“Madam, left or right?”
The taxi driver’s question jolts me out of my reverie. Since I directed the taxi to bring me here – instead of the hotel where I’m supposed to be packing for an evening flight – I’ve been engrossed with thoughts of the past mingled with thoughts of how I would be received when I get to the house.
I see that we are at Deeper Life Junction, so, I tell him to take the left turn. Just as he takes the turn, there’s another car coming up ahead. The street is too narrow to accommodate two cars at a time, so he pulls over to the side to allow the car past us. I don’t remember the street being this narrow. It probably will be easier to make the rest of the journey on foot, who knows what else must have changed.
“I’ll just drop here.” I say, and pay the fare.
I step out of the cab and take a look around. So much, it seems, has changed, since the last time I was here. For starters, the building where Deeper Life Church used to be, has been converted to a guest inn – as the sign board in front of it indicates. I wonder if they still call the junction Deeper Life junction. I walk slowly down the street, glancing left and right, looking for familiar houses and businesses. Several shops that weren’t there before line the street on both sides; and more houses occupy previously open spaces.
I keep walking down, till I get to the end of the street where I remember a BET Naija shop used to be. I sigh in relief to find that it’s still there, although it is now painted a dark shade of green, instead of the blue. A big sign inviting sport lovers to come place a BET is mounted on the shop.
I turn right, onto the street I had jokingly referred to as ‘corner-corner street’, one time I was asked to right down my address in school. A motorbike zooms past me, raising dust that fill up my nostrils and cause me to sneeze repeatedly. This place hasn’t really changed that much after all, I think to myself. The streets are still unnamed, untarred and littered with nylon bags and pieces of paper; houses are still built too close together, with no thoughts given to proper ventilation, talk more of numbering.
Minutes later, I’m standing in front of the door to the house I called home, more than a decade ago. I stand there staring at the ‘Good Morning Tissue’ sticker on the door – ‘a stitch in time, saves nine’, it reads. I remember being fascinated with those stickers, and pasting them on every door in the house. I’m amazed that after all this years, this one is still on the front door.
What am I doing here? I ask myself. I shouldn’t be here. I should turn back and leave. If I leave now, no one would know I was here. I look back for a minute, then, Baba Mary’s words drifts into my mind.
“The sickness is very serious o. Why didn’t you come since na? Now, he’s between life and death.”
I arrived the city for a business meeting 3 days ago and had run into Baba Mary, father’s friend, at the airport. He had assumed I was visiting father, and in his talkative manner had went on and on about how sick father is. I had tuned him out and nodded through the conversation, until I could excuse myself. I had then shoved the whole thing to the back of my mind, and concentrated on work, until today.
I turn back to the door, take in a deep breath, and knock.
“Yes. Who is there?” A voice calls from within.
“Good afternoon.” I greet.
A young girl, just about the age I was when I was last here, opens the door.
“Good afternoon.” She looks me up and down, probably wondering what a stranger dressed in a business suit and five inch heels was doing knocking on doors in the middle of the day.
“Please, I’m asking after Mr. Adeniyi. Is this the right house?” I enquire.
“Yes, it is.”
“Okay. I would like to see him, please.”
“Ehm. You are?” She asks.
“Just tell him, Adeola.”
“Ehm.” She raises her palm, “He’s resting. He isn’t feeling very well today. If it’s not too urgent, I’ll just take a message for him, or you can come back in the evening.”
“It’s quite urgent.” I reply.
“Are you s…?”
“I’m his daughter.” I cut in.
The girl takes a quick step back, her mouth hanging open. I blow out a breath and look away.
“Come in.” she says, finally.
I pull off my heels, and enter the sitting room. A wave of nostalgia hits me immediately. The cushion chairs are still the same from when I lived here. The 16 inch television has been replaced with a LCD, the walls are painted brown and cream – they were unpainted before, and the floor is tiled with broken tiles – it was previously carpeted.
I sink into one of the chairs, adjusting so that I sit just at the edge, while the girl disappears through the corridor that leads to the bedrooms. Minutes later, she reappears, leading a frail, gaunt man, who looks nothing like father, into the room. I take a closer look, and surely it is father, only, it is a shadow of the man I used to know.
I tell myself that I should stand up and help the girl get him into a chair, but I’m shell shocked. Baba Mary had not been exaggerating after all, when he said father was between life and death. He has lost a lot of weight – emaciated, is the right word. His skin is dry and scaly, and his eyes are sunken in his face.
