Yetunde’s heart was racing! She was supposed to be home an hour ago. Even though she called and told her parents that her car broke down, she was almost positive her father didn’t believe her. She was her parents only child. And at twenty years old when most of her friends were enjoying the freedom of college and independent living, she was home for the summer and under lock and key. She has always been her parents pride and joy, culminating when she graduated high school at the age of 16. Everyone was so proud of her. She breezed through her first and second year in college with perfect grade point averages. She was on schedule to graduate a semester early and decided to take the summer to enjoy her family and hometown. In the chaos of studying for finals, she forgot how limited her freedom was when home with her folks. It seems she was an adult to everyone except her parents. She still had a curfew (11pm), she couldn’t come and go as she pleased and her parents were deeply involved in all of her relationships and friendships. They wanted to know who she was with and what she was doing at every point of her day.
It was unnerving. All her friends were traveling out of the country, moving in with their friends or having the adventure of their lives and Yetunde was stuck at home with the same curfew as a high-schooler. She was too humiliated to tell her friends she had a curfew so whenever they plan a late-night hang out, she would make up an excuse as to why she couldn’t be there or fake an emergency to make it home by curfew.
Tonight she had grown restless and bored at home so at 10:30pm, she lied to her mother about going to get a milkshake from Cook-Out (her favorite drive-thru for shakes and burgers), and took off out of the drive way in her decade-old Toyota Camry before her parents could ask more questions.
Yetunde quickly called her homegirls to see where they were.
”We are at Cookout right now just getting some food and hanging out. Girl, everybody is out here. Come through,” her friend Lola fills her in.
“Alright, perfect! I’m on my way!” So her lie wasn’t a real lie (at least for now). She was going to Cook-Out just like she told her mom.
When she pulled up to the drive thru, the parking lot was full with bumper to bumper traffic. Some drivers had their doors wide open and were bumping their music at maximum volume. Hip hop and R&B of various varieties crooned through all the dueling stereos. The air was practically charged with a restlessness that can only come from young people awaiting something exciting. Yetunde felt invigorated in this environment. These were her people.
”Hey girl! You made it!” Lola grabbed her into a quick hug. “Come let me introduce you to some of friends!” Lola linked elbows with Yetunde and steered her in the directions of a late model white Honda Civic with tinted windows and chrome wheels.
“Y’all, this is my homegirl slash sister from another mister, Yetunde. Sis, this is my homeboy Lekan, his friend Travis, you remember my roommate Ashley and that’s her sister Erin.” Lola smiled as she made the iintroductions.
Yetunde gave a small wave to the group and told herself to relax. A quick glance at her phone told her she only had ten minutes until curfew but she had already determined to stay out past 11pm tonight. Her parents rules were ridiculous and there was no possible way for her to adequately hang out with her friends anytime this summer and be home before 11pm.
“When everyone has their food, we can head to Lola and Ashley’s’ place. Their crib is the closest and Ashley already got the bottles for tonight,” Lekan informed the group.
Yetunde felt a small knot in her stomach. She was a social drinker despite being underaged but the thought of going to drink with a group of friends and strangers felt like a betrayal to her parents and their various warnings about bad company corrupting good character. Maybe she wouldn’t drink tonight, just to keep an eye on everyone. If they needed a designated driver, she would be it.
”Okay, that’s cool with me. I can’t stay long because I gotta work in the morning but I’m down to hangout for a little bit,” Yetunde replied, the lie falling off her lips with ease.
”Alright, then! Everyone get their food, let’s go!” Travis stated, once again taking the lead.
”Let me get my milkshake and I will be right behind y’all. I remember the complex but Lola text me your building number just in case,” Yetunde called to her friend.
”Matter of fact, Ashley and Erin, yall ride together. Let me ride with Yetunde so I can show her the way,” Lola said, proferring a solution.
”Perfect, let’s go!” Yetunde squealed with excitement. Her joy was short lived as her cell phone began to buzz in her hand.
It was 11:05.
Yetunde’s heart dropped to her shoes in cold dread. If she answers it, her night of fun was over. She discreetly declined the call, taking care not to alert Lola.
The two friends chattered all the way to Lola and Ashley’s apartment. When they arrived, Ashley and Lola gave everyone an informal tour, proudly showing off their first adult home. The space was sparsely decorated but chic. Rather than looking bare for lack of furniture, their living room appeared to have a minimalist’s touch. Their only furniture was an entertainment center with a TV and stereo system, a couch, two end tables and a small rug.
Ashley brought a desk chair from her bedroom for Yetunde, turned on music and grabbed bottles of vodka and brown liquor from the fridge. Within minutes everyone was dancing and taking shots. Yetunde pretended to mix her drink with a shot of vodka but in reality she was sipping on pineapple juice. She couldn’t afford to go home smelling of alcohol. She was already pushing her luck by breaking curfew.
Her mom and dad took turns calling her the whole time she was with her friends. After 30 minutes and 10 missed calls, it was time to head home. Her heart pounded at the thought of the confrontation that was sure to happen when she arrived home or called her parents, whichever her nerves would allow her to do first.
She took a few calming breaths to get her story straight. She went to Cook Out and met her friends. They had their cars on while hanging out and talking and her battery died. They had to wait till she could find jumper cables for someone to give her a jump. That’s why she was late.
When she called her mom back, the conversation went worse than she could have imagined.
