African Women Chronicles: Lara (Chapter 2)

After my mother’s funeral I watched silently and helplessly as my world, as I had known it, began to fall apart slowly but surely. My relationship with my sisters daily deteriorated and I was constantly blamed for our mother’s death. Dad appeared to be lost in his own sorrows and if he noticed the change in my sisters’ attitude towards me, he did nothing much to address it and nip it in the bud. And in keeping silent, he consented to the evil practise. Not that I blame him, he had a lot to deal with and he wasn’t a very strong person. Mum had been his backbone, everyone knew that, and now she was gone, his weakness was even more glaring. He withdrew from everyone, family and friends, and took to drinking and staying out late. He stopped going to church, he had only gone in the past to please mum and now that mum was dead, he didn’t make any effort at all. And because he didn’t go, we gradually became infrequent ourselves, preferring to lie in on Sunday mornings. The brethren in church did not exactly help matters so it was easy for us to fall by the way side. They came a few times to see us in the first year following mum’s death, as did her family members, but by the following year, their visits reduced drastically and by the third year, it was clear everyone, church and biological family, had moved on with their lives and left us to ours.
Things went from bad to worse, for us, financially. Dad’s business and finances had actually started to dwindle after mum died because he had been so wrapped in his sorrow that he made little or no effort to chase and win contracts as he had done in the past. The result was that he was soon financially bankrupt and began to sell off his possessions to make ends meet. The first possession he sold was mum’s car. Perhaps selling it also helped him come to terms with her demise but it was very difficult for my sisters and me. I will never forget how I cried the day it was driven out of the garage and through the gate by the new owner. As I watched it go, I was reminded of all the times I had taken a ride with mum and especially the last day she drove the car to my school to drop me off but never drove it away. As I wept that Saturday morning, my sister, Nike started to beat me. It did not surprise me as it was not the first time she was acting that way. She never let me grieve for my mother from day one; every time I started to cry she pounced on me and began to beat me. As far as she was concerned, I had no reason to cry since I was responsible for mum’s death. She acted this way in front of our dad and other family members, but no one called her to order. They thought her behaviour was caused by the pain of losing mum suddenly and that it would go away as time passed but it didn’t.
“Why are you crying, you witch?” She screamed at me angrily as she hit me over and over again. “Who killed her? Whose fault is it that she’s dead?”
“It’s my fault. It’s my fault.” I sobbed and nodded my head in agreement even as I bent over and covered my face with my arms. Fortunately, dad walked into the house just then, and one look from him was enough to get her off me. However, it was not enough to end the frequent attacks, verbal and physical that I suffered from Nike in the days and months ahead.
Dad’s finances showed no sign of improving and so he decided to leave the country in search of the proverbial Golden Fleece. At the time he made the decision, I don’t think he gave much thought to what problems his absence would create in the lives of his children. This was three years after mum’s death; I was fifteen at the time, with just one more year to leave the secondary school. Nike was twenty one and had become an adult so dad thought it was a good idea to leave Tola and I in her custody until such a time when he settled in the United Kingdom and was able to send for us to be with him. He had sold everything he owned, apart from the house where we lived, so that we could have a roof over our heads. His decision to leave really broke my heart but I knew his mind was made up and nothing could change it. Besides, after what happened to mum, I was afraid to talk him out of his decision. Suppose I did and he remained in Nigeria and died? Then I would be responsible for the death of both my parents. So, although I was convinced that his leaving us to go abroad was not the best thing for our family, I said nothing. On the days leading up to his trip, I cried silently in my bed each night but I was careful not to make any noise as I wept for fear that Nike would hear and start beating me again.
Finally, the day came for his departure and we went with him to the airport. He had paid some money into Nike’s bank account which would keep us for six months until he got a job and was able to send us money every month for our upkeep. I tried to be brave and to look happy. When the time came to part ways, Nike and Tola, wept on his shoulders but I stood back and watched. I couldn’t cry, after all, this was happening because of me. If mum had not died, dad would not leave the country and if I had not pushed mum to take me to school on that fateful day she would not have died. When I got a chance, I hugged him quickly and pulled back, my eyes were dry but I was weeping on the inside. I felt like I had lost my father as well and from that day I viewed myself as an orphan and lived like one.
