The road leading to the cottage was host to thousands of dry fallen leaves that gave a musical number as they crackled under each revolution of the van’s tyres. It was the second time I would be in the farm house, the first being immediately after my birth eight years ago.
I had always spent my holidays over the years with a relative while my parents went on a fun-filled couple spree of a holiday. There was a unique ambience that Olatunji, as my mother called him, ascribed to the farm house – it was always his perfect get-away resort from the hustle and bustle of the city whenever he could. He was especially grateful to have had such a place as an inheritance from his late father.
Mother was already used to all of these from the days of dating ‘Tunji; she loved it here too, it was a big relief from the disturbing factory noise of heavy machinery that plagued her in our residence in the city. ‘Iya Subomi’, father beckoned to Pelumi (mother’s appellation when he is more emotional and romantic), “I think we might have forgotten to carry the basket of fruits from the kitchen”.
“I emptied the fruits into this sac while you were getting the van ready”, Mother replied. Dad heaved a sigh of relief, fruits were the best thing to happen to man as far as he was concerned. We unloaded the van and moved into the house to begin our two-week holiday.
Although young and fragile, there was no doubt I had prospects in athletics as I was the undisputed sprint champion in my school. It would seem the breeze would blow me away while I moved with those tiny legs I have. My performance in class was average but exceptional on the tracks. My school had my name penned down for the position of sports prefect when I reached my final class, according to classified news from my sportmaster. I had a lot of friends because of my athletic prowess, everyone seemed proud of me. I looked forward to school like no other student chiefly because I was an only child and we lived far away from any of my friends at school; home was a bore to me– having no siblings to frolic with. My only solace for this holiday out of the city was the promise that my twin cousins, Bimbo and Simbo, would join me here soon.
Mother was a housewife and she spent all her time mostly on the sewing machine making clothes for her clients from the comfort of her home. Her husband made enough money for us from the company job he secured right after his national youth service. He was an asset to the company and he broke records that won the favour of the board of directors. Just before his compulsory two-week vacation, there were rumours going round of a new company branch opening in a neighbouring town. It turned out the rumours were true as he received a mail informing him of his promotion to the position of Branch Manager in another town effective from a week after his vacation. This was the first time he would have to work outside Lagos, he was determined to keep his family close and that would mean our moving together to live in Ibadan after the vacation.
The unexpected but welcome turn of events at Dad’s place of work was going to have massive impacts on us. Mother would lose most of her clients and have to start over with new clients in Ibadan; I was heartbroken when I received the news, I could not stop thinking about all the friends I would leave behind. There wasn’t going to be any way around it for either of us, we would just have to adjust and adapt. We did eventually, but it was difficult.
I was enrolled into a new school in Ibadan, one of the best private primary schools, Lobeta International. My grades slipped below average in the first term as I struggled to adapt and settle in but I fared well. I made friends again but not very many people liked me, I wasn’t as brilliant as the other girls, according to my school grades. Bisola, one of my classmates was the envy of the whole school; she topped the class always leaving the second position many miles away. She did the same on the tracks, she practically watched all other runners arrive the finishing line after breasting the tape!
I soon aligned with my hobby on the track and joined the other students at the weekly sporting events. I was in the Headmaster’s house while Bisola was in the PTA house. Soon enough, my abilities were noticed and I led the sprinters in my sport house. I became a distant rival to Bisola though we had never had a race together. The tension and unfought battle of supremacy divided alliances of friends between us, with some pupils foretelling of an overthrow of Bisola’s unchallenged reign so far, while some believed I could only go as far as closing the miles of field space Bisola is known to give the runner up.
The school’s week-long sport’s event was usually held in the second term of each year. The tension kept building up as the week approached. It was going to be an interesting contest between the headmaster’s house and the PTA house. Would I pull a surprise and overthrow Bisola, or will Bisola maintain her supremacy on the tracks? The week for the race soon came. There were four houses participating in all the sporting events, the other two being the Proprietor’s House and the Patron’s House.
We would go head to head in two events, the 100m dash and the relay race 4x100m, both holding on separate days. The first event that featured both of us was the relay race; we ran the final laps of the relay. Bisola’s house had the 3rd leg runner arriving and passing the baton well ahead of the counterpart from my house, but the means by which I breasted the tape some five seconds before Bisola was a feat no one could explain. The spectators were wild with screaming and amazement. After some of the sport events had been concluded, the day that would again feature us came. It was going to be a 100 metre dash this time. Each house produced two athletes, we were eight in all. Off went the whistle and forward went the athletes. At the time 6 of the athletes were reaching the 25 metre mark, Bisola and I were already at the 50 metre mark trying to show who the real champion was. A few steps later, Bisola was on the floor rolling in dust, she had tripped while I had reached 75 metres.
The silence that followed was the loudest I had ever heard, then I did the impossible. I turned to look back and went to help Bisola up, the other six athletes zoomed past us while the two of us ran hand in hand to the finish line, this time with no contest between us. The ovation that followed from the crowd trumped the feeling of pain from the bruises Bisola had sustained. My parents sat awestruck at the sight of what they had just witnessed!
I lost the race, but I gained a friend, and several other friends after that day.