Fiction by Bisola Bada
I began to have memories of my lives when I was seven. They started as nightmares, and then I started having visions in the middle of the day. At first, my parents did not believe me; they thought I was being exposed to too much television, and I was acting out. But the day my mother heard me speak fluent Igbo with Mama Chidi, the woman who sold odds and bits from a tiny kiosk in front of our house, she was forced to admit that there was a serious problem.
We were not Igbo. We were Yoruba.
One thing about us Nigerians is that we love community. Being a country of over 350 ethnic groups and languages, we always strive to build a community of our people wherever we find ourselves. Even though Lagos was the centre of activity in Nigeria, and one was likely to find almost every tribe in Lagos, it was still a Yorubaland, where the predominant language was Yoruba. So, for Mama Chidi, it came as a pleasant surprise to hear me speak Igbo. Particularly because the part of Lagos we lived in didn’t have many Igbo people.
‘Mama Kemi, you did not tell me you and your husband can speak Igbo,’ Mama Chidi told my mother, happiness seeping through her voice.
My mother forced a smile, quickly paid for what she had come to buy and dragged me out of there before Mama Chidi could engage her further in a conversation in a language she did not understand.
That was the beginning of various visits to churches and spiritualists, who promised to chase the evil spirit out of me and disconnect me from the spirit world. It was tiring and scary.
Had it not been for Aunty Laide, my mother’s long-term friend and the chief bride’s maid at her wedding, my parents would not have been saved from the clutches of the multiple spiritualists sucking their life savings.
Aunty Laide, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Lagos, advised my parents to take me to a psychiatrist and not just any psychiatrist, but one who specialised in past-life regression hypnosis.
And that was how we began to see Dr Susan Makinde. My journey with Dr Susan helped me put everything into perspective and reassured us that I was not mentally ill. She did, however, oppose the idea of doing past-life regression hypnosis on me at that time, as I was still a child, because it could be a dangerous and unstable process for me.
However interesting and intriguing my journey with Dr Makinde has been, it is not the story or stories that I wish to tell.
I want to tell you the stories of my loves – the pasts and the present and the things they all have in common.
The Past (I)
Oyo Empire, 18th Century
‘I can’t believe you are doing this to me,’ Larape looked up at Odewale with tears-filled kohl-laden eyes.
Odewale placed tender hands on the shoulder of his beloved and looked into her eyes. He contemplated how to explain to her that he was not abandoning her a week before their wedding. He simply had a duty that he must fulfil.
‘Alarape mi, I am a soldier, I am the King’s soldier. And when Kabiyesi calls, his soldier must answer,’ Odewale said pleadingly.
‘But you are not Kabiyesi’s only soldier,’ Larape replied. She shrugged his hands off her shoulders and turned her back against him.
‘Alarape, do not be this way. This is about Oyo’s honour. The Dahomeys are spitting on our faces and insulting our King by refusing to pay the full tribute. We must go and remind them of their place,’ Odewale tried to convince his lover.
He gently turned her to face him once more. The full moon illuminated her dark as night skin, making it look like she sprinkled specs of stardust on her shoulders.
‘Why must you be the one to defend Oyo’s honour? There are so many other soldiers, so many other units. Why must it be yours?’
‘I cannot refuse Kabiyesi’s order. Think about Oyo…’
‘Oh, please spare me, Odewale. Is it only Oyo’s honour you have to consider? What about mine and my family’s honour? You are about to make us an object of shame in the kingdom.’ Larape hissed and shrugged his hands off her again.
‘What will you have me do? Tell the King I cannot go on this mission because I am getting married in a week?’
‘Is that too difficult to do?’ Larape snapped.
‘Ah, Alarape! What you wish upon me are dishonour and death.’ Odewale couldn’t believe his ears. He had secretly courted this beautiful woman for more than three seasons since they had first met at the Festival of Masquerades. He had courted her secretly because she was the daughter of one of the wealthiest merchants in the kingdom, and her father had her promised to Lakin, the son of Oyeniran, a chief in the King’s court. They had fought tooth and nail to get married finally, and only for this to happen.
Odewale was sure that Oyeniran had something to do with his unit being dispatched to ‘caution’ rebellious Dahomey just a week before his wedding. But he did not voice his suspicions to Larape.
She wasn’t the definition of cute and sweet like most women from noble families portray themselves to be. Larape was stubborn, defiant, and rebellious – these traits had drawn him to her. But at that moment, they were also the trait that irritated him about her.
Sure, he loved her more than he loved his own life.
The heavens knew he hadn’t cared much about life until he met Larape. She had given an orphan like him who had only hoped to die in battle and be forgotten the will to live, dream, and finally be happy.
‘Alarape…’ he tried again. But Larape shook her head and cut him off before he could speak.
‘See, I do not care if it’s Olodumare himself that has given you this mission. My wedding will hold in a week as originally intended. Whether or not you are in attendance as the groom is your choice,’ she declared.
‘What do you mean by that?’ Odewale blurted out.
Larape wiped her tear-stained face with the back of her hands. ‘I mean exactly what you heard me say. It is inappropriate for us to meet in secret like this. I’m leaving.’
