Dead at 20 Burnt at 23

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Today is supposed to be my 23rd birthday but it feels like my 53rd already. Maybe I am 53 but don’t just know it yet. Maybe I am only living in the shadows.

My name is Shekinah, my friends call me Amanda. I live in downtown Lagos, Bariga.

I have always seen myself as a beautiful girl with a bright future. I thought I would be the one to take my family out of misery until my life changed two years ago.

I am the first of 5 children. My dad had been gone for as long as I can remember. They said he went on a peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone and never came back.

Some of his colleagues said he absconded and started a new life in Liberia, others said he died on a mission. The Nigerian military informed us that dad was “missing in action”.

I knew my dad couldn’t have abandoned his family like that. All I remember of my dad were fond memories. My siblings and I and even kids in the neighborhood always used to look forward to his return from work daily.

Mum was a teacher with the state government. I watched her work tirelessly to cater to her five children.

Things were hard but mum never ceased to try. We lacked many things but we were happy.

Four years ago, mum fell sick. The doctors said she had colorectal cancer. I didn’t know what that meant but I knew it was bad enough to worry about.

They also said that her chances of survival were thin because it wasn’t detected on time.

Then the hospital bills came and the running around began. In less than two weeks, we had exhausted every option of raising funds that I could think about.

I had to stop my schooling so that I could be around mum more often.

I cried daily and hoped for a miracle of some sort.

The bills kept piling. Mum was still lying almost lifeless at the hospital and the house rent was overdue.

One day I returned from the hospital to find my siblings at home. They had been sent off from school because we haven’t been able to pay school fees for two teams.

That day I couldn’t hold it anymore, I pulled my siblings together in my arms and cried bitterly.

I did everything I could to make a little money I could.

One day a friend introduced me to a businessman who happened to also be a cleric we promised to help with some finances.

On the day I was to meet the man, I throw myself into what I had left of a decent wardrobe; a peplum ankara top that had become oversized and a pair of blue jeans pants.

I waited 3 hours before I could finally see him. I cried as I told him all that had happened. He encouraged me, pulled out a bundle of banknotes, and said I could get all of this if I agreed to warm his bed.

I was as confused as confusion itself. Different thoughts flooded my mind at the same time and for a moment, I thought I was going crazy.

I felt like I had gone crazy.

I ran out of his office as he tried to touch me.

As days turned to weeks and weeks to months, so mums health deteriorated. He could barely sustain the hospital bills so we moved mum home.

By this time, we had moved into a single room apartment in a “face me, I face you apartment” because we couldn’t afford to pay rent at the former apartment.

Left with no options, I gave into the businessman’s request and in turn got some money to offset some bills and take mum in for some checkup.

I soon got used to seeing this businessman and before long, I was also making out with his friend just for the cash.

This no doubt gave me some financial freedom but there was an emptiness deep down that nothing seemed to be able to feel.

At first, I thought the more I gave my body in exchange for some cash, somehow this emptiness would be filled howbeit, that was far from true.

With the proceeds of my lifestyle, my siblings were able to return to school and we were able to afford a bigger apartment. I also had some cash to stock the house, make my siblings look good, and by myself some clothes.

My immediate younger sister was old enough to know that something was wrong but every time she tried to talk about it, I simply told her God had blessed me with a rich boyfriend who had placed me on a monthly salary.

Mum was too sick to know any of these.

One morning mum had a crisis so we rushed her to the hospital. A few hours later, the doctors pronounced her dead.

I cried for many days and cursed the heavens. I thought God would understand that I had done too much for mum to still die.

It has been two years since mum passed and I cannot seem to get myself off the streets.

Last Sunday, the pastor’s sermon made me understand for the first time in two years that if anyone dies believing in God, that person is in a better place. I believed him because my sister told me mum died only a few days after a preacher made her believe in God.

My younger sister says she believes in God too and that she prays for me daily.

I guess there is hope for me after all, maybe not to become that high-flying girl I always dreamt of becoming but that one day, I will find help out of the emptiness that keeps eating me up.

Again, tonight I cry myself to sleep hoping that help comes with the rising sun.

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