My mother should have told her husband that Kemi was not her only child; that Kemi had a twin sister, in the village, but she did not.
You see, when my sister and I were born at Okunlewe, eighteen years ago, my mother had to run away to the city with one of us, she picked Kemi, Kemi weighed less. In the hush of night, she slipped into the darkness and vanished, with Kemi attached firmly to her back with a wrapper. At Okunlewe, it was forbidden to bear twins, the Chief Priest would have sacrificed Kemi, my mother and I to the gods if they did not disappear as they did.
My mother’s circumstance was even more complicated – she became pregnant when people thought that she was a virgin. The young man, to whom she was betrothed, cast her away – he wanted to have nothing to do with her, no man was willing to marry a woman that was not a virgin, and much less a woman with child and even worse, a woman with children like my mother.
It was a bad thing to have a child outside marriage, it gave people the impression that my mother was promiscuous, but she was not. She was raped by the prince, the King of Okunlewe’s randy son, Dele. But, of course, she dared not say this out loud. It was a taboo to say such a bad thing about a future King – she would have been slaughtered.
The only person she had told that Dele raped her, was Mama Ile, her mother, who had rightly advised her not to tell anyone else. It was Mama Ile that had told my mother to take either Kemi or me and to runaway to the city when she found out that it was twins that my mother had delivered. It was also Mama Ile that raised me.
Life was hard for us at Okunlewe, Mama Ile was an unprofessional midwife as well as a petty trader. Her husband had died, so the little money she made from her businesses was what we lived on. Things were very difficult.
Even more difficult though, were things for my mother and Kemi in the city. At least Mama Ile and I had a place we could lay our heads at night, a place we could call home, my mother and Kemi did not have that the first time they arrived at the city. My mother found work , she tended to old, shameless men at a beer palour; it was an unfortunate job, but they had to survive.
One night, she got to her wits’ end and raised hell on one of the customers at the beer palour. The ugly grandpa had been making passes at her all night, not even normal passes that men make at women, extreme ones, my mother had enough when the man pinched her buttocks. His frail, wrinkled hand held on to her, and his sharp fingers pinched her, she screamed, turned to the man, then poured the rest of the cheap beer that was inside his cup – the one that he had been sipping miserly for the past one hour – on his face. Of course, she was sacked. The woman that ran the place was more interested in the welfare of her customers – perverse as they were – than her staff’s.
My mother got another job though, and soon enough, they could afford to rent a small room in a slum, my mother lived there with Kemi but not for long. Shortly after, she met a man, a good man, his name was Yinka. He worked as a staff in his father’s company, it was not a very big company, they produced nylon bags, but the company had prospects.
Yinka was his father’s first son and he was hardworking, but his father did not think he was responsible enough to be put in a position of leadership just yet. He was still 24. When Yinka’s father died, his will read that the company should only go to Yinka when he got married, and so Yinka was out to find a wife.
The relationship between my mother and Yinka developed very fast and before anybody knew it, they were planning to get married; nobody really knew whether it was as a result of Yinka’s desperation for marriage, or of love. My mother and Yinka claimed it was love though, perhaps it was.
It seemed as though my mother forgot she had another child at Okunlewe, as though I, Morenike, was not significant enough to be mentioned, she never told Yinka anything about me.
I was eighteen when Mama Ile died. She had fallen very ill and I knew that she was going to leave me, but before she left, she told me that my mother was not really dead, that she just said that to protect me and her. She told me about my mother’s other child, my twin, I couldn’t believe it, I knew it was an abomination in our village to have twins, so I understood the rationale behind her decision to leave. She said that she wondered what had happened, because she had expected my mother to at least try to check on me, at least one time. She told me that I could go to the city to look for her, if I wanted, and then, finally, she begged me to forgive her.
I did. In some ways, I was happy. Happy that I had a mother, and that I did not kill my mother while I was trying to come into the world. I was also happy that I had a sister, and not just any sister, a twin sister; we were going to be best friends, I thought.
I had to look for my mother; I had to go to the city.
Mama Ile was buried.
And just the way my mother and Kemi left Okunlewe, in the hush of night, I left also, to find my mother.
