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As she hurdled so close to the wall, she stared, tears no
longer flowed rather it left in its wake a torrent of emotions. ‘Did she make
the wrong decision?’ she asked herself. As soon as Jide was through with
beating her into a pulp, he had walked out of the house. It was over six hours
since he left and the day grew dark. She heard her stomach growl from hunger
and desperately longed for her mother’s chicken stew with boiled yam, it was a
Wednesday evening and every Wednesday night was tagged ‘family night’ as
herself and siblings would gather round the dining table and sharing
gossip,  jokes and stories.
She was still
seated when the door to the small house she shared with Jide opened and two
young men walked in. Temi was scared out of her wits, she didn’t know who the
men were and she couldn’t peep from beside the old huge cupboard where she was
seated, to find out. Thanking God silently for sweet mercies as she was hidden
behind a huge old cupboard and thus couldn’t be seen by the men, she held her
breath longer than she ever thought possible.
“Notin for this house? So Jide come from Lagos just like
dat!” One of the men spat in disgust.
“Hmmm…dis one no be excuse abeg…we must see say, everytin
wey im carry come back from Lagos enter our hand ooo…im don owe me five
thousand naira for two years now.” Said the other man sounding annoyed.
“Omo me I go scatter this place if I no see anything for
hia!” Barked the other man, sounding like a wounded animal.
Temi’s tears resumed, she couldn’t risk being seen by these
men, it would be too dangerous and deadly too, she remembered the films of rape
she had watched on television and how the traumatized the victim became at the
end of the day and cringed further against the hard wall. The men opened her
small school bag where she had her clothes and almost ripped it apart searching
desperately for something valuable.
*****
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Tara woke up in sweat, since she was a child, nightmares
have eluded her, now as she glanced at the clock in the room she shared with
Temi and Lola her little sister, she wondered where the bad dream she had was
coming from. It was seven thirty in the evening and her unread book was
squeezed beneath her weight on the bed. She could hear her siblings’ voices
from the sitting room. She was about to stand from the bed when the door was
flung open and her step-mother stormed in.
“So this is where you have been? Sitting in bed all day,
doing nothing?” Her step-mother screamed.
“I was reading my book…” She started but was cut short
abruptly.
“Book? Did I hear the word book? You’ve succeeded in making
my daughter disappear, now you want to sit and read when she’s nowhere to be
found. If I have my way, you’d be out of my house now!”
Tara grew angry, she knew she wasn’t brought up to talk
against her elders especially her parents but she had to speak.
“I’ll leave, if that will make you happy. For years you have
never accepted me. You insult my birth mother ceaselessly and try hard to bring
low my self-esteem but this time it wouldn’t work. I will not let you say bad things
to me.”
Tara’s step-mother cleaned her eyes with the edge of her
wrapper, just to confirm that her eyes weren’t playing a fast one on her.
“Wait…Tara…you have the guts to talk back at me? You bastard,
do you know that I picked you up from the garbage and brushed you up? Where did
that prostitute mother of yours leave you? At the gate to the compound, looking
disheveled and ugly!”
“I have received enough insults from you. Must the whole
world know that I’m not biologically yours? I have struggled, and tried hard to
be loved by you but what do I get? Insults, derogatory comments. I can’t take
this anymore, I’m leaving…I’m fed up of your nonsense.”
Tara’s step-mother couldn’t control her mouth, it hung open
as she watched a very angry Tara walk to the closet and drag all her clothes
from the hangers.
Tara didn’t mean to be rude, she had never wanted to be the
bad child, all her life, her main intent was to please her parents thus she
made extra efforts at school work and helped a lot at home. But she couldn’t
take it anymore, and the fact was, the vice wasn’t coming from her step-mother
alone but every member of the Dolapo household. No one could introduce her
without saying something like- ‘Oh… she lives with her father and step-mother’
or ‘she’s Temi’s step-sister’- she felt ostracized and she also knew she
couldn’t overcome ostracism while staying in the Dolapo house.
Her step-mother was still mute, she stood beside the room
door and watched Temi pack her things and place them into a small bag. Her eldest
son walked into the room and puzzled by the whole scenario, asked;
“What’s going on? Tara are you travelling?”
No one replied, there seemed no words to explain the sudden
turn of events, silence and more silence hung in the air and all Tara’s
step-mom and brother could do, was watch. Five minutes later when Tara had just
zipped the bag closed, her father walked in on them.
