Well, dear Ayo, I admit I owe you an apology. I should have written to you at least 7 years back, even if only to encourage you on the next leg of your journey (our journey after all). But, first things first, let me start from the beginning, by wishing you and us a happy day of the girl. When I read stuffs about nurturing our inner child, I smile because I give that a 100% yes and yes and yes, all the way. I was told Ayo meant soft in our dialect, and I used to wonder if we were ever left to live up to that awesome nickname. I mean, when I reflect on all we went through in our girlhood, it wasn’t soft. Maybe, we had to be the one to make it our own version of soft, but what did we know, and which resources did we have at our disposal? Fractured is what I chose to candidly label our girlhood. But I am so happy and grateful that despite that severe fracture brought about by all those adverse childhood experiences and our dramatic transition to motherhood of sorts at age 12, first to our siblings and then to our own baby at age 24, we made it and are living our own version of soft. You see, I even added merry to Marie which is the name we got at baptism.
No one needs to remind me how bouncy and full of life you were at birth. Mum says she left from school on a certain Thursday 18th January 1979 at 5 pm, went to the hospital and had you by midnight (no doubt you are such a full moon now). She then spent the next three days at home showing you your way around sort of, and was back to school on Monday, with her friends wondering where the little bump on her belly had gone. Could that be the beginning of your independence and hyper activeness? How could everyone not love you? And you did love everyone back too, always there everywhere and for everyone to do just what had or needed to be done. And yes girl, you enjoyed the first 7 years of your life until the great disastrous move. I mean, daddy could have even discussed that move with you, not like you wouldn’t have understood nor interacted. Everyone knew you were his girl and if anyone could hold any conversation with him, it was you. But I guess, the strain in their marriage and your growing ‘rebellion’, was now making you less of his ‘golden child’.
And so, it came to be, that the entire family was uprooted to another city far away from all you knew and your friends, and you had to try settling down in a new school and neighbourhood. Gosh, the new house was so big by your standards, and in a big fence with a scary gate. All other homes in that neighbourhood looked same unfriendly, neighbours barely spoke to one another. As if that was not enough, their marriage dissolved 3 years later, and mum left you 4 behind. Now, even if your nickname meant soft, what could any softness help with? Your brother was fragile to say the least, mummy’s own golden child and your favourite sibling too. He needed taking care of, it wasn’t long after that he got diagnosed with epilepsy remember? It became a matter of survival, especially with the arrival of stepmom with her own set of rules and regulations. “Don’t touch this, don’t touch that. Indeed, I don’t even want to see your faces around, keep to your room or bear the consequences”. We didn’t want to find those out and so we kept to our room or locked ourselves up in the loo for as long as we could, just for a break sometimes.
I wish I could say your baby brother got better, but you lived it all and saw how the epilepsy and stigma and shame, and marginalization and all other in between, got the better part of him and his mental health took a big hit. The diagnosis for the mental illness attracted all sorts of names which left you scared. The trauma of skipping over the high fence to go find food because you dare not touch step mom’s, the pain of seeing your brother in pain and being so helpless, the fear of what tomorrow will bring, all of that took its own hit on you too. Even when he started calling you ‘Mama Ayo’ when you were barely 14, that did nothing to make life seem any better.
You struggled to survive, at least your grades only dropped but you never failed an exam. Both of you were very intelligent and ever determined not to let the two years of torture at dad’s and step mom make you failures in life. How you wish, he had lived to tell his own tale! I know this is about us, but can we ever talk about us without him? Then when adolescence hit you hard, and all those hormones, and no one to even talk to you about basic stuffs like how to properly wear a pad, of course only some blunders could be noted. You were beautiful even if you didn’t believe that then nor smiled at all. But, let me be candid that you still are and I appreciate how we smile now. The boys lured with just what you most craved for. They promised to hold you and love you for infinity. You may not have even known what that really meant, but you did give them some trial periods. The inevitable happened, that was exactly 15 years ago, you had him and even though from a most forbidden love, you didn’t care.
You were almost homeless, and so unstable both in thoughts and actions. Marriage to you seemed the best way out. You even saw it as a refuge remember? And you did it girl, you met a guy in December, told him either marriage or nothing, and by March you both exchanged vows in front none other but your own father who was the lord mayor of your village at the time. Ha, whatever we were expecting I still can’t tell up to this day. But what we got, I can’t start talking about that in this very letter. Let me just say, we tried our best and took some real abuse, we tried to fight back and gave in, up, out after 6 years. How many kids you had by then again, ah yes 3 boys. How may times you had gotten pregnant again? 4 times. Remember there was the first pregnancy even before the vows were exchanged, that one you miscarried at 5 months, then the angel you had in 2008 and barely cradled in your arms before she developed the respiratory infection which took her back to her maker the very next day. By then, pain was your companion.
But darling Ayo, all the above reflections and recollections are not to open old wounds or throw any pity party, no that’s not what soft girls turned women and mothers do. Our girlhood may have been fractured and interrupted, we may have had some real adverse childhood experiences, but our stubborn but passionate faith kept us going. I wouldn’t lie to you when I say some days today are still tough especially as a single parent living with both Rheumatoid Arthritis and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but when I think of how far we have come, girl I owe you a big one. We strive on for our own sake but also for his sake, gone so soon but will live in us forever. We strive on for the boys and all those young girls who look up to us for inspiration and motivation. We are so grateful we can mentor many and we can equally give all those talks and write the books to share our story and tell people it is possible. That girls if given the chance can become just anything and can even run a home and why not a country. We are forever grateful for all the love and lessons, all the accomplishments, and all the networks. Indeed, the fractured girlhood only made it tough getting here, but we are tougher.
Darling Ayo, I am so honoured and humbled to have finally written this long overdue letter to you. I conclude by telling you how joyful I was when a Nigerian friend told me Ayo in their dialect means Joy - you see Ayo isn't only an exclamation like the native Dualas use it for.