We want to know how young people become adults. The question we ask is “What’s your coming of age story?” Every Thursday, we’ll bring you the story one young Nigerian’s journey to adulthood and how it shaped them.
The guy in this story is a 19-year-old graphic designer who lives in the office where he’s employed because living at home is not an option. He left home at 17 after a clash with his stepfather.
The day I raised my fist to defend myself from the insults and continuous abuse of my stepfather — a man who never let me and my mother forget how he helped when no one would — was the day it dawned on me that I was an adult. This was just before I turned 17. I left home the same day and never looked back. I gave my mother an option and she made him her choice.
She hurried towards me after I walked away in anger. I was enraged but I had made my decision: I was leaving. I didn’t have anywhere to go; my friends didn’t know my situation. I keep everything close to heart. That’s what happens when you’re used to promise–and–fail from family members. That’s what happens when they gossip right in your face about how your mother is a failure and can never do well, especially with you, the bastard child she had when she was 20.
I don’t know who my father is. Living in a family house in Mushin was the most shitty thing ever, but that’s where I spent my formative years. I was always on my guard because I didn’t know who I might offend with my presence. In the beginning, I was trusting of family. I believed anything they said until I realised they (my aunties and uncles) were deliberately taunting me with promises they knew they wouldn’t keep.
We left Mushin when I was 11. I was so glad when my mum told me we were moving even though I wondered where we would go. I knew she didn’t have a lot of money. She packed our things in the middle of the night and sat up till dawn. We had a room to ourselves, thankfully. She must have thought I was asleep because it was easy for me to read the expressions on her face from the glow of the lantern. When we started living with my “stepfather” and he started abusing her, I often thought back to that sad expression. I preferred it, preferred the house in Mushin, to what living with my stepfather did to her, to us.
He didn’t raise his fist at the beginning. It started out as intense emotional and psychological abuse. I didn’t even know that was what it was until I read up on it some months ago while doing research for a design project I was working on.
By the time I left home, I was damaged from the inside but no one knew. My mum stayed because she didn’t feel like she could go back home. I understood, but that wasn’t how I wanted to continue. I left in the middle of the afternoon; I walked out with no reassurance to her that I would keep in touch because I wasn’t sure I would be able to. My only option was sleeping on the streets and that was better than continuing to live under my stepfather.
I didn’t sleep on the streets though. An uncle of the adugbo helped out. He saw me sitting on a fence and asked me what happened. I didn’t say a thing, couldn’t say a thing. Perhaps, God told him something because he asked me to follow him and I did. It was either that or I stayed where I was on the street.
Fast forward to about three months later. My guys gave tutorials on how to work a computer and I began exploring my options. I have a phone, so I could Google anything. I started looking for a job while working and living with my guys. I learnt a lot from them, Google and YouTube.
I got a job in 2018 as a graphic designer. I didn’t know shit and I felt really overwhelmed by everything. It was one of my guys who helped me do my first six design projects. Practice is different from theory and there was only so much I could learn when managing data. That led to me living in the office. I would leave when everyone was leaving at closing hours, go hang out in a spot for a few hours until I was sure that everyone had gone. Then I would go back to the office. The first time I did this, I told the security guard that I forgot my phone in the office and later told him I had decided to work all night because of deadlines. I did this until we both developed an understanding that I was sleeping in the office.
I have a small bag stashed in the security gatehouse from which I discreetly pick up a change of clothes. My company has a bathroom and kitchen and I have an option for picking any of the offices to sleep in but I always sleep in the meeting room because of the space and great WiFi connection. At first I would sleep in a chair all night but now I sleep on the floor. I also spend some of the night watching video tutorials of how to use CorelDraw and Photoshop; I’m still learning. In fact, I’m the lowest paid staff but I have no complaints because of the comforts the work provides. I know this is no way to live, but it’s better than where I’m coming from.
I finally spoke with my mother in May — exactly two years after I left home. She was happy to hear my voice. I cried after I spoke with her. She now comes to visit me at the office on Tuesday afternoons. She always comes with a meal. She told me that my stepfather has been calm since I left. Apparently I was “good riddance”. She didn’t say so but I got the drift.
I’ve always been an adult. The increase in age is no different. Adulting is a survival, and I’ve been surviving since I was eight. I can only look forward to a better means of survival. But, for now, I make do with what I have. Am I scared that someone will discover I sleep in the office and I will be thrown out on my face with no source of income? Yes.
Do I still have plans to go to university after dropping out from secondary school in SS2? Yes. I’m saving up part of my salary of 40k to achieve that.