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Beyond the Pales

Beyond the pales

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It was a cozy Christmas eve, grandpa had finished roasting the goat to be used the next morning.

I just returned from the farm to fetch firewood. Crestfallen at the manner which Didi and her siblings always made fun of me wherever we crossed path at the bush or down the streams. Still buried in deep despair, of the August incidence that took away my joy and made me a slave to hate and self-pity.  I remember clearly how it happened.

I went to the stream to fetch water late that evening. It was almost a taboo for the Osu’s to be at the stream when the Diala’s were in the stream.  So, I always had to wait till late in the evening to head down the stream.  I was walking back from the stream that evening when two strong hands gripped me and use the other to cover my mouth. I had my stomach in my mouth. I struggled and resisted them as they dragged me into the bush. I kept screaming but no one heard, even if they heard no one came to help.  In tears and pains, Obi and Nwaike took away my pride. But there was no one to tell this story.

 Mama was dead already, and I was afraid to tell Papa. I was hurt and broken beyond repair. All through my stay in the village, I watched these two boys dance around in my pains, make fun of me, and feel cool. At this point, I had no explanation for what I felt within. Wrapped in my half-torn skirt and staggering feet, I wept bitterly and screamed out the cold words that have burdened my heart;

For the place, I call home is hell

I’m unknown in your eyes,

But I was born into this cold broken place called home

Yes, I know of this place by birth

I didn’t choose it

My tears run deep like the oceans day after day

As you serially call us Osu 

Yes,  

My forefathers came from the dark side

I know what it means, 

Even before papa told me the story

You Point fingers, roll your eyes as your grinned faces follow my every step.

Rejection has wrecked all of me,

As I walk through the village square,

 

I feel like I’m drowning in my own tears

As I swallow that sinful smug smile from you people

All I see is the color black.

All I ask, when will I see the true colors?

 

Will I ever see it? Or it will end in the color dark.

I’m no longer at ease

My heart bleeds black

For the ancient ties that surround me has held me bound

I’m so lost in my own home

All I ask is where is home?

 

 I was startled by the sound of papa’s voice as he echoed my name, “Ifu nwam, come inside, what are you doing out there since you dropped the firewood?

I answered in an unresolved mood,” Papa I’m coming,”

I had grown so fond of Papa ever since Mama passed on. He has been the only face I look for a smile. He was so persistent with it., and whenever papa fell ill, I’d wish it would be me in that sick bed because there won’t be moonlight tales. This always made me feel lonely and sadly more than I was before.

As I lumbered to answer papa, there came a hard knock at the gate and a sonorous voice.

Ifu, are you home? come and open the gate, she said. In utmost excitement, I jumped up, screaming at the top of my voice as I ran towards the gate to welcome.  

 

In her mid-forties, aunty Mma is dark skinned, elegant and has this austere look that got me frightened each moment she was home. Her presence meant the world to us that period as the neighborhood grew colder and quite ever since Mama passed on.  She has been married years but without kids. Of course, the villagers blamed her for it.

 

I felt so relieved that evening because she did all cooking, I got to eat chocolates she brought from the city, and the stories about the happenings in the city got papa and I enlivened.

It was a tradition for her to go through my books whenever she came home since my mother passed. She was my Christmas present.

   

It was flews days after Christmas, and Aunty Mma was set to leave for the city which came with the big news that I had to leave with her.  At first, I was excited to hear the news, because no one would think of me as Osu in the city. I was finally moving to a place where someone would look at me and see me for my existence.  The thought of living papa alone in that broken place, knowing that no one cares, made me sober and staid.

 

Taken at age thirteen to live with Aunty Mma, and her husband. Papa agreed to this because he wanted me to see a different light and be happy.  The night before we left for the big city, papa carried me on his legs and fed me with the words called wisdom. I was only but a growing child, but it sunk deep into me.  In all, he said, “that they said you are dead, doesn’t mean you should go ahead and die, still live and let them hear it, that you arose”.

At dawn, we set off to the far north, it was my first to travel to the city. I was so expectant. Heard lots of stories, I was so eager to have the feel of fresh breath. The journey took until night.

On getting to their apartment, I was cold and quiet. Aunty Mma knocked at the door of the apartment. Who’s that? Asked Uncle Mike in a sonorous voice.

It’s me’, she answered. He opened the door for us to enter.

