The other lover always said I was very "self-absorbed" and "contained with myself". He always said it as if it is some kind of compliment. He meant it as a compliment when he praised me for my detachment from the world and how satisfied I always seem to be with myself only.
I've never thought of myself as any of those things he called. I think "self-absorbed" is just another synonym for "lonely". I don't think I curl up on my bed, extremely reluctant to make contact with the outside world because I was "contained with myself". It is more out of fear of not knowing what to do when I'm out there and not knowing what exactly it is that drives the world.
The first lover—the one who took a large piece of myself when he left used to say, "Tina, I don't know what broke you and why you can't talk about it but you need to understand that some people who come into your life are not there to hurt you. You need to be more open to receive and give love". Maybe that was the reason he left me; because I didn't know how to give and receive love. I don't know what to do when people love me wholesomely. Maybe because the kind of love I've always known comes with pain and losing of oneself.
When I think of growing up, a particular scene plays in my head. I'm Nine in that scene, I remember because it was the same year Daddy left us. We were living in the tiny flat we shared with the landlord's sister's family. We shared the bathroom and toilet and every morning is a hassle for the bathroom.
Before my father left, he'd wake us early every morning while mummy still slept, place an iron basin inside the bathroom to claim it first before going on to boil hot water he'd use to bath my siblings and I. It was my father who taught me how to take care of my body. I still have fond memories of him prodding me gently to wash my vagina. "Ngwa mepee ukwu gi. Saa Ike gi ofuma", he'd say while pouring water from a small cup down there for me.
However, in this particular scene, my father is not there. I know because if he was, my mother would have been less cranky. My mother is screaming at me to hurry up, get the water ready and bath my siblings. The morning sun is yet to rise, her shrill voice sliced through the quiet dawn. I was still feeling sleepy and so I shuffled lazily from the kitchen to the bathroom and to the bedroom. I dozed off while trying to get water from the drum placed on a big motor tyre on the verandah. I was still leaning on the drum, I didn't hear her coming until she started hitting me with the iron spatula she was using to stir the yam porridge she made for breakfast.
Clumps of yam porridge and red oil clung to my skin, some entering my eyes. I tried running away through the kitchen and ended up knocking pots, pans and plates down. When she finally noticed the blood flowing from the bruises and scars on my body, she stopped hitting me, sank down and wept. Her entire body shook from the emotions that moved within her. Our neighbour Papa Chisom was the one who called the Taxi that carried me to the clinic.
In the other scene, I was twelve when she rubbed hot pepper into my eyes and vagina because I lost the money she gave me to buy rice from the market near our house.
After Daddy left, she sank into these unpredictable moods. There were days when she laughed, a certain kind of sound that moved through her entire body. On other days, she stayed in bed crying, snapping at us. On many occasions, she cursed her kids. "If not for you stupid kids, I would have been out of here. Your father would not have left." Sometimes she threw her slippers at one of us while wailing.
When my breasts started showing— a small, round circle on my chest. My friends in school talked about their breasts too and the blood that had started flowing down our legs— she'd hit them with the pestle she used to pound pepper and yam. "Mechie onu..this will help your breasts form well", she'd snap at me when I winced from the sharp pain shooting down my spine. During those formative periods, she'd tie a small piece of her wrapper over my chest before I left the house. "I don't want you drawing bad attention to yourself" she said.
On those rare evenings she placed me on a low stool between her thighs to plait my dense hair, she warned me about men. Sometimes, she smiled and sometimes when I lift the mirror to look at my hair, I could see the pain in her eyes. "These men don't care about you. Once they get what they want from you that's how they'll dump you fast. Like your father did", she snapped her fingers.
I like to think that my mother was "training" me, that all the times she locked us up in our room so that for weeks we didn't leave the house even to go to school did not affect me. I like to think that I do not harbour a mild hate for her inside me, I lie to people about the scars on my body, " I had an okada accident" I'd say but every time her number shows up on my phone screen, an involuntary sigh escapes from my lips. Every time someone tries to show me pure love devoid of pain, I run. I push lovers away so that they can't get the chance to walk right out like my father did.
"Once they get what they want from you..that's how they'll dump you fast. Like your father did".