Earlier on in life, I saw the concept of treating a woman, a female, a lady, a girl any lesser than usual as strange. You see, my household is dominated by females; long haired females, fat females, sexy females, feminist females…and to add a pinch of salt to pepper father was hardly ever around, and Brother Funsho was away with the Nigerian Army. So it seemed strange, simply strange that man would treat woman any lesser; “it’s absurd” I used to say, “this would never happen in my house,” I used to tell my mates, mostly concerning husbands that hit their wives and treated them as inferior, letting the stereotype of old, concerning African women prevail. That was before I turned 15.
We totaled eight females in all; Mother, my five sisters, me and the occasional maid or relative. We lived a sort of communal life in our large building by the end of the estate close to the beach. It was a beautiful view and now, I remember the house as a two year old, sticking my head between the wood in the verandah, looking at the water as it danced around under a smiling sun (teletubbies unfortunately influenced my imagination). I remember the house as a five year old playing hide and seek during cold holidays and dancing under the rain in the afternoon after a hot morning. I remember snuggling under a large duvet with my beautiful sisters, watching Lucky leprechaun and drinking hot chocolate.
I could say mother headed the home but I would have to add that she did so with a iron fist, and with this, I would have to include, she did this despite her law career. At the beginning of the week, she would draw a new Rota on cleaning duty and cooking duty. So sometimes, Sister Funke cleaned while sister Yinka did the cooking. I was assigned lesser tasks like taking the trashcan out or helping to set the table not because I was the second youngest but because there was always little less for Sunlola and I To do, but that didn’t stop Mother from pulling my ears if I ever sat in the parlor watching Cartoon Network while she prepared Jollof rice, Sunday nights. She woke up four in the morning, said her prayers and prepared for work. She woke us up about the same time, even though the driver wouldn’t be coming to pick us for another two hours. She said punctuality is discipline. In the evening, she arrived just before the long hand of the clock touched 12 in the seventh hour. Immediately we heard her horn, or could foretell that she was near, we would clean up any mess we created, put off the television, start to set the table for the dinner and for few of us with assignments, scurry over to our study desks. (She liked to check our homework, even now in university and for my older siblings back then, she went through their projects with a wicked eye of scrutiny)
Despite mother’s iron hand, she was a lovable mother. We all sat together in her room on some days, while she wove my hair to the back and talked. She would comb my natural stubborn hair up, part it, scream ‘gbori duro’ and continue telling my sisters which Judge was bias and what a corrupt system of adjudication we had in Nigeria. Sister Funke liked to talk about the boys that were chasing her and the one she truly liked. Sister Yinka mostly talked about what subjects were giving her difficulty in school. Lola was obsessed with the growth of her hair. Sope would argue about how inappropriate it was for me to have a larger wardrobe space than she did. Sunlola my younger sister or baby of the house as she was most often called would just stare and me? I would just sit there letting mothers hard hands hurt my scalp as she pulled my hair and pushed my head but still stare with keen eyes. She liked my hair, very much and I liked that she liked them very much. On some other days, we played card games or board games and Mother didn’t hesitate to talk about her cases even though they were rather hard to understand especially when they used big words. Then on fewer days like once a month, mother would drive us out to either feed our eyes or actually shop. It was fun, we would sing Beyonce, Alicia Keys and TLC lyrics all the way with Mother biting her mouth and acting like she knew who Alicia keys was or questioning with alert “aren’t Alicia keys and Celine Dion the same people.”
Good times. Happy times in fact.
By the time I turned fifteen, my father moved back home permanently. He retired. At first I was excited. I barely knew my dad. I barely knew him more than the old figure who wore horn rimmed glasses and kept his beard thick and full around his cheeks and kept his hair a tad too full with white dots sprinkled around it. During the years, father came home occasionally once in a month but sometimes once in two month was as frequent as it got. He brought us gifts every time he visited. It was always jewelry or a fine piece of clothing for sister Funke, Yinka and Lola, he said they should be beautiful for him (and him alone) when they went out with Mother. For Sope, Baby and I, it was always a book or puzzle or toy; I sometimes heard sister Funke say he treated us a little differently because he had expected us to be boys. They said he said brother Funsho had done an honorable thing going to serve in the military but if he died, he needed heirs. But I never saw him complain to mother. I doubt if he ever did. They had a sweet relationship in my eyes; at the time at least.
Old enough, with my father roaming the house with a cigarette, my view of my lovely father changed. It is at this time my story actually begins. My story is about emotional abuse. Ever heard about it? Maybe, before my story started, the only type of abuse I knew was physical abuse. The only type of abuse a man could lash out on his family, on his wife was physical. He could slap, rape, hit etc. so yes, I was new to this—and it took me a long while to find out it was what was exactly was going on with us.
Father insulted Mother. I was two months into my fifteen years when I heard him first insult mother. They hadn’t been arguing, in fact, they were joking, watching their favorite comedy show, The Cosby Show which was playing on tape. He said it, loud enough for Sunlola and I doing assignments at the table to hear. It hit me hard. Struck my chest and gave me such a pain that I had never felt before. It wasn’t the heartbroken sort of pain. No. it ran from disappointment to hatred.
The next time it happened, he was angry at me. He said my Jollof rice was too salty. Mother tried to defend me, said I was a learner even, but he hissed at her. Don’t say a thing woman! Damn! He cursed pushed the plates back and left the table. He started to shout when he got to his study, just so we could hear him. I don’t know what kind of women I live with, cant even cook a freaking decent meal! Go out there, your mates are getting married, having children, raising children, building homes. This is bull mehn.
Mother never talked about it with us, the way she talked about everything. She never showed visible pain, she was that strong, but we knew her it was hurting her; worse than it was hurting us. Sometimes we heard her cry and wail in her room. Other times we heard them argue, at first, she was the woman in the court room, powerful ready for battle but soon, she was just a weak woman, who could do nothing to her abusive spouse. She started losing cases that were easy for a first year associate. There were bags under her eyes. She lost a lot of weight. She lost interest in looking good. She wanted to be alone always.
We wondered what was wrong. We wondered how a man could go from being a bit nice to extremely wicked because that was what father had become to us. A monster. Yes, in the way he screamed at everyone of us and made us feel inferior beings, he had become a monster. An evil monster.
An even bigger monster when Sister Funke brought her fiancé home to us mostly for blessings as everyone knew about them. They had been dating for 5 years but father refused to give them his blessings, which was a blow since it was natural to think they would get married. It was then the real war began. The real war that threatened to break my heart and tear my soul apart.
Father refused to let us go out. He made mother quit her job. He monitored—no stalked us on a regular basis. Made us his puppets. Bullied us. Refused to regard our independence.
It wasn’t until I turned 18, I found out the truth.
We only stayed home for Mother, to be strong for her. To help her walk on two feet.
By this time, Aunty Funke had gone to the white man’s land to marry her long time beau and had a child for him, without Father’s blessings of course.
By this time so much had happened to my beautiful mother. She had become a ghost, dressed shabbily, and walking around with tears in her eyes.
By this time, I was determined to someday kill my father.
It was then at this time I realized Father wasn’t my father. Yes. It was the reason He could shoot mother with an insult, and kill her with his tongue yet she would stare ahead, letting the pain swim through her.
He wasn’t my father.
To be continued…
Written by Noelle Page.