Being Jackie comes with a whole lot. Just like any other person, my life comes with happy and sad moments. I was born in Lomé in the room of my cousin. My mother’s paternal aunty help me bring into this world whiles others were looking for a taxi to take my mom and I to the hospital. My mum sat in the taxi with her aunty and cousin with me wrapped in Kente cloth in her arms with the cord covered in plastic and cloth covers. That is how adventurous and exciting I came into this world. I was loved by many people because I was a girl and survived in my mother’s womb, because her first child did not.
There was a particular auntie who came to visit us in Lomé all the time. She was my mom’s younger sister who lives in Accra. Her name is Maggie and she really loved me so much as if I was her own. In return I loved her also. In fact, I felt really connected to her in a way I couldn’t imagine. When I was around 2 or 3 years, she was leaving us to go back to Ghana after a short visit. Together with my mom, we went to the border to wave her goodbye. But to everyone’s surprise, I refused to follow my mom back home. My mum tried everything possible to take me back home, but I refused and cried out loud as if she was kidnapping me. I told her I wanted to follow ‘Tatita’ (sister Maggie as everyone calls her). Bystanders criticized my mom and she felt horrible. Because of that she let me go, thinking she will come back for me in a few days as Lomé is not too far from Accra. She left us behind crying and I was happy and unbothered waving her goodbye.
Once in Accra I missed my mom as reality hits me that she wasn’t around and I was in another country. Auntie Maggie happily rushed me to the house, our family house in Abeka. There I met my grandparents, aunties and cousins whom I had never met before or remember. I was warmly welcomed and pampered. Maggie spoiled me with gifts and so many things. She made me feel happy, comfortable, safe and mostly loved. She was a hairdresser and had her own hairsalon in our house in Abeka. As expected, she used me as her younger self and braided and styled my hair almost every day. People in the neighborhood were sometimes jealous of the love we shared. Some people will sometimes ask my hand in marriage for their sons for when they grow up. I was like the little fair princess of our area. Every year on my birthday on the 3th of May, she would throw me a big party.
She would buy me a beautiful gown, do my hair, buy me shoes and even put a little make-up on my face. My paternal aunty Afua who also lived in Accra at the time baked my birthday cake and cupcakes. All my kindergarten mates and area kids would come to my big and rich party. I literally got all I wanted on that day. But yet, I was never satisfied. My cousin Priscilla who was 3 years older than me did not like me much. She felt all left alone because Jackie always gets all the attention. I noticed it and I wanted to do everything possible to make her like me. So I decided to cut my hair short because she was forced to do so. I decided to be naughty so I would get punished as she was also punished. But still she disliked me. It made me realise how some people get treated unfairly. I promised myself to always treat people good.
Fast forward, Maggie got a visa to Holland to join my other aunties and uncles. I went back to Lomé with a broken heart. I was happy to see my parents but unhappy to have to leave my home Ghana after 5 years. Also because no one wanted to hear me out about my feelings and opinion about the change. It made me promise myself to always voice my heart when I grow up and do the same for others. But it also made me very insecure because I thought I was not much of a person who fights for what she believes in. Togo was similar to Ghana in a way. I loved my immediate family and little brother Renaud. We fought a lot but had tough love for each other. My parents made education easy for us. Compared to other families, we had a good home and good education. Other family members bullied Renaud and I whenever my mom was not around. This toughened me up to protect Renaud. I had to learn to be his mother in the absence of our mom. This made my family members angry and they made sure I got punished all the time. But because I knew that my mom would always come back at the right moment, I was never shaken. I still loved all of them as my mom always taught me. Of course there were good times as well as bad times.
Fast forward to Holland. I travelled with my aunty Maggie’s son. And we lived together with her, my aunty Fanny and her 2 kids. Life was really hard as I missed the love and warmth of my mom and dad at the age of 11. I became like a slave in the house. I was beaten every day and belittled. I had no voice, no choice and it felt like I was losing myself.
They would often tease me and call me all sorts of names. Happiness was far-fetched and hope was nowhere to be found. I would often get threatened to be sent back to Ghana. I would plead and cry because I felt I will disappoint my parents. I would cry myself to sleep every night. Sing songs my mom used to sing for me back home. That way, I felt her warm embrace in that moment. I felt worthless because I was told by my new family. Maggie would hurt me day in and day out. But I still loved her and was making excuses for her. I would fight my thoughts and defend her. How can she change and hate me so much? What about the beautiful promises she made to my parents? What about the love and affection she once upon a time gave me? Where is my ‘Tatita’? These were the thoughts rumbling in my head day in and day out!
And then on one evening after a physical fight with my girl cousin Jasmine and beatings from her mother auntie Fanny, I was sent to bed immediately. I remember walking the stairs 1 by 1. My body feeling like it has been pound like fufu. My eyes all red like the inside of a grapefruit. The disappointment I felt like someone just poured hot water on my whole body from top to toe. I was calling my mother’s name in my head and was hoping she will come like a super woman to save me from the bad guys. Once I got in the room I shared with Jasmine, I climbed the staple bed like a sick leopard with bruises all over its body. I lay down with my body facing the wall, covering my cold feet with the covers. Covering my whole body and leaving just a little breathing space close to my nose and adjusting myself in the bed.
There and then it felt like the whole world had just come to a stop. The noisy clock in the room suddenly stopped and a cool breeze finding its way to my eyes and dry my tears. Why me? Was the first question I asked myself. There and then I remembered the lesson my mom [taught] me. I remembered how I used to defend Renaud in Lomé. I remembered the sincere love my dad had for me. I closed my eyes to shed tears, but they never came. It was as if I was a dried well in the Sahara. But in a way I felt peaceful, and in my own space. Wow so I can actually feel this way? It felt so new as if I was reborn. Just me alone in my bed covered with my cover. I started smiling and feeling cosy. I started having conversations with myself until I fell asleep.
After that whenever I felt alone, I would go in my bed and have me time. In order not to lose myself in the midst of the storm, I will remember my bed and go back in it. Freedom was my portion whenever I lay in bed.