In 2008, she was sent to school empty with no food, not even toothpaste. Just two thousand naira. Her parents had told her that there was no money. She had a thousand and four hundred naira left when she got to campus. She decided to buy a bar soap, toothpaste, and a toothbrush. Left with a thousand and two hundred naira and not knowing what food to buy from it, she returned to her hostel and curled up in bed as her roommates offloaded their bags of food from home. “You look so lean and pale. Are you sick? One of them had asked. “I’m fine now” she responded. She was not sick, she lied out of embarrassment. By the next morning, she woke up to the news of the party her parents threw to host their club the same day she left home. It pierced her heart.
Every thing began to make sense. Her father had told her that if she were a decent and considerate child she would have postponed her university education for his extramarital child to complete hers first. He further went to brag to Tola’s face that his other child would be very successful and bag scholarships because she is respectful of her father. Those were days of innocence, Tola took no offence. She had stopped expecting things from her father in SS2 when she asked and did not receive. It was understood that her father’s family never wanted her for her gender and her complexion and they had plainly communicated it to her. Somehow, she only felt a tinge of rejection while experiencing it because she did not expect much from them. Seeing her father express the same sentiments as them only added pain to the tinge of rejection. She simply managed it by withdrawing into a shell, away from him. It was easy to manage provided it came from him. It was impossible to manage when it came from her mother. Tola had extolled her sacrifices and motherhood. The anticlimax of her mom was difficult to bear. It crushed her. Once, she was drenched in her tears at 11pm and her friend had to visit and offer comfort.
Life did not get easier. It got tougher and she had to toughen up. Toughening up gave her an adapted personality, but it helped her move on. A crucial point came in time and Tola was not just abandoned by her mother, she was lied to. This forced her to remember her 1999/2000 session in secondary school. Her mother, in trying to establish a legacy of success had exempted her elder sister from all chores to give her time to prepare for WASSCE. Her success would be a family legacy. Tola stepped up to fill the gap. It was stressful. That was when her appetite changed. Running the family, trekking over 10km to school, 1.5km to fetch water, and another 5km to get supplies for dinner, while looking after two younger siblings and a baby brother at 11-13years took its toll on her school performance. She sat for her junior WASSCE and passed, but she does not look at the certificate because the grades do not represent her abilities. It was a sacrifice for the family and it will be worth it, provided her elder sister was successful at her final exams. Thankfully, she was. A family legacy was established. Tola was next in line to propagate the legacy. Years passed by quickly and when she was to write the exam, there was no exemption from house chores for her to prepare. Nobody even cared. The policy had been abolished. Her brothers challenged her on the legitimacy of the policy and won. Only one legacy remained, to pass the exam at a sitting. It was no big feat to achieve because it was imperative by her own standards to pass it once. Getting into secondary school, her father had threatened that if she did not pass the entrance and interview exams to get into the desired school, he was going to dump her in an unrated community school. Tola already foresaw depression and hooliganism as definite outcomes of such a school and every time she remembered the threat, she was motivated afresh to pass both exams. Academic excellence became her own culture. Something she must achieve with or without threats or help, even when it meant studying under the moonlight.
She had pushed on, firmly believing that education and faith in God liberates from shackles and limitations. She had believed in family – a safe place where you will always be welcome, no matter what. However, 2019 rolled into 2020 and while she was still looking out for family and clinging on to every thread of relationship with them while slipping into the abyss, they could not hear her cry for help. She had wept for a straight week. The uncontrollable tears of abandonment. She was in agony. Her heart ached.
Sometimes in March, she balled into a corner and wept for hours. She had earlier told her mother that she might be battling depression but her mother had rebuked it in Jesus’ Name. Scared that she was losing her mind, she called a friend and told him she would have to see a therapist but she was too broke to afford one. Winter was intense. She stopped running and hiding and called her mother “you are the one I’m angry at”, she lamented “Mummy, you really abandoned me. What have I done wrong? You come through for everyone except me. I feel unwanted and abandoned.” Like a mother, she allowed her. “You’re wanted. Don’t ever feel unwanted”she responded “just understand that I bear the responsibilities alone and I’m trying my best.” Tola experienced a moment of catharsis. She felt relieved.
For a while, she came into healing when she stopped running and addressed the source of this new channel of anger. She did not feel like she needed therapy anymore. It was sorted out. She was fine. She reconnected with the family group and reverted to saviour mode, looking for whose needs can be met, checking on people, and trying to foster relationships. Once, she had told her mother that she did not know that her sister was owed a month’s salary but her mother had responded on the group that that is what happens when you are not close to people. It felt like a public jab. Her idea of a family was a unit more closely knit than the Kardashian unit, but overtime she had come to terms with the fact that her family was not designed that way. She could only try to build her own future family as she desires. Ignoring the jab, she apologised to her sister and moved to assist financially while wallowing in a financial mess herself. She spotted acne on her youngest sister and moved to fix it by ordering some products. That would be the most they have spoken in the year. She sourced a business project for her youngest brother. It did not take long for her to see that the relationships were plastic, they were not working. Worried about the same thing years ago, she had complained to her mother that most of her siblings only hollered when they needed something and she was beginning to feel used and unloved. Here she was again with nothing tangible to discuss with her siblings. Each person seemed to be involved with their own friends, their own social media, their own worlds. One could literally send a message and get ignored for days. When she got tired of reaching out, she hollered her sister and told her that she’d not heard from her in a while and she felt like they were drifting apart. Her sister had apologised and made an excuse that the family group was enough platform for communication. She got the message. It was almost the last time she made much attempt to communicate. Respecting people’s space was important. While not trying to have a transactional relationship but a meaningful one, she still decided to send a token to warm up the atmosphere for communication.
