By Mary Shorun
Saturday, October 23, 2010.
Years after their separation, Omotola still lived in constant reminiscence of the hero that Hassan was. She knew she could never have him back. In fact, wishing to have him would be like living in a fool’s nest of impossibilities. Considering his mother’s obstinacy and his father’s strong headedness, such cogitations as having him back would be a bit on the high side. But she did not cease to tell unending stories of him every time Tunde asked silly questions about his run-away father; she did not stop mentioning him to God every time the priest asked them to pray in the silence of their hearts; she had still not quit booking Novena masses for an anonymous soul in purgatory; she always echoed his name at every morning altar and night devotion she and Tunde frequently had. It was as if Hassan’s fierce soul resonated with her liquid spirit.
Yet, the poor boy - Tunde - had little knowledge of his father. What he knew was no more than a handful of scanty feathers on a full-grown vulture’s neck. Through out the eight years he had lived, he could not boast of three uninterrupted primary school terms; his mother was either being transferred or being promoted to the post of managing director at a new branch of the bank where she worked. He had never heard his mother mention the name of the bank talk more of having him go there with her like his other classmates did with their banker moms. Still, he persevered and frantically hoped that he would someday be an engineer. His mother’s hopes, however, did not in the slightest way correspond with his. Hers was a new kind of aspiration: to go back to school, to get a degree, to make sure her life gets re-patterned in the way she had always wanted.
Omotola stayed indoors throughout the day; it was the fourth time she would stay indoors without a cogent excuse. She simply loathed the outside heat with feral passion, and since she and Tunde had returned back to the village, it had always been woe-laden tales of her skin reacting to the intense heat of the sun. Stubborn goose bumps always covered her after every short trip to the main borehole, her scalp usually got itchy and sweaty leaving her hair at the risk of falling off bit by bit, her skin felt like suya that was being roasted by an impatient aboki man – the skin that had turned into a pale yellowish-red mass of fibrous flesh which was a ghost of the lustrous ebony-black it had been all through her teenage years.
Which Lagos girl did not bleach? It was the reigning craze among campus chics at that time, and if you did not do it, you were either still tied to “mama’s wrapper” or suffering a severe case of low self esteem syndrome. You did not have any reason for not possessing a bleaching cream. It was as cheap as a roadside whore; to say you could not afford it was to tell the kind of lie that would turn a silent graveyard into a chaotic ipata market. Omotola did not hesitate to move with the tide.
It was at that “tide” period of her life that she met Hassan. She was in her second year, and he was already in his third. She did not know how it happened, but the moment their eyes locked, she had felt a kind of ecstasy, like that of someone high on stimulant drugs. Their lifestyles were not in any way similar, but she knew there was just something about his aura that made her uncomfortable. Her friends had opined then that it was best to approach him and make him aware, but she did not agree. She, a well raised daughter of a knight of the Catholic church, the reigning girl on campus, would never approach a Muslim boy – a Hausa one at that. It was purely unheard of. Case closed.
That Hausa boy did not stop tormenting him, and she finally summoned courage on a weekend at the school’s public library a few minutes before the unsuspecting lad finished his reading. He would think about it, he had rudely said. And Omotola had felt as though a 110-degree boiling water was being poured over her – she was pained and belittled. But her pain was in no time replaced with a new feeling of intense delight when Hassan whispered a big YES into her left ear during a General English lecture they both had. Their love affair had blossomed into what the whole school talked about, but it was soon on the verge of collapsing when Hassan sadly declared that he would drop out of school. His parents had always struggled to pay his fees, and they could no longer continue because the load was over-burdening them. Omotola dropped her head shamefully. How would her boyfriend not have the resources to continue schooling? And to think she was already pregnant for him! Finals were fast approaching. Something had to be done without delay.
It was also at that “tide” period that she made her life’s toughest decision: to drop out of school and pay her boyfriend’s fees with her father’s funds. She had laid out workable plans for the both of them, and there would be no problem. Hassan would continue schooling and get a job immediately after his graduation so that she would go back to school with whatever income he made. The plan would definitely work. She would not tell her parents that she had stopped school to sponsor her boyfriend - no - telling them would be like rubbing blood-red palm oil on the head of esu inside his own shrine. She would pretend as though she was still in school and live with a friend until Hassan got his feet on ground.
Hassan did not hesitate to inform his parents and explain the plan in detail. They could not just thank Omotola enough for her unforgettable act of kindness. She would definitely get married to their son. Not even sheytan from the pit of hell would put asunder. Theirs was simply a match made in heaven. It did not matter that she was Yoruba and they were Hausa. Love would reign supreme. Omotola had beamed with smiles and rubbed her belly in delight while her in-laws enveloped her in eulogy. Why would she not lend a helping hand to a friend in need? Like a guardian angel, she went through final year of school with Hassan every step of the way. “How is Physics”? “Hope Chemistry is not too tough.” “I hear Calculus is pretty intense.” Hassan only nodded in response to all of her unending questions. Two horizontal nods for a “no”; one vertical nod for a “yes.”
