Mrs. Salami took me and Oyigwe to her house after Mummy and the others left for the hospital. The inside of their parlour was very colourful; they had many framed family pictures on the walls. Two soldiers were shaking hands inside a calendar. I recognised one of them because our teacher showed us his picture during social studies period. She told us that he was called “General Ibrahim Babangida”, and she also said that he was the military leader of Nigeria. Tayo smiled down at me from inside one of the pictures on the wall. He was holding the yellow toy sport car that his uncle had brought for him when he visited them from Lagos.
Most of the things in their parlour appeared bigger than ours. For example, their TV was as big as a cupboard, and whenever they showed Sesame Street, all the Muppets – especially Cookie Monster and Big Bird – looked very big and real on the screen. The name of their dog was Jaguar. Tayo said his Daddy told them that Jaguar had the ability to sniff and know if somebody was a thief or a bad person, then he would bark and bite that person. I used to be afraid of Jaguar, but not anymore as we’ve become friends; anytime he saw me now he would wag his tail and I would rub him on the head. He would then bring out his tongue – as if he was trying to say something nice to me. Tayo encouraged me to always say “Jaguar Jaguar Jaguar” and snap my fingers repeatedly, and then the dog would listen to me and play with me. But Oyigwe was still afraid of Jaguar. I told her not to be afraid because Tayo had explained to me that Jaguar would only hurt bad people.
Mrs. Salami treated us kindly. I even reminded her it was my birthday. I told her that I was actually waiting for our Daddy to return home and take me and my sister and our Mummy to the park when those two policemen came instead.
She patted me on the head and said, “Happy birthday”. She then said I shouldn’t worry, that we could still go to the park after Daddy got back from the hospital. “Once your Daddy gets well, he can always take all of you to the park to have loads and loads of fun,” she told me. Afterwards, she encouraged me and my sister to make ourselves feel comfortable in her house. She asked us whether we would eat Moin-moin with Akamu (Cooked beans paste with corn pap).
Oyigwe told her we were not hungry; I supposed Oyigwe said that because our Mummy had warned us to be mindful how we eat in people’s houses. Mummy had told us that children who always do “longer-throat” while their parents were not watching would one day be tricked, stolen, and taken away by Gbomo-gbomo (Juju men), and then they may never be able to find their way back and see their family again.
Mrs. Salami said that Buki should bring Coca Cola soft drinks for us. She then left for her room to continue with her sewing. I soon could hear the not-too-loud “kchik kchik kchik kchik kchik” sound of the sewing machine, since her bedroom door was left slightly opened.
I love to drink Coca Cola very much; sometimes, Daddy would bring bottles home for all of us, and then we would take it with Mummy’s buttered bread. We’ve even got plenty empty crates of Coca Cola, Pepsi, and Brahma Gwarana inside our store, beside Mummy’s kitchen.
The Salamis have three children in their family. Tayo was the only boy. He was also the last child. Buki was the second child; the first born was in boarding house in a faraway place called Funtua, and she only came home during the holidays. She was taller than all of us. She said we should always call her “Auntie Dupe” whenever we wanted to talk to her.
Anytime “Auntie Dupe” was around she would help to plait Oyigwe’s and Buki’s hairs for them. She taught us some of the many songs they sang in her school. She also told us interesting stories which she said she read from books in their school library. Our favourite amongst these stories was the one about a blind boy called Akin, from a book titled, The Drummer Boy. She told us how the bad boys Akin came across inside the book tried to hurt him because he was blind. We all said we pitied him. But we were happy when, at the end of the story, all these bad boys Akin met were arrested and taken far away from him. We also got to hear another interesting story called, Oliver Twist.
Tayo was happy to see me in their house. He was watching Voltron cartoon and he wanted me to join him in the sofa so we could watch together. But I was not in any mood to watch cartoon. I was sad. Everybody in my house was sad; our Daddy didn’t return home from the office because a careless driver knocked him down with his car and that was why Mummy and the others have gone to see him in the hospital.
Oyigwe had stopped crying, but she was very quiet. I sat beside her on the sofa with both my hands tucked between my laps. I hated to see her looking unhappy because it made me unhappy too.
Buki brought the soft drinks for us.
I waited for Oyigwe to sip from her bottle before I would do same; if I didn’t wait for her, she might report me later to our parents that I was doing “ufira” (longer-throat) in our neighbour’s house while they were away.
“You people don’t want to drink your minerals, ba?” Buki asked us.
“Tell Oyigwe to drink hers first,” I suggested to Buki.
But Buki laughed at me instead. I sensed she felt I was trying to do wayó or smartness to my sister. “You have too much ogboju sense inside this your konkoro head,” she said to me and laughed again.
Oyigwe didn’t even say anything to either of us. She just held her bottle and sat quietly.
“You see Otseme is not drinking because you have refused to drink,” Buki said to my sister.
“What’s my own whether he’s drinking or not? Am I the owner of his mouth?” Oyigwe replied and gestured with her hand. It was like she didn’t want us to bother her.
“She will report me to our Mummy that I drank Coca Cola in your house,” I complained bitterly to Buki.
“Will you report him to your Mummy?” Buki asked my sister.
Oyigwe didn’t say anything in reply.
“If she reports you, just tell your Mummy that it was our Mummy who gave the drinks to you,” Tayo said to me from where he sat watching his cartoon, “Or will your Mummy still beat you when she finds out my Mummy gave the drinks to you? Don’t you know that my Mummy and your Mummy are good friends?”
“Don’t mind Otseme. He likes to talk too much,” Oyigwe said to Buki and Tayo. She then pinched me on the side of my tummy.
I winced and almost shouted because it was painful.
Buki and Tayo started to laugh at us.
I made a fist and wanted to hit Oyigwe in revenge, but I was afraid to do so since she was bigger and stronger than me. The last time I tried to fight with her, she hit me on my mouth with a tea spoon and it hurt. My Mummy had to press the spot with a piece of cloth dipped in cold water after which she punished Oyigwe by telling her to kneel down and put both her hands up. Mummy then warned her never to hit me with an object again.
Well, I told myself I will report her to Mummy and Daddy as soon as they returned home from the hospital. I will tell them that she was pinching me and making Buki and Tayo to laugh at me.
I was suddenly sad again when my mind went to Daddy. He had ended up in the hospital because of that careless driver who was not watching out for other people crossing the road. I told myself that anytime I see the driver, I will tell him he was a wicked person. I will tell him to pray to Jesus for forgiveness for hurting our Daddy who was innocent. I would also let him know how angry I was because he ruined my birthday for me.