‘Everything is wrong with me. I'm fat, ugly, have short hair, my nails are chipped, I'm shy, I have no friends, I must be a bad person because after I was born my mom could not have any other children. Nobody likes me, even my family. To top it all, I hate myself. Why was I ever born? Why couldn't God just keep me up there as a kitchen hand as I doubtless must have been in heaven.’
Feeling this way, I resumed in school. The only thing I'll say I have is the constant supply of money in my account. To be rid of me, my parents sent me to the boarding house. I’m now in Js2 and they have never visited for once. For one reason or the other, more like excuses, they are never home when I go for holidays. Oh, how I hate myself!
First year was hell. All the girls in the dormitory poked fun at me at every available opportunity and the boys made school hours a terror for me. I wonder how I ever made it through the first academic year. I hated going to classes and stabbed as many as I could afford to without being caught.
The first time a guy paid me a compliment was in the second term of my second junior year. There was so much noise around. Naturally, it was break time. This particular day, I was not interested in eating anything. It was my birthday but it was just like any other day. Nothing special, no one knew and those who did simply ignored the day like it had been taken off the calendar. All the same, I bought myself a burger and a small pack of fruit juice and sat in a corner by the assembly hall, a novel in my mind. I did not intend to go for the next class I had after the break time. I had always heard that a mother cannot forget her suckling, or is it suckled in my case, child. Mine did not need any special ability to forget me. It was as natural as breathing was to her. How I longed for a little closeness with my mom, just an opportunity to say 'good morning'. The voice behind me jolted me back.
“Hey pretty, anything the matter?” I looked around me in search of both the addresser and the addressee. I often wondered why some girls were much luckier than others. They got to answer to such sweet names like 'Angel', 'Pretty', 'Baby', 'Sugar' and many others of such. I had never been called any of those so you could imagine my shock when I turned round and saw the most perfect set of white teeth beaming down at me. Infact, I half fell over the chair I was sitting on and there, another magic happened.
Before then, I had never had the privilege of visiting Disneyland but right at that moment, I was right there with all the magic and fun around. For the first time, I felt human. The arms that rescued me from hitting the floor were both strong and tender and the voice that said to me “careful now, I got you”, sounded like that of an archangel. In that moment, time froze and I seemed to exist on another planet. “What could possibly be the problem with such a sweet angel?”. That voice came again and it took me a couple of seconds to find my voice. When I did, all I could do was stammer.
“Er . . . em . . . I just . . . I wanted a . . . er . . . quiet place to . . . eat my snack I guess.” I managed looking at the hardly touched burger in my hand. He noticed too and said “I don't see you've done much in that direction. Moreso, I can't help noticing the wet page on your novel. Do you know how long I had been standing behind you?” with that question, he settled himself into the seat next to me, the only one available considering I was seated on a twin chair.
“For starters, I'm Layi and I'm in SS1. You?” I had had some fresh air so speaking was not so difficult this time. “I'm Murewa and I'm in JS2”. Instantly, I saw the surprise on his face. Understandably, I am quite big for my age.
“Whao. I'd have sworn we were classmates. So Murewa, tell me, what's eating you?”
“Ít's my birthday today”
“That's a good one. But I can't understand why you'd want to celebrate your birthday alone. You should be having fun with your friends.”
“I don't have any friends.”
“You just made one.”
And that was how Olayiwola Bandele walked into my life to touch it in a way that would not leave it the same ever again.
Like every other school in my state, a set of corp members was sent to mine. Normally, students liked them more than the permanent teachers because they seemed to understand us better and we operated on the same wave length; at least, so it seemed. So, during my first term of second year, a batch of corpers was dispatched to my school. One of them was Corper Tochukwu. Right from the first day he stepped into my class, girls began to swoon.
Within a very short time, I started to glow in a way I had never done before. Layi was also a boarding student. Turned out he was the last child and only boy of the famous Gabriel Olaonipekun Bandele. His father was a wealthy business man with a string of companies all under the GOB & Son Group of Companies. He was the heir of the man.
