Confessions of a tired “perfect” African child

“Nwa m, you’ve changed.” My mother looked at me with wide eyes as my hands were clasped around her wrist.

“No, I didn’t. I just got tired of trying to please you.” I said.

And that was the truth.

But before we get to the root of this matter, let me take you to the place where it all began…

Growing up in a strict Catholic household was synonymous to what I imagined hell fire to be – a place full of mental agony.

I was the only daughter of my single mother. I was the Apple of her eyes. Of course, the Apple that my mother created, not God.

At the age of 6, my mother gave me a list of things that would make me not “rapturable”;

  1. Nose piercing — Hell fire
  2. High heels — Hell fire
  3. Colored hair — Hell fire
  4. Short dress — Hell fire
  5. Earring — Hell fire
  6. Waist beads — Hell fire
  7. Leg chain — Hell fire
  8. Tattoo — Hell fire
  9. Fixing nails — Hell fire
  10. Make up — Hell fire
  11. Looking into the eyes of a man — Hell fire
  12. Not bending when you greet — Hell fire
  13. Skipping rosary prayer for one day — Hell fire
  14. Missing one Sunday mass — Hell fire
  15. Skipping Holy Communion — Hell fire
  16. Going to Pentecostal church — Hell fire
  17. Watching movie — Hell fire
  18. Listening to music — Hell fire
  19. Singing — Hell fire
  20. Jumping — Hell fire
  21. Sleeping — Hell fire
  22. Snoring — Hell fire
  23. Being a woman — Hell fire

Obviously, the last 7 were not part of my mother’s list. But you get where I am coming from. My mother was over-exaggerating.

At the age of 7, my mother knelt me down in front of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s statue at the back of our big parlor in the house. She knelt down next to me and made me take a vow in front of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s statue. I vowed to never disrespect her or any elder. I vowed to never dress indecently. I vowed to abstain from sex before marriage. I vowed to never be friends with any boy. And I vowed to be silenced; to never talk back to anybody even if they offend me. Because Jesus said, “When somebody slaps you on one cheek, turn the other.”

Looking back at it now made me realize how unreasonable the vows were. I was too young to understand any of it.

But as the perfect daughter I was, I religiously followed them and everything else she told me to do.

“Chioma Obiakaeze.” My mother would call my full name when she wants to give me a warning after beating me for the slightest mistake I made, “You will thank me for this one day.”

“Yes, mama. Thank you for beating me.” I would foolishly reply back every time this happened.

I grew up as a quiet girl. Never voicing out my opinions.

I grew up with scars all over my body, because God forbid my mother “spare the rod and spoil the child”.

I grew up with only female friends. I mean, what do you expect from a girl who only attended an all-girls Catholic primary and secondary school.

But little by little, the farther I was away from my mother, the more I began to see the light. The truth. The truth that would set me free from this mental agony.

At age 12, I got an award for Best Behaved Girl in my class because I was quiet. Looking back at it now, it was absurd. The award for best behaved girl was supposed to be for girls who used their voice to make a difference and those who worked hard to accomplish something phenomenal in their academics, not for their quietness. There was no reward for being silenced.

In my mother’s dictionary, being quiet is synonymous to being a good girl.

But like the popular saying goes;

Ndi na ano wayo kacha di egwu.

The quiet ones are the most dangerous ones.

At age 13, I rebelled against my mother for the first time, but behind her back. I stopped doing the sign of the cross every 5 seconds, after two girls in my class made fun of me for it.

At age 15, I talked back. Actually, I fought back. I fought back the two girls who had been bullying me for two years. Even though we were all punished for it by our form teacher, I felt good. Releasing the anger inside of me felt good. And that was the moment I began to realize that my mother was… not always right.

At age 16, I made a male friend who was the son of the senior girls hostel’s matron. He was nice. And ugly.

At age 17, I had my first kiss on graduation day with the matron’s son. It was nice. I wanted more. But I knew the more wasn’t going to come from him.

And so, everything changed when I finally entered university. I attended a public university in Enugu, my first ever experience of being in a crowd with boys. For some weird reason, I was relieved to be far away from my mother in Abuja.

I was finally… free.

At age 18, I tore my mother’s list. I lost my virginity. I got nose piercing and tongue piercing. I wore waist beads and leg chains and felt sexy in them, without feeling judged. I didn’t smoke, but I drank.

At age 18 too, I had my first boyfriend. His name was Femi. He attended another university in Enugu. I got a tattoo of my Yoruba boyfriend’s name on my inner laps so that whenever he wants to eat my destiny out or have sex with me, he would admire it.

