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••• The International Writers Magazine - 21 Years on-line - Life Stories

I am Not a Hero
• Damilola Omotoyinbo
When I was younger, all I knew about my aunt - Dad’s sister; her coconut smelling perfume, her throaty laughter, and the long conversations she had with Dad whenever she came visiting.

African girl

Conversations I could not wrap my little mind around. I remember turning them in my head as their talks went from the most ordinary event to the most singular. Their conversations oftentimes are boring and ascertain my belief that adult life is uninteresting. When aunt laughs, her lanky body would sway, as if she is moving her body to the rhythm of her laughter, her agile spirit overwhelms the house, even Dad never spoke in his usual monotones around her.

Aunt had been the mother figure since Mum passed away. This remained even when I left for boarding school, on a somnolent Sunday evening, when she told the house mistress to keep an eye on me. Dad hugged me tightly, told me to make the dead proud, my mum. They drove off and I was left in a sea of new faces that became home. Aunt came during the visiting days, most times with Dad, sometimes with Fred—my immediate younger brother and a few times alone, dragging a box of provision behind her. She had moved to Lagos with her husband the year I entered the University, but she came for my Matriculation—her perfume wafted and filled the air, she brought with her a souvenir of big notebooks made for me by her new family and I could still notice her baby bump though she wore a loose-fitting gown.          

Immediately after my service year, I got a job in Lagos and she advised I stay with them, since my work place was not far from their home and she did not mask the joy of having someone around whenever her husband went on his usual trips. Then, I began to see beyond her coconut smelling perfume and her throaty laughter. Aunt is a religious fanatic. Anointing oil here and there, prayer water sprinkling and drinking, vigils, fasting, and all the "our Pastor said we should do this and that” were things that delineated her Christianity. She attended a church introduced to her by a woman-Sade's mother, who lived upstairs with her family, a rotund woman who was also a religious extremist. 

One Sunday afternoon, when we returned from church, on the floor and on the walls of the rooms, aunt sprinkled some of the prayer water she had collected from the pastor. Deola, my cousin pulled her skirt and wailed, her body shook and it seemed the wails came from the depth of her soul. She wanted her mother to carry her, instead, her mother as if deaf, turned her back to her, faced the large sitting room window, held her Bible and the piece of paper where the prayers were written and prayed silently. Aunt was told by the Pastor not to speak with anyone while making use of the prayer points. They were scribbled by the Pastor and I laughed silently as she held the piece of paper like a sacred article when it was handed over to her.

Deola looked at her mother and probably understood that her wailing will not stir her. She ran to me, I threw her up and caught her as fast as I could. She giggled, sniffed and stopped crying.

I was there in his office when aunt was given the prayer points, and other items by Pastor Julius.

“You will do this fasting,” he had said.

“Yes, sir,” she replied sheepishly and slipped prayer water and anointing oil into my waiting hands. “Pastor, there is something I want to discuss with you.’’ Aunt spoke quietly, an attitude which is unlike her.

“Go ahead. Or do you need some privacy?” The pastor asked her as his intense stare pierced through me, as if trying to check how spiritual I am. I chewed my lips and watched as the gentle breeze swayed the window curtain, but aunt broke into the thoughts that formed in my head as I watched this.

“No, pastor. It is about my sister, Lillian. She would love to join the Choir.” My eyes caught her face but she turned and avoided my eyes.

"That is very good. You should inform the Minister-in-charge." Again he looked at me intensely and adjusted his pair of glasses, his thick brows standing like canopies above his eyes. 

Deola stayed with me in the car while her mother went to meet the Minister-in-charge as told by the Pastor, her pointed heels dug into the loose soil and made little even holes as she walked briskly towards the Minister who was already in his car. I have never discussed wanting to join the Choir with my aunt but I think this is better than making the Pastor hold some deliverance sessions with me—as a similar incident happened when the woman who lived upstairs had a premonition that I am a witch who wanted to ruin her home and her children.

The woman would wake up early every morning to pray round the house—what she called a prayer-walk, stopping to pray more when she gets to my window. “Fire of God burn down the witches in this house. Destroy them.” She would shout while sprinkling a lot of her prayer water on my window side, sometimes, it would splash into my room. The shouting never seemed to come from a woman with a body like hers—round and fat, who when climbing the stairs would stop in-between—leaning on the stair-case, panting.

One evening, I met her and my aunt seated in front of our apartment  as I return from work, they had a faraway look in their eyes, spoke in low tones and only mumbled a ‘welcome’ to me. When night came, aunt slipped into my room to tell me we must see the Pastor as soon as I return from work the next day.

