There was a brief pause and then sudden chatter, everyone seemed to be talking at the same time. I immediately glanced at my dad and I noticed he was the only one without his mouth moving but his hands moved, he beckoned me to come downstairs. I had on a grey dress trimmed with sequence, so I quickly ran to my room, pulled on two pairs of shorts underneath the dress to cushion my buttocks from what I knew was coming and then walked slowly downstairs.
I met brother Tunde at the staircase, Brother Tunde was the Landlord’s oldest son. He had always taken a liking to me and sometimes shielded me from communal punishments, so when I saw him, I held on to his hand and said: “Brother Tunde, what’s going to happen to me?”
He looked at me with disappointment and pity in his eyes and that made me burst out crying. He said, “just go to the garden” and continued to walk upstairs. My tears ran like water from a damaged tap.
I finally emerged into the compound and almost slammed into Ngozi.
“Na wa for you. You no dey shame. TA!!!” Ngozi gave me a thoroughly judgmental look
What?! My tears dried up like NEPA had turned off power on my inner tap. Ngozi! Ngozi that just the other day I saw her talking to Samson through the railings that demarcated our house from his house? They were even holding hands. Is this one mad ni? Ngozi who stole a whole bag of sawdust from her family’s stash to give to Samson. Sawdust that was meant for Abacha stove because Kerosene was scarce. I was so angry I stopped in my tracks and as I seriously contemplated going after her, I heard Mama Tutu’s voice, “My friend will you walk faster! Come here and explain this letter!” She barked at me, but it felt like a puppy’s bark. Mama Tutu had a tiny voice. She was also my mum’s best friend in the compound, her anger was justified.
I ran to the garden and stood beside my mum, but she did the worse, she pushed me towards Monday, Monday’s dad pushed him towards me almost at the same time. We both stood, head bowed, right in the middle of Lion’s den.
NEPA turned the power back on, my inner tap gushed open and this time, with hiccups. I heard Monday whisper to me, “don’t cry, it’s okay. don’t cry”. Monday may not have feared his parents but I feared mine so his words made no sense to me.
The community deliberations began, with Baba Ngozi as my dad’s deputy. He read out my letter to the hearing of everyone gathered. Then read Monday’s as well.
I am fine, I hope you are fine too. Titi is my friend but she likes Benjamin, not me. Nothing is going on between us. If evening comes and there’s no light, come and watch television at my house. See you then.
“Ife, how long has this been going on?” Baba Ngozi asked as he handed both letters to my mum.
“What?” I feigned ignorance
As if my response was expected, I felt a sharp pain at the base of the back of my neck which immediately spread to my forehead. Only my mother would give you a knock on one side of your head and you’d feel it in your toes.
“Nothing is going on. Nothing is going on. It’s just a letter, I was just playing with him, I didn’t mean it that way. I was just playing with him” My mum’s knock on the head had opened my voice box, there I was, blabbing away.
“So these letters between both of you was just play?” Asked my mum, as she held two pieces of papers up, but she wasn’t looking at me, the question was directed at Monday.
“Answer the woman!” barked Monday’s father
“Yes ma” Monday responded in a steady voice.
Out of nowhere, Baba Monday’s belt emerged and whoop! Monday received a stroke on his behind. With the speed of light, Monday took off! His father ran after him and we watched the drama as they disappeared through the gate.
“Let’s go” My dad finally spoke up.
Go where? Ah God Almighty!!! My chest! …Death where are you?
My parents walked in sync and I didn’t see any other choice but to follow them upstairs. As soon as the door shut behind us, dad turned to mum, “Talk to your daughter. You better talk to your daughter!” He took off to his room but left silence behind.
Then, mum sat on my Dad’s designated chair, looking at me for a long time as I stood there, contemplating my life expectancy. After what I can swear was my lifetime, she spoke.
“I know you’re just 13 so you don’t really understand love. But let me tell you, don’t ever write a letter to a man begging him to choose you or leave another girl for you. You’re very smart and look at how pretty you are with your ‘oyibo’ nose. Ehn! Let him write you letters, begging you to choose him. Do you know why?”
I shook my head, the tears had not stopped flowing, they had probably flooded my voice box. I couldn’t bring myself to speak.
“Because you’re special that’s why. Okay?”
“I’m sure you feel punished enough abi?”
“Oya come let’s make food. But go and wash your face first and remove those shorts. You look like Baba Sala.” She smacked my buttocks and smiled at me as she walked to the kitchen.