Every child called the woman they were living with ‘mom’ but the woman I was living with always insisted I called her “Aunt.” When I mistakenly called her mom, she insulted me and threatened to drive me out of the house so I could go and follow my mom on the street. I was young. Very young. I don’t remember how old I was then but I remember I was very young then. I stopped calling her mom and called her aunt. As I grew up, the story of my life kept unfolding right before my eyes and I started picking bits and pieces here and there to form a complete story. The woman indeed was my aunt. She had three children, one of them was my age mate. Her husband didn’t like me a lot. He’ll go out and bring new things to the kids and leave me out. My aunt’s daughter who was my age will ask him, “Where’s Vero’s own?” And he would say, “Her mother will buy her some not me.”
I was the girl that got left out in everything. I never had a birthday celebration but my siblings had it every year. I never had new clothes for Christmas but everyone around me had them. I never ate to my satisfaction but I was the one in the smokey kitchen getting things done. My siblings would have enough to eat and even give some to the wandering dogs, while I would have so small on my plate. I was always scared to finish my food because when it got finished, I didn’t know when the next one would come. I was the girl who was used to doing everything in the house and yet got nothing. I was too young to understand what was happening but I wasn’t too young to feel the hatred my aunt and her husband had for me.
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My school fees was unpaid for the whole term. My teacher sacked me from school every week but anytime I went to my aunt and asked for the fees she would tell me, “Go and tell your teacher that I will pay when I get it. If I don’t get it, he can’t come and force me.” I will go home and take off my uniform because, without the school fees, I couldn’t go back. It continued until we were going to write the term’s exams. My siblings were in the same school as me. All of them had paid their fees in full but I hadn’t paid a penny.
So one afternoon, the teacher held my hand and took me to my aunt. He thought I had squandered my fees or something. When we got to my aunt and he asked about my fees my aunt said, “I don’t have the money. If it worries you, tell her not to come to the school again so you can have your peace of mind.” My teacher looked stunned. I’ve forgotten the next question he asked but I remember the answer my aunt gave him, “You can’t come and worry me this hot afternoon. Her mother is roaming the street of Asankragua. You can find her and ask her for the fees.”
She was fond of using that line anytime she spoke about me. “Your mother is roaming the street…” I was in class four or thereabout so I was becoming aware of myself. Each time she made that statement, a piece of me died. She said it and made a certain face that portrayed how despicable my mom was. Many nights I wanted to go to my mom but I didn’t know her. Plus she kept changing the places where my mom was. Today she’ll mention Asankragua. Tomorrow it would be Wasa, another day it would be a different town or place. I was lost.
First, it was my aunt’s eldest daughter who scratched the surface of the whole story to me. She asked me to do something for her and I couldn’t. She told me, “I don’t even know why mom brought the daughter of a madwoman to live with us. You should have been left to roam the street with your mother. You’re here eating and wasting food yet don’t want to do anything.”
Slowly the picture was getting clearer. Every sentence that came from their mouth lifted the lid of the story a little. I was also busy piecing things together to get the whole story. I got the whole story when I was in class six. It was my aunt’s husband who let the rabbit out of the hat. I overslept one morning and couldn’t fill the tank with water. When I woke up, I had to sweep and clean before I can fetch water. The man got to the tank and realized there was no water. He shouted at me. He sought to demean me. He reduced me to nothing with every word that came from his mouth. He said, “I blame my wife. You should have been left to rot on the street with your mother. A madwoman who can have sex and get pregnant should be able to take care of her child too. If she knows how to satisfy her feelings then she should know how to satisfy the product of her feelings.”
Now I could put the whole story together and make it make sense. The complete story is this. My mom fell sick for a very long time. It was a sickness of the mind. She would be screaming at dawn for nothing. She would be joyful for no reason. Hospitals didn’t help so they took her to Nakaba church and was chained to a big tree. A lot of rituals were done to purge the devil residing in her brain but it never worked. She spent more than two years at the Nakaba camp until one day, she broke off and run away. That began her roaming on the street.
Families gave up on her. Her mother died out of depression. Her father died out of shame. My aunt and my mother were the only daughters of my grannies. One day, they saw my mom carrying on a pregnancy. They didn’t see her again until a traveler came to tell them that she saw her in Asankragua with the baby behind her. They tracked her down and snatched the baby from her. I was the baby. I ended up with my mother’s only sister and that was the beginning of my misery.
The tears that came from my eyes that day were different. I got cold but my tears kept me warm. I went to school that day and didn’t go back home. I stayed in the school compound until the doors were locked. I roamed around the school compound until late at night when I jumped the window of our class and went to sleep there. Nobody came looking for me. I was a girl without a world. I slept in that class until early morning when the caretaker opened the class and found me there. He screamed, ”What are you doing here? Where are your parents? “W’abɔ ko me boa?”
When my teacher came to school that day, he reported it to him. I was taken to the staff common room and was interrogated by the teachers around. I was too shy to tell them my story so they thought I had stolen something from my parents and had run away. After school that day, my class teacher held my hand and said, “I’m taking you to your parents. Whatever you did, they’ll forgive you. You can’t sleep around here. What if someone pounces on you?” He held me by the hand and walked with me. Along the way, I opened up to him. “I ran away from home because they don’t want me there. I don’t belong there because my mother is a madwoman. They taunt me with it. They maltreat me. They just don’t want to see me around.” The teacher thought I was lying just to escape.
