“Where have you been?”
Mother’s voice startled me, I had not expected her to be back so soon. What was she doing home this early? She was hardly ever home, she was barely here. How could she be here now?
“Can’t you talk?” She asked again. The hoarseness of her voice scared me. I wanted to talk but it was hard, how could I tell her where I had been?
How could I tell her how I had been spending my afternoons for the past two months? How could I when I was certain she would never believe me? Opening my mouth to talk would also put her at risk.
Closing my mouth was the only way to protect her and my family. Even though she was never here, even though I wish she was more available, I could not bear to put her in danger.
She was my mother and I loved her irrespective. I saw the sacrifice she made to take care of me and my siblings ever since father died. I only wish she was available more often, I only wish she was present when I needed her.
“Labake,” She was standing right in front of me now. “Are you sure you’re okay?” Her cold hands moved through my face and neck sending a shiver down my spine.
“I’m fine mum,” the words I said easily, the words which tasted like freshly cooked lies in my mouth.
“Why are you so warm?” She asked again, her hands were no longer moving through my skin. Her eyes however roamed through my body.
The movement of her eyes scared me, I was scared that she would be able to read through me. If she kept on staring, she would unravel the secrets I held deeply in my soul.
A secret that was eating and tearing me deep within, a secret that made me feel dirty and awkward each time.
A secret that made me uncomfortable in school, church and at home too. A secret that made me want to tear out my skin each and every time.
I looked at my mother’s eyes and I was not sure if I saw right. Did she know already?
“Mum,” I managed to speak, “why are you crying?”
“Omo mi, how long has it been?” She asked.
“What do you mean mum?”
“You miss your dad, don’t you?” She extended her arms and wrapped me in a hug. “I miss him too, I know I’ve been trying to work so hard for the past six years and I’ve not been exactly available but I promise to change.”
I felt a bit relieved, my mother was going to be available. I was not sure if I was also relieved that she had not discovered my secret.
“Thank you mum. Thank you.” I could feel her tears dropping on my shoulder and somehow my eyes got misty as well.
This nightmare would never end!
It would never end. My mouth would have to be closed for a long long time.
FIVE MONTHS LATER
Yes, the nightmare didn’t end.
Rather, it got worse. I kept my mouth closed quite alright. I kept it closed out of love to protect my mother, my siblings and myself.
What I failed to realise however was that love should not hurt one. What I learnt late was that love was not selfish. What I was blind to see was that love didn’t afflict or torment people.
I didn’t need to open my closed mouth.
I didn’t need to tell my mother about how our landlord was touching me inappropriately every afternoon after school.
I didn’t need to tell her about how he had threatened to kill my mother and entire family if I opened my mouth.
I didn’t need to do the talking because my unexpected pregnancy had done the talking for me instead.
It had started the introductory speech and I had been forced to continue the tale amidst tears.
I should never have closed my mouth.
I should never have allowed my landlord abuse me every day.
I should not have subjected myself to the terrible smell of tobacco from his mouth and hands whenever he forced himself on me.
I should never have allowed him touch me.
I should have said something.
But I had been scared.
I was scared people would find it hard to believe me. I was scared they would see me as dirty. I was scared he would hurt my family.
In a few months, I’ll become a mother.
A mother to a child I never planned to have.
I can’t look my friends in the eye anymore. I can’t attend church confidently. I can’t recover the one year of school I’m going to lose.
I may choose to blame my mother for being unavailable but I wish I was at least confident enough to speak up.
My uncles got the landlord arrested. He’s been sent to jail.
Everyone knows my story now, it’s no longer a secret. So much for wanting to keep a secret. The secret I tried so hard to keep is now a public story.
My only crime was not speaking up.
It was hard but I wish I had opened up to someone, I wish I had told my mother.
I was abused. My innocence was forcefully taken.
I won’t be the first teenager who ends up as a mother at the age of fourteen.
I won’t be the first child who is abused by wicked and greedy grownups.
I won’t be the first child who is afraid to speak up and get help.
I’m sad and have regrets but my only crime was keeping my mouth closed.
Let’s protect children and teenagers.
Paedophiles should be punished appropriately by the justice system.
Labake thinks her only crime was keeping quiet. But another crime was she was simply a “child“.
And it shouldn’t be a crime to be a child.
It shouldn’t hurt to be a child.
Stop sexual abuse!
A lot of children can’t speak for themselves but we can help them speak. We can help them feel loved and educate them on how they can protect themselves.
We can raise this awareness.
We shouldn’t create fear in them but we can ensure that they do not live in pain simply because they are children.
Paedophiles should be prosecuted!
Protect the children. Protect the teenagers. Protect our future. Protect our world.