“Dare! What are you up to? What business have you got in the kitchen?” Baba Dare said as he walked into the living room.
Dare was dumbfounded. He knew his father wouldn’t pat his head for lending a hand in the kitchen, but he had his mother to please and his sisters to bribe. He could have rejected the offer to help pick the ewedu leaves but he accepted so as to cover up his many sins of the day. Again, he had fought with the class captain and was told to come to school the next day with his father or mother. After returning from school, he had gone biking in the neighborhood while his private tutor waited for his return. His sister, Bisola had found him down the street and brought him home to the stern looking face of his tutor who threatened to inform his parents of his irresponsibility. He had pleaded with his sisters not to tell their mother when she returned from the market and they agreed on the condition that he washed their socks for the next three days. So, when their mother returned and implored him to help pick the ewedu leaves while the sisters engage in other duties, he could not have hesitated.
“Baba Dare! You’re welcome sir!” His mother spoke, easing the tension. “You see, I’m sorry! I came late from work and our dinner would get late if the children don’t put in a helping hand. It’s my fault… ”
“So you had to tell my son to pick ewedu when the girls are here?”
He stopped for a moment, facing his only son who had collected his leather bag and the newspaper from his hand.
“You! Let this be the last time you will help them pick ewedu or do any of the girlish chores! Your work in this house is not related to the kitchen and it’s clear to everyone.”
Baba Dare declared storming out of the kitchen as Dare followed behind. The girls looked on. Their mother’s voice jolting them back to the moment.
“Ehn ehn! Won’t you hasten up? If you two weren’t the slow type, food should have been served by now. Oore! Why is the washing taking so long? You better be fast so a slap won’t land on your lazy head.” The mother said as she shouted out marching orders. She hissed and continued turning the semovita steaming in the pot. Bisola’s eyes got soaked with tears as she continued separating the bones from the fish.
As she lay on her bed that night, Bisola could have seen every item in the room clearly despite the darkness as the lights had been turned off but tears spreading like a stagnant river shielded her eyes. She lifted a hand to pop the water from her eyes and she felt the pain. A tiny bone had pricked her index finger while she was picking the bones. She had learnt never to make a fuss of such as it was a normal experience in cooking. This isn’t painful! she thought. Mother’s hands had been scalded a couple of times while making amala or frying fishes.
The painful thing is when you realize you’re a girl and you won’t grow into a man.
Her thoughts were getting the better part of her as she sat on the bed, gesticulating as she wondered in regretful thoughts.
Cooking! That demanding task performed by females for the lavish splendor of men. She, her mum and her ten year old sister Oore would sweat it out daily in the kitchen washing, picking, frying, grinding, mixing and doing all. When food was to be served, her mum ate the least, often eating the section closest to the burnt part, or taking the smallest meat and at times she ate none at all. Always, the girls were given a fair share but that was after Dare’s rich portion had been served. Daddy’s meal was more of meat than anything. All because daddy loves meats and Dare’s nutritional needs must be made.
Dare, her 13 years old brother was accorded privileges which she as the older one didn’t get. Even Oore, the baby of the house would have to wait until Dare’s needs were met. Their father argued that boys had an important role to be performed as the future patron of the family and their mother would agree adding that it was only customary for girls to abandon their father’s name for their husband’s.
Being a boy excused Dare from every house chore as they were termed girlish. His task in the house included fetching the bottled water from the store and refueling the generator. Often, he would fail to carry out the duties and Bisola would be blamed for not helping to salvage the situation. After all, she was older. She was the girl who would get married and should learn how to put her house in order. Being a boy granted him the liberty to play outside the compound, visit friends, go on sporting exercises and return late. Only a boy could be a Muhammad Ali or a Ronaldino, so it was reasoned. He is a boy and this status puts him in the right whenever he had disagreements with either of his sisters. They had been warned never to fight with their brother as he possessed nine bones when they had seven. His poor results in school was blamed on the school system until his grades didn’t improve in the new school and they had to employ the service of a private tutor.
If only I were a boy, I would have loved the almost 16 years of my teenage years. Bisola thought. Mummy and Daddy are lovely, though would be lovelier if we were boys too. My grades in class are enviable and I’ve got wonderful siblings too. But life could be more rewarding if I were a boy like Dare.
It’s a good thing to be a child but it’s best to be a boy. Her mother had made her understand that all the life and living of women is for the benefit of men and boys. Why is life not named men? She wondered as she retired to her lying position.
Obviously, her parents love them all but adore Dare. Not for his brilliance, nor for his manners. His academics was nothing to write home about. Lying, cheating, fighting and laziness characterized his manners. His exceptionality was his gender. It was like his gender equaled twice of the girls. His gender meant he was the flag-bearer of the family, the future of the Aderemi’s family and the true successor of father’s name and fame.
As Bisola’s thoughts enveloped her mind, she suddenly felt an eagerness to grow into an adult. Adulthood meant authority. She would have the authority to defend her gender, prove her human worth and correct her parents’ views about the girl-child. She was determined more than ever to become an important person in her profession as a Lawyer. She would get married but make sure to retain her father’s name. When she had her own children she wouldn’t discriminate between them based on gender. She knew how much it hurt. Oore must be encouraged too. That girl is gradually being disoriented. These thoughts occupied her mind as she summed them up to a poem.
