I was nine years old when she sold me into slavery. Not slavery as the world knows it, but an exile that is no less painful. It was the year nineteen eighty-nine. I thrust my scant possessions into an old nylon bag: one chewing stick, one Ankara cloth, a pocket bible and rosary beads that shone like stars when it was dark. I wore my only dress, a colourful frock with short sleeves and kissing pleats that made me trip when I rushed. I put on my lime green slippers, slung the plastic bag across my shoulder and followed my mother on an endless journey.
The soil was drenched with dew. We walked past familiar strangers, past a post office with walls made of cherry mud and rowdy markets where green-bellied flies danced to the rhythm of rottenness. We ran past the church with life-size statues of saints in it and the massive school gates I had stroked longingly but never crossed. We ran. Or rather Mother ran and pulled me roughly after her. When we reached the motor park we stopped so that Mother could tie her scarf tautly across her head and fasten her lappa tight about her portly waist. I watched her, eyes swimming with questions that I dared not ask, wishes that could not be spoken. When she grabbed my hand again I shed my first tear. When we boarded the bus, I shed the next.
“Don’t cry,” Mother said, although her voice lacked maternal warmth and her eyes were like riverine pebbles. “You’ll be alright, you hear? They will feed you. They will send you to school…”
I looked out of the window as the bus sped past a million palm trees and the morning grew weak. I saw the skies scowl deeply because the lightning lashed at it like a koboko whip. “It’s going to rain.” Mother said. But I knew it would not rain.
We soon reached the city: ‘Lagos’ Mother called it. We walked past street hawkers and women who sat beside the gutters frying plantains. We breezed past buildings that scraped against the skies and bridges that did not tremble beneath us.
Soon we reached a great stone mansion. At the gates of this fortress were dogs roaring like lions and leaping like young wild antelopes. A man led these vicious beasts by a long leather leash and dragged them into a brass cage. His skin was like tar, his face hard as concrete and his hair coarse as straw. He didn’t smile and so I said nothing to him.
“This is the child.” Mother said.
“What is her name?” asked the man.
“Ndidi.” Mother said, “Ndidi means patience.”
“Alright,” said the man, “you may go now.”
My heart thumped so fast I heard its echoes in my eardrums. I cried out fiercely as Mother turned and left without a backward glance. I knew her heart bled as badly as mine did and so I said nothing. I only wept as the man led me to the mansion and my life as a housemaid began.