Baby Merchants 6

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As I sat waiting for the program to start, I kept thinking about the proper name of the secret home, its legality and safety. Even though I wanted a place to hide from the mocking world, I cared about my life and its safety as well. Rebecca assured me of good stay if I could keep to The Rules, but, to me, that’s conditional and not enough. I hated ifs before a necessity.

“I welcome you all to the First Evening Gathering.”

I looked up to see the man who attended to Rebecca and I that evening at the reception. He looked different in his traditional attire. His bulging stomach hidden within his loose kaftan, almost invisible. I wished I knew his name.

“Countless healthy babies get their lives forcefully terminated around the world each day before they could make it into the world. This happens at the same time married men and women desperately try in vain to have their own.” he addressed us – the pregnant girls and we listened, hypnotised by his eloquence. Someone else addressed the couples loudly and I tried in vain to eavesdrop what he was saying while listening to the speaker before us.

“Some of these couples,” he said gesturing at the men and women over at the couple’s row, a melancholic expression across his face, “have sought for years in vain to have their own kids. Do you know that most of them over there are the ones shouldering a sizeable portion of the financial burden of this home?” I drifted away from the speech to think about the possibility of those couples actually shouldering the so-called financial burden without an eye for the gain. I waved the thought away when I recalled I was only sixteen. My mom would always say, “what do you know Chetachi? You’re just a child.”

“We are here to protect the unborn babies and prevent the dumping of those innocent, helpless babies in the bushes, gutters and refuse dumps. We take very good care of you during this journey, to make sure that you and your babies are fine at the end of the day.” he paused to wipe the sweat beads all over his face.

Why does this home also keep girls like me whose family members do not know their whereabouts? A question popped up in my head but I refused it exit.

He continued in his speech smoothly, with flawless eloquence while questions, many questions in my head fought for a chance to be heard. Questions like;

What’s the name of this firm..company.. home ..?

Can I be allowed to return home whenever I feel like I don’t want to stay anymore?

Can I go out to visit my friends, go shopping?

Even though these questions had been answered in The Rules, they still pop up in my head.

I saw myself raising up my hand for a chance to ask my questions but was totally ignored. I recalled what ‘auntie’ said about asking questions and calmed down with plans to find out from her especially the name of the home.

Rebecca walked into the hall. I wasn’t expecting to see her again that same evening. Is she one of the staff? Was a question I asked myself. I would later find out. However, she looked stunning in her black evening dress, evidence of good living written all over her. A couple followed closely behind her holding hands – a stoutly built man whose female companion towered above. I watched them walk to the couple’s row and Rebecca took her seat behind them. I made up my mind to meet with her so we could talk. I would love it if she took me to her home.

After the man’s speech, a formidable man emphasized on the importance of standing by The Rules after a brief summary of its content. Next on the program was the interview. When it was announced I wasn’t so comfortable with it.

The interview period was exhausting. A plump woman in his mid-forties with a title and initials Dr.Mrs C. O as her name waved me to a seat and handed me a false name, Miss Gugirl, written in block letters on a pink sticky note. I looked at her questioning. She said that was my name and it’s meant to protect me. I didn’t go further to ask why because I suppose I knew why. She asked many unnecessary questions to which I either nodded or shook my head. Then the last question came;

“Would you like your baby to have a home and caring parents or be kept in the orphanage?”

I told her clearly that I wanted this to be over, have my normal life back and go back to school. I didn’t care a hoot about whatever they, the management might decide to do with my baby afterwards. She looked steadily at me and smiled as though she was amused.

“It’s okay,” she said.

Finally, she gave me a two-page document to sign and without going through it, I signed it. She wrote down her phone number in a yellow sticky note and said I should always come to her for a friendly chat anytime I needed to. I thanked her even though number was as useless as her name. Outgoing call was not allowed.

I searched the hall for Rebecca but she was gone. Thoughts of seeing her filled my mind. Apart from the need to go home with her, I needed someone to talk to as well. My interviewer promised to organise a meeting with Rebecca. But I was led away immediately after the interview before others began to leave the hall, I was already in my room casting a frequent look at the wall clock. At 9:15 pm, I felt the bump in my lower abdomen harden slightly.