He completed school and graduated amid high job expectations from the people that surrounded him. Omotola desperately wished she would go back to school before her parents caught the gist of her little trick; his mother prayed earnestly that he would see his younger siblings through secondary school and college; his father’s failing health also demanded his attention on a daily basis. By the time he got the oil-company job, his bills were as high as idanre hills. He realized he had to make use of an old school trick – scale of preference. Father’s health would top the list; siblings’ school would follow. And last, Omotola’s school would be attended to. He still had to make his choices and forgo an alternative. Omotola’s need was least pressing, and she could always go back to school anytime she wanted to. Her parents were wealthy; she did not really need school for anything; she would get a job in one of her father’s chain of companies.
His mother made the announcement to Omotola. Their son was no longer interested in the awkward relationship. They had gone to visit a spiritually powerful prophet, and their son had been told to let go of “every strange thing.” The relationship was the strangest thing in is life at that moment, and since her parents would not approve of the marriage, it was best to put a stop to it. They would find a young and decent Hausa girl for their son. She should also find a good Yoruba man for herself. She would find someone that was ready to accept her with her baby. Their son was not ready to accept responsibility for a child they were not even sure was his. Let sleeping dogs lie.
It was Tunde’s favourite season of the year when jagged branches of sky-high trees swayed in union with the gentle blowing of the South’s chilly wind. The long dry harmattan days were over, and they had left behind them trees and shrubs waiting to suck up every moisture nature had to offer. At this time, Omotola had begun anticipating a heavy downpour, and she did not bother spreading her clothes on the rack she shared with Asake’s mother, the plump lady who lived next door. She washed her faded blouses and Tunde’s soccer-stained shirts and shorts till they shone. She squeezed the last piece of cloth to an almost-dry state, and she did not stop squeezing until she heard that familiar screeching-like sound which usually came from clean wet velvet materials – fake ones – like the one she was washing.
Tunde came running in, mouth smeared with local peanut butter. “Mummy, when is daddy really coming back”?
He must have heard or seen something. He does not just badge in on his mother and stupidly mouth the silly question of his father’s whereabouts. The toad that runs in broad daylight, something is either chasing it or it is chasing something. A sort of impulse would have triggered his sprint race to his mother’s preferred laundry spot. Some young village touts may have called him a bastard for the umpteenth time.
He is never coming back.
“Next year hon. When you have graduated from university and med school.”
“No. I want to be an engineer”, he quickly countered.
“So be it.”
She wished she could tell the truth and not make the little boy bask in his euphoria of oblivion, but he deserved to be kept in the dark, she had come to realize. There were so many things Tunde still did not know.at his age: how to pronounce “R” such that his “really” does not sound like “lilly;” the fact that he was still in primary school and was no where near finishing med or engine school; that his father was dead, yet alive, a breathing corpse; that the Hausa tribe he so much spoke terribly about was his origin, his roots, his iseda. Some way, he would still have to know. It was like burying a corpse in a shallow grave; according to the old Yoruba adage, the leg would come out first before other parts would gradually begin to make themselves known. That was how Tunde’s case would be only if he had the chance to ever ask those silly questions again. He might not have the chance.
“Get back to your room.”
“Mummy I want to watch TV.”
“This is village, not city. How many times will I remind you we are on vacation in my mother’s village? Your mother’s parents are dead, and they left nothing for your mother. We are occupying the house they built in the village before they died. We will hide our heads here for sometime before my father’s people suck life out of me.”
“But my friends are still in school. We did not vacate before coming here.”
“That is only because there was something urgent we really had to attend to here.”
“But what is the urgent thing”?
“Get back to your room. Now.”
That was it. The little boy got the message; he had messed with his mother and would probably not eat dinner. He clutched the small catapult he had made to his chest and walked slowly out of her sight. He did not realize that his day would soon be over for good when a tall albino met him on his way out and asked after his mother. He pointed his tiny forefinger toward the spot where he had left her, then hurried out to shoot lame “bullets” at random birds.
Omotola walked out with the tall albino hours after Tunde had curled up on his mat. She held a small book-like note and pressed it to her breasts. Tunde slowly uncurled himself from his mat and stared guiltily at his mother; he quickly looked away before their gazes met. He had bedwet again only after a few hours of sleep, and the light yellow liquid had found its way out into the open. He had begun using the mat when, according to his mother, the mattress was about to be razed down with Uric acid. He looked at his mother again and wondered if the bare floor would become his next sleeping place. He noticed something he was not expecting. He could not remember the last time he saw his mother smile that broadly. He wanted to ask why she was all smiles, but he changed his mind.
“Mummy, are you going out”?
“Yes. I’ll be back soon.”
She had lied to him again, left him in the dark again. Something else was being added to the list of important things he did not know.
“Mama Asake, watch Tunde for me before I get back please”! She screamed over the storm before fading into the darkness with the ghost-looking albino.
Mary Shorun was born and grew up in Kwara state, Nigeria. She is presently studying Computer and Information Systems in Texas, USA. Her short fiction is under consideration for publication in Guernica, Litro, and African Writing Online. Her poems have been published on the TakingITglobal website.