I arrived in the city, it was a let down. I had heard so much said about the big city, everyone who spoke about it, spoke in awe, as If it was heaven, indeed somebody even called it ‘heaven on earth’. But there was nothing heavenly about what I saw; heaven is so much different from the big city.
There were so many people. I did not know how to go about my mission. I knew how stupid I would look if I went about asking people I’d never met if they knew my mother or if they had seen her, I did not even have a photograph, I did not know what she looked like. It desperately seemed as if I was chasing a lost cause, but I was prepared to chase that lost cause till the end, until it was totally lost.
I lived under a bridge, with several other homeless people, the bridge was big enough to shield when it rained, but when the rain fell heavily and was accompanied by wind, the wind diverted the rain towards us – we got drenched.
I spent most of my time at the garage, where passengers travelling to other cities boarded vehicles, I helped them carry their luggage for small change which I used to survive – most afternoons I fed on bread and water, on rare occasions I could afford a soda. Sometimes I would have no money with which to feed and throughout the day I would go hungry. Other times two days, and other times, three.
I soon got used to living life like that; I blended very well with garage life. I made a friend, her name was Tina, she wasn’t homeless like I was, she worked as a house-girl for a woman who owned a canteen at the garage; the woman was stingy, she did not pay her often and she always hit her. Most mornings Tina would come to the garage with a swollen, purple eyes.
We soon became close; close enough for me to tell her that I came to the city to look for my mother; close enough for me to tell her my story.
One late night, I started walking towards the bridge from the garage, alone, I was used to it, I did it all the time, but there was something strange about that night, I was sure that there was someone following me. I turned. But I did not see anybody, so I continued my walk. I heard footsteps again, indistinct, I turned again, but again, I saw no one behind me. And so I decided to run.
Before I knew it, however, I was on the ground and three boys were standing in a triangle over me, I don’t think any of them were older than I was, they laughed.
One of them said, pointing to another one: ‘You go first.’ Automatically, the one that was pointed at bent and pulled down my skirt, I punched him in the eye, he got angry and slapped me. I saw stars, shimmering, shiny, distorted. The other boys held me down; one held my two hands, the other, my two legs, I smelt the stench of marijuana stem out of their breath.
They each took turns to rape me and then they left, the one that I punched spat on my face as he walked away.
I cried through the night and cursed them. I could not leave that spot until the next morning. That morning, I made up my mind that I would make enough money and travel back to Okunlewe. I had had enough.
I wanted to tell Tina what had happened so that she would agree with me, so that she would say that there was no way I could find my mother in such a big city, and that I was chasing a lost cause, but Tina did not show up at the garage that morning.
My mother and Kemi were living comfortably, she had no other children for Yinka, he did not mind. The company was doing very well and Yinka made a lot of money, my mother did not even have to work. Kemi went to the best schools; she was now waiting to be admitted into the university.
Tina did not come to the garage that morning because she had quit as she could no longer stand the abuse, so she went to meet her aunt, the one that had brought her to the big city; her aunt was a trader that lived in another part of the city. Tina explained all that had happened between her and her former ‘madam’ to her aunt, who said she would find her another ‘madam’, but in the mean time, Tina had to look after the shop where her aunt sold clothing materials.
Tina was at her aunt’s shop, looking after it as she was instructed when she thought she saw me. ‘Morenike?’ She called.
Kemi looked at her. ‘My name is Kemi, not Morenike. Who are you?’ Kemi was with my mother, they had gone to buy some Ankara materials.
That was when Tina remembered the story I had told her, she became very excited. ‘Your twin, I know your twin – Morenike, I know where she is. I can take you to her.’
Of course Kemi had no idea what Tina was babbling about, but my mother did. She dragged Tina to a corner. ‘Where is this twin that you speak of?’
‘She’s at the garage, she works there.’ Tina said, ‘I can take you there.’
‘Are you sure you know what you are saying?’ Mother asked cautiously.
Tina dipped her index finger into her outstretched tongue, and then pointed it to the sky. ‘I swear.’
‘You say she’s at the garage?’
‘Yes, if you go there now, you will see her.’
‘Okay,’ Mother said and without another word, she dragged Kemi and started leaving.
