Anike woke up that morning feeling a strange kind of peace. Not unlike the biblical peace of God which passeth all understanding,she thought to herself. She knew what she had to do and had taken every possible step to ensure that she did not fail. She simply couldn’t afford to. She took a look at the little piece of paper in her hand, her JAMB examination slip and smiled wryly. She calmly tore it into four pieces and threw them into the waste paper basket. Oh no!, her brain screamed, not in there! She picked the pieces up again and threw them into her mouth one after the other. Anike chewed them thoroughly, barely tasting the bitter ink spewing unto her tongue with each clamp of her teeth. Swallowing the paper was another thing entirely. She just couldn’t force the masticated mess down her throat so she decided to compromise. She walked to the bathroom and spat it into the water closet. She twisted the handle and watched as the spiralling water whisked the mache away. Then she smiled again.
Almost a year ago, Anike,still in secondary school wrote her first JAMB exam which she passed, barely. Unfortunately for her, her university of choice, University of Benin, didn’t grant her admission. Her JAMB score didn’t qualify her for law, which she was intent on studying. Anike was downcast. Her uncle gave a pep talk about not giving up and promptly enrolled her into an extra mural lesson two streets away from their house. Her uncle’s wife, Chioma had said nothing. The sharp looks she threw at both her husband and Anike said it all. She had insisted that Anike choose Unilag but Anike stubbornly refused. Anike was desperate and resorted to emotional blackmail. She told her uncle, amid tears, that since both her patents had attended Uniben, it was her mother’s dying wish that she do the same. It worked and her uncle approved, not minding his wife’s anger and disappointment.
‘Anikeeeee!’ Aunty Chioma screamed, bringing Anike back to the present. She had been lost in thought. Aunty Chioma entered the bathroom and caught hold of Anike’s left ear. She twisted it and pulled her out of the bathroom.
‘Useless girl! You don start again abi? So you no wan go do exam? I know your plan but e no fit work! So you want my husband to waste all his money on you?’
Anike zoned out as she always did when her aunt-in-law started her rants. Chioma didn’t trust herself enough to speak English when she was angry so she simply got angry in pidgin. Anike stopped listening. Thankfully, this one didn’t last very long. Aunty Chioma hissed and walked out angrily.
Thirty minutes later, Anike was ready. She sat in the living room waiting for her uncle. He had promised to drop her at the examination center but had to see a friend very early about one business deal or the other. He arrived before long and they got into the car. Her center was at Ikeja, which wasn’t very far from their Oke-aro home.
‘Relax,okay?’ Her uncle said, ‘You’ll do great.’
Anike nodded and leaned back. Her uncle wasn’t that bad, she thought. His wife was the problem. Most times, Anike felt that Aunty Chioma hated her very existence.
Three years ago when her parents died after a ghastly motor accident on Lagos-Ibadan expressway, Uncle Lade decided to take her in. He was a newly wed then and he managed to convince his wife that Anike would help her with chores around the house. Uncle Lade was her father’s only surviving relative so her maternal grandparents didn’t object too strongly. They let him take their 14 year old granddaughter to Lagos, where she continued her education. In the beginning, Aunty Chioma treated her quite well, albeit at a distance. But as months turned into years without her getting pregnant, she became hostile. She desperately wanted children but it seemed none was forthcoming. The first day Chioma beat her up, she made the mistake of reporting to her uncle. Uncle Lade rebuked Chioma roundly and apologised to his niece. But Chioma only got more vicious, she brutalised Anike at every opportunity until the young girl realized who was boss. Anike dreaded coming back home after school where she was at the Chioma’s mercy. Her uncle was a business man of some sorts so he only came home at irregular intervals.
One particular incident that made Anike resolve to do something about her predicament happened while she was attending her extra mural lessons. She had woken up early that morning so as to wash Chioma’s dirty laundry, which was saying something since Chioma changed clothes three times a day. After that, she cleaned the house and cooked breakfast. By the time she was through with the chores, she didn’t have any time left to eat. She simply rushed her shower, grabbed her backpack and was about running out of the house when Chioma screamed her name. Now what? Anike asked herself. She hurried to her aunt’s room.
‘Look here, you’re not going to lesson today o. I’m expecting visitors so I want this house to be thoroughly cleaned.’ Chioma said.
‘This house is clean ma. I just finished cleaning.’ Anike replied.
‘How about the bathrooms?’
‘I washed them during the weekend ma.’
‘Then why didn’t you cut the grass in the compound?’ Chioma asked indignantly, ‘Abi they never full for your eye?’
There was a man that Uncle Lade employed for that purpose. He usually came every fortnight but when Anike pointed that out to Chioma, she flared up and started raining slaps on the poor girl.
‘So you wan teach me how I go take manage my house abi? You mad child! You lazy idiot! So you wan make I dash that lazy old man two thousand naira when lazy fool like you dey house abi? No be your fault, na Lade don spoil you.’ As Anike was trying her best to cushion the blows with her forearms, she mistakenly hit Chioma’s wrist and her wristwatch flew off.
Chioma screamed. ‘I will kill you today. You don spoil my wristwatch. That watch expensive pass your wretched family.’ Needless to say, the blows intensified.
When they got to the centre, Anike and her uncle alighted.
‘Here we are. Where’s your slip?’ Lade asked.
Anike did a double take. ‘Its in my bag.’ She stammered in reply.
‘Let me see so you’ll know the room you’re supposed to go.’ He held out his hand.
Anike’s heart flew into her mouth. It was over even before it began, she thought. Her lower lip began to quiver. She removed her backpack slowly and began to fumble in it. Her uncle’s phone rang then but she dared not look up. Her brain was working furiously on what to tell him.
‘Right now?’ her uncle was saying into the phone, ‘I’m on my way.’
Anike didn’t dare to hope.
‘Listen Anike, I have to go. Try to locate your exam room number,alright?’
She nodded faster than she intended to.
‘And make sure you come home as soon as you finish,okay?’
‘Good luck.’ Lade said and jumped back into his car. Anike watched as he made a U-turn before driving away. She heaved a huge sigh of relief. She looked around as other candidates were arriving, each one trying to find their examination room. She walked to the road and hailed an okada.
‘Where?’ The rider asked.
‘Motor park.’ She replied.