As I lay in my bed tired and lonely, I thought about my parents and home and had to cry that even though I wanted a place to hide my shame, I couldn’t be allowed to live my own life.

No access to phone calls. That made me very sad. I never knew I could be this lonely. I wondered what next.

Baby Merchants 5

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I rushed through The Rules with high interest as I waited for madam to come clear the table as promised and for ‘auntie’ to take me to The Gathering. And like thriller, it spread its captivating tentacles all over me and made my whole world of freedom disappeared. I gawked at the content, numbered not less than twenty with subs. It dawned on me that where I was, was a highly restricted and secured place, not in a way that could be appealing to anyone, but terrifying.

Rule numbers one and two grabbed my attention the most:

  1. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES MUST YOU TALK TO OR WITH ANYONE (BOTH WITHIN AND OUTSIDE THIS HOME) OTHER THAN THE STAFF ASSIGNED TO TAKE CARE OF YOU. YOU SHOULD BE PUTTING YOUR LIFE IN DANGER BY DOING SO.
  2. NO MOVEMENTS BEYOND THE WING YOU STAY IN for AS LONG AS YOU STAY HERE. EVERYTHING YOU NEED IS AVAILABLE WITHIN YOUR REACH: ASK FOR IT AND IT WILL BE GIVEN. YOU COULD BE PUTTING YOUR LIFE IN GREAT DANGER BY DISOBEYING. MAKE IT EASIER FOR US TO PROTECT YOU.

Well, by now I had realized how I walked myself into a prison cell. All I wanted was a place to stay for a while to hide from the mocking world. I thought about Rebecca, who could be tucked away somewhere in Trans-Seculu, having a sound sleep in a house she owned. Why didn’t she take me to her house? I could pay her and could never be a burden. In my desperation to secure a place to stay, it didn’t occur to to ask her for the favor that flood my mind. I wished I could be given a chance to get in touch with her.

“Why? Have you conducted any tests on her?”

“No, doctor.”

“Do that first thing in the morning. She hasn’t submitted anything to prove she qualifies to stay here.”

I could clearly hear them talking, standing very close to my. The man opened my door without any prior signal and walked in and it hit me – no privacy. What man would dare enter my room in my father’s house? Doctor entered and Auntie followed meekly. They both walked to my bedside where I lay on my back clutching at a copy of The Rules. I dropped The Rules on the bed to focus on them and greeted him, he responded and looked at The Rules wearing a frowned face.

“Miss Janet, The Rules is not for everyone. It’s for those who are qualified to be here.”

“I didn’t know she wasn’t qualified Doc,”

“Did you receive any document in her name?”

Yes Doc.

“Did you check if there was anything to show if she’s pregnant? Please be careful next time.”

“But I presume that anyone whose file gets to me qualifies.” I watched the second drama since I arrived and wondered why they didn’t mind my presence.

” Will you stop talking and start listening,” he shouted

“Yes Doc.”

“One more thing, it should be given during the first evening gathering after orientation and the necessary instructions,”

Yes Doc.

The moment I heard I was not supposed to it, it made sense to me; I shouldn’t be reading that all by myself – I should need someone to make some explaining and tell me why I should be confined in a cellar for eight months. Doc. extended his hand and gently took it from me and asked me to follow him. I got up from my bed and followed him with no hint of where he was taking me to and in less than a minute we walked into a highly equipped laboratory where a very meek and humble girl bent over a microscope.

“Conduct a pregnancy test on her Miss Clara,” She took my urine and inserted a test kit in it.

“Positive Doc.,” she said, and he smiled, nodded and walked to the door. I followed, and he led the way into a mini hall with dark blue plastic chairs where many other expectant mothers both girls and young women were sited in the right row and men and women who looked like couples sited in the left. The others sited behind them, looked like the workers, among them were madam and auntie. I looked at the high table and saw the first man I met there the time I walked in with Rebecca. His protruded mid-section seemed to have enlarged to an extent from uncontrolled evening meal.

I read the theme of the evening written boldly on a flier; THE FIRST EVENING GATHERING in red print and white background. I looked back and saw the girl whom I saw at the reception. I tried to smile at her but she wasn’t looking at me. A guard came to me and warned me to keep my head steady and mind my front. I obeyed.

