The Joys of Motherhood: Tofunmi Adeoya

‘The night I died is the night your life began’ 

Tonight is different from all the other nights. I’ve lost hope in my future. Tonight, I will shut my eyes and let my thoughts and dreams fade into the darkness. I’ll leave this world behind.

I won’t let the sound of the raindrops as they hit the rooftops of the small room I share with 11 others keep me awake. I’ll ignore the wetness of the floor as water leaks from the holes in the roof. I’ll pretend I don’t feel the cold, spread my limbs, and leave my chest victim to the breeze. 

I’ll ignore the sniffs and sobs from the 10-year-old girl, Temi, beside me. I’ll pretend I can’t hear her whispers and her grunts. When she falls asleep, I’ll ignore the calls for her mother. The mother who left her for dead. I won’t move closer to her, patting her back, until her muscles relax. I won’t remove the lint from her matted hair. I won’t stare at her face for hours, thinking about how her features remind me of my younger self, how we both have a birthmark in the same spot; below our right ears. Sometimes it scared me, how drawn I was to her. Perhaps that was why I only stayed around her during the night, when she slept, so she did not notice it.

Maybe my legs will move faster tomorrow, but for now, I’ll let the darkness engulf me. Tomorrow, I’ll be different. I won’t cry when Madam Suko throws the faded rags I call my clothes on the floor. Shouting at me never to return, not without the 2000 naira accumulated rent I owed since last month. 

I won’t feel ashamed when she compares me to Temi. Not when she announces to everyone how she always pays her rent on time despite being the youngest. I won’t feel any contempt towards Temi. Not because she is young or because I am compassionate, but because I know that her young, lanky body remembers the touch of older men who loved the feeling of stripping away her innocence. Because of the unwithering hatred I felt towards myself for looking away.

I don’t know where I’ll go when I leave here. I’ll drag my clothes, wrapped in the ankara wrapper that covered my body tonight, through the dirt. I’ll abandon everything that ties me to my past. Perhaps even the ankara wrapper—the same one that hung around my waist the morning my mother beat me and my father watched. Screaming profanities at me,


I can count on one hand how many insults she did not call me, or my child. The girl that cried in my belly as my mother pushed me to the ground.

“Don’t come back to my house with that bastard or alone!”

I thought my tears would not stop. I thought my mother would let me back in. I thought she would open the doors and say she only acted in a fit of rage. I thought she would dust my body and hold me tightly to her chest.

Wasn’t I her daughter?! Did she not love me?! I was only 16! She never even asked how I got pregnant! I let out a soft laugh. How can I be upset? The child I birthed in the corners of an empty street will never know what her mother looks like. The moonlight watched me closely that night. My body lay on pavement, under a canopy, in front of a banner that hung on the wall of a closed shop, with the words “Mama D and Shops” printed on it. My screams were muffled by the rain that poured, and so were my daughter’s cries.

I can’t remember the face of the woman who found me or why she helped me. Why she took me into her shop, cleaned me, and fed me. Why she offered to adopt and raise my daughter. But if my life were to fall into ruin, I decided I would not let the innocent child watch. That was 11 years ago, but tomorrow, when I leave this place, that’s the only memory I’ll hold on to.


I’ll let you take my hand, so hold on to it till the end of time’.

I don’t remember what time I finally succumbed to the tiredness that has held me hostage since the day my mother threw me away. It was just me, though clustered in between bodies, with my eyes shut in peaceful slumber. I didn’t dream over the night, and by the time my eyelids opened, the sun still hadn’t risen. It was time to leave. I don’t look back as I walk away.

“Sister,” I hear a light voice calling behind me. I recognized it immediately. I don’t turn around, and I don’t plan to, because I don’t want to stay, not for a second longer.

But the girl walks in front of my path. She looks confused and in distress.

“Go back to sleep, Temi.”

“Let me follow you.” She must have sensed my hesitancy, grabbing my left wrist with her hands. Her eyes screamed ‘please’ in different languages.

“I don’t even know where I’m going.” Even if I did, I couldn’t take care of another person, and most definitely not a child. 

“please sister” 

“I’m not your sister.”

“Please, I don’t want to stay here.”

Of course she didn’t; why would anyone want to? But this makes everything complicated. If I leave her here, I’m betraying her once again, and I’ll be worse than my mother. But if I take her, I will not be able to provide for her. Which is the lesser evil?

If I take her with me, I cannot go forward with my plan. I can’t lose hope in my future. I can’t stop trying. I can’t shut my eyes and let all my thoughts and dreams fade into the darkness. I can’t leave this world behind.


‘When I tell you I love you, believe me. I may be a thief, but not a liar.’

11 days have passed since I tried to leave everything behind, since Temi followed in my footsteps, and since I decided to live. If I couldn’t rewrite my past, I could change my future.

I can’t sleep tonight. Not because my eyelids aren’t heavy or because my body can’t find comfort against the wall my back rests against. But because of Temi, her upper body lay on my lap, asleep, oblivious to the world around her. We’re not homeless, and our stomachs aren’t empty. We are in a room with four walls and a ceiling, with windows and a toilet, and with a bed that has a mattress. A room in a small hotel I had paid for through means that tested my morals.

Just two days ago, Temi and I made whatever empty street we found ourselves in our home. We were unable to sleep because of the relentless mosquitoes and our empty stomachs. Looking over our shoulders every second for fear of everything and everyone. I was Temi’s guardian, and I was failing at my duty.

