Hey y’all. Betty here. It’s been a bit, hasn’t it? Year sliding right along, smooth as Baileys? Here’s a new story of mine about seeming parallels and curious meetings. I hope you like it. Do lemme know what you think of it, will ya? Enjoy. ******** Mrs. Akande hoots once, as miserly with pressing her horn as…
Hey y’all. Betty here. It’s been a bit, hasn’t it? Year sliding right along, smooth as Baileys? Here’s a new story of mine about seeming parallels and curious meetings. I hope you like it. Do lemme know what you think of it, will ya? Enjoy.
Mrs. Akande hoots once, as miserly with pressing her horn as she is with everything else she does. “An economy of life”, I’d whispered last week to my sister at Bible study. I strap on my sandals and jog out to her Toyota Mazda.
“G’morning ma,” I let myself into her car while mumbling the greeting. I lean to buckle my seatbelt but stop when she makes no acknowledgment of my greeting or presence. I look up to see her lips pursed; they look dry and flaky- like she has rationed one tube of Vaseline to last for ten years: one dab per day. She lets out a sigh; it sounds like longsuffering- as if she has been subjected to many unthinkable wrongs. And the day hasn’t even started.
“But Layo. Laaayooo.” When she draws out the vowels in my name, I know I’ve done something wrong yet again. She calls me as though the sound of my name should correct any kinks in my brain. But it has never worked.
“Yes ma?” Calling her ‘ma’ is the only rebellion I can afford. My parents tell me to call everybody ‘aunty’ and ‘uncle’ but I find that a ridiculous disrespect to the original meanings of those titles. Plus, I did not feel any of the fondness attached to these terms. She turns to look out her window; like just seeing me in the periphery of her vision is too much to bear.
“Layo, but you know we are going for a follow-up visit…”
The import of her sentence is lost on me; I do not respond- still confused.
“Layo! You are wearing trousers, Layoo! These tight trousers! How are we supposed to preach to this new sister if you are looking like a daughter of the world?”
Silently, I get out of the car and stomp back into the house wondering for the hundredth time why I decided to run back to Lagos and to my father’s house and to give in to my mother’s obvious manipulations to have me become ‘an active worker’ in her church. Ten minutes later, I walk back out in an oversize black kaftan. I know it is a little childish and overdramatic; but when she rolls her eyes to the roof of her car in mild exasperation, a pool of satisfaction warms my belly- like mulled wine.
The thirty minute drive to the ‘new sister’s house is devoid of conversation but the Igbo gospel songs dance around us faintly. The speakers at the front of the car do not appear to be working; so the ‘Igwee Igweee’ seems to be coming from a far-away place; like a party in a house down the street. I do not look at her at all; instead taking in the sights of the street ‘hustlers’- what Steve and I had dubbed all Lagosians. I wonder about Steve sometimes; in those moments when there’s a break between connecting thoughts – thoughts constructed to size; so there is no space for any of his 5’11 facsimiles.
We drive into a government estate and she parks in front of a block of flats that has a black ‘11’ painted on the cream walls. It is not a rich estate; I can tell from the cars around, but it is one that probably takes its levies and Saturday morning cleaning seriously- the buildings look freshly painted, hedges are neatly trimmed and the security guard had actually quizzed us before opening the gates. We walk up two flights of stairs that show, like many Lagosians, they pay more attention to the facade than in.
I am curious about this new convert but it is not an intense curiosity- it is the way I wonder about what new experiment my sister is cooking in our kitchen.
But my curiosity is increased when the woman who has been referred to as ‘the converted spinster’ answers the door after the single peal has quietened. She stands there, short and skinny- she could be mistaken for a teenager from a distance! Mrs. Akande eyes the stack of wooden bangles that look like a threat on her small frame while she in turns eyes my bulky kaftan that I am lifting up with one hand.
“Come in.” She steps aside to give us entry.
The house is dark and quiet. The woman does not fit into the house; from her red braids that have been piled atop her head to the bangles and bright red nail polish, the house is dull in comparison. The walls are white and as blank as her expression and the furniture favours the glass and leather styling that most affluent Lagosians tend to. She looks like a red stain on a white wedding dress standing in the space.
She gestures to the chairs and Mrs. Akande immediately insists on praying. “Our dear father in heaven..!” It is the one part of her life that she is not prudent about; her words flow endlessly out of her dry lips like stool out of a dysentery-struck child.
Exhausted four ‘Amens!’ into the prayer, I slit my eyes open to investigate my surroundings and their owner. I find her own eyes open too; she is staring down at her palms, sitting so still- as if any slight movement would distract Mrs. Akande. Her face shows her age which I would place at anything between 32 and 40; there are darker patches on her cheeks than the rest of her face and a red pimple sits to the right of her nose. The pimple only makes her face look animated; fighting the blankness she seems intent on portraying.
