TÉllÀ (chapter One)

The year 2004 ended with loud cracks of colourful fireworks that burst through the dark night and bloomed amongst the stars.

I giggled at my parent’s lack of decency as they clung unto one another. I could tell they were  whispering sweet things to each other’s ears because each time my father said something, my mother laughed. In my thirteen-year-old mind, whatever they were saying was less important to me. I wanted to show off the colourful hair bands my mother got me to my friends.

            “Tèllà,” my mother called as she pulled away from my father. Grinning, she waved her hands, urging me to come forward.

            My parents weren’t the only ones excited about the new year; members of our church greeted one another happily. Parents hugged their and for a moment, a twinge of jealousy hit me and I couldn’t help but wish my parents would have more children. A younger sibling to play with would be nice. But deep down, I knew it was impossible. I once overheard my parents discussing her PCOS issue, and I couldn’t understand what it meant until years later. My mother had a secondary infertility problem. It was normal to be unhappy, but my father words always echoed in my mind, ‘be thankful for what you have’

Nodding my head, I pushed the painful thoughts away before running towards them. The humidity in the air rushed through my nostrils as the wind rippled through my clothes. As soon as I got close to them,  I jumped, causing them to chuckle with amusement.

After some minutes of having a talk with the pastor about their plans for the church’s orphanage, my parents and I walked back to our vehicle and we made our way into the busy highway.

First days of every year were the best. Everywhere glittered with fire works, street lights and decorations from Christmas.  People were always nice to one another and one could feel the festivity in the air. Maybe people were nice because they were thankful for making it into the new year. Maybe its just the joy of the thrill that comes with the new year, either way, every January first were the best days for me.

 It took about ten minutes drive from the Akala highway down to Oluode area. When we finally turned into the bumpy road that led to Oluyole street, a small car ahead of us jerked a few times then slowed, blocking any car that would go in or out. Two people came out from the vehicle. A bulky, tall man dressed in jalabia and a woman wearing a white jalabia and black scarf covering the face walked towards the front of their car.

              “What are they doing?” My father asked, not referring to anyone in particular. He squinted his eyes as he slowed down too.

         “We should check on them,” my mother replied. “Their car must have broken down. Téllà, stay back.”

She said and got down too.

From behind, rays of torchlight flashed into the vehicle   as soon as my parents came down. By the time I looked back, another car was already parked behind us and two men got out. One of them has my father’s slender frame while the other was plainly gaunt. It wasn’t unusual to see people go in and out of the street but when they looked unkempt, it raised alarm. I looked out the window, but before getting a closer look at those two, gunshots as loud as a thunder cracked into the air. That moment, I knew it came from one direction.

 Freezing and swallowing  hard, I took in what just happened. At the distance ahead, two men argued and upon glancing towards the direction of their voices, I realised the first two people that got down from the vehicle right in front of my parent’s, weren’t a couple. They were both men. Soon, light footsteps approached both from ahead and behind.

“E be like say one pikin dey inside,” one hoarse voice spoke.

A figure hidden in the shadows pointed the flashlight at my face, blinding me from seeing there face — thanks to NEPA who didn’t make power available on a new year– all I saw was a shadow.

      “Pikin dey here true true o. Shey make we finish am too?” another man drawled. I could tell the voice belonged to the one pointing a torchlight at me.

Tears flowed down my cheeks as so many thoughts went through my mind.

 Will today be my last day?

As if my face was immersed in a pool, my breathing became deeper. Counting in my head for the moment the gun would go off, I shut my eyes but no gun sound went off.

     “Na the man and his wife be our problem. Leave the pikin make we comot,” another voice shouted, and that’s where the flaky memory shattered.

My parents were dead; a promising real estate agent and a caterer’s life cut short. Baba Oyo, my grandfather, died in his sleep and his burial service turned out like I pictured it to be. A sermon slower than a keke napep, taking just as many unnecessary digressions, a poor quality pamphlet which contained depressing hymns.

“Tèllà, someone elbowed me by the side.

I turned to see my husband looking at me with a scowl plastered on his face.

“You’re next,” he said in his usual monotonous tone.

I glanced around to see people’s eyes on me. They gave me a look I could understand quite well – pity.  Thinning my lips into an angry line, I brushed my palm over my face.

          What could their pity do? Bring my parents back? Provide enough money to organize a befitting burial for my grandfather? What could they offer me?

 I stood up, watching my feet take steps across the glossy tiles towards the altar. Taking my time, I glanced back at the faces before me then returned my gaze to the pamphlet in my hand.

“Baba Oyo became a mother and father when I was thirteen,” I said in a low voice then coughed to make it louder. “… not one day did he complain about how much of a burden I was.”

The pamphlet in my hands shook along with my entire body. I couldn’t hear a tiniest bit of whisper but I could feel every pair of eyes on me.

 “When my parents left this unfair world, Baba Oyo– my grandfather suffered a great loss.”

 I couldn’t help but stumble over the word loss. God knew my family suffered too much losses. One of my grandfather’s brother, a seventy-two-year-old, died only two months ago from injuries sustained from a fall. The doctors said it couldn’t heal due to his diabetes. But, it still baffled me he died not long after the injury. I was no medical personnel, so it was hard to tell if the wound truly killed him or it was just the series of unfortunate events that clung onto our family. My grandmother died when I was fourteen, just a year after my own parents lost their lives. Rumour has it that Mr Egbeola, one of my father’s business partners, hired men to kill both my parents.

   All those were losses. Great losses!

