8 and 14
The first time I saw an abandoned baby, to say I was horrified at the sight of pigs feasting on the mud covered-flesh of the stillborn baby is the least. I was eight, walking with my younger brother to our primary school, and even then, I grabbed my brother by the arm and steered him away from the gore of it all.
On our way back from school, there were circles of gossipers standing around. They were talking about the ‘useless girl’ that dumped her baby in the dirty canal. I use the word useless girl in quotes because that is what society assumes every girl that ends up in that situation or any situation similar to that is-useless.
Her name was Tolani, and she was 14. She was nothing but a fourteen-year-old girl that was brought from the village when she was nine years old to ‘go to school’ at her relative’s place in Ibadan. In Nigeria that is code for ‘we need you to be the unpaid, under-aged maid that cannot complain because we are paying for her uniforms so she can go to a low-grade public school where she wouldn’t learn enough English to outshine our biological children’. She could not complain because her young mind assumed she was lucky to have been brought to the city.
When school closed at 2:30 pm, she hawked fruits and remitted a quota at the end of the day to her ‘auntie’. She had no one to look out for her and was lonely most of the time, so when her ‘uncle’ started touching her forcefully, she had no one to tell. She had been sworn into secrecy by him, and a few Pepsis did the trick. Tolani did not even realize she missed her period due to her lack of sex education. Her guardians assumed she was getting fatter because she didn’t remit all the gains from hawking and berated her for it constantly.
But he noticed. The man responsible for her upcoming woes noticed that she was pregnant and tricked her into taking abortion pills crushed in cold Pepsi; a day late and a dollar short. Tolani did bleed, but the fetus grew and grew and grew. A fetus she still did not know was in her; I doubt she even understood the biology of reproduction since Nigerian schools threw a cloud on the subject.
She gave into the painful urge to push in an uncompleted building behind their house, and he found her like that; pushing and grunting. What came out of her was deformed and stillborn. He called it an abomination as he cut the cord. He put the child in a polythene bag and dumped it in a canal.
His part in this story was not known until about two weeks later when the neighbourhood was turned upside down by his wife when she found out. Before that, Tolani was called all sort of names, beaten and sent back to her mother in the village. Even after the man’s involvement came to light, Tolani was still the 14-year-old witch that seduced a 50 something-year-old man. The ‘auntie’ was glad to have gotten rid of the marriage destroyer and young Jezebel.
But now, my mind flashes back to that 14-year-old girl that was raped for years by a trusted relative. The girl that got pregnant at 14 and birthed a baby by herself on a bare floor with no help whatsoever. The girl that got shamed and ridiculed at 14 for being a seductress when she didn’t even understand how her menstrual cycle worked. As I write this, I wonder what happened to that girl. How did her life turn out? Is she okay? Did those wounds heal, or will they forever haunt her? I was eight years old when I witnessed this, and she was 14 when she lived it.