In my head, there is always an invisible battle. A battle in which I violently strangle with my bare hands recurrent memories that torment me.
I am 25 years old, and for this long I have wondered and fantasized different scenarios of who I would have been or rather who I actually am. What exactly is my real name? What surname was mine originally? Where are my biological parents? What tribe are my parents? Other times I wonder, maybe my mother was a scared teenage girl or a prostitute that got knocked up or maybe my father had denied the pregnancy. Although these questions had troubled my mind deeply, at least I had the privilege of picturing myself as whoever I chose to be.
Facing my deepest fears one day, I went back to the the orphanage where I had grown up. My feet were grounded at the corridor as the ever so familiar smell hit my nostrils…the smell of Izal,damp nappies and stale food. For 18 years I had breathed this air, night and day and it remained engraved in the memory of my nostrils.
Yes! 18 years because I was one of those who never got to be adopted. Standing on this same corridor after 7 years of totally avoiding the orphanage was like opening scars that had healed only on the surface. I could see again, faces of people looking past me in my little cradle, pointing at one kid, then another. Lifting other children up and eventually taking them home to family. I felt again , how I felt in my wooden bed, a little too small for my growing body.
I wanted to run, but a huge wave of courage propelled my feet into the orphanage.I looked at the corner where I had laid as a child, and in it slept as it seemed peacefully another little boy. I knew immediately how wet his diapers would be, how cold and alone he would feel at night and how desperately he needed a mother’s warmth and comfort. I Knew because I had been right there once and occasionally returned in my mind. Walking closer to his bedside, I could see a big patch of tears on his pillow and I remembered how often I cried myself to sleep.
18 years of watching new babies come, go, die and fall ill. Of being called government property, being rejected, visited by nice strangers and catered for by few kind nurses.
I felt a tap from behind, it was Mama Ajanaku, she sat and smiled like an angel on her wheel chair. I hugged her tight and long. She hadn’t always been in a wheelchair.
“Survivor, you finally came back” her voice trembled and her hands shook as she spoke.
“Yes Mama” I managed to say. I wonder if she heard me because I didn’t hear myself.
She poked me in the back as she laughed, exposing her perfect denture.
” You are now a big man oh! Very soon you will get married”
I smiled in response.
Mama Ajanaku had named me “Survivor” because of the circumstances under which I was found. She said I was found with only a green waist bead around me, on lagos mainland bridge by some early morning joggers. I was lucky to have not been thrown down into the water by my mother or whoever had thought it right to abandon a child.
I looked around me and saw children, some asleep, some playing on the old rusty swings which I too had played on. I imagined their individual stories, the truth behind them, their reality and the fiction in which they lived in and called life. Every one of us was a story, a testimony, a living miracle in transit and a symbol of someone’s bad decision. I was grateful that I had not just come to visit or face my fear, but I made the trip to come and destroy my tormentor. Even though I had grown and become a successful business man, the burden of the place that had raised me lay heavily on my heart and it was time to let it go.
“Mama, this is a cheque of 120 thousand Naira. Please, use this for the fees of the two oldest children here at the orphanage. They can go to school or learn a skill like I did. When things get better, I will do more”.
Mama Ajanaku shook her head and lifted her hand to the sky, with tears in her eyes she said “I knew you would survive”.
I smiled and walked off, a man released from few of the many chains that held him bound.