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A mother’s sacrifice for a degree

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By Yetunde Arebi

When I first received the news of Olaide’s convocation ceremony a couple of weeks ago, I was besides myself with joy. My happiness was not for Olaide, really. After spending five years for a four year course and all that had gone down in the past, I couldn’t really say I was enthusiastic about the news. Relief was more like it. “Finally, her poor mother can have some peace”, I concluded.

Raising Olaide had been a huge task, and aunty, as I call her may be said to have achieved an extraordinary feat by many standards. Over the last 20 years or so that I have known the family, I’ve had cause to listen to stories of Olaide’s many escapades, counselled her on many occasions and even told her poor mother off for failing to take what I described as ‘tough decisions’ that would set her daughter straight.

But aunty has her set style of reasoning, her polygamous marriage and uncaring husband her bane, like an albatross around her neck. She would always insist that her decisions were the best giving her circumstances and the goals she was determined to achieve, which was that Olaide must be a university graduate, no matter the cost. And these costs were dire, no mincing words. For Olaide was and still is a handful. I just had to join aunty in this great celebration of her daughter’s third class degree.

As I sat down watching her prance around the various tents, giggling and chatting up friends happily, oblivious of her poor grade, I could only feel sorry for her mother. For, I sometimes wonder who really has a problem here, the mother or the daughter? After the photo sessions, we sat down to eat and I was not surprised at the lavish display on offer. After all, it was all for Olaide. I asked aunty if she was happy and without looking me in the eye, she said yes. She’d achieved her goal and her two younger sons would have no excuse but to aspire to do better than their sister. Then, our discussion took us down memory lane, en route the torturous journey to moulding Olaide into a presentable woman.

Aunty, whose husband was our landlord several years back, was a civil servant and she also ran a little shop where she sold all sorts of things including soft drinks and beer, on and off licence. She was the exact opposite of her cantankerous husband who had two other wives living on the property and some others living at other locations in and out of Lagos, and which also did not stop his roving eyes from wondering.

Once, he’d had the misfortune of looking my way and my handling of the matter probably endeared his wife to me. We became close and she shared all sorts of problems with me, especially Olaide’s which in fact was her only problem from my observation. Her only flaw was that she never took to advise, and would always convince you to see things her way. At the end, there was no love lost between Olaide and I, as I was convinced that her mother was over pampering her over a flimsy excuse.

It all began when Olaide was in Junior Secondary School. Though a very wayward girl, she still had some pretence of innocence when it suited her.

In JSS2, her mother had walked into my apartment shaking like a leaf. Olaide had been impregnated by one of her customers and she was going to terminate it. I told her not to as she was going to launch her into a more wayward and carefree life style. She must be forced to have the baby to serve as a deterrent and reminder of her actions. She would enrol back into school after the baby. But aunty would hear none of such. She was only concerned about the humiliation among her co-wives, the inability of Olaide to complete secondary school, her disgrace among her siblings and some other flimsy excuses. Thus, the pregnancy was terminated and Olaide’s tantrums took a bigger dimension.

A few weeks after resumption for the third term in JSS2, her mother received a letter asking her to see the principal.

There, she was informed that her daughter had been on suspension for the past two weeks for leading a riot of sort, and that on resumption, she was supposed to come with her parents. But Olaide had showed up alone and told them that her mother had died the previous year and her father had travelled. She did not know that one of her teachers who knew her house and her mother had told the principal that it was a lie. Seeing no way out, she had brought the letter home. Yet, Olaide had been leaving the house for school every day for the whole two weeks.

How would you feel if your child were to tell people that you were dead? That day, I told aunty that she was breeding a monster but I guess she did not believe me. Anyway, the matter was settled and they were asked to pay some levies for the damages done to the school property before she could resume classes .

At the end of that year, Laide was asked to repeat the class. Indeed, she was one of the lucky few as many of them had been advised to withdraw. The school principal announced that the school had been chosen as one of the few to be upgraded into special schools by the government and they wanted only really intelligent and disciplined students. The students were being pruned across board.

Olaide could do better she said, as she had fallen short by just one subject. She only had to be more serious with her studies. When she was very angry and kept cursing some of the teachers, I suspected that something was wrong . The following month she missed her period again, this time in a most shocking circumstance. One of her male teachers was responsible.

The story had it that the teacher had told her of the impending doom to be released by the school authority and the need for her to pass his subject which she had failed already. He was willing to help her change the marks but she had to sleep with him. Aunty wept helplessly as she told me the story. She insisted that had her marriage been monogamous and she had the full support of her husband, she would have taken to my advice. I’d thought such a thing was possible only in higher institutions, not secondary schools. But as luck would have it, her periods came while aunty was making plans for the abortion.

Whenever one tried to advise aunty, she would insist that she was not supporting Olaide but setting her back on track. She withdrew her from the school because of that teacher, she never confronted him nor reported him just so she could save her face. The teacher would never own up to his actions, she’d insisted, adding that she would not allow him to derail her plans for Olaide.

For all her support, it was not as if Olaide appreciated or even understood what it was all about. In fact, she saw her mother more as a disturbance and then a heap dump than any other thing. But aunty would always say, “she may not appreciate what I’m doing for her now, but I know that in future, when she sits down and reflects on all that has happened, she will know what I’ve been through to make her whatever she becomes”.

One would expect a good father to ask why his daughter had to change schools, but not aunty’s husband, according to her. A mother must ensure that she protects her children to the best of her ability, she would tell me. Her husband according to her, had lost focus because of his many women. All the concoctions they were giving to him had twisted his brains and he didn’t know what his priorities should be any longer.

Everything went well in the first year in her new school, then in JSS3, aunty discovered she was pregnant again just as they were about to sit for the School Certificate Examination. I wasn’t really surprised when she refused to have it removed. She informed her mother that she was keeping it since she was almost through with her education and that the boy was going to marry her.

The boy like many young Ibo boys, was into some kind of business and was doing fine. He was showering money and attention on her and this formed the basis for Olaide’s belief that she was in love and ready for marriage. Finally, aunty had to confide in one of her nieces whom Olaide seemed to respect a lot and they finally convinced her to have an abortion.

Prior to the procedure, she told me that a colleague in the office who had a problem child like Olaide had told her what to do once the pregnancy was terminated, an IUD must be inserted. I was surprised. Can young girls have IUD installed? Would it not encourage her to be even more carefree? But aunty insisted she was sailing with it. And it did save her the headaches of unwanted pregnancies.

We moved out of their house shortly after this but still kept very much in touch. As expected, Olaide failed that year’s examination and had to retake some papers before she made it. Today, we are all happy to see her graduate, even if with a third class. That is all her mother wanted. A university degree! As we sat side by side, staring at nothing in particular, I could see her from the corner of my eye.

Was she happy or relieved, I could not tell. But her husband to whom she wanted to prove a point, was not at the ceremony. He’d failed her once again. Many things raced through my mind. Aunty was very religious, never missing church and was even an elder but I bet most of the congregants might never be able to guess what she had done to achieve her goal. What of the pregnancies and abortions? Did she not see them as sins? Was Olaide still wearing the IUD after all these years? What if all these have a negative effect on her reproductive system in the future? Who was to blame, aunty or Olaide? And for the first time in many years, I felt pity for her rather than my usual resentment. Everyone must pay a price for what they desperately desire. Yours is just different from mine.

Do have a wonderful weekend!

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