NNEKA sat in the doctor’s office, shaking her legs and staring blankly at the white wall opposite her. Her hands played with the corner of her wrapper, tying and untying it. She winced as she bit her lower lip with more force than she’d intended. She could taste her own blood. Tears filled her tired eyes; tears of pain and despair. She felt alone and very afraid. With no friends or family, was she also destined to lose the one thing she valued more than life itself. Hot tears started to trail down her sad face. She hadn’t had much joy in her life, but Ginika had become her joy, her reason to smile. She could not smile now, though. The one thing that gave her hope to face every day with its own troubles might be taken from her soon.
“God, have I not suffered enough. Please, don’t let Ginika die…not after everything. Please, God, that is all I ask,” she cried.
Holding her head in her hands, she slipped from the chair and onto her knees, moaning pitifully. Her mind went back in time as she remembered how Ginika had come to be.
They came to a stop at 19, Gerrard Road, Ikoyi, and were faced with the imposing black gates that hid the mansion from would-be staring eyes.
“Is this the place?” Caro asked harshly.
“Yes, ma,” Nneka said with a small voice.
Nneka had spent her whole life in the slums of Oshodi. She had woken up every day for as far back as she could remember to the sound of Papa and Mama Emeka fighting in the next room while their children wailed; to the stench of the surrounding filth that was a blend of many indistinguishable smells; to the taste of anger and bitterness at the hopelessness of her life, and to the feeling of dread at the thought of another ugly day. She lived with her mother in a ‘face-me-I-face you’ block. In such places, everyone knew everyone else’s business and there was always something to fight about: space, noise, dirt, whose turn it was to clean the shared latrines, who would get to use the bathroom first…it was endless. Every morning there was a long line of people in front of the bathroom. Most days she had to wake up as early as three in the morning so she could take her bath and get ready for school on time.
Nneka had never known her father. Her mother never talked about him. Once, she’d dared to ask her mother about him and had received for her trouble a resounding slap across her left cheek that had sent her reeling. Nneka had never raised the issue since. Her mother had no relatives that she knew of. No one ever came looking for her except her fellow traders from the market and her men friends. Nneka hated it when the men came. Most times they stayed the night, so Nneka had to sleep on the floor. On such nights, she would lie on her back in the darkness, her unseeing eyes open as the old bed creaked tiredly. Her imagination would run wild as she fell into a restless sleep. But, whatever her faults, Caro was a strong woman and Nneka knew that deep down her mother wanted the best for her. But she also knew that her mother was in no position to provide this, so Nneka had faced her school work squarely, with a drive that amazed the other students and pleased the teachers to no end. She believed that her best chance for a good life would come through a university education, and so she worked hard.
Her effort had been rewarded when, after entering the senior class, the Principal, Mrs Cole, had called her to her office one morning. It had happened that the Principal had been able to gather a number of the school’s old girls who had attained wealth and position and convince them to fund an Alumni scholarship for the student with the best Senior School Certificate Examinations result. The Principal had said that as the best student in the school she was the one most likely to get the scholarship. Nneka had wept without shame that day at the Principal’s office. Her dream of going to the university had finally become attainable.
She had relaxed and become distracted. She had become friends with Joke and Precious, girls she had always avoided for their unserious nature. They had convinced her to give in to the advances of Daniel, a handsome student teacher who’d been posted to their school. Daniel had shown an unrelenting interest in her. He had promised her heaven and earth, and had showered her with expensive gifts which she’d kept hidden from her mother. They had started seeing each other secretly. She was in love with Daniel, but even stronger than her feelings for Daniel was the excitement brought on by the illicit nature of their romance; the fear of getting caught.
After Daniel had ended his teaching practice a few weeks ago, she’d heard less and less of him, but had believed wholeheartedly his excuses of school taking up too much of his time. She believed so much in him that when she’d discovered that morning that she was carrying his child, she had felt strangely composed. She had not known it, but her mother had been watching her closely for weeks, and had that morning brought herself, and Nneka, to the realization that her daughter was pregnant. It had not taken much beating to get a name and address out of Nneka. And so they stood now outside the house, waiting for the gate of the mansion to be opened.
The gate eventually swung open and a disgruntled looking guard regarded them with hostility. The guard looked them up and down as they stated their request. He allowed them in. As he led them to the house, Nneka’s feet felt heavier, less certain with each step. The house was huge and white, and the grounds were well kept, with the lawn and flowers trimmed neatly. They got into the house and the guard spoke to a maid who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. She nodded and disappeared into the house. The guard left as well. Nneka and Caro stood in what was undoubtedly the biggest, most beautiful room they had ever been in. The room was big; bigger than all the rooms in their compound put together. And it was expensively furnished. The floor was marbled and crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling. Nneka looked at the TV. It was as large as their bed.
Nneka heard a sound. She turned and saw Daniel coming down the stairs. She smiled. She knew everything would be alright. He looked up suddenly and saw them. There was a look of shock on his face. The look vanished as an elderly couple, obviously his parents, walked down to join them. The woman looked at them with contempt.
“Yes? Who are you people, and what do you want?”
“My name is Caro. This is Nneka, my daughter. She is pregnant for your son, one Daniel,” Caro said with more boldness than she felt.
“What? That’s absolutely impossible,” the man bellowed.
“This is nonsense. My son does not move with the likes of you, not to talk of sleeping with your daughter,” the woman said, visibly repulsed at the thought.
She turned to Nneka.
“Girl, are you sure of what you’re saying; that my son, Daniel, is responsible for your pregnancy?”
Nneka was surprised at Daniel’s silence. Why would he not talk? He had promised that if something like this ever happened they would take care of it.
“Yes. He was a student teacher at our school, Oshodi Girls. He asked me to be his friend.”
The woman looked at her uncomfortably. She exchanged a look with her husband.
“Look, why are we wasting time here? The man in question is right here. Fanny, ask your son,” the man said impatiently.
Fanny threw her husband a nasty look, and then turned to Daniel.
“Daniel, did you get that girl pregnant?” she ask.
Daniel looked into Nneka’s eyes for a brief moment. Then he turned to his parents.
“Mum, Dad, I swear to God, I have never seen that girl in my life,” he said calmly.
“That settles it then,” Daniel’s mother said, turning to them. “Now, get out of this house, you gold diggers. And if you two ever step foot here again, I’ll have you arrested. I promise.”
Caro dragged her daughter out of the house, shouting curses at them. Nneka never saw Daniel again.
To be continued...