A loud noise woke me up. I sat up and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. The pain in my heart returned. Had it been a dream when Paul said he was breaking up with me? Did we really have that conversation at the faculty of social sciences?
The event of last night came back again pulling sadness along with it. I had entered my room that night, glad that most of my roommates had either gone to spend the sallah break with their boyfriends or had travelled home. We were just three of us left in the room and the silence was exactly what I needed. With a quick ‘good evening’, I had gone straight to bed.
I pulled out my phone from underneath the pillow.12:31a.m. it was then I realized that someone was banging on the door. I got out of bed and as I dragged my feet to open the door, I perceived the strong smell of something burning.
‘Something is burning in your room!’ a voice from outside shouted.
There was an electric cooker on a table by the door. A pot was on the cooker and whatever was burning was coming from that pot. I switched off the cooker from the wall before unlocking the door. Two Ladies were standing at the entrance. I thanked them and threw the pot outside. The room was covered in smoke and I could feel the smoke going down my throat. I placed an half-filled keg of water at the edge of the door and climbed a stool to reach for the upper part of the windows that were closed. One of my roommates, Esohe, a final year religious student stopped at the entrance and peered into the room.
‘What’s happening here?’ Her eyes went from the burnt pot of beans to the electric cooker.
I coughed before responding. ‘Lola.’ I coughed again and rushed out of the room.
She entered the room and dropped her books on her bed. Lola was sleeping on her back, her textbook opened on her chest. Esohe hit her hard on her face. She jumped up, rubbing the spot where the slap had landed
‘Do you want to burn down the hostel? What if Bisola was not in the room. I’ve told you not to be cooking late at night again.’
Tears stung Lola eyes. ‘I wanted to cook in the afternoon but Kim was using the hotplate.’
‘Then go and buy your own hotplate! If I catch you cooking late at the night, I will send you back to your father’s house.’
The 100level girl stared at her pot of burnt beans. The tears were running down her face as she dropped the pot back on the floor. I poured water into the pot and covered it.
‘Was that why she slapped me like that?’ Lola sniffed, wiping the tears with the back of her hands.
Esohe came out of the room and stood in front of her. ‘What did you just say?’
‘Esohe, abeg leave the girl alone.’ I said and pulled Lola away from her. Everybody in my block knew how troublesome Esohe was. Early in the morning, she would turn on the volume of an old radio and when my roommate got into a fight with her over it, she broke her nose. The day she brought a man to us and introduced him as her new boyfriend, we stared at him with our eyes screaming ‘run!’ it was surprising how after the strike, he showed up in our room pleading with Esohe to move into his apartment because he couldn’t bear to wake up and not see her by his side.
She pushed Lola’s head and muttered some curse words before returning to the room. Lola stooped down and with a spoon began to scrap the pot.
‘Lola, leave the pot. You can do that later.’
She was still crying when I left her outside and returned to my bed space. I had no time to pamper a child that should still be at home sucking her mother’s breast. When I couldn’t sleep anymore, I left the room for the flyover that connected the different blocks of flats in the hostel.
I found a quiet spot and opened my phone to read the messages Paul had sent to me in the past.
You mean the world to me Bisola. My love for you is so deep. It’s a never ending stream. Please believe it. Every time I think of you, my future becomes clearer, my dreams makes more sense.
Bisola, that morning when I saw you standing outside the auditorium, I knew you were the woman God has sent to help me. I felt it deep down in my bones. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.
Tonight, after I saw you off to your hostel, for several minutes I stood outside thanking God for sending you to my life. I love you Bisola and don’t you ever doubt that.
I raised my head, annoyed at the interruption.
‘You are Bisola right?’
I looked closely at the lady. It was Esther. The lady that had been slapped at the carpark the previous day. Where had she appeared from? ‘Yes.’
‘I couldn’t sleep that’s why I came here to sit but I need someone to talk to. I just want to rant and let off steam.’
‘Are you alright?’
‘Have you ever wished your parents understood you?’
I was taken aback by the question. I hesitated. ‘My father. I wish he understands me.’ Or maybe I just don’t understand myself.
Esther sighed. ‘Sometimes I wonder if they picked me up from the streets. I always feel like I still need to go in search of my parents.’
Ok, my case wasn’t this bad. My dad could be really hard on me but I have never doubted he was my father.
