As told to Toheeb
When I was five months old, my mum fell ill. She complained of body pains but the drugs she used didn’t work. Each day got tougher as the pain got worse. My family had never seen anything like it, so they thought it was a spiritual attack.
When the pain became unbearable, they took her to a local nurse who gave her an injection. It turned out my mum shouldn’t have been given that injection. Her condition worsened. Something scarier happened — her joints got swollen. According to the stories I’ve heard, you could see the bones underneath her skin.
When she didn’t get better, they took her to the University College Hospital, Ibadan, to see a specialist. Everyone blamed my grandmother, who had been taking care of her, for not going to the hospital sooner. What they didn’t realise was that hospitals were expensive and nobody could have imagined that whatever she was dealing with was more than body pains.
The doctors suspected it was bone arthritis, but all the tests they ran returned negative results. The symptoms were there, but the tests didn’t confirm anything.
The doctors started treatment for arthritis. My mum was bedridden at the hospital for about two years. Because she was confined to a bed for a very long time, she started dealing with bedsores too. Then the joints in her hips dislocated completely. The doctors told her that there were two options: corrective surgery and physiotherapy. For the surgery, they’d implant something— I don’t remember what the implant is called— in her hips. But the catch was that it cost millions of naira. Also, she would have to do the surgery every 10 years. Someone in my mum’s family offered to pay for the surgery, but my mum was scared. What if she couldn’t afford the surgery in 10 years?
She opted for the second option — physiotherapy. They told her that with any luck, she would walk again. If she did, she had to accept that she would walk with a limp for the rest of her life. In the meantime, she had to use crutches for support.
You may have noticed that I haven’t talked about my dad. Where was he in all of this?
In the about 24 months that my mum was in the hospital, my dad had started an affair. My mum was in the dark about this until she was discharged from the hospital. She returned to meet a woman and a baby — my dad’s new family — in her home. It finally made sense why he visited her in the hospital only once. What stung my mum the most was that she knew the woman — my mum used to buy my baby food from her shop.
My dad had started a new life and my mum had no place in it.
My mum moved in with my grandmother and continued the fight to get her legs back. It took about two more years before she got rid of her first crutch. Then the second one went about a year later. She could now walk unaided by her crutches but the doctors were right — she was always going to walk with a limp.
I started school when I was about four years old. This was also the time I saw my dad for the first time. I knew it had to be him the moment I saw him. The resemblance was uncanny. After the first visit, he started visiting occasionally. There was a day I overheard him tell my mum that he wanted to take me away. The audacity. I screamed my lungs out in defiance and ran away. I think he felt bad about it because my mum sat me down when I returned and asked me to behave myself whenever he was around.
Fast forward to a couple of years later. The man who offered to pay for my mum’s surgery passed. Cancer.
Before he died, he willed some money to my grandmother. I don’t know how much money it was, but it gave my mum a lifeline — a chance to return to school. She had always wanted to study nursing, especially after what happened to her. And off she went to the school of nursing.
By that time, my mum and I had become inseparable. I cried my eyes out the day she left home and fell ill a few days later. She was forced to return home for a few days to calm me down. However, I entered a rebellious phase shortly after and was sent off by my grandmother to live with another member of the family.
For a person living with a disability, going to school wasn’t going to be easy for my mum. But she hung in there for the three years she spent at the school of nursing. When she got to her final year, my grandmother ran out of money. The family member I was living with took a loan from work and paid for the year’s school fees. I had to make a little sacrifice too — I was in my last year of primary school and the family couldn’t afford my school fees, so I transferred to a public school to write my common entrance exams.
Everything worked out. My mum’s dream was finally realised. She finished her basic nursing program and got a diploma. This was 2011, and I was 11 years old at the time.
I should mention, my dad was totally out of the picture for the three years my mum was at school. But that’s not important. This is not about him.
I was in JSS 1 when my mum finished her diploma. There was a post-basic diploma she wanted to go for — this is where they actually specialise in an aspect of nursing. Can you guess why she couldn’t? Lack of funds. The family was still trying to pay off the loan they took in her final year.
