I loved him so much and wanted to please him in everything. Coming from a family of seven children, with Mum and Dad too busy struggling to provide for us, I never had much of attention from anyone until he came into my life.
He told me he loved me, and it was the first time anyone was saying those words to me.
“I love you, Sochi.”
I looked into his eyes and there was so much there, I couldn’t breath; couldn’t think. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know whether to believe him. I didn’t see why I shouldn’t believe him.
I was desperate to believe him, in fact. He loved me! Him, a handsome man, already in the university and so smart. Him, who when he smiled my heart threatened to burst out of my chest. Him, who had the deep, slightly hoarse voice that made my body tingle when he spoke.
Oh, how I wanted to believe he loved me. And I did. I believed him, and loved him back.
“I want to show you how much I love you.”
He whispered the words in my ear, and even as I trembled, in anticipation and fear, I wanted him to show me. I was only seventeen, but I knew about sex. I’d seen it in movies; well, not everything as the movies didn’t show everything. But I’d read all about it in the novels I borrowed from my best friend.
People who loved each other had sex. They made love. I preferred that term, make love. It made it sound so beautiful, and I wanted to feel beautiful, inside and out.
So, we made love. We did it again and again. The first time was painful. But afterwards, it became the most beautiful experience I ever had.
Mum would send me on an errand and I would sneak to his house; often his parents were not around. He would take me to his bedroom and slowly undress me, tenderly make love to me. And every time he touched me, I loved him more.
I started to see our future together. We would get married, have children. Not as many as Mum and Dad, just two. Or maybe, three. I thought three was a perfect number. Two boys and a girl.
I concentrated so hard on my WAEC because I wanted to make him proud. I wanted to be in the same university as he was. I was in a hurry to get in before he would graduate as he was already in his third year there.
But this happened and somehow I knew it had ruined everything.
“How can you be pregnant? We use condoms.”
He wasn’t looking at me like he always did. He looked angry, disappointed, and it hurt me.
“Not always. There were times you said you wanted to feel closer to me.”
“I asked you if you were safe those times and you said yes.”
Why was he snapping at me? Why was he blaming me?
“I thought I was safe. I don’t really know much about safe periods. I just wanted to make you happy.”
“So, you pretended and deceived me into believing you’re safe?” He glared at me. “Well, you’re not going to have that baby. You’re not going to trap me with that baby. Do you hear me, Sochi? I won’t be trapped by this pregnancy!”
“I don’t want to trap you. I love you. You love me.” Though I said it, my heart had started to doubt it. “I didn’t plan for this to happen. I don’t know what to do.”
It seemed that my tears touched him, because his expression changed and he held me in his arms.
“Don’t cry. I’m sorry I shouted on you. I’m just panicked. But we can handle it. We will remove it. We will go to a clinic I know and remove it.”
Abortion. He was talking about abortion and it scared me. I knew about abortions. I knew it can be harmful. I didn’t want to harm my body.
But I didn’t want to disappoint him again. I knew, somehow I did, that if I disappointed him again, he would leave him. I didn’t want him to leave my life.
It wasn’t a clinic, but a pharmacy that had a back room with a bed set in the middle of it.
The bed looked like the ones you saw in hospitals. The doctor… I doubted though if he was a doctor. Still, they called him one and he had on the white coat.
“How far along are you?” He asked me.
“I think it should be around a month or so.” I didn’t really know. My period was supposed to come last week and it hadn’t, that was all I knew.
“It shouldn’t take time then. Lie down on the bed.” He instructed and turned to Jon. His name was Jonathan but he liked to be called Jon. “You can wait outside for her. It will only take minutes.”
“No, don’t leave me!” I begged, instantly panicked.
“He doesn’t need to be here.” The doctor said, and ushered him out.
He didn’t even look at me before he walked out. It hurt that he didn’t; that he hadn’t bothered to say a kind or encouraging word to me. I could feel his detachment already. I was doing this because I didn’t want him to leave me, but inside him, he had already left me.
A woman came in. She did not look much older than me. There was no expression on her face. She instructed me to take off my underwear, pull up my dress and then lift my legs, bend them at the knees and position them apart.
Shame, hot and demoralizing, poured over me. I was going to part my legs for a man I did not know and a woman who couldn’t spare me a kind glance to see and probably dip their hands inside.
What have I done to myself?
The question repeated itself in my head as I gripped the edge of my underwear with trembling fingers. If he really loved me, why was he outside and not inside this room going through this shame with me?
This last question, which had snuck into my head without my knowing where it came from, stopped my hands. I pulled my underwear back up and slid off the bed.
“I’m not going to do this.” I was trembling as I said this. “I don’t want an abortion. I don’t want to ruin my life.”
There was a sound, it was derisive and came from the woman.
“My dear, your life is already on the path of ruin, if you don’t know.” That derision was in her eyes, on her face. “Small girl like you already fucking up and down. Lie down, let’s finish this abeg.”
I hadn’t been… I couldn’t even use the word she’d used and I hated her because she made me feel cheap and worthless. She looked at me like I was. As for the doctor, he didn’t say a word and looked utterly bored.
