She dragged a heavy bag in each hand as she labored towards her apartment. It was scorching hot. The sun seemed to have come closer to earth, as it pounded everything below it with unrelenting heat. Bisola was a plum, beautiful woman, even in her forties. Her round face, charming smile, and curves still caught the eyes of men around her age. She had refused to have anything to do with men since the catastrophic death of her loving husband, Wale in a ghastly motor accident. Streaks of sweat dripped down her forehead and dropped lazily to her shoulders. It was just a few more minutes before she’d reach her apartment. “Welcome Mama Gbemi!” Shouted the children playing in front of her building. It was a shabby, old yellow building in one of the many shanty streets in Ajegunle. It was hard to determine the population of the building. Friends and families of the real tenants were always squatting with their friends and relatives at one point or the other. Gbemi was Bisola’s youngest child. She was only seven years of age. “Thank you children, how are you?” “Fine thanks,” they echoed. Gbemi ran from inside the house to greet her mother. One of the children in front of the building, Bello had already grabbed one of the bags from Bisola. Before Segun could grab the other, Gbemi was already there to yank it off her mother’s hand. “Welcome Mom!” Thank you Gbemi. How was school today?” “School was great Mom. I drew a tree and a car. Mr. Adeniran said I did very well,” Gbemi answered with infectious gusto.
“That is what I like to hear. Mr. Adeniran never gets it wrong. If he said you did well, then you must have done very well,” Bisola replied enthusiastically. Gbemi smiled ravishingly, as she basked in her mother’s praise. “So, where are your brothers?” Bisola asked when they entered their tiny two-room apartment. One room served as the living room, while the other was the bedroom. Bisola had two sons, Aremu and Adefemi, and they all crammed into the small apartment. “Aremu must be playing football at the field behind the house. I saw him there a while ago. I don’t know where Adefemi has gone to.” “Okay, go and fetch Aremu. We have to make dinner before NEPA strikes.” “Okay Mom.” Gbemi dashed off to fetch her older brother. Aremu was three years older than Gbemi. Adefemi was to turn nineteen in a few weeks. Bisola had him before getting married to Wale. They were secondary school sweethearts and before they realized it, their educational careers hit the rock before it started. Bisola became pregnant in the final year of secondary school, and Wale had to drop out of school to provide for her and the coming baby. Both of their parents were poor, living just a few streets away in Ajegunle. Wale became a bus conductor and later a driver in an effort to provide for his family. Bisola had problems conceiving after Adefemi was born. Nine years later, God answered her prayers when she conceived Aremu and only three years later, Gbemi was born. Wale died just before Gbemi was born.
Bisola was an excellent cook. Wale used to rave about her food. Quickly she made stew and rice. She ate with Aremu and Gbemi, who had their shower afterwards and retired to bed. They had to get some sleep to be sharp at school the next morning. That was Wale’s idea to send the kids to bed early enough and Bisola had stuck to it after his passing. Adefemi was still nowhere to be found. This was a common scenario in their household. Adefemi had grown unmanageable over the past two years. He dropped out of school and hung out with the wrong crowd. Before Bisola knew it, Adefemi was puffing out cigarette smoke like a chimney, and he soon graduated to Marijuana. He reeked of weed each time he returned from his numerous late night outings. He had just been released from police cell for stealing. Bisola could hardly sleep at night until Adefemi returned, and this night was no different. She sat at the table and tried to read. She had been taking classes of late in an effort to complete secondary education, and hopefully write SSCE. She always wanted to do more in life – go to university and get a degree. She wanted to make her parents who did not study any further than primary school proud, but getting pregnant too soon snuffed out her dreams. She was reading a government textbook with keen interest. When she stopped to check the time, it was midnight, and Adefemi was not home yet. She needed to sleep as she had to be at the market in the morning. She had a small stall at Boundary Market where she sold food items.
She looked up at Wale’s picture which she had left hanging on the wall. She missed him so much. He was the love of her life. If only you were still here, Adefemi would not treat me like this. You would control him, I know that, she thought to herself. She could not take her eyes of the picture. She got up, took the picture and wiped dust off it with her palm. She thought of when he used to take her to Bar Beach…how he would make her laugh. They were real soul mates. Wale loved her immensely. Then, Adefemi rammed loudly on the door. She placed the picture back on the hook on the wall and walked over to the door. “Where are you coming from?” She asked as she opened the door. “None of your business,” he replied disrespectfully. He walked past Bisola as though she did not exist. His baggy jeans were hanging below his butt and he reeked of Marijuana and alcohol. “If you keep returning this late, I will be forced to throw you out Adefemi,” she threatened. “You can’t,” he countered with annoying impudence. He went to the bedroom and took his plate of rice Bisola had already dished out for him. Bisola returned to the bedroom and lay in bed. Tears trickled down unto her pillow. She worried that Adefemi might graduate from stealing to armed robbery. He might get killed, then I would have failed my husband. God, what do I do? She wondered painfully. She had gotten Wale’s brothers to talk to Adefemi, and his parents too, but Adefemi seemed to be getting worse. He would listen to no one.
