She is my neighbour and she is disabled; I tried to befriend her not because I pitied her but because I was new to the area and wanted to make friends.
We live in an estate and she and her family lived upstairs on the same building as mine.
Now, this lady, despite the fact that she had no legs…yes she was on a wheelchair but she also could drive a car. Her car is the type that you can use both hands to maneuver.
Now, I began to notice that this my neighbour, Fatima, is her name, has a very quarrelsome husband.
He was a drunk. He would drink and curse everyone out from the gate to our building. He had such a foul mouth that when drunk, he would tell you exactly what he thought of you. And when he was sober, he was equally abusive but he wouldn’t go to the extent of telling you your life’s history.
He told one neighbour that she was a witch and that she killed her husband who was recently deceased. He accused another of going on armed robbery at night who pretended to work in a factory…he was generally quarrelsome, mostly over very little things.
Anyway, I tried as much as I could to be friendly with Fatima but she didn’t want my friendship. I don’t know why? She would be very brusque if I tried to talk to her about her day.
Anyway, our pumping machine went bad and our water tanks needed to be emptied and washed; I mean the tanks on top of the building, the roof.
There was a general coordinator who went round the flats to collect the money we had agreed to contribute to fix the pump and the tanks. It was Fatima’s husband who offered to undertake the task.
Now, at that time, I had no money on me, my husband had travelled out and what I had that weekend wasn’t sufficient. So I told the man that I would pay the following week; I told him to please ask the others to help cover the cost and that I would repay. More so, this was common practice, so that whenever we needed to fix anything because something always needed fixing in that estate or building, the person who didn’t pay a previous fee would pay…you know?
As soon as I told him I had no money on me, he just flared up! As in there was no trigger, really. I didn’t raise my voice; I was actually pleading for time.
“I never said I won’t pay, I said next week.”
He told me I would never have the money because my husband had finally left me for another woman and that my children would soon become street kids!
What! On top of what?
He didn’t stop there, o.
He told me I would soon start selling my body to pay rent because I claimed my husband travelled and they hadn’t seen him in more than one year…
“Is it your business?” I asked him.
Come, how did we get to the point where he would be telling me all these things? And yes, we had clashed before, over some mundane thing, but I couldnt even remember what.
I told you the man is a mad man. He is belligerent, curses neighbours, anybody, uses very foul words too. I was determined never to be in his way to warrant him insulting me, after that my first encounter with him.
Being the mad man he is, his madness was raging that day.
As he was talking, I moved to shut my door but he put his foot in and that was when I lost my cool, I became enraged too. I knew he needed a few harsh words to hit home, so I told him it is his wife and kids that would be on the street. In fact, his wife is closer to begging than me.
Yes, I said that! I was hurt, I was angry. This man had no right to call my kids street kids, he had no right to tell me I would soon be selling myself, calling me a harlot! So I cursed his own family, too.
Do you know, apparently his wife was listening? She had heard all the things her husband had said about me and kept quiet, when I said mine, she just came, charging on her walking sticks…yes, she uses walking sticks too abi, what do you call them? Crutches, yes, her crutches.
She too began to call me names: “Ashawo… useless woman with stupid kids… poor woman,”
Biko, tell me, is it now a crime not to have money?
And yes, I gave her back too. I told her she not only would she never walk but her children too will be disabled…that one pain dem well, well. They should never have cursed my own children in the first place!
They attacked me with her crutches o, I struggled to shut my door…my kids were inside shivering from fear at all the noise and attacks.
The following morning, a policewoman and police man were at my door, the woman said I assaulted a disabled person and that I was wanted at the station.
Chia, I said, “when? How?”
These people came to my door, these people tried to prevent me from shutting my door at them, these people started the insults, these people have quarreled with all the neighbours in the estate, these people cursed me first and I am no dummy, I cursed back… police took me o, they insisted I followed them to station!
Hummn, this matter became serious o!
I wrote statement, I wrote so tey, they said I must be reporting to police every day because no harm must befall the disabled woman!
What of me that was attacked in front of my children?
But God dey
Before I knew it, I got a letter from a lawyer, demanding me to show up in court!
Chai, see me see wahala.
But thank God, I had other neighbours who had witnessed the quarrel and insisted that they would follow me anywhere to defend me.
The next thing I knew, their association invited me over…they wanted to maybe punish me for insulting or planning to do harm to a disabled person. Association that she belonged to na, of people with disabilities.
At this time, it was over a period of weeks o, long after that initial wahala
I wasn’t sleeping well, I was afraid to go out, my children couldn’t play outside because all I wanted to do was avoid these people and their wahala.
So, my neighbors said I should respond to the summon, they promised they would go with me.
I wrote back that I would come on the stated date.
When we got there, there were many disabled people there, they were angry with me, telling me I had no right to curse anyone with disability…they were just generally angry with me.
My sister, when their association heard both of us talk, they questioned them and questioned me. They realized Fatima and her husband were to blame. They apologized to me, saying they had been given wrong information about the whole situation that in fact, it was Fatima and her husband that were oppressing me!
They warned them that if in fact they hear another complain from them or me, the association would deal with them themselves!
I just began to cry.
I thanked them, o. They told Fatima and her husband to withdraw the bogus court summons and the police complaint or they would do it themselves. I swear, I was so grateful to them.
These days, I don’t hear pim from Fatima and her husband at all I don’t know whether they are indoors or have gone out…all is very quiet now. There is peace.
(Series written and edited by Peju Akande and based on true stories)