I always knew I would leave. That’s why I never got close to anyone, not even my only sister. They didn’t name me Abeke at birth, but as I grew older and became more and more distant, they had to beg to pamper me, to come close to me, to hold me, to show me love and to have me acknowledge them. So grandma started calling me Abeke, and it stuck. Abeke in Yoruba means a child you beg to pamper.
My birthdays were always special, those were the only days you would see me smile and have fun. Ours was not the struggling family, Dad was a Mechanical Engineer who worked with the NNPC and mum, a high school teacher. We were quite comfortable. On my birthdays, the few friends I had, or the ones who thought they were my friends, basically neighbours’ children and a few kids from church would come around to celebrate with me. And there was my sister too who always felt happier than the celebrant. Such a happy child, she was the complete opposite of the child that I was.
* * * *
On my sixteenth birthday, just as the friends started arriving, I left through the kitchen door and ran as fast as I could. The next hour found me at Jay’s hostel. Jay was a second year student of the University of Science and Technology in my town. We had been seeing each other for a few months. The day he knew I was a virgin was the first time I ever kissed. It started slowly till he slipped his hand under my blouse and reached for a breast. The kiss continued, deeper now. He fondled my breast more and then drew back from the kiss as he pulled down my bra cup to expose a nipple. He took it in his mouth and I felt like I was in heaven. That went on for a few minutes before he gently placed me on the couch, we had been standing all along. He reached for my skirt but I held his hand. Then he whispered that he only wanted to touch and wouldn’t hurt me. I let him. He found the spot and slipped a finger in as I jerked backwards.
“Oh, a virgin”, he muttered.
He apologised and said he never knew. How wouldn’t he have known, I was barely sixteen. He said he would not touch me until I was eighteen. He crossed his heart and hoped to die.
Coincidentally, we had the same birthday and I chose to spend the day with him, and not with the faceless kids at home. He had friends over and the music was so loud. They had been smoking so much and I could barely make out his face from the chimney his room had become. One after the other, the friends left, and it was just us in the room. A young man who was as drunk as a skunk and a sixteen year old me whose parents were possibly searching every corner to find right at that moment. Then it started: what our lives had become since the first time it happened – touches and kisses and smooching and then more.
I wasn’t eighteen yet and I believed he knew what he was doing, so I didn’t put up any defense. When I felt the first touch and opened my eyes, he said he just wanted to relieve himself and he wouldn’t go all the way. I relaxed to enjoy every bit of it. And then he pushed deeper and I winced. All I wanted was for him to get off me but he wouldn’t budge. He kept pushing and the pain became more intense. I started crying. I told him to get off me and he whispered that I should relax and he was almost there. Almost where? He pinned my hands down and went harder. I thought I was going to die. And when I had screamed till I almost lost my voice, he finally stopped. There was blood all over his briefs as he didn’t pull it all the way down, and he swore by that blood that he would never leave me. It didn’t matter, because I didn’t care. He did what I wanted and that chapter of my life would forever be closed. By then I had been away from home for close to four hours.
* * * *
Garba knew I would come that day, he just didn’t know the time to work with. So he had to wait till I showed up. I met Garba at one of my summer classes. I was a loner who always kept to herself, but there was something different about him. It must have been his facial features and the tribal difference. His father operated a Bureau De Change at the popular Sabo market. Married to a Yoruba woman, he had him and his siblings in my town, and they all spoke Yoruba and my dialect fluently. His skin was so dark and he had a sharp long nose with sparkling white teeth. The first time he spoke to me was the day we became friends. On my birthday, he would travel to Kano unaccompanied, and I chose to be his travel companion. Garba had only one job: get me to Kano and leave me alone. Of course he wouldn’t know this until he woke up one morning and didn’t find me by his side, barely two weeks after I got to the ancient city.
* * * *
I didn’t know Yakubu that well until we got married. Garba only introduced us the night after we got to Kano. He had come in from Sokoto that night and Garba said he was a distant cousin. We didn’t talk that much but when he left after one week, I knew I’d be joining him after three days, and no one would ever find out. At the very least, Garba would think I left for the West. We didn’t stay too long in Sokoto before we left for Chad. There was no huge ceremony as the religion and culture were still very strange to me. I had only started attending Quranic School and learning the language. I got my nose pierced and had henna designs drawn on my body. I took a name – Halima – and I started my transitioning into a beautiful Muslim bride. It was strange that a man I had barely met for one month would love me that much. Yakubu would not let anyone treat me like an outcast. I was his priceless jewel and he regarded me as such, but what I wanted was not in Chad.
* * * *
If I had known I was pregnant, maybe I would have stayed back to have the child. The urge to keep up with my new job and the stress I went through every night amidst the hostility from my colleagues prevented me from taking note of the changes in my body, or maybe the changes were good for my job and I couldn’t care less. Fuller boobs with huge pink nipples always looked good on the pole. I didn’t start out as a stripper, I was just a waitress at a hotel very close to the club until Cathy and I became friends. Cathy had a permanent room at the hotel, just as some of her other colleagues. We got talking and soon we became friends. She told me her ‘hustle’ and how much she made every night and it sounded so exciting. It was not about the money, money had never been my motivation. All I had ever wanted in life was attention, fun, risky adventures and to make daredevil moves. She introduced me to her manager the next day and the following evening had me hopping around a pole like a monkey. I became the hottest stripper in the FCT.
The power that a woman’s body holds will forever be underestimated. Men begged to touch me, even with their stash of foreign currencies, and the way their manhood got hard in their pants as I twisted and rolled, gave me power. Right there on that pole, I could command a King. I could control an Army General and I could make an Arab Prince beg for a touch. I was young. I was beautiful. I had a killer shape with all the curves in the right places. And I was different. I was the stripper with the veil. I could do away with all other pieces of clothing on my body, but my veil was always intact. I was the mystery woman that had them drooling and crawling on their knees. I didn’t strip every night, Thursdays and Sundays were my days off, but I worked every other night.
* * * *
Now that seems like a decade ago. Holding this beautiful child, I don’t know what to do with it. If I knew I was with a child, maybe I would have stayed back in Chad. It all happened so fast. I was on the pole doing my art when we heard gunshots. Cathy said I fainted. The Task Force had come to shut the club down and they got everyone they could lay their hands on arrested. We were locked up for three days before an NGO came to bail us out. They didn’t know where I came from but they were kind enough to shelter me. Who wouldn’t be kind to a pregnant girl who was barely twenty years old but had chosen a life career in stripping? They had their eyes on me, so I couldn’t make any move. Even if I wanted to, I was too pregnant to take the risk.
And now the child is here, it’s a girl and she looks exactly like me. I didn’t have a name for her so they called her Anne. I call her Anne too. It’s a Catholic NGO and they say the name means favour, or grace, or mercy. She looks quite gracious, whatever that means. And she is quite favoured, that I can’t deny. By all means I could have aborted that pregnancy. They also say the name is assigned to the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I never knew that. I was never the type who paid attention in Catechism classes; all I wanted from that class was to get a chance to f**k the very handsome priest, even as a fourteen year old virgin back then.
Mercy? Well, maybe there is still a God up there who is merciful. I almost died during labour. Knowing my mother, she must have been saying twenty decades of the rosary everyday and never missing the Divine Mercy prayers day and night, praying for her missing child to return while I was pushing out her grandchild.
I would have loved her to see Anne, but I am a wanderer.
And soon, I would have to leave yet again.