Kelechi had been severely beaten and gored by her assailants. In their opinion it had all been in fun and jest. What kind of woman does not like being pursued by men? It was not as if she was a virgin. She already had a child that she spoke of but had not even bothered to bring with her. She was probably one of these wayward women who had got herself in trouble and was hiding out at the Mission house. You can’t trust these girls. She was probably doing it with some of the reverend fathers. Why else would she get to live there free of charge. The boys spit on the busy dusty, street that was bejeweled with pot holes as they turned back toward the Mission house. Any way, why would a woman leave her people and move into the Catholic Mission house? Nothing is free in this Nigeria, O!
The frightened young woman had run into the house next door. Her clothes were torn and her body was bloodied. She had forgotten to be afraid of the crazy dogs in the yard she ran into. She had not given one thought to all the plants that covered the house. Better to be bitten by mean dogs than to have sex with those crazy boys. Kelechi was not aware of the fact that her hip bone had been broken in her insane encounter with the Mission house boys. Those boys could not be any older than her own younger brothers in the village, but this was what not having any money brought to her life. This was the story of her life of being poor in Lagos!
Kelechi banged on the door with both fists. “Mama! Mama! Mama! Please open your door! Mama! I beg you. Please open your door”, she yelled desperately; all the while looking wildly behind her to see if the men had followed her. It seemed like an eternity before the older woman came to the door. She was clearly frightened because she lived alone and the dogs who were still in the gated backyard were barking furiously at the sound of an intruder in their territory. No one came into the yard without their consent. The dogs were in the habit of sniffing anyone who entered the yard they protected before allowing the guests entry or holding them hostage until their mistress arrived.
The older woman opened the door and gasped to see a bloodied half dressed young woman at her door. Without as much of a word she let the girl in. Then she quickly shut and bolted the door behind her, leaving the wounded girl to find her way to a chair. The older woman walked briskly through the house to the back yard and released her dogs so that they could wander freely to the front of the house. Not until she was certain that the dogs had reached her intended destination did she return to her clearly wounded uninvited guest to begin to ascertain the source of her troubles.
“What happened to you? You are one of the people in the Catholic Mission next door, aren’t you?” the older woman inquired. Kelechi was now beginning to feel the pain in her throbbing body. She still could not respond and now began to cry. Her tears were both tears of relief at having escaped the crazy boys and tears from the pain that shot through her head now that her body was at rest. Although all that came from the girl were tears and the heaving created by her intense cries, Mama boomed, “They won’t dare follow you into my yard.”
Mama went to fetch her round brown first aid box that was filled with everything from a pair of scissors to iodine and gauze. She also got some soap, some methylated spirits, some water and several hand towels. Kelechi was in too much pain to look around the room or to be nervous around Mama. She was just glad that the older woman had let her in. Mama looked the girl over and began to clean the blood mixed in with dirt and sweat from the girl’s body with a wet towel. “This is going to burn”, she warned the girl as she continued the cleaning with methylated spirit drenched cotton wool. The girl barely winced. She was in too much pain to feel the burning of the methylated spirits.
Mama handed the girl a wet towel with which to wipe her face. The girl looked briefly into her benefactor’s face and then looked to the floor in shame. Finally the girl spoke. Her eyes were firmly glued on an invisible object on the floor. “I am Kelechi. I just came to the Mission house a little while back because I have no where to live. I used to sell food at St. Agnes bus stop by the school.” She stopped and Mama waited. Mama continued to attend to the girl’s ravaged body.
“I…The boys were chasing me. I was running away from the boys.””Hmm”, was Mama’s only retort as she offered the girl a yellow plastic cup filled with drinking water. “Wait for me. Let me get you some beans.” Then she left the room.The young girl finally looked up as the older woman left for the kitchen. She pulled the remains of her dress closer to her body and looked around the room as if she were in a dream. She could not believe that she was actually sitting inside the house of the older woman that she had been warned to be careful of.
Her sentencing had occurred on a hot dry December day. Kelechi had gone to fetch her bath water from the pump in the yard of the Mission house. She had lived there for about three weeks. The boys, who had been her judge, had been friendly at first. They had called her Aunty and had inquired about her life and what had brought her to the Mission house. She had told them about her child and that she would only take residence in the extra room beneath the stairs that the reverend fathers had provided her for only a short while.
