I got married suddenly at the age of fifteen. I returned from school one day and my mother surreptitiously dragged me into her room. The look in her eyes made me tremble with fear.
“Fidausi, your father is giving you out this week,” she told me bitterly. I could sense from her tone that she was not happy. She’d been very enthusiastic about me going to school. According to her, her childhood friend Hajara who sometimes visited us and gave us some beverages and foodstuff had gone to school, found a very good job, lived in a big house, bought a big car, and married a rich man. Mama believed that she too would have ended up like Hajara if her own parents were as enlightened and rich as Hajara’s.
“If my parents were as rich as Hajara’s parents, I would never have ended up in your father’s house.” She always lamented sorrowfully.
I usually felt bad whenever she talked in that manner. The palpable bitterness in her tone made me sick. It seemed that there was a vacuum so large that she wanted me to fill. She usually told me that if I could study so hard I would definitely grow richer than her friend Hajara.
It was for this reason that I studied hard. I remembered when I was leaving primary school in beautiful colors, my teacher had advised my father to make sure I at least completed my secondary school.
“She is a very brilliant girl and must be encouraged Sir,” Miss Chinwe, my teacher had told my father.
“Certainly, I will make sure she goes to secondary school.” My father promised but he never did. It was Aunty Lola who was a nurse in my area that put me in school. Aunty Lola was known to all in our village. She liked me so much because at dawn I would sweep the entire clinic before leaving for school. I usually helped them to fetch water from the borehole too.
When my mother told me that afternoon that my father was giving me out, I felt anger surged through my bones. I hadn’t expected in my wildest dreams that such a thing would ever happen to me. I was already in JSS3 and doing great. If I was allowed to finish, I was sure that my performance would be outstanding.
I ran to Aunty Lola that evening to tell her what my father was planning to do. She was very furious.
“No, lai lai! That is not fair. He can’t do a thing like that.” She screamed in disgust.
She went to talk to my father about it but he remained audacious about it. He told her bluntly that the decision had already been taken.
“If her husband desires for her to return to school, he will send her back to school. What use is educating a girl child when her life will be spent outside her father’s house?” he told Aunty Lola that day.
So, against my wish and will, I was married to Adamu. He was forty-one at that time and already married to two other women who had each given him four children. He was a farmer. I was told that my father’s bosom friend, Mallam Kabiru was the go-in-between.
Because I was the only ‘literate’ wife that he married, he promised that he was not going to let me bend my back in the farm with the other wives. But all that ended after I had my first daughter, Hauwa. He pushed me to the farm and became very hostile. It got worse when I became pregnant with my second daughter. According to him, I was a liability. Before my second pregnancy I got a job as a salesgirl at a fuel station but he deprived me of working there. According to him, I was going to be exposed and corrupted by some of the young girls working there. No one feels threatened by literacy and civilization as he. His inferiority complex and insecurity could consume ten elephants.
One day, seven months into my pregnancy, I was too weak to go to the farm and complained to him. He insisted that I must come along and threatened that if I didn’t, I was going to regret ever knowing him.
I was already living in regrets. In spite of his threats, I refused to go to the farm that day. That was the beginning of my woes. He stopped giving me food and began to treat me like trash. His first wife was the one that would sneak in sometimes to bring me food in my hut. My daughter and I grew pale and sick. One day, I decided to take the matter to the community chief. When my husband was summoned, he told the chief that he was no longer interested in marrying me.
“No, you can’t say that now having already made her pregnant.” The chief told him. “You put her in this condition and must fend for her and her child until she is delivered of the baby.”
So reluctantly, he began to give us food to eat but still detested me. Three months after I had my second child, I gathered my things and left for my village. I could not bear the harsh treatment anymore. My parents called him but he said he was not interested in the union again. I later heard that he was getting married to another woman.
Disappointed, my mother challenged my father in my presence for the very first time. “When are you sending me to my own father’s house? Can you see how you men destroy the lives of women? Can you see how you treat us as rags? You destroyed me. Now, you have destroyed your first daughter.”
Every passing day, like I always did when I was still with my husband, I would cry on end. One day, after we returned from my father’s farm, I met my daughter lying down on the bench shivering. I quickly fetched water and bathed her. I gave her Paracetamol and it helped in bringing down the temperature. But at dawn, she got worse. Aunty Lola had gone to her village for her traditional marriage and her clinic had been shut down since she left. I could only take my daughter Hauwa to the chemist. My mother had given me four hundred naira to buy some drugs.
“Please take her to the hospital,” I was told at the chemist.
