Updated: Jun 18, 2019
When I was younger, my father used to stress to my sisters and I the importance of not having friends. Each Sunday, after our family night prayers, he would make us sit back and listen to him give instances of all the bad friendships he had in the neighborhood.
He would call the names of his old friends, all of whom we never met but who had made him smoke, drink, and very nearly drop out of school. He always closed these sessions by asking us if we ever saw our mother with any one she called a friend, and we actually never had.
My mother always sat to his right on the old family cushion, nodding in approval at intervals and beaming with pride at setting such a good example for us girls. We gradually got older and my elder sister occasionally would excitedly talk to Mom about her friends from school. Mother would smile encouragingly but at the next family meeting, Dad would chastise my sister and remind her that friendships with girls is always an excuse for idle chit-chat about short skirts and boys; a combination of which always spelt doom for good parents like himself.
I see now how desperate he was to shield us from the toxicity of bad friends, the desperation that drove him to pass over a painfully narrow definition of the friendships we would come to have. Saying nothing of the importance of carefully finding your tribe of women and loving them hard through whatever mountains life presents to each one. This is what happens when we feed only fear to our little ones, when their time comes -as it always would- they fly out of the nest believing that it's only a lonely sky to be found.
I carried his words with me for such a long time that I forgot all about their weight, until the night I had to barricade myself in the house. While on the other side of the door, an armed cultist assailant banged loudly to be let into my home. He had been just another guy who asked me out and after I gracefully turned him down settled for being good friends. Until he started harassing my male friends and turning up at my place high. Armed and desperate to tear my clothes off me with one hand, while the other circled firmly around my throat.
It turned out that he was a leader of one of the local cult groups in the area. It was the season of cults on campus. It was the time when signboards all over the university read, in bold letters: SAY NO TO CULTS. The Black Axe, the Buccaneers, and the Pirates were the most known and young boys were undergoing secret and strange initiations, that sometimes left a few of them dead at odd places. Guns, tortured loyalties, axes and cult wars had become common: a boy would make sexual advances to a girl who turned out to be the girlfriend of the Captain of the Black Axe, and that boy as he walked to a kiosk to buy a cigarette later, would be stabbed in the thigh (and he would turn out to be a member of the Buccaneers), and so his fellow Buccaneers would go to a beer parlor and shoot the nearest Black Axe boy in the leg. Who would then shoot a member of the Buccaneers dead, the next day in the refectory (lunchroom). All of which would then lead to a Black Ax boy being hacked to death in his own room or a lecture hall.
His assaults and threats, quickly became my new normal and that particular evening, I had reacted by locking myself in. Certain that he would break down my door till Chisom came. I actually didn't believe anyone would come. I had done a fine job of shutting friends out of my life, till that point but there she was, kneeling on the floor beside me and hurriedly throwing my toiletries into my backpack. With the help of a few new friends, she got me to move into her home temporarily, and she woke up as fast as I did on the nights when the nightmares hit the hardest. Afterwards, she’d watch and re-watch cartoons with me till we both nod off to sleep.
During this time, I began to understand that a weekend with my girls can be an excuse to talk about shoes and boys but also be a war room. A therapy session where we trade stories and tips on how to stay safe from people and places that almost broke our backs. There are storms we face that only other women can understand, and that's where your friend can hold your hands and bring you life when you're stuck in a place your man cannot follow. There is something about your sisterhood that transcends blood ties, something tangible about the love of your friend, that will help you bloom in ways you didn't think possible. Dad's advice hadn’t been wrong but it had been incomplete; hanging with the girls is fun and it is also how we continue to survive.
A formal police report, an arrest and many sleepless nights later, I moved back home. I slowly began to glue pieces of myself together, as women often must. Only this time, I let my head lean on my friend shoulders from time to time. Slowly, I let her hold my shaking bones and surrounded myself with more women. All of whom remain in my tribe till today. Now these friendships, can sometimes change and not always for the better.
When you realize that you have begun to hold onto the shadows of girls who no longer want to be held, you may choose to let go and that's okay too. Not all relationships between women help us breathe easier but when your tribe is true, they strengthen your backbones and pump you full with joy. Because no one will love you as fiercely as your friend and tribe. There are good men waiting to love you but sometimes, you'll find all you need in the women standing beside you and holding your hands.
So, go find your tribe. Whether you're in love, married or single, find them and let them love you anyway. Because, you need them.
We need each other