She had failed to tell them that she could no longer afford to buy the flour and the other necessary ingredients for the buns she fried and sold or that she had no skills she could market and was not willing to beg on the sides of the streets or prostitute herself. She had been too ashamed to tell them the real reason she was there.It was sometime after that that the boys had begun to tease her about how much better her life would be if she had a man. The boys thought it their right to solicit sex from her at any time. Each time she had turned them away and told them that her body was not for sale. The boys became angrier at each rejection.
They had left her alone for a couple of days. Then she noticed that whenever she came out of her room, they were huddled together talking and pointing at her. She began to try to avoid them. She stayed in her room most of the time because she did not want any trouble. She knew she could not afford a room anywhere if she lost this one room she had been granted through the generosity of the priests at her church.
The boys frequently lingered outside the boys quarters shower stall that was intended for domestics when she went to take a shower in the mornings. Then one day they pushed the door wide open while she was bathing and still had soap on her face. She recalled the humiliation she felt as they stood at the door and laughed at her nakedness while she cowered into a corner of the tiny shower stall trying to grab her wrapper from the nail on which it hung so that she could cover her soapy body. She did not want any trouble. They had lived there much longer than she had. She could not afford to lose the roof over her head. She had simply grabbed her clothes, bar of hand made local soap, her make-shift shredded packaging sponge and soap scum covered worn purple plastic bucket and returned to her room half bathed. She had sworn never to wash in the common shower again.
Her morning routine had then begun with washing her face rapidly with water she now saved in a bowl in the corner of her room that barely fit a pallet for sleeping made of her clothes which were the extent of all her worldly possessions.It was only after that that she would fetch her bath water at the communal water pump under the watchful eyes of the public when all the other employees of the Mission house had arrived but always in advance of the time when parishioners who came to see the reverend fathers trailed in. Finally she would return to her room to stand in a large basin to wash herself down.
Bathing and the fact that she had not stooped to begging, stealing or prostitution were the only pleasures she derived in this life. Those were the only things that helped her remember that she was human and not a chicken or goat that wandered the streets. She had accepted the fact that she was going to be confined like a prisoner until she left her temporary shelter or until the boys found a new interest. No. It did not end like that at all. How could she have known those wild animals had other plans for her that hungry December day?
That morning she had gone to get bath water as usual feeling foolishly safe because the workers had arrived. The boys had surprised her. They had all rushed up on her at once. Her bucket had gone flying out of her hand and she had no weapon, save her self nor did she have a means of escape. She had shouted for help moving from one boy to the other scoping the horizon hoping that some of the women who were lazily sweeping the yard some 40 odd feet away would intervene; they finally did; but only after they had given the boys enough time to expose her nakedness and beat her mercilessly with the metal pipes they had conveniently found in the compound.
The workers had become a jeering jury, yelling and shrugging their shoulders at what they thought was deserved punishment for a crime they just assumed she had committed. It was not until they heard the sound of a car that they thought was driving into the compound that they dispersed because one of the cleaning women had brought it to their attention. Kelechi ran. She ran as fast as she could. She ran because she knew she was running for her life. She was sure those boys were behind her. Yes. That was how she ended up in the mama’s house next door. She had been totally surprised at how fast she had unlatched the mama’s gate which usually seemed to be locked and even more surprised that the mama had let her in.
How could the black white woman who would not let anyone throw refuse or urinate into the gutter outside her house or park their cars in front of her gate actually let her in to her prized house? Kelechi was confused but grateful. The old woman had washed her wounds as if she were her own daughter. Mama re-entered the room punctuating Kelechi’s thoughts, “I think you have some broken bones, but it should not prevent you from eating beans.” The grateful girl attempted to stand up to receive the plate of beans and sank back into the chair in excruciating pain. “Sit down. Here. Let me bring this stool nearer to you so you can eat. You have gone through a horrible experience.” Mama said gently as she pushed the triangular stool over to the injured girl. “Thank ma.’ The girl responded as she hungrily devoured the plate heaped full of beans. “You need a doctor. I do not know how to fix broken bones, but I know you should not try to move around in your condition.”
Join the discussion