Whenever Dasola asked her mother “Where’s daddy?”, her mother would spread her palms apart, the callused surfaces facing upward. Her gaze would drift slowly from her hands to Dasola’s face. “I don’t know. I am not hiding your daddy. The last time you saw him was the last time I saw him. What did he…
Whenever Dasola asked her mother “Where’s daddy?”, her mother would spread her palms apart, the callused surfaces facing upward. Her gaze would drift slowly from her hands to Dasola’s face. “I don’t know. I am not hiding your daddy. The last time you saw him was the last time I saw him. What did he say?” Then Dasola would say- “That he was going to Enugu and he would be back in two weeks.” It went this way every single time.
But Dasola wasn’t going to ask about her daddy today even though she kept on looking over her shoulder, behind the two skinny policemen and portly landlord to the open doorway and hanging splintered door. She still couldn’t understand why the black-clad policemen had decided to kick in the door when a simple lowering of the handle would have given them access.
But there were many things she didn’t understand. Like why the landlord had decided to employ the services of policemen to evict a small woman and her scrawny daughter from the flat. She didn’t understand why her father had left for Enugu and never come back. She didn’t understand why, with all the extra-tailoring alongside her mother’s job at the secretariat, money was never enough. She didn’t understand why, although they attended church faithfully every Sunday and Tuesday and Thursday and did their own prayer vigils every other Friday, their own ‘breakthrough’ hadn’t come.
“Dasola!” Her mother hissed in her ear and pushed a pile of clothes towards her. “What are you looking at?”
Dasola couldn’t tell her mother that her heart still hoped her father would appear at the doorway and settle their debts and make everything better again. So, she stiffened her neck and continued shoving clothes and shoes into the cartons she had gotten from the pitying neighbours. When the carton was full, she dragged it slowly across the terrazzo floor toward the door. She bit down on the “Excuse me” that rose naturally to her lips and allowed the heavy carton bump into one of the policemen. She smiled briefly at his yelp but was almost immediately overcome with guilt so that she whispered “Sorry” before depositing it outside.
The three men stood there, watching their progress till they had all of their meager property outside the two-bedroom flat they had lived in for the past eight years. Thereafter, the landlord pulled out a new padlock and snapped it on the buglary-proof while swearing and spitting about how he was such a nice man whose personality was being exploited by all his tenants. He flounced off in a strut with the policemen nudging each other and dragging along behind him. She wondered how much he would pay them.
Mrs. Akande invited Dasola and her mother into her own flat. She ordered Dasola to sit with her twins at the table and eat the eba and okro she had served while sighing and hissing simultaneously to punctuate her sentences. Dasola ate the meal slowly while staring intently at her mother who was pacing on Mrs. Akande’s balcony. She was doing what she always did when she didn’t want Dasola to know she was crying. She lifted her face to the ceiling so the tears pooled in her eyes and then blinked rapidly till they were gone. But Dasola always knew.
She was frantically making calls but the only thing Dasola could hear was “Thank you” before her mother would lower the phone, think a bit then raise the phone again. Dasola ate as slowly as she could, counting to ten before dipping a bit of eba into her soup. She wanted to spend as much time doing what was familiar because she didn’t know what would come after.
“Praaaaiisssee God!” Mrs. Akande suddenly shouted and Dasola licked her fingers and ran to meet the women.
“Mummy, what?” Dasola asked gingerly.
Her mother turned to look at her with dry eyes and a soft smile. “We’re going to Amiola’s house. Her mum said we should come.”
Dasola’s eyes widened. “Really?!” Amiola was her best friend from church. Amiola lived alone with her parents in a big house in a large estate. Dasola had been invited over before for a weekend sleepover where they had danced to Destiny’s Child and watched Charlie’s Angels over and over. Dasola left her meal unfinished, washed her hands and helped her mother call a taxi.
Dasola hated it in Amiola’s house although she wasn’t technically in Amiola’s house. She and her mother lived at the back, the small boys’ quarters with a porch with a glorious view of a peeling and cracked wall. She hated that she saw Amiola only very rarely although this was no fault of Amiola’s.
“Dasola! Come play basketball with us!” Amiola had once screamed from her room upstairs. Dasola had been excited, she hadn’t played basketball before, she had tried football at school but she couldn’t run fast enough. The estate had two courts. She quickly threw on her Milo shorts and red t-shirt with ‘My Year of New Beginnings’ emblazoned across the front but her steps had faltered when she got to the front of the house. Amiola had her back to her, ‘Amiiii” was stuck on with glitters on her pink jersey with matching small shorts. The girls collectively turned to look at her and Amiola waved her over with a grin, oblivious to the sniggers of her own friends. A few steps towards the court, Dasola had suddenly remembered she had left pepper boiling and scampered off to Amiola’s dismay.
“Mummy, can I go and play with Amiola?” Dasola often asked.
Her mother’s answers varied.
“No, Dasola. Have you done your assignments? …Then go and read! You’ll soon write your tests. You don’t have lesson teachers like Amiola does.
“No, Dasola. Mr. Oke is being nice to us. I don’t want you to be a pest! Sit here and be content!”