“What is going on here?” He asked, literally echoing his
son’s questions.
“Ask your daughter…even after all we are going through in this
house, she has the effrontery to insult me to my face and pack her things in a
bid to leave.” Said his wife.
“What is the meaning of that? Packing to where? How can you
say Tara insulted you?” Tara’s father asked, not believing his wife’s words.
“Wait…does this mean you have taken her side over mine? I’m
telling you she insulted me to my face and all you can ask is whether or not I’m
sure.”
Tara’s father ignored his wife and turning to his son, he
asked,
“Is your mom telling the truth?”
Tara’s step-mother didn’t give her son the chance to
respond;
“What insult! So I’m now a big liar right? What’s the use of
this marriage if you can’t trust me?”
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“Don’t raise your voice at me, besides it’s your fault that
we are going through all these issues. If you were a better mother who for
once, tried to communicate with her children, I don’t think all these things
would happen. Haven’t you seen Yemisi’s mother, I can bet she knows all her
daughter’s secrets. How would a child who has a mother run away from home? Is that
right?”
“Look at this useless man…Why are you changing the topic?
Must you drag Temi into all the issues in this house? What of Tara? Is she any
better? If you must know, it’s your fault Temi ran away. When her father can’t
show her love, why won’t she run into the arms of the man who can?”
“Did you just call me useless? And are you indirectly
calling me a bad father?” Tara’s father asked in shock at his wife’s use of
language.
“Yes ke…when all you ever do is shower your bastard child
with praises, what do you expect from your legitimate child? Her whooping round
of applause?”
A fight was brewing and Tara knew it was all her fault, if
she had done as she used to in previous time which was- swallow her step-mom’s
insults and do her bidding- all these wouldn’t have happened. Instantly, she
walked towards them and bowing her head meekly, she apologized;
“I am sorry I acted the way I did ma and it won’t happen
again.”
“Don’t give me that rubbish, after raining insults on my
family, I wouldn’t take that apology of yours…shebi you have packed your
things…leave my house.” Her step-mother ordered.
“Are you insane? How dare you tell my own flesh and blood to
leave?” Her father thundered.
Tara’s step-mother didn’t flinch, she just tapped her foot
impatiently.
“I’m not staying Daddy. I have endured this treatment for
close to fourteen years of my life. I can’t live like this anymore or I might
totally lose my self-esteem.” Tara said, with tears in her eyes.
“Yes…leave and don’t come back.” Her step-mother spat.
“No! Don’t leave, if you do, I’ll leave too…you’re my
favourite sister in the whole world and even though we don’t share the same
mother, I feel closer to you than any of my siblings.” Her brother cried as he
hurriedly hugged her.
“You are going nowhere. Unpack your bags this instant.” Her
father ordered.
“Don’t you see daddy? I can’t stay here anymore, I’ve put up
with a lot, not only from mommy but the entire members of this extended family.
It’s like I’m plagued by a contagious disease. Am I the first person to be the
child of the other woman? I checked your diary three weeks ago and I saw my
mother’s contact as well as some of her family members. Surprised? I do my
research and I know her name is Jumai because of birthday gift card you have in
your diary. I really want to stay with her, it’s been years since she left
Nigeria for the UK, I’m sure she’s back now and even if she isn’t maybe I could
stay with a relation of hers. If you don’t let me go, I’ll run away and you’ll
never see me again.” Tara said sounding hurt.
“Ahh…mogbe…so you still keep those useless love letters of
hers.” Shouted her step-mother as faced her father.
Tara’s father ignored his wife.
“You will not leave this house on any terms. I am your
father and this is your home, doesn’t the fact that we share the same blood
count?” Her father asked.
“Family is not bound by blood dad, it’s love and I feel I’m
not loved here…I need to test the waters, let me go to my mother’s family.
Please dad.” Tara begged.
“Losing one daughter is the worst thing to ever happen to
any man, losing two…” Tara’s dad’s voice trailed as he tried to pull himself
together. Deep down he knew, there was no convincing that’ll change Tara’s
mind.
As Tara bundled herself and bags into her father’s car that
night, she didn’t look back, she wasn’t happy neither was she sad, she felt
indifferent.
****
Godwin looked at his brothers;
“Are you with me or not?” He asked.
“Not!” Larry replied.
“Not!” Jerry replied too.
