A Favour from God

James was my elder brother; he was two years older than me. My father had just died, and we all sat in the blindingly white waiting room in the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital—James, our Aunty Grace, our help Agnes, and I—waiting for my mom. Aunty Grace had called her immediately it happened.

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It was bound to happen sooner or later. I didn’t understand why everybody was crying. Even James was crying, like a hungry infant, into a white handkerchief. His crying was the most baffling.

James was my elder brother; he was two years older than me. My father had just died, and we all sat in the blindingly white waiting room in the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital—James, our Aunty Grace, our help Agnes, and I—waiting for my mom. Aunty Grace had called her immediately it happened.

I was eleven. My mom had divorced my father two years earlier. But what was remarkable was that she had endured twelve years of marriage to him.

The door opened and my mom rushed in. She was in her red suit, the one that made her look like some sort of angry angel. And she was crying. My angelic mother was crying. James and Aunty Grace sprang up and ran to embrace her. Agnes, who had been standing since we got there, for over two hours now—voluntarily, there were several available seats—also moved closer, but didn’t join them. I didn’t know what to do. I got up but remained where I was. They stood that way crying—the three of them in an embrace, and Agnes a little away.

Then Mom looked up and saw me. She pulled away from the others and walked quickly to me. She hugged me tightly, crying, my head on her bosom. Eventually she let go and I could breathe again. She held my hands and looked at me. She looked very sad.

‘I’m so sorry,’ she said. ‘I’m so sorry.’

‘It’s okay.’

‘I’m so sorry.’

‘It’s okay.’ I honestly didn’t know what she was sorry for.

Then she stood up straight and wiped her face. She asked Aunty Grace where the doctor’s office was, got her answer, and left off.

We all sat back down, except Agnes of course. Sometimes I wondered if she had feeling in her legs. I mean, she walked and all, but she would’ve liked to stand for two weeks straight. And I was the only one who was disturbed by this thing, the only one who noticed it, even. Once, I’d tried to talk to James about it. I told him I thought it was strange, the way Agnes liked to stand around timidly, the way she never sat down. But James only stared at me like he’d been hypnotised or something, with this very dumb expression. You’ll need to have seen it to believe it, to understand how vilely stupid it was.

All I could think of was that I was running late for practice. I tried not to pay any attention to James or any of them. They were irritating me acutely. I couldn’t understand why they were all crying over the death of this chronic drunk who’d been nothing but an abusive father and husband. Surely, they must have been preparing for it? Maybe even hoped for it? I know I did. What was the big surprised-sad act about?

James was seated next to me. He turned to me and said something. I didn’t catch it.

‘What’d you say?’

‘Why are you not crying?’ he asked.

His eyes were actually red. They were all looking at me now, three pairs of sad, red eyes: my brother, who had been so terrified of my father that he’d been incontinent up until he was nine; my Aunt, who my father had treated more like an unwanted guest than a sister; and Agnes, who he had beaten almost daily, over trifles, since he’d brought her to Lagos. What was wrong with these people?

I didn’t answer James’s question.

Some minutes passed. I began to get impatient. The atmosphere was getting to me. My stomach began to turn. Something was nauseating me.

A nurse walked past us, talking on the phone: ‘Yes…Yes, I’m on my way. I’m leaving now.’ She had a nice figure. If I’d been on speaking terms with James, we’d have scored her. ‘Eight,’ I’d have said. ‘Seven and a half,’ he’d have countered. But we were not on speaking terms. I was mad at him. He was letting me down.

The thought flashed through my mind: What am I doing here? Home is a fifteen-minute walk away. I looked at my watch: three twenty five. Then I looked at the wall clock: eleven forty three for two and a half hours now. Practice was at four. I decided that that was it. I got up and started towards the door.

‘Where are you going?’ James asked. I kept walking.

‘Wait! Junior! Where are you going?’ Aunty Grace sounded shrill, scared. I opened the door and stepped out. She shouted something. I kept walking.

Junior. Walking along traffic, I thought of the name. I decided there and then that I’d change my name when I got older. I couldn’t be Calvin Adibua Junior, the son of Calvin Adibua, the son of that man, the son of that offensive mass. No way.

I got home, got the spare key from under the flower pot, and went in. I stood looking around in the sitting room. It was an odd feeling, thinking that my stupid father would never be there again, that they’d put him under the ground very soon, never to be seen or heard or obeyed or feared again. It was liberating. Sometimes, God does answer prayers. Sometimes, God does you these little favours. Just like that, out of the blue, there it is…

I went upstairs, changed into training gear slowly, with this weird peace about it, left for the pitch. I jogged all the way but still didn’t make it. I was six minutes late. Coach wanted to know why.

‘I had a little delay, sir.’

‘What kind of delay?’ He was a big man and he stood in front of me, arms akimbo, shielding the sun, so that looking up at him, I couldn’t really see his expression, only a sharp outline.

‘Just a little delay, sir.’

‘And it was more important than training?’

‘No, not really, sir.’

My teammates had stopped warm-up and were behind Coach watching, snickering. It was my day to be laughed at. Coach looked at me for a while and shook his head the way he always did , as if in genuine pain.

He sighed and said, ‘Ok, give me six.’ I’d been expecting it, of course.

I again heard snickers as I started off on the first of six runs round the pitch. Coach bellowed to the others: ‘Yes? The rest of you, what are you doing?’

I didn’t at all feel like I was serving a punishment. I was feeling fairly cheerful, in fact, with the wind blowing my face. It was nice, it was really nice. So this was what it felt like to breathe, to really breathe, to not have a human pillow smothering you? Eleven years… eleven full years…

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