‘I just want to be myself for goodness sake. I don’t have time for this SU nonsense. They’ll never be able to break me and I will show my mother that I don’t need her help.’
‘I thought she insisted you follow her home yesterday.’
Esther laughed. ‘So you saw that drama outside. My dear, I wriggled my way out with a lie. I hate that woman!’
I stared at her disgusted. How could a girl speak so ill of her mother? It made me wonder what my life would have been like without my mother. ‘You’ve never been close to your mother?’
‘No. I grew up with slaps and lots of bawls. When I was ten and I told my mother that my maths lesson teacher almost forced his way into me, she said it was my fault and reminded me how she had seen me giggling with one of the boys in my compound and if I didn’t have a rotten mind, my teacher would not have been tempted. Dad also didn’t believe me. Of course, the son of a well-respected elder could not do such.’ She shook her head. ‘I can’t forget during the devotion when mum warned us sternly that if got close to boys, we would become pregnant and drop out of school. My younger sister shook her head and almost chuckled. It took us so much restrain not to laugh. My sister had an abortion few weeks before that day.’
I stared at her shocked. She wasn’t done talking.
‘My father comforts himself with the fact that his two sons are very zealous in church activities. My sister and I are of a different brand. Yesterday, mum threatened me with stopping my allowance and I almost laughed. The money they send every month is not up to half of the weekly allowance my boyfriend gives me.’ She played with her fingers. ‘I’ve been seeing you around and I really like you. Can we be friends?’
I didn’t know how to respond to that statement. Should I say, ‘I’ll think about it’ or ‘Yes, let’s be friends.’
I smiled. ‘Of course. I’ll love that so much.’
She wrapped her hands around me. ‘Thank you.’ Never would I have thought a girl like Esther would be so vulnerable.
‘What’s your plan for today? We could hang out together.’
‘I’d loved to, but I have to go home. My father wants to see me.’
She hesitated. ‘Is something wrong?’
‘I think it’s about my results. My grades have been horrible.’
She squeezed my hands. ‘I’ll be right here when you return.’
I smiled. It was as if we had known each other for a long time. I felt so much at ease. We talked far into the night before returning to our rooms.
The first thing I noticed when I stepped into my father’s duplex was a parked jeep. My father was home. My heart pounded faster as I walked up to the door. The living room was empty and I could hear Mum’s sonorous voice from the kitchen. When I entered the kitchen, she turned swiftly and screamed in delight. Side by side, we climbed the stairs to my room.
‘You should have told me you were coming. I’d have made pancakes for you just the way you like it.’
I stopped at the entrance of my room. ‘You didn’t know I was coming?’
She shook her head and opened the door to my room.
‘Dad called me to come home.’
She frowned. ‘Why?’
I folded my hands. ‘Mum, I failed again. Paul has left me.’
She sat on the bed and placed her hand gently on her laps. Even at fifty, she was still very beautiful with her long, straight hair that ran down her shoulders. ‘I like the news about Paul.’
‘You were obsessed with that boy and that is not a good thing. You can’t allow a man own your emotions.’
‘But isn’t that the reality of love. You forget yourself enough to please the one you love.’
‘No, my dear. Love has sense. You have to learn to be able to make wise decisions and think clearly even while in love.’
‘All I know is that I’ll never stop loving Paul.’
She shook her head. ‘You’ll come around. So what happened to your result?’
‘Mum, I’m afraid I may be thrown out of my department. I-’
The door opened and my father entered my room. He stood at the entrance and put his hands into his pocket. I rose to my feet, tongue-tied.
‘Your Dean called me.’
I was right. This was about my result.
‘If you are expelled or asked to repeat at the end of this session, don’t even bother to come back home. You will not be welcomed here.’
What did my father just say? My mouth opened but no word came out. Mum was also staring at him shocked.
‘So you better sit down and focus on your studies. I will not allow you ruin my reputation. Do you know how many people the Dean has told that the daughter of Professor Ajiboye is at the bottom of the class?’
My mother rose to my defence. ‘For goodness sake, I don’t think the Dean will be so petty to turn the searchlight on your daughter.’
He shot her an angry glance. ‘Maria, stay out of this.’ He returned his attention to me. ‘You are going back to that school and you will rise from your defeat.’
He stormed out of the room.