I never went back home during the holidays. I often lied to my mother that school was keeping me busy and she always believed me, her perfectly innocent, sweet, religious and hardworking daughter. Well, my grades and church attendance showed the opposite.

I often travelled to Lagos with Femi or my friends and booked a cheap hotel room for the first week. If we were not able to pay the bills, we ran away.

There was so much freedom in being mischievous. Nobody could tell us what to do. We were in control and I had never felt more alive than this. I finally felt like the real Chioma Obiakaeze. The one God created me to be, not the one my mother created me to be.

At age 19, I learnt that the slang Yoruba Demon was not a slang but facts. I experienced my first heartbreak. No, he wasn’t a Yoruba demon because he broke my heart. It was because I found out he had 27 other girlfriends and I was not one of them.

At age 20, I tried to love again. It worked out for a while because he was a good guy. But I got bored. I wanted a bad guy like Femi in a loyal boy’s body. But that seemed… quite impossible.

After going through my second heartbreak with this good guy, which was less painful, I started dating multiple men at the same time. Not that I got into a committed relationship with them. I just tried testing the waters before diving into it. But before the water could reach my ankle, there was always something off about each man that made me take my legs out of the water and never turn back.

Plus, I didn’t want another blood in my hands.

I killed Femi the last time we had sex while we dated. I never got to tell him it was over, I just did it with my actions.

We were cuddled up after my final taste of heaven in hell’s body. I stared at him sleeping very peacefully and I couldn’t help but wonder why he deserved to be at peace after all the evil he did to me. And his 27 other girlfriends.

And so, I put a pillow over his face and held on to it until he stopped shaking. That was how he died. After three days, it was declared all over the news that he died from asthma attack because he forgot his inhaler in his trouser pockets. Case closed.

Nobody saw me and him together that day because we had snuck into the boys’ hostel when his school was closed for holiday. And so, everybody assumed he had been hiding in the hostel from his 27 girlfriends who also recently found out they were not the only girl in his life. How he got away with this? I don’t know.

I didn’t feel guilty for killing him. I thought I did the right thing because that was the only way I could release my anger. Heartbreak was a demon. It was a spiritual force that drove you wild.

All my life I’ve been told how to dress. I’ve been told how to compete with other girls in being the perfect wife. I’ve been told what manners to have. I’ve been told not to speak up and just suppress my anger. But never was I told how to control my anger. Never was I told what kind of men to avoid. They just let me off the streets as a sheep to the wolves. And now, this sheep has become a wolf too.

At age 21, I learnt that true romantic love is a myth and only for the brave. Because this heart don tire finish.

And so, I got a sugar daddy. He was a reverend father in the Catholic Church next to my school. Even though I never thought of the idea of priests getting paid for their service in church, I knew this man was loaded with money. He was well connected with politicians and big men in Enugu state.

The best part about having this reverend father as a sugar daddy was that nobody suspected anything. I would often go to meet him for my Friday evening “prayers”, and the next morning, I would get a credit alert from a “donation” the priest made into my account for my non-existent sick sister.

It was all fun and games until I fell pregnant. Predictable, isn’t it?

I had to go all the way to Lagos to meet an elderly woman who secretly did abortions for young girls who did not want their gist to be exposed.

I almost died during the abortion and it was at that moment that I knew God was punishing me for sleeping with His anointed.

But it didn’t end there, I still went back to the reverend father’s bed from time to time. But this time, I was more scared than ever.

I stopped the sex and I lost my only source of income.

I learnt that if religion cannot stop you from having sex before marriage, pregnancy scare will.

I had to get my life together and tried to be the girl that my mother groomed me to be. But it was too late. Mummy’s Chioma Obiakaeze was dead and gone. I had to survive on the little money I had left from my sugar daddy’s “donations”.

At age 23, I learnt that being perfect and trying to please everybody is more exhausting than trying to make a Yoruba demon loyal. My mother and a few aunties came to visit Enugu for a wedding. I got rid of all my Jezebel outfits and put on my Holy Mary Mother of God clothes to impress my mother. But I hated how ugly those clothes made me look. I hated how I had to put on a “perfect child” act for my mother and the aunties at the wedding in order to feel accepted.

The aunties said I would make a good wife. But in their own interpretation, it meant I would make a good “doormat”. The aunties telling me to go and get married makes me not want to get married more. I was not going to join them in their misery of Doormat Kingdom.

At age 24, I finally went back home after I graduated with a pass mark, after having multiple carryovers these past few years.

I lied to my mother on the phone that I graduated with a 2:1 but the certificate was still in school. I thought she was going to scold me for not getting a first class mark, but it seemed like being away from home for a long time had soften her spirit for me.