“Dasola! I said no! Come and sew this buttons on this shirt. Instead of you to help your mother, you want to play. If we had money, wouldn’t I buy cable TV too? Ehn?! I wonder what you’re learning from it sef…”
Or she would say nothing, just cradle her head in her hands and sigh. At such times, Dasola would leave quietly and sit at the window of their bedroom and stare up at Amiola’s room window and wonder what Amiola was doing there. If she was modeling the new bras her mother just bought in front of her full-length mirror or if she was making a long phone call to Dotun, the boy she liked in school or if she was just watching TV in her room, crunching on Doritos.
Dasola sometimes sneaked out of the house when her mother was sleeping or praying on the porch, which she had made her new prayer-altar. She would walk to the window of the Okes living room and peek through a space in the curtains as they entertained visitors- cousins from London and Atlanta. She watched as their help, Agatha carried plates of fried chicken and bottles of wine to their big dining table made of glass and when her stomach growled, she would tiptoe back home to feed herself with some leftover rice.
She sometimes lay on the bonnet of the old Mercedes that Mr. Oke had abandoned. She did this when she was sure everyone was asleep. She would stare up at the dark sky and wish. She would wish that her father would appear and buy that big house three houses away that had the ‘For Sale’ signboard in front. They would move in and he would buy her a blue jersey for basketball because she thought pink was too girly and her mother would stop sewing her clothes and they would go to this Harrods that Amiola was always talking about.
She would have her own room painted in light yellow with green curtains and she would invite her friends over for sleepovers and they would dance to Pink and read all her magazines and paint their toenails black and eat prawn crackers and Doritos till they were stuffed.
Dasola usually slept off in this position till the neighbours’ dog started howling at exactly 2:00a.m every night. She would climb down and grumpily walk back to the back promising herself that she would buy a dog when she could and it would not howl in the night while she slept.
Amiola’s daddy didn’t go to church, so Mrs. Oke drove them to church in her black jeep. Dasola sat at the back with Amiola, gushing over the texts Dotun had sent the night before while the women had long discussions about the pastor’s sermon and what they thought the pastor’s wife should do at the finale of their Women’s Week at church.
“He said we should come meet him. We’ll go on Wednesday,” This sentence seeped into Dasola’s consciousness and distracted her from reading which made Amiola upset and snatch her phone from Dasola’s hands.
“Mummy, where are we going?” Dasola asked her mother while she cut onions for their jollof rice for lunch, later that afternoon.
Her mother paused then continued to wash the rice. “Enugu,” She said calmly.
“Ehn?! I’m not going!” Dasola cried out and threw the knife to the wooden chopping board.
“Yes, you are. We are.” She rinsed the rice off her hands and turned to face Dasola. “Do you like this? Where we’re staying? How we’re living? Answer me.”
Dasola shook her head, she was crying now. She stared at the wall behind her mother’s back, the black stain on the wall that she had caused when she placed a candle on a plastic cup and had gone up to Amiola’s room.
“Good. Your daddy called. There is a house in Enugu, you will go to school there. Don’t you want to see your daddy again?”
Dasola pursed her lips. She wanted to tell her mother that she was not a child, that there were many more things that weren’t being said; that she had told her she couldn’t reach her father before. Too many questions. But she wasn’t sure herself, if she wanted to know. She nodded.
“Good.” Her mother said again and placed her wet hands on Dasola’s shoulders, drawing her into a hug. “It’ll be fine. You’ll see.”
Packing wasn’t slow or unfamiliar. Her mother said she should pack just her clothes and books, that the house in Enugu had everything. Dasola said nothing and did as she was told. A sort of numbness had fallen over her and she moved about robot-like.
“What’s wrong with you?” Her mother snapped the night before they were to leave. “Why are you moping about the place?”
Dasola had shrugged then looked outside to Amiola’s room window, like her eyes were wont to do.
“Oh! Is it your friend? My dear, don’t get me started! Have you not wondered why she is not here, helping you pack? Answer me! Why doesn’t she come here to visit you? You’ll be the one going going going all the time! Wo, don’t do any sad faces around me or I’ll hit you! Go and get that bag from the room!”
Dasola spent that night outside, on the Mercedes. She didn’t budge, even when the dog started it’s routine disturbance. This was not how she had things planned in her head, she seemed to be reminding the stars. They twinkled back at her cryptically and faded to be replaced by morning. She walked back to the house before her mother was up.
“Dasola, I’m going to miss you!” Amiola said and a tear rolled down her cheek. Dasola watched the lone tear’s path and wondered how sincere it was. She was not altogether happy by the speech her mother had delivered the day before; she had been asking questions about their friendship she would never have answered now.
“Yeah, me too.” She said in a drab voice and Amiola frowned a little but shrugged it off. Mrs.Oke hugged Dasola and tucked a wad of notes into her palm. “Be good, oh!”
The taxi started and Dasola stared at Mrs. Oke and Amiola till they turned and entered their house. The taxi passed the house with the “For Sale’ sign and Dasola turned to see the signboard missing. “How ironic.” She whispered to herself.
“What did you say, dear?” Her mother asked from beside her.
“Nothing.” She replied. “It’s nothing.”
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