After Jaiye and his brothers were done drinking the soft drinks, Star and
Guilder, and eating some of the pieces of fried meat that Ahmed had bought, Jaiye
retired to the room upstairs. Abioshe watched her father undo his watch and then
place it lightly on the desk, so as not to awake her mother. Though he had the dense odour of Guilder, Abioshe knew that he did not drink any alcohol with his brothers. It was
during some period which she could barely remember, that he had stopped drinking and bringing Brandy and Gin to the house.
He watched Abisohe and Akin laying on the mattress on the floor, and in the dim room, only partly illuminated by light from a street lamp filtering through the window, he only saw the white mattress, appearing fluorescent, while they appeared dark and asleep. He walked in between the space Abioshe and Akin had ensured they left between them. With his back first, he rested on the bed, and then with his hands, he lifted both legs onto the bed.
Abioshe peering from in between her folded arms, had thought he was already asleep, when she, suddenly, heard him call out to Akin, and then to her. It was as if, the sound she made with her feet seemed to him too purposive to be from someone asleep.
“Are you awake Abioshe?”
Then she felt and heard the thudding sound of his feet on the floor, and
felt his weight as he lay in the space between her and Akin. He asked her
how she was doing and if she had any problems living in his father’s house in
Tejuosho. Abioshe raised her head, letting the light, filtering through the
window net, illuminate the feigned smile on her face.
“It’s a big family, Daddy”
“Yes it is, but wait till you meet my other siblings who live on their own.
You know we’re fifteen, in total, now we’re fourteen after Kayode, the third born, passed away”
“So, is your mother the second wife?”
“Your grandmother, Abioshe, your grandmother is the second wife, and
as you know, I’m her only child”
They were both silent as Jaiye tapped Akin’s shoulders, but Akin shrugged and mumbled something inaudible, as if he was protesting from a dream that he did not want to be awoken.
“Your brothers all seem to be Muslim, how come you became Christian?” Abioshe asked, her face still brightened by the light.
“Remember that I told you that your Grandfather was a Principal of a
grammar school in Yaba. Principal was Muslim and a staunch supporter of
Pan- Africanism. He made sure that we were all well-educated and at the same
time, aware of our heritage, as he called it”
“But is Islam part of our heritage?” Abioshe asked, her face contorted in
“You must understand that in that time, what mattered, for some, was doing what
was not indigenously white or considered European. As I was saying, all of his wives and sons were Muslims, except my mother and I. Your grandmother was Christian, and she would always take me to her Celestial Church”.
“You’re mother was Cele, you were?” Abioshe asked, amused and incredulous, yet
trying to hold back the laughter rising in her throat .
“Yes, we were.” Jaiye answered, smiling and then continuing “it’s not all
you think or picture it to be, though. At least, it was different, when my mother
took me. Principal always tried to convert her, and, especially, me. He did not
like the idea of us going to church, not to mention walking barefooted to
church, because some book claimed that the house of God was a holy place,
which was to be revered”
Abioshe began to recollect the stories her father told about her grandfather, and how she had, from them, formed the portrait of the Principal as a stern, almost impatient man.
“Remember when I told you those stories of my older brother Kazeem, who is now
in Canada. He would go clubbing on some nights, because he thought Principal was asleep. Only he would get back to find that the gates were locked, and Principal would be standing on the verandah, warning him to go back to where he came from or risk being man-handled by the vigilante” Jaiye recounted, looking at the ceiling, as if the tiny perforations on it, helped him remember the minute details of those moments.
“He seemed to have laid down so much rules of what not to do” Abioshe added.
“You are right. He even had a curfew that we were all bound by” Jaiye said,
smiling, as if to trivialize his father’s attitude.
“And on one night, my mother and I went to a Vigil and he did the same
thing that he did to Kazeem, to us. You can imagine, we standing barefooted
outside in the cold night, hoping that he would open the gate” Jaiye said, still smiling, and almost erupting into laughter.
Abioshe was stunned, almost petulant, but lowered her head, below the light, to conceal the look on her face. She tried to understand this man who her father called
Principal and why he was that way. Did it have less to do with his children and
wives, and more to do with him? Was it some kind of unhappiness or
discontentment buried within, that made him cold and callous?
“Did he later open the gate that night?” Abioshe asked.
Her father did not immediately reply. He remained silent, as if he could not recollect what had happened after his mother’s pleadings, as if that particular story, he had stored in the attic of narratives, that his mind seemed to be, ended with him watching his father’s unperturbed and obstinate face.
Abioshe turned to her father, to try to see, through the dimness of the room, if he still remembered, but his face looked like a black satin vieled mask.
“You know my father was very strict, and stuck to his word. He was a disciplinarian.” Jaiye finally uttered.
Then her father stood up from the mattress and moved onto the bed. Abioshe heard him murmur something to her mother, who had woken up, on feeling his weight on the bed. She heard his palms make a clapping sound as he placed them together, and rested his head on them. The image of her grandfather appeared in her mind. From the pictures of him, she had seen around their house in Port Harcourt, he appeared very formal, but from the pictures here in Tejuosho, he was older and more regal. Then she pictured him walking in a public school yard, with rows of grey buildings which had open verandahs and rough cement-plastered floors. In her mind, she saw him ordering
students to get into their classes. Then she thought of Tamunouh, and if he did
well in the Chemistry test, he was afraid he would fail. She wondered if she should call him tomorrow, or if he would call. Before she closed her eyes, she questioned how Aramide felt sleeping in that room, she wondered how the room looked and if it still hinted that an old woman previously lived there. Then all the thoughts seemed to slowly recede, and it was as if a void was left. She closed her eyes, and it seemed her consciousness drifted with her receding thoughts. She slept. Then the void began to fill with thoughts that were lucid and dream-like, in the manner frothy waves arrive on dry and beige sand. She was in her home in Port Harcourt, hurrying with a cup of juice, and suddenly, tea, in her hands, to go listen to her father narrate the story of why the shell of the tortoise is cracked.