Conrad saw someone first. A suited up man holding a placard with the name CONRAD IBORI written boldly on it. “They’ve changed the driver again?” he said angrily, as he signaled the man to come forward to take his stuff, but the driver just stood there, and signaled Conrad to come forward as well. It happened for a moment, both Conrad and the driver pointing and signaling for one to come to the other, until finally, and which so much annoyance, he dragged his box towards the driver, and began shouting at him.
Kennedy burst out laughing, while his aunt came running out from a blue bus, hugging him and planting kisses on him.
Still Andrew had not seen Mrs. Ugabi, so he walked further, and just there, between two cars, he saw the bushy mane of ebony black hair moving up and down in such quick movements that he was sure she was having an argument with someone. She turned slightly, and as she saw him, her angry face turned into a smiley one, she ran to meet him.
“Andy ma boy,” she exclaimed, hugging him tightly. “My God you look horrible and starved,” she began unceremoniously. “Have you not been eating well – you should have at least wore trousers or something.” She continued quickly.
As if on queue, Conrad and his driver walked past them, apparently the driver had refused to get Conrad a bottle of cold Soda except they go get it together.
He waved at Andrew, and Mrs. Ugabi smiled at him.
“Is he your classmate?” she asked but before Andrew could answer, she continued. “can’t you see the way he was dressed, and you should have combed your hair some more.” She stared at him for a moment, and then said breathlessly, “I am so happy you are back, I really missed you – the house was so empty, Jessica refused to come back, and now your father has this contract so he’s never at home – Ayo come and carry his luggage.”
Andrew managed a smile as he wondered why he had bothered to look his best, knowing fully well that she was going to find something not so good about it. He wished he could say differently about her appearance though. She did not seem like herself. Her face that was once free of wrinkles, now had pronounced lines running across it. Even though her hair was still black and rich looking, it looked very rough. Even her steps seemed kind of weak.
Mrs. Ugabi stepped back for Ayo to carry Andrew’s luggage and sneezed a little.
Andrew could have sworn he saw a small mushroom of smoke pop out of her head and disappear immediately.
“Mum are you alright?” he asked her, walking towards her, and holding her hand, which seemed oddly hard and rocky.
“I’m fine,” Mrs. Ugabi answered firmly. “Ayo be careful with the – of course, exactly what I was avoiding.”
Ayo stared sheepishly at the box which had now torn from its handle where Ayo had tried to drag it, spilling all of the box’s contents.
Andrew felt a burning sensation on his palm, and instinctively reached for a tiny bundle that had fallen out of one of the pockets of his shorts. He hid it in his pocket, and then helped Ayo pack everything into the box and then into the car trunk.
They were on the road moment’s later, with Andrew sitting at the front, while Mrs. Ugabi stayed at the back.
Andrew waited before saying anything, just in case she was going to ask him about the school, but there was no indication that she was going to, instead it was Ayo that spoke.
“How your school?” he asked, making a turn, and shaking his head at the road side hawkers that had approached the car with bananas, bread, groundnuts and ice-cream. “Madame no want anything today.” Ayo wasn’t very good in speaking English, but that did not stop him from doing his job very well.
“Maybe get a few bananas,” Mrs. Ugabi replied. “Andrew you don’t want anything, what did you eat in the plane?”
“Maybe banana,” he replied, still waiting for her to ask the question about school. “How has everything been going, and your book-”
Ayo bought the bananas, and passed them to Mrs. Ugabi, who handed some to Andrew.
“It won me an award for best book on psychology,” she answered Andrew brightly. She sneezed again, and quickly waved her hand over her head. “It’s supposed to air tonight, the award ceremony, how was sch – Ayo don’t ever pass the red light again, IDIOT!”
Andrew’s felt the burning pain in his palm again, he wanted to shout on Ayo for stopping Mrs. Ugabi from asking that question, but then his eyes caught a flier that was on the car floor. He picked it up and read, it was a burglar awareness flier. “Mummy what’s this?” he asked.
“There’s been a series of robberies lately on our street,” Mrs. Ugabi answered, peeling one of the bananas. “Everyone in the neighborhood’s been pasting that on streets and sharing it. They took Mr. Lodmuth’s television and his wife’s jewelry, she says it’s worth millions – I’ve seen the sort of things she wears, the burglar is better off without them.”
Andrew laughed and so did Mrs. Ugabi, until they reached a place where the traffic was stagnant.
“At this rate,” Ayo said, as he stretched his head out of his window to see how long the traffic was. “We go reach house for night.”
“And what of the workers?” Mrs. Ugabi said. “Who is going to pay them for today’s work – what is causing the hold up for goodness sake?”
“Workers for what?” Andrew asked.
“I am hosting a party for my award of course,” Mrs. Ugabi said cheerfully. “Your father is against it but I want to do it, it’s that stupid soil at the front yard that won’t produce anything, not even grass. So I had some gardeners work on it, the party doesn’t hold until next week. I hope the National Electric Power Authority sorts out their problems before then, you know we rarely have light these days, I don’t remember when last I worked on my computer.”
“No light!” replied Andrew, as the thought of how boring his holiday was going to be without electricity to watch the television. “Okay, but do I have to see anybody,” he asked. “I have this friend that stays in Ikeja, can I go and stay there, I really don’t want to see anybody mum.”
“Why not?” Mrs. Ugabi asked, looking shocked (Andrew thought she meant he could visit his friend, but then his smile faltered as she continued). “Of course I would have to introduce you to a lot of people, let them know there is another doctor in the family, studying in Europe for that matter. Tell me how was school?”
Finally she had asked the question that Andrew was waiting for, but he was so lost in thought wondering the sort of people he was going to meet, how boring his holiday was already turning out, and how Mrs. Ugabi might embarrass him without meaning to that he just replied simply, “School was okay.”
The traffic seemed to have loosened up a bit, and they were moving once more.
“What will you like to eat when we get home,” she asked him.
Andrew yawned, using his hand to cover his mouth. It was at that point that Mrs. Ugabi saw something, or thought she saw something.
“What is that on your palm?” she asked, dragging his left hand, but before she could get a better look of whatever it was on the palm, she sneezed again.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” Andrew asked her once again. She shook her head. “You’re not telling me the truth,” Andrew continued, trying to keep her attention away from his palm. If she saw what was on it, Andrew wasn’t sure how she was going to react. “You’re looking tired mum, is it dad, is everything alright with dad, is that why-”
“I am okay Andrew,” Mrs. Ugabi assured him with a smile that did not reach her eyes.
Even though Andrew knew she was not telling him the truth as was the case whenever he asked her most questions, he had at least managed to hide the mark that he had received on his palm. The next plan now, was how to keep it away from her through out the rest of the holiday.
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