Though my father was also wealthy, I felt completely impoverished. What was the purpose of money without love? But I kept this fact away from Layi. I made him believe that my parents were middle class civil servants because I didn't want to go disclosing dirty family secrets. I so much enjoyed the attention he gave to me.
He would come to my class and peek through the louvre blades during classes, winking at me and making me smile, be waiting by the time the break time bell went and all snatches of time we had during dormitory schedules, we spent together.
But there was a problem.
Layi was any girl's dream boyfriend. Though not much, he had muscles which bulged under his fitted T shirts which he was fond of wearing after school hours. Well, ours was a school with very limited rules for school and even for the dormitories. We could wear what we liked provided it did not cross the line of decency. Afterall, our parents were paying heavily. So, why must we pay only to observe rules?
The problem was, it so happened that girls in his class had been trying all they could just to catch his eyes. When they found out about me, which was not a difficult thing anyway, their rage was fired up at me. They just could not understand what a whole Layi Bandele was doing with a girl as plain as me. That was not exactly true anymore anyway. Ever since Layi walked into my life, I smiled more and I looked more beautiful. I could not believe who I was looking at each time I looked into a mirror, I looked like a flower that was opening up. For once, I could say that I was beautiful.
They planned to get me and hit at me in an unforgettable way. They got their chance that very day.
After lunch, Layi asked me to wait for him while he went to the dormitory to get something. Still relishing the nice lunch of jollof rice with roasted beef and the nice time I had just had with Layi, I did not see them approaching till I felt the first sting of a slap. Then a blow to my back and the rain just continued. Before I knew what was happening, I was sprawled on the dinning room floor. I didn't know which hurt more, the pains I was feeling or the humiliation.
Then I felt someone very strong lift me. The next time I opened my eyes, I was lying on a bed in the sick bay. I touched my head and it felt like a stone. I looked around and saw I was alone. That was when I started crying. I had no friends, so there was no one to come check on me.
“Do you still hurt so much?” I looked around. I was not as alone as I had thought, someone else was there in the room with me but I had not seen him. “Does it hurt so much?” He asked again.
“Not really” I replied turning round in the direction of the voice and there was Corper Tochukwu staring down at me.
“Why then are you crying?”
“I . . . I didn't . . “' I turned away from him and cried more. How could I explain how lonely I felt? Just then, one of the school nurses came in with the next dose of drugs for me. Corper Tochukwu promised to come back to check on me. Then he left. The nurse helped me to sit up, propping me with pillows to help reduce the pain I was feeling in my back. For one, I hated taking drugs, so this nurse had to do a little of appealing and cajoling to get me to swallow the five tablets she held out in front of me. Reluctantly, I swallowed all five. She switched on the television set so I could relax and have a break from the long sleep I had been having since I got admitted the previous day.
My mind was really not on the program running on the TV. I was wondering where Layi was and why I didn't wake up staring into his eyes. Had he also deserted me so early? We had had too much fun than for him to disappear into thin air just now. I couldn't possibly survive it. Just the thought of it brought tears to my eyes. Well, for me, crying wasn't a difficult thing, I cried easily and regularly. That was till I met Layi though. ‘Am I returning to that state?’ I hoped not. I kept staring at the TV, not seeing anything.
Corper Tochukwu was a PET. When he first addressed us at the assembly hall, we all laughed; questions flew from every corner. 'What kind of pet are you?' some asked while others provided answers like 'puppy', 'kitten', 'rabbit', etc. One thing I liked about him immediately was his composure. He stood there smiling at us all as we shouted our different answers. He waited for us to calm down then explained to our ignorant minds that a PET is a Peer Education Trainer and that he was about to start a Peer Educators’ Club in our school to train us on family life, reproductive issues and HIV/AIDS. He said as many as were interested should see him after the devotion.
Immediately we said 'amen', a small crowd rushed at Corper Tochukwu. This crowd was mainly made of girls, just a few boys loitered around. I didn't think I belonged in that group though I was very interested, after hearing how he had described the 'club' but I dared not move close to them. Who was I, of all people, looking for where all the brilliant, smart, bold and beautiful girls in school were. I hung around the edge of that group to hear what he had to say and I heard him fix a meeting time.
