Immediately she got home, she would take off her wig and throw it away as if it was the most burdening thing she wore, reached into her blouse or robe and took off her bra underneath which she had two pieces of rags to make it look like that of a fully grown adult’s. Then she would gently throw herself on the ground to rest. This was mostly about two or three hours before we wake up for school. This happened every day. And being a sensitive sleeper, I woke up at every possible noise just as much as I had nightmares.

No matter how tired she was, Mati always found the right words to tell everyone. Every night from work, she found one tiny bit of a second to say ‘’Kemo, go back to sleep. You are too curious for your age.’’ Mati is about 2 years older than Mbatu, 3 years older than Ma Hawa and about 10 years older than me. I was told our mom got pregnant thrice before my birth but lost it due to severe beating and stress from Baba. I cannot imagine our family being more than it already was. In that house, even breathing space is a problem. Food was barely enough for us. Our house was along the road. About two meters away from the bridge and was built out of used corrugated iron sheets. Sometimes when it rained, we get scared that it would move and get under the bridge. My father supported it with few cemented blocks on each corner.

My family was the laughingstock of the society. When people talked about failures, we were the first they took reference of. In the streets, no child wanted to play with us. I spent most of my childhood with my sisters. My father was barely home and we hated it when he was around. He would restrict us, punish us for no reason and also eat the best part of our food. He sold all our good clothes, toys and even books for something to smoke or alcohol. He would beat us mercilessly and would force my sisters to have sex with him especially Mati and Mbatu. Mati who was the oldest and 16 years old at the time was the one providing for our family for as long as I can remember. Mati took care of us like her own children. She cooked for us, bathed us­­, paid our school fees, got us new things and even birthday presents. She never forgot our birthdays. Though I now know she is not my mother, it took me a long time to accept. This was mainly because she took very good care of us and sacrificed her entire life to put a smile on our faces.

Sometimes, Mati gets so tired and cries that she doesn’t want to go to work that night. Our father will give her serious beatings and threatens to kill her if she stops working. He called her names like ‘’you slut’’, ‘’born for nothing’’, ‘’you prostitute.’’ Those names hurt me pretty bad and obviously angers Mati so much that she only keeps talking about killing him someday and liberating us from him. She will gather all of us and cry for us to do better and remind us that all the sacrifices were for us. For a better future for us. For us to be better people. Most of her focus was on me. Even though she was busy, Mati was the closest to me and in my heart, she owns the biggest portion. She raised me.

One day, Baba and Matida were involved in a fight. She came from work the previous night and over slept during the day so lunch was late. Baba consistently kept insulting and cursing her. Mbatu got agitated and asked Baba to stop. He slapped her, went out and came with Fafanding, a man in his 70s claiming he has given Mbatu’s hand in marriage to him. That was the day Matida’s love for Mbatu and all of us truly manifested. Until today, I have never seen anyone love like my sister loved us. That day, Baba flogged the both of them mercilessly and threw Mbatu out of the house. Mati was nearly soaked in her blood. Baba had beaten her so bad that her body tore.  Helplessly allowing Baba throw Mbatu out of the house has been her biggest regret in life. I watched her come home some nights and cry bitterly on Mbatu’s clothes, holding them so close to her. She would then call her name saying she was sorry for failing to protect her enough. One night, I was reading for exams when she came in.

‘’Kemo, be careful with that candle. This house is all we have.’’ She said taking off her wig.

‘’Yes Mati.’’ I said.

‘’What are you reading?’’ She asked trying to join me on the ground I had prepared to sleep.

‘’Am preparing for exams in the morning.’’ I answered.

‘’That is very good. You all should make me proud. I know you will, you are my only brother and no one can force you to get married like this beast did to Mbatu. That smart girl.’’

‘’Mati, he is your father.’’ I objected.

‘’Hey, shut up. What do you know?’’ I swallowed some spit. ‘’What is a father?’’ She continued to ask.  I took my eyes off her. I do not like to see her angered.

‘’Look at me when am talking to you. Look at me in the eyes.’’ She took my book from me and placed it on the ground. She then held my chin firmly in her hand. At this point, trust me; I could see blazing fire in her eyes.

‘’You have no father. We have no father. We have someone who is staying with us, he eats the best parts of our food, sleeps at the most comfortable spot in this house, robs me off the money I worked for to make your lives better, he beats us up anytime and sleeps with your sisters. He married Mbatu off because he knows she is educated and can speak for herself. But I swear…’’ she left my chin and began to swear with her fingers pointing up. ‘’ I swear if he tries to touch Hawa, I will kill him with my bare hands. I will slaughter him broad daylight, bathe him in his blood and feed him to the pigs. I swear that on our dead Mother’s grave. I will….’’ At this point, she noticed am trembling and sweating uncontrollably.

