The night I turned seventeen was the night I got my first set of tattoos, although I had secretly nursed the idea before then. However, six months to my seventeenth birthday, it waxed stronger and did not wane.
On a sunny afternoon six months to my seventeenth birthday, my girlfriend stopped by my hostel while I was washing some clothes at the back of my lodge. I hurriedly rinsed and spread out the clothes on the line so I could attend to her. While I was pegging the clothes, she came closer and placed a kiss on my lips, it had been three weeks since I last felt the softness of her lips due to our just concluded examinations. I dropped the can of pegs I had in my hand, wrapped my hands around her and covered her lips with mine.
I can’t remember how long we had been kissing on the spot when I heard someone call my name with a voice that expressed shock and dissatisfaction. I recognized the voice, it belonged to my cousin who upon gaining admission, I had insisted we lived separately because ‘nosy’ was and is still the perfect word to describe her.
My girlfriend stepped aside as I moved close to my Cousin.
“What?” I asked, walking towards my cousin whose face was tear stained.
“Nothing!!!” she yelled as she turned to leave.
“You didn’t see anything, right?” I asked, silently threatening her not to spill milk at home as we were to go home in a few days. She didn’t say a word but nodded as she wiped her face and said goodbye but I was not sure of what to expect, still I hoped she would keep mute about what she had seen. Both of our parents were over zealous Christians and something like that was not to be handled with levity. So, as I pegged the last shirt and made for my room with my shy standing girlfriend, I made silent wishes that the words would never come out of her mouth.
Sarah was my best friend and ever since my first day on campus we had connected never to be disconnected. Ours was love at first ‘Hi’ and with every hello, we waxed stronger. It came as a shock to my parents and elder siblings that Sarah, the same Sarah who had visited us severally and slept in my room was my girlfriend.
I knew my cousin was not to be trusted but I thought and hoped it would take time before she summoned courage to go ahead and report my homosexuality because I was already building up defense against her accusation but all it took for her to get over her shock was just three days. As we sat at the dining the night we got back from school, I heard her say slowly
“Uncle, Yo-oo-mi-ii is a lesbian, I saw her kissing Sarah three days ago.”
The fork fell from my hand and the yam in my throat turned to stone.
“How dare you?” I muttered to myself with my eyes glued to my plate but I could already feel the heat of stares from around the dining. I melted in my chair while the earth spun beneath my feet. You could have heard a pin drop but my father slashed the silence with his voice.
“Yomi!!!!” he thundered, and immediately, I jumped off my chair.
“Sit down and tell me this is not true!!!” he yelled and his voice cut through my eardrums.
“It’s not true” I lied, with tears gushing from my sockets.
Silence took over until my cousin broke it.
“I made a video” she said.
“What?!!!” I screamed before I broke down in tears.
“This girl must be mad” I said to myself, no wonder she just walked away the other day.
My parents were shocked but my mum in her usual ‘seeing is believing’ manner asked my cousin to play the video. In split seconds I said series of prayers asking God to make her phone crash or make the video disappear, or something else just to save me from my impending disgrace. God must have been sleeping, because my prayers surely graced deaf ears. The video was played and replayed several times. My brothers passed it among themselves and hissed while my parents boiled with anger. My cousin wore a satisfied looked and I was left to wonder what she stood to gain from it all, I never made passes at the stupid girl.
“Tomorrow, you are going to start a seven-days dry fasting Yomi, this is clearly the handwork of the devil” my daddy said to me “The devil is aiming at my ministry but God has shamed him by revealing this secret” Daddy said taking it personal. I tried to explain but mum slapped me so hard my nose bled, she beat me till she was satisfied, her satisfaction of course did not come until she had inflicted pain on my skin with the new razor she sent my cousin to buy for her. She left my room after lacing each bleeding cut with powdered pepper.
