I was the girl who would graduate with a first class from the University of Lagos. I was that young beautiful lady who would work with an NGO that fiercely sought justice for victims of domestic abuse. Those were my dreams and my aspirations from the day I clocked 14. But then, 14 years later, I would find myself paying regular visits to Doctor Fred Popoola.
“So when you get depressed, how do you feel?”
I frowned. Why does Doctor Fred keep asking me this question?
“I’m sorry if I sound too inquisitive. I’m only doing my job. This will enable me determine the exact prescription to give to you. But if you are not comfortable with this line of questioning, I’ll let it pass.’
Better. I nodded.
He opened my file again and flipped through the notes he had taken during the previous sessions.
This is the last time I’ll set my foot here, I said, between clenched teeth
He glanced at me through the round spectacles that sat on his nose. I looked away. He shoved his chair aside and for the first time I noticed his pot belly, the size of two round balls placed under a bogus shirt. He walked to a large glass shelf and brought out a box and on top of it was written, ‘Authentic’. He placed the box on the table. His hand slid through the small opening and out came four packs of white tablets. He pushed a pack to me.
‘That drug will clear the depression in a week. Infact, it will make you-‘
I was ready to cut to the chase. ‘How much?’
He paused, ‘This tablet you are looking at cannot be found in Nigeria. It is-‘
The stony glare I gave him brought the speech to an end.
‘10,000 naira. Like I said-‘
The crisp notes were on the table. I stood up.
‘When next am I expecting you?’ He was grinning.
I stormed out of the room and headed for the door. The receptionist covered in thick make up that made her wrinkles more obvious was chewing something and slapping at some old files.
‘Madam!’ she called but I didn’t respond.
Maybe I should just kill myself. Death will bring an end to this pain.
I threw the tablets into a refuse bin two houses away from the clinic and walked to the bus stop under the scorching sun.
Martha sprang to her feet when I entered the house. ‘Thank God you are here. I’m already late for my class.’
Martha was my next door neighbour. I had pleaded with her to stay with my kids because of my appointment with the doctor. She left quickly and as I sat down, Daniel began to cry. His brother, David had slapped him and now David was standing before me, trying to defend himself. I dashed into the room, furious and angry. Esther, my three year old daughter was laughing at her brother who increased the tempo of his cries when I ignored him.
‘Will you shut your mouths up!’ I yelled.
Esther pulled at my skirt. ‘Mummy, I’m hungry.’ she whined in her babyish voice.
I ignored her and picked up James from the bed. How did I manage to have four kids? Is this what I would do for the rest of my life? My eyes were teary. This was not how I planned to live my life.
The moment I lifted my breast to his mouth, he kept quiet and sucked hungrily. Daniel was now screaming. The fact that I ignored him annoyed him more but I had no patience for his tantrums. His twin brother was now at the corner playing with Esther. My daughter came back again crying for food and so I stood up and went to the kitchen.
When I had served their food, Daniel refused to eat until I said, ‘sorry,’ and ruffled his dark wavy hair. I returned to the room to attend to James.
It took me four hours to get all of them to bed. When that was done, I sat on the floor and stared blankly at the floor.
I miss my Mother. I wish she hadn’t died two weeks after I finished secondary school. I remembered the days she would sit on the sofa and I would stand in front of her and read out words I had written and make gestures just in the same way I had watched Funke Falana speak about women rights on TV.
‘I, Sarah Kalejaiye will stand for the rights of the girl child because every girl deserves to see her dream bud. I will be the voice for every girl in this generation. I will stand as an advocate to see that justice is given…’
Mum would stand up and clap before planting a kiss my cheek. ‘You’ll make a beautiful advocate.’
Everything changed after her death. My stepmother, a woman I lived with for a decade and half who never failed to remind me I was different from her two daughters called me to her room one afternoon.
‘My sister has given you her slot. Isn’t that wonderful?’
I looked at her puzzled. ‘I don’t understand.’
‘Remi is a senior lecturer in Ede poly. You are her candidate. The registration process will commence soon and-‘
‘But I want to study law.’
She rolled her eyes and hissed ‘Unfortunately you don’t have a choice. You are my responsibility now.
If I hadn’t gone to that polytechnic, maybe I wouldn’t have met Gbenga and this horrible marriage that wants to rid me of my sanity wouldn’t have taken place, I thought
My phone rang. I grabbed it from the table and scrambled out of the room. The last thing I wanted was my babies resuming their ‘screaming’ session.
‘Hello dear.’ My husband said on the other side. I kept quiet.
‘Sweetheart, are you there?’
Anger mixed with disgust clogged my throat. I stayed calm. ‘Hello’
‘How is my angel doing?’
‘I’m not fine. This is not what I signed up for. Gbenga, you promised, after our marriage that you’ll sponsor me if I get admission into the university.
‘Do we have to go through this again?’
‘Yes, until you feel the frustration I feel here. Last year I wanted to take a form but you refused.’
‘Did I?’ Gbenga’s voice was rising. ‘You were pregnant for goodness sake’.
‘Pregnant women go to school.’
‘How can you talk like this? How could you possible think of chasing a career at the detriment of our children’s wellbeing. That’s selfish.’
‘I told you I didn’t want to get pregnant.’ My eyes were brimming with tears.
‘So it’s my fault now right? That we have four lovely kids.’
I sniffed. ‘When are you coming to get us. We miss you.’