We got to my aunt’s shop in the market and the teacher handed me over to her. My aunt said, “Why are you bringing her? Have you finished sleeping with her? You can keep her. I thought I will never see her face again. Papa, keep her if you want.” My teacher was shaking. I could see from his face. He looked at me and looked at my aunt. My aunt continued, “You can also take her to her mad mother if you care so much about her.”
Sir Amoako. He had been my teacher for only a term. A man in his fifties. He slowly let go of my hand and started walking away. My aunt shouted for him to come back for me. He didn’t turn back. He continued walking away.
She took me home and gave me the beating of my life. When her husband also came, he continued with the beating until I slipped through his fingers and ran away. I didn’t go back home for days. No one came looking for me. I slept wherever I found safe. I was missing school so one day I went to the school and looked for my class teacher. I told him what happened after he left me there. He was very quiet for a while. He said, “Sit under the tree. Don’t go anywhere.” After school, he took me to his house. His wife saw me and started crying. She already knew my story. I got a new uniform days later and started going to school again.
He spoke to my aunt about living with me and my aunt didn’t think twice about it. She said, “Keep her if you want. We don’t want her in our house again.” One day, she came for a PTA meeting and she saw me. She couldn’t look at me. There was this indignation on her face. The following term, she took my siblings out of the school. That didn’t bother me. I had a new home where my past was never used against me. I had a mother who woke up and asked me, “What are we going to eat today?” That question sounded like a melody in my ears. “My views are being sought on what to eat? Where am I? In heaven?”
Sir Amoako and his wife had two children. Sir Amoako had a son from his previous marriage who was then working in Ghana railways in Takoradi. His name is Francis. He came home one day and heard my story and totally broke down. He told me, “You’re in safe hands. I will send money for your upkeep ok? Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”
I was fine throughout my JSS days. I did very well and got admission to Ahantaman Girls. I never lacked anything ever again. Bra Francis came around to visit often and gave me money. During mid-terms, I will go to him and spend the whole midterms in his house. He treated me like a salt melting in water—he removed every water out of the house so I will be safe. During vacation, he’ll come for me and drive me home to his parents. Those were the best days of my life. I didn’t think about anything except that the thought of my mother flashed through my mind every now and then. I was wondering about her. How she looked and how she was able to conceive me while mad. I thought of mountain a search for her but I didn’t know where to begin and where to end.
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I was in SSS one when Sir Amoako retired and went back to his hometown in Dunkwa-on-Offin. So Dunkwa became our new home. I completed SSS in 2003, wrote remedials, and later got admission into UCC. I completed UCC in 2009 and in 2010 Sir Amoako died. It broke me into pieces and I cried myself to sleep every night. Even now, he comes to mind and I still cry. I had big plans for him and how I was going to do everything to make him proud. But he slipped just when I was about to begin my own life.
It was after my national service that I went back to look for my aunt and her husband. I had questions for them. I wanted to know where to find my mother. I went back and this woman looked at me like she had seen a ghost. I said, “I’m looking for my mom. You have any idea where I can find her?” She didn’t talk for a while. She said, “You think you’re the one to cure her madness? After everything we’ve done for you, you came here looking for your mother and not us? I can’t help you. Go to Asankragua, or Enchi, or Wasa, she could be anywhere still roaming. She could even be dead, who knows.” I nodded my head and asked for permission to leave. She said, “This should be your last time coming here to ask me those silly questions. I knew you’ll grow up to be ungrateful so I’m not surprised.”
That was the last time I heard from her. I’ve never gone back to the town again because of the bad memories and because I have nothing there to take.
My love story had been the same as the story of my growing up. I’ve met men I clung to because they were my only source of love—the love I never had when I was young. When I was doing my national service, I was taking care of a guy who was in school. My allowance will come and I will send it to him. I thought that would make him love me more. He completed school and cut ties with me. I even fell for a guy who was five years younger than me. I thought he was going to be my safer ground but he turned out to be my sinking sand. He said he loved me and I believed him. We dated for four years only for him to use our age difference as an excuse to walk away. And then came the guy who proposed to me and I said yes only for him to get married a month later.
“Maybe, the daughter of a madwoman doesn’t deserve to be loved,” I told myself. One day I confided in Bra Francis. I cried to him actually. He said, “Your mother’s story should rather be an inspiration to you than a source of worry. She found someone to love her enough to sleep with her even when she was mad. You’re sane and beautiful and educated and well brought up. You’ll find love. Just take your time. My response was, “Who knows, my dad too could be a mad man.” He said, “If two mad people can fall in love, then it’s possible with anyone. Do you know how long the two of them walked before they found each other? Love is not an easy journey. Keep walking.”
And then I found a guy called Francis. He made all the difference in my love life. In August 2018, we got married. My mom, Sir Amoako’s wife was too weak to be at the wedding. It was Francis my brother who stood in as my father and walked me to my husband. My tears that day were not because of the love I’ve found in my husband. It was for the absence of the two most important people in my life; Sir Amoako and his wife. I wish they could be there to see the product of their kindness and unflinching love. They were not but Francis made all the difference. He too had been the love of my life. I call him daddy now.
–Vero, Silent Beads!
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