‘’Kemo’’ she said in a soft and relaxed tone. You are our leader. I was there standing over our mother when she was giving birth to you. I was just as innocent as you and I was around your age.’’ She now begins to rub my head and run her fingers through my rough hair. I know she was trying to make me feel calm and she gradually did it anyway

‘’I saw how innocent you looked. You mean a lot to us. You are our only brother, the only man in this family.’’ She said with a smile.

‘’I hate to see you angry.’’ I said.

‘’I know that. I know. But, I’m tired. I am tired.’’ She said with eyes filled with tears.

‘’Teach me how to help you. You have to allow us to help you. You have been doing all this work alone since Mbatu left.’’ I pleaded holding her hands.                                        

‘’Shhhhh.’’ She said putting a finger across my lips. ‘’I want you and Hawa to concentrate and keep winning in school. I can do everything here. I can handle it.’’

‘’Why do you go out every night leaving us here, alone? I feel scared without you’’ I asked.

‘’Ahhhhh Kemo, you see why I need you to go to school? You’re a potential Journalist or Barrister. You will help lock up men like Baba and that stupid man, Fafanding who married Mbatu who is young enough to be his granddaughter. You will lock them behind bars. They will never see the Sun. You cannot let me down. Do you understand?’’

‘’Yes.’’ I said politely. She breathes out comfortably. Then starts narrating.

‘’Good. I go to work every night to provide for all of us, to keep you in school, to make sure we eat at least lunch as we always have. I go to work to ensure you look smart and neat.’’ She intentionally stops there. ‘’That reminds me, remind me tomorrow to give you some money for haircut. Your hair looks rough.’’ She said touching my head. We both laughed. ‘’You have to go to bed now. You have exams tomorrow and you need to rest.’’ She makes the wrapper on the ground properly, laid on it and said ‘’Come. Sleep in my arms tonight. I will keep you warm and safe.’’ I closed my eyes feeling happy and fulfilled. I don’t know the exact reason why I felt like that. Maybe I was happy knowing my sister has so much hope in me, or maybe when she said that I’m the man of the house. But I definitely felt some type of way. Even though we were born to a difficult and hard family, we didn’t hesitate to open the gates of our hearts to each other. We already knew life was difficult and despite those difficult times, we supported each other so well. We loved each other so much that when one was sick, we would all fall sick too. We couldn’t do anything without each other. I remember how we all fell sick for days after Mbatu was forced to leave for marriage.

Once, she came home and I was awake again. She asked me to go back to sleep. Few minutes after I slept off, I heard her sobbing. I saw her in the dark treating a wound she sustained most likely from work. That night she cried, she cried bitterly, profusely and unstoppably that when she woke up in the morning, her eyes were all swollen and filled with fury. I didn’t want to have direct contact with her. Seeing her fall apart like that broke me into pieces. I wanted to help so bad. But knowing her, I was sure she would never say anything. She does things her way especially when she is in tears.

The following morning, I was leaving home for school with Hawa whilst she was sharpening a cutlass. She called us to come. We walked towards her with fright. We have never seen her in that situation. Mati’s face was filled with fresh wounds and marks of beating.

‘’Kemo, Hawa. Both of you, come here’’ She commanded.

Yes Mati’’ Hawa responded

‘’Have you seen my face? This is one reason why I need you to focus in school, win all these stupid children and make life better for us.’’ She uttered these words with no amount of fear but with so much pain. She nearly lost her voice due to crying. She turned to Hawa and said: ‘’Hawa, one day you’ll be a well-respected woman, wearing glasses and speaking amazing English.’’ Hawa giggled. ‘’You like that?’’

She nods in approval

‘’That’s my girl. You will be closing amazing business deals and traveling this world. Mother will be happy in Heaven.’’ She turned to me and said; ‘’Kemo my lawyer’’ she smiled at me and I smiled back. ‘’You will fight my war. You will run this place and make lives better.’’ She said giving me a direct eye contact expecting me to do the same.

‘’We will make you proud.’’ Hawa said very boldly.

‘’I know that.’’ Mati responded. ‘’My sacrifices will not go in vain. Look at me. Look at my face. This was all Baba. He forced me, beat and molested me. He forced me to sleep with him again. Even after several efforts to fight him, we continued. But he will not live to witness dawn today’’ She held our hands, took us to one corner of the house and said: ‘’Come. I want to show you something. Come.’’ We followed her to the backyard. ‘’Look, here is where I hide all my money.’’ She said showing us a bunch of money.

‘’Why’’ Asked Hawa

‘’After today, anything can happen to me. I need you both to be safe. If you come home and find abnormal things, take this money, run. Go as far as possible and never come back. You are smart and can take care of yourselves.’’

‘’Where will you be?’’ I asked with tears in my eyes.

‘’I will be here or I will be away, Mr Lawyer.’’ She laughed and stopped immediately because of whatever pain she was feeling around her abdomen.

‘’Are you okay Mati?’’ Hawa and I asked.

‘’Am fine. Am alright.’’ She said trying to make her voice firm. ‘’You need to rush now. And always remember to stay together no matter what.’’

