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FICTION: A FAMILY AFFAIR




Photo Credit: Vi Truong





It came out of nowhere- like a sudden sharp blow. No one suspected that anything of the sort could happen. We were, to many, a model family, well-to-do and happy and beautiful. My mother, Bola Chibuzor was a very good-looking woman, her looks betraying her 45 years. She was born in Ibadan as the last of four children and the only girl, to Pastor Adewale and his wife Funlola, a businesswoman. She was very light-skinned, and sometimes got mistaken for an Igbo woman. She was a disciplined and religious woman, and this discipline, with pure talent, had helped her build her fashion design company from scratch. 

My Father was a businessman involved in three businesses- Oil, Shipping and a restaurant chain. Daddy actually started out as a cook. He still boasts that his excellent cooking had been too much of a temptation for our mother, who was a regular at his mother’s restaurant during her Youth Service in Imo state. Four years later they were married and settled in Lagos. Today, Bola’s Kitchen, as her had named it after her, is one of the most recognized Nigerian restaurants, serving a wide variety of dishes, specialising in Nigerian and African delicacies. 

Dad is a doting father. Several times, Mum would complain that he spoils us, especially my older sister, Banke. But he is very busy, and doesn't get to spend time with us individually. Dad, who is an "elder" in the church is known to always be available financially for church projects, while his wife is the women leader.
Ever since she was little, Banke, got whatever she wanted and got away with almost anything. At 18 she was the carbon copy of our mother, right down to the complexion and stature. Many times, visitors would compliment my mother, saying that they looked like sisters. However, in personality they couldn’t be more different. Because of this, Mum made sure to keep an eye on her. Banke had always been the impulsive, risk-taking one. She was sociable and fun-loving, like Dad. She was one to be active and involved wherever she was- in church, or in school. 

One day, Banke came home from school looking like a hipster. The disapproval was evident on Mum’s face. She called Banke into her room for a round of questioning, complete with a good one-hour lecture on evil communication and good manners. Dad was sorry that he had missed it, but our little brother, Nonye made sure he got all the juicy details, blonde afro wig and all. 

I was born two years after my sister. I always wondered why I was named ‘Teresa’, unlike my siblings with Nigerian names. The story goes thus-When she was pregnant with me, Mum travelled to Italy for some shopping. However, I came too early, and she would have lost me, if not for a nurse who happened to be in the shop. Mum and Nurse Teresa still talk at least twice a year, and last I heard, she was considering a brief vacation in Nigeria.

I was a very timid child, always in the shadow of my attention-capturing older sister. I was content to be in the background, as it gave me more opportunity to be my geeky science-nerd self. I was one of those kids that other kids came to with their math homework. But I had only few real friends, and at a point, I tried to let my grades slip a little just to blend in. I thought I could be more popular, but I only made my parents concerned.

I was five when Nonye was born- hardly a baby. I took my big sister role very seriously, carrying the child at every opportunity I was given after a few months. Nonye was a sickly child, and for the first two years, my parents were worried that he wouldn’t stay. But he grew stronger and healthier as the years went by. He was the apple of my parent’s eyes and Dad’s look-alike. He began to develop interest in sports at a young age, but because of his health background, our parents did not permit him to participate in physical activities for a while. However when he was 9, he threw a big tantrum, crying bitterly at taunts and jests from his mates who had called him a “girl”. With permission from the family doctor that Nonye was perfectly healthy, he began to take a more active role in inter-house sports. 

Dad had our life all planned out. Nonye, our younger sibling, would take over his Oil and shipping businesses; Banke who had inherited Mum’s talent for design and art would take over House of Bola someday. She was already studying Business Management in school, after which she would travel to paris to learn fashion and design. I, on the other hand, am expected to take over management of Bola’s Kitchen in the future. I liked cooking. To me, It was part science. However I wanted to be a Botanical scientist. I’d always been obsessed with plants. I remember one of my first picture books as a child. It was a book containing drawings of many different trees. I took that book everywhere. 

“Botanical Science? Why not study medicine, sweetheart? You could earn a lot of money as a doctor”, Dad had said. I remember thinking he was taking the popular Igbo men like money hypothesis too far. Now, with what has happened, I wondered whether his plans would stay the same.