“Adeola mi.” He says, as the girl settles him into a chair. “You are really here?”
“Yes, Daddy.” I answer. “I saw Baba Mary. He told me you are sick. How are you feeling now?” I ask.
“I’m better now that you are here.” He tries for a smile, but it’s lopsided.
“What exactly is the problem?” I glance up at the girl. “What did they say at the hospital?”
“Cancer.” She answers. “He was diagnosed two months ago. Kidney cancer.”
“Oh my God!” I gasp and sit back into the chair.
“How bad is it? What are the doctors’ recommendation?” I ask.
“Surgery. They say it is too far along, so they’ll have to remove the…”
“I’m sorry.” He interrupts the girl, then he begins to sob. “I’m sorry for everything.”
“I should have believed you. I should have stood up for you.” His shoulders racks as he sobs loudly, tears flowing down his cheeks.
“He tried to do the same thing to your sister.” He continues glancing up at the girl.
“My sister?” I ask.
“Yes. Your sister, Dewunmi.” He answers.
“Dewunmi!” I glance at the girl. She was just chubby 2 year old toddler, when I left.
“I was not feeling well, so I…”
Father begins to tell the tale of how he had come home early one afternoon and walked in on Dele trying to have his way with a struggling Dewunmi. My memories assault me, and I begin to remember the incident I had consciously buried in my head.
I was 11 when we lost mother and my little brother, Kunle, in a motorcycle accident. One minute, I was waving them goodbye at my school gate, and the next minute a neighbor was picking me up from school, because mother was gone, and father was too broken to pick me. Two years later, father met and married aunty Gbemi.
Aunty Gbemi was a nice woman, at least she was, until after the wedding ceremony, when she became a level away from the typical wicked step mother. She would whine repeatedly about how spoilt I was, and how if she had given birth to me, I would be as disciplined as Dele, her son – a 16yr old – who had come to live with us few months after the wedding. I didn’t like it, him even, when he came, because, he was given Kunle’s bed, and I had to share my room with him.
“He is your new brother.” Father had said, when I grumbled “And he is older than you, so you must respect him.”
One afternoon, not long after, I was changing my clothes, when he barged into the room. I had just pulled off my uniform, and was in my bra and panties only, so, I screamed for him to get out.
“See this small girl o! What is it that you are hiding?” He had asked, as he moved towards me, instead of the door.
Before I could answer, he had pushed me onto the bed and laid forcefully on me, and held my hands in a tight grasp.
“What are you doing?” I had gasped.
“Let me see that thing that you are hiding.” He had replied, and pushing down my bra with his free hand.
I was so shocked, I lost my voice, and only found it when he started to twist my nipples. I began to sob and begged him to stop, but he twisted them some more.
“See the small small things you are hiding sef.” He finally hissed, then let me go.
I laid there for hours and cried, mourning mother’s death all over again, because, if she didn’t die, Dele would not be in our house. I contemplated reporting to aunty Gbemi, but I knew she wouldn’t believe me. Her son, in her eyes, was the perfect child, so I waited till father got back from his business trip.
“Shut up there and stop lying.” Aunty Gbemi had interrupted. “I brought up Dele well, and he will never do such a thing.”
Unknown to me, she had been eavesdropping on my conversation with father, from the bedroom, and immediately I started to narrate the incident to him, she jumped out.
“Why didn’t you report to me when it happened ehn?” She spat. “Your father just came back today, and you’re already cooking up stories for him.”
I had ignored her question, and sworn to father that I was telling the truth. In the end, he sent me to my room, with an instruction to report to aunty Gbemi, when next something like that happened. Dele was never questioned by father, and maybe because of that, he became impetuous. It soon became routine for him to grab my boobs or my bum, and I never reported again. Two years later, he graduated to fingering and humping me.
A day before my 16th birthday, I was lying on my bed listening to a radio programme on my small Palito radio, when I formulated a plan to walk away from it all. The programme had been about sexual molestation and rape, and one lady had called in to share her story. Be brave enough to walk away, to run away even, if that is the only option. There are so many organization out there willing to help, run to them, she had advised. The very next day, before I lost my courage, I ran to one of those organization.
And, in all the years that have passed, I have hated father, even more than I hate Dele. I have waited a long time for his apology, so I can throw it back in his face. But, now that I have it, it seems so inconsequential. I’m just glad I walked out when I did, glad that I survived.
“It’s okay daddy.” I grasp his hands and crouch beside him, tears rolling down my cheeks. “It’s okay.”