He is dark-skinned, muscular with a bald head. He looked fit for mid- forties. He’s appeared so rigid and domineering, yet decent.  My Aunty had told us he is a banker. I thought of him as Governor Soludo of CBN when I first heard he works in a bank.

I was struck by the look in his eyes as he rolled his big eyeballs from head to my toe in a way that seemed she was displeased at the sight of me.  I became tensed immediately and greeted him hurriedly without looking him up in the face. “Good Evening sir” I greeted prostrating. 

I felt uneasy throughout the night at the cold reception I received from him. As I lay in my bed that night, I began to feel Papa’s absence already. Buried in my own tears, I wet the pillow as I reminisced about the unacceptance that seemed to be shading my luck.

Aunty and her husband had a very busy routine because of their white-collar job.

She got me enrolled in a public school down the streets. It was not difficult to get to school. 

The first day of school was hard for me to get along with other kids as it was flinty to come off my shackles.  I stared at other kids as they tried to make friends with me, but I rather held back. Days and weeks went by and I was still this way, but it didn’t affect my academic performance. My teachers always sent letters to my aunty complaining about my cold attitude during extracurricular activities in school and she would always talk to me to loosen up. She would say “the demons in the village are not here, you are in a new place, a new land, and there’s so much to live for in this life”. I   always saw this as one of Papa’s fellow feeling talks. 

One day, my aunt finished reading one of this letter and placed it on the shelf.  Uncle Jide saw it and picked it up. He was reading the letter when I came to place his food on the dinner table. I hurriedly put the down tray down and stuttered the words “Uncle your food is ready”. He didn’t respond as his face was still buried in the paper. I could sense his lost in thought. As I    turned to leave immediately, I was halted by the sound of his voice.   He looked up at me and said: “no one is going to accept you until you accept yourself and so will no one value you more than yourself”.  I looked face down and nodded.  I know you are just a child, I hope you understand this word, he said quietly. 

I pondered over what he said, but that didn’t liberate me. The next day, I told my aunt what Uncle Jide said. She smiled at me and said, “the time is here, I know you can get through just as I did”.

 I noticed that my uncle began buying journals and newspapers.  And he would deliberately flesh out the pages that have inspiring stories in them and keep the rest in his room.

This journal became my companion after school each day, after my chores, I would grab one of the journals, sit on the veranda and read. Each day I read these journals, I discovered different things about life.  A few months came by, and a lot had changed.  With the spur to speak out some day, I joined the school writing, debating and dramatic club after my first year. I started bonding and made a few friends. Yet, my story remained my secret.

Aunt became so impressed with me. I got gifts on a daily from her.

It was aunt’s birthday, Uncle Jide got home on time as we all didn’t know he was planning a surprise for my Aunt. I was settling in from school when I heard the know at the door.   I ran to get the door; there he stood with a cake in his hands, giggling happily as he said “we’ve got to surprise your aunt today. I was excited. I cleaned the dishes, arranged the sitting room and set the table. He went ahead to decorate the table with candles, and fine linen of white color with red glitters on it. Uncle Jide and I planned to play out this surprise as a team. He said, “I want her to feel special today.”  So, at the sight of her, I opened the door so wide she could see the sitting room clearly. And there was Uncle Jide standing elegantly in his black bespoke pants and shirts with a rose. She broke into tears, flung her bag and reached to hug him. She went teary while we sang her a birthday song.  She was cutting the cake when the tone of her phone broke the silence.  She rushed to pick up.

“Hello, hello, hello” she answered in the feel of the moment.  Before she could say J-a-c-K, the caller went straight with information. “I am Eze, son of Nwukwu, your father is dead, we will throw him into the Evil forest if you don’t return in two days”.  She slumped to her feet, shaking uncontrollably screaming “no Papa, no Papa, papa mo oo”.  This is the tragedy that crowned that great evening. Well, I guess it wasn’t great anymore.

 

What killed Papa, I kept thinking that night. I cried out my eyes because I know nobody would have even cared enough if at all he needed help before his death.

The next morning, Aunt was set to leave, but I insisted to go with her.  Papa wasn’t going to be kept for more than two days.  Nobody would come even if we had planned a funeral. We were given a different seat in church. Our walk around the village was that of shame.  Aunt didn’t hesitate because that will be the last time I get to see Papa. We were about leaving when Uncle Jide told my aunt to hold on, that he can’t let her face the villagers all alone.

