This the first thing I have written this year. At first I didn’t want anyone to read this until I was ‘finished’ , although it’s a bit different from the first one I had written but here it is …
The house besides mine had never been occupied since the Lawals left. Their father worked at the Coca-Cola company in Lagos before they moved. They always had crates of soft drinks stacked at the door leading to the passage. Each time Nna and I visited we would be greeted warmly by Mrs Lawal or Mama Bayo as she was fondly called. Then we would be asked
“Coke or Fanta”
Sometimes I asked for a Sprite. I would take a sip and hold it in my mouth just to feel the bubbles before swallowing. Nna asked for a Coke all the time. Just before it was 6 we would go back home and pretend we had been home all through. By quarter after 6, Mama would come home from prayer meeting, humming a worship song. We knew better not to mention our visit to the Lawals. She knew we played with their children, but she must never know we accept drinks because according to her
“You don’t go to people’s houses and be collecting things, that’s bad home training and ha buro ndi uka they don’t go to church”; the latter part said with a look of disgust.
It turns out that the Lawals weren’t Christians because Mr Lawal never believe in ‘this church thing that women believed so much in’. I heard him say this once when he and Papa were talking.
Before they moved, Mariam had told me earlier
“My father said we’re going to live in Onitsha” she whispered in my ear one day
“To do what? You people don’t understand Igbo”
“He said he would now work there so we’re all going to live there”
Maria and I weren’t best of friends but she was the only childhood friend I had that lived close to me. The rest had moved too.
I shrugged. I didn’t want her to see the tears in my eyes so I turned.
“Let’s play catcher ” I had started running before I finished the sentence
Two nights before they left, people went to say their goodbyes. Mama went with us because she only felt it was the right thing to do but she refused anything and we dare not accept anything out of fear of what the two hands that gently laid on our shoulders would do when we got home. Our stay was brief but only Papa stayed back for a bottle of beer. From our balcony, I watched more people go in, if only Mama had let us stay longer
A week after they left, a white board was placed in front of the gate. It had ‘TO LET’ written in red capital letters, below the letters were numbers to call if interested. I would imagine what the family that would move in be like. How many children would they have? But the house sat there, paint peeling lizards chasing themselves on the walls. During the rainy season, the rains would wash away the dust that the harmattan had brought. I guess nobody was interested.
Sometimes when other children rode their bicycles down the streets or played ‘catcher’ I would look at the house. I would remember Mrs Lawal’s smile , I was beginning to forget what she sounded like when she said ‘Coke or Fanta’
That was 5 years ago
One day I noticed the sign was no longer there, it had been removed, somebody was moving into the house.
On that day, a moving van drove into the compound. From our balcony I could see them carrying in chairs, beds, everything into the house. A smaller car drove into the house and parked behind the moving van. A woman and a girl came out. The girl looked about my age, she turned and looked at my direction.
She smiled. She had big hair.