The streets were empty but solitude was all the company Bamidele craved as she walked home. The last few hours at the hospital had been terrible. Two births and two badly wounded victims of a car crash were more than her already weary soul could bear. She could barely stand when the last suture was done; yet there she was preferring to walk home rather than take Zion up on his offer to drop her off.
Zion. She pushed the thought of his face away from her mind. She didn’t need to think about him right now; the huge brown eyes that filled with disappointment when she said ‘No’ this evening, another ‘No’ as if all the ‘Nos’ she had been telling him were not enough. She didn’t want to think about the pencil drawing he had made of her that was even now hanging in his apartment either. She didn’t want to contemplate what it was that he saw that made him draw her so. She didn’t want to imagine how good he felt inside her or how his dreadlocks always, always smelled like those sweet oranges her mother had piled her with as a little child.
It was not the time to think of such things. There were more important things.
The call had come in the middle of a caesarian surgery. The nurse had waited until two hours later, when the newborn was nestled in his frightened mother’s arms to inform her.
‘There is a message for you at the front desk. A call from Nigeria.’
Her heart had immediately started to race and it was all Bamidele could do to stay her feet from doing the same. It was Aunty Enitan who had called. She could tell from the number. The old woman should have been asleep at the time she had called Bamidele.
She picked up on the first ring of Bamidele’s return call.
‘It is Ade. It is time.’
That was all she needed to say for Bamidele to get herself down to HR and request a few weeks off.
It was not as if she didn’t know it was coming. They all knew. And yet knowing and being prepared for all these years was not enough to keep away the hollowness that had taken up residence in her belly since she heard her aunt’s voice.
Zion would have held her and listened. He knew about Ade; he had even spoken to him on phone that one time when Bamidele had been stupid enough to believe she could love him and had let him live for more than two months in her apartment. Zion would have kissed her belly till the hollowness she felt eased a bit. Zion would have made her chicken soup and massaged her temples. Zion would have driven her home; he would have even walked her home if she asked him to instead of driving in his new BMW.
But she had said a resounding ‘NO’ to the man and he was probably home already licking his wounds, while she walked the streets alone, with only her thoughts to accompany her.
The flight was long but Bamidele did not notice. The evil taxi men at Muritala airport charged her twice the regular fare but she did not care. All she wanted was to see Ade.
She could see the bougainvillea flowers from the beginning of the street even though their house was at the very end. She was about to tip the driver an extra 15% when she remembered she was in Lagos and not Brookyln. Adamu, the maiguard sighted her and gave a cry of welcome as the taxi driver sped off angrily, sensing a lost opportunity to make even more money.
‘Aunty, aunty.’ The old maiguard called out to her even though he was over 15 years her senior and had carried her on his neck so she could pick flowers off the tree for Ade and her father when she was just a little girl.
‘Adamu. Sanu!’ She said to him, her smile realer than it had been in a long time. He picked up her bags and led the way inside.
‘Why didn’t you tell me you were coming today? I could have sent someone to get you at the airport.’ her aunt scolded as the old woman held her to her bosom. She was all the mother Bamidele had ever known after Mama passed away while giving birth to Ade.
Ade was taking a nap, her aunt told her. His naps these days were long, she added sadly.
She found her father in the garden. He breathed her name like a prayer as she held him close. He had put on some weight, she thought. Or maybe it was the burden of losing his child that weighed him down so that he seemed heavier and slower.
He spoke Yoruba to her and she answered him in the language of their forefathers. He clapped his hands happily to know she had not forgotten. She held onto his hand as he gave her the doctor’s verdict on Ade. She wasn’t sure if it was for her comfort or for his.
He finally opened his eyes in the evening.
‘Sis.’ He called out from the bed where he had been sleeping.
‘Hello you!’ She answered, lifting her head from the book she had been reading to him from.
‘You are here. I told them not to make you come all the way.’
‘Shhh…stop that nonsense. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.’ She replied.
He smiled and the hollow feeling dug even deeper into her insides.
‘How is Zion?’ Ade asked her.
She kissed his forehead in response and told him it was time for dinner.
He didn’t bring it up till a few days later as they sat watching the bougainvillea petals fall like angels from the sky.
‘You know why Papa named you Bamidele, right?’
‘Arrrggghhh. Not that soppy mushy nonsense again!’
He laughed but he continued.
‘He named you that because he said he took one look at you and knew he had finally come home. You are ‘home’ Sis, ‘home’ to all of us. But even a home needs to be filled with people and with love. I will be gone in a few days. And then Papa and Aunty will be all you have left. What will happen if things go as they should and you get to bury your elders? What will happen then,Sis? Who will fill your insides with laughter and love? Who will accompany you to the end of your journey as you have accompanied me, as you will accompany Papa and Aunty?’
She was 4 when Ade was born. The doctors had given him only a few days to join his mother in her tomb. She could still remember how afraid she had been at the beginning; afraid to to love her little brother, to touch him, to repeat the lullabies her mother had sung to her to him. Afraid the doctors were right and she would cry herself to sleep for two people instead of one. He had survived the doctors’ predictions and lived, bringing her and Papa joy all these years.
She was the older one but he was always wiser. He wanted to be a doctor and she had wanted to be a singer. She became a doctor so he could live out his dream through her. She came home on holidays and told him about dissecting rabbits. He threw up and they laughed long and hard. He sang the songs she had written better than she ever could. She listened to phone recorded versions of him singing as she stayed up at night reading about the nerve endings and scouring the internet for news on research for cystic fibrosis cures.
‘I am sorry I couldn’t find a cure.’ She said finally.
He laughed and more petals fell from the sky. ‘Don’t let Papa hear you. He thinks you are the cure for everything.’
‘It is okay to let someone in, Sis. Not everyone will leave you like I and Mama.’
He died that night, one day short of his 24th birthday. They buried him beside his mother and Bamidele walked her father and aunt home from Ikoyi cemetery. The streets were as empty as the streets in Brooklyn had been a few days ago. Only this time, she had Papa and Aunty. Her father held onto her hand and said her name over and over again as they crossed into Glover road.
‘Bami dele, Omo Bami kale, Come home with me, stay till the evening of my life.’
Brooklyn was colder when she got back. Zion was waiting with flowers at her apartment. She let him hold her and let him break her fall into misery.
They made love two weeks later when she was sure. She told him she was moving home to Nigeria while he made her breakfast. He said nothing for a little while, just kept on cutting asparagus. She went to stand beside him.
That was when he asked her.
‘How hard do you think it would be for me to find a job in Nigeria?’
She held him for a long time and whispered in his ears, words, in the language of her father.