…continued from Unforgiven III
Ethel was looking for a job when she first arrived in Abuja, Amaka had quickly taken a shine to her and informed her about the opening in the school where she taught.
Ethel had been reluctant at first, to take the job and also Amaka’s offer of friendship but eventually she’d had no choice. She’d taken both; promising to keep Amaka out of the darkness of her life.
She’d failed however because Amaka showered her with a kind of love she’d never expected and slowly but surely she’d infused herself into Ethel’s life, tearing down her walls of defense little by little.
The first service she’d attended at Harvest of Hope church, Amaka had sat beside her throughout; throwing reassuring glances her way and squeezing her hand with affection. Ethel remembered thinking how impossible it was to not like this woman. She’d been present at Amaka’s wedding and even though it made her happy to see her friend happy, it didn’t shake her disbelief in the system of marriage. She’d made up her mind long ago that it wasn’t for her. That much she’d learned from Mum.
It wasn’t really Pastor Tim’s sermon or the altar call as much as Amaka’s blind love that had persuaded Ethel to surrender her life to Jesus. It was an unplanned event and the most difficult thing Ethel had ever had to do. All she knew was that she wanted the kind of life Amaka had; the sheer happiness and joy she exhibited at every possible opportunity, her blind trust in the God she served and then the peace, mostly the peace. It was like an aura around Amaka; something Ethel could feel and almost touch. Yes, it was that peace that led her to stand up in the congregation of hundred people and profess her new faith.
And it was the seeming loss of that peace that pushed her to open up to Amaka about her past.
“Are you going to talk to me or are you going to just stare into thin air?” Amaka’s voice penetrated into her thoughts.
Ethel sighed. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, after all.
“Eth, break time is going to be over by 12:30pm so I suggest you use the time wisely,” her tone was firm.
“I…I…don’t know where to start from Amy,” she said in a solemn voice.
“Start from what happened yesterday. You look pale.”
Ethel hated the fact that Amaka could easily read her.
“Nothing…nothing happened. I just…” she looked away, “maybe this was a bad idea.”
“Eth, look at me,” Amaka took her by the shoulders, “you can trust me. I’m not just your friend, I’m your sister too.”
Her words tore at Ethel’s heart. A sister! How she’d always longed for a sibling!
“Tell me why you are so kind to me Amaka. You don’t know me, you never have. I’m not who you think I am.”
“Shut up. I don’t care who you used to be but I know who you are now. You are a child of God. A royal priesthood. Whatever past you have is exactly that…your past. Besides honey, there’s nothing new under the sun. I bet it’s not as terrible as you think.”
Ethel blinked. Wait till you hear this one.
“I lost my virginity to a fifty year old man. I was just fourteen.”
Amaka didn’t flinch.
“C’mon say something. I know you wanna say something,” Ethel urged with a wry laugh.
“Is that all?”
Amaka obviously meant business because Ethel couldn’t see the look of disgust she had expected to see.
So she began to speak, delving into a lifetime of memories.
Mum had been a call girl, of sorts; one of the few in Lagos that was discreet and also had a child. She didn’t outright demand money for sex like prostitutes did but suffice it to say that most of the men – married and unmarried – in the elite parts of Lagos had dallied with her at one point or the other.
Ethel had never known her father and mum had never bothered to tell her the full story; but over the years Ethel had pieced together the fact that her dad had been married when he met her mum and at some point in their relationship they’d fallen in love and he’d promised to leave his wife and marry Mum. It was a promise that never came true, the details of which Ethel never knew.
She’d become aware of Mum’s ‘business engagements’ when she turned seven. Mum had rented the boys’ quarters’ only a couple meters away from the main house. She called it her ‘office’ and there she held ‘business engagements’ behind closed doors. Her office had been off limits to Ethel and she didn’t understand why; all she knew was that somehow even though all Mummy had was her private office right next to the house, she still managed to send her to one of the expensive schools in Lagos. Whatever it was Mummy did, it was big and profitable.
Once when she was eight; Ethel had said carelessly, “when I grow up Mummy, I want to be like you. I want to have an office like you and make money like you.”
Mum stiffened and without another word, left the room. Later Ethel thought she heard her crying in the bathroom.
It wasn’t until she was ten that she let her curiosity get the better of her. Mummy always locked her office when she wasn’t home, which made young Ethel interested in its content.
Her curiosity was satisfied one unexpected Friday. She’d been sent home from school because Mummy had forgotten to pay her fees. When she arrived home, she heard sounds from the boys’ quarters’ and she went to investigate. The door was half open, her mother and the man were so consumed in themselves that they didn’t notice young Ethel staring at them, mouth agape, eyes twinkling in fascination.
Thus began her downward spiral into the kind of life her Mother lived. She found every way possible to watch Mum and her ‘clients’. She was fascinated by her Mum’s occupation; it seemed like power. After all, it made Mum rich. All one had to do was get down on your back, spread your legs and the men were hooked. They came back for more.
At thirteen, Mum caught Ethel with porn in her bathroom; she was trying her hand at masturbation for the first time.
“Ah. You don old now, I see,” Mum had remarked in her usual dry tone.
Ethel stared at Mum, defiant, refusing to feel guilty.
“How long you don dey watch am?” Mum asked, sometimes she spoke in pidgin whenever the mood suited her but her English was impeccable. She often told Ethel she’d taught herself.
“Since I was old enough to hear,” Ethel retorted.
Mum flinched, taken aback by her daughter’s sharp tone then she began ransacking the room. She seized every porn movie she found in Ethel’s room and left.
Later that day, Ethel thought she heard her crying. Again.
When she turned fourteen, her body began developing nicely and boys began to really notice her; it excited her tremendously. One day, she began flirting with Chief Bala, one of her mum’s clients. To her, it seemed cool and adult-ish and she wanted to test how far her sensuality would take her. It did take her farther than she expected, it took away her virginity.
Ethel refused to call it rape because she realized that in a twisted way, she’d wanted it; she had even enjoyed it.
“Why would you say that?” Amaka broke in as she told the story, “You were the victim. You were just fourteen for Chrissakes!”
“But I knew more about sex than anyone my age. I was ready. My mind was mature.”
The school bell rang at that moment signifying the end of the break period.
“Oh Lord. Not now! Ethel, promise me you won’t close up. You’ll tell me everything after school,” Amaka asked.
Ethel hesitated and glanced at her phone, distracted. Then she nodded slowly, hoping to get Amaka off her back. She succeeded.
She sighed and read the text message again:
*Where are you? I want to see you*
It was signed. *C.U*
to be continued next week…
By Mimi Adebayo