Iris and I, our friendship was immediate. It cemented every time she grabbed my hand when she was excited or scared, every time she couldn’t sleep and I would read her a story, every time she made me laugh. But the transformation of Mr. Aghoture to Pabby was very, very, very gradual.
I’m sure I lost you. Let me start from where I stopped.
Iris was discharged later that week but her dad had a teacher’s conference to attend in another state. He was to give the commencement lecture which put him in a serious dilemma as Iris needed to be taken care of.
Unlike my mom though, he had no problem asking for help. He gave my mom money to take care of his “tiny dimpled angel”. She refused the money. Many times. Arguing all the while that she owed him for taking me home and feeding me. I would have blurted that the food was terrible but thankfully, I was blessed with a sense of self preservation.
When the time came for him to leave, he asked for water and while she made the short walk to the fridge in the kitchen, he winked at me, kissed his daughter’s head and literally ran away. When my mom returned with the water, I saw signs of a smile playing around her mouth as she took the envelope he had left on the table. Iris spent a week with us, recovering. It was delightful. I had someone to giggle with, someone who pulled me out of my books. Someone who made me laugh. When her dad came for her, I hugged her tightly. I wasn’t sure we would still be this close when we got back to school and I wanted to say goodbye properly. We all watched her leave. And I knew we would still be friends when she ran back to squeeze me tightly.
The next day at school, she was surrounded. Tolani, Tayo, Kenechukwu and Zainab hung around her all day, even pulling her from our seat and sending Ngozi instead.
She switched back however at break-time, taking my hand and whispering something that made me laugh.
We laughed our way out of primary school later that year. Contrary to a little talked about fear I’d had, I did not make Iris a melancholy hermit. Instead, she made an ambivert of me. I gained new friends, smiled more. Someone confessed that I had frowned so much they were scared to speak to me.
From that day until we left primary school later that year, I practiced smiling in front of my sisters. The first time, Bunmi said I looked like a drunk piranha. And Amara pursed her lips.
I smile over at Iris. We’re in Senior Secondary School now and for the first time in 5 years, our class teacher had not set our desks so far apart we couldn’t tap each other. She has just shown me a caricature of the math teacher. It is really funny but I know not to let out a laugh. My smile peters out and I look out the window.
A note lands on my thigh. “Are you nervous about seeing Bunmi today?”
I debate replying with the note but the teacher is looking at us so I concentrate on our class work.
The story of how Bunmi left our house to go and live with my dad is a long one. And a sad one. When my parents separated it was hardest on her. She adored my father but she knew she could not cast aspersions on my mother’s parenting by wilfully refusing to move with us. Until Mr. Oyeyemi entered, and upturned our lives.
From the 2 adults I could observe, both without partners, I came to realise that people tend to give you a couple of days, weeks, months or years after a break up as in the case of my mom or a death as in the case of Mr. Aghoture; to grieve or to get back on your feet before they begin introducing you to people they consider eligible for you.
Friends and family of my mom had begun to do this when Iris and her dad came into the picture.
He was smart, kind, handsome, rich and honourable. Best yet, I think my mom was catching feelings; which of course sent Iris and I into frenzied moments of fasting (lasting only until we caught a whiff of buns, puff puff or akara, those delicious fried pieces of yumminess) and prayer. But after a year of my mom twirling her hair, actually wearing makeup, etc, I saw her downcast one day after a date with him and I raked up the nerve to ask how it had gone. She smiled tiredly at me and said, “Nne, some people are amazing in almost every way. But nothing can go forward if they’re still in love with ghosts”
He remained our friend however. But, where before there was lighthearted playfulness between him and my mom, now there was stern formality on her part and nervousness on his. The most amazing change he wrought in our family though, was in Bunmi.
Bunmi was the most reserved of us all. She was the stereotypical secretive middle child. She hated attention even more than I did. But she was wise. Very wise. I had learned to swallow my pride multiple times to ask Bunmi for advice. The only place she really shined, was in our bedroom. There she could laugh and play and be someone different from the frowning girl she normally was.
