Battles of the mind
School was an excitement and a place of comfort for the 6yr old me. I look forward to coloring with my crayons, having storybook time, seeing my friends, and playing on the playground. It was fun! Upon getting ready for school in the morning, I always felt worried about my mom. I would wonder if she would be alive by the time I come back from my kindergarten class later in the afternoon. In my heart, I felt my father had pure hatred for her.
I would be seated at my desk at school worrying about her and I would watch all the parents drop off their kids in the classrooms, the parents would give hugs and kisses to their children before leaving. Some of the kids would cry and not want to let go of their parent’s hands, I felt like my classmates knew they were loved, they seemed stress-free and happy with no worries at all, in any case, they knew to a degree what love felt like. I wanted to feel sad and cry to my parents when they dropped me off, but as of this moment my dad wasn’t even allowed near the premise of my school, he wasn’t allowed to drop me off or pick me up at kindergarten due to the police involvement in a prior domestic violence report they got some days earlier, in which my parents were separated the next day; my mom was staying at this women shelter for battered women, my younger brother and sister, along with my older sister was also staying there with my mom, my mom had a restraining order against my father.
In class, I felt all of this bundle of emotions in my chest and I couldn’t tell anyone about it. What if they laughed at me? What if I tell my teachers and they tell my dad how I felt? I knew my mother had informed my teachers that my father wasn’t allowed to pick me up for any reason, but I was still scared and I felt I had to keep all this pain and emotions to myself.
In kindergarten what I looked forward to the most wasn’t recess. It was coloring and art, it gave me a chance not to think about the troubles at home for a while. As my mom picked me up from school that very day, she said we were going to this shelter for women who needed help, at the shelter, I felt safe and happy there, the ladies there were so nice and I got to play with other kids my age, it was a positive environment for me. I was so happy there and my mom looked a lot better and calmer than usual as well.
The next morning, it was time for us to go to school; we ate breakfast, brushed our teeth, followed our mom outside, and we all got into mom’s car. As my mom was pulling out of the parking lot, we heard a loud roar of tires screeching towards us. It was my father, he was driving so close to my mother’s bumper all the way to my school, my mom kept on driving, he was driving recklessly all over the street behind us, then he would drive in front of us and break very fast, but mom kept on driving around him to get us to school, I was so terrified. My mom finally pulls up at the roundabout area for the drop off in front of my school.
I was in the back seat and all I remember is a huge boom!
He rammed the front bumper of his car into my mom’s back bumper hard, then he did it over and over again. I had never felt this kind of fear, I started crying, and my mom was screaming. I curled up in a fetus position covering my head and pinching my ears shut in the back seat, once again the police were called. We had to wait in the car for him to drive off, which he did before the police came, then very swiftly my sister and I were escorted by teachers in the school into our classrooms quickly. They promised my mom that we would be escorted into the building in the mornings and escorted back outside, once the school was over for the day.
In class, I felt full of shame for my entire existence and sad for my family, I purely hated my father, I would think to myself, why was he choosing to behave this way? Didn’t he know that he was a Christian and in Sunday school Jesus spoke about being kind to others? So why was he not listening to what he would preach to people every Sunday? I felt like my mom should not ever get back with him. I felt obligated to tell my mom to leave him, he wasn’t a good man. I told her a few times, hoping she’d listen to me, I knew he wouldn’t change.
To cope with all of this, I would tell myself I was adopted, I convinced myself I was adopted, It felt good to believe I was not his daughter (though I was) in my heart, my real father was a sweet man and one day he would come and rescue me from this monster I am living with. This way of thinking was what got me through from age 5 and onwards.
Back to the current reality of my 15years old self…
I looked at my passport and I knew that I had no desire to go to Nigeria, I was only going there to make my father happy, and in my gut, I had a feeling my father wasn’t telling the truth about us coming back to America by the end of summer.
Until this time, the trip had only been alive in my imagination but now it was becoming real. I couldn’t ask my parents all my questions, they would neither understand nor tell me the entire truth. My siblings were just as unsure as I was about the journey, so I turned instead to my journal where I could find some peace. Whatever I wrote in there was safe; it didn’t judge me as my parents and friends did, and I could free my dreams and imaginations onto the pages. In my last entry before our trip, I reassured myself and wrote, “This is only an adventure, it would be fun”.