Baby Merchant 4

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We passed through the poorly lit passage a into a dark spacious but vacated foyer. My giant escorts stopped and I wondered if they were up to any mischief.

The light came on and a uniformed lady, hastened out from a fully stuffed room, holding a neatly folded towel and some room supplies. She walked towards us and smiled welcome to me, took my bag and led us all towards a closed door.

At the the door, my escorts both turned back to take their leave after a brief glare at my lower abdomen and face. It’s no fault of theirs, I was too young to be caught up in an adult life.

The lady opened the door, took my bag inside, searched it thoroughly and introduced herself as my nurse and care giver.

“Is this a hospital?”

” Special Maternity Home”

I looked at her steadily, waiting for more explanations but none came.

“Is there anywhere I can buy something to eat? I’m very hungry.” I was so tired an famished.

She studied me.

“Call me auntie,” she said as if she didn’t hear my question.

“Okay. Any canteen around here….?”

“Please go through this. First thing before anything.” she handed a booklet to me, THE RULES. I looked at it and made to open it,

“Do not read it in my presence,” she extended her hand to close the booklet as if it’s a secret diary she wasn’t allowed to read.

” If you have any complaint, please come talk to me- straight to” she emphasized

“Am I staying alone?”

“Yes, for security purpose. But I’ll always be around, so you won’t be left alone. Medical tests will be done in the morning.”

“Call me if you need anything.” she said.

When ‘auntie’ left me and my luggage and the furniture to mingle, I took time to admired the simple neat room. Everything was shipshape. Two neatly dressed beds with mosquito net secured above them with four stands, two side stools, a two in one wardrobe stood a distance from the foot of the bed , a master bathroom, a reading table having a reading lamp and two chairs, a black two sitter sofa with two dark red throw-pillows on it, a rectangular wall mirror with dark brown frame, a painting of a pregnant mother and another nursing her child hung on the wall both sides of the beds. I thought it was too good to be free.

Abnormally excited, I chose the bed close to the window, lay on it for a while, stood up and walked to the window to have a view of nothing but a vegetable garden close to a narrow pathway in the backyard and suddenly recalled I was pregnant when the urge to pew came. I ran, fast, to the basin in the small room to do the necessary before settling down to unpack my little luggage.

I flinched when I saw my parents, my mum and dad staring at me through the framed picture taken in the early time of their married life I forgot was in my bag, I flinched again as I imagined they were really there in my bag. I recovered in time and slowly picked up the frame as its an egg – carefree couple – happiness painted all over them in their photo vicinity, laughing and looking at each other forehead to forehead with mom’s hand around dads neck and dads hands around her waist.

I realized how much that same photo meant to mum when I had to grow up seeing it in every room in the house.

I nursed the small framed photo gently, smiled at their happy faces and there came a flash in my mind – not a longing but a picture in which Uche and I were in place of them, same poise, same happiness, same loveliness, same married bliss.

But Uche is far gone, I reminded myself and placed my mum and dad tightly to my chest, raised the picture to my face, gave it one full lip kiss before extending my right hand to keep it on the small side stool.

I looked at wall clock which stared at me, ticking away time towards the ninth month; it said 6:30 pm. I quickly finished up, had my bath and waited for what my dinner which was taking ages to arrive.

I lay on my bed, on back my back and felt my lower abdomen, and wished nothing was there.

“Chetachi! How on earth did I reach here?” I exclaimed and turned on my side.

As the evening dragged by to embraced the dark night and as I got tired of calling for something to eat, I looked through the slit in the thick dark brown curtains in my room to focus on the tiny square hole in the burglary proof and saw my home. My home -best place- so peaceful, so safe.

I missed my dad and the funny way he talked about every event of the day as we all sat round the table after meal waiting for the food to complete its journey to the intestine.

I missed my mum, the way she took care to find out everything that took place in my life while she was away.

I missed our new house help. Even though she just came She was younger, a sister I never had.

I missed my best friend, Nkiru. The funny parrot who talked about everything else but people. Shes no good at gossip and that’s why I picked her as my best.

I didn’t miss Uche. Why should I. I should as well miss the mosquitoes.

“I miss my bed…my pillows…Oh.”