We came back with a keg of prayer water, anointing oil, listed prayer points and some items aunt would call sacred. The pastor came every evening for two weeks to hold deliverance sessions in the house. His grip tightened on my wrist as he prayed in tongues—gyrating, and he saw visions he told me can never be interpreted—I am not sure I understood him but I did not ask what he meant, he might begin a long sermon about my level of spirituality and all.

I observed my aunt at the corner where I sat as she turned away from the large window, she opened the anointing oil she had collected from the Pastor, moved towards me and with it drew a cross on my forehead. She prayed silently and gestured at me to drink some of the prayer water. I refused. She looked at me with disgust but said no word. On the forehead of Deola who was fast asleep on the couch with track of dry tears on her cheeks, she drew a cross with the oil too, and faced the large window where she continued praying.

I got tired of watching her pray, and as I walked out of the house to get some air, I felt someone's eyes burrow into my flesh from the balcony upstairs. I looked up and saw Sade's mother, her wrapper hung loosely to her chest, I could trace out the lines of her sagged big breast. She curved her lips as if wanting to speak with me but she said nothing, she only stared.

I looked away and in my head, I pictured her daughter instead. I had expected she would be seated there, as she always did when I return from work in the evening, looking at me as if I am a kind of saviour.

I can still remember how she held my hands, stared at her feet and said, "My father sleeps with me whenever mummy goes to vigils. He started when I was ten." I can still remember how the book I had given her the next day fell off her hands as her mother stormed into their sitting room, while I was still there speechless with trains of thoughts crisscrossing my mind. How the mother picked the book and read the title, Sexuality and Growing Up. The disdain written on her face was pretty obvious. How the flesh of her underarm quivered when she slapped her daughter, pushed her into her room, shoved the book into my hands and warned me never to speak with her children again.

"I am teaching my children the way of the Lord, and you think you can come from nowhere to ruin all I have built." She kissed her teeth and spat, her rotund body shook with each step as she entered her daughter’s room to continue the reprimand. I climbed down the stairs, angry and irritated. I entered our apartment praying my aunt who was asleep should not be woken by the tirade of the woman and I never knew she would tell her or begin a prayer-walk.

That evening, seated on my bed, an idea crept into my head. “Open an anonymous Gmail account, search for her school email address, preferably, the school counsellor’s.”

I typed a message, included the name and class of the student. After reading many times, my hand hovering around the delete button. I fought my indecision and clicked send.


After work on a Friday—some weeks after the incident. I dragged my weary body home, tired to the point of seeming deaf to loud music playing from record shops, taxi drivers honking impatiently and sellers hawking by the road—their faces dry and cracked. I walked blindly along our street, the hot sun burned into my skull, my shoes irritated me by the knock they made on the tarred road.

‘Welcome.’ The gateman greeted, grinning with all his teeth opened. I returned his grin with a brief smile, tried to make no room for his usual jokes when he would ask in-between what you brought from work.

I entered our living room and met my aunt. A slim woman who wore glasses seated by her, spoke brazenly. There sat another woman whose back I could only see, she listened closely to the speaking woman and kept nodding. And in a corner of the living room sat Sade who looked at me gingerly.

I said a polite good afternoon into the air and began to make for my room, as I turned the doorknob, the nodding woman whose back I could only see stood up and walked up to me, she was Sade’s mother.

“I am sorry,” she began to speak. “Her school counsellor got the mail and called her for questioning. I was invited as well.” She pointed hurriedly at the slim woman who wore glasses and continued.

“We knew you sent the mail. She told us you were the only one she disclosed this to because she trust you.” She stressed the word ‘trust’ and paused as if expecting me to say something but I was silent.

"I don't know why my husband would do this. I still don't know what came over him…oh… We went to church together… oh…um…" She sobbed loudly and wiped her nose with a cloth. I noticed her bulged red eyes; an indication she had been crying all day. Her lips trembled. My Aunt held and rubbed her shoulders. She looked different, as if demented, a transformation I cannot describe well. Then her bulged eyes narrowed as if trying to understand something.

The school counsellor began to speak, the air of someone who had seen many things like this hung around her. “Thank you for the information Miss Lillian. Who knows what would have happened if we were not told,” she turned down the sides of her mouth. Then she spoke about cases of rape and molestation she had dealt with. "These children should be taught what they need to know." She said in-between, then she mentioned how a Pastor's kid got pregnant at age fifteen, how another got raped but told no one until her mother discovered she was pregnant and all. The two women listened while Sade sat like a sculpture on the couch, still staring at me gingerly.

I don’t want to feel like a hero, whatever she might think of me. It might not have been the best thing to do, but I entered my room silently, took my bath. I curled up on the bed and slept as if nothing unusual had happened.

© Damilola Omotoyinbo July 2020

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