All night I sat in the bathroom, under the shower, bleeding and crying, sleep did not visit me that night. The next morning, my brothers came to my room to nurse my wounds, they plastered my arms, legs and back before leaving the house. Few hours later, Dad took me to church in his car, I had been told that was going to be my house for the next seven days. Seven days I was without food but was offered half a glass of warm water every evening. Dad invited Ministers, Prayer-warriors, and Intercessors who prayed with me round the clock, binding and casting the devil on behalf of my father and his Ministry. At the end of seven days, I was given food, a new name and a JAMB form to fill. I was dumbstruck!
“Deborah, how do you feel?” my eldest brother asked, with an expression on his face that loudly told that he was forbidden to call me my name, Yomi. Dad called for a family meeting when he returned from the church office, everybody was present except my cousin who had wrecked havoc and left for her parent’s house.
Dad started the meeting with a very lengthy prayer, after which he talked about my new name. “Deborah was a very strong woman the Bible records, she was a virtuous woman, henceforth, we will call you Deborah, the more we call you Deborah, the more virtues of Deborah we would begin to see in you” Daddy said to me. The living room felt like a cemetery, my brothers were silent, my mum kept her gaze on the window blinds and tears rolled down my cheeks. I was lost, I no longer knew who I was, I had never been Deborah, I could never be Deborah, I didn’t even want to be Deborah, but I had no choice.
The holidays ended and on resumption I moved in with my cousin, how my Dad managed to allow me return to school remains a puzzle, because at the time my school resumed, he had paid for my JAMB registration. I had scars all over my arms and legs, so I was left with no choice than to replace the short sleeved dresses and skirts in my wardrobe with long dresses that concealed my scars.
I never spoke to Sarah again, thanks to our different faculties and my excessive church activities. Although I was occupied with school work and religious activities, I watched Sarah from afar. She was the only person who truly knew me and cared about me, thoughts of her kept me going.
Two months after we stopped seeing, I was rushing to class for a test I was almost late for, when I came upon a crowd gathered across the road. I thought of my test but something pushed me towards the crowd. When I got there, I saw a girl, knocked down by a driver who had probably lost control of his car.
I recognized the face, it was Sarah’s. She laid lifeless in a pool of her own blood, her smilebattered, her books scattered. I muttered words insanely as I screamed for help but she was dead by the time we got to the hospital. I took her Diary with me as I left the hospital.
Tears streamed down my face as I flipped through the pages of her diary. She had never stopped loving me and until she died her only wish had been that we get a chance to spend time with each other again. It happened, but not the way it should have been, I cried for days, refused food and grew thin. I expected my cousin to call my parents to report my strange behavior but she never did. So, on the night of my seventeenth birthday, after brothers and sisters from my fellowship had thrown me a modest party, I took a cab to town, slipped into a tattoo parlor and covered my razor blade scars with tattoos of Sarah’s favorite flower ‘Daisy’.
Like I had anticipated, the process hurt but the pain was nothing compared to the pain of losing Sarah. When I got back to our hostel, I told my cousin I was going to a mountain to pray for two weeks, I had done something similar at home during the last holiday so there was no cause for alarm. I packed my bags and headed for an hotel far from town where my wounds would heal.
No one ever found out about my tattoos, not the flowers or the “YomiSarah” that followed, nor the cover of her diary that I eventually tattooed on my back. My long dresses always hid them. I never fell in love again, I knew Sarah was watching and it would hurt her to see me curled up in the arms of someone else.
Three years after graduation, my parents are worried about my emotional life and relationship status but I don’t care about their worries. What they would never know, is that the devil they were binding seven years ago, is a lady, with the face of my dad’s youngest sister who never missed a fast or prayer meeting. She had been kissed by a girl in boarding school and had experimented with me during her holidays. Growing up, I was always in company of girls and my parents thought I was fleeing the vices of the devil.
My cousin would never believe that she was spared because my aunt always thought she was too masculine to be touched and my father would never agree that his assistant in ministry has a record of homosexuality.
So, I’ll keep it a secret forever just like my tattoos, all seventeen of them.