 The worst thing was the fact that people tagged our family as the cursed people with one offspring. It’s sad, yet true. My grandparents had only my mother. My grandfather’s younger brother has similar issues, just a child. I’ve got my fair share of the curse too. After all, my daughter was a sickle cell patient and I didn’t want to have more kids because of my fear of having more children like her, and there you go, my family was cursed.

  “He’s dependable and was a constant supporting pillar to everyone around him,” at that moment, I looked at the crowded church of mourners before making eye contact with my husband, who wore his emotionless expression as if it was an accessory he’d die if he didn’t wear.

I still wonder why he came to the burial service. Ayoni never liked my grandfather, and he did a good job keeping us apart once we got married until Baba’s death. There were times Baba sent me tons of messages to come home, but Ayoni won’t let me. Obviously, he didn’t come around to support me out of love. He only came so as to let people off his back. These days, he barely even paid me attention, talk more of  showing me affection.

 His dark eyes stared at me as he scratched the back of his neck. Desperate to break the stare contest between us, I looked to the other side of the church. Letting out a deep breath, I looked back at the pamphlet and tried to finish the scripted speech.

 “Sun re Baba Oyo,” I rambled through the last words of the speech before getting off the church alter in my flat shoes.

  Instead of going back to my seat, next to Ayoni and our daughter, Anu, I continued down the middle of the church, passing between the rows of benches until the warm afternoon air grazed my face. Although, August came with persistent rainfall, the sky, a feathery shade of white looked good enough for a burial ceremony.  I could only hope it’d stay that way until the end of the event. There was little to no money for a good party, an heavy downpour would worsen things for me.

Standing under the porch of the church, I searched for my phone then dialed the caterer I hired to cook for a few guest. But before it rang, heavy footsteps caught my attention.

“You should be inside,” Ayoni said behind me. His deep voice lacked the life it used to have back when things were normal between us.

Am I so boring he has to use that tone? I wondered but  didn’t dare confront him. It would result in a big fight. One I was bound to loose.  So instead of arguing, I stood up like the obedient wife and walked back into the church with him trailing behind.

 Inside, the sermon already ended and people gathered in groups. A few people wore the blue Ankara I sold to them as aso ebi, but majority wore different native attires. When my eyes landed on recognisable faces which includes my old classmates back in secondary school days, I approached and thanked them for taking out of their time to pay their last respect to my grandfather.

Baba Arogangan my grandfather’s best friend whom he used to share kola nuts and palm wine with didn’t take his death well. He shed tears as I thanked him for his monetary contribution. He didn’t come around for the burial. Mostly because he couldn’t contain his grieve.

 

 After burying my grandfather — within his compound like he instructed me years ago — feeding people who came for the reception and seeing Ayoni off to the park on his insistence to return to Ibadan without any reason, I laid next to my daughter and cried uncontrollably.

 

For a man as old as Baba Oyo, he died at the right age. It called for celebration but what was the use of celebrating when he has no children to survive him. The old man lived an unfulfilled life. I didn’t want such life.

 Signing, I yawned and shut my eyes, but after a few minutes, my eyes flew open. At first, I was unsure what to make of the noise, and it took longer than usual for me to detect where it came from. It sounded like tiny pebbles were thrown at the wall but soon escalated to ceramics shattering against the wall.

Is someone in the house?

 

 My heart thumped against my chest. I swallowed hard and glanced through the window. The light of the day has faded away into a darkening blue haze. Although, the frogs croaked loudly, it didn’t cover up the strange sounds. As if whoever was disrupting the house moved from the kitchen to the sitting room, a scraping sound echoed throughout the house.

 

Trying not to shake, I looked back at my daughter who slept before taking a bold step out of bed.  I found my grandfather’s walking stick next to the bed and thought it would  be useful to destabilize the person disrupting the house. My walk through the dark corridor didn’t come as an easy task but it didn’t stop me from walking further.

  When I made my way into the living room, the only source of light came from the rays of of the moon. With my heart beating against my chest and my legs shaking as if they were pinned in a bucket of ice, I half expected a jobless youth would be standing next to the television, trying to steal it away. Instead, two white orbs shined through the darkness. It flickered like a dull fluorescent light, but soon brightened. I stood glued to a spot confused and scared at how this was possible.

What was holding these orbs?

They looked like someone’s eyes, yet were too large to fit into any sockets. As the orbs approached me, I moved back into the passage. The urge to run lingered in my mind, but if I ran whatever it was would chase after me. Besides Anu was inside the room.

What if it attacks her? —

 

“The song…” a voice echoed, piercing my eardrums and sounding like there were millions of people in the living room with me.

 

Four more orbs beamed through the darkness. At that moment, my eyes stayed glued to those orbs. I tried to stop myself from looking, but the more I tried, the more I got weak.

“The song…” came another whisper before the light flashed on.

“Thank goodness,” I exhaled and inwardly prayed for PHCN then looked towards the direction of the orbs.

They are gone!

Releasing another sigh, I turned to leave but a loud thud made me jump a mile in the air. Whirling around, I prayed the orbs weren’t back. Where the noise came from, I couldn’t tell but then another thud echoed behind the closed doors of the room next to the dinning table. With large lump in my throat, I tiptoed towards the door. For all I knew, the white orbs could have reappeared in the store room, but once I switched on the bulb, nothing out of the ordinary sprang up.

 

 The room was filled with different travelling bags. My eyes darted to the floor and next to a red bag was a musical instrument, a ruan.  I was unsure if it was all in my head, but I could’ve sworn the instrument started vibrating until my hands touched it.

 Hey guys. Here’s a new one! 



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