Wednesday, November 23, 2011
One Thousand Words
It all started the day my mother asked us to start calling Aunty Toun “Mummy wa” I grew up knowing Aunty Toun as the lady who lived in the nice house in our area. Her house was the only “nice” house there anyway she lived alone and had nice looking cars always driving in and out of her house. Her car was the first one I ever entered and I remember touching the smooth leather seats throughout the ride to the market. My mother did some work for aunty, that’s a dignified way of saying she ran errands for her and in exchange for her services she got a little money, some raw food and with that she ensured that my little sister and I didn’t starve.
You see Aunty Toun is actually my father’s second cousin, but since we never knew our dad, my mother felt it was important to know some of his relatives. Aunty Toun was much younger than my mother but culture demanded she respected her so she was “Sisi Mi Toun” I didn’t understand why my mother was always deferring to her, was is it because she had a lot of money? Surely money was an important thing to have then. It commanded respect.
“Damilola, please go and wear your white dress and white socks, you know Aunty Toun doesn’t like it when you don’t dress well to her house”
Aunty Toun determined what we ate in our little room, what kind of clothes we wore and every other thing. I grew up resenting her and her condescending tone and little gifts.
“Dami and Ife come and say thank you to Aunty Toun. She has just given me your school fees for next term”
With every act of subservience by my mother my head spun, surely I had to do something to liberate my mother from this modern day slavery. When my mother said we should only call aunty “mummy wa” I made up my mind to stop collecting the presents from Aunty, I was going to make money for us.
I was 17 when I got the job at the petrol station and even though the pay was small, I took every kobo I made home to my mother. I would spend the time behind the till reading every scrap of information I could. My personal mantra was “Ignorance led to poverty” I was not going to be ignorant as ignorance led my mother to getting pregnant for a low life who claimed he was from the prominent Lagos Kuku family, when in fact he was actually their cook. Ignorance made her stick around him long enough to have even another baby and then he skipped town leaving her with two children and a false belief in a name.
So when Michael walked into the Mart to ask to buy lubricant for his SUV and showed more interest in me than in the lubricant he came to purchase I strengthened my resolve not to let any man lead me through ignorance to poverty. Something was different about him though, he was persistent and genuinely seemed to care. He was stung when I refused his tip the first time, “I don’t take hand outs sir; I like to earn my own money”. He seemed shocked that I could speak English properly, and for that we could only thank Aunty Toun the benefactor who ensured that my mother sent us to the best primary school in the area. He started bringing books for me to read and kept asking me to consider leaving work for school. I didn’t want to go to school, school would come later, but I surely didn’t want my sister to be raised with mummy wa’s money.
Michael became my friend and never stopped talking about my going back to school. I grew to trust him and look forward to his visits every evening. Then one day he said he was going back to America for his MBA.
“Dami, I want you to marry me. I want you to come with me to the U.S. We can build a life together there. You can go to school there and send for your Mom and sister later. I love you and I would love you for the rest of our lives”
That was five years ago. Today I’m standing at the window looking at mummy wa’s house and thinking life isn’t as dramatic as I pictured it to be. If this was a movie script I wasn’t supposed to be back here thinking of the morning I left Gary Indiana. I had become a captive in a place I had once called home, a battered captive; so I took my children and ran. It had been raining and I felt it was some deity giving his blessing for my actions. I had talked to some women about it “Ehn, he slapped you, and you still stayed there. Do you want to wait till you’re killed?”
“I can take anything oh, but that beating... no no no! My parents didn’t beat me it’s now a man that will make me his punching bag. Mba”
“My sister, you are strong sha o. The day Makinde raises his hand to even try it is the day I will go back home”
I was ashamed. I was living my mother’s life all over again, only this time I had armed myself with an education and I had saved enough money to start all over. I was strong and determined to try again. My children were only going to call one woman "Mummy wa" and that woman was me.