by Dawn Wilson.
The first time he hit her, he had fled to the living room to cry. She had sat in front of the mirror crying when her mother walked into the room. “Your father is crying in the parlour. Go and tell him sorry.” She had been playing with the old shoes neatly lined in front of her and had stubbornly said “NO!”
He had hurt her and while she was angry, she was also confused. How could her father hurt her like that? She thought he liked her. Upon further sly cajoling from her mother, she had finally given in and went to the living room where she had thrown her little five year old arms around the crying man who couldn’t believe he had hit his own child and for what? Some broken bottles. Bottles that had gotten broken when she had crashed into the stacked crates outside while being a playful kid with her baby sister.
As she sat drinking her coffee while remembering this ugly scene from her past, it occurred to her that it must have been a shock for him that he had hit her however, seeing as he constantly hit her mother. It must have been his default setting to hit at whatever upset him and this time, it happened to be her. One time, she and her baby sister had been fooling around in the baby cot (both definitely too grown for it but still small enough to fit in and play). They had been jumping on the soft mattress and screaming delightedly at each other when the door suddenly burst open.
Her parents were locked in each other’s arms in a vicious wrestle. She couldn’t quite make out what they were screaming out at each other but the scene was startling. So engrossed were her parents in their fight that they didn’t even notice when they knocked over the cot with the two children frantically trying to get out of it. The children tumbled to the ground unhurt but scared. The cot had managed to fall over without harming them.
Somehow, the fighting parents made their way out of the room amid sounds of slaps, punches and thuds as they pulled each other this way and that. The babies hurdled in a corner too scared to move. Returning to reality, Ada smiled wanely into her coffee cup as steam rose steadily from the large mug. She remembered how she had noticed a rather large gash on her father’s side days after the fight and had maliciously scratched at the scab smiling wickedly when he winced. She was happy she had hurt him for hurting their mother.
She didn’t notice any more fights after that but there were many because her mother’s trips to the hospital never seemed to stop. Maybe they fought after the children had been dropped off at school or maybe she had willingly repressed the horrifying memories. She remembered one of said trips to the hospital where her mum had been diagnosed with a burst ear drum. The ear had been oozing yellow liquid and she had been prescribed some medication for it. Years later, her mother would tell her that it was due to a very bad slap she had received from her father.
She looked out to the busy street from the café window where she sat. The weather was beautiful. No rain or the threat of it at all. London was a beautiful place to be. It was the place of her heart though she was originally Nigerian but growing up as a child, she had been drawn to anything British and when she had endured one horrific relationship after another, she decided to stop dating unless the man was of British origin. Maybe it was because of the movies she watched or the few she had interacted with online and in reality but in her mind, British white men knew how to love and cherish women. They were real gentlemen and faithful too, so, when she had the chance to relocate, she had chosen London with the hope that she would meet the man she’d been waiting for all the while.
A shiver ran through her as her thoughts turned to the men she had encountered in life. There were so many mistakes to count as her therapist would later tell her that she had been looking for someone to fill the void her father had left inside her. Someone who could love her the way she wished her father could love her instead of the constant put downs and derogatory harsh remarks he regularly showered on her. The beatings were constant although she had been naughty a time or two but more often than not, the beatings bordered on brutality that sometimes she felt that her father hated the fact that he now had a family to take care of and was no longer free to just hang with the boys. She had never had a moment where her father had shown any form of pride in her or any of her siblings for that matter. In fact, the less the children saw of their father, the more at ease they all felt. The minute he returned from wherever, they would instantly retreat to their rooms and when he bellowed her name, she would quickly run through the day just to be sure she hadn’t done anything worthy of a beating.
Her therapist was right about her love life because her choices in hindsight were mind boggling. Most of the guys had no ambition and didn’t aspire to be more than survivors but so far as they showed her any amount of attention, she was game… She was in love. Yet, whenever she reached out to any of her so called loves for assistance of any kind then, their true colours shone through and before long (after sex of course) the relationship would fizzle out.
She remembered one of such men. Uwa was his name. The very thought of him always raised a sour taste on her tongue like the acidic taste you get when you lick certain types of metal. A frown crinkled her fore head as she remembered this man from her shadowy past. She had met him in university at a Monica’s birthday party. The plan had been that she would spend the night with Monica but by 11pm, Monica had changed her mind because her boyfriend wanted to sleep over. Ada would have to go back home if she wanted to as Monica had put it. At 11pm?!
Registering her displeasure at Monica’s fickle behavior she told her off and Monica in a bid to appease her clearly angry friend, had introduced her to Uwa whom she swore was a good guy and would house her for the night. Of course that didn’t happen as Uwa began to bother her minutes after they got to his house. Fearing rape, she let him have his way rather than suffer violent rape. Good guy indeed.
Come morning, she was so ashamed of what had happened that it was quite difficult leaving Uwa’s flat. He noticed and would later tell her that, in that moment he had known she was different. From what was clearly supposed to be a one night stand on Uwa’s part, they became lovers. They loved each other so much so that Uwa soon moved in with her. His parents were rich enough to afford anything and so, Uwa began providing for them both. But Uwa had a horrible side and was often too hard on her. It was like love and hate at the same time. While he would buy her little gifts, his attitude or words he used on her were horrible but the sex was of the charts however, there were moments when she wasn’t sure he even liked her.
