Thank God We Don’t Look Like What We’ve Been Through

July 11, 2019

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, in their own words.

The woman in this story has a contagious energy. She’s 20 and figuring out life after university. Youth service is next but she doesn’t need a government program to acknowledge the work she’s put in for herself and those she loves. Adulting, for her, is blossoming against any odds.

My mother used to say, ‘Just you wait, my girl, women will run this world.’ She’d mention powerful women who were kicking ass and taking names. Her favourite was Margaret Thatcher who she said I should aspire to: no-nonsense, practical, direct.

I grew up as the fourth of five very playful children. My siblings were my best friends and Margaret Thatcher wasn’t anyone’s priority. We played different games: ice and water, policeman and thief etc. If it was cheesy, we were playing it.

One of my earliest memories is laughing as my sisters and I tried to catch my brother who was playing Rambo, complete with the mandatory wrapper as a cape. I guess one reason we were close is that we didn’t really have anyone else to play with. There were only two houses on our street and we were separated from our neighbours by a huge barbed wire fence that is still taller than me.

In 2005, when I was 6, we moved houses and changed schools. All of a sudden, we were surrounded by people including children my age who were not brought up in a strict Catholic household like ours. I heard Pidgin English for the first time and got teased for how good my English was. This new environment was foreign to me and like a hermit, I retreated. I found new friends in books. Book friends didn’t call you ‘skeleton’ or ‘orobo’ when you finally gained a little weight. If you can think of a story idea, I’ve probably read about it in some variation. 

As a child, I admired my mother a lot. She might have shown me heroes in suits and positions of power, but if I ever looked up to anyone, it was her. She had to drop out of school because she got pregnant with my brother, and gave birth to all of us with only two years separating each one. She went back to school before she gave birth to my younger sister, and she joked that because she was pregnant, she couldn’t sleep, so she had to read. She gave birth to her days after her last exam paper. 

Growing up, I didn’t have a master plan. I don’t imagine a lot of 10-year-olds do. Life was good and our finances were okay as far as my younger self knew. I was doing reasonably well in school too. I wanted to become a nurse, mainly because I was a bit sickly as a child and had been at the mercy of too many nurses to not be influenced in some way. Well, that all went down the drain.

In 2010, my mother died, exactly a week after my 11th birthday. It had been a big deal, and till date, I feel guilty for being so happy just before the tragedy. I was with her in the hospital for a week before she died. I was the only one she took. She told me I was the strongest of us all; I still don’t know about that. The day before she died was a Sunday and I remember praying for her to just see the end of the next day. Call it childish, but somehow I believed that everything would be fine if she just made it to the end of Monday. I went to sleep on Sunday night and was shaken up to be told that she had died in the night.

I grew up real quick. My dad lost his job and we were forced to live off his paltry severance pay for a while. Without my mum’s income to support, finances became a problem. Money became my primary motivation as it did for my siblings. I’ve promised myself that I will never struggle as hard as we did those years. We struggled and then gradually, silver linings showed.

My brother and sister got into university and won scholarships. This took a lot of weight off everyone in the house. When I got into university in 2014, I knew I had to get one too.  I did and the next challenge was putting my head into my books so I could maintain my grades and keep the scholarship. I don’t like asking for money, and I can’t even imagine how life would have been like without that scholarship.

Getting into school didn’t mean I was absolved of any money-making responsibilities. The first job I had was teaching biology and chemistry to secondary school students to prepare them for WAEC. This was in 2014. I remember that feeling of having my own hard earned money, not given, not loaned. It was a heady feeling.

Now, I contribute substantially to housekeeping. I’m always happy when I do, and I’ll do everything in my power to ensure we never go back to the way things were. I send my younger sister money every other week. She’s living my dream and I’m proud of her. I want her to experience all the university thrills I never did because I was worried about money. She has it all, and she will have more if I have anything to say about it.

Finishing university this year was a big deal for me. I’m 20 and everyone says I have my whole life ahead of me. Sometimes, it feels like so much has already happened. I know this is a new phase but the same old needs persist. 

Adulting to me now means “Saving, investing and never running out of money.” I’m working on all three. On the more-human, less-mercenary side of life, my biggest inspiration is my older brother. For a while before we found our bearings, he had to shoulder the responsibility of  five of us, and yet he is so kind. He is my lesson: You don’t always have to be a reflection of the circumstances that raised you. When I finally complete this growing up thing, I want to be like him, wise and with an unending capacity for kindness.

The world is mine for the taking, I know it. Now more than ever, women are demanding credit for the work they do. I’m benefiting from the hard work women of all ages did to make sure they are recognized. I don’t take this for granted. Would my mother be proud of me? God, I hope so. I know I’ve been slacking. It’s easier that way, coasting and being comfortable. She always said to put in my best and strive for excellence. I’ll do better.

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