My whole being was engulfed in a a strong feeling – to go home.

I thought about how sad and worried my mum could be to have had her only child gone and missing. The case could have been reported to the police and search resumed.

I was angry with myself, that I had to put them through all that.

I stood up, paced around and then then sat down quickly and hit the bed hard. ‘ I’m such a parent joy killer.

I felt something squeeze and harden. I held my lower abdomen and gave out an ouch as if it was anywhere close to the labor pain my mum had always talked about.

She told the terrible story of how she nearly died giving birth to me.

She said in her days, real women did not want what they called child delivery by stomach cutting, but would fight for two, three, four days through a hellhole to bring forth their babies.

But she had always assured me that I was going to have my children like the Biblical Hebrew women. Safe and Sound.

I had agreed but thought I would be better off a nun.

I sat there all by myself and was tickled by bitter joy when the door opened and it was the cook with my meal. A look at her I knew she was a mother like mine, in her 50’s.

She smiled.

“Welcome! I”m Madam. It’s almost time for night gathering, hurry up! I will be in time to clear the dishes” she said and hurried away.

“Why doesn’t anyone have a real name around here?” I asked my meal as I settled down to it and thought about The Night Gathering and The Rules’ and wondered about what they both harbored.

I needed to read The Rules quick before The Night Gathering, I thought as I scraped the last scoop of my meal off the china plate and suddenly realized it wasn’t as delicious and as satisfying as my mama’s meals.

I sighed and settled down to rush through The Rules.

Baby Merchants 3

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The night was fast approaching and I was leaning on a Honda Civic parked in front of Fontana Hotel, thinking about how stupid I had been to have left my comfort zone and cozy bed to a harsh life. I was about to take the next bus to my friend’s house when a young woman-Rebecca walked along to take her car.

Having being refused hotel accommodation because the receptionist said that the last time she checked, I was way too young to be booked in unaccompanied, I was stranded and going back home to face my mum who should already be combing the town for me, was not the option.

I told Rebecca everything as though she was me and fortunately, she understood my plight and said she would take me to a SECRET HOME.

Perfect!

Exactly what I needed -A secret home where mum and dad would not find me easily.

Without a second thought, I embraced her suggestion and we hopped into her car to get there.

She halted in front of the building – a complex bungalow, almost swallowed by high walls that fenced it. She stepped down and I followed with my eyes glued to the unique gate and wondered if anyone could ever break through it.

Perfect!

Rebecca stood aside to make a quick call. After a while, a man peeped through a tiny hole of the huge black gate and quickly opened it to let us into the spacious compound.

We walked the two minutes from the gate to the main house and stepped into an office where a man with a large mid-section was sited talking with another woman and a pregnant young girl.

The girl looked disappointed and sad.

“I don’t want to spend the next one year here, you promised to take care of me until this was over,” it was said forcefully and everyone looked up at the girl who appeared not more than 15 years of age.

” You are safer here than my home and your stay wont be up to……..the woman paused to look at the man for assurance but got a blank stare.

“It won’t take up to a year as you think. Calm down,” the woman said as she extended her left hand to squeeze the girl’s shoulder gently.

I forgot myself completely as I watched the interesting drama.

Suddenly, the girl got up and I was able to notice her growing bump. She hastened to the exit as fast as her legs could carry her, but a hidden door opened and two tall black men emerged from a room.

The man at the table nodded and one of the men approached her, forced her into a dark room and the door closed behind them.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t scared, neither did I think it was a sign of dark side of the secret home! The scene didn’t change my mind about staying there. I was so desperate.

As I was still thinking, the man at the table spoke up.

“Is she the one?”

“Yes” Rebecca replied while I kept looking from one to the other desiring to be involved.

“How old is she?”

“16”

“Her Baby?”

“Two months”

“Okay” he said as he directed his gaze to my tummy then to my face.

“Young lady, this as now your home. Feel free.”

“Thank you sir,” I said.

“Do you have any question to ask?” He asked wearing a fake smile.

That was fast. I felt like I should be given a chance to say something.

“Do I pay you? For feeding, accommodation and other things?”

“You do not pay anything. We work with donations from good people out there.”he said and moved uncomfortably in his chair.

