From the Frying Pan To Fire
If ever there was a migration from frying pan to fire, I typify it
I embody it
I had no choice, in the matter
I had no say
I was born into a family of a father and three wives
My mother was the second wife
Each wife tried to out do herself in the procreation aspect
Twas as if the more the children they had, the greater their say in the household
Stupid reasoning, if you ask me
Because the increasing number of kids
Only added to the poverty we had come to know, all our lives
A poverty, we had come to see as the norm
We were as poor as church rats
We were poorer
So dirt poor
That we all co habited in one tiny room
In a face me, I face you apartment
There ,we were all born
The wives would take it in turns to sleep beside my father on the line, creaking iron bed
It would creak so badly especially when Baami and any of the wives were on it
Especially when they were engaged in the ‘gymnastics’ parents engage in, in the middle of the night!
You’d be surprised I call it ‘gymnastics’
Yes, what else can one describe it?
The activity made no sense to me
I would watch with my siblings, silently, because we were all supposed to be asleep
And blissfully unaware of the ‘ gymnastics’
To me it looked like painful activity
Baami would lie grunting untop of any of the Maamis’
My Maami, inclusive
I would wonder at the sheer weight of Baami lying and breathing on anyone
Like a whale about to devour its prey!
Because, for some strange reason, regardless of the abject poverty that defined our lives
Baami was big,and was he big!
He was a well over six feet human mountain, with a pot belly the size of a six month old pregnant woman
I had often wondered how he got so big whilst the rest of us were so very scrawny
We ate only once a day, when some kind of food could be scrapped together for us at night
During the day, if we had Garri, we drank that, else, we stayed hungry
During the day, I tried to imagine the kind of torture the Maamis’ experienced having the immense weight of Baami stretched over them
My elder brother said that was the way we were conceived and subsequently, born
I doubted this
What was the mathematics to the rhythm of Baami’s movement on each of the Maamis?
What was the science behind it?
Obviously there was no pleasure to be gained!
What a painful way to be conceived!
At night, we would all stretch out by the side so as to be able to sleep on the tattered mats strewn on the floor
We were fifteen kids and the room was exceedingly small
We would be packed and arranged like sardines in the can
Of course, breathing on each other was the norm
Some shuffling and adjustment howbeit futile would be done.
Nudgings and whispers of ‘ can’t you be still, you’re hurting me!’ were not infrequent, because of the innate discomfort.
The intense heat was another matter, back to back against each other, almost like roasting bacon
There was no money to pay the electricity bill and so more often than not, we stayed in darkness inclusive of plenty of bodily heat.
We couldn’t sleep in any other position asides on our side, because of the paucity of space
There was no question of sleeping on one’s back or front….no space for such luxury
Baami was a gardener of sorts
I prefer to use gardener as it sounds so very grand
His own kind of ‘gardening’ was to weed people’s houses for a fee
I always could recognise when he was paid
He would come home roaring drunk!
So drunk, he would pee on himself
Once he even defeacated on himself and vomited
The Maamis scampered, falling over themselves to clean him up!
I looked on, with carefully concealed scorn!
The left over change , better yet , the pittance left over, after Baami’s drunken binge, was what we had to live on.
I was a girl of fifteen
I had just the cloth on my back and an Ankara gown for the Jumat service in the mosque on Fridays
I was small for my age
But I had lofty dreams
Dreams of seeing myself rich and educated
Living in an enormous house
Boxes full of the finest clothing
I dreamt of becoming a graduate, even though I could only attend the primary school after which Maami, in her wisdom, enrolled me to learn hair dressing
And that was where the migration from frying pan to fire started
I was often hungry, but surprisingly I had a full figure at the age of eighteen
But the older I got, the hungrier it appeared I became
I had no capital to start up a business
But I still dreamt of having a good life
Until, abruptly ,my dreams ended
I got pregnant!
Till this moment, I cannot explain to myself, the rationality of this pregnancy
I was drugged, yes, but couldn’t there have been another way around it
A good ending to my story?
He used to hang around our shop
He told me he loved me
Said, the man
Love held no attraction for me
Wasn’t it how my Maami ended up, barefoot and pregnant in my Baami’s house?
I had always thought love was over rated, anyways
He would come, regular as a clock work
Talking about his love
They said he was an Omo Onile, what can best be described as one of the sons of the soil of the village
Always engaged in selling land, here and there
He mostly smelt of local gin
After a while, his smell, nay stench, didn’t matter, wasn’t quite so offensive anymore
As he had started to give me money
Money to eat!
I was elated!
Happily I could order for bread and ewa goyin from the hawker
I was eating three times a day
It wasn’t that the money was much , but at least I could feed well
Hunger, my constant friend became an unknown phenomenom
Well, until I woke up one morning, on his bed, raped and bruised
I tried to recollect groggily, ‘how the Hell, did I get here?’
In bits, my memory came back
I remember his insistence on me coming to pay him a visit
I was reluctant to
But he insisted and I , very stupidly agreed.
I even agreed to take the bottle of Fanta he offered me, in my mind, a harmless drink, seeing as it appeared unopened
That was all I could remember
How I left his house, in bruises, my hymen crudely and callously torn apart, I cannot explain
How I left his house my womanity, degraded
My self worth in shambles
That was just the beginning of my long epistle of sorrow
The beginning of my heart ache
I could not find the words to say to him
All I know, all i felt was that I had lost something precious, something inordinately intrinsic to my dignity in the hands of a man, another beast
Pregnancy was the grand finale in this, badly orchestrated story of my life
He, the man came to claim full responsibility, whatever that means.
I think the “ full” is always over rated
I became wife, to the man
I entered his house only to discover he had three other wives stashed away
I also discovered very bitterly, that the money for meals was just a façade
I had married, a poverty stricken, focussless man!
Is this not from frying pan to fire?
The only time he had money was when he sold land and promptly drunk himself to stupor. He would lure another unsuspecting girl, into his lair, with his monetary gifts.
She becomes pregnant and then, automatically becomes Iyawo
I cried bitter tears, I cried till I thought my heart would break
I suffered in pregnancy
He had no money to take care of me
My Maami said I had let her down
My Baami said I was a slut
Is it that nobody understands what it means to be gullible?
No one understands the meaning of being drugged?
What part of ‘ I was drugged and subsequently raped’ is difficult to comprehend?
I was laid off from my place of apprenticeship, apparently pregnancy was a misnomer, an embarassment to my Madam.
I was as thin as a rake, as there was no money for ante natals
I gave birth to my son in the one room apartment,my hubby owned, assisted by a local midwife
The sight of my son in my arms, gives me no comfort
What life have I to offer him?
What prospects has he?
This is my Hell, my living breathing Hell
My frying pan to Fire
From the Frying Pan To Fire