As you can imagine, life after dad travelled became hell on earth, a real nightmare. Finally, I was in Nike’s hands without anyone to deliver me and she did everything in her power to ensure I paid dearly for the death of our mother and of course, dad’s decision to go abroad, which was clearly a consequence of our mother’s death. I did not complain, I served her obediently thinking if I paid for my sins she would let me live in peace but it was not to be. She seemed to derive pleasure in seeing me miserable and I was treated worse than a maid in my own father’s house, by my eldest sister, born by the same father and mother with me. It got so bad that although Tola had initially been angry with me, and blamed me for mum’s death, she began to pity me and occasionally she asked Nike to let me be and reminded her that I was her flesh and blood but Nike didn’t listen. Tola became just as miserable as I was, as she was torn between sympathy for me, and anger at Nike. Plus her own grief of losing first, a mother and now, a father.
Nike provided the basics, food and my fees, and that was about it. If I asked for anything extra, I did not get it, she told me to make do without it as we had to manage. I don’t know how much dad gave her but she seemed to live well, compared with Tola and I. She changed her clothes more frequently than she had done before dad travelled. Every day when she returned from school she had a new item she had just purchased. Sometimes it was a dress, other times a pair of shoes, still other times, perfume or a piece of jewellery. Tola and I made do with whatever she no longer wanted. Tola was weak like my father, Nike and I had the fiery spirit of our late mother but I could not challenge her because she was six years older than I was and because I felt guilt, guilt that I had pushed my mum to an untimely death. Had I been in Tola’s shoes, I would have called Nike to order and she knew this.
At first, dad called every week to find out how we were doing and what we were doing and to reassure us that he was doing everything in his power to settle down so he could start providing for us and take us to live with him. In the fifth month after his departure, he started to send money to us. Nike was in charge so I can’t say how much it was, all I can say is it sustained her new lifestyle. Apart from one occasion when someone was sent to us with a parcel which contained clothes and accessories, Nike never bought Tola and I any new clothes from the money dad sent. We always had to make do with what she no longer wanted.
Just when we thought dad was doing fine and would soon send for us to join him, we stopped hearing from him. This was about fifteen months after he left the country. I had finished my secondary school and was waiting to receive my SSCE and JAMB results. At first we waited for his call, assuming he was busy and would call when he had the time but, when he didn’t we tried to call him but were unable to reach him on the number he had given us. We didn’t want to panic but as the days became weeks we naturally began to worry and tried to reach family and friends who travelled frequently and would know something about his whereabouts but there was no news. Things began to get really tight financially and at first neighbours, family and friends supported us with the little they had but it didn’t take long for us to realise that we had become a nuisance so we did not go to anyone for help. We continued to seek ways to get in touch with dad even as we hoped that no evil had befallen him and one day he would call us.
It was during this waiting period that our family finally disintegrated. I left home, and never looked back, because I became totally fed up with living with Nike who obviously hated me and could not bring herself to say one kind word to me. I had taken as much as I could and that fateful day as she began to hit me again, calling me unprintable names and accusing me of being a witch and killing our mother, I decide it was time to leave. I wanted to get away from her and her hate. I was dying and I knew if I did not leave I would die. I had no idea where I would go or what would become of me but I was prepared to take my chances. If I survived, fine and if I died, so be it. My mother was dead and my father may be dead for all I knew, what was I living for? I walked to my room to pack my things having announced that I was leaving. She came behind me and started to throw my clothes out of the bag, she claimed they were hers, as she had given them to me and insisted that if I was leaving I would have to go without them. I did not want to argue, so I reached under my pillow, took my mum’s bible, which was and still is my most prized possession, and I walked out of the house. It was 7pm on Friday and it was raining cats and dogs but I didn’t care. I stepped out into the cold rain with nothing other than the dress I wore, the bathroom slippers on my feet and mum’s Bible in my hand.

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