My head began to spin. I plumped down on the bed and closed my eyes for a minute. Was this all my father wanted to say to me? That I was not welcomed home if I got thrown out of my department? Rejection hit me hard on the face. Paul didn’t want me because I was not smart and intelligent. My Dean had threatened to throw me out of the department and now my father was saying, he’d kick me out?
Mum pulled me to my feet. ‘Come, I know what will make you feel better.’
She held my hands and led me out of the room to the kitchen. Nothing was going to make me feel better. I was the definition of defeat, my father had said so himself.
Rise up from your defeat.
The two men I loved so much had pushed me out of their lives and all I could think about was how I had failed them. I felt my heart tear apart into tiny pieces.
At the kitchen, I leaned on the wall, watching my mother move in and out of the store. She opened the freezer and brought out a large bowl containing pieces of frozen chicken which she placed beside another bowl of different spices. The housemaid, Rebecca, entered the kitchen with a big bacco sack, sweating profusely. She dropped the bag and rushed to hug me.
‘Rebecca, how are you?’ I forced a smile as she pulled away from me.
She nodded. ‘Welcome Aunty.’
My mother placed her hand around my shoulders and pulled me towards the sink. She took one of my hands and rubbed it against a tray of flour. I closed my eyes and the moment I felt the flour against my palms, I was in another world, a world where everything seemed alright. Different recipes ran through my mind. My heart leaped with joy when I remembered one of the recipes I had seen on Farida’s food blog. In a flash, my hands went to work. Mum winked at me and handed me my apron.
I poured some dry fruits into a pot before sifting the floor and the baking powder. While I creamed the butter, Rebecca washed the pieces of chicken. Mum patted me on my back and left the kitchen. Every problem seemed to disappear for those hours I worked in the kitchen, busy with my hands. When I finished, I stepped back with a satisfactory smile on my lips.
‘We are having our feast in the courtyard.’ Mum said. I laughed wondering how we were going to consume all we have prepared. As usual, when I experimented with recipes like this, a large quantity ended up in the freezer. Rebecca took the chicken soup and coconut fried rice out and I followed her holding two large fruitcakes.
I stopped when I saw some children playing in the courtyard. Sitting on a plastic chair was Iya Yara. The hausa widow had lost her husband some years ago and ran a small orphanage home down the street.
The children jumped for joy when we placed the food on the neatly mowed lawn. Rebecca spread out two flowery pink bedspread and the children, each holding a large chunk of fruit cake sat down and began to munch. They ate in silence. Rebecca sat with her legs spread out, holding a plate of coconut fried rice. Her spoon moved in and out of her mouth so quickly I was sure she never chewed a grain. Mum and Iya Yara were at a corner talking in low voices over their meal of chicken soup. I stood there excited at the satisfaction on the faces of the children who were licking their fingers and palms.
My mum raised her head. ‘Bisola, won’t you join us?’
I smiled. ‘No mum.’
‘Come on, take a bowl and grab some chicken soup.’
Iya Yara raised her head. ‘My children will never forget this. Thank you so much.’
One of the boys, about five years stood up, with his stomach protruding. He held an empty plate and hobbled towards Iya Yara.
‘I want more.’ He said.
Iya Yara shook her head. ‘That’s enough.’ He broke into a shrill cry. I took the plate from him and placed a piece of fruit cake in it. I was leading him back to where the other children were when I saw my father standing at the entrance to the courtyard. I became uncomfortable. When Iya Yara stood up to greet my father, he walked away. She turned to my mother, puzzled. Mum smiled and assured her everything was fine.
That night would be the first time I’d hear my father raise his voice at my mother. I stood by the door and listened.
‘What nonsense was that at the courtyard! Every time I correct our daughter, instead of allowing her to sit down and reflect on my words, you take her to the kitchen. When will you start having sense? Can’t you even see the exploits of Professor Abe’s daughter? At 27 she has bagged her PH.D. Look at Dr Raphael’s daughter, she is heading a huge project with UNICEF. Even my own niece, the daughter of an office assistant is now a medical doctor. So why should my daughter be different?’
‘Have you ever asked what she really wants?’
‘Don’t tell me that rubbish!.’
‘She returns to school tomorrow. I won’t let her end up like you.’
‘What did you just say?’
