If you're out there reading this, well then I posted it for you. I've been MIA but I thought to post this story I wrote for a writing competition. Didn't win so...
It's kinda long though. :)
I looked up at the darkened ceiling and whispered the words like a prayer. "This Christmas I will run away."
I rose gingerly from the creaky bed, mentally willing it not to squeal. It was 2am and the last time I counted the money was three o’clock in the afternoon after Yeye sent me back home to get more palm oil for her customer, Iya Benji. I shifted the old coca cola crates aside and reached for the pillowcase wedged in between two crates. I listened for any sign that someone was awake. Satisfied I had roused no one, I reached for the money, peeled the tattered pillowcase aside and felt for the rolled up newspaper. Inside the newspaper was the sock where I hid the money.
I had been saving for the two years I had been with Yeye; hundred naira thrice a week. Aunty Agnes was my angel and I always prayed that her fiancé Uncle James would come to our neighbourhood. He always did. Like the predictable crow of Yeye’s weird black cock every morning, he always showed up Wednesday, Friday and Sunday evenings except on very few occasions. He was a banker, or so Aunty Agnes said.
The first time I met him, Aunty Agnes had sent me on an errand. She gave me 1,000 naira to buy yoghurt, Digestive biscuit and a pack of juice.
“Don’t buy the fake one o,” she said of the digestive biscuit, like I could have known which was fake or not. I nodded and dashed off. I came back panting and sweating, having ran all the way to the store and back. I found her sitting on a man’s lap when I walked into her room. Her arms were around him and she looked so happy. She looked up and wagged a manicured finger at me.
“Always knock, okay.” It didn’t sound like she was scolding me, so I smiled and nodded. “James, this is Atilola, the little girl who works for my landlady.” Uncle James smiled at me and I saw his dimples flash. The way she said ‘little’ made me feel like a nine year old. I dropped the items on the table and handed her the change. She pressed a hundred naira note into my hand. I curtsied and left hurriedly before she had a chance to change her mind. I heard her giggling as I scampered off. I tried not to imagine what they would do in my absence. Such thoughts made me shy. Instinctively, I covered my eyes and giggled; almost tripping over the little steps in front of the room in the process.
The money was intact. I folded it and stuck it in the white cotton sock with pink frills on the edges. The sock had turned brown. I fingered the frills and fought hot tears as I remembered the last time I had worn it.
Five years ago at Christmas. We had prepared to do a Christmas play during the end of year party at my school; Ilesanmi Private International School. It was the only private school at Iberekodo where I lived with my mother and brother. We were not rich, not by any means, but we were not poor either. My mother worked hard. She had vowed that none of her children would attend the local Iberekodo primary school. She was never prideful though; she never looked down her nose on the other women who sent off their little ones to the public school with no lunch packs or socks on their feet. She didn’t know what was really international about Ilesanmi either, but there we went and joyfully so.
That Christmas, she bought new second-hand clothes for my brother and I. Well they were new as far as I was concerned. I tagged along with her to the market and watched in fascination as she haggled with the clothes sellers. She bent down several times picking up blouses, shirts, skirts and other stuff and tossing them back again when the sellers gave her ridiculous prices. We bought many clothes that day and I couldn’t wait to try them on. Most of all I couldn’t wait to show off my 'Virgin Mary' costume for the Christmas play. My mother had bought a white dress complete with a straw hat and white socks with pink frills. It didn’t look to me like what the Lord’s mother would have worn but who was I to complain.
I shook my head to ward off the memories, nice as they seemed what followed was something I never wanted to remember. I stowed away my savings and lay back on the creaky bed. Looking up, I traced the patterns dust and age had made on the concrete ceiling with my eyes. Tomorrow was Friday, a good day, and it was closer to Sunday, another good day.
After what seemed like only a few minutes, I woke up to Yeye’s slaps and screams.
“Wake up! Foolish girl. Owuro lojo, alakori, dide nle!”
I scrambled up and rolled to the other side of the bed, cursing the night under my breath. What a fleeting one it was. It seemed I had only nodded off a few munities ago. I knew it would take Yeye another two minutes to raise herself up from the bent position she had taken in order to wake me up. She would support her back with one hand, while the other rested on her knee. She would then wince as she hoisted herself up before walking away, her arms almost at ninety degrees to her sides. The woman was fat, with thick dark skin that never glowed; rough, dry skin as black as soot.
