My best friend’s Dad (2) – Iris

Iris and I didn’t become friends until my 9th birthday. Despite sitting near each other, despite the adoring looks I gave her, despite sharing a great deal of the sweets my dad brought for me every time he came visiting, she treated me the exact same as she treated everyone else: with friendship but not with friendship. Not the closeness I had dreamt of anyway.
Iris was the undisputed leader of our class. It wasn’t hard to explain why. She was so nice that everyone wanted to be around her. She was kind too; she was the only girl I knew who talked to the old man begging on the street. Those sweets I used to share with her? She shared them among our classmates, giving some to the teacher and even to the beggar. Once when a classmate was sent to the sick bay, she ate lunch there with him, making him laugh so much he forgot that he was sick and was going to miss the cake Tolani was sharing that day. I’m sure she gave him her slice the next day but you can only watch someone for so long before you make them uncomfortable.
How did we become friends? Well, I had mommy to thank for that.
As my 9th birthday approached, I did not want a party. At all. If I had a party, everyone would be looking at me, I would probably have to wear a dress instead of my school uniform and I would be popular for that day and for the next days until my classmates had gauged the cake to be finished.
I did not want anyone looking at me, I preferred looking at them. I did not want to wear a dress, the school uniform was bad enough. And having people like me for a couple of days simply because of cake? I had found out the last 2 years that I hated that. But Amara and my mother had had their first fight 3 days before. And Amara being mummy’s favourite, wanted to apologise through what my mommy was worrying about. Now, you might be wondering what any of this had to do with me. Or even Iris. Let me get there.
It was MY birthday. Mummy had been complaining about not having enough money to buy the cake plus everything else. I knew she could ask our Uncle but my mum is proud. Very proud. Whenever she took anything from anyone she would give the person back in excess of whatever she had been given. Always.
The time I accidentally poured our last salt container in the sink and she had to borrow salt from our next door neighbour? She gave the woman 2 bags of salt the next day plus a bowl of soup that had more meat in it than soup. The day her car wouldn’t start and a neighbour gave her a lift to work and repaired her car? Well, that’s how I met Kelvin and gained my first true friend. She has been babysitting for his parents whenever possible till date. That happened when we just moved into the house. In fact, she’s still repaying my uncle presently for letting us stay with him when we left my father’s house. She’s making food and taking it to them, she’s babysitting their twins every time he wants to take his wife out, she did omugwo for his wife even though her mother came. My mom does not like to ask anyone for anything at all. That was one of the reasons I didn’t want to celebrate my birthday even. The cake.
But Amara asked me to. She wanted to show mummy that she was growing up, that she was old enough to stay out till 7pm without mummy beating her when she came home. And the way she had decided to do it, was by baking the cake for my birthday herself. Amara was the homemaker type. She was a cooking prodigy. It was almost a miracle Bunmi was learning how to cook because Amara did it so well. She would clean and it would sparkle. I would clean and it would barely shine. But she had never learned how to bake. There was a neighbour of ours, the one my mom had taken salt from in fact, who had a library of books. I used to go there and pick some books and return them, always with a gift of some sort as well. She was very nice. One day Amara and Bunmi came with me and Amara saw the book on cake recipes. She asked really nicely if she could borrow it and our neighbour agreed. That night she wrote out 8 different recipes and returned the book to our neighbour with a plate of her amazing party jollof rice. Some days, Kelvin comes over specifically so he can get some. She had been waiting to test some recipes since then.
Remember my mom was worried about the money for the cake? Amara was sure she would not have money to buy cake tins either, so she gathered her savings and Bunmi and I added some of ours as well and we bought cake tins, flour, baking powder and some more things on Amara’s list and that night she made a cake.
When my mum came home that night Amara took her bag, shoes, ran her a bath, brought her eba with oha (my mom’s favourite food) before she presented the cake and cut my mom a slice.Then and only then did Bunmi and I get a taste of it.
It was delicious. Everyone said so. Even my mom, who is stingy with praise was lavish this time. The only person who seemed less than happy with the cake was Amara herself.
While Amara was the homemaker type, Bunmi was the business type. She drew up the family budget even while we were living with Daddy, she had more savings than Amara and I (she saved 60% of her allowance), she had an eye for cost cutting measures that wouldn’t affect anything much. In fact, my dad sometimes came around to ask her advice on money matters. She was that good.
Bunmi had prepared a business plan for Amara’s new business as she called it. She had charts and diagrams to explain expected orders, expected supply, cost of the new venture, expected revenue and more phrases I wasn’t able to understand. She allayed my mom’s fears as to whether Amara would find time to read by bringing out more charts until my mom was convinced. Apparently a percentage of all Amara’s profits would be put into the household budget and the household savings. I wondered when they had discussed and come up with this. But it had the desired effect. I could see my mum beginning to see possibilities. Feeling a bit peeved, I abruptly said goodnight and went to do my pre-bed rituals.
Amara came in when I was lying down. I had turned to face the wall. I was angry but I couldn’t explain why. She touched me. I pretended to be sleeping.
“Ebube, let’s talk please”
I didn’t answer.
“Ebube, can we talk?”
“I still didn’t reply. Bunmi would have left by now. My mom would have responded by pouring water on me. Amara tickled me. I’m not ticklish. At all. But it was the fact that Amara was still trying to talk to me that caused me to turn around.
Then she laid me on her lap and started explaining why she and Bumni had created the business plan.