Mentally, I registered the time and venue of their first meeting which was immediately after school hours that day. Non boarding students were allowed to miss that meeting since they were not pre-informed so they could go home and tell their parents and get the necessary permission. I wondered what kind of person Corper Tochukwu was. He paid attention to small details.
By the last period we had that day, all the happening girls in my class were already restless. They rubbed on powder several times and were barely listening to the teacher who in any case appeared not to be present in the class too anyway. Her mind was far gone and it was very obvious. She skimmed through the lesson and dismissed the class but not after giving us a load of assignments; what she should have taught us anyway. They didn't even allow her leave the class before they skipped out.
I was always among the last people to leave the class, if not the last and this day was not different. I sat quietly at my desk and watched as these girls excitedly ran out of the class. Deep inside of me, I wondered when I would ever be like them. Well, it so happened that these same girls were the ones that made the dormitory tick and since they had rushed off to meet with Corper Tochukwu, there was nothing inviting about the dormitory so I just stayed on in the class and attempted to start the assignment Mrs. Nse had loaded us with.
About forty five minutes into the meeting, I got very restless sitting there in the class. So I packed up all I was doing and headed in the direction of the classroom Corper Tochukwu had indicated they would be having the meeting. I sneaked in and found myself a seat at the back. Of course, I almost always sat at the back and there was always a seat at the back as though reserved for me.
The problem with sitting at the back today was that the happening boys in school took the back seats at this particular meeting. Well, I had already entered and attempting to get out again would have attracted more attention than I wanted. So, I found a seat that was conveniently far away enough from these boys. Just a few seats away in any case.
Unfortunately, one of the boys looked back and saw me. He whispered something to the boy next to him who whispered to the next and the next and the next and in no time at all, a small laughter erupted amongst them. I wanted to get up and walk out of that classroom but that would have drawn more attention than I needed to me.
That first meeting, Corper Tochukwu mentioned something that touched me deep. He was preparing us, well, is it really us or them, for what to expect during the training. And one of the topics he touched on was self-esteem. He talked briefly about it and that was when I realized that I had no self-esteem at all. Not even low, but none of it. That was when I determined that even if it meant sneaking in, I'll always sneak into these sessions because I was facing the reality that I could not continue to live the way I was. I was tired of it already.
When I woke up later in the evening, even before I opened my eyes, I knew someone was in the room with me. Slowly, I opened my eyes half expecting to see Corper Tochukwu since he was the only one who had bothered in the first place to check on me. His visit gave me a kind of joy. He that was in 'high demand' amongst the happening girls, had taken time to visit plain me who was not even noticed not to talk of being in low demand. Fully opening my eyes, I saw Layi smiling at me.
“Hello Pretty, how are you?”
“Now that you're here, I'm doing really fine. No, great.” Layi had given me a strange confidence to express myself and the few times I had attended the Peer Educators Club, my expression was just getting better by the day. Layi reached out and wrapped me in a warm hug. I was getting used to that.
“I'm so sorry dear. The housemaster sent me on a few errands, that's why it took me a while to get here but now that I'm here, I don't want to leave you again. Don't worry dear, those girls are only jealous you have something they can never have.” That was soothing and I smiled.
“Thank you Layi. I don't know what I would have ever done without you. I'm so lucky to have you.”
“No darling, don't say that. I'm the lucky one here. Look, I brought you some chocs and a cuddly teddy. I hope you like them.”
“Hope? I like whatever comes from you. Thanks a lot.” I immediately hugged the teddy and we both unwrapped a chocolate and shared it together. From that moment, we joked and laughed and talked and sang and planned. Yes, we actually started to plan for our future.
Later that evening, I was discharged.
I did not go to class the next day because I was exempted from classes for the day. Meanwhile, the girls that beat me up had been suspended. Though I did not see them, those around who had identified them and the principal had sent them home for a month. Fighting was something the school really frowned at seriously so though they were children of the high and mighty, they were not spared. That exemption was my undoing.
