If Eru was shocked before, with that last revelation, she was now stupefied! She rushed into the compound galvanized by the seven year old desire and yearning to see the woman who brought her to life, the woman who according to latest news was rich enough to own a car!
True to their ingrained love of anything remotely scandalous, gossip worthy or not; the entire residents of No 49 Gberigbe street, Isale Oyin, had come out of their various rooms, cubicles and/or partitions. There was a small crowd gathered just by the entrance to the main passage way of this suddenly infamous house. People whom Eru had not seen for weeks trooped out; Oga Chidi,the part time mechanic who was forever bringing his ‘village sisters’ of different shades, shapes and sizes to visit him was there. Mama Karo, to whom Eru had lent a wooden stool two weeks ago, and who had conveniently forgotten to return the said stool was there. Evangelist, a middle aged man with three children whose only visible occupation was to carry out 5 o’clock ‘morning cries’ was also there. Heck, even people from the adjacent houses were there! The crowd was so much for the small passage, Eru couldn’t see who it was that was the center of attraction. But she could hear her voice.
The first thing Eru heard of her mother was her voice. It was angelic, exquisite, cultured with a trace of the foreign in it. It was unlike anything she had ever heard in the slums of Isale Oyin and Eru was mesmerized by it. Have you ever heard someone speak and become immediately certain that attributable to the quality of the voice, the owner must possess a musical talent on par with the likes of Celine Dion? This was something like that. If I were to describe her, I would use two words only-cut glass.
Eru’s heartbeat accelerated faster as she drew near the crowd. How would she access her mother? People were milling all around her; some reaching out to shake her hand, others just content in staring at her. Eru was confused. She pressed through the crowd, somewhat reminiscent of the Biblical Zaccheus, struggling for a glimpse of a seven year old fantasy.
She saw her feet first. Encased in expensive looking sandals, were fair, beautifully formed, classily pedicured feet. Eru’s eyes lingered, she wanted to drink in the sight, to relish this moment, to enjoy her first glance. Slowly her eyes travelled up, past her mother’s ankles, her calves, her knees and then, she noticed that she was no longer straining to move forward. Somehow she was already at the front, someone must have noticed her presence and pushed her out,through the crowd, so that she was directly in front of her mother. The silence that fell upon the gathering was expectant and deafening.
It was inevitable that their eyes should meet.The owner of the angelic voice with the exquisite feet, and the little child, scruffily dressed who held a black nylon bag. Yes, it was unalterable that as Eru’s eyes traveled upward; as she straightened up to her full height, her eyes would collide with that of her mother’s. When it did, it was a shock to both parties. Eru looked at eyes that were the same shade as hers, skin very much like hers, even a face that exactly mirrored hers. She was taken aback, as was her mother. Both let out simultaneous gasps, even the expressions on their faces eerily alike. Eru did the only thing she thought to do. She turned around and fled down the corridor, fled to the only place she trusted at that moment. The only place she was familiar with- her father’s arms. She rounded the corner with top speed, her hurry causing her to stumble, even stub her toe once, twice, unaware that an even greater shock awaited her in her father’s room.
She threw open the door to their room and burst in, and stopped. The nylon she had faithfully held onto dropped unnoticed to the floor, her jaw fell open and her eyes slowly grew bigger. Her father was standing! Standing on his feet, by himself, dressed in a shirt and pair of trousers she didnt even know he owned! This was a man who for the past six months had been bedridden, only getting up to take his bath and perform necessary toiletries. And even then, it was always weakly and reluctantly! She took a tentative step forward, to better confirm if it was her father. Yes, indeed, it was; he had his back towards her, but it was him standing there with his shirt tucked in and his hair combed.
She whispered, “Papa?”.
Spinning round immediately as if he had been waiting for her, he began urgently, “Where have you been?! I have been waiting for you! Look at this room! It’s untidy! Oya, pack those clothes from the chair! Fold them! Where is the broom? Quick, sweep the room too!..Why are you standing there like that, looking at me?!”.
Eru found her tongue. “Papa,” she demanded in a small whisper that seemed already to know the truth, “Is it true then? Is it true??”
Her father paused, turned his attention away from the bed he was trying to straighten and regarded her with gentle yet sorrowful eyes.
“Eru,” he began, “I don’t know how to…”, but then he stopped and his eyes switched to somewhere above her head and he grew silent. Eru heard the rustle of fabric behind her first before she smelt the subtle change of the room’s fragrance to something that was undoubtedly feminine. Her mother had followed her.
She turned to confront her, to ask her if indeed the rumors were true, but her mother swept past her as if oblivious to her presence, her eyes fixed intently on the man standing in the center of the room with his shirt tucked in and his hair combed.
“Jide??”, she gasped.
Jide did not move from where he stood. He had long dreamt of this moment every day for the past seven years, how he would react, what he would say to the only woman he had ever loved, the only woman he had given his heart; but now that the moment was here, he found he could do nothing, say nothing. For what seemed like an eternity,they both stared at each other, paralyzed by the strength of their emotions.
Then Jide whispered, “Mojisola…ife mi….”.
And that broke the ice for with tears streaming down their faces, they rushed into each others arms, both whispering the others name like it was an act of worship.
Eru stared at them, tears running down her own face, for nought except the intensity of the raw emotions she had just witnessed. She backed out of the room blindly, confused. There was a lot she didn’t understand. Too many questions filled her head and along with them a variety of emotions that discomfited her – Sadness,mortification, and even jealousy.
She needed answers, and she needed them quick. There was only one person she felt she could turn to at this point, so she went in search of her. She headed down the corridor towards Agbeke’s room.