That July my mother turned into a health nut. We’d seen it happen slowly. Oven roasted chicken instead of beef, brown sugar instead of white. Through sheer force of my mother’s will, or so I reasoned, my three bottles of Star a day drinking father began to sip aloe vera juice. An accountant, my number counting father even began to grow the spiky plant in our sizeable compound. To make way for his new hobby, he uprooted some of the hibiscus, daffodils, and amaryllis that my mother had planted and had bloomed over the years with barely a murmur from her. He didn’t stop at aloe vera juice though. My beer gutted father began to jog. I had thought he didn’t mind his belly. He’d sit shirtless in the living room watching Top Gear not caring who came in.
My father jogged twice a week and Saturdays. He never missed a session. We’d crowd round him as he shoved his sock clad feet into his blue and black Adidas. Dad would then walk out like a boxer into the ring with my brothers as his trainers hopping around him, past my mother in the sitting room relaxing by the window through which she could watch their exertions.
I’d jump on the chair and get on my knees as my mother made room beside her. We’d look on as Daddy’s tummy strained against his shirt, his shorts riding up as he spread his legs ready to start the warm up stretches. He would then run in place, lifting his knees as high as he could. Daddy had started jogging, sweat forming a deep V on his grey shirt. He jogged from the parked cars to the aloe vera plants and back again. My brothers racing ahead of him, their young voices floating back to the house.
“Yes daddy” I answered as I ran to him in the living room.
“Come, let’s go and buy suya at staff club” He was already dressed in jeans, dark blue polo shirt and gleaming loafers.
“Let me wear my shoes daddy!!”
“Mama! Me and Zara are going to get some suya”
“Okay but don’t get too much, dinner should be ready by the time you come back”
My daddy looks clean I thought as I slipped my feet into brown slippers. He’d been jogging with Mr Elobi for six months by then. I watched alone now. It seemed like my mum had gotten bored of the same old knee-ups. As her interest in my father’s antics had eased, she on the other hand had dived further into the health thing. She was almost as skinny as I was and didn’t smile as often. When she snapped at me I used to say under my breath “I’d be grumpy too if I never ate.”
I got into the passenger seat and he pulled out, the gravel crunching beneath the tires of the Peugeot 504. I loved going out with my dad without the rest of the family. I could ask him anything and we were conspirators. I pointed at things as he provided tireless details. About how a road was named after Sheik Dan Zaria a past king in the North ….who had a false leg.
“They didn’t teach us that one in school. False leg ke!” I sniffed.
“Yes” he said with a half smile.
Sometimes I didn’t know if my dad was pulling my own leg.
The sweet smell of charcoal and burning meat crept into the car as we passed the burning brazier and pulled into the car park of the staff club. There were only two other cars. Daddy picked up the sticks of peppered meat one after the other examining them close. I knew he’d pick the fatty ones we both liked. He chose five sticks and handed them to the Mai Suya.
We both shouted “plenty pepper” as the Mai Suya held the spoon, piled high with the red grains, over the meat which now lay cut up in pieces on several newspaper sheets. I collected the warm black polythene bag, mouth watering as I saw myself lining several pieces on bread and biting into it.
I heard the click-click of heels on the car park asphalt as we made our way back to the car. A striking woman was approaching, her fingers seemed to glint. She was tall, almost at my dad’s height. She had on an azure blue dress, cinched in below her breasts and free-flowing afterwards. Like a Grecian goddess. With each stride the chiffon fabric wafted around her revealing five inch heels that matched the blue. That explains the height I thought.
“Zara take the keys and wait for me in the car” My father had stopped abruptly.
“I’d hoped to see you here” but I couldn’t hear the woman in blue’s reply as I walked out of earshot. The aroma of the suya filled every corner of the car as I sat and waited. All I could think of was ripping open the intricate wrap of papers and sneaking a piece. I got on my knees on the seat and turned to look out for daddy.
All thoughts left my mind as I watched how close the woman in blue was standing to my dad, the fabric now billowing around both of them, slapping against his legs. Her hand stroked his now flat tummy but he didn’t push her away, he just giggled like a child. He stared in her long lashed eyes as she leaned forward and whispered in his ear. His legs seemed to buckle a little as his eyes turned towards me in the car. It seemed like it took a great effort for him to take two steps back. He made a “call me” sign with his hand and hurried to the car almost seeming to skip.
The smell of her perfume began to vie with the roasted meat as my dad started the ignition, stretching an arm over to my headrest and using it as leverage to see where he was going as he reversed. Citrus and vanilla filled my nostrils.
“Who was that daddy?”
“Who was that woman you were talking to?”
He seemed focused on changing gears, my talkative dad. After a silence he spoke
“That’s Ms Boti, we work together.”
All I could see in my mind was my kind, wonderful and now grumpy, shrinking mother.
“Are you having an affair with her?” I asked quietly uncertain that I got the word right.
“Zara!! No I’m not. I’m your father that’s something you shouldn’t even be asking me you hear?”
I stared at the dashboard hardly blinking. I couldn’t look at him in his neat shirt and polished loafers.
“Don’t tell Mama okay?”
I couldn’t reply and we rode home; the quiet only interrupted by the hum of the engine and the shifting gears.
Through the almost nightly fights about my father’s continuous late nights out and seeing through my parent’s morning smiles, through my decision to stay with my mother after the split and the boys going with dad, I remembered how the rings on her fingers had glittered dully in the evening sun as she stroked my father’s tummy over and over again as if rubbing a stain from his life.