I am gazing aimlessly out of the window next to my bed, watching the heavens cry tears that I cannot. Memories flood my mind: a disturbingly dark mosaic of inadequacy, humiliation, neglect and malicious voices. The concerted effort with which all of these haunt me is quite impressive. They come in waves, each one gaining strength from the last, all crashing down on me and showing no mercy. I am all cried out. I am broken. I have always known this. Now, however, I realise that I no longer desire to be fixed.
The elders say I am an abiku. They say I torment my parents by dragging them through the travails of childbirth, only to leave them bereaved. Then, I watch them mourn and slowly recover from the pain only to return, repeating the torturous process. I am thought to be playing my fifth round of this evil game, and going by my previous record, I am exceeding my time limit so should be on my way out anytime soon.
They meant well when they gave this diagnosis, hoping to provide my parents with an explanation for their misfortune. Blaming me served the function of rationalising the situation and consoling my parents without the abomination of accusing the gods. It never even crossed their minds. How could the gods be responsible? Forget the fact that only they give children while Mother Earth takes them back. No. The gods are good. The child is the evil one. Even the Christians say the wages of sin is death, don’t they? I deserved, and still deserve, to die for my wickedness. This proclamation was made when I was five. Now, I am eighteen. They are still waiting for me to get it over with.
Living your entire life under a death sentence is a curious thing. The hopes and dreams your parents would have had for you no longer apply, especially when you are the reason for the dissolution of their marriage. It was my tenth birthday. No one remembered. Instead of a celebration, I received resounding humiliation. My mother was labeled a witch who only bore cursed children and we were disposed of accordingly- forcefully and publicly. On that day, I lost both parents- not to death, but to abandonment. My father’s method was more physical; he refused to set eyes on me ever again. My mother’s, however, was by far more devastating.
From that day, she hated me with a fierce passion. It was my fault that a younger woman had been brought in to replace her; it was my fault that her life as she knew it had fallen apart. She abhorred the very sight of me and it showed. Till this day, her eyes lurk in my nightmares and memories. When they looked at me, they were filled with anger, disappointment and sometimes resignation. Not once did I see love in them. The only gift I received on my tenth birthday was orphanhood- my mother and father were dead to me from that point. I became a phantom drifting through life, like a ghost chasing shadows. A bitter laugh escapes my lips as I consider the harrowing irony of that thought. One intangible entity in pursuit of another. Pathetic.
The shadows were elusive. Care, compassion and, most painfully, love seemed to be hiding from me. To find them in my mother, I excelled in my academics, becoming the best student in the village. Nothing. To find them in men, I gave myself over and over again until my reputation began to precede me. Still nothing. I would have searched for them in friends but I had none. These shadows taunted me. With every smile I thought I saw on my mother’s face and with every man who said they loved me, they taunted me. Yet, they remained shadows- I could never touch them. So I left the village. I wanted to leave the fear, the ostracism and the loneliness behind. I scratched my uncle’s back and he scratched mine in return. I remember pulling up my school uniform after he was done. “Don’t worry, I will take you to Ibadan. Just don’t tell your mother, ehn?”, he said, panting heavily after a job he felt had been well done. The empty barrels always made the most noise.
My mother had been very willing to hand her burden over to Uncle Mike. This was the same Uncle Mike who came into my room at night to “play love”, as he called it. She didn’t care. I had told her of her younger brother’s nightly visits but she responded with cold silence. He was taking her problem child away and that was that.
Ibadan, the new beginning that I hoped heralded my salvation, only served as the next hellish phase of my pointless existence. In the village, I was plagued by whispers, snide remarks and staring eyes. Here, I was cursed with invisibility. It was bad enough that no one cared, here no one even saw me. The boys did in their warped way, though. After the nightly visits became animalistic attacks, I ran away from Uncle Mike’s house. My perfected back-scratching skills kept a roof over my head, even if it was that of a butcher‘s market stall in Bodija. But no one loved me. And I started to realise that I had never even loved myself. If I would die any second, why waste the energy? This is what I am: a waste of time and effort.
I got tired of running. The shadows were a mirage I would never catch up with. I was a vacuum; never meant to be filled with affection or aspirations. I was tired of fighting my nature. The very word abiku in Yoruba means “born to die”. My fate had been sealed from the moment I took my first breath. My continued existence was an exercise in futility. The only way out was to stop trying.
So I sliced. I welcomed the pain with the familiarity of an old friend. Where people had failed to, my pain had always been there to embrace me. It had been my life-long companion and would be with me till the end. I watched my veins gently whisper my scarlet secrets to the earth. It was the dead of night. The market had been deserted. Here I was, in a makeshift stall, with neither friends nor family and nothing but a shoplifted razor to my name, but I felt more powerful than I ever had. I took ownership of that death sentence and decided it was time for it to be fulfilled. My whole life, I had waited for help, understanding and love from others. Finally, I took control. I hated my life so I did something about it.
Yet, I failed at even that. Now I am staring outside the window of a general ward at the University College Hospital. Some misguided Samaritan must have found me. If only they knew the importance of what they had interrupted… Another bitter laugh wells up inside me as I inspect the bandages placed on my wrists. It is another excruciating irony that these fabrics intended to save my life are the very obstacles to my salvation. I want to bleed away my frustrations, bleed away my loneliness, bleed away my pain. I need to. I will.
In the village, they were waiting for me to die. It‘s only a matter of time. I am determined. After all, abiku is my name. Death is my purpose.