My name is Rukewe. I am the first child of four children and the only girl. I am a student of English at the university of Benin. I grew up in a community in Effurun. My mother is a trader and my father, a jobless fellow who really can’t keep his hands off the bottle or keg, in his own case.
As the story goes, papa’s affiliation with the bottle started way back in time before I was conceived, even before papa married mama, although at that time, he was just a social drinker like every other young man his age; no one could tell how papa became the town’s drunkard or what led to it. He just started one day and never stopped. Papa lived for the bottle and his drinking problem was the main reason he couldn’t keep a job or sustain our family.
Growing up was hell for me. I dreaded going home and still do. Aside from the fact that I had to help mama with sales after school and on weekends, it was my duty to clean up papa after he was drunk and all messed up. Mama was too ashamed of papa, she wanted nothing to do with him. It therefore became my duty to ensure papa returned home safely from mama Tega’s shade and if he wasn’t back, it was also my duty to rally a search party, that consisted of myself and two of my brothers, to go and look for him wherever he passed out.
Sometimes we would find him wasted beside a gutter, in a gutter or in the middle of the road or on a bench in front of mama Tega’s shade or even in a bush. It was such a shameful sight. Rousing him and carrying him home was even more shameful because papa would sing and shout and say all sort of things, disturbing the whole neighborhood and drawing unnecessary attention to us. The worst part is, papa got drunk any time of the day, so it wasn’t like we could hide under the clove of darkness to cover him up. It was such a shameful task to do for almost half of ones growing life and I hated every bit of it.
How papa got money to drink steadily did not require so much brainwork. When he was sober, which was rare, he did menial work, helped people with house repairs. And when he had no money, he would steal from mama or simply borrow money from friends; another habit papa was fond of.
Hunger was not new to us. It was as normal as breathing. Mama’s business could not always afford us three square meal and sometimes, most times actually, papa was the reason for our lack of food; because fact is, someone had to pay up his debt and that someone was mama. As for going to school, we had missed it a lot of times to keep tabs. Mama was but one person struggling to fend for herself and five extra mouths from her small food stuff business, really it wasn’t always possible to make enough to cater for school needs. To solve this problem though, my brother, Igho and I had to start working earlier than our age mates in order to ease some of mama’s financial burden.
My biggest troubles however was the intense teasing and the discrimination. We were regarded as the town’s misfit, the family that other families warned their children to stay away from. Our surname had been changed to palmi (short for palm wine) and everywhere we went, we were derided and made fun of. There were days I didn’t go to school because the teasing in school was just unbearable. My brothers learnt to live with the teasing, even mama became used to it, but never me. I was always pained and as such the easiest target for verbal abuse.
I am yet to decide which is worse, being a drunk or being the child of a drunk. I am always angry when people focus on rehabilitating the addict. “What about the scarred family members?” I always ask. Growing up with papa has made me a bitter and insecure woman with a mundane outlook to life. I always wanted to know what people thought of me, always stressed out, was always too scared to make friends or invite anyone home, because our house – scratch that, my grandfather’s house that papa’s elder brother let him have after we were kicked out of our two bedroom flat for not paying rent – was like a madhouse. Surely, we also deserve some kind of rehabilitation.
Now I am a grown woman with deep seated fear that I will end up like mama. I am afraid to love any guy, afraid that any guy who gets to know my story will run away from me. I want to move on, to be happy, but I cannot get over my fears and it’s killing me. I am a Christian, I know everything about new identity in Jesus, but I find it hard to break away from the identity of ‘palmi’s daughter’ which people in our community have given me.
Then there is the issue of forgiveness. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t find it in me to forgive papa for all the shame and hard life he put us through and is still putting us through. I need closure.
What should I do?