The news of father’s death came to us one cool Sunday evening.
We were at the back veranda facing the chicken house. Mama held down Chika while I tried to weave her coarse short hair in preparation for a new week of school. The kerosene lamp hanging on a make-shift line between two pillars kept swaying in the evening breeze. I could barely see enough to plait a neat line.
“Mama, she’s weaving it too tight!” Chika cried for the umpteenth time.
“That’s because your hair is so short! If you complain one more time, I would leave this hair! After all, Aunty Tina’s salon is just down the street.” I retorted angrily.
After the last time we made our hair at Aunty Tina Salon with Chika sporting pus-oozing sores on her head for a week and I, losing my hair edges. Edges I desperately grew with my daily rituals of coconut oil, we vowed never to return there. And seeing as the other closest salon was quite far, we worked out an arrangement. Mama would weave my hair and then I would weave Chika’s. I must confess it has not been a wonderful “bonding” experience like Mummy said it would be as Chika always whines dramatically and cries wolf during our weekly sessions.
Thoughts of the next day slowly replaced Chika’s childish quibbles. I suddenly remembered I had a math’s test I hadn’t studied for. Well I tried to all weekend, but I just didn’t make any sense of the figures, even though I did what Uncle Bright did the last time he tutored me.
“Concentrate Ada. If you concentrate, you would eventually understand.” he said midway into our session.
“How Uncle, how”? I asked, my whole body singing with boredom, my mind thinking of things I would rather do than sit here learning about an isosceles triangle. Things like completing the novel I borrowed from Grace last friday.
“Ada! Are you listening to me at all?
Okay. Let’s see, what would be a good example…Aha! I bet you love shopping!”
“I wish”, I mumbled.
“Mama buys all my clothes, do you think I would otherwise be dressed like this?” I pointed at the chiffon top and long brown skirt I was wearing.
“Okay, I know. But if you had any money of your own, would you like to shop for dresses and shoes?”
“What do you think I do half the time during French lessons?” I retorted hurriedly before I remembered I wasn’t talking to someone of my age group.
“Oops, you weren’t supposed to know that” I added, ashamed.
Uncle Bright laughed and went on and on about a scenario of buying dresses. I swear it made perfect sense at that time but right now, I cannot for the life of me relate it to any mathematical solution I know.
I guess I should bring out my text book and have one last look through before bed tonight. Maybe if I stare at it long enough, the answers would materialize in my skull.
I continued in the monotony of weaving Chika’s hair and we heard the doorbell faintly. I had repeatedly told mummy that the battery for the bell was weak but she kept forgetting to purchase new batteries.
Who could be at the door though? We rarely had visitors, most especially, Sunday evenings. Well except for Father’s boys. Those ones come unannounced as if we shared the rent for the apartment, bearing messages from father. Father was probably too busy to come himself. Busy doing what exactly, I can’t even tell. I stopped asking him questions long ago when I realized I was just going to get a glare, or be asked a question in return like what is the cube root of 3188? It’s not like I wanted him to come anyway. His visits were always very loud with silence and blame-game sessions with mother on how well Chika can’t read her times tables, his voice booming threateningly, causing Chika to tremble like a banana leaf on a very windy day. All the bravado with which she argues with me or mummy fades away when Father is around.
Mummy stood up to answer the doorbell while I continued weaving Chika’s hair. It could just be Mama Tope, our neighbour; she is always running out of matchsticks or dry pepper.
The lamp kept swaying while I weaved on, marveling at my expertise and praising myself in my head, until I heard Mummy scream.
We scrambled to our feet immediately, combs dropped, my heart racing and palms immediately sweaty. I had never heard mummy scream that way. Not even when the ceiling fan caught her fingers last month while she hung some paper lanterns for Chika’s 5th birthday.
Not even when Father loudly struck her across the face one night he came to the house, drunk and stupid, demanding to eat catfish pepper soup and became livid when he was told it was 12am and no fish farm would be open for business.
“Chinwe, what happened?” Chika asked with a light tremor in her voice.
The fear that gripped me at hearing Mummy scream immobilized my armory of sarcastic comebacks. But I was still able to manage an eye roll.
“But we were here together when we heard mummy scream. How should I know?”
I replied her with a voice that was meant to be stern but came out shaky. And gradually we edged towards the back door, walking as though on egg shells, our hands reaching for each other mindlessly, seeking support, assurance.
And as we walked into the house through the kitchen, straight on into the living room to see mummy sprawled on the floor, the scarf erstwhile on her head missing, her hands beating her chest like an errant child and her eyes crying a river to rival the Nile, I knew that something irrevocable had happened, and life may never be the same as we knew it.
However, when compelled, she puts pen to paper and tries to make magic. Connect with her via Instagram @miwa_odujay