Now back to the situation. Mum had been the first to notice- which, many people would agree, is totally natural. The sluggish steps, the sleepiness and the weight gain- they could have slipped by unnoticed.. But Mum knew.

“Banke, s’o ti loyun? Are you pregnant?” She calmly asked one day. We were in the kitchen-the three of us, cooking jollof rice, frying dodo and dicing fruit. It was like she had suspected for a while and she was just accepting the possibility. I dropped the knife.

“Teresa go to the parlour” Mum instructed.

I obeyed, my heart in my throat as I counted quick short steps to the parlour. One…Two…Three…I stopped in my tracks. I couldn’t go to the parlour- Dad was there. He would notice something was amiss and he would question me until I spilled my guts out. I was never a good liar. I changed direction and I went to my bedroom. I hit the play button the remote for “The Prime Minister and I”, which I’d been watching earlier on. However I could not follow the conversation of the characters. My mind was in the kitchen. I couldn’t believe what Mum had asked. It was impossible! Banke was not promiscuous! Denial changed to disbelief, then confusion, then fear for my sister as I tried to process what had just taken place.  

That night at dinner the air was so thick with tension. I had no way of knowing what my mother and sister discussed, and the suspense was killing me. Only Nonye seemed to be enjoying his meal. Dad picked up on the mood and announced, “Will somebody tell me what is going on?” I nearly choked on  pineapple.

He narrowed his eyes at Banke who remained tight-lipped, eyes fixed on the rose-patterned tablecloth. She finally raised her eyes to meet his. “Everything is okay, Dad”. She managed a smile.

“Nkem,” Mum tried to assure him, “Please eat your dinner, its getting cold”

“I am not convinced”

“I promise to tell you everything”, Mum whispered

Banke shot up from her seat like it was on fire. “MUM!”, she screeched, her eyes pointing daggers at Mum

“Olubanke sit down and keep quiet” Mum commanded. Banke sat and resumed picking at her food.

Nonye sighed, “Maybe she failed one of her courses again….

“Nonye, shut up!” Dad, Mum and I said simultaneously. His eyes blazed with anger and glistened with tears as he got up and ran to his room. Mum got up. “I’ll go talk to him”, she said, and she followed.

Later that night, I went to my sister’s room and rapped my knuckles twice against the mahogany door.

“Come in”

I stepped in quietly. Even the dim light of the room I could see that it was in a state of disarray, cosmetics and clothing scattered here and there. The walls were adorned with posters of Rihanna and The Weeknd, images looking eerie in the purple light. I made my way to Banke’s bed, where she lay huddled against her pillow, sniffing.

“Are you really pregnant?”

“What kind of question is that?”

“Sorry”

“Don’t worry you cannot understand”

“Who is the father?” I asked boldly

“Doesn’t matter. Im going to get an abortion tomorrow”

“An abortion! Does mum know that?”

“Hshh keep quiet jor”

“Sorry”, I apologised again. Then we heard raised voices from our parents room. I got up and went to the door, opening it a little so I could listen. I could only catch snippets of the conversation, but I already knew what they were talking about.

“….only a child!”

“She mustn’t……

“Lets be logical……

Finally the voices stopped. I heard the sound of footsteps coming closer. They were strong, sure and quick. Dad! My eyes met my sister’s in alarm. I hid between a huge bag of dvds and a pile of clothing. The door was jarred open.

“Dad…” Banke began

“Who’s he?”

“Dad..”

“Are you deaf”

“Schoolmate sir…”

“No name?”

Banke began to weep, “Daddy I’m sorry..”

“Have I not done all I could to satisfy you and your younger ones? What else do you want me to do for you, this child! I’m disappointed in you!” He said, sounding hurt and betrayed

Mum came into the room suddenly, “Charles!” she touched his shoulder

Dad turned to face Mum. “That’s your daughter- you see!”, he said, pointing his right index finger at Banke. Mum stiffened, lips clamped shut. “I’m washing my hands off this!” He said, rubbing his hands against one another. He shot a dark look at Banke and left the room, slamming the door so hard it rattled on its hinges. My sister started sobbing uncontrollably. I went to her and held her. “Don’t worry, it’ll be okay”.
She smiled. And my sister started telling me how she ended up pregnant.

