I had just gotten off the phone with Ada and she equally did not meet the cut off mark for Unilag but had applied for a diploma program in Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Anambra state. She wrote the entrance examination a day before the call and was certain that it will be a piece of cake for me.
She had called me twice that day, to inform me that the second batch of the exam will be holding in a weeks’ time and wanted to know if she should purchase the form for me.
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Ada did not get it. My Mother will never allow me school in the east. The time I informed her that Ada was going to take the diploma examination into Nnamdi Azikiwe University; she went for hours and days talking about how silly it was for someone who has lived all her life in Lagos, to result to studying in the East; a very remote part of Nigeria (In her own words). She said she did not understand what kind of educational development anyone will get from studying there.
In a weird way, her discomfort about the idea, made me really want to school there. So Ada and I came up with a plan - We agreed that Ada’s Mum will come over to my place and sell the idea of me schooling in the East to my Mum.
Ada’s family weren’t as wealthy as mine, but they were quite comfortable. Her mum was nothing like the women my Mum usually looked down on when we attended our village meetings or church services; she was strong and confident, she understood her worth and wore it on her shoulder like a chip. So I figured she was the final piece to the puzzle.
Three days later, I bought my diploma form and traveled to the east the next day. The examination was not until four days’ time, but my Mother felt it was wise for me to go early and familiarize myself with the environment. I was to stay at my Aunt’s place in Amawbia.
Ada and I were both going to study Banking and Finance; a course I had always loved. Over the years, I had grown to love the finance world, I wanted, so badly, to be the Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of my time. As for Ada, she did not care what course she studied, all she wanted to do was to get a BSc, get married and start a business. Anyway, I went to Anambra with ten years’ jamb past questions and began to study the moment I sat in the plane.
It was until I landed at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport (also known as Enugu airport) that it dawned on me that I was out of my Mum’s sight. I wanted to scream, to dance, to show the world how happy I was but I just silently walked to meet up with my Aunt who was obviously tired of waiting for me.
She said my Dad had called her all through my journey to the east. He made her wait for me at the airport from the time we departed Lagos to the time we landed in Enugu because he did not want anything to happen to his little girl.
When I broke the news to my Dad that I had purchased the form for a diploma program into NA.U, like he loved calling it. He was more excited than I expected. He said that he had always wanted me to learn Igbo language and not all these Americana English that I had been speaking.
As we drove down to Awka in Aunty Chika’s lemon- green Mercedes Benz 300 car, I just kept looking out of the window. I wanted to absorb everything about the journey: the red sand; the beggars that sat at the side of the road; the rowdy bus parks we passed; everything.
She stopped at Oji village, to buy okpa and teased me on how my tummy would rumble after a full day’s meal in her house. If only she knew that I didn’t care about the kind of food I ate or the size of her house. I cared about one thing only - leaving my mum's sight and even if it meant that i ate sand to achieve the aim, then i could finish a whole traier of sand and have a wide smile on my face.
When we got home, I called my Dad to inform him that I had arrived Awka safely and he asked if I had picked up any Igbo word. I muttered the word nno (welcome) in the lowest tone ever, because I was not sure if I pronounced it well and my Aunt had teased me enough for one day.
Aunty Chika was my Dad’s only surviving sibling. They had lost two brothers to a sickness my Dad calls Igha ntutu (the pin sickness). He told me that it was very common in Anambra state when he was a child. He said that if a family didn’t like another family, they would throw pins into the children's bodies and because of the poor health care system in Anambra at the time, people ended up dying from it. He said that the only ones who survived were the ones who visited dibias (native doctors) for medications, but his Father was too learned and a knight in the Catholic church to believe in talk more of visiting a dibia. It all didn’t make sense to me, but I just kept nodding as he told me the story.
Each time my Dad came home, he would take my little sister and I to his room and tell us tales of his childhood. I loved to listen to his stories, even though a lot of it did not make sense to me, but I would nod and nod until fell asleep.
My Mum hated it when my Dad told us tales. She always said that he was trying to inflict us with his bush childhood, so she would take my little sister and I away from the room to the kitchen, or her dressing room; anywhere but the presence of my Dad.
I guess that was another reason why she did not like me, because I never wanted to leave my Dad’s sight. I would cry and cry till she realized how much of a waste of time it was trying to take me away. So she stopped trying and as time went on, it became a family ritual: Once my Dad came back from his trips, I would become the unwanted guest in his room until he left and sometimes, my Mum would have to sleep in my sister’s room. The bed was big enough, so I did not see anything wrong in that. Soon enough, sides were picked: I was for my Dad and my younger sister, my Mum.
The sad thing was that my Dad never stayed long enough for me to have a truly happy childhood. So every time he left, I would try to win my mum’s attention, but it felt like each attempt made my chances of getting closer to her slimmer than the last.
My Mum was at every society wedding and she took my sister with her. Every outfit she bought for herself, my sister got a replica of it. She said my sister had to look like her child. So she would buy expensive materials and sew really lovely outfits for her.
As time went on, I saw myself drifting to envy and jealousy for my sister. I did not like it, because my sister was only a child and had no idea of what was going on. So one day, I tried to talk my Mum into taking me with her to one of the weddings she attended. As soon as I uttered my request, I realized how bad an idea it was because my mum laughed really loudly, as though I had cracked a joke and said to me,
“You had better fly to Abuja and attend a wedding with your father, useless child!”, then she walked into her room.
I slowly became a stranger in my own home. And my dad’s visit was my only escape route.