Bimbo felt her life was dreary. It’s not that she expected much out of life, but ever since her mother died she felt like her own life was slowly slipping away. For the past 6 months her days consisted of waking at the crack of dawn to fetch water from the stream a mile and a half away, feeding the chickens, sweeping the entire house, including her step mother’s room, washing her little brothers and sisters, and all this before 7am, when she had to prepare the day’s meals.
She wiped the sweat off her brow and adjusted her wrapper. She blinked as the smoke from the wood burning stove hit her eyes. Mama, I miss you so much. If you were here papa’s wife wouldn’t be treating me like her personal slave.
“Bimbo! Bimbo! Where are you?”
“I’m coming Papa.”
Bimbo blew the smoke out from under the pot and hurried to her father’s side, wondering what it was he wanted this time.
Papa was sitting on his favourite chair, the one Aunty Felicia sent from London. There was a man Bimbo didn’t recognize sitting next to him.
“Ah, Bimbo. This is Uncle Felix. Your Aunty Felicia’s husband’s junior brother all the way from Abuja.”
Bimbo knelt to greet Uncle Felix. “Good morning sir.”
“Hello my dear. How are you?”
Later that night Papa called Bimbo to his room to tell her that Aunty Felicia had sent a ticket for Bimbo to come and live with her in London. Aunty Felicia was willing to send her to school and take care of all her expenses. All Bimbo had to do was help Aunty Felicia look after her new baby from time to time. Bimbo thought this was a brilliant idea, especially as her stepmother was severely put out by the prospect of losing her house girl.
Nine months into her stay in London, Bimbo couldn’t really tell whether her life was any better than it was back in Nigeria. Granted she had a few luxuries, like not having to walk miles for water or manually grind beans for moi-moi, but this wasn’t the life she envisioned. The promise of furthering her education never materialized. Aunty Felicia wasn’t the same effusive person she appeared to be whenever she came to Nigeria. Now she was cold and impatient with Bimbo and only spoke to her in barking commands. Bimbo spent all her time looking after the baby and cleaning the house. And the cold, oh the cold seemed to seep deep into her bones every time she got up each morning. The only bright spot in her life was Mrs. Anderson from next door.
Bimbo met Mrs. Anderson 2 months after moving to London. Mrs. Anderson was a Jamaican woman who had taken to inviting her to church each week. Bimbo wanted to go, but Aunty Felicia forbade her from associating with the woman. Bimbo couldn’t understand why, as Mrs. Anderson was so sweet, kind and motherly. And thankfully she didn’t give up on inviting Bimbo to church.
One Sunday, when Aunty Felicia had gone to Scotland for a week with her family Bimbo went to church with Mrs. Anderson. Within minutes she was crying as the service and ambience evoked memories of Mama. Mama loved the Lord and never missed church until she fell seriously ill. She made sure to teach her children about Jesus, but left them to make up their own minds about God. Bimbo hadn’t been in a church in years. She was soon sneaking out to join the Anderson family for services as often as she could. Two months after attending her first service, she offered to help the Children’s Church attendant to look after some of the younger children. The little girls were so cute but it seemed as if their mothers' couldn’t keep their hair tidy, so when she next got the opportunity Bimbo took the time to braid the little girls’ hair. Before long most of the mothers in the neighbourhood requested her services to do their daughters’ hair and she soon amassed a modest fortune.
When Aunty Felicia found out she was livid. She threatened to report Bimbo to Immigration and have her deported back to Nigeria.
“You ungrateful little girl! Do you think I brought all the way from Nigeria to start a business? After all I've done for you this is how you repay me? If you know what’s good for you, you will spend your time looking after Felina and doing the housework and stop wasting your time doing people’s hair.”
Bimbo was aghast. “Aunty I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. It’s just that-“
“Upset me?!” Before she knew it Aunty Felicia had slapped her. Hard. Leaving a mark on her face. She marched into Bimbo’s room, snatched her handbag and took out the hundreds of pounds that Bimbo had made and saved over the past few months. She turned to look at Bimbo’s stricken face and pointed a finger in her face.
“You will see!”
Bimbo didn’t fall asleep until well after 4am. She tossed and turned as her tears trailed her face and wet her pillow.
“God, what did I do wrong? First Mama died, then Papa’s wife treats me like a slave and now Aunty Felicia, who was so nice to me, is treating me like I’m dirt. God, if you’re real like Mrs. Anderson says you are please rescue me from this prison.”
It seemed she’d only been asleep for 5 minutes when she was roughly shaken awake. She opened her eyes, disoriented. It was Aunty Felicia. Could Bimbo be mistaken or wasn’t her gleeful expression incongruous with the vehemence of her movement?
“Wake up! Useless girl. There is someone waiting for you in the sitting room.”
Bimbo got out of bed as quickly as she could. Without taking the time to brush her teeth or wash her face she pulled on yesterday’s jeans and a rumpled t-shirt.
There were 2 white men, one in what appeared to be some kind of uniform and the other in a dark brown, ill-fitting suit.
“Miss Obaitan we’re from the UK Border Agency. We understand that you’ve been in the country illegally for nine months. Could you please come with us.” It was a statement, not a question. Aunty Felicia had a malicious smirk on her face as Bimbo was led away.
Five hours later Bimbo was sitting in a corner, rocking back and forth in a holding cell. Her face and neck were sticky with dried tears. She was so scared and as her stomach growled she realized that she hadn’t eaten all day. But then she didn’t think she could hold anything down even if she did have something to eat.
She pulled her legs up on the hard mattress attached to the wall and laid her head on her knees as her eyes pooled with fresh tears.
Oh God, just yesterday I prayed that You would deliver me from prison and now barely a day later I’m stuck in an actual cell. God what did I do wrong, eh? What now? I’m so afraid. I don’t know what to do. Please fight for me God. Please. They say You are a merciful God. I beg please fight for me.
For hours nothing happened. Even though the cell had no windows and Bimbo didn’t have a watch she knew it would be dark by now. The suspense of not knowing what was going to happen was worse that the thought of being deported. She wished they would hurry up and just take her to the airport. Evidently God had given up on her too.
The clink-clink sound of a key in the cell lock forced her out of her reverie. It was Mr. Ill-fitting Brown Suit. Bimbo looked up, petrified now that her fate had been decided.
“Miss Obaitan you do understand what you did wrong. Don’t you?”
Bimbo’s mouth was so dry it felt as though her tongue were stuck to the roof of her month. The only response she could give was to blink rapidly. But Mr. Ill-fitting Brown Suit seemed to understand.
“I know that if I let you go you will not voluntarily return to Nigeria, but I am willing to do so.”
“You seem like a nice girl. You will not be deported today, but you must do all you can to sort out your stay in this country. If you do anything that brings attention to you I will have you on the next plane to Nigeria. Do you understand?”
“I can go?” Bimbo whispered, incredulous.
“Yes. You can go.” He held the door open for her to pass through. And as she did he said, “Walk out of the second door on your left and don’t look back.”
Bimbo followed his directions and once she was out in the dark night she ran as fast as her short legs could carry her. She stopped when she could run no further and knelt down where she was and screamed. “Thank You God for standing up for me. Thank You.”
She was on a British Airways flight back to Lagos 2 days later. Voluntarily. She felt this was what the God who had arisen on her behalf would want.
Ufuoma Daniella Ojo is a Software Training Project Manager, trusting God for the subsequent publication of her first novel.