Layi came in to check on me in the dormitory. It was isolated, normally. Every other person had gone to class. My room consisted of four. Some other rooms had just two and some had six. My other three roommates were out when Layi came in. He brought snacks for me which we shared. After the eating and drinking together, we talked and then we ran out of what to say. Then Layi looked into my eyes and suddenly, time froze. He reached for my hands and that was the last sane thing I remembered. I opened my eyes a few minutes later and there I was lying beside Layi, hair tousled, bed sheet rumpled and half naked. Layi was in the same state. I felt a little pain and winced. Layi looked at me and smiled. He hugged me, got dressed and left.
I did not know how I felt. Was it joy? Pain? Or disappointment? I really did not know. But I knew something had happened to me which was different from anything that had ever happened before. I got up, changed my bed sheet, hoping my roommates would not notice as I had changed it just the day before when I got back from the sick bay, had my bath and got ready to attend the Peer Educators Club.
Like Corper Tochukwu knew what had just happened, the topic that day was Sexually Transmitted Infections which he simply referred to as STIs. By the time he was through talking about the kinds of STIs and their effects, I was scared. I knew what had just happened between Layi and myself was wrong but it felt so good and now, here was Corper Tochukwu adding a fear to something I thought was so right.
Then, it occurred to me that Layi could also join this club. If we were hearing the same thing, we could handle our issues better. The next meeting was to be the next week and I was determined to be there with Layi. Meanwhile, we were just a week away from our sessional examination. Layi had promised me we would start reading together and I was so looking forward to that. The training ended and I immediately slipped out of the classroom. What I did not know was that Corper Tochukwu had noticed me already.
I was not a dull student. So naturally, I expected to be promoted to JS 3 which happened anyway. Now I was in the most senior class of the junior arm. One of my classmates changed school during the break leaving the class with two empty spaces. There was a constant empty space beside me which my bag was always taking up. No one wanted to sit beside someone who was not fun.
So, I was really surprised when the new girl in my class, Happiness, chose to sit with me. She was everything I wasn't. Beautiful, bold, 'happening'. Interesting to be with, fun. She just was my dream picture of me. What I could not comprehend was why she chose to sit with me. And everyone wondered why too.
My relationship with Layi was getting deeper and the sex had gotten addictive. We were making out regularly though each time, my conscience jabbed me but I just could not stop it. He was in his penultimate year and I just did not want to think about his last year and what would happen to us when he left. We refused to talk about it, pretending it just was not there all the time.
Also, Corper Tochukwu was rounding off and I found myself missing him already. How did one year come and go just like that? With the Peer Education sessions I had attended, I was feeling much better about myself and was nursing the idea of development work. A part of me said I could do it.
My new partner, Happiness, stayed three rooms away from mine. Every morning, she made it a point of duty to call me on her way to devotion. For the second time in my life, I felt wanted, felt like I had worth. In no time at all, we were best friends. The only nagging thing about her that I did not like was that she kept preaching to me.
I felt like my world had collapsed. No. No way on earth was this happening to me. Blinded by tears, I ran all the way to Layi's class. Thankfully, he was free and was having a hearty chat with his friends. They were laughing at whatever it was when I got into the class. For me, laughter was the last thing on my mind. I excused him hurriedly and pulled him out of the classroom. We headed for one of our special spots within the premises. I did not waste time at all. One, because I didn't know how to and two, because there was no need to.
“I'm pregnant”. I knew it must have sounded like a bomb dropped in the middle of a desert but I just didn't care. I only wanted a solution.
“I'm sorry? I didn't get what you said” Layi spat.
“I said I'm pregnant”. I literally screamed.
“How do you know that?”
“I felt faint this morning and for some time, I had been feeling very tired. So this morning, Happiness took me to the sickbay. We thought it must be malaria or some other illness but the matron told me I was pregnant after a few tests and questioning.”
“I'll see you later.” With that, Layi walked away. I wanted to grab him but I just did not have the strength. I could not determine what he was going to do next. He left emotionless. Was he scared? Excited? Confused? Indifferent? I could not guess which.