One dark day, he had come home to find a male visitor (actually a course mate of hers) who left almost immediately and Uwa began to question her about him. Who he was, why he was in their house and all that. She did her best to explain and since they would eventually get married (something he always said), she felt it right to tell him that at some point, she would end up working with men. He snapped at this and beat her up so badly making sure to scratch up her face. Of course scratching her face was to make her unattractive to the opposite sex and after this, still, she stayed with him.
From that first beating, the beatings never stopped. Uwa would beat her up for the slightest thing and one day, things would come to a head when in the middle of foreplay, he had gotten angry about her response and beaten her up. Rage welled inside her and she had tried to fight back and this time he not only used his hands, he had used his teeth. For days, she had to cover up completely to hide the bite marks on her legs and hands. Uwa would finally graduate and with her having one more year to graduate, that was the end of that relationship.
She remembered how Uwa would cry after every beating he gave her. He was so sorry he would say. “How could I hurt someone I care about? How could I hurt the woman I am going to marry?” Shifting uncomfortably at the thought, broken out of her reverie when the café door opened to some noisy customers laughing and joking about. She followed their movements with her eyes wondering which of them in the group were dating. She watched them settle in still gisting away as a waitress walked up to take their orders. She watched as one of the guys in the group took the hand of a girl amongst them and theatrically kissed her hand. She smiled as they laughed. They all looked happy. Almost as happy as she had felt with Thompson until he had tried to kill her.
She had met Thompson a year after Uwa. Thompson had been a really bad boy in his hey days and had told her this much but swore that he had changed. He never laid a hand on her but was a parasite. She fed, housed and paid his bills. Still, she stayed. In her mind, she possibly couldn’t do better than him. She was lucky to have a man like Thompson want her so she happily catered for his every need that was until the day they’d had an argument while lying in bed suddenly, Thompson was on top of her choking the life from her.
She remembered beating at his hands as he wrapped them around her neck tightly. Her chest burned as she made choking sounds. She felt her tongue on her lips as her tongue began protruding from her mouth. She thrashed about but Thompson was a heavy set man and she couldn’t shake him. “I am going to die” she thought. Still feebly beating at his hands, tears rolled down her eyes when suddenly, he let go of her.
Gulping in precious air, she coughed and coughed as she rolled away from him towards the front door. He sat up silently watching her and after minutes had gone by with neither saying anything, she walked into the bathroom to silently shed tears. Later that night, she would ask him what he would have done if she had died and he had replied “I would have folded you inside a bag and dumped you at any lonely bush I could find.” She was shocked at this response and still, she stayed.
Of course, the relationship with Thompson soon crashed and she decided to stay alone. Clearly, cupid didn’t like her and most Nigerian men were horrible so she saw no point in dating or even sleeping with any man no matter how horny she got. It was about this time that she decided to leave the country. There was nothing left in Nigeria for her and upon getting to the UK and still being unable to break out of her shell, she opted for therapy.
“It seems to me, the therapist had said that you are still looking for acceptance. That acceptance your father never gave you, you now seek from romantic liaisons. The sad thing is, because you do not have much value for yourself that you give yourself to anyone who shows the slightest interest in you good or bad.”
“Do you know how precious you are?” The therapist had told her in one of their sessions and then made her stand in front of a mirror. “Look at yourself” the therapist gently ordered. Look at the pain you have endured and yet, you are still standing. Look in your eyes and see the worth. Look at how beautiful you are. Look at the strength you possess. Many would have given up and done something drastic but you, you sought help because you are strong. It takes a strong person to reach out and say I need help.”
The therapist went on to ask her “do you deserve to love and be loved?” Still looking in the general direction of the mirror, she shrugged and answered… ”I don’t know, I guess.” It was a sad acceptance of a broken soul. It would take several months of therapy for her to change her answer to a resounding “yes, yes I do deserve to love and be loved. She would startle the therapist by adding… “So what if my father never accepted me” she said looking straight at the mirror no longer slouching. She met her eyes in the mirror. My father’s issues do not define me. I am done selling myself short. I am done believing that less is more for me. I am done allowing people disrespect me. I am done trying to make people like me by allowing them walk all over me. If they do not like me and walk away. So be it because I matter. I have worth. I am somebody.” In saying all of this, the tears wouldn’t stop coming. She faced her reflection squarely crying while saying “I matter. I am a woman of worth. I matter.” The therapist let her cry it all out. She had finally had her breakthrough.
Her transformation was gradual but steady. She began to learn to enjoy life. Being in a relationship was no longer the ultimate goal in life but living. She began to try new things. Food, travel, music you name it, she tried it. Even the things that scared her like bungee jumping and sky diving she did it all. And when she eventually met Dave, quirky funny Dave with his dancing blue eyes and very British behavior, she gave in when she felt ready. She gave in on her own terms. Gone was the pick me! Pick me attitude. Gone was the “don’t leave me” attitude. In its place was a “take me or leave me” girl who had faced the blackest of storms and had come out the other side better for it.
She smiled again but this time, her smile was no longer sad. She knew she would always have her past with her as that journey through darkness had brought her to the woman she now was. With that thought, she got up, paid for her coffee and left a rather hefty tip for the smiling but tired waitress who had served her. Everyone needed a break and with that thought, Ada walked out into the sunshine.
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