‘I have never been known to repeat my words twice. Just get out of my sight. I said get out!’
I hurried to my room and slid under the blanket, facing the wall. Mum entered the room and climbed the bed.
‘I’m sorry mum. It’s my fault Dad is upset with you.’
She asked me to sit up. With our backs against the wall, she squeezed my hand. ‘Did you know you won an award when you were 5?’
I frowned. ‘I did?’
My mum nodded. ‘During the children’s camp meetings, there was a food competition. You were all divided into small group and given a task to prepare different meals. Your group was to prepare omelette. You had a supervisor though but your group did beautifully. The judges were stunned when they got to your table and listened to the way you explained every process. Come and see.’
In her room, she opened the wardrobe and brought out a box. She slid her hand into the side of the box and brought out some pictures. In one picture was my five-year old self, standing with some other children. We all wore aprons. I was grinning and my front teeth had disappeared. In another photo, I was flanked by my mum and Tochukwu’s mother. My gaze shifted to another picture where I stood beside a table chopping onions.
Mum touched my shoulders. ‘You are smart Bisola. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.’ She cupped my chin in her hands. ‘You’ll always be my precious daughter.’
That night, I dreamt I was in a kitchen bigger than any I had ever seen before. It was bustling with activities. I was shredding some lettuces when someone tapped me.
‘They have arrived.’
I smiled and asked one of the ladies to take over. As I walked out of the kitchen, my eyes darted from one person to the other. It was clear I was the boss as I barked out orders.
‘Wash the vegetables properly.’
‘I hope the ham is ready.’
‘Let’s start grilling the chicken now.’
Outside the kitchen was a large dinning area with a long table already set. In front of the entrance, a man stood dressed in expensive agbada. Beside him was a beautiful fair skinned woman in purple aso-oke attire and gele. Behind them was a small crowd of people. I greeted them warmly and led them into the dining room. When they got settled into their seats, I returned to the kitchen. One of my workers handed me a small golden tray containing meatballs. When I presented the tray to the man in the agbada, he took one of the meat balls. The woman took one too. They chewed softly and then their eyes widened.
‘Oh my God!’ the woman exclaimed. ‘This is good. Can I get another one?’ Without waiting for a response, she picked another meatball from the tray.
I smiled and motioned to some of my workers standing at the entrance of the kitchen to bring in the food. They filed out in clean white overalls with trays and warmers.
I woke up. For several minutes, I stared at the wall, playing back the dream many times over. Rebecca came in to inform me that my father was in the living room and wanted to talk to me.
He had a bible on his lap when I walked into the living room.
‘Sit down.’ He said, without looking at me. He highlighted some verses in the bible before closing it and placing it on the center table.
He cleared his throat. ‘Bisola, I grew up in the village. My parents were poor farmers and couldn’t afford sending me to any of the good schools in town. I ended up in the community primary school where we sat under the tree to take our classes and at the end of the school day, my brothers and I joined my father in the farm.
When I got admission to Government College Ibadan, my relatives had to contribute money and the day I stepped into that school, I knew there was no way I was going back to the life I had left behind. Years later when my name was called out as the best graduating student and I stood on that podium, I vowed to do all it took to stand out among my peers.
I have never stopped pursuing success and that’s what I want for you. I want you to be successful. You are not made to scratch the ground like chickens. You are an eagle. Bisola, anywhere in the world where you want to go for your Masters or PH.D, I’ll see that you get there. By the time your papers will be in every journal in the world, your father will be so proud of you. Please, let me also rejoice and be happy over my daughter. Show the world you are true daughter of Prof. Ajiboye. You can’t spend your life cutting meat and kneading dough. Step up to a higher life.’
I left the living room more depressed than I’d ever been. On my way back to Benin later that day, my father’s words clouded my thoughts. He looked so sad and I was angry at myself for disappointing him. Whatever it took, I was going to please him. I would become the best microbiologist in the world and when I graduated, I would proceed for my masters and later for my PH.D.
I can do this, yes I can! I almost screamed aloud
Episode 1-3 are the first two chapters of a short story set for publication in 2019. You can find the rest of this story when the book is released.
So far, there are five short stories on ground that I hope to publish each with a different theme but all with aim of spreading the knowledge of Jesus. Pray with us as we trust God for funds to publish these kingdom stories and reach out to children, teenagers and adults.