Whatever he felt, at that point, I felt so empty and naked. For one, I was scared stiff. Not of my parents, no. Infact, about them, I felt this was a very good opportunity to get their attention. But I had heard quite a number of scary things about pregnancy and child bearing and that scared me. How on earth was a child, a whole child, going to come out of my body? Where would it take? How would it come? What would it look like? Would it tear me apart to emerge?
I clutched my tummy and tears sprang to my eyes. I wept. I really wept my heart out. Meanwhile, the matron had asked me to meet her in the Principal's office. I had run to Layi's class on my way to the office. Now, I had to face them both, and maybe a number of other school officials who would determine my fate. In a flash, I saw my life before me.
Where was I headed? Would I ever be remembered as having passed through life? Would I be sent home? Would my academics end here? Would I become the world class architect I wanted to? Would I live my dream? But, why had I not thought about all these before? Why was I so stupid before now? I cried more. I was alone. No one around to comfort me. I gathered myself together and started to make my way to the principal's office.
I got to the general office and told the principal's secretary that I was being expected. She asked me to go in. On shaky wobbly legs, I went towards the door and knocked very lightly.
“Come in” I heard from the other side of the door. I opened and immediately I did, I knew my fate was sealed. The principal, vice principals, matron, house mistress and my class teacher were seated. The principal did not waste time in telling me I was in a school and not a maternity home, so I would have to go home. He said my parents had already been called and they were on the way, coming for me so I'd better go and start packing.
But before I went, he wanted to know who was responsible. Just at that point, Layi walked in. He was one of the hostel prefects in the boy's dormitory and had access to the principal and other school officials at any time he wanted. He walked in with a smile and jovially, just his usual self. Seeing the gathering, he paused and asked the principal if he had come at a wrong time.
The principal asked him to excuse them and come back. He looked briefly in my direction and was about to get out. With the look on his face, I knew he was not going to talk on his own about his involvement with me. I found my voice.
“It's him” I said pointing in Layi's direction. Everyone turned and looked at Layi who in turn feigned surprise. “He's the one responsible for my pregnancy sir. He is.”
“There must be some kind of mix up here” the house mistress said. “I know Layi very well, he's too responsible to get involved in something like this”.
“Yes sir, I taught Layi in his junior years and I know him well. Infact, it was his great sense of responsibility that qualified him to be a prefect. This girl is just looking for a scape goat.” That was my class teacher. My jaw dropped. It was obvious no one was going to believe me. They were all defending Layi and he was not going to say anything to confirm what I had said from the way it looked.
“Sir, everyone knows us together.” I screamed in my defense. Hot tears were pouring down my face again. What happened to our love? What happened to all the promises? Layi was stripping me naked before all these people. What would happen to the baby? Would I have a baby without a father? No, he or she would have a father that would not acknowledge him or her.
In that torrent of tears, I shouted again “it was because of him I was beaten up by some girls in the dinning hall last session sir. It was because of Layi. They were envious. Please sir, you have to believe me. Ask anybody in school, they know he's the only one who really talks to me. He's responsible sir. He is.”
I left the principal's office thoroughly soaked in tears. I could hardly see where I was going. What was happening to me? Why did I have to taste such transient bliss only to be thrown straight back to where I started from? Happiness and Corper Tochukwu were waiting for me in the general office when I stepped out. She was there with me when the matron broke the news. She must have gone straight for Corper Tochukwu when I ran off.
She immediately pulled me into an embrace and tried to sooth me.
“Murewa, it's ok. Stop this weeping. You'll only injure yourself. You've been careless, yes but what has happened has happened.” That was Happiness for you. Loving, caring and all but also blunt.
“It's alright dear” Corper Tochukwu said. “Let's get you out of here to a place we can sit and talk. I have something to share with you.”
Of course, my parents were not expected that day. I knew they would not alter their schedule on a whim just to pick me up. I had made my mess and I would live with it. Together with Happiness and Corper Tochukwu, we headed in the direction of the music room. It was usually very quiet except there were classes. Thankfully enough, this particular time was free so we got in, latched the door and sat down. That was when Corper Tochukwu began his incredible story.
