P.S: Olaide’s Dairy Ended in the last episode. So this episode is fast forwarded to a few years after.
Dec 10th 2000
It was mid December, my favourite time of the year. With every passing day, Christmas became realer. Like some spirit, it lingered so palpable in the air, possessing and intoxicating the minds, then transcending into an inexplicable felicity. Tonight was not any different. It clung to the cold night air that only few hours ago had been arid. The swift atmospheric change in nature was quite baffling. During the day, the harmattan air was dry and dusty, causing breaks and splits in unmoisturized skin and lips. At night, the weather turned so cold that it threw out memories of the parched afternoons. The frigid chill ran its course through the night, into dawn and early mornings, and then the cycle began again. For persons who have never been to colder regions of the world, harmattan was considered the coldest season in an annual calendar. But not so if you have experienced bone chilling winter air. Then, you had a better definition of what cold really was, and you would know that harmattan was only a piece of cake. So far its only downsides were the dreaded morning and night baths taken only out of necessity and hygiene. Cold water baths were hurried and teeth clattering. Hot water baths on the other hand, was a luxury quickly forgotten just as it cascades down the skin. If I had my way, I probably would not enter a bathroom till end of harmattan.
Suddenly the bulb sprang to life and the fan kicked to a start in a slow rotation, with a distinctive hum at the pump of electricity. Frenzied delightful screams filled the neighbourhood in the usual ‘Up Nepa’ slang saved for particular moments such as this. I wonder if anyone ever realized their praise for the unreliable power corporation. Instantaneously, I rushed to the power switch at the heightening power surge that caused the recently installed sixty watts to brighten uncontrollably. The fan had also started to spin like some crazed possessed machine. It was all frightening. I was prepped to turn it all off, but then the current lowered, and stabilized. Whew! What a lightening system. It was either low currents too weak to power appliances, or extremely high ones that resulted in the damage of appliances, or burnt and melted fuse. On some occasions as this when current was stable, electricity hardly lasted an hour. Generators were the most reliable and trusted source of electricity. Unfortunately, ours had refused to come on for the night. Gabriel, the new security had given it his best shot and had finally given up after a lot of futile attempts. The electrician would be in tomorrow to check its faults, fix whatever needed to be fixed, and bill father outrageously for some imaginary loose wires which father would then pay without a bit of negotiation. My belief was that he did it out of pride, mostly to preserve his lofty status in the neighbourhood. That made him a victim of constant rip offs.
The cold was chilling enough so I turned off the fan and returned to my desk, blew off the candle, and stationed a match box close incase power went off again. I hoped it would not. That meant sleeping in the dark again. Thankfully, mosquitoes were still on a break as they had been since the appearance of harmattan air. Surely, at its disappearance, they would return in full force along with a consuming heat. Now, that was hell!
I crossed to the window, and twitched back the billowed curtain to stare into the night. I loved the feel of cool breeze through my coolest cashmere sweater. Tonight like every other night since the start of harmattan, the moon shone ahead barely visible, lost in the harmattan fog just like the stars. I looked downwards and caught Tobi pace leisurely towards the gate in that imperious, gallant gait of his that had girls falling over heels, and had also earned him the award for best swag in his school last term. My heart surged with both pride, and affection. I could not have asked for a better brother.
Tobi had his hands tucked in the pocket of his black fur cardigan from our last seemingly distant trip to London a year and half back. I refrained from calling for him as I watched him walk out the gate after a few exchanged words with Gabriel. I was quite envious of my brother. At sixteen, he sure had the freedom of the world. A freedom I badly craved for.
As it was, I was so sick of my life, I would gladly slip into someone else’s.
A burst of wind swept in through the open window, and sent the pages of my notebook into a wild flip, thus reminding me of my last paper for the term. Pfew! I could not wait to finish exams, and get occupied with more fun stuffs like rehearsals for school’s Christmas carol. At least, that was something to take my mind off the present family problems.
In a flash, I bolted to my study seat as my door creaked open, and mother walked in.
“I hope you are reading?” she questioned.