I wondered how she got the name Yeye. I had overheard some of the neighbours call her Iya Aje. That mama Benji and Iya Kausara were her cult mates. Isiaka, the mechanic swore to it, that they were all witches. If not why were they all widows, fat and balding? Yes, yeye had no hair. Well a ring of hair around her head, but that was it. I wondered how it got chopped off. Everyone also wondered why they all had funny looking cocks that crowed every morning. Not that having a cock was rare in these parts but these cocks were, well, odd. Yeye’s cock was a thin wiry thing. It had lost all its feathers except for a tuft on its back, and it challenged humans. You only had to move close to it to experience that. I hear Mama Benji’s cock is so fat it wouldn’t run, not even in the face of a butcher’s knife.
But whatever Yeye was, I didn’t care. One thing was clear to me, this Christmas I had to disappear.
I hurriedly did my chores and headed to Yeye’s shop across the street where she sold oil, garri, beans and rice. I liked to avoid Yeye in the mornings. She always woke up with a sour mood. I would hurry to the shop and wait to be joined by Funmike, an older girl who only worked for Yeye at the shop.
This morning Funmike arrived with a long face, her nose running. I knew she had been crying.
“Kilode?” I asked. Funmike only spoke Pidgin English.
“Ah, I am trouble o. Babatunde ti pa mi!” she placed both arms on her head and stamped her feet, biting her lower lip till I saw blood. I pulled her inside the shop and made her sit down; no point drawing the attention of the whole neighbourhood. Word will get to Yeye. It always did. I knew Yeye would come late to the shop; she had had visitors early that morning.
“What happened? Why are you crying?” Even though Funmike was a few years older than I was, she loved to confide in me. She said I possessed Ogbon Iya agba, an old woman’s wisdom.
“Ah, Lola. I am trouble o. Babatunde have kill me.” She slapped her tights and winced. Then she rubbed them down, both in grief and in an effort to relive the pain she had inflicted on herself. She moved closer to me, her chair scraping the ground noisily and whispered, “Mo ti loyun!”
I shrank back in shock, my mouth slightly open. She placed her index finger across her lips and moved her chair closer to mine, finally closing up the space between us.
“What will I do now? He say he no get money for abortion. Me I no fit carry this pikin o! Ha, mo gbe!”
I was at a loss for words. Abortion? I didn’t even want to think of that word. I had always lived a sheltered life, so this kind of issue was new to me. But I wasn’t altogether naïve.
“Funmike, don’t do abortion o. what if you die? It is dangerous now.” I had begun to ache for her. I couldn’t imagine myself pregnant with a baby I didn’t want.
She looked at me like I had suddenly grown wings. “Kini? Make I carry pikin for my age? Where I go get money buy pampers, baby food, ha, mi o se o. I go remove am.” She sounded so sure like she had counted the cost and decided that was the only way. My mother used to say that the dog that will certainly get lost will not hear its masters call. I knew I couldn’t persuade her.
That evening, after I bought digestive biscuit, a pack of juice and sanitary pads for Aunty Agnes and she had pressed another note into my hands, I stole back to my room to count my money again. My hands shook slightly as I took out the old pillowcase. How had Funmike known I was saving money? Why did she ask me to loan her money for the abortion? Did yeye know? Did she tell Funmike? And how many people knew about my money? I hurriedly counted the notes and exhaled slowly when I saw that it was complete. But before I could finish placing it back, Yeye called for me.
“Lola!!! Lola were! Eti e o di o. Come here!” I scrambled up and fled from the room in search of yeye. She was sitting in the balcony as usual, counting her proceeds for the day. Her eyes were red as I stood before her, my heart in my throat. Her call had startled me and now I looked like I was guilty of something.
“I put Forty thousand naira in my Igbadi. Ten thousand is missing.” She bit out, holding out the wad of Five hundred naira notes, her eyes never leaving my face. I began to hyperventilate. The first time Yeye had accused me of stealing, I had suffered grave consequences. Unconsciously, I glanced at the spot behind my hand where she had cut me and rubbed pepper into the wound.
Three days later, part of the stolen money was found in Mufu’s possession; the boy who had worked in Yeye’s shop before Funmike was employed. Yeye never apologized to me.