“I made a very terrible mistake in my university days. I joined a secret cult. From my first year to my third year, I lived in gruesome fear of being extinguished one day. Because of my fearlessness, I was a major hit man for my cult and that meant I was always in the fore of any clash. Now, these clashes or operations were very deadly ones. On several occasions, I came very close to my end. Part of the 'attraction' was that there were free girls for me to 'devour' everytime and anytime I wanted to. If they did not agree, I forced them.
“This continued till my third year. You would think that naturally I had everything going on well for me. I was feared by all, I had money to lavish and I attended parties like tomorrow would never come. I appeared happy and though I had all I wanted, I was living in constant fear. I did not know what could happen to me the next minute.”
“Hold on Corper Tochukwu. I find it hard matching you with the picture you're painting” I interjected.
“Well, the me you see now is not the me I used to be.”
“So, what happened?” Happiness asked.
“I'll tell you. There was this girl I really wanted. Everytime I looked at her, I desired her strongly. But she was one of those tough, no-nonsense girls on campus. We all knew that. To boost my ego, I was determined to have a go at her. I wanted it to go down history on campus that I was the first and maybe only guy that got between her legs. With this determination, I set out to block her one day on her way from class.
“It was an evening class. I had targeted this time as it would give me the opportunity I so wanted. Of course, I knew I would have to use force because I knew there was no way she would willingly permit me to have my way. So, I stopped her that fateful day and tried to chat her up. She ignored me completely and continued to walk towards her hostel. As chance would have it, she was alone. I followed her discreetly and at a safe distance. “She had to walk past a dark patch of bush and that was the opportunity I was waiting for. I heard her mumbling something to herself but I didn’t care. Immediately she was in that dark patch, I shouted at her to stop. She did. I walked up to her and turned her around roughly to face me. Her books dropped to the floor but I noticed she was not afraid of me. I told her I now had her and all the tough front she put up could not deter me at this point.
“She asked me to leave her to go or be ready to face the consequences. For a brief moment, I thought she probably was in a rival cult but I had never come across her with any other cult members. Who was she? I pushed her roughly out of the way, further into the bush. She stepped into some crawling plants, in which her sandals got tangled, and she fell. Immediately she fell, she shouted 'JESUS. Jesus, help me.'
“I looked at her and there seemed to be a kind of blinding light shining all around her. I could not move any closer to her. I looked around to see if anyone was around, I did not see anybody. From somewhere deep inside me, I got very scared. The fear was overpowering I almost could not move. I tried to speak but could not so I did the only thing I could still do. I ran.
“That was my first experience with a Christian. Normally, if we knew someone was a Christian, we avoided trouble with them. I had been careless. I did not find out more about this girl before I made my move. However, that experience remained with me. The school closed for holidays not too long after that and we went home.
“Normally, I would stay back during holidays like this but this time, I could not get the image of that bright light out of my head. It seemed to haunt me wherever I went. Getting home, I went in search of a friend of mine who I knew was a Christian. He had been trying to preach to me for sometime, but I kept ignoring him and his message. I did not meet him at home.
“His mom said he had gone for Youth Fellowship in church. I got the church address from her and went there. He was really surprised to see me. He excused himself and joined me outside. I explained to him everything that happened to me and he just smiled. I wondered how he could smile when I had been living in such trepidation for so long.
“He told me that the light I saw was God's glory radiating around that lady and that if I had attempted to touch her, I would have died because I would have been challenging God. I asked him what I could do because I had lost my peace and was tired of the life of fear I was living. That was when he led me in the sinner's prayer. Very brief but powerful. Immediately I said the prayer, I felt like a dark cloak was taken off me and for the first time in a long time, I smiled again.”
If he had not told me himself, I would never have believed this story about Corper Tochukwu. He seemed to have everything going smoothly for him. He did not have cares and everyone wanted to associate with him. Truth be told, it was not all the corpers in our school that we liked. We would prefer that some of them were not even posted to our school at all. They were lazy and would constantly abuse us and say demeaning things to us. Because of some of them, I did not look forward to becoming a corper. But Corper Tochukwu was different.