‘Since when did you start caring about our inappropriate meetings?’ Odewale asked, but Larape was already walking away.
He sighed and shook his head. Her stubbornness would be the death of him, he was sure. But he knew deep down inside that stubborn body of hers was a heart that loved him. And even though she was too angry to speak to him now, she would wait for him because they had weathered bigger storms than this.
He wouldn’t be gone long. Once Dahomey saw Oyo soldiers, they would avoid trouble and comply. He estimated that he would be back in one week, and they could even have their wedding the next day.
Odewale hadn’t known that Larape was pregnant with their child and was too ashamed and proud to tell him. She was afraid that if he left, he would not return. The kingdom would know of her shame, and her family would be dishonoured.
So, when Odewale left with his men the following day to do the King’s bidding, Alarape decided to protect herself, her unborn child, and her family’s honour. She accepted Lakin’s marriage proposal.
Just like he had estimated, the mission had ended successfully in less than an hour of arriving at Dahomey’s borders. Against all odds, weather conditions, outlaws, and tired horses, Odewale returned in a week to find that his bride had become another man’s wife.
The Past (II)
‘You know, you will not die if you put our people’s needs before your own, Amaka!’ Obinna thundered.
‘And what will those needs be?’ Amaka yelled back, not letting herself be cowered by his anger.
‘I can’t believe you are even asking me this question.’ Obinna blew hot and sat angrily on the cushion he had earlier jumped out of in his anger.
‘It is you, Obinna, that I cannot believe. Do you want us to die here?’ Amaka asked as she took a seat beside him on the adjoining cushion.
After a few seconds of staring down at a seething Obinna, she took a deep breath and decided to try a gentler approach. So, she softened her voice and tried again.
‘We have been dragging this matter for days now. Tonight is our last chance to leave. Everything has been prepared for us. Chika’s uncle will be waiting for us at….’
‘I don’t want to hear it, Amaka. I am not going, and I don’t want you to go either.’ Obinna said in a manner of fact tone.
The fire of anger in Amaka sparked again.
‘You know, you are the one who is being selfish here,’ Amaka retorted. ‘We had the opportunity to leave with my family when they were leaving, but you so strongly and stubbornly refused the idea. You said we would be safe here in Enugu. Look around you. Does this look safe to you?’ Amaka yelled and got to her feet.
‘I didn’t force you to come here with me?’ Emeka said blandly. He seemed tired of fighting and shouting.
‘I can’t believe you just said that. Emeka, I came here because I love you. I came here because I trusted you and all you stood for, but even you can see that there is nothing for us here, only hunger and death, and I don’t want to die.’
‘This is our home, our people. I will not leave them and run to a white man’s land simply because I can.’
Amaka sighed and then opened her mouth to say something but thought the better of it and kept quiet. The truth was that there was nothing she could say to change his mind.
She loved him more than anything she could describe, and she knew he loved her too. But all her life, she had stood in his shadow, never really thinking for herself.
But how could she?
Obinna was her only love. As childhood friends, they grew up in Lagos, where they were both born to middle-class parents in the same compound. They had become best friends as the only children of their respective parents. Romance had only come into play in the United Kingdom, where they both went to university.
They got married immediately after they returned to Nigeria. Amaka gave up on her nursing career to be his wife and bear their children. But unfortunately, they hadn’t had any children.
Obinna, a medical doctor himself, had been looking to establish his own private practice in Lagos, and Amaka had been determined to be the supportive wife he needed.
Obinna had a strong personality, and although they argued a lot, Amaka always did whatever he wanted. So, just before the war broke out, when only rumours of it were spreading, their parents had decided that it would be better to return to the United Kingdom. This time they would go with them, but Obinna had refused. He also decided that it would be better to relocate to the East and participate in the fight.
That part had surprised Amaka, but he was her husband, and she had stood by him in his decision, even though her heart, body and soul wanted to leave with her parents.
Amaka regretted that decision every single day. A former schoolmate’s uncle was getting out. He knew a way out of Biafra to Nigeria and finally to the United Kingdom. He was leaving before dawn to reunite with his family and had asked Amaka and Obinna to come with him.
Finally, after the long stretch of silence, Amaka spoke.
‘You have always had your way, Obinna, but this time I am going to do what I think is best for me,’ she declared.
Obinna’s head snapped up, and he looked at her. He was surprised at the determined tone of her voice that he had never heard her use before.
‘Even if it means leaving me?’ he asked, his voice faltering for the first time with uncertainty.
‘If that is what it takes,’ Amaka replied grimly.
Obinna was quiet for a long time, and then he said, ‘if this is what you want.’
‘Yes, it is.’ Amaka’s voice carried a tone of finality.
Lagos, Nigeria, 2022
Kemi smiled when she came out of the school compound and found Tito waiting for her. She shyly smoothened the skirt of her pinafore and adjusted her school bag.
‘You waited,’ she said, her smile widened when she reached him.
