Ola Awonubi was born in London to Nigerian parents. She attended intermediate and advanced writing courses at the Centerprise Literature Development project in Hackney, London before studying for an MA in Creative writing and Imaginative Practice at the University of East London.
In 2008 her short story The Pink House, won first prize in the National words of colour competition and another short story of hers The Go- slow Journey, won the first prize in the fiction category for Wasafiri’s New writing prize 2009. Some of her short stories feature on the African writing.com, StoryTime, Faithtowrite.com and naijastories.com . She has recently had another short story – Green Eyes and an Old photo published in the 2013 African Roar Anthology and her short story – Illusion of Hope was published in the NS Publishing short reads series – Wiping Halima’s Tears.
She is currently working on a collection of short stories based on the African experience, and a novel – a cross cultural romance that explores the social, political, cultural and historical ties that bind and divide the cultures. She has a romance novel due for publication later this year.
Website: http://www. easytowrite.wordpress.com
By Ola Awonubi
Moisture covered everything – and just like the little beads of water running down the walls of the front room and the mildew forming dark spots on the carpet; it ran down my face into my mouth making me want to spit. My linen sleeveless blouse and jeans offered little protection and stuck against my skin
The door opened.
He wore a clean white vest and Sokoto; loose trousers made out of traditional cotton print. My father walked slowly now and was much thinner, his hair totally white but his eyes remained the same in that canvas stretched tight by living, his eyes youthful pools of light, searched mine for answers.
Your mother was dying…why didn’t you come?
“You look just like your mum.” He lowered himself onto a chair.
I had to swallow back another chunk of the past and felt it slide from my tongue into the pit of my stomach and I winced like a child after it had swallowed bitter medicine.
I knelt to greet him. “Good afternoon, Father.”
“Welcome. How is your brother?” he held out a hand and I took it noting that his hands were hot and he was shaking as if he had a fever. Aunt Lizzy pressed a cool glass of water into my hands. We chatted about my work as a lawyer. We touched on the weather and the current state of British Monarchy, which I knew he had keen interest in since his days as a student in England. Then I stopped, having run out of any more words to fill in the gap that years apart had widened.
I could hear the last words I had with him. Words oozed out of me like poison from a festering boil. He stood there with his new bride and told me to shut up but I had carried my mother’s burden for too long and now – all that needed to be said – had to be said and when I had finished, the room was silent except for my mother’s tears.
I stared at the cause of all my problems. The first day I had gone to my father’s office and saw her fawning over him I should have known. Her type was always trouble, always looking for some marriage to wreck. Tall, slim and in her late twenties Tolani had bleached every bit of what was noble and memorable out of her face, leaving this taut, unnaturally orange grey image garnished with eyebrows, like question marks. Think of a fruit that has been left out too long in the sun. That sums up my father’s former wife. Endowed with an enormous bosom and tiny waist, I guess his mid-life crisis made him a magnet for gold-diggers like her.
He had stood up, the veins standing out in his neck, his voice cutting into me like the whip he used on us when were children. If I didn’t like life in ‘His House’, I could leave. My mother pleaded for him to reconsider but I was already upstairs throwing my stuff into a suitcase. He reminded me as I walked out, that if I stepped outside his house I would no longer be his daughter, which suited me just fine. I was eighteen at the time and I had endured enough of him. He was the Commanding officer – his family; the recruits he had trained to obey his every directive.
I stayed at my best friends and two weeks later mother came and gave me a one way ticket to London out of her ‘rainy-day’ account.
“Your father will not be pleased … but the house is not good for you now. It is better you go back to your country,” She tried to laugh but there were tears in her eyes, “Do not forget us in Nigeria.”
I left her to pick up the pieces.
When I got to London I wanted to put it all away from me. I loved my mother and my young brother Kunle but I was in my twenties, exploring what life had to offer and although Nigeria with all its problems was just six hours away by air – I was light years away from the place. I didn’t know about the illness until Kunle rang me and told me – by that time it was very serious. She had forbidden anyone telling me – being a nurse she knew how bad it was. Typical mother. She didn’t want me to worry.
“Sit down – you must be tired after your journey.” He takes his seat and learns forward hiseyes following mine as I look around the room to the broken worn chairs and the dirty carpet. When I left it felt soft and smooth under my feet but now its golden brown opulence had turned to a neat coffee shade, stiffly brushing against my open toed sandals. They had got a sofa I didn’t recognise but even that was threadbare. The corner holds a cabinet with someforlorn pieces of china and my mother’s hourglass timer. I remember how we used to shake it and watch the golden specks pass from one cubicle into the next.
