My name is Omotayo Oni, and I really hate Christmas. Ask me why? It is a season of joy, of fun, and of laughter, but I must tell you, it is a season of pain, of regret, and of sorrow. The worst things in my life have always managed to happen around Christmas.
Firstly, I was born to a sixteen year old unwed mother, on the twenty third of December, and two days later, just as the bells tolled for the Christmas day services, I became officially a ward of the state. My mother, the one bright spot in my life, was snatched away by the fingers of death. Ii never knew who my father was, and thus did I pass on into the care of the state, i.e. no one. I was placed in an orphanage till I attained the age of seven, at which point I got adopted.
Mrs T. R. Oni was a pillar in her local church, the wife of a very rich landowner and businessman. She was a socialite who, like a moth, was attracted to the limelight, and would o anything to sustain it, up to and including hosting and throwing parties for the less privileged and loudly publicized donations to various causes. The Christmas of my seventh year, she had decided to give one less privileged child a new lease of life, so she went down to hope orphanage and picked out the most miserable, pathetic and scrawny looking child in the place; me. She signed the adoption papers with a flourish, while the local television stations kept the tape rolling, and the orphanage staff ooohed and aaahed politely about how I was such a lucky girl, and how I was going to get a better home and all that. On my part, I was crying, partly due to the fact that I was going to be leaving my friends, and everything I knew. Or maybe I was prescient.
And so it was that at the age of seven, while I was still tender, and unscarred, the security I felt was yanked out from under me by my transplantation to a new location. Adoption was not such a big deal for me, having tearfully extracted a promise from the staff and my new mother that I would be allowed to come on visits.
At home, my mother (so she requested, or demanded that I call her) told me that I was to help her out in the kitchen, and that was how it all started. Little did I know that, Machiavellian strategist that she was, she had just succeeded in getting herself another house girl, and adding to her considerable store of goodwill in the bargain. And thus the routine went on, early days and late nights. A year went by, and I was still just a house help, glorying in the title of daughter. One fateful day, I made the mistake of asking when I was going to start school. I got a slap that still makes me wince to think of it, and it will not surprise me in the least if my biological children have ear problems. My lips sealed permanently as to the question of school, while her own children got sent to the best schools.
By the time I turned twelve, my body had begun to change: my breasts and buttocks were beginning to jiggle and flounce when I walked, and I had started to attract attention from my ‘mother’ and her husband, who was a contractor and consultant to an oil company. My mother had begun to buy me brassieres, and as for her husband, he intensified his attempts to pester my life. On several occasions, he would pinch my breasts or my buttocks. I didn’t like them, but I was scared of telling my mother, because I was unsure of her reaction. One day, when my mother had travelled to their hometown for the Christmas festivities, I was alone with her husband, who had stayed back in Lagos to work. i had just finished taking my bath, and I had only a wrapper covering my body, when he entered my room without knocking. I was startled and asked what he wanted. Grinning wickedly, he tried to pull off the wrapper. I tried to struggle, but it only seemed to excite him the more. I tugged his hand away and tried to cover up. He slapped me hard across the face, and I fell to the floor. He untied the rope holding his sokoto to reveal his engorged member. I screamed and scrambled away, trying to pick up the wrapper and get away from him. He grabbed my leg, preventing my escape, and fell heavily atop me, knocking the wind out of me, and cutting off my screams. I bit the hand clamping my mouth, and yelled, but to no avail.
Just then, NEPA restored the light, and the small transistor radio in my room came on. And to the tune of ‘Jingle Bells’ and other Christmas carols, on a day synonymous with merriment and laughter, I had my painful introduction to debased womanhood. I had turned fourteen two days earlier.
The abuse continued. Day in, day out. He would sneak or force his way into my room to have his wicked way with me. This continued for months on end. Even when the family returned, he would leave for work most mornings, then return, ostensibly on the pretext of a forgotten file or document, and ravish me. My ‘mother’ either remained blissfully ignorant or pretended not to know, and gradually it became a norm. Not that I enjoyed it, far from it! He was rough, and took my cries and whimpers of pain for moans of pleasure. He was a brute, and I grew to expect it, just as I grew to expect the monthly discharges that are a part of the life of every young woman. Those few days were my only reprieve.
One month, the monthly visitor, for reasons I could not understand, did not show up. I checked and r-checked, counted and re-counted, it was not there. I collected money from ‘mother’ for sanitary towels, bought them, and hid them in m room, waiting for the visitor. Seemingly, all was well. Then the bubble burst.
I was preparing breakfast one morning, having just fried some eggs, when a sudden bout of nausea hit me. Before I could help it, I had vomited on the floor. Father was disgusted, mother was curious. I blamed it on the spoon I used in whisking eggs, and somehow, I passed muster, or so I thought. The vomiting came and went, the funny feeling did not. My breasts felt large and tender.
One day, after my bath, the door opened. Thinking it was my usual assailant, I turned to face the wall in resignation. It was ‘mother’s voice that cut through my reverie.
“Tayo, take off that wrapper.
Silently, I complied.
“Tayo, what is happening to you? You have been vomiting, you don’t eat, or you eat too much, see your- she stopped short in midsentence as I turned to face her.
“Are you pregnant?
I was confused and horrified. “I don’t know, maybe, yes”
Talk! Ashewo, Prostitute, you’ve been selling your useless body abi?
“Ah, Mummy, no oh, when did-“ She cut off my question with a hot slap.
Don’t you answer me back. Now, who did this?
“Mummy, it’s…. it’s……. “
“You witch, prostitute, agent of the devil, idiot, aje, you think you can deceive me?”
“It’s Daddy, I swear, true to god, Olorun! Mummy please-“ all my pleas fell on deaf ears. I was beaten up and thrown out of the house. Now just like my mother, I was fifteen, homeless, and pregnant. The apple truly never falls far from the tree.
While doing my daddy’s laundry, I occasionally secreted cash from his trouser pockets, and over time, it came to a little over fifteen thousand naira. I had an abortion, ad a new phase of life began for me. I sold my body to earn a living. Tall short, rich, poor, black white, it didn’t really matter to me. All it took was a few thousand naira and I belonged to whichever man could cough up the cash, at least for the night.
Now I’m seventeen, three abortions and numerous infections later, and I’m HIV positive. I saw the test report today. I feel burnt out. I have purchased one bottle of gin, and one small phial of “otapiapia”, and if they don’t do it, I have some pills here. Today is the twenty fourth of December, and I’m going to give the world a Christmas present like no other. Merry Christmas!