“Can I ask you a question?” I was curious. I needed to know something.
“I've noticed that as much as the girls like you and flock all around you, you treat everyone equally. Amongst the last set of corpers sent to our school, there were a number of guys who took advantage of what was offered them by the girls. But you . . . I've been wondering. You're different.”
He smiled before answering my question. “You know what? That lady I tried to rape is the last lady I've touched in a long time. That experience remains fresh in my memory and I have vowed before God that till I get married, I would not touch any other woman.”
“I see. You're really different.” Happiness said with a smile and a little pat on my back. “You know what Murewa? I chose to be friends with you because I wanted a way to help you. I saw a need in your eyes and I just wanted to be God's hands to you. I did not know it was going to be this soon.”
“Er, Happiness, I think you should take her to her room and help her pack while you tell her your story. I have a class now. I'll see you after school hours.”
“Okay. You can trust me to take very good care of her.”
“Oh yes I do.” In the brief time Happiness had been in the school, she had identified with the school fellowship so she was a little close to Corper Tochukwu who was part of the staff in charge of the fellowship. I felt a tinge of jealousy. How did she gain that closeness with him?
Corper Tochukwu left for his class while Happiness and myself made our way towards the dormitory. I knew that by closing, every one would have heard about my stupid pregnancy and there would so much jeering. How I was going to survive the next few hours before I left was still very vague to me. Happiness seemed to read my thoughts. She held my hands and gave me a squeeze.
“I'll be right here every second of the hours you have left with us. You're my friend and friends stick together.”
“Thank you so much Happiness. You've been wonderful. I'm so grateful I met you. How I allowed this stupidity happen, I don't know. We would have had a really great time together.”
“Don't say that Murewa, we'll still have a great time. You will definitely come back here to finish up. We might be in our last year then but we would still have fun. Remember, I'll always be here.”
“Happiness, this is just like you. Telling the truth even if it hurts.”
“That's the best thing my dear. My bible teaches me to tell the truth in love.”
“I'll really miss you. Promise me you would check me up during the holidays.”
“You know what? That's something I'm wondering about now. How will I cope staying home all alone? At least, being in school takes my mind off most of my issues.”
“Don't worry dear, you will. And remember that I'll be praying for you.”
“Thanks a lot. You're God sent.”
“Really? I did not know that.”
“C'mon.” We linked our arms and covered the remaining steps to the dormitory.
When my roommates started returning from class, I did not expect less from them. They poked fun at me but thankfully, Happiness was there with me. She helped me pack up and talked with me through it. The other girls laughed, made fun, abused, then they left for the dinning hall. Just then, I remembered that Corper Tochukwu said something about Happiness telling me about herself. So I asked her.
“What was it Corper Tochukwu said you needed to tell me?”
“Oh, you have not forgotten!” Happiness smiled. “Ok. I'll tell you.” We both sat on my bed as she started her story.
“Normally, I should not be bearing Happiness because there was nothing happy about my life nor my birth. I do not know my father.
“My mother was gang raped by five men when she was 15 years old and I came as a result of that experience. From the moment she knew she was pregnant with me, she hated me. Infact, she attempted to abort the pregnancy, it did not work. Unfortunately, she had a series of problems, because of her age, during the period of the pregnancy, and the psychological effect of the rape remained with her.
“She saw me as a fruit, a product of her misfortune. Her mother, my grandmother, however prevailed on her to keep the pregnancy. She stood by her, constantly watching her because of her attempts at abortion, throughout the pregnancy.
“After nine months, I was born. My mother, I was told, did not even take a look at me. She turned away and asked that I should be taken away from her. My grandmother took me and cared for me, employing a wet nurse to breastfeed me till I was weaned. “My mother went back to school and continued her life. Not once asking after me. In a short time, I forgot about her knowing my grandmother as both mummy and granny. Life was fun with her. She loved me and made sure, in her own little way, that I was comfortable.