The next best option was to look for a job, and she got right to it. But that wasn’t easy. Every place she applied to had an excuse for not hiring her. Most of them claimed that her nursing diploma wasn’t enough to get her a job, never mind that there were people who got jobs with the same qualifications or less. Some of the hospitals came clean and said they couldn’t hire her because she had a disability.
I remember when she got her first job in 2012. The job paid her only ₦6k, but she was happy to do it.
She worked there for two months before she found another job at a catholic hospital. The caveat was that she could only work at the pharmacy, not the wards. The pay was about ₦20k.
I was getting older, and it was getting more expensive to raise me. My school fees alone was enough worry for my mum. When I was in JSS 2, my dad resurfaced again and handled some of the bills. Sometimes, he would chip in for my school fees for a term and go away for months. Still, he was trying to dictate how my life should go. One time in SS 1, he tried to withdraw me from my school and send me to a boarding school. I thought it was a ploy to take me away from my mum, so I refused. On the day he was supposed to take me to school to write the exam, I ran away from home.
I eventually changed schools, but I made sure it wasn’t a boarding school. I was always going to return to my mum at the end of each day. He paid my school fees for the first term and paid half in the second term. Then we didn’t hear from him again for months. My school fees was about ₦42k, and my mum was earning less than half of that. She managed to pay for that term, but I was sent away from school more times than I could count.
It became clear that my mum couldn’t afford to pay it anymore the following year, and I had to withdraw and return to my former school. The embarrassment I felt was palpable, but the proprietor of the school was very happy to see me return and offered me the chance to write my WAEC in SS 2. Great! Now, who was going to pay for the exam?
My mum did, but I can’t even go into what she went through to raise the money. The form had almost closed before I registered. At some point, I wanted to tell her to forget about it. I was going to wait until the following year. Anyway, I wrote the exams and got a “C” in all the subjects.
My dad called me sometime in 2015 and asked me to visit him at his house. I refused. I told him he had to come to my mum’s if he really wanted to see me. For some reason, this riled him up and he started cursing me out. I didn’t react to his outburst. Then he started cursing my mum too. I couldn’t allow that, and I cursed him back. Before the call ended, he said I was no longer his daughter. I told him it was fine. I don’t need him to be my father when I have my mother.
We haven’t spoken since then.
I applied to a polytechnic after two universities didn’t offer me admission. I still remember the day I paid my acceptance fee. Mum gave me a portion of her salary and emptied her savings. How much was my acceptance fee? ₦25k.
The entire family chipped in something, so I could resume school. I was broke for the most part of my first year though. There’s no way to describe that kind of hunger. On a few occasions, I was tempted to call my mum to send something to me but I decided against it. She was probably hungry at home too.
There was another time my department said we needed laptops. I didn’t give it much thought and only told my mum in passing. But I got a call from her, asking me to come home. When I got home, I found a laptop on the bed. She said she got it on credit but didn’t mind as long as I had everything to succeed at school.
The guilt I felt was a little overwhelming. It wasn’t only about the laptop but also about the other weight she was carrying. I knew how hard she was working to make sure things didn’t break. I was close to tears the day I found out that she trekked the 40-minute distance between home and work sometimes.
Whenever I complained about how hard she was working, she would smile and say “You have to go to school, so I have to do it.”
My mum is earning about ₦37k now, which is still considerably less than what she should be earning. When she got the job, they promised to review her salary every year. But the sister who hired her left and the new one couldn’t care less about welfare.
I don’t understand why people have a distaste for people living with a disability. I don’t think the hospital treats her fairly. She was passed over for a HOD position that opened up not long ago. She was qualified for the role and they actually said it was hers. But later, they went back on the promise. They repeated the same thing she had heard over the years — she was living with a disability and may not be able to do the job efficiently.
I really want her to leave the job, but I can’t ask her to quit while I’m still in school. I’m in the first year of my HND program now, so I haven’t figured it out yet.
My mum is the strongest woman I know and she deserves better. I’m going to make it happen for her. I could never repay her for everything she has done for me. But a good place to start is setting up a large soft drink depot for her soon and getting her all the support staff she needs. In another version of the future, I see myself relocating to another country and taking her with me.
As for my dad, I’ll admit that things would be relatively easier if he was in my life. But he didn’t stick with me or my mum when it mattered the most. He chose his family, and it wasn’t us. It’s fine. I can live with that.
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