In the cacophony of voices, I must make my voice heard!
Day light is the same as midnight; there is no difference in the experience. I see myself sinking deep into the water unable to save myself. I am grasping for breath. The laughter around me rings true as if this is a happy moment. It can only be laughter of wickedness; only the wicked can be laughing at my travail. But the laughing faces look familiar. It can’t be; can it? Why am I seeing my mum’s face and my best friend too? They are laughing at me? Laughing that the water is sucking me in? This is a nightmare. It is a nightmare that has been pulling me down for a long time. I need to wake up! I must find the strength to wake up!
I am finally up yet it still feels like I am dreaming. It usually is the case after I wake up from these nightmares. Perhaps my reality and my nightmares are the same. I think so. After all, I have not been able to make anything meaningful of my 28 years existence on earth. A first degree in Business administration and a MBA following a year after, yet I cannot seem to have a hang of my life. A one year relationship with Femi just ended abruptly. The ones with Peter, Buchi, Mayowa, Tony and Matthew suffered the same fate. Managing my aunt’s supermarket with a monthly pay of N55,000 was not how I envisioned my life to be at this stage. Perhaps I deserve to be laughed at. I have lost control. Or I should be truthful to say I willed my control away a long time ago.
For a brief moment, the nightmares stopped tugging at me as pictures of a seven year old me flooded my thoughts. Grandma’s fond name for me was ‘bumble bee’. She said I was all over the place getting busy with all sort of dramatic things. I would strut around the house like a model, changing clothes every other minute to depict same. The next minute, I was mixing batter with the help of Aunt Lola with the aim of making money from a bake sale. Then I would sing; write songs and parts for others to sing along with me. I was fearless; I wanted to conquer the world.
And then the troubles started. Right in the middle of the night I will hear mum shouting. I heard all manner of swear words. They were directed at my dad. ‘Good for nothing’ became a familiar phrase. For some time, the phrase was synonymous with dad and then later became the phrase to describe me. On my 10th birthday, dad threw me a party. I knew it was ‘his money’ because mum told me with sarcasm that for the first time, my dad was going to act like a man. She had nagged him for months to throw me a party. He capitulated. And yes, mum milked him to entertain her friends with the best brands money could buy. You would think it was an adult’s party. She had more of her friends than my friends from school and the neighborhood put together. Still, I saw a smile on dad’s face that I had not seen in a very long time. He played with me and my friends as if there were no other adult on the field to talk to. He told me the day was about me and he wanted me to be happy. I was very happy. Mum was very happy too. She moved around gleefully serving her friends every brand of drinks specially bought for the occasion.
My first heartbreak was to happen that night. Daddy left. There was no goodbye or a promise of “see you later”. He just left. The party had gone on far into the evening. I noticed his absence at about 6pm that evening when Ifeoma was leaving with her parents. They had wanted to say thank you to daddy. When we could not spot him on the field, mummy mumbled some excuse that he had quickly rushed home to get some more party things. Then it was 8pm and Aunt Lola needed to take me home. Daddy still wasn’t there and his car was not there too. A neighbor took me home. Daddy was not at home. Mummy came back home at about 11 p.m. I was fast asleep when her scream woke me up. She had found the letter from dad on the bed side table. He left us. He said he needed to find peace and had left the country that night for an undisclosed destination. I cried for days on end for my daddy. When my tears finally stopped flowing, my life literally stopped too. I moved through life as if in a daze. I lost the will to be somebody. My mum and many others took over my will.
Months before I entered secondary school, seven months after daddy left, I had my ears full. Mummy went on and on about the wickedness of men and how they could not be trusted. She lambasted daddy’s family and lectured me on how I needed to be strategic in choosing a boyfriend. She lived what she preached to me. She deliberately courted high society and found herself rich boyfriends. She became pregnant for Mr. Olagunju but was not willing to be married to him. Still, he took care of us. I did not lack anything. When my baby brother, Jide, was born, I poured all my love on him. Till date, he is the only reason why I have not run mad with the cacophony of voices.
