They were ten feet away. Dumebi calculated. On a particularly bad day, she went into her dad’s “handyman drawer”, as the household called it, and forced her thick wrists through piles of hammers, and boxes of nails until she felt the sleek roundness of the tape measure. So she knew for sure, that the purple walls which framed her bed were ten feet away on either side. But as she sat, cross-legged on her duvet, staring at the space, she felt it could not be true.
Last week, they seemed more in the eight range, and today, seven was more realistic. The walls were definitely closing in on her. She sucked in her breath deeply, and pushed it out all at once to hear if there would be an echo, but all that remained was the sound of her own feeble effort. She fell back unto her thick purple covers, hugging her legs to her stomach, imitating the stifle she felt. The foetal position was a symbol of self-isolation. But it was actually freedom. The unformed being in his mother’s protruding belly could be anyone he wanted. Of course there would be musings about him becoming a banker like his father, or attending his mother’s alma mater; or jokes about the father’s bad eating habits hopefully not being hereditary. But the child would be protected from this. The layers and warmth that envelop him would mute every novelty. The dreams and laughter of his relatives would be unformed, undeveloped, until he emerged, whole and confused. In this moment, Dumebi wished that she could re-enter that place of safety. She no longer wanted to answer to these people who purported to plan out her life.
She had begun to play dumb whenever her father would bring up the idea of her going to that boarding school in Calabar. All she wanted was to go to Springfields with her friends from primary school. Boarding school was stupid, and she did not want to cut her long locks like it would require. “Be reasonable, my dear”, her mother often implored, selling a case that she only half-believed, because she wanted to keep the peace as well as she could. Her mum would echo all the things her father said about the superior standard of education, and also rhetorically ask her whether she would follow her friends if they were jumping off a cliff. Dumebi would gawk rudely. Her mother ought to know better- where would she even find a cliff to jump off in Lagos? And if she did find one, maybe she would actually jump if her parents kept pestering her in this way.
That afternoon was the height of it all. Dumebi was seated carelessly on the rug, indulging hedonistically in a marathon of her favourite pre-teen show, and munching heartily on peanuts when her dad came in. Surveying the situation before plumping himself noisily into the couch behind her, he held his fist to his mouth as if contemplating whether to keep the words locked in. But she was conscious of his presence, and could feel the undesired advice about to push against her like a giant brick wall. “You know”, he started, stopping to inhale deeply, “you are becoming a young lady Dumie”. He leaned forward. “And this is the time when you must learn to act like a young lady”. Dumebi was already prepared to choke on one of the nuts. It would be the quickest way to disappear from this awful conversation. “Are you saying that mummy can’t teach me?” she said with her brow raised as she turned to face her father. She may as well choke on her wit. Her dad smiled a slow unnerving smile. “Don’t try me, young lady”, he said in a low voice. “See”, she said, “I’m already there”. She really was ready to choke on her wit. “YOU ARE GOING TO THAT SCHOOL AND THAT IS THE END OF IT!” Then he started the “do you knows’”, but by that time she had zoned out. She was sure it included “do you know how many children would want this opportunity?” and “do you know how much I pay…?” Daddy, do you know that I don’t care? She thought. So that day, re-entering her room as her only place of safety, she felt that the walls were now only four feet away.
She needed another safe place, so she went outside. She lived in an enclosed estate, where all the houses had the same type of prettiness, and stood at an even height. This type of order had always disturbed her, but standing outside in its view, with the freshness of the harmattan breeze, was much better than the stifling feeling she had in that house. Dumebi walked into the yard and went to sit against the low wall that divided their house from the Lawson’s’ next door. She sat there and fiddled with a blade of grass, dreaming of being able to attend Springfields with her best friends.
Dreaming of the fun it would be… PLONK. Something hard hit Dumebi’s head. She couldn’t still be dreaming because the teachers didn’t hit at Springfields! She looked down to see a brown solid thing roll to the patch of grass beside her. “Hey”. There was a boy leaning against the dividing wall and smiling down at her. “Did you see a palm kernel?” She pointed questioningly at the thing beside her. “Yeah, that’s it”. “You know”, she said, standing up and handing it over, “It hit my head”. “Oh”, he said with a boyish grin on his face. Dumebi tilted her head waiting for the apology, but it never came. He just kept smiling at her. “Do you want me to teach you how to juggle?” She looked back. Her dad may see this as an example of improper behaviour. She shrugged. “Why not?” Without a warning, the boy jumped over the wall into her yard, and brought out two other palm kernels from his pocket, beginning to juggle.
Dumebi stared at him. He seemed so free. His walls were probably miles away from his bed. Perhaps there were no walls at all. He laughed so easily, exposing unapologetically yellow teeth as the kernels began to fall. “Who are you?” Dumebi asked, sure she had never seen this boy before. He sat down breathlessly on the grass. “I am Mrs. Lawson’s nephew”. “Oh”. Dumebi had forgotten all about the blade of grass in her hand from before. She stood there twisting it in her grip, too shy to look again at this boy in her yard. The boy got up, dusting his already dirtied trousers. “I’m going to Cassie’s to get some stuff. Do you want to come?” The boy was referring to the supermarket outside her estate. She was never allowed to walk there because of how busy the area was. He was waiting for an answer. Standing there, her lips slowly formed a smile. She didn’t know his name, or know what stuff he wanted to get, but she knew that she didn’t feel stifled around him. “Let’s go”, she said, as they began to walk away from her sheltered existence.
Photo Credit: pinterest.com
Inktippeddreamer is a bored law student that is constantly distracted by the bigger picture of life. She revels in all the stories to be told and words left to say. So she started a blog for her drawings and stories. You can see through her eyes at http://inktippeddreams.wordpress.com/