Mummy or Daddy, which is your favourite? – Chidinma Okere

I don’t know how they even get to be called apartments but we stayed in a one room apartment many years ago. 

It was a one storey affair with 10 rooms on each floor and two other rooms at the back. Three toilets and four bathrooms served the entire population of humans that lived there.

No. 9 Gbadebo street was one of those houses where children belonged to someone and everyone in the compound. 

Mama Blessing would slap Nkechi for taking forever with washing the dishes and Mama Nkechi would say, “My sister, thank you o. This pikin no go kill me.” The children were like that too, siblings from different mothers. 

And the fathers? They were shadowy figures who existed at the back of our lives and only came out like big masquerades when it was time to instil some discipline after which they melted back into the darkness. 

My father was like that too. Better than most because he used to read to me as a child but as I grew up he also grew into a man who emerged from the shadows wielding a cane.

I was seven and in primary five. There was nothing spectacular about me except that I was the youngest in my class and also the best student. Nothing spectacular. My parents were proud of my academic prowess and never failed to show me off. They also never failed to provide the things I needed to keep maintaining my stellar academic record. This included school fees, lunch money, text books and biros. Especially biros because I was always losing my biros.

This Tuesday afternoon, daddy was home early so, he was there at homework time but there was a small problem. I didn’t have a biro to write. Mama complained to daddy that I was always losing biros. She was tired of always cutting out of the meager food money to cater to my carelessness. Daddy said nothing as he handed me a new biro from his  briefcase. All was well till the next day at school. Our teacher whom we called Uncle was fond of giving us long notes. Either that or I was too lazy to write. This Wednesday, I was tired as usual. First, Mutairu misplaced my biro cover and I misplaced the biro head while fiddling it. That wasn’t the bad part. At almost closing, it fell. Someone stepped on it and my biro cracked. One day of school and daddy’s biro looked like a war-worn soldier but it didn’t matter because I still had a biro.

That day at home, daddy asked to see his biro. With so much pride and confidence, I produced the battered thing from my bag. He didn’t believe it was the same biro. Not even the piece of paper on which I had written my name and inserted in the biro right in his presence could persuade him. 

Daddy, the deity of discipline, promised to discipline me for lying. He went into his arsenal and retrieved a bunch of old electric cables that hadnt lost their copper. Those were to be my instrument of discipline. 

Daddy flogged his 7 year old daughter with electric cables for lying. 

Mama sat outside and counted. It was 36 strokes. After that I was told to go and have a bath with cold water so that the pain would sink in. That was not the sad bit. 

First, someone in my family boasted about how much of a disciplinarian they were and I became the butt of jokes for being so stubborn I had to be flogged with electric cables. 

Next, 36 strokes became the benchmark for every time I would be flogged, an undeserved punishment for something I didn’t do became a measure of my future chastisement.

Why do I share this particular story?

That seven year old girl was being abused by her uncle who was an uncle in that peculiar way that older male figures in an African home become uncles by default no matter whether there is consaguinity or not. 

This not being believed was the first inkling to that seven year old  that daddy would never believe her and that mama would do nothing but sit and count how many strokes were delivered for lying against an older person.

That seven year old girl grew up into a teenager who never had an answer to a question as simple as “Mummy or Daddy, which is your favourite?”

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