The Girl with the Louding Voice
This morning, Papa call me inside the parlour.
He was sitting inside the sofa with no cushion and looking me. Papa have this way of looking me one kind. As if he wants to be flogging me for no reason, as if I am carrying shit inside my cheeks and when I open mouth to talk, the whole place be smelling of it.
“Sah?” I say, kneeling down and putting my hand in my back. “You call me?”
“Come close,” Papa say.
I know he want to tell me something bad. I can see it inside his eyes; his eyesballs have the dull of a brown stone that been sitting inside hot sun for too long. He have the same eyes when he was telling me, three years ago, that I must stop my educations. That time, I was oldest of all in my class and all the childrens was always calling me “Aunty.”
Jimoh, one foolish boy in the class was laughing me one day as I was walking to sit on my table. “Aunty Adunni,” Jimoh was saying, “Why are you still in primary school when all your mates are in secondary school?” I know Jimoh was wanting me to cry and be feeling bad, but I look the devil-child inside his eyes and he look me back. I look his upside- down triangle shape head, and he look me back. Then I sticked my out my tongue and pull my two ears and say, “Why are you not inside bicycle shop when your head is like bicycle seat?”
The class, that day, it was shaking with all the laughters from the childrens, and I was feeling very clever with myself until Teacher Shola slap her ruler on the table three times and say: “Quiet!”
It was when I was getting more better in my Plus, Minus and English that Papa say I must to stop because he didn’t have moneys for school fees.
I tell you true, the day I stop school, and the day my Mama was dead is worst day of my life.
When Papa ask me to move closer, I didn’t answer him because our parlour is the small of a Mazda car. Did he want me to move closer and be kneeling inside his mouth? So, I kneeled in the same place and wait for him to be talking his mind.
Papa make noise with his throat and lean on the wood back of the sofa with no cushion. The cushion have spoil because our last born Kayus, he have done too many piss inside it. Since the boy was a baby, he been pissing as if it is a curse. The piss mess the cushion, so Mama make Kayus to be sleeping on it for pillow.
We have a Tee-Vee in our parlour; it didn’t work. Born-boy, our first born have find the Tee-Vee inside dustbin last year when he gets job as dustbin collector officer in the next village. We only putting it there for fashion. It looking good, sitting like handsome prince inside our parlour, in the corner beside of the front door. We even putting small flower vase on top it, a crown on the prince head. When we have visitor, Papa will be doing as if it is working and be saying, “Adunni, come and put evening news for Mr Bada to watch.” And me, I will be responding, “Papa, the remote controlling, it have missing.” Then Papa will shake his head and say to Mr Bada, “Those useless children, they have lost the remote control again. Come, let us sit outside, drink and forget the sorrows of our country, Nigeria.”
Mr Bada must be big fool if he didn’t know that it is a lie.
We have one standing fan too, two of the fan-blade have miss so it is always blowing air which is making the whole parlour to hot. Papa like to be sitting in front of the fan in the evening, crossing his feets at his ankles and drinking from the bottle that have become his wife since Mama have dead.
“Adunni, your Mama have dead.” Papa say after a moment.
I can smell the drink on his body as he is talking. Even when Papa didn’t drink, his skin and sweat still smell. “Yes Papa. I know,” I say. Why he is telling me something I have already know? Something that have cause a hole inside my heart and fill it with block of pain that I am dragging with me to everywhere? How can I ever be forgetting it how my Mama was coughing blood, red and thick with spit bubbles, inside my hand every day for three month? When I am closing my eyes to sleep at night, I still see the blood, sometimes I taste the salt of it.
“I know Papa,” I say again. “Have another something bad happen?”
Papa sigh. “They have told us to be going.”
“To be going to where?” Sometimes I have worry for Papa. Since Mama have dead, he keep saying things that didn’t make sense and sometimes he talk to hisself, cry to hisself too when he think nobody is hearing.
“You want me to fetch water for your morning baff?” I ask. “There is morning food too, fresh bread with sweet groundnut.”
“Community rent is thirty thousan’ naira,” Papa say. “If we didn’t pay the money, then we must find another place to live.”
Thirty thousand naira is very plenty money. I know Papa cannot find that money even if he is searching the whole of the Nigeria because even my school fees money of seven hundred naira, Papa didn’t have. It was Mama who was paying for school fees and rent money and feeding money and everything money before she dead.
“Where we will find that kind money?” I ask.
“Morufu,” Papa say. “You know him? He come here yesterday. To see me.”
“Morufu the taxi-driver?” Morufu is a old man taxi driver in our village with a face that resemble a he-goat. Apart from his other two wifes, Morufu is having four childrens that didn’t go to school. They just be running around the village stream in their dirty pant, pulling sugar carton with string, playing suwe and clapping their hand until the skin about to peel off. Why was Morufu visiting our house? What was he finding?
“Yes,” Papa say with tight smile. “He is a good man, that Morufu. He surprise me yesterday when he say he will pay community rent for us. All the thirty thousan’.”