Apparently, my daddy had lost his job and so was unable to contribute as much to our upkeep, especially as he now had a new family. My mom was working longer shifts to compensate and ensure she didn’t lose hers and as a consequence, she was tired, stressed and our household savings were being dipped into more than regularly.
I immediately felt ashamed. I hadn’t known. My sisters were trying to save our family from breaking up again and I was here being a brat. She asked me if she could bake a cake for me to take to school. I told her yes. That I would help her even.
The plans that had been drawn pointed to my birthday party as the launchpad for converting the idea into a viable business.
The day of my birthday arrived. I had suggested that in addition to my classmates, more cakes should be baked for my teachers and the neighbours. It was well received. In doing all of that, we exhausted half a bag of flour and sugar, a tub of margarine and I had tasted enough batter to make me sick of cakes for a week. But it was completed.
As none of us in the house was proficient in cake decoration, we spread chocolate sauce on the cakes, whether vanilla, chocolate or strawberry flavoured. And then we topped it off with whimsical items- wafers around the one for my class, marshmallows dipped in chocolate mounds, jelly babies, glazed cherries. Kelvin and I even had even been assigned a small one to decorate. This was to be for my class teacher.
My birthday arrived. I wore a dress, people sang to me, looked at me, people went into rapturous delight when they tasted the cake and to allay my mom’s anxiety over the party pack, everyone’s party pack contained a huge slice of foil wrapped cake with a piece of paper, hurriedly made; containing our information (Bunmi’s idea), 1 lollipop, some hard candy, and a pack of juice. My rationale was that the prospect of more cake would make my classmates forget that they did not get rice as they had on Alex’s birthday, or candy floss as in Joy’s birthday. It seemed to work. The party packs were presented at the close of school that day.
My mom was coming to pick me up. I knew she would come a bit late because of work so I had brought a book and I sat down in my class to wait for her. I said goodbye to the teachers who were delighted with my cake and the way it was made and decorated and said hello to the cleaners. I wasn’t bothered about waiting. I knew my mom would come for me. 5pm passed, 6pm. When it reached 7pm I got worried. Mommy had come to pick me pretty late before but never as late as 7pm. I went outside with my cake, schoolbag and book to catch the dying sunlight and I mentally willed my mother to come faster. Then I heard a sound behind me. I dismissed it. It was too early for ojuju Calabar to come. The next sound had me jumping up. It was Iris. She hadn’t meant to scare me. She just woke up from sleep in the sick bay, what was I still doing here. I started crying.
“I think my mommy forgot me”
She patted my shoulder. I heard something behind us. I screamed in fright.
She laughed.
“Calm down’, she said, ‘it’s just my daddy”.
I looked at him. It was the new principal. I greeted him and we sat down to wait for my mom. It was nearing 8pm now and though Iris was there and now, her daddy, I was scared. Scared of the night, of being alone. Scared that something had happened to my mother and that we would have to go and live with my dad and his new family or my uncle and his wife. Neither would be the end of the world but I wanted everything to remain as it was.
At 8pm, Iris started running a fever again. I knew because she had fallen asleep on my shoulder and I had moved her head to my thighs. I told her dad. He confirmed it by touching her forehead.
He carried her into his arms, left instructions for the school gateman, laid Iris in his car before he turned to me and asked me if I wanted to come home with them. He told me he did not feel comfortable leaving me alone especially now that it was dark and that the school gateman would direct my mom to their house when she came. I accepted. He carried my leftover cake and I carried Iris’ and my schoolbag into the car and we drove to their house, a short distance away. My mom came while I was halfway through my food. Iris was still sleepy but her dad had woken her up to eat and take some medicines. Then he told her to keep her eyes open for at least 30 minutes more so she wouldn’t die in her sleep. She laughed and told him that it was not yet clinically proven. I was about to jump in and corroborate her dad when the knock came. It was agitated.
Mr. Aghoture went to open the door and I heard my mom’s voice. I breathed a long held sigh of relief. She was alive.
My mum screamed with relief and hugged me when she saw me. Then she started shouting at me, asking me why I didn’t go with the school bus. I reminded her that she had promised that she would come and pick me many times.
She thanked Mr. Aghoture profusely while giving him an explanation. She and my sisters, tired from all the baking and from school and work had fallen asleep, expecting the school bus to bring me home. They had woken up around 8 and were shocked to find me missing. My mum had asked our neighbours, Kelvin, everyone around. It was when she was going to call my dad that she remembered to check the school from where she was redirected here.
While my mom was explaining, I focused on my food- a plate of watery noodles which I was finding difficult to swallow. I happened to look up once and I saw Iris looking at my mom with the kind of awe I used to look at her with. I looked down. I was sure I would find out later.
Then she started coughing and my mum went into nurse mode.
Iris was admitted into the hospital that night. The fever, the cold, the painful coughing all pointed to pneumonia. Tests were done and it was confirmed. I slept in the hospital.
In the chaos, we had forgotten my cake. My book and my school bag were with me though. I walked the halls multiple times, gratefully accepted snacks from Mr. Aghoture and held Iris’s hand when the time came for her blood to be drawn. We slept near each other too. Me on a bed next to hers.
The next day, my mom was so thoroughly tired after her impromptu shift so, while Iris slept, Mr. Aghoture drove us home.
I was happy it was Saturday. My mom had called my sisters ahead. So when he dropped us off, they were downstairs with 2 coolers of food: semovita and egusi in one, fried rice in the other, a get well soon card and a book for Iris as well as a huge slice of cake which reminded me that I’d forgotten my leftover cake at their house.
We all went to visit Iris the next day, bringing more food, and soups to be refrigerated in their house. It struck me suddenly why Iris had been looking so awestruck at my mom.
There was no Mrs. Aghoture.