“I didn’t see any money ma. I swear, I didn’t take it.” I touched my tongue with my finger and raised it to the sky, praying that Yeye would believe me. I couldn’t take another cutting. I just couldn’t.
“So who took it? Ehn, who took it? Hmmm, I’m giving you the last chance to confess. Ole! Oti ji mi lowo!”
The tears started to fall unbidden. I prayed to God that she wouldn’t search my room; she’d never believe I didn’t steal the money. I had saved thirteen thousand five hundred so far. I couldn’t lose my savings. I went on my knees before Yeye. “Mummy, mi o mu owo yin. I swear I didn’t take it. I left the shop before you today.”
“Ehn ehn, are you saying Funmike stole the money? Ehn, is it Funmike?” She had leaned forward on her low chair and I could see the veins in her neck bulging.
“Ah, I didn’t say that. I didn’t …”
Furious, Yeye sprang out of her chair and grabbed my scarf which I was wearing loosely on my head. Wads of naira notes fell to the floor around our feet. A large chunk of my long silky hair was in her grasp and she pulled on it with such intensity I felt my brains rattle. After a few more slaps, I still had no confession for her. Her eyes were red and I swear I could almost feel heat coming from her mouth.
“Get out of here!” she shouted and I scampered away.
As I lay in my room that night I couldn’t shake the feeling of foreboding that washed over me. Goose pimples broke out on my skin and tears stung my eyes. I suddenly missed my mother fiercely. I thought of Mummy Ikeja. She had brought me to Yeye more than two years ago when my mother died suddenly. I had packed my bags joyfully when Mummy Ikeja said she was taking me to live with my mother’s friend. She would take care of me, she promised, better than my own mother could because she was rich and she lived in Kuto, also in Abeokuta. My excitement had died a natural death, however, when I overheard the amount of money Yeye paid her to have me. I knew then that Yeye was no friend to my mother. I was a domestic help.
Funmike never returned to Yeye’s shop and I knew what she had done. Yeye never brought up the issue again and I was glad. I walked on eggshells around her from then on, counting the days till Christmas.
Few weeks later after I came back from an errand, Aunty Agnes told me she was getting married. I looked at her blankly at first, unable to smile or cry. No more hundred naira tips. I looked at the calendar on the wall behind her. 19th December. I had a few more days. “Congratulations Aunty. Will you still be living here?” I asked her still dazed.
At fifteen I was small for my age. I had no curves and my chest was as flat as an ironing board. Looking at Aunty Agnes made me want to grow up fast. She was tall, slim and shapely. And now she was getting married.
“No dear. I’m moving to the East. James just got a job in Awka. You be a good girl, hmm.” She patted my shoulder and looked into my eyes. “You will be just fine,” she said then resumed moving around the house. I considered myself dismissed.
I knew I won’t grow up to be like Aunty Agnes if I remained with Yeye so that night I hatched a quick plan.
On the night before Christmas I will stuff my belongings in a polythene bag. I will scribble a note to Yeye, divide the money into two, fold a portion of it with the note and hold it fast with an elastic band.
At the crack of dawn, I will tiptoe, barefooted to Yeye’s door and wedge the note and the money in between the door and cemented floor. It would be payment for the remaining days of my servitude. Yeye had paid the agent, Mama Ikeja, for my services, it would only be right that I paid her back since my time was done here.
Praying to my mother’s spirit to bless my plans and make me like Aunty Agnes someday, I lay down gingerly on the creaky bed and smiled. I’m sure of it. It will work out. This Christmas I will run away.
The next morning, even before the black cock belted out its deathly crow, I got up and made straight for the crates. I had had a dream. The money in the sock had grown and my room was filled with money. There was money under my bed, money in my bucket and money in my mouth, choking me. I grabbed my trusted pillow case and felt for my lifeline. The bulge of the naira notes in it sent my pulse kicking. This is it. The idea of running away had never been so close, so intoxicating. Yeye will certainly see red. But the money will pacify her somewhat. The money hadn’t grown. It was still just enough.
I unwrapped the pillowcase, reached for the sock in the folded newspaper and my breath caught in my throat. Hot tears formed at the corners of my eyes and strange shapes danced across my vision. I covered my mouth to keep from screaming. There, in my hands, was a sockful of dried leaves.