The morning my new life would begin, I had not wanted to get up from bed. Not as an act of defiance for I was not that bold, but I stayed for the warmth my bed offered. If I had any form of defiance in me, it was seated deep in my belly and it would never find a voice. I was in a strange dream, one where the sky was my favorite hue of pink and my father was nice. It was so strange to see him smile in this dream. He had opened his mouth to say “Oma I lo..” but I wasn’t in the dream long enough to hear. I was robbed of this imagination that I had conjured into a dream by the soft hands of my mother.
“Nne, its time. Kwuru oto. Go and have your bath. Ifeoma is boiling yam for breakfast. She is frying eggs the way you like them.”
“Ooh mama. I’ll have my bath.”
Her hand is on my hair and she smells of fresh flowers and lemons. It was her signature scent. We stare at each other and I wonder when and how my mother had grown so old. What were these bags under her eyes? Her onu fullstop lips had lost their fullness, and her eyes were tired. So tired. I hold onto her hand and we bond over unspoken words in the semi-darkness of my room.
“Eh, Nne you know your father does not like to be kept waiting. Get up” she says as she stands and exits my room. I lay and stare up at the ceiling even though there was nothing to stare at. What would happen if I refused to go with him? I already knew but I still asked myself. My father would drag me in my nightgown to St. Mary’s and nothing would happen. I turn off my alarm clock that my mother had replaced and stare at the stark cream colored walls of my room. There was really nothing here save for the painting of the land of the rising sun. My father did not see the need for cluttered rooms. All our pictures were in the family album, pulled out only when a visitor asked to see them, our forced smiles fading with the turn of each page.
I stood up from my bed and walked to my only favorite thing in this room: my window. I draw the curtains open and stare out at the compound. The high fence did not give the privilege of watching the roads. Even if it was low, we lived in an estate where everyone had manicured lawns, summer holidays in London and cooks that weren’t Nigerian. There would have been nothing much to see, just the cream of society being creamy.
“The President in his broadcast dispelled rumors…” the man on the radio droned on. I was surprised that my father let Musa move his radio around the compound. It should have been confined to his shed, but I am grateful that it’s not. This was Musa and I’s morning routine. I would stand here and listen to his radio while he watered and weeded the flowers. He did that everyday come rain or sunlight. I would miss this. I strip for my bath and while doing so, I dare to look at my naked reflection in the mirror. My food baby and the roundness of my breast stared back at me. My dark skin glowed faintly in the dim lighting my bedside lamp provided. My hair is weaved in an all back style, my lips in a shape too big for even my round face. My nose was the Broadway to your dreams. I chastise myself to not waste time on such frivolities and make for the bathroom. I step into the bathtub, and turn on the shower. The cold water assaulted my head and I remember that I hadn’t put on my shower cap. I liked bathing in cold water. I liked how numb and cold my hands became after I had my bath with cold water. I liked how it cooled the hot tears I liked to cry in the shower. There was nothing not to like. I bathe fast because I have no tears to cry this morning. As I step out of the bathroom, my mom walks in again.
“You’re not done? Your father is almost ready. If you don’t finish quickly you’ll leave without breakfast.”
“Gbo, be fast” she said as she exited.
I hurriedly dry myself in a towel and apply okpuma to my skin. I start to dress in the neutrals I had chosen the night before. It fit the mood for the grey morning. A pullover in the color grey and a black skirt reaching below my knees would suffice for the day.
My mother’s hawk eyes watch me as I eat my meal of bland eggs and boiled yam. Eggs did not need all the extras people added to it. For yam, I liked how hard it could be, how it could lodge itself in your throat and proceed to choke you. I refused to drink water in one of my choking episodes because I hated to drink water in the middle of my meal. My father’s thunderous voice asking me if I was trying to kill myself had me gulping down the glass of water I had previously rejected.
“I kpo Nenye gwa ya m na bia?” I ask my mum
“’Yes. I spoke to her some days ago.”
Nenye was the deviant. My sister the deviant. My father had sent her to St Mary’s for taming when she was in SS1 and I JSS3. When she came home for holidays and as we grew older, we drifted apart. We barely spoke on those holidays. Sometimes when we did, she would come into my room in the dead of the night and tell me about St Mary’s and the novels her friends sneaked in for her to read. I would sleep feeling happy and satisfied with the conversation, but by morning, I would wake to a sister who wouldn’t acknowledge my greetings. I had learned to stop building sandcastles in thin air, and to take her as she came. Last Easter, she said she’d rather stay back in school and help the chapel rather than come back home. My mother had cried over the phone. The next day she phoned and said she had changed her mind and would come home.
“Nne, I know it’s not easy, but you just have to go.”
“Mummy it’s the 3rd week of the term “
“And its just for one term”
I open my mouth to protest again, but my father’s bass voice announced from the staircase
“We will leave now, we can’t be late.”
Whether I had finished my meal or not did not matter. When he said move, you moved. The last time Nenye refused to move, he moved her down a flight of stairs in our home in Ukwuato.
“Come and carry these bags to the car. We’re going with the jeep” his voice becoming distant as he walked away. Ifeoma carried the bags packed the day before with no help from me. I had no idea where her strength came from.
I was going to St Mary’s as a punishment. He found me talking to a boy from St Kings when he came to pick me up from school. He said St Theresa had not incited the fear of God in me because if they had, I wouldn’t be talking and flirting with a boy. He would not watch me become another rebel. Another Nenye.
Nenye had hugged a boy but that hadn’t been enough for her. She feigned sickness the day our father was gone for a long meeting, and mama had to attend the CWO’s meeting. She intimidated Ogo the one before Musa and brought a boy into her father’s house. My father had come unexpectedly. I wasn’t sure I loved my sister, but I cried on her behalf that day. She would spend 3 weeks recovering from her injuries, and afterwards carried off to St Mary’s in the middle of the term.
He wouldn’t wait for me to do as much as she did before sending me to get my head corrected.
We pile into the car quickly as there were no goodbyes to be said. Despite the cold, my father turns on the AC that he is obsessed with. My mother eased herself into the front seat with my Father and slips into the quietness that was her second skin. I wave goodbye to Ifeoma from the window as my father navigated his car out of our compound. I am comforted that my mother would not be alone in this house where silence was a thorn that constantly pricked your skin.
I stare out my window at grey skies, its color a perfect depiction of my mood. Before we exit our estate, it begins to rain again in angry heavy slits.