Shadows. I see them everywhere—around street corners, in the kitchen when I step in to cook, in the bathroom whenever I pull off my clothes to bath. I see them in my mind when I close my eyes to sleep. I also see them whenever someone smiles at me or reaches out to touch me; there are male and female shadows, and while the male ones are stronger, believe me the female ones are scarier.
All these shadows, they’re part of me, they’re living inside and outside of me; sometimes I do not know when I am dealing with an inside shadow or outside one. This is because they all look alike, and most of them look like my parents—the majority of the male ones look like my father and the rest like the numerous customers of my madam; the majority of the female ones look like my mother and the rest like my madam who treated me like a commodity to be handed to every customer who had N1000 to pay.
I don’t blame her though. If my so-called mother hadn’t handed me to her, she would not have used me like a sex rag who was used to clean up the lust of fat, drunk men. All my life, I’ve never really known what the love of a mother felt like; whenever I hear people say such things, I scoff and imagine ways I can return all the favours my mother had given to me.
I am an orphan; my father died in a vehicle accident three years ago, and my mother is dead to me. Over the years, I’ve tried to explain and rationalize why someone who claimed to have given birth to me would dish out so much evil and hate to me, her first and only child. It was something that even God cannot explain despite claiming that he knew everything.
It all started when I turned twelve, when the tide was of puberty swept me off my feet and carried me to the waiting laps of my father, who used me to slake his lust over and over again. He had squeezed my tangerine of breasts, grabbed my little buttocks, and had taken and taken so much of me that I became bitter to myself. I hated him, but I hated myself the more for being his daughter. I hated him for saying that he would kill me if I ever told my mother, because I knew he would.
It was one day after school when I was hawking pears that I came across a group of people on the road teaching people about domestic violence and the need to speak up. I had been so touched that immediately I came back from my hawking (I did not sell all the goods that day because not many people wanted pears), I had gone into my mother room, and in tear-choked whispers, told her that my father was raping me.
I had expected her to hold me in her arms and comfort me, to tell me that she would from henceforth protect her daughter. But I barely saw the flash of movement before her strong hand connected with my rosy cheeks. I was shocked, I tried to speak and she gave me another one. She accused me of trying to steal her husband with my body, but thanks to God, my plans had been thwarted. Then she pushed me out of her room.
The next two weeks was hell for me. She stopped me from going to school, woke me up very early in the morning to start hawking. Most days I barely ate; sometimes I would have to beg random people for money to buy food with. I prayed to God to save me from my predicament, but he was too busy to care about little me.
Then one day she took me on a journey, one that would further entrap me. She had taken me to my madam’s place, who she said was her old friend that would take care of my since she had financial problems. Ironically, I was the one who took care of my madam’s customers whenever they had drunk excessively and couldn’t put a cork on their lust. I was sure that she did not need the extra N1000, but who would refuse extra pay?
Six months later, my mother visited and told me that my father died in an auto crash on his way back from the village. When I asked her if I could go with her, she looked at my madam and shook her head. She left without as much as a gift to me, and it was the last time I saw her.
Now, at seventeen, I have been kicked out of my madam’s house after one of her customers complained that I gave him gonorrhea. That was what was disturbing me all this while down there and I would have told madam if I had the chance. She had thrown me out after accusing me of sleeping with different boys and ruining her business. Thankfully, I managed to save some money from what I was able to steal, and now I was heading home.
Four hours later, I stepped into our compound, walked to the door of our two-room apartment, and gingerly knocked. The boy that opened the door was vaguely familiar.
“Hi,” I said, “I am looking for Mrs. Nwokolo.
His eyes became misty, he took some seconds to regain control before replying. “Mrs. Nwokolo is dead. She died of heart attack four days ago.”
I was surprised, yes, but not sad. I was angry instead. Angry that God or Fate or whosoever that is in charge of the world had denied me the chance of killing her myself. After which I would join her; her, father and me, one happy family.
“Oh. Who are you, dear?” I asked.
“I’m Kamto. She was my mother’s sister,” he said, unable to control the tears that slid down his cheeks.
Little Kamto? He had grown so much. He was the son of my mother’s elder sister who I hardly knew. There was no need hanging around the house where the shadows would easily come and take me.
So I turned and left. I walked without seeing, occasionally bumping into people, and stepping on shit. I felt their call, the shadows, and without thinking I started running.
Until I saw why they were calling me. I dashed into its path, spreading my arms in a welcoming embrace, and when it touched me, I rose in the air for a few seconds before landing hard on the ground. The owner of the car rushed out, and was immediately surrounded by the bystanders who did not know me but were willing to fight for me. Such love. Such wasted love.
There was pain all over my body, but it didn’t matter because I saw the Master Shadow stretching his hand towards me, and without hesitation, I took it.
Here I come, mom and dad!