It had been a stressful time for him, spending four nights on the road and greeting dawn in four different cities. The most important thing he did on that tour was taking his first child to school, he couldn’t have known how hard it would be to walk to the gate while his daughter sat on the concrete slab and looked like her heart would break. For months he had told her stories about boarding school, his tales of the comfort of school were supposed to comfort her, to make the move an exciting thing. He was wrong.
It began to unravel at the home economics lab when the woman handing out uniforms gave her two uniforms with different sizes, one that fit and the other was meant for a much slimmer girl.
“Why are you giving her a smaller size”? Apprehension shook his voice.
“She will go down! They always do” the woman whose skin tone seemed closer to charcoal than chocolate gurgled with barely suppressed glee. The man and his daughter’s faces, nearly identical from the day she was born, wore the same degree of disgust.
It was a big school, bigger than anything she’d ever seen. He hoped it wouldn’t swallow her, that his intentions of giving her independence would not stifle his only daughter’s spirit or body. He squeezed her shoulder repeatedly, proud of the fact that she didn’t cry and hoping fiercely that his own eyes would not betray him.
“I’ll have to go soon,” he said to his distant cousin who taught in the school and who would act as her guardian in the three years she spent there.
“Go, no problem. God will take care of her” she said in her snippy fashion.
“Be careful Scosco, don’t collect anything edible from anybody, be a good girl, read hard” he struggled to tell her everything, it saddened him that all he had was words.
The first meal she met at the dinning hall was tuwo dawa and okro soup, she burst into tears on seeing the ugly brown mound on the shiny stainless plate. She called for her mummy and for him, they were too far away. There were many more crying bouts, from silly reasons and important ones, perhaps she just liked to cry. There were bright spots for her, her mother came one week after she had resumed with apples and Mcvities Digestive biscuits- the only biscuit she could tolerate at the time. Nearly twenty years later, the taste of the apples and digestive still lingers at the back of her tongue. Finding the library was another and the books she found there were her tickets to a world of shimmering lights.
The months rolled into each other as has been the custom of months since time began and it was time for her to make the journey to Lagos. She swore she would never come back, not even God could drag her back. Joy bubbled in her blood as the bus roared closer to Lagos, she would see her little brothers and tell them stories of the women in Jebba who called her aunty just because they wanted her to buy their fish, Fanta and bread. She didn’t plan on telling them about the wicked seniors, she would bury the memories and let them suffocate in the depths.
At Ibadan, the songs became louder, lustier. The girls had begun to sing just after Ogbomosho, it was her first journey and she didn’t want to join in. Remembering that it was her last journey loosened her tongue and by the time they passed the white statue of the three old men that welcomed all to Lagos, her voice gained wings. When the bus rolled into one of the spaces under Stadium Bridge, she craned her neck to find her parents but she didn’t see them and she sank on her seat mimicking her sinking heart. She heard her father’s voice, she couldn’t see him but she could hear him calling her name, the bus was still in motion.
The bus door was opened immediately the vehicle came to a stop, a head popped in. It had plenty grey hair and was balding, it wasn’t her father because he wasn’t that old or that bald. The man called her name and she looked at his face, it was him but when did he get that old? She couldn’t run to him, the thoughts ricocheting in her head froze her feet but he scooped her up and carried her out of the bus.
“Where are your bags?” he asked when he set her down.
A few minutes later, they were walking between the aisles of a supermarket.
When did you get this old? she wanted to ask, the last time I saw you, you were a bobo. But she swallowed the words and held his hand with a tighter grip.
“What do you want?” he asked again and again.
“Nothing” she answered with the same frequency, she only wanted to see her brothers and mother and to eat the plantain that her mother was certainly frying. it would take her mind away from facing her hero’s mortality.
“I will not go back to that school!” she sang daily. Her mother sputtered but her father stayed quiet even when she told stories of the monsters in school girl skin that were created to make her life miserable, even when she said she would run away if she was sent back.
One evening he called her and handed a book to her, there was a smiling boy on the cover and the author was unfamiliar. His name was Chukwuemeka Ike, the next term she would find more books by him in the school library but that’s another story.
“Read it, you’ll like it”
She gave it back to him the next evening, her eyes blazing with impotent heat and he bit his cheek to stop a traitorous smile.
“Yes, it is a good book” her face still looked like restrained lightning.
“What did you think of tintinnabulation and Silence?” he ruffled her closely cropped hair and smiled.
She laughed and began to talk about the book and the things she had found interesting in it. She asked a million questions about the things she did not understand. Her mother and brothers joined in the conversation and her heart didn’t stop its twisting and untwisting cycles until she fell asleep.
Many things happened in the three weeks she was home, She turned eleven on the same day he celebrated his birthday, fought with her brother Obinna- this was necessary for the earth to revolve around the sun, had a bout of malaria with vomiting, took her first intravenous infusion and also discovered that she was taller than her cousin Uchechukwu- that made her very glad.
But in the second week of January, Adaezenwa returned to Bida unaccompanied by any parent, just like Obuechina in the book her father gave her.
Happy 60th birthday Nna’m, I couldn’t have gotten a better father even if I gave up Mark Z’s dollars for one. Thank you for giving us the best of you, for being a hawk when we needed one and letting us be even when it was hard to. Thank you for loving us perfectly despite being imperfect (you could have used that excuse- the imperfect thing). As you start this new phase, I pray for God’s love to envelop you and for his wisdom to be your companion. There are so many things I want to tell you, I guess I’ll have to wait until you wake up to tell you.