Father was, in his heyday, a bit of a treasure hunter. Mother told me one dark, quiet night when N.E.P.A had done that for which they were most popular. The lazy smoke from the lantern tickled our nostrils, stung our eyes and we had hungry, mosquitoes for company and unsolicited symphony.
I had been asking about Father for years. Mother had always waltzed around the question without answering. My friends in school had started to ask me the same questions I asked her. After coming up short and embarrassingly so, one time too many, I demanded the truth from Mother that night. I was only 8 years old but I used my grown up voice. I did not particularly miss having a father but I felt I had to know. Eghosa, my neighbour and friend’s father beat up his mother every other day, weekend, even on special days like Easter and Independence Day so I wasn’t keen on having one that may do same to Mother.
Father, Mother said, was a skilled digger, finding his way deep in between the legs of many women who he told the sweetest nothings and made fairytale promises to. She would know. His charms worked on her. She told me she had given up her treasure to him while she was a student and he was a teacher in dusty old Epe, where he was posted to work at the time and where she was born, raised and lived. Theirs was a hot and heavy romance that lasted the entire period of her final year in secondary school. In this time, Father had probed every crevice, mined her treasure over and over again, more times than she could count. Then he left after being posted to another school in a different, farther location. Mother never heard from him again
Years after their first tryst, Father found his way back to Epe in hunt for another gem. A more important kind. A son. By then he had married twice and had six daughters to show for his explorations. But a male son eluded him still. He had to have one. He would be the crown jewel of his children.
Mother had hated him for leaving her. He did not write or call. She had gone to university, and was rounding up her national service programme. She had not met or rather did not make an effort to meet a better half. Father had been her first and only love.
‘And as they say, the first love is the sweetest, the first cut is the deepest,’ Mother said nostalgia brimming in her eyes.
Father wooed her again. This time he wanted her hand in marriage. He was convinced, though he didn’t say how, that it was she that would bear him that which he desperately wanted. After all, she was ripe, untouched after his own visitations, pure. Well, sort of.
She was hurt, angry but still went weak in the knees and apparently blank in the head when it came to him. She knew he would not change his philandering ways. She knew he was married with six kids. She knew she was signing up for a lifetime of friction with the other women who courted his attention, who felt for him as she did and would do anything to keep him. She said yes to him.
Eleven months after the deed, she birthed me.
‘So why did he leave? If he wanted a son so bad, why then abandon me and you, whom he claimed to love?’ I asked Mother. I was confused.
‘And why did it take eleven months, not nine, to birth me, anyway? That’s not what Integrated Science says,’ I said.
Mother sighed, smiled and fell quiet for a spell. She wrung her hands. Lines furrowed her forehead; small, tightly wound like a meticulously assembled spider web. Her eyes watered. She shivered for a split second though the room was quite warm. It felt as though she was about to unravel something life-altering. Heavy, unsaid words hung in the air with the now lightly fanning smoke.
‘Put off that lantern and change the wick tomorrow morning. I’m off to bed,’ she said.
The long road rolled on for what seemed an eternity. I could not see the end, having squinted repeatedly, trying to, though the sun rays that bore through the windshield of the car got in my eyes. It was so smooth, too, the road, without blemish. The granite gleamed like diamonds. There were no itinerant balls of refuse idling up and down on it. There were no wayward puddles of water either, the kind that gathered when rains fell, in my neighbourhood, in the open wounds of the road. As we drove on, tall, elegant palm trees appeared. They whispered to one another as the wind blew. I wanted to crane my neck, out the window of the car, to see how high they were but thought against it. Father would surely snap at me. Only bush boys stared at palm trees as though they were an invention of note, he would say. The palm trees were interspersed by electricity poles that stood erect. The poles were not even poles at all but made out of stone. And they were erect! In my neighbourhood, the electricity poles were made out of wood and mostly stood, the ones that were left standing anyway, bent at crooked angles, about to snap.
“This is Glover Road, Ikoyi, son.” He announced, quickly glancing at me. “A damn sight better than the hole I just picked you out of, I should imagine.” He stroked his beard and laughed. Father did this often when he felt he had made a fine point. I stared out the window once more noticing for the first time houses with numbers and names that confirmed that Father just said. 8, 9, 10, Glover Road, they read. I was surprised I did not see them before. The poles had had all my attention. The houses had tall gates, almost as tall as the palm trees. I couldn’t tell for certain. The gates were nothing like the short, thin strips of metal welded together that stood guard at the entrance of our compound. These gates were subtly ornate, thick and mostly, a forbidding jet black colour.
“And this is home,” Father said. We slowed down turning unto a small climb, stopping in front of a gargantuan gate, a bit bigger than the ones I’d just seen. Number 13, Glover Road, a calligraphic sign on the gate read.
When three months ago, we entered the house, with its decadent chandeliers, handsome columns, pensive, brooding paintings, ornate furniture, the long winding staircase, and plum, fleshy rug, I had assumed I was in heaven. Hell soon came in form of an artificially beautiful woman that descended the stairs a few moments after Father and I entered the house. Her gait was delicate yet deliberate. Her slippers lightly kissed the floor in one step then suffocated it in the next. Her eyebrows were raised the entire time of her descent. Her skin had a brownish-white tinge, darker in some patches, more than others. Her knuckles were black. On her fingers were many stones, in different sizes and shapes of precious. Her hair was well-coiffed. Her lips were smeared in an alarming blood-like colour. She had a curved smile that did not quite reach her eyes, which seemed to be dancing frantically in a search for understanding, when she saw me. I understood. I was out of place here. I was in my school uniform, the only article of clothing in which I could look smart and my earth-weary Bata sandals.
“Ariyike, this is Ibrahim, he will be staying with us for his holidays,” Father said in Yoruba. He then walked away into a room with a door that melted into the wall. I did not see it there before.
Confusion mapped her face. I then realized Father did not tell her, previously of my coming nor who I was.
She eyed me. First up and down and then more keenly like I was a recently unearthed, long-searched for relic. A minute or two must have passed.
“Good Afternoon Ma,” I said.
She came closer, studying my face some more. Soon, knowledge formed in her eyes and her eyebrows met her hairline. She now knew who I was. She let out a soft gasp, first. Then she began breathing heavily like a wounded ox. Her fists clenched. Words frothed to her mouth, it seemed but nothing escaped her lips. She eyed me, up and down, again, this time ominously. It was a look I later became familiar with.
She then stalked off after my Father into the side room.
Photo Credit: nogreaterjoy.org
Ayodeji Rotinwa is a writer. He believes satire should be the palm oil in which words are eaten. He hopes, on here, you will not choke. His fiction (which he also writes) can be your water. He is currently a penman for ThisDay (Style) Newspapers and you can find him and others running word riots on a creation of his, www.theurbanemix.com, an online magazine on Nigerian culture, social commentary and literary works. You can follow him at @ayodejirotinwa on Twitter.