As much as I despised my father, I always sought his attention, good or bad. I wanted him to be proud of me for just being who I was but he never was, instead, I got on his nerves a lot. I know he wished I was different, not as confrontational, not as liberal, perhaps quieter, like my siblings.
I focused my attention on practical matters; clutching my Tigger Disney backpack to my chest, checking to make sure I had extra batteries for my CD player and making sure my headphones were working properly. My new NSYNC and
Backstreet Boys CD’s would get me through this long flight I felt. As we left our home and walked towards the car, a family friend stopped by to say goodbye. I will call her Ms. G. she had always shown me compassion and was well respected in the community. I felt safe in her presence, her protective spirit was stronger than my own mother’s. She whispered advice to me, “You are a young lady. Never let anyone touch you inappropriately and always feel safe. Listen to your intuition.”
Her son W. patted my head, grinned and we all hugged before I got into the car.
A new restaurant called IHOP was being built near our home and as we passed it, I wondered what “IHOP” would be like, what kind of food they’d serve. I would be back soon enough to try it, it’s only a couple of months that I would be in
Nigeria, I told myself and I choose to believe it.
We arrived in Nigeria in the summer of 2002 when I was 15. My dreams and fairy tales had not prepared me for the harsh reality. I stepped off the plane into a new land, where my senses were bombarded. I saw a few signs that said Welcome to Nigeria, welcome to Lagos, and everyone was yelling and grabbing our luggage to put in their taxis. It was like a movie clip but in slow motion, my parents were yelling in their native language, speaking Igbo to the taxi drivers, it was chaotic. I froze there but at the same time wanted to disappear. I felt terror at the pit of my gut.
My nose rebelled from the strong smells and my head spun. This was not what I was expecting. This was not the home that I envisioned. I stayed close to my mom as beggars on the street grabbed my arms asking for money. My parents were trying to choose one taxi from like ten other taxi drivers that wanted to take us to my father’s village. The chaos continued for about a good 20 minutes. Finally, a taxi was chosen, our many luggage was loaded on top of the car. We all got into the car; it was a very small car, it was hot, and I was sweating from head to toe. I winded down the window, then the window handler broke and thick orange dust flooded in through the window and hit my face. The streets were orange, literally orange sand. There were so many potholes, big holes, random big rocks and small rocks on the roads. The ride in the tiny car was literally like the longest and bumpiest ride I ever experienced in my entire life.
I looked out the window and we passed beggars on the side street, we also passed open markets where they sold everything from fish, goat meat to chicken, and mosquitoes roamed everywhere in and around the market. I looked around to see men wearing only pants, no shirts, women in wraps. Barefoot feet treaded the ground and people everywhere toted heavy packages and water pails on their heads. Beggars shouted for money and cows trailed behind men on leashes.
Chickens ran lose all over the place.
Children ran after our vehicle, offering us water in a bag for 5naira. Yelling “Biko 5 Naira” means “please 5 Naira.” Shacks were all around, buildings falling apart, and cripples sitting on the side of the street. I had never seen anything like these ever. The worst part is that we were stopped over and over at different points of the road where police officers asked for money before we could go further. I kept on saying to myself that our house would be better, from the amount of work and money my father put into it at the cost of my childhood, it should be the best looking house in Nigeria, as I sat in the cramp, no air-conditioned back seat of this tiny car.
I guess what I did envision upon coming to Nigeria was; people smiling, socializing, giving me treats, the trees are hallowed and bright green, the air was fresh and clean, our house would be a big mansion filled with many rooms, my siblings and I would have our own rooms with servants by our side, the fridge would be filled with so much food and my cousins, uncles, and aunties would be there to give me lots of love.
At a very young age, this was what my father instilled in my head over and over again. It was like a repetitive rotation every night after dinner, he’d finish arguing with my mother, he would tell us about the beautiful house he was building in
Nigeria and how big our rooms would be, and how the house exterior would look like. There was a piece of me that really believed him, and there was another piece that just played along with his wild delusions.
The piece of me that believed his wild imaginations was my innocent soul who knew that his way of dealing with his wife and children wasn’t right. I wanted to believe there were kinder people in Nigeria, it was a tiny dream for me to be surrounded by family; a family that could protect me from my father. At my current age of 15, I felt I had suffered and endured a lot in America because of him. He never bought me or my siblings anything, he saved his money for the house he was building in Nigeria.