"What time I am afraid, I will trust in you”- Psalm 56:3
“Fear fear!” shouted Akin, Peter, Tunde and Sandra, the younger Badejo kids, sitting on the short staircase leading to their house. My former best friends and now, my nightmare. John and Paul were not around or I would have turned back into my house.
I sighed, resigned to the fact that they would follow me, leading a chant all the way. Among other things, they were incredibly nosy.
I turned around and greeted each of them by name, lest rudeness also be added to the list of my perceived sins.
Walking briskly toward Mama Nkechi’s store, I prayed they would leave me alone while I bought all the ingredients for Mummy to cook Dotun a farewell dinner. And they did.
But alas, there they were when I came out, pushing me and, trying to tear the nylon bag. I held it closer to my chest and began to hum a song. This only made them angrier, it seemed. I prayed that this time they wouldn’t push me back and forth. The last time I had vomited blood and Mommy had almost killed them, causing them to bully me more.
Then Susan from down the street came out, she was one of Remi’s friends. The boys immediately got on their best behaviour, reminding me of the apes that I watched on the Documentary channel yesterday. That left Sandra no choice but to follow. Susan came over, giving me a wink and a playful shove and began walking with us, maintaining a pleasant conversation with everyone throughout the walk. No one could have guessed how often Susan ranted against them. She had nicknamed them the scum of the street. When we got to the compound, she waited while I entered the house and closed the door before she made an excuse and left.
Not surprisingly, I received a text from her almost immediately, reminding me not to open the door until Mummy or Dotun came home. As if I didn’t know.
I dropped onto the bed almost immediately, wishing I could open my windows wide but, the Badejo boys had been caught peeping through the window a couple of times while Remi got dressed, so Mummy banned us from opening the windows. I wished I could dry the clothes outside but the last two sets of clothes I had taken out had been stolen. So now my clothes dried on chairs in the parlor, leaving puddles and a dank smell behind.
I sighed. Only 2 more weeks of vacation before I went back to school. Boarding school, thank God.
We met the Badejo kids when we moved from Liberia to Lagos. Mummy’s company had shut down so she had moved back to Lagos to find work. Daddy was in England. The last time we went there to visit him, there was a picture of a white woman on his mantel. Mummy had said nothing that first day but I had heard them shouting. The line near her mouth appeared that day. We had fun, we ate, we drank, we shopped. Then we came home and Mummy told us that we would visit him by ourselves the next time. But the line remained near her mouth.
When we came back, the Badejo children had moved into our compound and it seemed natural for them to be our friends. Their father was in the military and their mother was a known businesswoman we hardly saw.
Then the thefts started and Dotun refused to hang out with us anymore. Then they started peeping into people’s houses and Remi got an internship whenever she came home for the holidays. Still though, I remained their friend. Then Paul came home. He had been deported from Togo, and down the toilet went 3 years of schooling. Flush. So Paul was relegated to coming back to Nigeria and writing JAMB again.
The first day I met him I nearly swooned. He was tall, he smelled good and he was fair, a triple threat to my then 15 year old mind. I was writing JAMB too. I didn’t need it, not yet but my parents had made Remi and Dotun write WAEC and JAMB in SS2. I would be no different. His brothers Tunde and John were also writing it, for real, for the third time. No one had very high hopes for them to scale through this time.
When they found out that I would be writing my examination in the same centre as them, they asked me to study with them. From the first day, I realised that they hadn’t called me to study with them, they had called me to teach them. I did. When they made me solve quadratic equations for the 7th time, I started fasting that they wouldn’t be sitting anywhere near me that day. I was an art student. I had my own subjects to read for. Then Paul started paying me some attention as more than his siblings’ friend and I thought maybe it wouldn’t be that bad to sit near them. Then he asked me to help him. I wanted to retort that he could help himself when he touched my cheek and I forgot what I was about to say.
I thought he meant I should tell him what to write in the hall and although it made me queasy, I resolved that I would do it. For love.
On Friday afternoon, before the examination, he gave me a I.D card with his picture on it and told me that I should wear it when I was going to write the examinations. I still didn’t understand. Paul was a finance student. I was an art student. And I had my own I.D card.
I called Dotun and asked him what it meant and Dotun said I should not even try it. He said I might be arrested and that I might be banned from writing the examination again.
So that Saturday morning, I stopped by the Badejo house and dropped the I.D card for Paul. I put it in a brown envelope so his parents would not know. Then I went to write the examination. Tunde and John were not sitting anywhere near me and I did not see Paul anywhere. It was when I got back home that Sandra called me aside and whispered that Paul had travelled, relying on me to write his exam for him. When the results came out, I made 276 and Paul and Tunde predictably failed. John made 169 and his parents sent him to study sociology in Makurdi. As for Paul, his father signed him up into the military. The Badejo kids have hated me ever since. Throwing stones at me, dropping hot water on my head. When Tunde put sardines in my school bag, oil and all, I begged my mother to let me go to boarding school.
Dotun came home early, pinching my cheeks and stealing my jollof rice. He told me he had heard a rumor that Daddy was coming home. Dotun worked for Aunty Remi when he came home for the holidays. Aunty Remi is Daddy’s twin sister.
I digested that news with mixed feelings while I fixed another plate of Jollof rice, adding another piece of meat even though I had eaten most of mine before Dotun stole my plate.
Then Mommy came home. While I dished jollof rice for her, she came into the kitchen and told me that the Badejos were moving out next week. Their father had been posted to Calabar. She didn’t say anything about Daddy but the line next to her mouth had disappeared.
And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.- Exodus 14:13 ESV