“Then I guess I have no choice then. I’m leaving and I can’t
come back, it’s now or never.” Godwin said.
“Mom’s instructions were to find accommodation in any of the
houses in this compound, not leave the gate.” Larry said.
“That’s mom’s business. Why didn’t she personally take us to
any of their houses?” Godwin asked angrily.
“The truth is, we are a bunch of twelve and fourteen year
olds, danger lurks outside. Godwin, do you know where you are headed? All you
can think of is the fact that you want to be independent. I have thought of
this independent movement of yours, I want to be independent someday but not
yet. I need to get an education first.” Larry said sounding serious.
“Bye guys…it was fun being brothers with you….I’ve got to
hustle.” Godwin said, his mind already made up. “And when you see me in the
next ten years, rich and famous, don’t claim you ever were my brothers.”
Larry and Jerry exchanged glances as they watched their
brother take the most stupid decision of his life. He didn’t even turn to bid
them goodbye but left through the door and never looked back. The twins Jerry
and Larry had already made up their minds to stay with Granny grans, so they
too picked up their duffels and hurried out of the door.
****
Temi’s heart stopped when the cupboard fell crashing to the
ground and she was revealed. The men stopped short and stared at her in
surprise, never had they imagined that a young girl could be hiding in the
room. Suddenly slapping their backs in delight and congratulating each other
over their new find. They dragged a struggling and screaming Temi up to her
feet and carrying her out through the door and into the night.
****
All through the drive, they didn’t speak, her father kept
his eyes on the road while she kept hers reverted to the window. An hour and
thirty minutes later, they pulled up at a one storeyed house. Tara still felt
the huge lump wedge on her throat and somehow she felt she had disappointed her
father; as soon as her dad turned off the engine, she spoke.
“I’m sorry Dad, I just have to leave.”
“It’s your choice; I can’t stop your decision.”
“I understand that I might be acting selfishly especially
since Temi’s disappearance.”
“Temi didn’t go missing…she chose her own path and that’s
the same thing you are doing too-choosing your path-though the right way. Your
sister decided to become a woman of her own while you have chosen to taste
another side of life. It’ll be hard to live without you both but I’ll pull
through.” Her father said.
Tears stung her eye-lids and fell unabashedly.
“Promise you won’t stop looking for Temi.” She said.
“I won’t rest till she’s found.” Was her father’s reply as
he opened the door of the car and alighted.
Temi alighted as well and they walked to the huge gate
before them. The gate wasn’t locked so they entered the compound, Temi
perceived the sharp but poignant smell of cigarette. Her father walked to the
porch of the house and raising his hand, he knocked, and the door was opened
almost immediately.
“Is Jumai at home?” Her father asked the girl that opened
the door.
Tara was shocked, Jumai was her mother and she was in
Nigeria too.
“Yes sir, welcome.” The girl said and let them step into the
house. 
Tara was confused, from the way the girl spoke to her
father, they were familiar. Then it dawned on Tara that all these while; her
father never said anything about her mother’s family, yet it was obvious he had
been visiting. She couldn’t have prepared for the sight that greeted her when a
wheel chair rolled into the sitting room and a woman in her mid-thirties was
seated on the chair smiling weakly as she moved towards Tara and her father.
Immediately she saw Tara, the woman burst into tears and looking at her father,
she asked;
“Why? Why did you bring her? You promised she won’t come
here.”
“I had to, Jumai…she was asking for you. Is your brother at
home? I need to see him inorder to discuss her education and stuff… she doesn’t
want to live with me anymore.” Her father said, sounding quite gruff.
Tara stared at a woman she had never seen and felt a pang
pull in her heart. She stared, not needing anyone to tell her who sat before
her.
“She wants to stay with you…my wife has made life terrible
for her since Temi went missing…Tara couldn’t take it anymore, I think Temi’s
disappearance has taken a toll on the both of them.” Her father’s voice shook.
“Gregory will be back soon…he just went out for
some drinks and a smoke.  Tell Queen the house
girl to show her up to the spare room, I’m tired and need to have some rest.” Tara’s
mother said dispassionately.

Tara watched with tears in her eyes as her mother rolled her
wheelchair away. She didn’t even spare a word for her, no ‘hellos or hi’’ were
exchanged. Sniffing hard and not able to hold herself anymore she turned to her
father, falling into his arms and hugging him hard, she wailed. There and then,
it dawned on her, that her mother didn’t want her.

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