I was raised by step mother, who incidentally was my aunt.
As far as my aunt was concerned, I might as well have ended up being a welder, carpenter or an artisan because all she did while I grew up was targeted at ensuring I dropped out of school and end up being nothing.
But she was short sighted, if she wasn’t, she would have known that there is an expiry date for wickedness to a child because that child would grow up and leave the house, and then that child may, someday, be instrumental to your happiness or sadness.
So, how did I become my auntie’s step son and nephew? My mother died when I was too young to know much about her; I was just five years old and my father was a man with many wives. The responsibility of caring for me fell back on my father who, as you know how some African fathers were back in the day, had little time for me. He also knew the other wives would not take good care of me as my mother was his favourite.
He knew it was not going to go well with me if he gave me, the son of his dead favourite wife to the other wives to care for, so he did what he thought was best for me, he married my mother’s younger sister, Auntie Naomi.
But Naomi had other ideas. Looking back now, I think she resented the fact that the only reason my father married her was so she could be a replacement mother. That was the only value my father attached to her, so I guess that must be why she treated me so badly.
I sometimes still weep thinking of the many days, many nights she would not give me food, make me do extra work before school and miss lessons, report me for bad behavior and have me get flogged…my auntie was a mean soul.
She turned out to be worse than my other step mothers; it was as if she wanted to obliterate me from this earth; I mean, I was her nephew, forget the fact that she was my step mother; she was my mother’s only sister! And yet, she was easy on her own children but if I did something and her daughter did same, I would be flogged like a thief.
Auntie Naomi was quick to realise how much I loved food; and so she chose to always starve me; she would not give me food when her other children were eating, so you can imagine that I was almost always hungry. After running errands, I would be waiting for her to give me food, it usually never came and I had to rely on two people; my best friend and my father.
Ok, let me be honest here, growing up, I was also not exactly your model child. I was a little rascal. I was naughty and yet, so was my cousin, auntie’s her first daughter Racheal. She was also a rascal like me, and yet, her punishment, if it ever came, was nothing compared to mine…yes, I know, I am older by 6 years but…well.
I was the only child who didn’t get new shoes for Christmas; the only child who wore hand-me downs-clothes, two to three years back, the only child who on festive occasions still had to carry the tray and go sell food before eating…I was always the only one hungry with nobody begging for me or crying for me.
You can only treat a child so badly, of course because like I said, I was stubborn. Some days I would carry the tray to sell but head instead to my best friend’s house and we would play all day…there would be no food for me that day if the money I was meant to bring back didn’t add up.
I was not a house help in my father’s house, I was a son, true born but was treated like a slave; I did all the menial jobs while my step brothers and sisters lounged around; I learned to cook, clean house, farm, sew, fix things in the house; run errands… all of these helped me later in life.
I loved school and this helped me; whereas others preferred home to school, I preferred school to home and so, I exceled.
Doors opened for me; I got a scholarship to go study abroad…my life changed. After many years abroad, I came home to find my cousins/step brothers and sisters had amounted to nothing, they didn’t even finish school.
My auntie had become sick and her children couldn’t even help her; thankfully, I came home that period and took her to the hospital. I rebuilt her house and got a caretaker to care for her. I put her on a monthly salary.
Many times, auntie would reach for out my hand and I would try not to pull back hur insteadnof gratitude and apology she began to justify her actions over the years, telling me she had to be hard on me so that I would succeed later in life.
I didn’t mind until she asked me to stop calling her auntie and call her ‘mother’.
That was when I said no. I can’t!
(Series written and edited by Peju Akande and based on true stories)