But she didn’t know what was coming for her.

I arrived home in the real Chioma Obiakaeze’s self. I was dressed in my Jezebel outfit and still had my piercings on.

When my mother took her first glance at me, she could not believe her eyes. She thought I was a complete stranger.

I went to my room without saying anything to her as the last thing I needed from her was her fanatic preaching.

My mother and I lived in the house like strangers for a week. We never spoke to each other because I knew she was still recovering from her shock. Every time she saw me, she started “pleading the blood of Jesus”. I just ignored her every time she did that.

Things got out of hand when I came back home one evening and I found my mother pouring anointing oil all over my room to cast out the demon that has entered her only daughter.

I tried to stop my mother from pouring more anointing oil around my room but she began pouring the oil on me and speaking in tongues. I grabbed the bottle from her and threw it on the ground.

She shouted and stared back at me in shock. Next thing I knew, she rose her hand to slap me but I grabbed her wrist before she could touch my face.

“Nwa m, you’ve changed.” My mother finally spoke, as she looked at me with wide eyes as my hands were still clasped around her wrist.

“No, I didn’t. I just got tired of trying to please you.” I admitted.

It didn’t take up to 5 minutes before I saw myself outside my mother’s house, standing outside the gate in the cold night. My mother had kicked me out of the house.

I left my house area to look for somewhere comfortable I could stay for the night. But I didn’t find any.

I sat outside a restaurant and watched families, friends and couples have a good time from a distance. It was then that I began to feel that sting that I had never felt before. The sting of the realization of one fact:

I was alone. I always have been.

For the first time, I thought of my father who died not long after I was born. Would things have been different if he was alive? Or would things have been much worse? Would he be stricter than my mother? Or would he have been the one to soften my mother’s blow?

I cried for the first time. Not for my father, but for the life I would have lived if he were alive. Maybe my mother’s fanaticism wouldn’t have gotten the best of me that it made me lose control when I finally got my freedom.

I wanted to blame my mother. I really wanted to. But my life and the choices I made were also in my own hands as well. Making excuses for them would not undo everything I have lost.

I walked around the streets like a lost dog. It was lonely. It was cold. It was empty. It was the perfect description of my life.

The question now was, where was I going to start from? How was I going to undo everything that has happened from my reckless living? I wanted a home. I wanted to feel accepted. I wanted to be free.

And just like that, I found my way back home, standing in front of the house gate.

I pushed the gate door, thinking it would be locked but to my surprise, it was open. I walked into the compound and found the house door open as well. My mother left it open… for me?

I walked in slowly, hoping to see my mother jumping in front of me with a stick in her hand. But she wasn’t there.

Instead, I saw her kneeling face down in front of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s statue at the back of our parlor. We were back to the place where it all started.

I walked towards her quietly, hoping she would not turn around and pour another anointing oil on my face again. I knelt down next to her and she didn’t move even when she felt my presence next to her.

“Mama.” I called her. But she did not respond.

“Mama.” I called again.

“Nwa m.” She finally called out to me.

She rose her head and stared at the Virgin Mary’s statue.

“I can’t fix you.” She said, “I can’t use you to amend for my past sins either.”

She sighed and continued.

“I wasn’t the best child to my parents either. And I tried so hard to use you to make up for what I had done to my parents in the past. And now, it’s coming back to me.”

I didn’t know where all these confessions were coming from, but I must say, I think my mother was possessed.

“What do you want, Nwa m?” She asked me. “What do you really want?”

I stared at her to see if she was serious, and she actually was. It took a short while for me to get an answer out of my head before I knew what I really wanted,

“I don’t want to be like you, mama.”

She finally looked at me. But not in surprise. It’s like she saw it coming. I could see it in my mother’s eyes, she was tired too. Tired of everything she worked so hard for.

“Are you happy?” She asked, “With yourself?”

Her question stung on my chest like I’ve been stabbed. Because…

“No.” I whimpered, “No, I’m not happy at all, mama.”

And with that confession, I began to cry. I was not happy. I was never happy. I was never happy being the perfect girl my mother wanted me to be, neither was I happy being the reckless girl I’ve been trying to live as. Both worlds created emptiness in me.

“So, what are you going to do about it?” My mother asked me.

I thought long and hard about this question. And there was only one thing left for me to do.

Start again. Start a whole new life.

And mama, you were right. I would thank you for everything you did to me one day. Because you made me realize something.

I would never be like you.

DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. All characters, locations, organizations and incidents appearing in this article are fictitious.

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