‘But the clothes,’ Kemi protested.
‘Later,’ said my mother.
My mother and Kemi went straight back home, Yinka was there. My mother confessed everything about her past, about Okunlewe, and why she left. Yinka was suspiciously understanding – I found it strange, I thought he would have been angry at my mother but he wasn’t; however, Kemi, my twin, was livid.
She screamed at the top of her voice at my mother: ‘Why wasn’t she told that she was a twin?’ ‘What was she supposed to do now?’ She went on and on, screaming.
My mother and Yinka decided to go down to the garage to look for me. But before that, Tina had already come to tell me what she found.
‘Morenike,’ she had shouted, but I was in no mood for excitement.
I managed to smile at her.
She had asked what was wrong.
I had told her that I was leaving; there was no way I could find my mother in this big city.
‘I saw your mother and your sister,’ she had said. ‘They are at the other part of the city.’
I hissed. I wanted to hit Tina for having the audacity to make fun of me, to make fun of my impious predicament.
‘I am serious, I swear.’ She said.
I don’t know why I believed her, maybe I should not have, maybe I should have just gone back to the village as I had planned. With very little conviction, I decided to I followed her.
When we eventually got to the other part of the city, my mother and Yinka had gone to the garage. They searched for me and when they did not see me; they got direction to the bridge where I slept.
Tina asked almost everybody if they knew where someone who looked like me lived. Tina went into a compound to ask, I did not follow her, I was tired. Maybe she did not even know what she saw. I was about to give up and go back to the garage when a boy called. ‘Aunty Kemi, what happened to you? You look rough.’
I looked at the boy. ‘My name is Morenike. Where is your Aunty Kemi’s house?’
He pointed me to a big black gate across the road, and to the big black gate I went. Inside, was a white bungalow wherein Kemi, my replica, was seated on a sofa, as if she’d been waiting patiently for me to show up. Her eyes, bloodshot and swollen, her nose, running freely like an opened faucet. I can’t express how happy I felt when I saw her. I wanted to hug her, my best friend whom I had never met.
‘Kemi,’ I said, smiling.
Kemi wasn’t in the mood though. ‘Do I know you?’
I laughed teasingly. ‘You are my sister, you are my twin. We look alike.’
‘I don’t know you.’ Kemi frowned, her face was as stern as a carving; my heart skipped a couple of beats. ‘My mother does not know you either.’ She continued, ‘why do you think all that time she did not go back to the village to find you?’
‘Ah, Kemi, but…’
‘Don’t but me.’ Kemi screamed with anger in her voice, shutting me up.
‘I love you, and I love mummy.’ I did not know what else to call my mother.
‘Mummy?’ Kemi laughed hysterically. ‘She is not your mummy. And if you really love us, then you will leave us alone, and go back to your village.’
I was distraught. I never even stopped to imagine the reason why my mother never came back to Okunlewe to look for me. Maybe Kemi was right. Maybe they really did not want me in their lives. I stared at her one last time, my heart full of grief, I swallowed, with a lump in my throat, and then I left.
My thoughts were occupied by all the things that I’d just heard. But why wouldn’t my mother want me, and why was Kemi so hostile towards me? These thoughts took over; I did not even look before I started walking across the road.
The last thing I heard was Tina screaming my name. ‘MORENIKEEEEE.’ It was too late; the truck had already hit me.
I got to know everything when I arrived here, I learnt about what Kemi and my mother passed through when they first got to the city. I find it amusing that someone can compare a big city to heaven, a big city is nothing compared to this place. Now, when I think about it, I don’t hate Kemi for lying to me, perhaps she just wanted to protect her territory, perhaps she was scared of how my presence would complicate things, perhaps she had the right to scream me away. You know, there’s nothing scarier than a foreigner trying to distort a system that already works.
Yinka and my mother came back to find a huge crowd in front of their gate, all staring at my body. Yinka, at first, thought it was Kemi, but my mother knew right away that it was me, she cried, I felt sorry for her, it’s really very painful to lose the child you never had. Whatever her reason for not coming to look for me at Okunlewe was, and no matter what Kemi says, I always know that I am still my mother’s daughter.