It’s raining again today, like it did yesterday and the day before. Rainy days are signature of June, my birth-month and the month I finally walked away.
Childhood in the Beluah temple cast some indelible marks in my life. Shadows that followed me where ever I went. The temple where father was a priest was situated along the Benin-Lagos road; rapid industrialization had fished it out from hiding, I was told. There I was born, and many more some who never saw the light of the day.
Ose and I were home-schooled. Mum taught us all she knew, it didn’t matter that she barely passed WASSCE. We were special, she always reminded us, and should not mix with other children. But I soon found it was the reverse. Often the children from the street threw stones into the compound. They pointed fingers and giggled at me when they felt I wasn’t looking.
I always sat at the balcony, daydreaming about setting foot on the dusty ground of the streets just beyond the gates. I longed for a time I will be allowed that freedom and maybe even extend it to visit distant lands. I sat at the balcony by 7am and 2pm, every day, as pupils went to and fro school hoping that one day I will be allowed to join them. But father would never hear it. No one ever leaves Beluah, he would say in measured tones, we are custodians of the mystical order. The farthest we were allowed to go was the gate where we doubled as gate-keepers to throw open the gates for throngs of Beluah worshipers.
I hated home-schooling and I made my displeasure known. Ose did not seem to mind though, he was the perfect Esomo Beluah. Father might have admired my defiance (he never admitted it though), but it was clear that he loved Ose’s loyalty more.
The year I turned 11, I knew I could take no more so I rebelled. Father threatened fire and brimstone while Mum wept in the corner but nothing was going to change my resolve. Not the first lash of the whip on my bare back which shot needles of pain into the deepest parts of me, nor the thirtieth lash which drew blood from my skin, already numbed with pain. I didn’t shed a single tear as he finally let me go; we both knew I had won the day. A month later, on a rainy day in June, I was sent off to Government College, Owerri. Freedom had come at last and I never looked back.
The college swallowed me up the first week. There were questions to be answered, friends to be made and adventures to be embarked on. With respect to the latter, it was intriguing for me learning the skilful art of dodging notorious senior students. Every day I spent in the school was worth the 30 lashes I had endured – the price of freedom.
One day, Uche, the class prefect asked which church I attended at home. I was confused; all I knew was Beulah and I told them as much. That was my undoing. Overnight, I became a plague among my mates for no one would associate with the child of a temple priest. And so if at night I stared at the stars, I was accused of magic and when I became thirsty at night, it was blood I drank. The beautiful free life I had found in Government College ended before it even began.
My days became lonely with no one to talk to and my nights, long and teary. It was on one such night that I remembered Ose. I had been so caught up in the euphoria of my freedom that I had forgotten all about him. I thought of his puffy eyes as he waved me goodbye the day I left home. Going back home was not even an option for me, so I faced the ‘giant’ in school with all the bravery I could muster. I was after all the daughter of Ehiosu, fifth in the lineage of priests for the great Beluah. I graduated with the best result ever recorded in the college and the university college admitted me to study Economics with full funding from the Commonwealth fund.
It’s my birthday today, another rainy day in June, and I still love to sit on balconies. I had just read the pages of my diary and a wave of sadness courses over me. But over that sadness, I feel a comforting satisfaction in knowing I made the right choices. Life has no place for the man who waits for things to happen to him but rather the one who goes out and makes things happen for him.
I do not know what became of Ose. I hear he replaced my Father, after he passed on, as the priest and caretaker of Beluah. I suppose he would have a loyal family – wife and children who would be home-schooled by their mother, without any complaints. I wonder if he ever thinks of me, the rebellious one. The one who got away, on a rainy day in June.
By Chizzy Odilinye
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