It did not take long for her to see that there was no genuine relationship.
Her brother who might share a similar degree of abandonment had reached out for a need but received no attention, not even in words. She had reached out to him and sent a token. Shortly after that, a party ensued. She reached out to her sister and asked why inspite of the fact that the family ignored his need, we responded with a party. As a non-aggrieved fencist, she responded that she had stopped letting herself get worked up by such. Her response took Tola to 2017 when her sister was in need but she could not help. She did not take the position of the non-aggrieved fencist when she realised that mother had the means to help; rather, Tola stood as her sister’s advocate and pleaded a good case, urging mother that her sister might plunge into depression if the family did not help. Mother instantly helped though it was not convenient for her. Father and her elder sister had an excellent relationship and he is often happy to come to her aid. Tola realised that her sister could have taken up a more active position than the placid stance. Perhaps, a fundamental difference in personality. She remembered how her friend’s non-limpid approach was the bone behind the success of her sister. She did not only mobilise the family on two occasions to rescue her from depression, she challenged the embassy legally and got her baby sister her visa. Talk about the strength and safety of family even when you fail.
Tola soaked herself in the tub as though to rinse away her embarrassment. She had recently lashed out at her brother and though she knew she was right, she felt she was wrong and apologised, promising to not antagonise him again. She was exasperated not just by the issue at hand, but by the string it pulled. Her brother was of the religious stock that idolised ignoble leaders as some messiah. One’s political inclination is not a problem as much as where they stand on matters of justice and humanity. Morality became immoral the moment it united with sycophancy and bigotry to justify injustice against humanity. People could disagree on inflation indices, doctrines, economic policies, but where it pertains to (racially motivated) murders, religious terrorism, (religion motivated) women subjugation, violation of human rights, injustice against children, and such issues that fundamentally stem from who you are, Tola believed that if your opinions on these topics consistently align in a certain direction, you do not have an opinion, you have a character. She had lashed out at her brother and stormed out. Though she was right, she felt she was wrong in that uncomfortable conversations that drive change cannot be held in isolation and must be held without aggression. Her mother reached out to her and told her to grow in maturity and wisdom. Her father reached out with similar words. Her siblings fenced her out. Nobody gave a hoot if she was dead or alive.
Embarrassed and defeated, she wished she had not lashed out. Not because she craved the non-existent relationships, but because she could have not made things worse by jarring their feelings. She returned into hiding for days and tried to confront what was consuming her.
“Ifeanyi, I lashed out again.” She texted a friend who is a doctor.
“You’ve tried. I can’t blame you”
“I’ve apologised but I will stay away to deal with this. I think this is depression. It’s been more challenging this year.”
“I know you. You’re bigger than depression. It’s normal to lash out. It’s normal to cry. I’m almost depressed myself and you will help me out.”
“Thank you. It’s not normal. If you knew me before, you’d know it’s not normal. I’ll need some space.”
“Please don’t push me away, baby.”
“I’m not pushing you away. I promise you. I just need some time to face this.”
“Okay. I’ll be here if you need me.”
Tola felt alone in a dark pit. Ifeanyi did not know her enough to help her. He had been through a lot and been a very good friend, she did not want to afflict him with her woes or sap the energy out of the friendship. She also did not want to disturb Austin, who just found love. Austin was a key reason she had survived the year. Her very own guardian angel. She knew who she must talk to, her soul mate, her brother, her friend and lover, he was eight hours away and must be asleep, but she had blocked him. Blocked him over a communal tragedy. She had missed him every single day since she blocked him but was terrified to unblock him. She had blocked him to preserve the sweet memories and prevent the bad ones from forming. Unblocking him was a risk she was willing to take. His arms will always be open.
“Hi Ayobami, I know I have unfriended and blocked you. I’m struggling with depression. I need you.” Tola summoned courage to push the send button.
He instantly responded and gave her a call.
“Babe, let’s go through this together. You don’t have to fight this alone.”
“It aggravated in 2018, when I started lashing out” Tola dissolved into tears as she recounted history.
“I knew it! It was 2018. I saw the changes. I’d sometimes see your reaction to certain things and tell myself that this is not Tola. How did your family not see this?… Where was I when you were homeless?… I’m so sorry. I’ve never seen you this emotional and I’m sorry I made you block me by not choosing my words. How did your sister not see that you’re lashing out?… And your brothers?… It’s a cry for help. I knew when it began to happen because you’re a pure soul and so full of love. You have a saviour mentality like I do, but I’ll need you to be there for yourself for now. Just a little selfishness. I’m happy that you reached out to me.”
“You’re the one person who truly knows me.”
“I was afraid your last memory of me would be horrible. It shattered me. You’re the one person I’ll always love and nothing will change that… let’s do this more often… you’re not alone. Let’s do this together. Okay? I’ve never seen you this emotional but I can assure you that we will win. I love you always”.
“Thank you for taking my call.”
With that, it was easier for Tola to embrace the night, feeling looked after and not abandoned. Having unburdened her heart and facing her shame in tears, she knew the powers the abyss held over her were broken. Her friend came in as a one-man SWAT team with a beam of light from the chopper and a lifeline to rescue her. She was thrown into the pit, but like Joseph, she was sure of getting out; like Jesus, the grave will not hold her down.