On Friday the 15th of May 2020, I was having a conversation with my boss at work and I mentioned to her that I needed a new book to read. She pointed to a book in her library and said, ‘Go read this one. I cried when I read it.’
I shook my head, no, I definitely didn’t want to read a book that would make me cry but then I was curious. So I asked her what was in the book. She said it was a true life story of a family who adopted a girl and turned her into a slave. I thought to myself. No It can’t be that bad. Maybe they didn’t give her certain privileges she thought she was entitled to considering their class and she was hurt by that and decided to run them down in her book. I didn’t read it until Sunday the 24th of May 2020, on which day I read the entire book and finished it before 8pm, Nigerian time.
So let me give a break down of my thoughts, first I would start with structure, before coming to my opinion.
The book is a one hundred and eighty-eight paged novel, if you count the acknowledgement page, it is written in the first person and in a present continuous tense that runs through the book from the beginning until the end, except for a few areas where a few past tenses featured.
As a writer, I specifically learnt some new words and of course some new usages that I penned down in my word library.
Words like: lumberjack, strident, Minuscule, duke, incredulous, gangway, entryway. I mean they are not exactly new words, but I can’t say I have ever used them in any of my writings.
Then usages like ‘the cold takes hold of me as soon as I am on the gangway’, ‘Stream of passengers’, ‘the rain falls like curtain of water’, ‘I have the feeling that the tree branches set loose by the winter are going to swoop down on me and push me back with their blackened arm’, Come on! Winter? having a blackened arm? That is a great use of an oxymoron! ‘the scene melts into a misty magma’, you literally see your eyes dimming to transcend you into that misty magma, and many others.
First, I must mention that writing in the first person is a long haul because it takes a whole lot of discipline to maintain both tempo and description. Now it can be dicey, because storytelling in this form can quickly move from showing to telling. But the writer Cyril Guinet who wrote on Tina’s behalf did a great job at it.
Now the story
I find it hard believing that a woman would hate not only the adopted daughter she picked by herself but also her own children. Why I find this difficult is because this girl was brought to her house at the age of twelve, so really there was no competition or reason why this hatred should even be, it was not like they were in competition for Godwin’s attention. Also women are natural nurturers so permit me to be a bit sceptical about the extent of wickedness. But this shit is real. I still don’t understand why God gives women like this children in the first place.
The story starts from when a young girl, Linda Okpara jumps over the fence into the house of a neighbour. This neighbour notices her and Linda suspects that the woman knows about the brutality and fighting at the Okpara mansion in France but she refused to help because of fear. The woman, Maria told her that she was a widow and could not help her. Rather she cut a dustbin bag, making a cloth out of it to protect Linda from the rain.
Now, this scene led us to her childhood and how she came to be adopted by the family of the Okparas. We are led through her upbringing and how her mother died and her father remarried. And then through her suffering, and their deceit. They’d promised to send her to school but this never happened, instead she was made to take care of the biological children of Linda and Godwin Okpara. She was brutalised, beaten, injured and abused on a daily basis. Now, mind you this was a girl of twelve. She lived with them and suffered through the abuse until she was seventeen. Also she tried to escape twice and somehow either went back on her own accord or was returned to the house by the police because she was a minor.
I still have no idea why the police thought returning her was a good idea. It still baffles me. At the least, they should have asked questions first before sending her back to the home of her captors. This was before she eventually escaped and got help.
Then there was the rape, a man of forty having sexual intercourse with a girl of fifteen and claiming it was consensual is the height of madness and the fact that the man had the guts to even dare to say she seduced him, my goodness! These kinds of men should be castrated. If Sophia had seduced him would he have had sex with her? But then there are men who have sex with their own children. Predators.
Another point that made me squirm and flinch was the fact that Linda caught her husband on top of her adopted daughter and she pulled him off and went for the girl? Wait what? Who the hell did she marry? And who the hell was having sex with another?
And Linda tried to tell her earlier and rather than make use of her brain she insults the girl and says her husband can have any girl he wants. My question, did this little one not count as any girl?
Without pouring out my guts and indignation against Linda, I will say here that I would have believed that Linda could not have been that wicked. But the words that came out of her mouth during the trial? To think she implicated herself. Well what is it they said about Karma?
Furthermore there was Mamie, the woman who could have spoken to Linda or at least help protect her. I don’t know how she could tell Tina that she believed her when she’d fingered Godwin of wanting to rape her and in another wind allow a woman use a razor blade to tear a child’s vagina or allow Linda inject pepper into Tina’s vagina?
And Linda? How indignant can anyone be to accuse a child of nine of sleeping around? To what extent could you hate a child to level such wild accusations? Not that she was stubborn and possibly stealing but sexual immorality? And lets assume someone had led her to that path, was it not your responsibility as a mother to help her since you had adopted her as yours?
Without pouring out my indignation against this woman as though I have a personal guts to grind with her, the book did not make me cry, no it made me mad and I thought there should be greater punishments for men who rape young girls and there should be stricter punishments for women wicked enough to cause physical injuries or depriving a child of his or her childhood just because you did not physically birth that child.
Then if I was going to say anything to Tina, I would say, ‘Dear Tina, your father did not sell you. He thought giving you to a famous footballer was better for you that staying with Lami because he thought to himself that your future was bright and so the fact that Godwin gave him some money was not a sale price. That 30,000 was nothing compared to your life.
In all, I had expected to cry reading the book, but no, I was angry and infuriated at the injustice done to a child only because she was not their biological child. On the other hand, the book was well written, making the story easy to follow and understand.