Mum dictated who and who I was to be friends with in secondary school. Unabashedly, she would ask the children what their parents did for a living. Stephanie was not the kind of person I would ordinarily make friends with. Mum, hearing her father was a commissioner, made me take her gifts from time to time. She even coerced her into having us invited to their house for her mum’s 40th Birthday bash. I was not interested in that type of life or friends but I would rather avoid mum’s curt reminder of dad’s desertion. I gave in to her whims. She chose the course I was to study in the University as well as the University I was to study it in. They were all calculated decisions to position her daughter on the fast lane to riches. As far as she was concerned, having an MBA was my meal ticket; my assured way of getting a high paying bank job. My heart and soul sought to find expression through literature but my mum will have none of that. I learnt to heed her voice long ago.
My relationships with guys suffered the same fate as my career; mum and my ‘circle of friends’ ran the show. There had to be certain ‘look’ for the guy to qualify; a look that I still have not been able to decipher on my own even after six failed attempt at a good relationship. The ‘look’, according to my friends and mum, is a combination of many things. The physical look, the perception of the person by outsiders, the ‘pocket/bank account’ look, ‘the family connections’ look etc. Just when I thought I was getting a hang of what to look for, they will introduce a variation to the definition. I just simply allowed them to choose ‘the look’ for me. I have suffered in no small measure for delegating that part of my life to the cacophony of voices.
My first and only trip outside of Nigeria to South Africa was to represent my secondary school in an African ‘My literary life’ competition. It had been a rigorous competition with myself and another girl topping the charts from local government level, regional and then winning at the National Stage of the competition. Chioma and I represented Nigeria at the African event. It was a momentous five days of our lives. Trust my mom, she took an advert page in a soft sell magazine to broadcast her daughter’s achievement. She then sent text messages to all friends and foe to look out for the page. She was a proud mother. I was very proud of myself too. It was a life transforming event or so I thought. We did not win the African leg of the competition but we got great reviews for our work. We were approached by some universities who briefed us of the possibilities of scholarships if we ever chose to follow the literary path. I never got to follow the literary path; I never had the opportunity to consider the scholarship options. Mum was emphatic that there was no monetary gain on the literary path. I had to put in for Business Administration. Chioma got a scholarship to study English at the University of KwazuluNatal, South Africa. Not too long ago, her collection of poems was featured in the New York Times magazine. She was described as ‘a uniquely gifted, bright mind from Africa’. That could have been me. If only I had not allowed the cacophony of voices to drown the small voice inside of me telling me to stand up for myself.
I literally bumped into Bimpe three years ago in a banking hall. Her loud voice did not match with her small frame at all. She flashed me a smile as she apologized for the bump. I responded, taking the blame for the minor accident. We got talking as we waited to be attended to. She fascinated me. She spoke with a combined confidence and humility that I had not seen in a while. We exchanged contacts and promised to keep in touch. I did not keep my end of the bargain; I was too ashamed of my status in life to desire any meaningful friendship with anyone. But I guess she was my guardian angel sent from heaven. She called me severally over a space of one month even when I did not return the favor. She visited me at my Aunt’s supermarket one day and the wisdom that poured from her got me captivated. I later found out that Bimpe was three years younger than me yet she mentored me; she mothered me. She was an entrepreneur with her hands in so many pies and doing very well in all.
As a no-nonsense, no-beating-around-the-bush persona, she asked me bluntly one day “Is this what you want to do for the rest of your life? If you do not get a bank job, what then?” That conversation with her that afternoon was the deepest I have ever had with myself and with anybody ever in my life. I came to the conclusion that I was mortgaging my future and my happiness by not standing up for what I wanted. It took two years of preparation to get to this point. It had been two years of fear, doubts, conflict with mum and some friends. There has been highs and lows; there had been times when I wanted things to remain as they were. The cacophony of voices ringing in my ears were too familiar and safe to let them go for the unknown small voice in my heart. But I knew I was not happy, I was not fulfilled. There was so much in me that needed expression.
Something wonderful happened in these two years of preparation; I reconciled with my dad. Mum had plied me with hate for my dad for over fifteen years that I rebuffed every advance he made to reconcile. I finally did it. I let go my hurt and fear. I have not set my eyes on him in a long time. I am looking forward to seeing him, to calling him dad to his face again, to have him rock me back and forth telling me he loves me just like he did when I was a child. He has been living in the UK all these years. It’s just two months before I see him again; two months before I start a Masters program in creative writing at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. It’s a surreal feeling. I gain one parent to lose another. Mum has declared me personal non-grata for reconciling with dad. I hope someday she will forgive me and understand that her voice and many others have drowned mine for too long. It is time to make my voice heard loud and clear.