‘’Yes.’’ We both said

‘’Together we what?’’ She asked us.

‘’Together we stand…’’ we said. She then made a gesture for us to complete the saying ‘’divided we fall.’’ We added.

‘’Good. Run along. Don’t be late.’’ She said giving us a push.

As we were leaving the house, I saw Mati going back to sharpening the cutlas. She raised her head and saw me looking at her. She threw a kiss at me and smiled so beautifully then I raced with Hawa all the way to school. I swear, I was happy that day. Motivated. I felt I could achieve anything and everything. In fact, I felt like I was already that lawyer she called me.

That afternoon after school, I waited for Hawa outside her class like I always do. We rushed home so happily, playfully and aside our birthdays, that was the first time we were both that happy going home from school. We saw a lot of people around our area. Then saw more people as we ran closer to the house. I heard some of our neighbours saying things like


‘’Shameless child. From being a prostitute to a murderer’’

‘’She murdered her own father in cold blood’’

‘’Ah, the world has finally ended. Take her to jail where she belongs’’

‘’Worthless child. Her Mother was indeed a good woman. But look at this disgrace.’’

Then a whole gang of women started wooing Matida. We were right on time to see our father’s dead body covered half way and police handcuff on our sister dragging her to the vehicle. Mati said to me as she came closer ‘’When you become a lawyer, remember I will be in jail waiting for you to give me the justice I deserve.’’

‘’No Mati, don’t leave us, what will we do without you?’’ Hawa cried

‘’Die. You all deserve to rot in jail with her. Useless family’’ Shouted one woman from the crowd.

Matida looked away in tears. That day was the deepest, saddest and most intriguing day of my life till this age. Immediately she was put into the vehicle, we ran to where she kept the money and ran out of Kerr Salleh. We ran more than 50 kilometres, walked for over 3days without food. We ended up at an orphanage. Life in that orphanage and what we faced there is a whole other story. Hawa was adopted by a family and she convinced them with her behaviour and amazing character to adopt me too. They gave us a very good life but unfortunately passed away in a car accident.

Fast forward to today, 25 years later, my sister is standing right beside me before the Courtroom, a fulfilled young woman, a serial investor, mother of two kids and a loving wife. There I was in black and white, a 31-year-old fully fledged lawyer, young and filled with potentials waiting for my sister Matilda. She comes out and shed tears immediately she set eyes on Hawa. Hawa was crying profusely and pointed me to Mati. Mati looked at me and shook her head, closed her eyes and prayed silently as her handcuffs were being taken off her. She threw us a kiss and held her forehead and cried. That kiss took me back to how happy I was the morning I last saw her sharpening the cutlass. I smiled at her with tears running down my cheeks. Hawa ran and hugged her. I walked towards her slowly and with every step, I saw her smiling at me 25 years ago. Mati that was such a beauty, black and has a perfect smile, perfect curves and a flawless skin has now turned to an old cracked woman, weak and dull. Oh my God, she was so full of life, very active and full of laughter. What really has the prison done to my sister?

‘’Mati, Mati. Oh thank God.’’ Cried Hawa

I stopped right before them waiting for Hawa to leave her and I had a full and proper hug from my beloved sister, the mother I never had, my first love, my fairy Godmother. Hawa’s husband walked up to us and held her only then did I have the chance to hug Mati. I cried, I cried like a baby and I didn’t care who was there, I didn’t care I was still in the Court house where I might probably go again tomorrow executing my duties in my suit and tie acting all learned, strong and bold. At that moment, I had the opportunity I dreamt of every night for 25 years 6months and 17 days. This is a woman who sacrificed her entire life for us. She gave us all she couldn’t have. In her arms is where I belong.

Mati tapped my back and pressed on it with her nails getting into my coat. I cried even harder and my voice began to crack.

‘’Calm down, Kemo. Now I am here. Tell me everything I missed.’’ She said with assurance.

‘’I … I … I missed you, Mati.’’ I cried in my most matured voice.

‘’I missed you way more, my Prince.’’ She said in a perfectly okay voice.

Hawa added on to us and we cried our eyes out. I had my family back. I wished Mbatu was there. Unfortunately, she passed away 26 years ago during child birth.

I didn’t have a perfect childhood. Not even a good one, but I thank God I had my sisters especially Mati. I do not know where I will be today without her in my life. I have learned that the beginning may not matter as the end. Today, I am one of the few senior state counsels that fights for the rights of women and girls. I have freed over 67 women and girls from abuse. I built a safe house for my sister with a capacity of 120 survivors and victims of human rights violations and abuse. This is our way to of building a better world.

My sister is a true definition of a strong woman. Despite everything that has happened to her, I find her to be the happiest person in this world. I have travelled to many places. No one smiles like Matida. She has the most fulfilling laughs. I have learned a lesson from her life that our lives are worthless if we do not help others.

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