy day.”
We both stood there, staring at our father’s corpse. He had spent his entire life achieving nothing. He was a drunk who was known for collecting money from his hardworking wife. He had become a local nuisance. The only other person I was sure would cry genuinely for him apart from me was my mother. Once the news of his death became public knowledge, others would probably say things like “Good riddance to bad rubbish.”
We decided to reach out to our neighbours to come and see what had happened so they could help us carry our father’s remains away from the toilet but instead, they only came out to see, shake their heads and leave the scene. I wasn’t surprised when I heard Mama Emma gossiping with Aunty Tonia, “Who know whether na even Corona kill am, abeg make we no touch am o.” Other neighbours looked at us from afar but no one offered to help us with the body. Uncle Femi finally got back from work in the evening and it was him who eventually helped take care of the situation because Mama was already a total wreck by the time she heard the news that her husband was gone.
The next day, when I got back home from school, Mama was sitting outside with her friends who had come to console her. I greeted everyone and walked quickly into our room. Uncle Femi came inside to meet me. He looked really sad. He looked at me pitifully and said, “I feel so sad that this is happening now. I am really sorry about your dad.”
I couldn’t even look at him as my eyes had already welled up. “Thank you Uncle Femi,” I said.
“Ibidun, my love, I have some bad news for you.”
I stood there thinking what could be worse than losing one’s father at such an early age.
“Before I tell you, come here let me touch you,” he said as he reached out to hold me.
I moved closer, stood still and allowed him touch my chest. He fondled my small breasts roughly and I felt a sharp pain on my left nipple but I was too stiff to even react. He stopped and looked at me with that look that told me what he wanted to do next. I wondered if he was really going to have sex with me while my family was mourning and with all those people sitting with my mother outside.
But instead he simply smiled mischievously and said, “Your breasts have grown bigger, you should say thank you to me for helping you grow them.”
I still wasn’t ready to look at him, so I looked down, stared at my rubber sandals and muttered, “Thank you, Uncle Femi.”
There was silence for a little while before I looked up at him. He looked really sad, like he was about to lose something really precious to him before he said, “I just got a job and I’ll be moving to Abuja.” I was expressionless for a few seconds after he spoke. Then, as if the implication of his words suddenly dawned on me, my heart began to break like a piece of glass that had just hit the ground. His words pierced deeper into my heart as he continued, “Everything that happened between us stays between us, that’s our little secret. Make sure you don’t tell anyone.”
The pain in my heart increased as I began to think about all our adventures. I was now used to having at least a weekly dose of Uncle Femi and I couldn’t think of how I would cope without him. It had become an addiction. What would I do without him? How would I go on with life without the only person that cared about me?
“Uncle Femi, I will go with you, I can’t stay here without you,” I began, but my heart was not prepared for what I heard next before I could say more.
“Ibidun dear, you can’t go with me because I’ll be getting married next month. But I’ll always care about you. Promise me you’ll forever be my baby.”
I could not believe what Uncle Femi was saying. How could he do this to me? But he said he loved me. He said he would take care of me, he said he would protect me. Now that I needed him the most, he was going to leave me and run away to Abuja to be with another woman? Then it occurred to me that I wasn’t even a woman yet. I was barely fourteen and he couldn’t possibly pick me as his wife. I was about to say something when Mama walked in on us. Thankfully, I wasn’t sitting on Uncle Femi’s laps or anything like that so I was sure Mama couldn’t have suspected anything. I was simply talking to her brother, my uncle, nothing more.
That was the last time I set eyes on Uncle Femi but I never stopped thinking about him. He was in my thoughts every day and night. I even found myself praying for him at times. Let’s just say I didn’t understand the depth of what had happened to me, after all, I was still a teenager, I was only a child.
Join me next week for the next chapter of The Cost Of Our Lives.