From the time my family trooped to see Iris in the hospital, it seemed he took a special interest in her. She was reading a book she had bought herself; 7 days to an MBA and he used it to strike up a conversation. It turned out Mr. Aghoture owned our school, a couple of airlines, and a manufacturing company that produced 6 different products. She gave him some advice on how to cut costs. He argued on some points but from that day, a kinship was born. It had its foundation in their shared love for business but it grew into something more. When Mr. Aghoture began going out with my mom, he made a point of coming over to our house and spending time with one of us every week. He got Amara a couple of books on advanced baking recipes, offered to enrol her in a vacation catering school if she baked a couple of cakes for his office every fortnight. He found something I was great at. Psychology, or more specifically, psycho-analysing people. He would give me a couple of books each week and when it was time to take them back, he would ask me what I thought the characters had been thinking at certain moments. But if was Bunmi of us all, who got the most attention from him. And between advising him on investments and hotly debating financial trends with him, she blossomed. No longer was she the shy, the-skies-are-gloomy Bunmi; she came out of her cocoon.
Well, until Mr. Oyeyemi came. He was a date recommendation from an aunt, my mom’s little sister. From the first day he came, we did not like him. On my part, it was because I still held out hope that Mr. Aghoture and my mom would get back together someday. On Amara’s part, it was that he looked like an opportunist and not like he could or would take care of 4 additional mouths.
Bunmi’s reason for disliking him was the one that made no sense at the time. She told us she did not like him because he was slimy. I remember that conversation clearly now. Amara and I had burst out laughing. That was 2 years ago. If I had known what he would do, I would have switched off my mom’s phone the first time he called, shut the door in his face the first time he came to our house, kicked him in the groin when he sat smugly asking us to bring water to him so he could wash his hands, acting like he owned the house and he had only been dating my mom for 2 weeks.
The bell pealed. School was over. I usually went with the school bus but today, Mr. Aghoture was coming to pick us up. For the first time in a year, we were going to see Bunmi.
Mr. Oyeyemi to our consternation seemed determined to stick around. After about 3 weeks and 2 dates, he turned into an almost permanent fixture in our house. From repairing things that were not broken, to acting like the lord of the manor, he had character traits that set all our teeth on edge. But my mum was smitten. I struggled to find something good about him, that would justify her adoration of him. I could find nothing.
Then he began to make demands. Little ones at first. Could Amara bake him a couple of cakes? He wanted to give them to a friend. He never paid her.
Could I please make sure the house was tidy when he brought his friends over?
Then it graduated to larger requests, larger demands. It was on the day he asked to manage the household finances that Amara blew her top. She and mum had a huge fight but our finances were still safely in our grasp.
Still, his presence caused a decline in the number of visits from Iris and her dad, so I hung out more at their house.
Since the fight with my mum, Amara who had just gotten admission into the university, spent a lot more time baking cakes and personally delivering them.
Which left Bunmi at home. Alone.
Mr. Oyeyemi had claimed to be a website designer. He spent an inordinate amount of time on our computer so we believed him.
When he started coming around, he claimed it was because his personal computer had spoiled. And we had one. It was fortuitous I guess, that the same day the demon planted the idea in his head to rape Bunmi, that we found out that he was an online fraudster.
Iris and I were sitting outside, her head on my lap when her dad drove up. My mom was in the front seat.
Bunmi had not said a word to my mom since she left the hospital. Every detail of her transfer to my dad’s house was orchestrated in perfect silence. The one time my mom ventured to touch her, she screamed so loudly our neighbours rushed in. And even then she didn’t stop. She burst into tears and I had to lead my mom out of our room. My dad came that evening and she left without a word to any of us. I can still remember my dad saying nervously while Amara and I fought tears, “She needs time. When she wants to see you, she’ll call you”. Then, with a hard look at my mom, he left.
I’m not sure if Bunmi asked my mom to come but I did not say it. I was worried about Iris. Her temperature had spiked, she looked very tired and on the short walk to the car, I noticed that she was slower and weaker than usual.
On the way to my dad’s house, I put my hand to her forehead. It was a bit warm. I guided her head to my thigh and was uncomfortably drifting off into some painful flashbacks when I noticed that Iris was violently convulsing.