I gently ease myself onto one of the chairs that looks sturdy and stare at the cabinet again.
His red rimmed eyes follow mine. “Another mistake of mine. After I lost the Government contract, Tolani left. She also took my son and most of your mother’s china.”
“How is he?”
“Fine I suppose. He is nine now – costing me a fortune like his money grabbing mother,” He gets up and unlocks the middle shelf. “She didn’t get this though.” He passes me a small box.
The box holds some golden trinkets and a gold necklace, stuff I remember my mother wearing. I blink back thirteen long years ago, and see her standing at Departures waving until I disappear from view.
“She wanted you to have it.”
His lips twist into a smile as he looks at me hard for a long time, as if he wants to remember me when I go back. “She would have been so happy to see you here ….. why didn’t you come to see her - when she was ill?”
“I was afraid. Kunle told me what the sickness had done to her.”
“What does it matter now?” he rubs his eyes, “I went to my doctor yesterday you know. He gave me some medication. I don’t understand it. It makes my eyes water like that of a woman.”
I am silent. The man I knew never cried. My brother told me when they were burying mother he sat through the funeral despite the wails and screams and sung ‘Abide with Me’ with eyes as dry as hot sand.
“Dr Ajayi knows his stuff. Been my doctor for years now. He is running tests on me because they say I am not eating. It’s total nonsense but he is a good doctor. Trained in Boston you know. He was very good when your mother fell ill…” his voice trails away and then he coughs again. “Well what can we do - about what God proposes?”
Aunt Lizzy comes in with a covered tray and I realise how hungry I am as she puts it down on the table. My father excuses himself and shuffles to the door; his movements slow and laboured.
I catch sight of the hourglass, a constant reminder of my childhood. It stood proudly in the cupboard with my mother’s plates – the ones that came out when we had guests.
I pick up the hourglass and shake it.
“I remember how you and Kunle used to play with that thing when you were kids.” We bothwatch the golden sand pass from the first glass chamber to the next.
“We do not know many rainy seasons your father has left. “Her voice is low just for me.
I see how fast sand is emptying from the first chamber into the second.
“See the second chamber – that’s where a lot of his days have gone. Make the best of this visit. He cares about you. He is so proud of what you and your brother have become.”
The door opens and father makes his way in. “All this talk talk…let the girl eat Lizzy! You can tell her about all the family gossip later. Enitan, sit and eat some real food. Better than all that stuff pumped full of chemicals you eat in England.”
I sit down and take the cover off the plate revealing hot curried rice, chicken stew, plantain and black-eyed beans. “I can’t finish all this.”
“Try.” Father and Aunt Lizzy urged and I put the spoon to my mouth and savoured my first spoonful I heard her ask whether she could bring him some food and he said he was ok. Something rose in my throat and found its way out of one eye and dropped unceremoniously into my plate where it was soaked up by the rice and stew.
Somehow in some kind of weird way it touched something in me. To see this helpless old man.To remember the good times. To remember my mother…..
I push the food to the other side of the plate.
“”Eat and stop playing with the food. That’s why you are so thin. Is that what the men over there like - women as thin as mosquitoes?” She rolls her eyes, “You should eat more so that the men can see you better.” She pats her posterior and laughs.
Her father coughs again and looks to the others in the room for support. “Which brings us to the matter at hand – have you managed to find yourself a good man yet?”
“Dad …I’m too busy for all that…..” I wasn’t even thirty yet for goodness sake.
Aunt Lizzy announces. “Papa. Our guest has just arrived."
There is a knock on the door and a young man walks in with a confident bounce. He is a bit taller than me, wears glasses and looks in his mid to late thirties. He greets me warmly and I nod in his direction not sure about this familiarity from a man I do not know.
There is a scent of an accent – American but in a distinctly Nigerian flavour mixed in somewhere. His clothes are casual yet smart. Expensive labels – I can tell. I know Nigerians do not do dinner in casual dress. That is the kind of thing you did when you have lived abroad for some time. I look down at my jeans and sandals.
“Lizzy go and bring more food for our guest.” My father’s voice is stronger, his eyes brighter as he turns to me. “Enitan meet Dr Dayo Ajayi.”
I give him one of my plastic smiles. “Hi Dr Ajayi.”
The man looks slightly taken aback at my underwhelmed response. “Nice to meet you Enitan.”
As his hand swallows up mine in a handshake. I see my father nod.
This story is protected under international copyright law and cannot be published in any format without the approval of the author.
Ola has kindly agreed to a Q and A Session so please look for that soon.
I offer my great thanks to Ola for allowing me to publish this story on TRL.