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Kunle and I were in love. He was seventeen, and I was fifteen, and he made me happy like no other person had before him. Not my mother who nagged me, and watched me like a hawk, and made me do all the chores around the house. Not like my father, the abusive man I had given up on; whose presence was worse than his absence. While I tiptoed around my parents, with Kunle I could be free to be myself.
Kunle lived with his parents and sisters three houses away from ours on Adebajo Street. Their house was the biggest and best looking one on the street, prettied up with rows of neat flowers and hedges lining their garden. I lived with my parents in a small two-bedroom flat behind Chief Adeleke’s house. My mother was the cook and the nanny to the Adeleke family’s young children. They allowed us to live in their compound so that my mother would not have to travel back and forth.
Being Kunle’s girlfriend made all the other girls in the neighbourhood jealous. I heard of this from my best friend, Shade, who lived next door. She told me that some of the other girls felt I was beneath Kunle and that he could do better. To tell the truth, I couldn’t believe my luck either. Kunle could have had his pick of any of the other girls, but he chose to be with me. This made me suspicious of his advances at first. But he won me over. With his handsome smile, his love letters and his little gifts of jewellery and expensive sweets.
Eventually, I let my guard down and allowed him to start coming for visits when my mother was not around. He didn’t mind sitting with me in the kitchen while I worked. He would talk to me in his confident-yet-calm voice and tell me jokes and make me laugh. He would promise me many wonderful things that I didn’t dare to imagine. And if I was in a good mood, I allowed him to play with my hair and kiss my neck.
One Saturday afternoon, I lost my virginity to Kunle. My mother was at the market and my father had disappeared on one of his usual drinking sprees. When Kunle came to see me, I was outside hanging cloths on the clothing line. I was a little surprised to see him, but I was also pleased. He had something in his hand and he showed it to me.
“For you,” he said, offering me the box of chocolates.
“Thank you Kunle.”
I smiled and invited him to wait for me inside while I finished with my task. When I was done, I went looking for Kunle. He took me in his arms and pressed his lips against mine as soon as I stepped into the room. His hands were roving my body and I wanted to push him away, but my willpower was not strong enough to resist him. I allowed myself to be lifted up and laid down on the mattress. Holding on to Kunle, I nodded when he told me that he loved me. I believed him when he promised me that he wouldn’t hurt me. Even so, when I felt a sharp pain between my legs, I couldn’t help crying out from the pain. Kunle kissed away my tears and whispered sweet nothings in my ear, asking me to trust him. When it was all over, he kissed me and left. He told me I was the sweetest girl he had ever known.
For a few days after my experience with Kunle, I could not look my mother in the eye when she spoke to me. I wasn’t sure whether to feel guilty or not, but I certainly felt different about myself. If my mother noticed, she didn’t say anything, and I gradually relaxed and carried on as normal.
When the nausea and the morning sickness hit me, I knew I was in trouble and I knew I had to tell Kunle. I waited for his usual visits, but he didn’t come the whole of that week, so I decided to go and see him instead. I had never been to his house before so I was worried. When I got to his house I rang the doorbell and prayed, hoping that, somehow, my presence would be welcome.
The security guard frowned at me through the peephole in the ornate gate.
“Yes? Who are you?”
“Please, I- I want to see Kunle.” I said, scared and nervous.
“Kunle no dey house.” The security guard answered, still staring at me through the peephole, the irritation obvious in his voice.
“Can I come back in the evening?” I asked.
“Kunle don travel.”
Kunle’s sister came out to see what was going on.
“Oh it’s you, Rukky,” she said.
“Please, can I see Kunle?” I asked her, pleading with my eyes and hoping she would tell me something different.
“Didn’t Kunle tell you? He’s gone to university. In London.”
“Ah! When? No he didn’t tell me, oh my God…”
“Sorry, he was –”
I didn’t hear what she said next. I ran to my house, tears blurring my vision.
I couldn’t believe that Kunle had left me just like that. He had not even bothered to let me know he was leaving. He had slept with me and then disappeared into thin air. Here I was, carrying his baby. I cried for days. I stopped eating. This made me feel even worse. Shade noticed the change in my mood and pestered me to tell her what was eating at me. In confidence, I finally confessed my predicament to her. After listening very carefully and offering me her support, she gave me a solution.
The chemist gave me some pills to swallow when I got home. I snuck into my room and closed the door. With nervous fingers, I opened the packet and read the instructions carefully. Then, taking two of the pills, I swallowed them with a glass of water and hid the remaining pills under my pillow. After I was done, I went into the kitchen and helped my mother with the evening meal.
The burning sensation in my lower abdomen began about half an hour later. I tried to hide my discomfort from my mother. We were in the kitchen together. She was frying some fish. I was cutting up the onions. I hoped that she would think the tears running down my cheeks were from the onions. As the pain grew worse, I stifled a sob and shifted on my feet.
“What is wrong with you?”
My mother had stopped cooking, and was looking at me intently. I tried to shake my head, but as I did so, stars appeared behind my eyelids and the room seemed to tilt sideways. Then everything went black.
I woke up in a strange room. My mother was sitting on a chair next to my bed. Her head was down on the bed, next to me. I was hooked up to an intravenous drip, and there was a machine beeping slowly to my left. I tried to move, but my throat was dry and my limbs felt heavy. I couldn”t talk either. I closed my eyes again.
The next time I woke up my mother was standing by the window, staring into space. Her face was creased with worry and she was muttering something under her breath. I coughed to get her attention and she immediately turned and moved towards me.
“Here, have some water.”
She brought the cup to my lips and tilted my head so that I could swallow. When I finished drinking, she set the cup down and looked at me.
“You were going to take the easy way out, weren’t you?”
I looked away, feeling ashamed. I expected her to lash out at me with angry words, but all my mother did instead was sit on the bed, and she took my hand in hers.
“Tell me how this happened.”
Emboldened by her gentleness, I told her all about Kunle as she listened. When I was done, she nodded gravely.
“I also tried once, you know.”
I looked up at her, not understanding her fully.
“I was going to abort you too.”
The thought that my mother had been in my situation had never crossed my mind.
“Your father and I were very young,” she continued. “I was supposed to go to Teacher Training College when I got pregnant. I thought of quietly getting rid of my pregnancy, but when I told your father, he pressured me to keep it. And our parents practically forced us to get married to save face.”
She paused, while I processed this information. I could not imagine that my mother, of all people, had gotten married out of pressure.
“Till today,” she said, “I still regret marrying your dad. But I’ve never once regretted keeping you.”
She squeezed my hand.
“Kunle is gone. Forget about him. But I won’t let you take the easy way out. Fortunately for you, you took the wrong drugs and your baby is fine. God must have intervened to keep you and the baby safe.”
It was only then that I began to cry.
I never saw Kunle again. As the years passed and as our daughter grew into a young woman, I still thought of him. My daughter has been a constant source of joy since the day she was born, and I am very proud of her.
Today, she is achieving another milestone in her life. When her name was called, her grandmother and I rose out of our seats, and clapped with so much vigour, as she made her way up the podium to collect her certificate. The tears of joy I cried as I watched my daughter in her moment of glory was a sign of my gratefulness for that divine intervention so many years ago.
(c) Tolulope Popoola 2012