If I were a boy, life would be easier
but I’m a girl, so I’d make life better.
She continued humming as the heavy wave of sleep drifted her away.
Ten years later
“Mummy! Mummy! I don land mummy.” Dare said as he walked into the house sitting down comfortably on the sofa. “Food dey make I chop?”
“You’re welcome!” Mama Dare walked into the room, bible in hand looking surprised. “Back so soon?”
“How I no go come back? E don tire me jare! The work bad, the pay low and them still dey para for me. I dey hungry mummy! I no fit shout…”
“Will you shut your mouth!” The mum replied angrily “The bible says that man shall not live by bread alone…”
Dare surprised and visibly annoyed shot back;
“Shey na my fault? How person go dey work for kitchen come dey hungry every time? A whole man like me? Them say I break their trays, say I no comport, say I be this, I be that. Me no go go back there mummy! If Bisola call, tell am say me don leave dem hotel o!” He declared as his mother watched in utmost bewilderment, putting the bible on the center table.
“No dey look me like that! I better pass that job, you self know nah. If no be for daddy wey die…”, Dare paused as if to reflect “…death, ha! Death dey spoil man career o! I suppose dey live large by now… ”
“You’re shameless!” His mother cut him short. “My husband’s death didn’t bring you Ill luck. You brought it upon yourself! I’ve been praying all morning all because of you… certificate; you don’t have, you’re the one who would wander off on the day of exams. Learn a trade; you refused. Go and work; you claim you’re too big to. I pity you! Even when your father was alive, did you make him happy? Despite his love and efforts on you…you brought home shame upon failure. Now, you blame your father’s death for your misfortune. What of Oore? Why is she not unfortunate like you? How did Bisola make it up to where she is today?”
“Haaaa! Mummy no even talk about the girls. Them be babes nah! Babes dey get opportunity wella. No be the opportunity Bisola take help me get the kitchen job? Those girls get body, them get wetin dey attract favour, luck and men. Mummy, you know nah…”
“Shut your mouth you ingrate!” Mama Dare spat back “How dare you? Bisola is not lucky, she’s been a good girl, focused and determined to succeed. Is it not the same job you detest she’s been doing to support herself through school? Look at Oore, despite her good grades, she’s making an income with her feats in football. Don’t you talk about my girls in such a manner!
“Mummy why you con dey tear for me like this? I no be your son again? Abeg gimme food before I quench for ground. ”
Mama Dare hissed, shaking her head as she sat on a stool beside the sofa.
“Food? Mr For Food Only! Come eat me. Shameless boy. We gave you the best opportunity to excel, the best education we could afford, a private tutor, freedom to enjoy your childhood, everything you ever requested. We even favored you over the girls. We gave birth to a child, we trained him only for him to become FFO.”
She stood up and walked out of the big hall as Dare followed behind raising his voice “Me wan eat o”
A week later
“Sis! I’m so proud of you! I’m sure daddy’s soul is too!” Oore said as she hugged her sister.
“Yes he is. I’m most happy too. My daughter! You’re my pride.” Mama Dare said with her eyes welling up. “Thank you thank you…” she broke down in tears as Oore hugged her, wiping away her tears with a napkin.
Bisola’s heart was heavy with gratitude and a head thinking faster than her senses. She was happy. She was a source of joy to her family. There was a long way to go but she was far ahead of the starting point. Today, at 26, she had been called to the bar. She recalled how she had studied night and day, focusing on her ambition to be a lawyer. Her father had died while she was in year one at the university. Financing her education had been a problem but her pay as a chef in a five star hotel supported her. Lecturer Koku’s love advances, her assertive refusals and the subsequent threats hadn’t deterred her from being the best graduating student at the university. Now she’s been called to the bar and more than everyone, she was proud of the woman she was becoming. She was happy and her mother was proud too but she knew there was more to the tears than her success.
Her mother voice interrupted her thoughts;
“Oore! Really you’re a gift from God to us. This football you have picked interest in since your father’s demise is giving me sleepless nights. I worry myself each day thinking our attitudes influenced your tomboy personality. Maybe you thought you could act like a boy though you’re not. Your sister, Bisola, has made a positive decision to succeed in life despite the challenges. And she is succeeding despite remaining a girl. I want you to toe the line of your sister and make this family proud too.”
“I know myself and your father made a lot of mistakes in your upbringing as we favored Dare over you girls because we thought he would be the flag-bearer of the family name…” Mama Dare paused as she reflected on her words. “Look at what he has turned himself to today. He neither has a certificate nor a skill. He has brought excessive shame and disrepute to the family name with his gambling and drinking escapades. He can’t feed himself and the poor girl he impregnated. Now he depends on me for food. I’m sure it is my cross to bear for our mistakes of the past. ”
“Mummy! I understand your fears.” Oore replied “Really, your attitudes towards us influenced me into thinking being a boy or acting like one is the only means to survival. But I was wrong. Thank God for my sister. She’s the Knight in my shinning armor. I’m not a tomboy and I will never be. I took interests in football because I believe I’ve got the talents and not because I want to be a boy. I promise and I hope to make the Aderemi name greater just like my sister has done. “
Dear daughters ! Please forgive us. Please… Really, we were wrong.
She sobbed for a long while as Oore massaged her shoulders and Bisola held her hands, both crying silently too.
Written by Kaffi Denike Bushrah