“When I was in Primary 4, fate played a fast one on me. My grandmother died in her sleep one afternoon. From there, I was taken to stay with a distant cousin of my mother. The woman tried her best for me. She enrolled me in another school, bought my uniform and books and treated me just like one of her children. The only thing I missed in that house was the bible teaching my grandmother used to do.
“Every evening, just after dinner, she would call me to the sitting room, read the bible to me and explain what she read. I asked her questions about God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit, angels, rapture. I asked her all manner of questions, and she answered them all in a way my little mind could understand.
“All she had taught me however carried me on. I talked to my aunty's children about God. They were all older than me but I talked to them like colleagues. One thing my grandmother always told me was that I was not inferior to anyone. She told me I was unique and wonderfully made. That God so loved me that He did not spare His son to die a painful and cruel death on the cross just so I would not have to suffer the same thing.
“She told me I was precious and very dear in the eyes of God so I should not allow any man to make me feel less. So I grew up with that mentality that I am a wonderful and precious person. I was not afraid of anyone. Though I was brought up to be very respectful, I was not brought up to cower before anyone. All of my aunty's children gave their lives to Christ and we celebrated the bond of Christ that binds us. We then went ahead to share the same good news with my aunty.
“But the devil was not through with me yet. I was raped by a neighbor of my aunt's. That incident shook me to very core. I felt very useless and depression soon set in. For a long time, I could not pray. I just locked myself in and cried. Then, one day, as if in a trance, I heard a voice. It was so real, like the person was sitting beside me.
“He told me He loved me and that I was no less special in His sight. He told me His glory would yet radiate in my life if I would just forget the things of old and concentrate on the glorious future He had prepared for me. I felt a warm embrace, just as if someone was physically present there to hug me. That was when my healing came. I felt as if a new skin was given to me, as if a new life had begun in me.
“My smile returned. I opened the door and asked for food. My aunty was really happy. Her children took turns hugging me. We had a small party in the house that day. Two days after, my aunty came home and announced that I was changing my school to further help me to get over this episode in my life. That is how I came here.”
By the time Happiness finished her story, there were tears in my eyes. I could not believe that this girl, my age mate, had been through so much in such a short time. Yet she was so happy and confident of who she was. Anyone meeting her for the first time would think her father was the president of the United States.
I, who supposedly had everything at my disposal was not one tenth as confident about myself as she was of herself. I wanted what she had. I wanted what gave her that confidence. I wanted the same thing that transformed Corper Tochukwu's life and gave him the joy that always shone on his face.
“Happiness, I want to have what you have. I want to live confident that I mean so much to Someone and that He is not interested in taking advantage of me. I want to be loved unconditionally and genuinely. Can you help me?”
“Of course” she said, jumping to her feet and dragging me up with her. “It's very simple. Kneel with me and let's pray this simple prayer.”
We bowed our heads together and Happiness led me in the simplest but most powerful prayer I had ever heard.
Nine months after, I had my baby. A beautiful son. Before he was born, I always talked to him in my womb. Confessing what the word of God said about him. I was no longer the dull and reserved girl of nine months before. I was a bundle of energy and smiles. Within the period of my pregnancy, I made visits to schools and talked to principals about who I used to be and what happened.
In most cases, by the time I was through, they were drying their eyes. I sought their permission to talk to their students, especially the girls to let them know that the only validation they needed did not come from any man or boy or thing, but from above. From the Heavenly Father of light and wisdom.
Usually, when I talk to them, I use the image of a butterfly. From the egg stage, to the maggot or caterpillar stage, to the pupa, before the beautiful butterfly emerges. At the first three stages, the butterfly does not appear attractive. Infact, it is cocooned in and can be marched on or smashed but when it emerges, it's so beautiful and everyone loves it. In my ugly state, God was preparing me to unfold; beautiful, bold and free - just like the butterfly.
It was during one of these talks that I went into labour and was rushed to the hospital to have my son, Oluwamuyiwa.
Written by Mofiyinfoluwa Olugbile.
Note: La Conferencia to be continued next edition.