July 10th2009, this is the first time I remember my father hugging me. It was the day of my graduation from Trinity International College Ofada, Ogun state. My father dropped my mum and siblings off at the event and went to secure my admission into Babcock University.
I waited till the last minute to inform anyone about the deadline for the admission. I was holding out a fast dying touch and keeping my fingers crossed that my father would let me pick up the scholarship offer and travel to school in America.
I arrived at school a few days to the graduation. We had a number of activities leading up to the actual ceremony. We had ‘’leavers night’’, an event organised by our juniors for us. I wore a black and white dress and I didn’t smile in any of my photographs because I didn’t know how to.
I called my dad from school that first night a little worried and still holding out my touch for my scholarship. My classmates were talking about moving on, the school they applied to and got in, what A-level they were going to start in September, but I couldn’t contribute to the conversation.
In order to join the conversation I called my father, and told him about the deadline. I expected him to shout at me and I waited to hear the disappointment in his voice instead he spoke softly and reassured me that all will be well.
The next day was the graduation lecture and my 17th birthday. I wore a pink blouse with ruffles and a back pinafore with huge buttons over the blouse. I didn’t feel pretty. The boil-like looking pimples on my face and next to no self-love didn’t help matters. In my head that day everyone was better dressed than me.
I paid very little attention to the lecture as I was counting the number of people who remembered and wished me happy birthday. In the moment when they did, my joy meter shot-up, but just for the moment, because immediately my heart wondered back to all the people that didn’t. I had no clue how to accept the love offered to me let alone kindness.
That night we had a “cocktail” dinner with the administration of the school, students leaders(prefects) and teachers. It was a cultural themed dinner so I wore a short full skirt and a sleeveless blouse made out of purple and gold Ankara with my younger brother’s gold cap to complete the outfit. One of the two photos I love from this point in my life was taken that night. It is a photograph of me and my brother. I am all smiles, he is holding me and I am holding on to him and he just whispered happy birthday to me. He did that all day long, whispering lovely things to me at intervals.
One thing I do regret is not having a photograph with my whole family to remember the next day with. I cried a lot during the graduation ceremony because I was unsure of my future and because all of who I was at the time was wrapped up in my classmates acceptance of me and who would accept me. I thought to myself when I tell them I am attending Babcock University and not jetting off to some foreign place and making lofty plans of reunions. My already dimming torch died that morning when my father told me he was going to secure my admission and I will start the process of enrollment the following Monday. That day my tears were easily explained by hiding under the guise that I was going to miss my classmates.
There are many things I wish I could tell 17 year old Fola but, if the opportunity ever presented itself, I will choose only to send her this photograph. It was taken over a year ago at my graduation from Babcock University. In the photograph I am in the middle, dressed in my cap and gown, high heeled shoes I can barely walk in, my sister and mother standing to my right side dressed in iro and buba made out of blue lace material and my brother and father are standing to my left dressed in Agbada made out the same blue lace material wearing matching red caps. We are all smiles, standing close to each other, radiating love, the same love I doubted I could ever feel.