I caught myself from nodding. Mother had given stern warnings about lies, and their consequences. I shook my head mutely, braced for a scold, which was by far the only disadvantage of telling the truth. That sure beat burning in hell.
“Why?” her face contorted not in reprimand, but worry.
The curtain flapped wildly again, momentarily stealing her attention. The scent of cold and rain hung in the air. It never rained in December. The rain must have missed the memo. Mother rushed to the window and slid it shut with only a silent click. Its usual screeching sound had disappeared, thanks to the weather. Mother turned to me with a look of utter disbelief. “Pelumi, you are going to catch cold.” I wanted to argue I was wearing a sweater, but the look in her eyes silenced any protest. Never argue with your parents, they are never wrong. Her words rang in my head.
Mother’s gaze softened, as she crossed over to my side. Her palm glided lovingly down my matted hair as I looked up into her beautiful face towering atop me. There was so much love in her eyes. “My doctor,” she started with her fond address. “You have to prepare well so you can pass your exams with flying colours. Okay?”
I nodded. “But mother I’m tired.”
Mother sounded a dismissive chuckle, as she squatted beside me. “Doctor’s are always busy o” she pointed out in that distinctive Yoruba accented tone, which sometimes ended with the somewhat melodious ‘o’ at the end of a sentence. Mother also had the famous ‘H’ factor that pronounced the alphabet ‘A’ as ‘H’.
“Doctors are never tired”
There it was again, the invisible ‘h’.
“So you need to start getting use to reading. Doctors are readers.” she explained.
She was probably right. I nodded. Very lightly, she pinched my cheeks and I smiled affectionately at her. Mother took education too seriously. Its reason was not far fetched; she’d only attended the university by luck, courtesy of father and a dead poor village uncle, who had raised both her and my Aunt Yemi. It was only natural she would want more for Tobi and I. Thus her medical dream for me, which very likely spurred from her own yearn to save lives. If her care for the poor neighbourhood kids was anything to go by, it was obvious mother would trade health care for trading if it were possible. Then there was Mrs. Fatunmbi, a long time family friend, and a successful surgeon. Even a blind man could see the ripe curiosity in mother’s eyes when their discussion turned health related-the wonders of the human anatomy in particular. Mrs. Fatunmbi’s daughter Teni, same age bracket as me, had done her mother proud with her decision to follow in her steps. I on the other hand at ten, was yet to pick out a career. All I wanted was wealth and happiness. So maybe medicine was not a bad thing after all, as far as it gave me money, and the kind of life I dreamt of. Besides, I had deep affections for my mother. Which child didn’t? I did not mind if she wanted to relive her life through me. I would be anything she wanted me to be as long as it made her happy.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
“Nothing.” I shook my head, and stopped my unconscious gnaw on my bottom lip; a habit I did whenever in thought. Mother smacked a kiss on my temple and gave my nose a little pull as she rose. My delightful chuckle seized as the light caught a trace of the masterfully concealed bruise on her chin, which had left a dent on her extremely flawless skin. Tears stung the back of my eyes and my heart sunk. It was very unlike mother to wear any makeup at home. But in the past days, she had indulged in it a lot. She probably thought I didn’t notice the scars. I did. Oblivious to my stare, she turned and moved over to my closet and produced a crisp neatly folded uniform and straightened it out, humming some native tune as she hung it on a hanger. The blue sleeveless knee length uniform with its red lined edges had retained some iron lines. Mother also pulled out fresh underwear and pristine white socks, and hung those as well on another hanger in preparation for the next day. Afterwards, she grabbed my shoes and threw me a last stern but playful look by the door. “Read!”
I blinked back tears, grinned at her, and nodded, as I buried my head again in the book, only skimming through a few lines, and once again getting lost in thoughts. In a few minutes, Mother would be back with my black shoes shined and polished. Originally, that task belonged to our maid, Tiwa, who had gone to spend the Christmas holiday with her family at the village. There was rumour from Tobi that Tiwa wasn’t coming back. He confessed to have overhead mother tell her she would be sent for if she was again needed in the coming year. Sigh! Money issue again. Not that mother said, but Tobi and I knew. Apparently things were a lot worse than mother had portrayed when she had said at the beginning of the term that “times are hard.” She had been quick to douse my worry with an assurance that things would be better. At the moment, that was difficult to believe, when for the first time ever, I was sent home at the middle of the term for deficit in fee payment. Although father had paid almost immediately that happened, but I had been so mortified, I had stayed out of school an extra week under the pretence that I was ill.