‘I miss you and the kids too. It’s just that renting an apartment in Port Harcourt is expensive. The three bedroom flat we pay 150, 000 naira for in ilesha is almost a million naira here. Once my import business booms, you’ll move here.
My heart sank. A flood tide of despair washed over me and I could feel myself drowning in it.
‘I miss you so much dear. I should be home this weekend.’
When Gbenga first got a job in a tech firm in Port Harcourt, he came home every weekend and then the weekend visits became fortnights…
‘One more thing Gbenga. I’m hiring a maid.’
‘No dear, you can’t do that. No way is that happening in my house.’
‘I can’t do this all by myself!’
‘But you don’t have a job.’ He stopped. ‘I told you what our maid did to my sister when I was a child. The scars are still evident.’
I placed the phone on my laps and clasp my hands watching the tears trickle down my face. Gbenga was still talking.
‘This is a sacrifice dear. We do not always get what we desire and God understands. Let’s focus on this business and see where God leads us from there.’
Sarah is selfish, I muttered as I hugged my pillow and cried that night. I was blessed with four kids. I had a comfortable apartment and a man who loved me. Wasn’t I lucky?
That night, I tore up my ‘dream journal’ into tiny shreds and settled for the role that had been assigned to me
Gbenga’s business flourished and finally we had enough to move to a comfortable place in Port Harcourt. My kids were growing and I had eased into my role as an accountant in my husband’s company until one evening when I sat in the living room filling my lungs with the cool air from the a.c, waiting for the rice to get cooked so I could set the table for dinner. I turned on the TV.
A documentary on a young lawyer was showing on Aljazeera. I saw she was in charge of a team that rescued twenty teenage girls from a mass marriage ceremony that was to take place in Daura. She’d won several court cases that gave many widows in the East their rightful inheritance and she ran the legal department of Stand up for Girls, a well-known NGO located in different parts of the country. I reached for my phone and hurried to the website that displayed her articles and her involvement in policy development in Ethiopia.
Excitement began to spread through my body.
Lord, this is what I want!
I couldn’t contain the vibration. My heart was on fire.
‘Mummy! Something is burning.’
I jumped to my feet and ran into the kitchen. We settled for burnt rice and stew that night. I stayed awake all through the night.
‘You can help others without studying law.’ My husband said between mouthfuls the following day.
‘But I want to. It will give me a leverage. Besides, I can’t bring justice to wounded girls if I’m not certified. I want to get into the court room and defend them.’
‘I thought we’ve closed that case. You are doing well handling the account section of the company. Look how far we have gone in six years.’
‘I don’t want to spend my life doing that. I want to be a lawyer.’
‘But you are good at it Sarah. What would I have done without you?’
‘I don’t enjoy it!’
‘But you were comfortable with it all these years, what happened to you?’
The argument got intense. Our voices rose. Gbenga’s mother came out of the children’s room.
‘Kilode! If you want to fight, go into your room jare. The children are still awake.’
Gbenga marched into the room. Fighting tears, I sat there, silent. My mother-in-law touched my shoulders.
‘Go and settle with your husband.’
In one breath, I narrated everything to her. She sat beside me, listening. When I finished, she sighed. ‘I’ll talk to him. But first, let’s commit this to God’s hands. ‘
She held my hands. ‘Lord, teach us what to do and how to go about this issue. Give us wisdom. In Jesus name.’
It took six months before my husband and I came to an agreement. But the complaints that followed the positive response were endless.
‘What about the kids?’
Every morning, I drove them to school.
‘How do we get cash for school fees?’
I became a palm oil dealer and sold baby clothes on weekends.
‘You didn’t prepare dinner. I don’t want to eat bread.’
I rushed into the kitchen, holding my land law textbook in one hand and with the other hand I stirred the soup.
‘Who’ll dress our children for school.’
I glared at him.’You are capable of doing this.Dress them up.’
‘Jeez! The Law school fees is too much.’
My mother-in-law deposited half of the fees into my account and with my savings, I paid my fees.
‘Where will the kids stay when you go away to law school?’
My mother-in-law gladly agreed to take care of them.’
‘So what about me?’
‘You can take care of your self for ten month!’
Nothing was going to stop me.
…and that morning, I sat, dressed in a black robe that contrasted sharply with my fair skinned complexion in an enclosed Hall, holding my wig, a proof of my years of hard work and diligence.
When we were asked to place our wigs on our heads signifying our official entrance into the legal practice, my eyes glittered with tears.
‘Jesus, It happened. I am a lawyer!’I almost screamed.
The first person I saw when I sauntered out of the gate in my black robe was my husband. He was staring at me the same way he had done when we first met after the FCS bible study on campus. I noticed his eyes were full of admiration as He approached me, smiling. Behind him, a woman was pulling a young girl away from a bald headed man.
‘No way! You cannot be part of this celebration. I raised her alone.’ she said.
Gbenga shouted at the top of his lungs as he held me tightly. ‘My wife is a lawyer! If you look for my trouble, I’ll sue you.’ An old man clapped and patted him on his back. ‘Weldone. We need men like you.’
Gbenga touched my wig. ‘I am so proud of what you have become.’
I frowned and withdrew from his embrace. I shook my head and hurried to the car park where my mother-in-law and my kids were waiting.
This is just the beginning. I’ll live my dreams. Yes I will…
There is a light in all of us by God’s design. Carry your light. Run into the dark world.
Photo Credit: Caique Silva