CHAPTER 1: In retrospect

It sounds cliché – ‘black is beauty’. I was dark-skinned and beautiful. But not anymore. I mean I still like to think of myself as beautiful but my skin colour was now ‘coke and fanta’. I had patches on my skin from various sources. My feet for instance was lighter than my leg from a hot water incident that happened years ago but that’s a story for another day.

My name is Tokunbo Toromagbe and my name implies that I was born outside Nigeria but my reality is far from whatever you might think. I was born to a man I was not interested in calling father and a Benin Republic mother. So I was born in Cotonou (abroad as some might refer to it). I have not met my mother before and I decided it was time to search for her. I lived in the Akowonjo area of Lagos and I was familiar with my neighbourhood only because I sold ‘ewa aganyi’ (beans and fried stew) from street to street in an iron pot carefully balanced on my head.

I did not have any siblings (at least to my knowledge) but even so catering for myself mostly was no fun. I had to provide food for my father too (but not anymore since I have left home now). We lived in a one bedroom apartment in a face-me-i-face-you building that had one bathroom and one pit toilet for its ten rooms and I usually took my bath in the evenings to avoid the morning rush. I struggled hard to put a little food on the table but whenever my father had some money, he spent it on cigarettes and shekpe (hot drink). I always slept with my purse firmly attached to my waist so that he would not steal from me. I was wiser and smarter now thanks to him.

All of my worldly possessions fit into a small Ghana-must-go bag and I never bought anything extravagant, in fact I never thought about it to avoid the aches and pain that comes from thinking about my situation. I told myself it was my destiny but I am not even sure I believe in destiny anymore. I pray, at least that is one thing I have not given up yet – my belief in God (although I get angry at Him sometimes). My best sweet is any sweet that has menthol like vicks blue (popularly called baba blue) because my voice is almost always hoarse. I have to announce my arrival in every street almost like a town crier.

My life was so routine but what choice did I have! I had to wake up early to cook beans and prepare my feet to walk. I walked everyday from one street to another so that I now had cracks under my feet. I sometimes sold beans to ‘posh’ girls in salons where they were having their feet scrubbed and scrapped by someone else and I wished I could have a job where I sat down all day. That would be an improvement to this one. It was tiring but it was all I had to look forward to day after day. It provided escape from my father at least.

Even though I looked forward to going out each day, it had its downside and I continually had to fend off some men who thought they could have their way with me just because I hawked their streets. I tried to be strong and I can proudly say (or write) that I have not cried myself to sleep in months. I had to stop my schooling when competition made it impossible for me to school, study and trade at the close of school hours. That meant no food since father was not providing. But that fateful Thursday morning, I decided to take my life in my hands in the hopes that trying to find my mother would bring a better life and an improved standard of living. All I had was her name and an old picture of her father hid a long time ago. I failed to ask myself what kind of woman leaves her child to a nonchalant father. I did not want to wonder what I would do if I did not find her. I tried to push the questions to the dark recesses of my mind so that cobwebs would make them obscure and I had plenty of cobwebs in my mind.

So one Wednesday night, I re-arranged my bag since it was mostly always kept in the same way. Not minding that I had a busted lip from my last confrontation with my father, I took a shower even spending an extra fifteen minutes. Little did I know what awaited me the next morning …

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