I waited until the entire house fell quiet. The only sound I could hear was the chirping of the crickets filtering in through the windows. I could also hear the sleepy sounds of my uncle and his wife as they slept in their bedroom.
I said a short prayer and let out a deep breath. I was good to go.
I quietly got up from the raffia mat that had served as my bed for the past five years. And without turning on the lights, I made my way through the living room, to the corner I had hidden my bag.
There, in the silence and darkness, I hurriedly dressed. Next, I checked to ensure that the little money I had was still intact. It was. And so were the rest of my things. I picked the bag, ignoring my racing heart, I began to find my way through the dark living room.
I was leaving my uncle's home for good.
Five years ago, at the age of eleven, I had lost my parents to a ghastly car crash, rendering me an orphan immediately. My father's brother had taken me in.
At the time, I thought I was being adopted by a loving family member. It turned out he and his wife were only planning to turn me into their servant.
I did all the house chores, even the ones that were obviously bigger than me. Everyday, I washed heaps of cloth almost as high as my waist. I prepared meals for the family and I took care of their daughter Nancy. And the only room I got was a tiny space on the living room floor to spread the raffia mat they had given me. If that could be called a room.
My uncle had promised to enroll me in a nearby school. He never fulfilled that promise. Instead, he began taking me to his shop to assist him in business. And still, I return home everyday to work, work and more work.
For five years, my uncle and his wife used me, my teenage life was put on hold to please them.
But not anymore, I'm done with all that. My uncle didn't know, but many of his customers give me tips. For over six months, I've saved it all up for a fare that will take me back to my village. There I had cousins who loved me and would take me in without hesitation.
I didn't tell anyone of my plan, I just carried on with the day as if everything was normal. When no one else was around, I hurriedly packed the little things I had into my bag. And I hid it. That was the good thing about being the only one cleaning the house. I had all the good hiding spots.
So to keep suspicion at bay, I had retired to bed in my pajamas. Feigning sleep until the entire house fell asleep.
And now, my bag was in one hand, my sandals in the other, I tiptoed to the door. I felt around quietly till my fingers brushed the bolt that kept it locked.
There was a flap, and suddenly the doorway was flooded with light. In terror, I looked up expecting to see my uncle. I saw my cousin Nancy instead staring at me. She opened her mouth to speak.
I dropped the things I was holding and hurriedly covered her mouth with my hand before she could mutter a sound.
"Please don't tell your parents." I whispered, using my free hand to turn out the light once more.
She pulled my hand from her mouth, "you're leaving?"
Not seeing a reason to lie, I nodded. She was three years younger than I was. And the only thing she did to herself was to brush her teeth. If I left, that would change and she would have to learn things like washing her own clothes, doing the dishes and other little house chores. And I could tell she knew all this.
And just like that, in a second, the escape I had planned for six months rested on the whims of my young cousin.
"Stay here." She said and turned to leave.
"What?" I whispered, holding her hand. "I can't. I have to--"
"Just stay for a minute!" She yanked her hand from my grip and dashed into her room.
Alone once more, I fidgeted, not knowing what to do. Should I wait? She could come back with my uncle and his wife. But she had not gone into their room.
In a dilemma, I looked at the door once more. I had no choice, I had to leave while I still had the chance.
Without making a sound, I raised the bolt and slid it back. The door yawned open before me, letting the night breeze in. I checked my time, I still had thirty minutes. The night bus was scheduled to leave by 10:30 pm.
I bent to pick my bag once more when I heard Nancy return. Turning, I looked at her as she stopped beside me.
"I know my parents don't treat you well, that's why you're leaving. I'm sorry."
I nodded, not knowing what to say. Then she took my hand and placed some naira notes into my palm.
"Oh my God." I gasped when I counted it using the moonlight through the open door. "Two thousand? Where did you get the money from?"
"It's my savings. Now go."
"But Nancy, you said you wanted to use the money to--"
"Just go okay? Before they wake up."
"Thank you." I didn't know what else to say. This money would really go a long way in helping me settle down for a day or two.
I picked my bag and wore my sandals. And on the spur, I hugged her. It was so uncharacteristic of us that we only ended up embarrassed.
"Don't lock the door behind me, so you can deny knowing about this. I don't want you to get in trouble because of me."
"Don't worry about my parents, I'll handle them. They can't hurt me. Now go!"
She pushed me out.
And she locked the door.
And I was out, in the cold night air. First I was walking, then jogging, and finally running to the motor park.
Running to freedom.
Thank you for reading.