16 thoughts on “My best friend’s Dad (2) – Iris

  1. This is astonishingly delightful!

    What a gifted story teller… Yep, You!

    Now I want to bake a cake.., lol… 🙂

  2. Sweets = Bribery; But, there’s no way that can make up for what he did to his wife and daughters.

    A girl who shares sweets with the teacher? Usually, kids hide them from the teacher. Iris is different sha. 🙂

    I don’t know if I would call this mother “proud.” It seems she’s making a desperate effort not to be in anyone’s debt. Makes me think there’s something in her past that made her that way.

    Ebube falling asleep near Iris reminded me of Jane Eyre and Helen Burns. I hope nothing happens to Iris o 😦

    I liked this part: “My rationale was that the prospect of more cake would make my classmates forget that they did not get rice as they had on Alex’s birthday, or candy floss as in Joy’s birthday.”

    I’m glad it worked o.

    Looking forward to Part 3.

    1. But of course. When you cannot give someone what they want, give them what they used to want.
      Well Iris is a special somebody.
      Now that you mention it, there might be a trigger. For some people staying our of the dreaded debtor’s zone is motivation enough.
      Read the next one (the last one), all your questions will be answered.
      I’m glad it worked too.
      Thank you for visiting, reading and commenting. I appreciate it. Thanks.

  3. The plot is thickening… I can understand the mother being ‘proud’ you know, this feeling of not wanting to be indebted to anyone, I suffer from it most of the time. I can’t wait for the conclusion.

  4. Uju dear,

    Biko, how did I miss this delicious post? I read it very slowly, with a smile on my face.

    Ah! I still remember the new best friends that one gets on the day of their school birthday party, -FFFs (Friends For Food).

    Awww, I love Mummy’s sense of pride, it seems to me like a preference for self-sufficiency. “…a bowl of soup that had more meat in it than soup” made me chuckle. :-D.

    Hmmm, Amara and Bunmi are the sort of sensible daughters that I pray for. Haba! you described the cake baking with precise detailing, it left me with the taste of cake in my mouth, and no cake in my tummy. Lol

    No Mrs Aghoture? I see wonderful possibilities, *rubbing hands with glee* 😉

    Well done, thank you for sharing this sweet tale.

    1. Ahh, I knew it!
      When I posted this and you didn’t comment, I wondered why.
      FFF’s? They had a name? I started speaking big grammar early so I used to call them the obnoxious children. I shake my head at my 7 year old self.
      I pray you get sensible children. Children you can rely on to start looking for solutions to problems ahead of time. And I know your children will be lucky to have you in their lives as their mum.
      Cake in your tummy kwa? I’ll see what I can do. Perhaps WordPress now has a way to share virtual cake. 😊
      Thanks. I appreciate the comment(s).

    1. Thank you!
      And sometimes I feel the same way, but my family won’t let me refuse to celebrate my birthday. Sometimes…
      Thanks for reading.

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