She was bent at the waist with a broom in her hand when a movement at the corner of her left eye forced her to jerk upward, she straightened to see a wiggling bundle on one of the pews at the left wing of the church. As she got closer, she heard sounds she recognized as the cooing of a nursery rhyme by a child. Who would leave a child here, she wondered as she drew near.
“Brown skin gal, stay home and mind baby” drifted to her from within the bundle and she stopped in shock. How could this child know the words to the 1950s Calypso hit song that her grandfather sang on the days the moon was round and cast no shadows with a bottle of gin beside him. She tapped him softly and he screamed.
“Shhh” she cooed as she tried to calm him, he had added crying and tears to the screaming.
After his screams had faded into sobs and hiccups, she asked him his name. Kasiemobi was the answer he gave her, his eyes seemed like microscopes that could view the thoughts she had buried years ago, the grief for her parents’ death that came out at night to knife her.
“is that what your mummy calls you?” she asked, instead of telling him to close his eyes as her instincts screamed.
“My mummy calls me Kasi-Kasi, where is my mummy? Why is she not here? Aunty Juliet said mummy will come and carry me in the morning.”
“Who is aunty Juliet?”
“Aunty Juliet na, the one that lives in our compound, is she that brought me here in the night when my mummy have customer.”
“What is your own name?” he asked, peering at her through ridiculously long eyelashes.
“My name is Joy.”
“Joy to the world, the lord has come” he sang and she burst into laughter.
She scratched her left eyebrow and supported her forehead with her left palm, confusion rocking her body. She gestured to him to follow her, she would take him to the pastor and he would know what to do. He followed her without saying anything, not even when they passed the peacock that a wealthy parishioner had donated last year. His eyes bulged as he passed the preening peacock but he didn’t even slow his steps or murmur as they walked into the parish office where the pastor and his wife and elder Isaiah where sitting at the reception, obviously having an impromptu meeting.
“Where’s your daddy?” Pastor asked after she had told him everything that happened that morning.
“I don’t have daddy in this world, mummy said my father is in heaven and his name is Jesus.”
“Ok, what is your mother’s name so I can look for her?”
“Her name is mummy na, she told me”
“What do her friends call her?” he continued, futilely trying to swallow his smile and laughter.
“They call her Ashawo…”
“What the fuck!” Brother Isaiah gasped.
Sorry, I meant Jesus!” He corrected himself as Pastor’s wife gave him a stern look and Pastor ignored him.
“Do you know where your house is?” Pastor’s wife spoke for the first time.
“My house is down-down, near ice cream and lollipop shop, where’s my mummy?” he asked again.
“What does aunty Juliet look like, I want to know if she comes to our church?” Pastor’s voice trembled slightly.
“She is very tall, tall like the sky and she is yellow like that nylon,” he gestured to the shoprite bag on the desk and everyone in the room wrestled hard to keep their laughter in.
“I think this is a case for the police.” Pastor’s wife said as she rubbed his head.
“I like police, I want to be police when I grow and become big. Aunty Juliet does not like police, she carried me and run when she saw one yesterday as we were going, then she put me inside that place.” He looked up at the woman rubbing his head and smiled at her.
“Take him inside, bath him and give him food, we’ll start looking for his mother this afternoon.” She said briskly and the girl hurried to obey.
Seven months would pass without finding anything about his mother, he still cried for his mother but it was no longer a nightly affair. He liked rice and fried plantain and jumping around with Dozie- the five-year-old son of the Pastor who was glad to have someone close to his age to play with, he also liked to sing and he joined the choir. at four, he was the youngest chorister in the history of the choir but he pulled his weight. He called Pastor Daddy but he refused to call his wife Mummy like everyone else did, preferring instead to call her aunty Laura- as Joy did.
On one of their weekly expeditions to the mall, Joy noticed two garishly dressed women looking intently at Kasiemobi and having what seemed to be a minor argument.
“No be Kasi-Kasi be this?” drifted into her ears and her heart began bouncing off the walls of her chest.
They soon began to point at him and Joy pulled the boys to meet the women.
“Na him be this!” One of them exclaimed as they drew close to them, she grabbed the boy by the shoulders and the other fell on her knees and mumbled “thank you Jesus!” repeatedly.
Joy’s fingers stumbled over the invisible buttons of her phone’s screen as she dialed aunty Laura’s number and she stammered when she said I’m with two women who know Kasi’s mum. Stay there, aunty Laura commanded.
The drive to the brothel was made in silence, Elder Isaiah’s Honda Voyager chugged through traffic until they got to a building that must have been impressive thirty years ago but looked like the portal to hell with its broken statues and the aura of darkness that wrapped the house and no other on the street.
“See our house!” Kasi screamed and ran to the door, he wiggled out of his seatbelt in a second.
“Mummy!” he screamed as he ran, after Pastor opened the door for him and he jumped out.
They hurried after him and he stopped in front of a green door on the ground floor and hit it fiercely, still shouting Mummy. The door remained closed.
“Where’s my mummy?” he turned back to them, his tiny features scrunched together as if he was holding in pain.
A sudden sound from the floor above startled them, soon it was as if ten horses were running down the stairs. Then they heard a voice shouting Kasi my son! And Kasi began to run in the direction of the sound, towards the stairs.
They met them holding each other as they wept, Mummy and Kasi punctuating their sobs. When they were spent, the mystery behind his disappearance unraveled. Juliet lost her daughter to malaria and took Kasi away so his mother would feel the sting of losing a child, she came back to the brothel after dumping the boy and even pretended to help search for him. She was in detention for slapping a client who turned out to be a highly placed politician.
“That Juliet na Devil pikin” one of the prostitutes spat.
“Mummy, nobody has been singing Brown skin gal for me since. Aunty Laura doesn’t know the song and Joy knows it but she cannot even sing it.” Kasi said from his perch on his mother’s bosom.
“Oh Kasi” she cooed and then she sang.
“Brown skin gal, stay home and mind baby,
Brown skin gal, stay home and mind baby,
I’m goin away in a sailing boat
And if I don’t come back
Stay home and mind baby”
“He loves the song, he could sing it from when he was two, he can sing anything.”
“Yes he can, he is the star of the choir” Laura said
“This life is funny, an ashawo’s son ends up in the church.” She said almost bitterly.
“Your son doesn’t know your name, he said it’s Ashawo” Elder Isaiah spoke for the first time.
“My name is Alice, Alice Johnson”
“Don’t take Kasi away from me” Dozie cried out suddenly.
“I can’t let my son go, I can’t live without him again.” Alice looked at them with a wariness that broke Laura’s heart.
“There’s enough room in the house for you and Kasiemobi, we can find something for you to do and eventually you’ll become independent.” Laura said breathlessly.
“Why would you that for me? You don’t know me from Adam, we aren’t related.” Alice’s wariness was slightly displaced by hope.
“Because, Kasi has become a part of our family and we cannot bear to live without him. Since being related is important to you, I’d adopt you as my sister.”
“Splendid idea” her husband agreed.
Alice went to her and hugged her hard.
“Thank you very much,” she said, her voice thick with tears.
“You’re welcome,” Laura replied, her voice nearly as thick.
“Let me go and get my things…”
“What rubbish things? Let’s go osiso” Laura said and pulled her new sister to her chest and let set her tears and sobs free.