Once upon a time, I was a thirteen year old girl. I had just finished NECO junior secondary exams at FGGC Bida and I came home for the very long break between Junior and Senior secondary school.
Because I was a boarder in a school that was very far from home, I wasn’t up to date on the comings and goings in my neighbourhood. I didn’t know a bookshop/stationery store had opened near the bus stop, it wasn’t until that I wanted to buy something (maybe it was cardboard, I can’t remember now) for a project that I walked in and saw him for the first time.
He was tall, light skinned and handsome (think Chidi Mokeme when he was much younger but he was way more handsome than Chidi and had better dentition too). His name was Chidozie and he had the most gorgeous smile I’d ever seen, luckily I’d gone in with my brothers because I was tongue-tied and my brothers ended up buying it for me. All I could do was to greedily drink in the sight of him.
I thought about him day and night, I wished I could see him all the time. I just wanted to talk to him and look into his beautiful eyes all day long. So I cooked up reasons to go to his store, anything to see him again, to hear his heavy Igbo accent and have him look at me.
When he asked what my name was, I was overjoyed and thought he was also falling for me as quickly and as thoroughly as I’d fallen for him. It didn’t quite turn out that way, he was unfailingly kind, he would smile at me when I came in for numerous silly reasons and would never fail to wave to me when I walked past. When I had to transfer to a secondary school in Lagos, he was one of the reasons I wasn’t sad about leaving Bida.
I came from a loving family, my parents gave my brothers and I attention- too much attention perhaps. Even at thirteen, I knew where I wanted my life to go. To finish secondary school at sixteen, take a gap year and then get into the university just before my eighteenth birthday to study Petrochemical Engineering (Pharmacy came up in SS2) and I was a child of God. Yet there was something about Chidozie that made me yearn for the undefinable, for something I knew wasn’t quite good for me.
My parents had no idea about him but my brothers and friends knew that you just had to say Chidozie and I’d blush bright red. Until I wrote JAMB UME, my feelings for him did not fade. He still made my heart race whenever I saw him, his smile still made me feel like my brain had been replaced with a big ball of wet cotton wool.
Was it love? Definitely not! Yet it was something powerful enough to make me unsettled, and at that time I would have called it love. Would I have followed Chidozie to a city thousands of miles away from home? Who knows? He never acted on my very obvious feelings. What if he had? What if he told me he loved me and wanted me to be his girl? Me awkward, bookish and too big for her age girl? Could I have held on to the precepts of the bible? I’d like to say that I would have ignored my feelings, after all I was focused on my dreams and had a stable family life. But the part of me that is true and practical doesn’t quite agree.
When details about Ese Oruru surfaced last year and as the furore rose this year, I couldn’t help remembering the thirteen year old me and realising just how lucky I was. A thirteen year old no matter how well adjusted, is STILL a child. They might sound mature, look mature and think like an adult sometimes but that doesn’t make them adults.
My heart has bled as I have watched people heap insults on Ese and her parents for what she went through, where’s our compassion and sense of outrage? How can anyone blame a thirteen year old for getting carried away by her feelings? That is if she wasn’t hypnotised or jazzed (I wouldn’t doubt the jazz/hypnosis theory… The things my eyes have seen in this Nigeria ehn!). A young man who should know better, not only preyed on the girl but took her away from home and some Idiots say he did it because he loved her? From Facebook to twitter to gossip blogs, I have been disappointed by just how worthless the life of a Nigerian teenager is, how easily we disregard her fragility and how we are so prone to ridicule her.
Ese is going to need a lot of help, what has happened to her is horrible, terrible and atrocious. She made a mistake, we all make mistakes especially in matters of the heart. It’s hard to meet anyone who hasn’t had a relationship (as an adult) that he or she would not rather forget about and expunge permanently from the record, how much more a thirteen year old? I hope she gets the help that she needs.
How can we help other teenagers who like me and Ese are in the danger of letting “feelings” take them down a wrong path? We can mentor these young ones in formal or informal capacities, we can be their friend and listening ear when they need one, we should be slower to condemn and quicker to praise and most importantly, they need our prayers. Pray for all the teenagers you know, even if you can’t talk to them. Your prayers might just be the shield they need.
PS: in case you’re wondering where Chidozie is, I haven’t seen him since just before my 19th birthday. They left the shop in Lawanson and settled in Yaba, that was where I saw him when I went to buy books for second year in pharmacy school. We talked a bit, he was happy that I was in school and told me to read hard.
PPS: This week has been rough for me, in sooo many ways. It probably has been my roughest week this year and to make it even worse, Esmeralda- my tablet packed up on Thursday. One minute I was looking at Nicole Chikwe’s Pictures on Instagram after Uju tagged me on her post and the next? The screen was frozen on her picture for ten hours before shutting down. It hasn’t come on since then. Esmeralda isn’t just a tablet, she has been the storage for my dreams, hopes and in fact my whole life since August 9th 2013. When I think of taking her to be repaired I feel an ache in my heart because my budget is tighter than yoga pants and I might face the reality of losing everything on her.
Just when it seems like the wall are caving in on you, God will always send help your way and he did it with Tamie’s Post and Eziaha’s
PPPS: You can follow up on my fiction series Pendulum HERE