“Take her to her room.” He said to the same men who had taken the other girl who were already standing there.

Rebecca approached me. “It’s completely safe here, all you need to do is follow the rules”, she nursed my cheek and took her leave.

“Rules? What rules” I asked but she had gone.

To be continued….

Baby Merchants 2

I felt something coming up my throat. It brought a very unpleasant feeling. I tried to resist the urge to spew but it came all the way up to my mouth. I ran, to the bathroom adjacent to my room before it reached my clenched teeth, put my face in the basin and threw it all up and felt better. My mum was at the door waiting. I walked past her as fast as my legs could so she won’t have the chance to ask questions but it didn’t work. She followed me to my door and asked why I had been hiding in my room lately. “Is everything alright?” “Yes Mum. Please give me some few minutes. I will join you.,” I said abruptly without looking into her eyes and hastened to my room I closed my door once my whole frame managed to get in and the sleeve of my top got stuck in the door. I yanked it out and got a turn sleeve walked to my bed and lay on my back. I felt the bump in my lower abdomen, It’s a small bump like a quarter of my fist. I looked up the roof and searched as though the solution to my problem had been embedded therein and then went into a serious battle with my conscience. “Tell your mother, you can’t do this alone,” said the tiny gentle voice. “She’ll always be the one who would slap you with her right hand and cuddles with her left. She won’t kill you if you do, And she’ll also be the one who will know how to talk to your dad about it.” I turned to lie on my right side. “But you know your mother quite well,” said the stronger commanding voice, “She won’t give you a pat on the back for opening your legs for someone you’re not married to. She’ll disown you, for getting pregnant in the process- at seventeen and your dad will shoot you in the head and go to jail.” The voice became stronger. “Think about your dad, who has a laid down plans for your future. You are his only child. It matters a lot to him that you get a good education and a very good career and he’s ready to spend even out of his retirement to make sure it happened and now you spoilt it all. He doesn’t deserve to hear this, you’ll only break his heart and sicken him with the worst news ever.” The gentle voice became tinier. “It’s very hard. It’s very hard to hide anything from family. Not this kind! Every secret might be hidden for a while but soon enough in a day you do not expect, it will somehow leak out from the secret box and every one will be like, “What? Can’t believe you did that. And to even think that you hid it from your family! Your own family! But if you tell it now, they’ll be like, “why did you do this?” and once you cry for pardon, everyone let’s go. It’s family. Family never forsakes you. Go now! Go tell your mum!” Then came the big coarse voice. “Run away! Run!” I got up from my bed and walked downstairs. It came again, right before my mum, I couldn’t hold it back, threw up again in the hall way. She moved closer and gave me such blade sharp look and nearly cut me to pieces. “What is happening to you Chetachi? Are you pregnant?” she asked after putting my bottom carefully in the sofa. “No mama!” I gave her a look that said, “how on earth do you think such, hell no!” I shook my head vigorously and cleaned my lips with the back of my hands to cover up my lies but I noticed she was not deceived. But you know, she didn’t want to push it right away because she was sure to seek professional help. “We need to see the doctor. Get dressed let’s get going. Right away. It can’t wait. I’ve been watching you for a week now. You’ve changed.” She said. I went back to my room. I thought of what to do. I didn’t think going to the doctor with her was a good idea. There was were the secret would be laid bare. I had already found out what’s wrong with me and going there would reveal it to her. I quickly dressed up and packed few of my things into a soft bag, sneaked down the stairs and sneaked out through the back yard. I didn’t know where I was going nor what I would to do when I get there, I only needed to move away and keep my secret from them. I couldn’t face my parents with such news. I would likely send them a mail once I was far out of sight. I kept walking without stopping, praying that no one I knew surfaced. It was a three minutes walk to the bus station that seemed very long. I thought about my friends, which one of them would be able to take me in. They all were still staying with their parents and it’s not wise going to stay with them – my agemates. Money was not my problem, I had enough with me in addition to the one in my account, which could be enough to take me for months. I was sure my dad would not fail to send money to my account. I thought about renting an apartment but wondered how living in it alone would feel like. It had to be somewhere far away from my town and and hidden away. I had to adjust to the rough life that destiny had thrown at me.