I trailed behind Mama with my short legs and bare chest, hopping most of the time and running while she took what looked to me like giant steps. It was dusk and I couldn’t see clearly and I think she had forgotten I was with her. Whenever Mama threw her long legs this way, I knew something was wrong. Her legs said a lot about her- it made her stand out from the sea of women like an elegant peacock and determined her speed whenever she was anxious.
Asides being a lot of legs, Mama remained a slim curvy figure even after birthing three children. Her black skin glowed when the sun reflected on it during the day but at night, she blended into the darkness. She had exceptional features that most women envied her for. Unlike other women, Mama never worked to prove her worth, she was just a woman pampered by husband.
This explained the shock in her eyes when she got the news about Papa and the policemen. The eyewitnesses had informed her that Papa was brutally beaten to unconsciousness. Our hearts raced, pounded even louder as we ran to the junction where the incident had taken place.
“Chim o!” she screamed when we got there.
Papa was dead. Cold bloodedly killed by the police. His offense? Apparently, he had challenged one of the policemen who had questioned the genuineness of his goods. It was their usual way to get bribe from small business owners.
“Chai! He would have given them money na instead of his life,” Mama lamented.
I watched her throw herself on the ground and rolled back and forth. Dust mixed with her tears and her orange gown turned to brown in no time. She kept asking how she would raise three children alone without a single penny to her name. Jobless. I had never seen the ever so calm Mama so devastated.
The next couple of days, Mama’s once lit eyes dropped dully. She spent most of her time staring into space. She barely said a word to any of us or the sympathizers that flooded our house. As days turned into weeks, Mama began to select her best wrappers to sell just so she could raise funds for Papa’s burial. We were also at the risk of losing everything even the house.
Mama went haywire in search for money, no matter how little. Some days she trekked with us from one relative’s door to another in tears, forcing my siblings and I to kneel beside them as she begged. Going to school was too much luxury as we could barely feed. We were gradually becoming shadows of ourselves when Aunty Oluchi, Mama’s cousin came all the way to Enugu to rescue us. She gave Mama some money to start a business and offered to take me along with her to Port Harcourt to continue my education.
Mama was too ecstatic to believe her luck. She was finally shedding some burden off her skin and taking out one mouth from the limited food. The night, before I left with Aunty Oluchi, we all laid quietly in the one bedroom apartment my aunt had rented for us. Between Mama and I, we hardly had words to say to each other. I was too caught up in my thoughts to say a thing and a certain terror filled my bones as I wondered what the future held for me.
It took me just two months into living with Aunty Oluchi and her family to realise that life wasn’t exactly fair and that people like me had no voice even if we screamed. My aunt’s children went to one of the best schools in the city, where they were dropped off and picked up every weekday, wore the nicest clothes and ate the best portions of every meal.
On the other hand, I was registered in a community secondary school which was a thirty minutes walk from the house. Even though Aunty Oluchi could easily drop me off on their way, she insisted I walked down to school in order for me to know the city better. She also said it was a waste of money buying me new clothes when I could easily fit into her first daughter’s old wears. Then whenever it was time to eat, I dared not eat before others. Like she made me understand, ‘the one who serves must eat last’. So I got the bottom of the pot which I often ate with joy since most of the ingredients settled down there.
My first two terms’ results were horrible. I failed woefully. I came last in my class and from then their mocking never ceased. Aunty Oluchi said the fish heads I ate had blocked my brain and threatened to withdraw me from school if there was no improvement in the next term’s result. Hearing this, I had to raise up to the challenge. I couldn’t afford to quit school, the only place I snatched some peace of mind. School was my happy place since it was far from Aunty Oluchi’s constant nagging, her frowns, bad energy and bitter words.
Having noticed my determination to succeed, my class teacher, Ma Ejiro took it upon herself to give me extra lessons for free during break time and for thirty minutes after school was over. My personal classes with her wasn’t the usual type in the classroom. She had a way of uplifting my spirit at the beginning of every lesson with her prayers and words of encouragement. It didn’t matter how many times I failed a particular subject, she always cheered, “smart girl, you can do better!”
After the next two weeks, Ma Ejiro showed up with a list of statements she called confessions. She said, they were all I could be and more. Startled, I stared blankly not knowing the right words to say.
“Go on, Kamsi, read them out loud to my hearing,” she urged me.
“I am a intilligant gal,” I said, my thick accented tongue always got in the way. I could barely read sentences correctly.
“No, Kamsi! Say, I’m an in-tel-li-gent girl,” Ma Ejiro said breaking the word into syllables.
I did. Eventually I got the other sentences on her confession list. Like a doctor, she prescribed that I say them every morning and night. I did. Her words were like gold to me, I honoured them. I honoured her even more.
Back at home while my aunt’s children basked in the glory of having wealthy parents, I dug myself deep into what Ma Ejiro taught me every free minute I had. I got to understand that our battles were different and that I had more obstacles on my way than they did. I had to fight through the dust of discomfort to find my way out of poverty and also pull my mother and siblings out as well.
Yes, life isn’t fair but it gives each of us battle axes to cut down roadblocks on the way to success. Though some had to spend more time cutting while others didn’t have to do so much. In my case, I had no other choice but to do twice as hard as Aunty Oluchi’s children and their well spoken friends that always smelled like vanilla.
The years passed and I became to improve all round. It broke my heart when Ma Ejiro relocated to Lagos, but she assured me her prayers were with me and that the stars would align for me. And they did. After making my WAEC papers, Uncle Uzo, my aunt’s husband, volunteered to sponsor my University bills. My mother couldn’t thank her cousin and her husband enough for their generosity.
Every single day at the university, I wore my focus like lens and never settled for the ordinary life. Some days, I didn’t have enough to eat and would go to bed hungry but I never lost hope. After school, just like Ma Ejiro had said the stars did align and my life transformed swiftly. I became a lifter, lifting children who shared similar background with me. I became everything Ma Ejiro had written in that confession list.
Till date, whenever I called Ma Ejiro to share my new successes, she always responded, “you spoke into the void and it became flesh, my darling.”
Written by Jennifer Chioma Amadi
“IT CAN ONLY GET BETTER!”