I swept past them and found Jon seated inside the pharmacy.
“Is it over already?” He asked me.
“No. I won’t do it.” My eyes begged him to understand, to support my decision.
But he didn’t, of course. “Are you mad? What do you mean, you won’t do it? What are you going to do then?”
“Jon, this might destroy my womb. It might kill me.”
I had tears in my eyes, but they didn’t move him.
He snatched my hand, pulled me towards the doctor who’d come out with the woman. “I’ve paid you, doc. So, just handle this.”
“We can’t force her. She has to be willing for this to be done.” The doctor sounded nonchalant, looked it. “If you two are going to debate about this though, could you take it outside? This is a business place and we don’t want a raucous here.”
“We’re not going to cause trouble. Just give me a minute.” Jon said, and gentled his hold on my wrist. “Sochi, listen to me. It’s not going to destroy your womb or kill you. People do it all the time and doctor here is an expert.”
His eyes were gentle and loving again, but I was thinking that he could only know how good the doctor was because he’d brought other girls to do abortion here. I knew then I had made a mistake.
I knew I couldn’t make another.
“I’m not doing it, Jon. I’m not having an abortion.”
I left him there, and cried all the way back home to my parents.
Mum beat. Oh, how she beat me, and cursed me!
“You useless girl! What have your father and I done to deserve this shame?”
I said nothing. There was no excuse, none that would be acceptable. I had shamed myself and shamed them. I saw disappointment in Dad’s eyes and it deepened my sorrow because rarely had I seen it there.
“Who is responsible?” Mum wanted to know.
I told them.
That evening, Dad took me over to their house. He spoke to Jon’s parents and told them what he had done. They sent for him, but he denied me.
“It’s not mine. I agree we did something, but I used condoms every time.”
“No, you didn’t, Jon. Please, don’t do this.”
I was crying, but he didn’t look at me. He insisted he wasn’t responsible. His parents, especially his mother, supported him. If he said he wasn’t responsible, then he wasn’t, was her stand. Her son wasn’t a liar. She said something scornful about loose girls who weren’t properly brought up.
I felt Dad’s shame more than my own. And because I felt it, I made a decision in my mind. “Let us go, Dad.” I said, rose and started towards the door.
At home, I said to him and Mum. “I am sorry I brought this shame upon you. I should have known better, but I didn’t. Don’t throw me out, please. Give me one more chance, and I won’t again disgrace you.”
They didn’t throw me out, but they stayed disappointed throughout that first year; maybe even up to the second.
I forced myself not to pay attention to such things, to all the side talks and scorns. I was good at braiding hair and I worked hard, solicited customers everywhere I went. The child came, it was a girl, and I loved her as soon as I saw her. I knew then I wanted to make her proud of her mother, to give her my very best. So, I worked even harder. I learned makeup artistry and all about hair styling. And because I wanted to have what he had, I got into the polytechnic and sponsored myself through school.
After school, I didn’t need to hunt for a job, I already had a career as a stylist. But I remained in Benin City after my NYSC and opened a salon not afar off the Ugbowo Campus.
The journey to that place wasn’t easy, but I was determined. I wasn’t going to be the girl who conceived at seventeen and ended up a thing of shame. I wasn’t going to be the mother who couldn’t provide for her daughter.
And I wasn’t. I did well and I saw again pride in Dad’s eyes. I heard respect when Mum spoke to me; of me. I felt the love of my little girl and the admiration of my siblings and other people.
Then I saw him again.
I was coming out of a bank and he was waiting to go in.
“Sochi.” He looked shocked and unsure if to approach me.
I went to him. I looked at him, and saw him look at me. I knew what he saw, no longer the crying teenager, but a smiling, well-dressed, beautiful woman. I felt pride in myself and in my strength.
“Jon, how are you?” I was proud of my composure.
“I am well, and I see you’re too.” For a moment, regret flashed into his eyes. Then it passed. “What are you doing now?”
“I’m a stylist and own the Hair Place.”
“You own the Hair Place? The one near the campus and at Ring Road?”
“Also the one at Airport Road.” I met his awed eyes, widened my smile. “It didn’t end in shame, Jon. I triumphed.”
He seemed to not know what to say.
“I have to get on. Good bye, Jon.”
He didn’t stop me. He didn’t run after me. He didn’t inquire about the pregnancy, about the child. Almost thirteen years after we last saw each other and he made no attempt to find out what happened with his child.
Even as I thought it, I realised she wasn’t his child, but mine. He’d rejected her and didn’t deserve her. He’d rejected me and didn’t deserve a place in my thoughts. So, I put him out of my mind once again. I let the past go and focused on my future. It was a beautiful sight to behold.
Maybe one day, she would come to know him. Maybe one day, he would seek to make amends. Maybe one day, I would meet a man who would love me and my daughter enough to want to share our life.
There were a lot of maybes, but I didn’t let them bother me. In the present, which mattered most, I was doing well. I was happy, and I was proud. I was, like I’d told him, a triumph.
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