”Where are you? Where have you been?” Her mother barked without the nicety of “hello.”
”M-my car wouldn’t start. Some friends gave me a j-jump. I’m almost home now,” Yetunde stammered, her fear turning to terror at her mother’s furious voice.
“Oniro ni e! Yetunde Motunrayo Abike, o tin puro?” Her father’s voice yelled into the phone, calling her liar.
Yetunde’s eyes burned with tears of shame. She blinked them back. She couldn’t afford to look guilty during the face off with her parents. She told her lie and she had to stick by it, come hell or high water.
She was home within 10 minutes, pulling into her driveway a few minutes after midnight. All the lights were on, the front porch, back porch, driveway and living room all lit up like a Christmas tree. The sight was strangely terrifying. As if her parents wanted to see every single move she made from any angle as she approached the house. Yetunde told herself to calm down and took a few more calming breathes to steady her heart rate.
All she did was go hangout with some friends. She didn’t do anything illegal, she hadn’t been drinking or hooking up or anything crazy. She just sat in her friends apartment for a few minutes. There was no crime in that.
Before she could put her key in the back door, it was yanked open. Her mother’s bewildered face was the first thing to meet her.
“YE-TUN-DE! You want to kill me? That’s what you want, right? Why should my own child kill me when I didn’t kill my mother?” Folake, or Iya Yetty as she’s better known wailed as tears of anger streamed down her face. She grabbed her daughter by the collar and pulled her forcibly towards the living room. Her maternal instincts to protect her only child warring with her raging emotions that demanded the girl be flogged within an inch of her common sense. If she makes the pain memorable enough, her daughter would never attempt anything so foolish again.
Yetunde trembled in her father’s presence. He was pacing the floor. When he laid eyes on her, he immediately froze. Anger was pulsating from his very pores. He took slow, calculating steps towards his daughter, glaring down on her as only an angry predator could.
Yetunde’s heart froze. This wasn’t her beloved Papa Bear. This was an unhinged animal.
”If I should slap you now, you would end up in the hospital and I would be in jail,” her father spat the words at her with contempt and disdain in every syllable. “Look at yourself. We say go to school, get an education and make something of yourself but no, you want to run the night like a common prostitute. Let me find out you were with any foolish boy tonight, I will disgrace you openly and that boy will wish he was never born. Imagine a girl that was trained from a good home carrying on like a cheap harlot. Shame on you! You disappoint me. Honestly. You disappoint me. I always boasted that my child was better to me than five sons but it’s a lie. You’re a total and complete disgrace to this family. Now get out of my face before I descend on you,” her father finished his tirade, raising his hand as if he would strike her down.
Yetunde cowered away from her father’s raised hand, tears of humiliation and heartbreak pouring from her very soul.
A disappointment. A prostitute. All because she wanted to hangout with her friends for an hour? Her eyes burned as she let the words sink in. If her own parents didn’t see any worth in her, despite her good grades and all the effort she made to be a good daughter, friend and so on, maybe she was truly everything they said. There was no point in trying to be “good.” They’ve already decided she was a bad seed. She should just do what was expected and live up to her name.
They hadn’t seen anything yet. Yetunde who had promised herself at the age of 10 that she would save her body for the man she would one day marry was ready to lose her virginity to spite her father. If he had already decided that she was a prostitute, she was gonna do her best to live up to the name. Her daddy hadn’t seen anything yet. Her resolved strengthen by the vengeance and rage, she wiped her eyes and got into bed. Tomorrow begins her first day as her parents worst nightmare. If she was not destined to be their golden child, then she would pride herself on being the blackest sheep her family had ever known.
In her dark room, on the bed beside her husband, Iya Yetty tossed and turned. The events of the evening wouldn’t let her rest. Her brilliant, well-behaved daughter was spiraling. Her worst fears were coming true. Flashbacks of her own life as young adult plagued her. She was moved from one relative to another, nine total within a year. Her parents feared her wild ways would corrupt her younger siblings so they sent her to Iya Agba in the village, hoping that rural living would remove the wild seed in her. She enjoyed her time with her elderly grandma and was adjusting well to life in the village. She woke up early, fetched water for their household use, and worked on the farm in the mornings before going off to school. Life was peaceful. The peace was shattered when her village teacher asked her to stay after school and forced himself on her. The rape marred village life forever and she did everything in her power to be sent away from her beloved grandma. She stole, got into fights and would no longer attend school. It was too much for her poor grandma to handle and she was sent to live with her aunt in Lagos. Life did not get better at her Auntie’s house. Her “uncle” was a leech and a pedophile, often attempting to touch her and sleep with her when his wife was away. For his troubles, she gave him a bite mark on his face that remains till this day. The next day, she was immediately sent packing to the next relative who would have her. On and on it went until she finally got to college. She failed secondary school classes because of attendance but tested well enough on entrance exams to squeeze into college. In college, she met mentors and counselors and was finally able to heal from the trauma of her childhood. Her life changed, she found wholeness and fell in love with the man who became her husband and Yetunde’s father. Her prayer has always been for mercy – that she wouldn’t reap the rebellion she sowed as a youth, when she had children of her own.
Yetunde was her only child, her carbon copy in every feature. They named her “mother has returned” but Iya Yetty silently prayed her only daughter would be nothing like her.
It seems those prayers were unanswered. Mother had returned indeed.
(Somewhere in middle America, summer 2003)