Ivomah was always the perfect one.
She never did all the things teenagers did. She didn’t lie, didn’t top up costs like her friends did; telling their parents that things cost ten thousand naira more than they really did, she even helped mama at home without sulking like our older siblings did. She was the apple of my parents eyes. She bathed me even before mama asked her to and helped me with my homework. She didn’t snap at me like my older siblings did even though I was thirteen years her junior. She was almost my shadow; she went everywhere with me and was a tad overprotective.
When I was five, Ivomah got into university to study law. My parents were elated. She would be the first lawyer in our family. It scared me how perfect she was. She seemed like glass whose subcritical cracks expanded invisibly over time. Like she was stretching herself too thin. Smiling too much, doing too much, taking care of everyone too much. I wasn’t surprised when she broke up with Haruna when he proposed after university. I felt grateful; maybe this would be her only crisis. Maybe the only way she’d try to self destruct was dumping the one person who had seemed to love her more that she loved herself. I was… well, not quite right.
Ivomah fell in love a few more times after Haruna, but she never made it to marriage. There was always something wrong. They were always too chauvinistic, too docile, too kind, easily decieved; she always said the last with a sad smile.
I never had a problem with men. That was until I turned nine. It was the first time my father raped me. I had watched a few movies in which fathers raped their daughters and I did not believe I’d ever have such an experience and even when I’d see all the lewd glances my father passed me, I’d convince myself that I was misinterpreting them. He didn’t do the routine ‘sneak into her bedroom at 1am’ business; my mother was too much of a light sleeper. He did it after he’d pick me up from school, in the car on the deserted track road that students never used and he would explain that that was how fathers showed love to their favorite daughters. I believed this story for about three years and then I started to protest, to threaten to tell mother and my teachers and so he stopped. I was terrified he would start with Fanan so I became her guardian angel of sorts.
I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t know how to or how my mother would feel. I was glad to leave home and live free from ogling by people who shouldn’t. I met Haruna the year I left home and I liked him; so gentle, such a big heart but I thought he was too emotional. I needed a man with whom I could share this secret that wouldn’t let me move forward. A man who wouldn’t look at me differently, who would make the right decision- to tell mama or not to tell- for me. What I didn’t know was that that decision was all mine to make.
And that’s what Yusuf taught me.
I knew it was different when I saw Ivomah and Yusuf. It had taken so many years and so many fakes, but I knew she had found her ‘one’. It was the way she talked when she was with him, the way she acted. She laughed louder. She spoke her mind. She scolded me when I laughed at a disabled man’s gait. She didn’t bend her head when she saw papa anymore. Now he averted his eyes. She wasn’t eager to please mama like she was appeasing her. She helped her still, just that now, when she was tired, she asked for a break and when she had an appointment, she didn’t say ‘okay, just for a few minutes’, she said ‘ma, I’ll do it when I get back’. She visited because she wanted to see us, not because mama had emotionally blackmailed her.
I wasn’t quite as shocked as everyone else when she called a meeting and said as tears ran down her oval face how papa raped her, where, what times and how it made her feel while Yusuf held her hands and clenched his teeth trying not to stare viciously at our papa. I was relieved and afraid. Relieved that my sister was indeed free and human and afraid of what mama would say. What would she say? Did she already know? Would she leave papa? Would she disown Ivomah? And what would our siblings do? Had papa also raped our eldest sister?
I had decided to do this. I had made up my mind. But why did their silence unnerve me so? Fanan sat twiddling her thumbs and mama just stared at me, her mouth open in shock as I held Yusuf’s hand tighter.
‘What?’ I said
‘I said, so? so what?’ mama was saying.
The tears fell. She had known. Of course she had known.
It didn’t matter. My siblings tried to shut mother up. My eldest sister was devastated and Yusuf had to hold my brother from hitting my father who just sat and chewed his nails. I decided to forgive them- my parents- not just because it was the zen thing to do, but because there wasn’t any room in my heart to keep any more grudges. My Yusuf had helped me love. My Fanan had watched me become human again and she’d held my hand the whole way in her all-knowing, all-understanding way. She had told me;
‘I think Yusuf really likes you. You can trust people who love you’
My heart broke because I know that she knew. Everyone in that house had known. The only reason my other siblings didn’t know is because they weren’t home enough. And as I left that day, I took my Fanan away from them. I’d get mama a helper and Fanan would visit whenever I did.
It didn’t matter that mama had shouted to bring her back. I’d obeyed for too long.