The next day Bisola got a call to report to the police station. Her heart was quivering feverishly as she trekked briskly to the station. She had quickly called her friend and neighbor, Kemi and asked her to take care of Aremu and Gbemi in case she stayed out late at the station. She knew it had to do with Adefemi. “Officer, I was told to report here, please is it something to do with my son? The police man wey call me no gree tell me wetin happen.” Her voice was riddled with apprehension. “Wetin be the officer name wey call you?” “I no remember, but my son name na Adefemi Olusola.” “Sit down there. I dey come.” The officer left and returned shortly with a frown on his face. “Madam, your son was caught with his friends trying to rape a girl at knife point. And they had Marijuana in their possession.” Bisola was not surprised. She had known it was only a matter of time before it happened. She put together all her savings to hire a lawyer who got Adefemi out of police net. That did not end his run-ins with the law. There were more arrests and more spending, leaving Bisola cash-strapped and prone to high blood pressure.
One evening, she was in the bedroom by herself. She had been crying all day. She woke up in the morning with no desire to get out of bed. She managed to take Aremu and Gbemi to school, and returned to bed, where she sobbed her heart out. Adefemi had not been home in two days. His friends claimed they did not know where he was. Fear; immobilizing fear encapsulated her. She knew something bad was in the offing. Her spirit craved her late husband; someone to take charge and put the boy in his place. “Are you crying mom?” Gbemi asked. Bisola did not hear her come in. “No I am not.” “You always say we should not lie but you are lying mom. I see the tears in your eyes. It is about Adefemi isn’t it?” She nodded her head. “Mom, you must remember that you still have Aremu and I, you know. If you kill yourself worrying about Adefemi, there will be no one to take care of us.” “I will not die Gbemi,” she said forcefully. She pulled her closer and hugged her. “But you are worrying and crying all the time,” Gbemi insisted. Bisola knew Gbemi was right.
A day later, Adefemi appeared from nowhere. Bisola had left the door open in case he returned late. She was fast asleep having taken a sleeping pill earlier. I can’t change him. I leave it all in God’s hands, she had decided. In the morning, she pretended she had not seen him. She put her wares together and headed to the market. Adefemi rolled out of bed and went over to the living room. He turned on the TV and scanned through the channels. It was a Saturday morning. Aremu was playing football in the backyard with friends. Gbemi who had been playing outside ran into their apartment to get something, and that was when she found Adefemi guzzling down yam and egg sauce while staring at the TV distractedly. She stared at him for a moment.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” He asked. She walked closer and asked, “Can I sit in your lap?” “No. Why?” “Because I want to, like old times. You remember? You used to carry me in your lap when I was little. You would buy me biscuits and sweet. Will you carry me again big brother?” “Reluctantly, Adefemi placed his plate on the table and carried her. He placed her on his laps and stroked her hair gently. “It has been a long time since you did this Ade.” Gbemi said. Adefemi said nothing. “You are not talking to me, but I know you can hear me. You used to take care of Aremu and I. I remember then…fun days. I would wait all day…impatiently for you to return from school. You’d carry me around the compound and tell people you’d do anything for your little sister. You’d take me to the kiosk and buy me sweet. I was the queen of the world. I would sit atop your shoulders glamorously, as if I controlled the world. For me, I was really a queen because you made me feel like one. Mom was very proud of you and how you looked after us…and her too. Don’t you think she needs you to that now? With us not having a dad, she expects you to be our protector around her when she is not around; but you…you are never around big brother. Some days I come in here like I did today and I pretend I were sitting in your laps…hugged and held by my brother who represented the dad I never knew. I was told by everyone that daddy was a good man. In you I saw the same, but not anymore. You come back late and you talk to mom anyhow. You don’t even notice your little sister anymore. I have gone from your little queen to nobody. Aremu misses his big brother too, but he just carries on. I miss my hero. The one that used to lift me shoulder high to the top of the world, not the one talks back at my loving mother. If she dies worrying about you, I will never forgive you. Please let me down. I want to go and play now. When my hero returns, I will let him carry me again…right now, you are not my hero!”
She wriggled out of his grip and walked away confidently as if nothing had happened. Adefemi could not hold back his tears. A pang of guilt ravaged him. Memories of his father came flooding back. He recalled how his father used to lift him shoulder high too. He cried for a good two hours, then he went to the wall and stared at his father’s picture. “I am sorry papa,” he said quietly. He went to the shower, had a quick wash, got dressed and walked to the market. Bisola was shocked to see him around. It had been ages since the last time he came to see her at the stall. “Hi mom,” he said in a low tone. “You well so, this one wey you come here today? Or you get wahala wey you need me to take care of?” “I am fine mom. I no get wahala.” He sat beside her. Almost immediately, someone came to buy pepper and Bisola was about to get up to serve them, but Adefemi beat her to it. “Don’t worry mom. How much pepper you want?” He asked the customer. With his mother’s guidance, he made a sale; the first in over two three years. When the customer left, Adefemi melted into his mother’s arms. “I am sorry ma! I am sorry. Please forgive me for all the trouble I put you through. I have been dealing with papa’s death for some years now and in my grief, I sought satisfaction in all the wrong places. I am sorry. I will never hurt you again.”
Bisola did not know whether to start dancing or crying. Overcome by emotion, she burst into tears, hugging her son. Her neighbors at the market who knew what had been going on were in tears too. “I no sell again today,” she said. “I dey go house to make him ewedu soup, his favorite.” Bisola announced after a prolonged mother and son hug. She packed up with Adefemi’s help and they walked home together, hand-in-hand. Adefemi joined her in the kitchen, cutting and grinding as she mixed and stirred. Gbemi walked into the kitchen and saw Adefemi with their mother. She was delightfully surprised. “Are you helping mom?” “Yes oh!” Bisola answered before Adefemi could utter a word. She ran towards him with joy shouting, “That is my hero. My hero is home!” He scooped her up and lifted her shoulder high. “This is my hero!” She continued to shout.
By Victor Chinoo
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