The first man to ever call me an ‘ashawo’ was my father.
So if you ever see me expressing outrage over being called an ‘ashawo’ by a bus conductor, or bus driver, or roadside worker, just know that it’s fake outrage…
Mind you, I didn’t really start spoiling till I was in my twenties, so it didn’t make sense when he said it. I was 14/15 years old at the time and I wasn’t doing anything even remotely ashawo related. It was just one out of his colorful library of insults that flew out of his mouth with ease.
Afterwards, as she always did, mother would yinmu and say “Don’t mind him. Deep down, he really loves you”. I was young, so I could get by on that.
My sister is wedding, and we’re in the village. It’s the morning after we arrived and two grand uncles have called for the first of several family meetings. I see a number of unfamiliar faces. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them before. One is an electrician who rode in on a bicycle to do a repair job in the downstairs living room. He never makes it to the living room. His curiosity gets the better of him and he leans against a pillar by the patio, spanner & screw driver in hand, to watch the proceedings. Father begins his usual round of introductions.
He points to one brother, this is the UK trained chemical engineer. He points to the next brother, this is the UK trained mechanical engineer. Then to my sister, this is the medical doctor. He signals in my general direction, that one claims she read biochemistry. I haven’t seen her certificate till today. She is jobless in Lagos “na eme Igbo Igbo Igbo Igbo”… I don’t understand the exact words, but I don’t need to. People drop their heads in embarrassment so I know. I don’t know the Igbo word for prostitute, but it’s safe to assume that’s what he said. It’s the only way I’ve ever been described by him.
In my family, I’m the one with a temper. But I can’t get up and walk away, not this time. There’s a wedding to be had. Mother does the yinmu thing again, and tells everybody present that they shouldn’t mind him, “as you’re seeing him, he’s really happy to see them deep down”. She says something in Igbo about his heart jumping for joy at the sight of his kids. I turn to look at her and I can’t hide my irritation. Still, I don’t say anything or break her “yinmu-ing” nose, because there’s a wedding to be had.
One aunt speaks up. Leave this poor girl alone! She should’ve taken a cue from the rest of us and stayed quiet because now he’s gone into a long monologue and he’s giving points to support his ho’ theory. If she’s not a hoe, how is she surviving in Lagos with no job?
I’m sitting quietly, my chest hurts because I don’t want to cry. If I do, he wins. His people are nodding slightly in agreement. They have mouths to feed and children’s school fees to pay, so if he says his daughter is a ‘ho’, surely he must be right. They will nod now and corner me later to explain that although he says these things, he really loves me. Again, deep down.
Have I told you about my new church? It’s a new age church, one of those funky churches with hip sermons. We’re taught to rely heavily on the word of God so I’m sitting in the meeting, trying to remember scriptures from every I-am-fearfully-and-wonderfully-made sermon I’ve ever heard. The only thing that comes to mind is Sinach’s “I am who God says I am” song, but it’s not what I need to hear. I know I’m not a ho’… if I was, my mattress wouldn’t still be on the floor in my room a year after moving into my apartment. I would be able to afford a bigger place. I would have workout shoes that don’t need sewing every two or three months. I know I’m not a ho’.
Wedding discussion starts in full. I sit back, relax and internally, I breathe a sigh of relief. I’ve survived round one. Now he’s complaining about the pressure he’s under because of the wedding. He’s grateful to God that he will never have to go through this again. Someone reminds him about me. There is another daughter, there will be another wedding. He laughs and says that no man will marry this kind of person with such bad behavior, so he’s not worried.
That’s the one that makes me cry. The tears start and refuse to stop.
I don’t remember how the meeting ended. Everyone is leaving and he begins taunting me. He’s calling me “fatty bum bum” and “Fatima” and the men are laughing. I know how much weight I’ve put on. I don’t own a scale but the girl in the pharmacy near my house let’s me use theirs almost everyday, so I know.
After the meeting, I don’t eat or speak to anyone again till evening. My siblings understand to leave me alone. Even mother keeps her distance, but I know her well. She will wait a few weeks and then one day, she will find a way to say in the middle of a conversation with a friend (and to my hearing) that I am my father’s favourite child.
I’m in my thirties now though. I can no longer get by on that.
It’s the morning of the wedding & we’re in our third and final meeting. By now, I’ve given up trying to hold back tears. Let him win. I’m counting the seconds till my sister does the wine dance so that I can go home.