“That is good?” I ask the question because it didn’t make sense. Why Morufu will pay our community rent? Is he owe Papa money from before in the past?
“It is good but,” Papa wait, swallow spit. “The rent money is among your bride price.”
“Bride price?” I am only fourteen years going fifteen and I am not marrying any foolish stupid old man because I am wanting to go back to school and learn Teacher work and become a adult woman and have moneys to be driving car and living in fine house with cushion sofa and be helping my Papa and my two brothers. I didn’t want to marry any mens or any boys or any another person forever so I ask Papa again, talking real slow so he will be catching every word I am saying and not mistaking me in his answer: “Papa, is this bride price for me or for another person?”
And my Papa, he nod his head slowly slow and say, “The bride price is for you, Adunni. You will be marrying Morufu next week.”
Two years before my Mama was dead, one car drive inside our compound and bring itself to a stop in front of our mango tree. I was sitting under the tree, washing my Papa’s singlet, and when the car stop, I stop my washing, shake the soap from my hand and keep looking the car. Is a rich man own, this car, black and shining with big tyres and front- light like the eyes of a sleeping fish. The car door open, and one man climb out, bringing along the smell of Air Con and Ciga and perfumes. Tall like anything I ever see, his skin was the brown of roasted groundnut, and his fine face and long jaw make me think of a han’some horse. He was wearing costly trouser cloth of green lace, with a green to-match cap on his slim head.
“Good morning, I am looking for Idowu,” he say, talking fast, fast, voice smooth. “Is she around?”
I roof my eyes from the morning sun. “Good mornin’ sah,” I say.
Idowu is the name of my mother. She didn’t ever use to have visitor, excepting the five womens from the Church Commun’ty of Praying Wife every third Sunday in month. “You are who?” I ask.
“Is she around?” he ask again. “My name is Ade.”
“She have go out,” I say. “You want to sit-down wait?”
“I am sorry, I can’t,” he say. “I only came to Ikate village to visit my grandmother’s burial site. She, uh, passed away while I was abroad. I thought to say hello to your mother on my way back to the airport. I fly back tonight.”
“Fly? Like aeloplane? To The Abroad?” I have been hearing of this The Abroad, of The Am-rica and The London. I am even seeing it inside the Tee-Vee, the womens and mens with their yellow skin and pencil nose and hair like rope, but I have never see anybody from there before with my two naked eyes. I been hearing them in the radio sometimes too, talking fast, fast, speaking English as if they are using it as special power for confusing everybody.
I look this tall, fine man, at his skin, which is the brown of roasted groundnut, and his short black hair like foam sponge. He didn’t resemble the peoples in the Abroad Tee-Vee. “Where you are from?” I ask him again.
“The UK,” he say, then he smile soft, show white teeth in straight line. “London.”
“Then why you don’t look yellow like them?” I ask.
He strong his face, then laugh ha-ha. “You must be Idowu’s daughter,” he say. “What is your name?”
“Adunni is the name sah.”
“You are just as pretty as she was at your age.”
“Thank you sah,” I say, “My mama have travel far to buy market. Till tomorrow before she is coming back. I can keep your message.”
“Now that’s a shame,” he say. “Can you tell her Ade came back to look for her? Tell her that I didn’t forget her.”
After he climb inside his car and was going, I keep thinking, who is this man, and how he knows my Mama?
When Mama return and I tell her Mr Ade from The Abroad of The UK come and see her, she shock. “Mr Ade?” she keep asking as if she deaf. “Mr Ade?”
Then she was starting to cry soft because she didn’t want Papa to hear. It was taking me another three weeks to be asking her why she shock and cry like that. She tell me that Mr Ade is from rich family. That many years back, he was living in Lagos but he come to Ikate to be staying with his grandmother for holiday season. One day, Mama was selling puff-puff and Mr Ade buy some. Then he just fall inside love with her. Big fall. She say he is her first man-friend, the only man she ever love. The two both of them was suppose to have marry their self. But my Mama didn’t go to school, so Mr Ade family say no marriage. When Mr Ade say he will kill his self if he didn’t marry Mama, his family lock him inside aeloplane and send him to the Abroad. After Mama cry and cry, her family force her to marry Papa, a man she didn’t love.
That day, Mama say, “Adunni, because I didn’t go to school, I didn’t marry my love. I was wanting to go outside this village, to count plenty money, to be reading many books, but all of that didn’t possible.” Then she hold my hand. “Adunni, God knows l will use my last sweat to be sending you to school because I am wanting you to have chance at life. In this village, if you go to school, no one will be forcing you to marry any man. But if you didn’t go to school, they will marry you to any man once you are reaching fifteen years old. Your schooling is your voice, child. It will be speaking for you even if you didn’t open your mouth to talk. It will be speaking till the day God is calling you come.”
That day, I tell myself that even if I didn’t get anything in this life, I will go to school. I will finish my primary and secondary and university schooling and become Teacher because I didn’t just want to be having any kind voice. I want a louding voice.