I was shocked when the chemist man advised me to take Hauwa to the hospital because even though she was ill, she didn’t look malnourished. My mother suggested I call the father. He hadn’t bothered to come and see his children since we left his house. Not even once did he call to ask about us not to talk of sending us money for the kids’ upkeep.
When I called Adamu, he sent a motorcycle rider to come and pick us up. The motorcyclist took us to a clinic where he and one of his cousins were waiting.
The physician that attended to my daughter said that she needed blood. Adamu said he just returned from the farm and didn’t think he had the strength to give his daughter blood! He sent for a nephew of his who came in a motorcycle. According to Adamu, his nephew was more eligible to give Hauwa blood because he was chubby and much younger.
When the nephew was tested and the blood matched, he complained that he had not eaten and would like to eat before he would let anyone take blood from him. The apathetic attitude of these people gave me goosebumps. I watched feebly as Adamu with his cousin and nephew leave the clinic for the canteen.
“We will be back soon,” he told me nonchalantly.
I wish I could donate the blood myself but the physician had earlier said I could not because I was still breastfeeding my baby who at that time was eight months old. Tearfully, I held my three years old daughter in my arms and began to wait patiently for them.
A Fulani man was washing his feet in front of a well at the clinic. When my daughter saw him, she pointed at him weakly and signaled that she was thirsty. I got up and went out to by her a pack of sachet water. I let her head rest on my shoulder as I carried her to where I bought the water.
It was when I returned with her to the clinic that I sensed for the very first time that she was dead. Hauwa my daughter died like a cockroach while we waited for her father and his relatives to return from the canteen and give her blood.
Like a pack of cards, my world came crashing before me. Her father’s people returned and took her corpse away for burial.
If I thought tragedy was done with me, I was wrong. Exactly one week after Hauwa died and was buried, my second daughter took ill. Aunty Lola was not back yet. I called Adamu and he again sent a motorcyclist to come and pick me up. Like Hauwa, my second daughter Aisha died in my arms on our way to the clinic.
In one week, motherhood slipped miserably from my arms.
When Aunty Lola returned, she advised me to dust my school bag and go back to school. I began to work with her and because schools were on holiday at that time, she got me two private teachers to coach me at her clinic in the evenings.
I was beginning to get my life back together again and hoping to return to school when Adamu came with his people one evening to see my father. They began to beg and he said they had discovered that his second wife was the one who through spiritual means turned his heart away from me. I don’t know how much they gave to my father because he was grinning from ear to ear and was in total support of me embarking on another journey to slavery.
I was also surprised to see my mother smiling in total submission. It was when she winked at me knowingly that I sensed she had a plan. Upon their departure, Adamu gave my mother some money and gave me two five hundred naira notes. My mother promised him that I was going to return to his house in two days.
“We will bring her the day after tomorrow,” she said.
Another wink at me confirmed totally that Mother was being mischievous. Even my father did not know that she had a plan.
It was at night that she took me secretly to Aunty Lola’s clinic where we planned my exit from the village the next day. Surreptitiously, I gathered few of my clothing with my books and hid them at Lola’s place. Aunty Lola gave me ten thousand naira and my mother gave me four thousand. It was the money that Adamu had given her.
“Your father sent you on a journey which produced a bad result and put us all in grief and sorrow. I am sending you now on another journey. Go my daughter and make us proud.” As my mother spoke, tears rolled down her eyes.
I promised to make her proud that night.
Very early in the morning the next day, Aunty Lola drove me in her car to the park where I boarded a bus to Abuja. It was where my mother’s friend Hajara lived at that time. My mother had already talked with her on the phone and she agreed that I should come.
I was told that my father threatened fire and brimstone when he heard that I had disappeared. He was told that I was eighteen years old and could decide what to do with my life myself. When Adamu came days later to throw tantrums, Aunty Lola gave my mother twenty thousand naira to pay him off. I doubt if he spent as much as that marrying me.
Many years have passed. I am now a resident doctor in Turkey where I graduated with flying colours. But for Haiiya Hajara, my life would have been a total mess. She put all her resources together to ensure that I got the best education. I have turned the story of my family around and proved to all that failure is not a total defeat but a stair walk to success. Only last month, I sent thirty thousand dollars to the chief of my community for palliatives and medical materials to help fight the COVID 19 pandemic.
I am forever grateful to all those who made this second journey of mine a success. I am the first medical doctor from my village and a role model
(a true story)
by Prince Chukwudi Timothy Samuel is the Chairman / CEO, MicMiraSteph Communications and Chief Media Director, Apex Reporters