So I do not feel any pity for the man whose pocket I had snuck my hands into some days before. Or the woman whose purse I had forced her to part ways with. Just two of many, many of which I had lost count. I did what I had to do to survive. Maybe I am in denial, grasping at straws to justify the actions I’ve taken. But I need something to keep me going. Purpose. My purpose was to protect Temi. Maybe I will forgive myself if I do. 


‘I have killed for you. Now I will die for you’.

Today feels like a blur. I don’t know how it happened. It was quick, like lightning. My body felt it before my eyes saw it. 

Ole! Thief! Ole!” She grabbed my hand, her grip on my wrist as tight as the eye contact we shared. My palms are still deep in the bag of the old woman I tried to steal from. 

The events that followed threw my mind into a state of disarray. One minute, the eyes of market women, touts, and random passersby are on me. The next minute, the hands of market women, touts, and random passersby are on me. Punches to my stomach and slaps across my face. 

Before I open my mouth to beg, I feel the texture of thick rubber, the type used for car tires, rub against my skin, keeping my arms stuck to my clothes. My body is forced to the ground, and the smell of kerosene fills my nostrils, replacing the aroma that once filled the market. That of roasted corn and plantains and the stench of bloody knives as they cut through fish or beef.  

All that doesn’t matter now. Not now that I’m surrounded on all sides by men and women bursting with anger. Ready to take out their fraustrations on the thief who tried stealing from an old woman. So old that she has to use a walking stick. All their voices merge into one. One that screams words so demeaning, words that affirm how much of a failure I am. Followed by words that mock my feelings of self-pity. 

I want to prove them wrong, perhaps not for myself but for Temi. For the girl I have taken under my wings—the girl that makes me want to hold on a bit longer to this world. Theft was only a temporary means to that end. I swear on my life! I wish they would believe me, but these people do not see a human being before them.

“Mummy! Mummy!” A shrill cry starts from behind me. I hear the sound of a small body pushing herself inside the ring that had formed in the center of the crowd. I feel her hands wrap around me from behind; her knees are buried in the sand. 

Temi called me her mother. The world around me froze for a second, and the image I had tried to paint for years of the child I had left behind suddenly formed by itself. The girl in the picture is Temi. She is just acting; I’m sure of this. And I do not believe for a second that she could be my daughter. 

My neck is wet with her tears. I feel her mucus against my skin, slimy, bringing me back to earth. I had asked her to wait at the stall of a woman who braided hair, not far from where I had been caught. How did she find out? 

“Please! Leave her alone!” I hear her cry.

“Commot for here!” It’s a cracked voice, owned by a man with eyes that bulged out of their sockets.

“I go pour you petrol o!” another voice yells. 

Temi doesn’t let go. I want her to, because I will never forgive myself, even in my death, if she gets hurt. But a strange feeling lingers, one I have suppressed for so long. This girl, whose skin is tightened to mine, made me feel like a mother. Replacing something I thought I had lost. 

Abi eti eleyi ti di ni?!”  

I hear clamoring and arguments. I shut my eyes, I shut away the world around me, and I let the tears flow.

“E fi won le, e jo!” The voice of the old woman I had tried to steal from sounds different. She still yelled, but it sounded different. Sombre, filled with pity. I raise my head to meet hers. Her thin eyebrows furrowed. It had to be the motherly instinct; did she feel it too? 


‘You know my pain because you have felt my pain’

“She’s your daughter?” The old woman’s question sounds like a statement. My mother always told me that older people can sniff out lies because they are closer to death, and so they are closer to God. My mother had sniffed out my lies on that day too, when I swore to the heavens that there was no new life forming in my womb. 

“Yes,” I lie. I’m still shaken from the earlier events. Temi stands behind me, peeking her head out to watch the woman.

“She looks like you.” She brings out a piece of paper from her bag, grabs my hand, and places it in the center of my palm. There’s an address written on it.

“I can give you work if you are hardworking, you’ll earn good money, a place to sleep, and food to eat.” “You should serve as a good example to your daughter.” 


“Come tomorrow, by 12 o’clock.” “Tell them you’re looking for Mama Dimeji.”


‘I brought you into this world, so I must protect you from it’.

I couldn’t sleep last night. My thoughts were and are still filled with pictures of a new life. For me and for Temi. But I must confront my past. The same one I have failed to bury. I don’t need my parents’ forgiveness; I finally believe those words. I did not deserve the woes they caused my life to spiral into. They failed me, and they will do right by me.

So before I go to Mama Dimeji’s house, I retrace my footsteps back to the house I grew up in. With Temi’s hands strapped to my wrist, Something about it made everything grim—the fact that it had been a decade since I had been driven away from home, yet I still remembered the path that led me back to it. The streets had uneven roads that drove Okada riders crazy. Its potholes are filled with blocks of concrete. The houses on the streets were without gates, with figures painted on their walls to signify their numbers.  

No. 11. Here I am, in front of my father’s house. A woman is seated on a wooden stool, washing clothes, and humming a song I can recognize. It helps, because somehow I cannot recognize my mother anymore. 

Barefoot, her wrapper tied just above her breasts, her thinning hair cut almost to her scalp. She looked thinner than I remember. Her skin color is different shades of ivory and red. There used to be flesh to her coffee-colored skin, just like me, just like Temi.  

This woman is a shadow of who she used to be. I do not realize when her shoulders jerk and her eyes meet mine. They flash with recognition, then fill with regret, then shame. Her hands stop moving, and her eyes land on Temi. She wants to speak, but she can’t. Are those tears? 

Temi’s fingers curl tighter around my wrist. All my pent-up anger and hatred have melted away without my permission. 

“Ma mi.” Those words feel alien to me. “I’m home.”


‘I hope you never know my sorrows; I hope your life is better than mine’.

The End.