Then she looks up and smiles at me. I fear that she has been aware of my scrutiny all along. Embarrassed, I shut my eyes quickly and duck my head; my head feels stuffy and my heart skips three beats. It is now Mrs. Akande decides to bring her prayers to a close.
I am hesitant to look back but when I do, she is still smiling at me. I smile back.
Mrs. Akande clears her throat. “Sister, I was wondering what your circumstances were before you happened upon our church and fell under the grace of Christ, our Saviour?”
I have always wondered why people become this verbose when it comes to church matters. Even my mother has been known to slip into old English: “Why doth thou grieve thy Saviour so?” she has asked me too many times; and many variations of such nonsensicality.
Her smile is now directed at Mrs. Akande. Her bangled hand rises with some noise to play with the short hairs at her temple; I notice her hairline has taken more than a few cowardly steps back: probably too much braiding.
“It is an interesting story,” she says. Her voice is raspy; it is close to what I sound like when nursing a one-week cough. But the rasp is becoming on her. Her eyes flit to me and back to Mrs. Akande.
“I met Adigun in Unilag; my final year.” She brought her hands to rest in her laps; one above the other. “We became lovers after only a few weeks.”
Mrs. Akande shifts in her chair. I almost laugh out loud at her obvious discomfort but I am too distracted by own thoughts. Of Steve. Not unlike this woman, our relationship did not take long in coming to being. Forty phone calls, three dinners, two movies and one sleepover after, we were convinced we could never be apart. But, well… Look at me.
“It wasn’t too long before I discovered he was not your regular guy. He wasn’t Christian or Muslim. And no, he wasn’t atheist.” She pauses here. Her eyes flick over our heads then back to her hands. “He was a Sango worshipper.”
Mrs. Akande squeals and her hands fly to her ample bosom as if she has just heard that a baby was slaughtered for breakfast. I lean forward slightly.
“I was disturbed for the longest of times. I was born in a Christian house oh. So, it wasn’t an easy transition.” She sighs and fingers the etchings of the wooden bangles on her wrists. They suddenly take on a different meaning to me. I lean back. “But he treated me so well! He thought I could be a priestess; he said that was why he was so attracted to me!”
At this time, Mrs. Akande has wrapped her hands around herself; the horrors she is hearing too much for her frail self. “Jesus!” She exclaims.
“We went to their shrine. The people are actually nice there..”
“God forbid!” Mrs. Akande screams.
“I eventually gave in. It was a different experience for me. Wildly different and so… rich!” Mrs. Akande shivers. “I was like his little priestess; he.. worshipped me.” Her voice drifts off. My eyes travel to her knot of red braids and I find that it isn’t hard to imagine her as a priestess; with white cloth taut over her small breasts and hanging from a tiny waist.
I remember Steve. His eyes that had the ability to convert to liquid brown when he looked at me. His hand always hovering at my lower back. His dramatic love displays – flowers, flamboyant cakes and dinners with the most expensive views of our earth. I sigh and look down at my own hands which are half-buried in the black fabric.
“But well, he said a man such as him couldn’t be with only one woman.”
I shake my head. Steve. Steve. Steve. Who knew there were so many of him around the world? Bloody idiots who could not be faithful. It had hurt so much I had to flee him and Abuja. I take in a deep breath and she turns sharply to face me.
“I felt more than a little lost after we split up.” She is still looking at me, ignoring Mrs. Akande now. “I’d been with him for ten years, you see…”
I nod. And she nods back. Then she looks away sharply; as if she has just been caught stealing meat from her mother’s pot.
It is at this point I know she has been lying. She had been making up the tale as she went. But why?
I think Mrs. Akande is a little more rattled than I had perceived because she says something about a prayer meeting we have to rush to. She stands up clumsily and her bible falls from her lap to the floor. Our host doubles over to pick it for her and thereby reveals the tattoo behind her neck to us.
It is what looks like a winged snake wrapped around a cross. Mrs. Akande takes another step back and bumps into the chair. Frazzled, she snatches her bible back and hurries to the door.
“The Lord be with you sister. If He tarries, we shall return next week for the next session. I bless you in the name of the Lord..” Mrs. Akande’s words are stumbling over each other as she moves to the door. I follow silently.
At the door, she thanks us for coming. She is smiling again but it makes me uneasy now. “I hope you were entertained,” she says so that only I hear over Mrs. Akande’s noisy retreat. I have no reply to this. She starts to shut the door.
I can’t wait for next week’s visit. Next week’s story.