Just yesterday, Tobi had mentioned that I might be switching schools next term because father couldn’t afford my fees anymore. If it were from someone else, I might have dismissed the information. But not Tobi. He spoke only based on actuality. Somehow Tobi was privileged to hear and know things I never had privy to. Like the time I had asked mother why her skin colour paled like the whites walking the streets of London. ‘Half caste’, she had corrected, and told me in concise details about a white father she never knew. A lengthier, more detailed version from Tobi explained mother was a product of our long dead grandmother and a British explorer whom she once served as a maid. He was long returned to his country when she found she was with child. I wonder why mother never told me this. Tobi’s belief was that she probably did not want to initiate in me any ill thoughts about her mother. If that was the case, mother was wrong. How could I detest the woman who had given me the world’s best mother, and an aunt whom unlike mother was just plain sun scorched fair. No offence. Again, according to my know-all brother, Aunt Yemi was a product of grandma and a Cameroon fabric trader. And on more than one occasion, aunt Yemi had left tad bits hints confirming it. Seriously, Grandma sure had a sour luck in men.
There! Every reason to believe Tobi’s stories were as true and authenticated as information could ever be. It hurt to imagine changing from Amazing British school. And for once, I wished Tobi was wrong. My love for Amazing ran so deep, that I could not imagine finishing up my two last terms anywhere else. Not that the local schools did not teach well, they just lacked the panache of Amazing; that kind of class and posh that only money can buy. Pfew! I hoped things would get really better at the industry so I wouldn’t have to switch to one of those middle class schools. No offence to students in such schools.
Then, another issue had been the cancelled annual travel trip. Father never cancelled a trip. Never! Last year had been the only exception due to my travel phobia, courtesy of a dreadful summer the previous year, when I had suffered a merciless tease in the hands of some white kids. Prior to then, I had not known being dark skinned was a crime. I had simply seen the world as a beautiful place with diverse races. Variety was supposed to be the spice of life. I mean, what’s the beauty in sameness anyway. Apparently, not everyone seemed to share that logic, and for the first time in my life, I loathed my colour. For a while, I had wished I was like mother, with little of the cursed melanin. My lists of blames were endless. First nature, then mother for getting married to a black man, and me, for inheriting father’s strong black genes. What should have been a fun holiday turned into a nightmare. Only when we returned to home territory, did I finally open up my heart to mother’s sermon that I was beautiful inside-out, and did not have to meet upto anyone’s standard of beauty but God’s. It had taken a more than a year on familiar grounds to re-settle again into my own skin, and love myself for who I was. Finally this summer, I had been all prepared and braced against any colour stemmed mistreatment, when father had broken the sad news, and promised next year’s visit was certain. I hope he was right.
A lot had also happened in the past year. Father was different. These days, I hardly recognized him. One minute he was the usual lovey-dovey doting husband and father, the next minute he was a monster, hitting mother at almost every chance, and leaving bruises on her beautiful skin.
Instinctively, I flinched at the blaring honk of father’s Lexus, an announcement of his arrival. I jumped out of my seat and crossed back to the window, sliding it open as Gabriel fumbled with the gate’s bolt. My heart began its customary rhythmic thud on father’s return. A sudden rush of shiver coursed over me as I watched him drive into the park. I shut my eyes and uttered a silent prayer hoping for the first time since recent months, that father had not returned drunk. My heart sunk with a sickening crush of hope, as he climbed out of the car, and staggered into the house inarguably drunk. Sigh! Expectancy had not diminished the hurt. Even in his drunk state, he somehow managed to drive the car home undented. If only he cared for his wife as much as the car. I folded my hands across my chest, and bunched my fists into my cashmere sweater at a rise of a shudder. I could feel my skin prickle with goose bumps.
Please God, let mother behave and not get father angry tonight. I uttered in quick prayer.