I am Alice Adeola Bryn, the eldest child in a family of four; my dad, mum, myself and my younger brother, Sean. Back when we were young, people said I looked a lot like my Yoruba dad but did things like my mum. This was something that always left me wondering whether it was a compliment or not. They however claimed that Sean was more like my mum in physical resemblance which also baffled me as mum was a very petite American and Sean was a lanky boy with little freckles.
I grew up with my parents on a quiet street in a suburb town somewhere in western Nigeria called Ibadan. It was a street where everybody minded their own businesses even though we were the only mixed-race children there. The street had rows and rows of buildings so identical that the owners often confused their houses with someone else’s. Lawns and fences, barbed wire and bamboo sticks, shrubs and hedges; all in a neat row like soldiers on parade just to identify which was whose.
Growing up with my parent was fun. Even though we were not rich, our parent did everything they could to make us comfortable and happy. We often traveled to Queens-New York to visit my maternal uncles, it was safe to say we had all we wanted. We attended the best school in the town and our parents showed us great love and affection. We didn’t really care how rich or poor we were because as long as we asked and were given, we were happy.
Everybody on our street addressed themselves as Mr. A or Mrs. B. They went about their various activities with due concentration while their children only looked at themselves over shrubs or through openings in such shrubs or fences and even through the window of their parents’ cars as they drove along the street. We, as what was popularly called half-caste kids, often got the most stares mostly because mum was a white woman.
Ours was a street where the only playmate we had were our siblings, our pets, and our nannies. The longing to go over the fence and play with Mrs. A’s children or shout at Mrs. B’s boys whenever they made their happy noises was ever present. There were times when Sean would crawl under the hedge surrounding our house into the next house to play football with Elijah, our neighbor’s son.
Sean always tuned his frustrations on me whenever dad scolded him for going under the hedge. The reason for this can not really be far-fetched because my brother would have loved to have other brothers to play with instead of being stuck with his overbearing older sister. Eventually he would content himself with the time he played football with dad and played house with me.
The only times we ever had real fun with children of our age, apart from the school and the parks or the zoo, was in our dad’s village where our grandpa lived. As kids, we grew up to know only one grandfather and he was the most wonderful man on earth to us.
We used to look forward to the visits to grandpa’s place because it was the time to pride ourselves in our smart clothes, our toys that the village children had to put money down before they could touch or play with. Sean was always the one to coach a team of big-bellied, nose-running, ring-worm and rash invested boys that were always hovering around us whenever we visited the village. It was fun and games till our most precious grandpa died. That is however a story that I hold very sacred and will always retell for as many times as I can.
The day our uncle came to our house to tell us about grandpa’s sickness will always be fresh in my memory. We were having breakfast when he arrived and because we knew that he never actually visited unless he needed money; we didn’t let it bother us.
My dad had excused himself from the dining table and went to sit at the balcony with uncle Syl while mum set the table for him to join us. Uncle left hurriedly without eating and said something about a woman that needed stitches and dad entered with a worried look on his face. I sensed something was wrong.
“What is wrong?” Mum asked as she parked the unused plates to take back into the kitchen.
“Papa is very ill. He had been taken to the town hospital where they were told that he had to be transferred to a General Hospital,” Dad replied and sat down dejectedly.
“Is grandpa going to be okay?” Sean asked from the dining table.
“Yes, dad. Will he be…?”
“Eat up and get ready for school. Don’t you have a paper by nine?” Mum directed at me with a stern look on her face. I apologized and parked my used plates to the kitchen to wash. Dad was ready when I returned and I took my bag and off to school we went with the matter left unresolved.
My school was like any other so called private schools with buildings painted white and green. The school had rows of storey buildings with classes filled with smartly dressed students in their green uniforms. There were a number of European and American kids in my school, kids mostly sent down by their parents because they wanted discipline for their children and an in-depth knowledge of their heritage.
I quickly ran to my class. It was my last day and I had the last paper to sit for as a high-school student and I wanted to do my best. Dusty waved at me as I entered the class and I went to meet her; she was the only daughter of a wealthy politician and my best friend. Her parents were waiting for her to finish high school before taking her to London where her mum lived.
“Hey girl.” Dusty greeted as we hugged, “Why the long face?”
I told her about my grandpa’s sickness and my fear that he might die.
“Well, I will advise that you put that aside and concentrate. You can worry about it after the paper,” Dusty said and walked to her seat. I did as she advised. I dropped my bag and tried to put it all out of my mind till someone says something different about the situation.
As hard as I tried to put the thought away I couldn’t really do it. It was a very long day. I was moody all through the school hours and everybody avoided me that even Dusty who was known for her chatty nature got the cue and kept her wisecracks to herself. Before long the school bell rang and Dusty came over to say goodbye. I was too preoccupied to say a proper farewell knowing quite well that she might be leaving soon. I said a hurried goodbye though and went looking for Sean. I knew Dusty would be unhappy that I reacted that way but I decided that I would apologize when I go over to their house on Saturday for our usual sleep-over.
I found Sean playing football and I yelled at him to meet me at the school gate where Dad normally picked us from. Dad came later and drove us home still refusing to make any comment on grandpa and his health. I felt the urge to ask him how grandpa was but I couldn’t because I knew I wasn’t really prepared to take any negative response. Our parents didn’t discuss it with us and I zeroed my mind that everything was okay, if it wasn’t they would have said something.
Days after however, while watching the news of a plane crash that left many people dead and several injured I summoned the courage to ask what the nature of grandpa’s sickness was and if he was better. Dad had looked at mum and mum had looked away. I saw their reaction and my heart sank and then I wished I had never asked.