When we arrived the village, no one came to mourn with us. I stood still, looked around the compound, Papa’s throat was slit at night over a piece of land and no one stood for him.  They didn’t only kill Papa, they burnt down Papa’s barn of yams, took away his goats and sheep. We didn’t just meet Papa’s dead body but saw the fall of his empire.  I wept bitterly at the thought of my Mum’s death now ripped me off. I wailed, scream and rolled on the ground, hoping it could all turn out to be a dream. But, no, it was for real a reality.

Uncle Jide was broken but he manned up for us.  He was shocked at the kind of tradition that restricted people to love and care for their fellow humans.  At the same time, consoled us both.  He entered Papa’s room and refused us to enter. After a few minutes, he came out and locked the door. Uncle Jide took us to a nearby guest house to pass the night. On our way to the there, we stopped by the church to plans with the Reverend. And that was it.  Papa was buried at the church cemetery alongside Grandma and Mom. We stood at the foot of papa’s grave stunned, shattered, and wrecked. Amidst this injustice and unruly act, no one stood for us because of barbaric customs and norms our forefathers believed in.

We went Back to the city the next morning. I became lost once again because of Papa’s demise.  I became stronger with an ardent urge for revenge.  All I want is to see these people pay for all they did to my family.  I never met my Father because he sent my mother packing when I was two months old.  After their marriage, two elders from our village went to meet his family.  Papa said, “they tarnished the image of our family before them and drove your   mother out at midnight calling her the child of Agbara.”

But first, I must tell my story to someone who would tell the world what I have never told my friends. I wrote an article and submitted it to be published in the school magazine.  Everyone liked it, so I kept on writing more articles every week.  They school started distributing my articles to parents who came to the school. After a month of gaining such audience, I thought about sharing my real story to them. So scared of being rejected and probably judged again, it was hard for me to pin down anything.

 I had developed a close relationship with Uncle Jide, so I decided to speak to him about it.  At first, he smiled, and said: “it is your story, feel free to tell the world the story when you feel like”. Yea, sounds easy right? But it is not. He sensed the dissatisfaction in my looks. Uncle moved closer to me, held my hands said, “what your family have been through is one among the numerous cultural discriminations other families might be going through.” You will never know; your story can give them hope.

As we were still chatting, he said” do you know what? The article is going to be titled “The girl”.   He also promised to take the articles to his office to share. This gave me a new drive to go ahead with the idea.

I started sharing my story in episodes with a fictional character.  My Aunt and uncle Jide always took some articles to their office for people to also read. After the first episode, people were eager to read more about “The Girl”. After the second episode, my Uncle came home with two new novels he had purchased at the bookstore on his way back from work. He handed them to me and said grinning “I think people accept your story even more than we ever thought. I got these book with the money I made from the articles”. I jumped on him in excitement and shock. I couldn’t contain the joy that filled my heart.  I certainly couldn’t wait for Aunt to get home to break the news to her. It was just like I evolved from a new world. Episodes after episodes my story got to the world.

At my Aunt’s office was a man who works with a British council. He told my Aunt that he would like me to speak at a young leader summit. We were so happy and elated. Sleep wasn’t for me at night as I would stand in front of the mirror to rehearse my speech.

The day came, and my Aunt helped me to dress, while uncle Jide dropped me off.

On reaching the venue, I had cold shivers. Uncle Jide smiled and said, “just be yourself, remember that your story inspires a lot of people”.

I stood on that stage, beaming face with smiles, as the crowds applaud.  Still breathtaking with this gesture, I was lost gazing into their faces, and then I was about to start when everything I went through began to play back in my head.  For the first, I told my story boldly and unaltered, even though it was done with tears. [Smiles].   

At the end of my speech, I got a standing ovation of people waning in tears. Amid these crowd was a man struggling to make his way to the front row. “Make way, make way, “he said repeatedly.  I was about stepping down the stage when he went on his knees. Shocked at the man’s act, I paused as well as the audience. He grabbed a mic from the Anchor and starting with pleas. At first, I thought the man was about to say something the organizers but hell no! He was apologizing to me. “I am your father, please forgive me, I was misled” he stuttered.

Seems revenge doesn’t lie in blood and bones, but in the strength to rise even after they buried you.

Yea, I found the treasure inside me.

 

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