‘Of course, I waited.’ He gave her his lopsided grin that had made her fall in love with him, that first time he walked into their class as a new student who had joined in the middle of the term when they were in junior school.
Before then, Kemi had been a sort of pariah at school. Aaliyah, Kemi’s home friend (at least, Kemi had thought that they were friends), had told the entire class that Kemi was a weirdo who went into trances and probably got her extraordinary intelligence from the spirit world. Aaliyah had done this in a jealous fit because Kemi had aced the maths test again.
One thing about teenagers was that they would take any opportunity to bully or isolate anyone they felt was weak to feel good about themselves. Aaliyah made Kemi their new target.
Tito was the only person who hadn’t thought she was weird. The first person to say a kind word to her. Naturally, feelings started to develop between them.
Kemi had tried to deny it at first. Her mother had always told her that just because a boy was nice to her didn’t mean he liked her. So, she had tried hard to stop her heart from beating fast whenever he was around her. She tried to stop the butterflies in her stomach from doing backflips whenever he smiled.
But then Tito had worked up the courage to ask her out, and the rest became history.
‘Did you solve the problem?’ he asked, handing her a can of cold juice.
Kemi nodded at the same time the can made a ‘tishhhh’ sound when she opened it.
‘God, you are such a genius and a geek,’ he smiled at her.
She wasn’t offended at being called a geek by him. Her intelligence was one of the reasons he loved her.
‘So, have you decided?’ she asked him as they began their slow trek home.
‘Where you are going?’
The silence that hung between them after that question was so thick that even the noise made by other people on the street could not cut through it.
Kemi stopped walking.
‘You told me this morning that you had decided,’ Kemi said accusingly.
‘I have.’ His voice was barely above a whisper.
‘So why does it sound like you haven’t?’ Kemi folded her arms and raised her eyebrows.
‘Kemi, please let’s go home. This is not the place or the time to talk about it,’ Tito pleaded, but Kemi didn’t budge.
Tito sighed again.
‘What have you decided?’ she asked again, even though she feared she might not like the answer.
‘That I will not be writing UTME,’ Tito answered flatly.
‘What?’ Kemi’s jaw went slack for a couple of seconds before she recovered herself. He couldn’t be serious.
‘Look, you and I both know that this school thing is not for me. It would not only be a waste of my parents’ money to try and get into a university, but it would also be a waste of my life, and I can’t do that to myself.’
‘What are you saying?’ Kemi yelled, tears filling her eyes. ‘We had plans. We would try to get into the same university and, if not, at least a university in the same city so that we would not be far apart. Get a Master’s, PhD, get married, leave this country….’
‘These are your plans, not mine. Just listening to you mention all these things is exhausting. I can’t imagine putting myself through these.’ Tito sounded exasperated.
They were beginning to draw the attention of other pedestrians. Two secondary school students still in their uniforms, way past their closing time, were enough to attract attention. While Tito was conscious of this, Kemi did not care.
‘Exhausting…’ Kemi breathed the word he had used in disbelief.
‘Don’t call me. I can’t believe you are trying to waste your life just because you are too lazy to read,’ she snapped at him.
‘Too lazy to read? Whoa, slow down, Kemi. Not everyone is a book-smart genius like you. Not everyone wants to stay back after school hours to solve a mathematical problem that is not even in the school’s curriculum. We are not alike in that aspect.’
‘Yes, we are not alike, and I was foolish enough to imagine marrying you, to imagine having a future with someone who doesn’t care about his future.’
‘Stop saying that. I care about my life, and that’s precisely why I will not do something that doesn’t suit me. I’ll learn a trade….’
‘Learn a trade,’ Kemi scoffed. ‘What are you going to become, a mechanic?’
‘My God, I can’t believe that you are this shallow,’ Tito said in a low cold voice.
‘And I can’t believe you are this ambitionless,’ Kemi spat back.
‘Kemi,’ he said, and his eyes widened at the insult.
‘You know what, you are right. You and I are not the same. We are too different. We should end this now before we make any more terrible and irreversible decisions,’ Kemi said and forced the can of juice he had given her earlier into his free hand.
‘Kemi…’ Tito began, but he didn’t know what to say.
‘Fadekemi,’ he tried again, but Kemi was already walking away.
In my bedroom now, I pondered whether I may have overreacted with Tito. And not just with Tito but with Odewale and Obinna as well. In all my love stories, his face was the same, his love for me was true, our differences were too huge, and I always walked away first.
I cried into my pillow. The loss of all three men in my lives hit me so hard at once that my body shook uncontrollably at the weight of it. And then it hit me. I have not yet lost Tito, at least not completely.
This is my life, and I am still here.
I still had a chance to make it right with him and give my love stories a befitting happy ending.
Bisola Bada is a Nigerian writer and avid reader based in Newcastle, England. She is the author of ‘Unashamed’, a poetry pamphlet for the girl child and has had poems published by Eboquills, Ice Floe Press, and Lion and Lilac. She writes about the intersection of life, beauty, love and everything in between; she writes especially for the girl child. When she is not reading or writing, she is out enjoying the beauty of life with friends and family.
Originally published November 20, 2023