“Your grandpa is dead, Alice,” Dad mumbled. I shook my head; Sean screamed.
“That cannot be true, Dad. If he is dead, how come you didn’t tell us?” I asked, “You should have said something.”
“We know how you would feel and had to wait for the right time,” Mum consoled me and pulled me to her bosom. Sean got up and went outside. Dad followed him. I knew he would go over the shrub to tell Elijah about the news. Dad didn’t have the heart to scold him at that moment so he just went into his bedroom instead. I left mum in the sitting room and went crying into my bedroom. It was so sad and heavy for me. I wept bitterly. I heard later that Dusty was one of the few people that died in the plane crash on the news and I wished I had said a proper goodbye to her.
The holidays came. We had nowhere to go. No grandpa to visit and no Dusty to invite over for little gossips in the weekends. Mum and Dad decided to take us to spend a weekend at Aunt Betty’s house; she had a girl of Sean’s age. This visit was meant to replace our yearly visits to the village. But it had something else planed for our family.
I lost my parents. It had just stopped raining and the roads had been slippery. Dad was negotiating a bend when a big truck ran into us and I fainted only to regain consciousness in a hospital bed days later. Sean was not seriously injured and had helped the doctors in contacting Aunt Betty.
They told us that Dad and Mum died on the spot. I cried for days. Death was mean to us that month. Everything as we knew it changed and I was just sixteen years old while Sean was thirteen. People expected us to hold it together as we were old enough but it was terrible. It was like my whole life crumbled down in front of me. We were not prepared for this. It was nothing we wanted and we didn’t know what to make of it or how to do things after that. We had a close family and that made the future something I dreaded.
After the burial, we became the responsibility of the family. Our grandmother wanted us to come to Queens but the family said that it was too soon. Uncle Syl moved into our house in the name of taking care of us even though he had his interior motive which we later found out the hard way.
It started with his yells and scream and threats and then he tried to molest me to Sean’s anger. He bite uncle Syl and had threatened to kill him if he ever laid his hand on his sister again. Things became worse after this. Syl would call us names and would flare up at the tiniest provocations. I was saddled with the responsibility of shielding my brother from my uncle’s threats and curses. He would threaten to kill us if we dared to report him to any other member of our extended family.
The bigger reality dawned on me when I got admission into a higher institution and my uncle said that there was no money in Dad’s company account to spend on my education at a fancy university. It was a big blow to my face. He even suggested that I drop out so that Sean could complete his education at a public school.
We were however rescued by Aunt Betty who stood by us and helped us to reclaim our right from our uncle. The Will our parents left indicated that they left a fixed deposit account with some reasonable amount of money for us. The Will also read that a land was to be sold and the money used for our education, but it was really not enough to cater for the two us. Aunty Betty assisted in paying for my school fees. She changed Sean’s school because the school fee was not something she could afford. His new school was also a private school and it was located near her house and that was good enough for me.
I settled down to campus life after I had made sure my brother was duly settled in his new school. He was placed in the hostel when Aunt Betty’s husband refused the plea for him to live with them because of his daughter. Our house was given to a caretaker to run and maintain until we were old enough to take over, this led to one of uncle Syl’s threats and rages. He threatened to put a curse on anybody that stepped in the house but my aunt just waved it aside as the cry of a deranged man.
Soon enough, life on campus became less demanding and less frightening; the fright was because of the stories from my parent and the media about violent student unrest and cultism. I began to make vital decisions for myself instead of having to run to Aunt Betty every time something new came up on campus.
It was one of the days that I had to walk extra kilometers to the lecture hall that I ran into Sandra. I couldn’t really recollect who she was but I knew her face was familiar and it was as if she was thinking the same thing because before I could bring myself to call her, she walked up to me.
“Excuse me,” Sandra said. “Do you by any chance know me somewhere? You look like someone I know.”
“Well, I’m not sure. You look familiar too,” I answered and moved closer to her side.
“Did you attend Life-Gate Memorial at Ibadan?” she asked further.
“No, I didn’t but I lived in that town before my admission into this school,” I replied.
“I did too. I lived at Greenwell Estate,” she said, and squinted from the sun.
“Oh, that is probably where we met. I lived there too. I grew up there actually,” I said. Sandra’s eyes opened in surprise.
“I remember you. You are that girl that used to wear one funny looking eye glasses. We lived on the same street. Your dad had a blue BMW,” Sandra said and frowned.
I nodded, I remembered her too. She was the girl that used to wave and make funny faces at me anytime we passed by their house with the bamboo fence. The house used to annoy Sean because it was the oldest house with its ugly fence and dirty compound.
“I’m sorry about your dad. My mum told me he died in an auto crash. How is your brother?” Sandra asked as she pulled me towards the shade of a mahogany tree by the side of the road. She said something about the scorching sun and our delicate skin.
“We are doing reasonably well. Are you also in this school?” I asked eventually after she had finished wiping her sweaty arms.
“Yes. I got admitted for Mass communication,” She replied as we walked towards the lecture hall. That was the beginning of a friendship that was to last many years, through various ups and downs.
We became very close and we discovered that we had lots of things in common. Her parents were not as privileged as ours, because her dad was a half-educated mechanic while her mum sold beverages in a small kiosk in front their house. Sean used to turn his back whenever Sandra waved at our passing car. I did not remember ever waving back until she stopped waving and started making those funny faces and throwing sand. Mum saw this one day and urged me to wave at Sandra whenever she waved at me though Sean thought this was not necessary.
“They are filthy, mum,” Sean would say. Mum would scold him for saying such things and would tell him to thank his stars that he was more privileged. It never meant anything but we started waving at her and her sister, Jenny.