New-York had a certain kind of something that Nigeria possessed more of; noise. As I walked alongside Ola, the little girl whose parents were in crisis, the streets were too busy considering that it was very early in the morning. Recording stores had already opened up and music blasted the whole city. Ola bumped her head to the songs as we walked. Few of the tunes were catchy if only I understood the language they sang in. Ola had insisted on going to school after what went down with her parents, and she wanted me to accompany her there. I knew nothing about Lagos streets or the road to her school but I persisted.
I took a mental picture of every lane or little corner roads that we walked through because I knew I would have to find my way back to Daniel’s place alone. I knew I was probably making the wrong choice and faced the possibility of being lost, but the little girl who was with me gave me courage.
“You will tell my aunty that you made me late.” She said to me as we were drawing close to a school sign board.
“Wait; are you my uncle’s wife?” She boldly asked.
“No, but I’m your uncle’s friend.” I said with a shaky voice. The fear that I was losing the images of the streets I had captured in my head took effect in my voice.
“Hmmm, that’s what the other aunty said the other day. But anyway, we are almost at my school. Mrs. Kemi is very mean. She will whip me for coming late.”
That got my attention. “No she won’t, I will make sure of that.” I tried assuring the girl. The education system in Nigeria baffled me. Ola was too young to be whipped even though it was due to lateness. I felt the need to protect her from anymore hardship for the rest of the day. The incident of the morning was enough for one child to bear for a lifetime.
She pushed the school gates opened.
“There she is.” She pointed to a lady who was standing in front of the entrance of the school reception area. What was I going to say to her? I was an only child and never had to worry about taking my younger ones to school or lying for their sake. This was all new to me but the lying wasn’t.
“You must be the principal…” I smiled, stretching a hand forward which she refused to accept for a handshake.
“And you are?” She asked, looking down at me. There was no doubt that her students feared her. She had on this old wrinkled dress suit, with blue pumps to match that looked as if she inherited it from her great grandparent. A gray wig was neatly fixed on her head which made her appear much older than I suspected her to be. She began to swing the cane in her hand back and forth. Ola drew back.
“Madam, I’m a friend of Ola and I’m so sorry shes late today. It’s my fault that she’s late, please let her slide for today…”
“It doesn’t matter if she is late or not she can’t go in, her school fees hasn’t been paid.”
“My mummy said that she will come and see you.” Ola spoke with sadness in her voice.
“Shut up you little girl!” The principal shouted. Ola jumped in fear. I held her closer to me. She was so little, with her head against my hips, I asked,
“How much is this school fees?”
“How does that concern you? Are you are parents?”
“Look, just tell me how much it is and if you allow Ola go to class for today, I promise to bring the fees.”
The woman took a good look at me. She began contemplating if it was worth her while if she told me.
“2,500 naira. And if by the time the school closing bells ring, and I do not have the money, Ola will not be allowed into my school again.”
Ola came in front of me to hug me before her principal could even finish then she ran off to class.
“By the way, are you not from here?” The principal was ready for some gossip.
“Thank you very much madam, I promise to bring the money.” I said, while climbing down the mini stairs out of the school hall.
I was back on the street. I had been cycling an elderly woman who was frying something that smelt like heaven for the 3rd time since I left Ola’s school. Customers stood in line waiting for their turn. They all seem to buy bread alone with the reddish substance shaped like larger meatballs. My stomach growled. After I came across the same joint for the 4th time, I agreed that my worst fear had come true; I was lost.
I refused to panic, that wasn’t going to solve anything but I couldn’t keep myself from not doing just that. A young teenage boy walked up to me.
“Excuse, you dey look for somebody?” He spoke their language. He smiled when he saw the confused look on my face as I tried translating what he said in English.
“Are you looking for somebody?”
I gasped. “Yes, please, yes.”
“Who is the person you’re looking for?” He said, swinging his hands back and forth. His youthful eyes held hope.
I hesitated before answering. What if he didn’t know who Daniel was, then all hope would have been lost again. I crossed my fingers and said his name, “Daniel. I don’t even know his last name but…”
“Oh bros Daniel? Ah… everyone knows him na. Come,” he took me by the hand. “I will take you to him.”
In no times, I started to recognize where we were.
“There he is.” The boy pointed straight ahead. As the figure he was pointing to came closer, it was Daniel.
“What the hell! I have been looking everywhere for you.”
“I’m sorry, I followed Ola to school I didn’t think it would be hard finding my way back but I was wrong.” I frowned.
“Come, are you stupid?” I was shocked, he insulted me.
“You don’t know anything about Lagos so please do not move around without proper knowledge. Didn’t they teach you that in France?” You know what, I forgave him right there as he ranted on and on. I blamed his frustration on what happened to his sister that morning.
“Thank you Nnamdi.” He dug his hands into his pocket and gave the young boy some change and the boy left before I could even thank him.
“Look I’m sorry okay?”
“No,” He sighed. “I should be the one saying sorry. I didn’t mean any of those things I said, it’s just that what happened this morning… god!” I knew if there was a wall close to him, he would have punched it. The lines of frustration ran deep on his face. Pity, that was all he could get from me.
“It’s okay, I understand.”
A pained smile formed across his face.
“Can I trust you?” He asked, drawing closer to me. I stepped back. “I know, I know, it’s too much to ask so soon but..” I swallowed the spit that was forming in my mouth and for a good minute, I was quiet.
“No…” I whispered. I was not going to let anything tie me down to this country. I could not be trusted and that was no lie.