It all started when she got tired of attending the fellowship. “I thought I was missing out on other more interesting happenings within campus. Besides, the members were always slandering me anyway, calling me names behind my back. I thought I wasn’t needed there.” Anytime her church friends Idara and Michael tried to bring up the subject, she would give the excuse of being occupied with academics and wanting to focus on her studies.

Leaving the fellowship left her with a lot of free time, and she started looking into extra-curricular groups that would interest her. She found the "Revolutionary Artists", a group that used art to speak against activities of the school management and ofthe Government that they did not approve of.

Banke had been delighted to find this group, and she fit in easily with the graphic artists, the poets and writers, the musicians and the designers. Soon she was one of the fashion icons of the group, whose style the others imitated; from subtly slashed black jeans, to spoken-word-printed T-shirts and costume jewelry. They brought back the 80s style, and for that, were very popular.

She met Craig in "Revo-artists", as they were popularly called. At first he was hard to tell why he was in the group- he seemed immensely coolheaded and controlled for an artist. Later she found out he was a madman with the piano and was already making a name for himself as a jazz musician even outside school. 

They knew each other's names in passing, but never really spoke until one rainy evening. They had just ended a performance poetry event when the rain started showering. Most of the audience had left already. Banke, Craig and other members of R.A hurried to stack the chairs and pack the equipment.

A singer, Imelda was the first to leave. Then Yakub one of the performers left with the van that came to move the equipment. One by one, everyone left until Banke and Craig were left behind.

Banke was the first to speak.

"This rain is getting heavier. How do we move now?"

Craig looked at her like she just asked a stupid question. "We wait na"

"Me I can't wait o. I have an assignment to submit tomorrow morning and I've not done it"

Craig laughed. "So you still do your assignments"

"Of course. We are not all professionals like you"

They had talked, about everything from literature to religion for at least 2 hours when the rain slowed down to a drizzle. Craig stood and helped Banke up. 

"So, what do we do now?" Craig asked

"We go to our separate hostels" Banke was amused

"You sure you don't want to come with me?"

Banke felt flattered at what Craig was asking her. All her life, she has never wanted for attention from the opposite sex, but she thought that compared to her, Craig was more physically attractive, and intelligent too. Still she was her mother's daughter.

"What do you take me for?" She pretended to be angry

"Come on, I was just teasing"

Banke smiled with relief and they exchanged numbers before parting reluctantly.
Over the next few weeks they became inseparable. Each day that went by, Banke became more hooked on Craig. He gave her a CD. "I composed that for you", he said. She blushed and grinned and played the song everyday.One weekend they slipped out of school for a nice getaway, spending days and nights together in their hotel room. Banke had lost all inhibition and had thrown caution to the winds. 
 
“I thought I'd found the love of my life”, She said to me. “How wrong I was!” 

The week after the getaway, Craig started picking up fights with her over nothing. He hurt her by flirting with other girls and disparaging her, damaging her reputation. After 3 weeks, Craig broke off the relationship. "I'm sorry", he had said.

"That was 2 months ago" Banke’s voice broke as she finished. She was still hurt. Speechless, I tried to convey my sympathy to her. I felt pained for her, and my eyes watered. She noticed, and hugged me fiercely, “Don’t ever change. You’re perfect, don’t let anyone tell you any different.” Then we both wept.

She tried to have the abortion. She warned me not to tell mum. But she couldn’t go through with it. The last time, she asked me to accompany her to the hospital. “You’re 16. Not a kid anymore”, she had said. Ten minutes later she rushed out crying. She was too scared.

“I want to go”, she managed calm herself.

“Lets go home” I squeezed her shoulder gently and carried her bag like a supportive younger sister. We both knew that if she had been with her new friends, she would have aborted it.

Mum was waiting at the gate with her “I’m-going-to-kill-someone-today look.

“Where were you, Banke?”

Banke stuttered, “I….we..”

“We went to the cinema”, I quipped.

“And why are you crying for God’s sake Banke?”. Mum was becoming irritated

“The movie was so emotional”, I volunteered again. I was becoming a professional liar. Mum didn’t believe a word of it, but it was enough to let us slip by. “Thank you”, Banke mouthed to me as we entered the house. Right then, I felt like I was the 18-year old, the older one.

FIVE YEARS LATER

I stirred the thick broth absent-mindedly, thinking of Banke’s good news. She was getting married soon, though the date wasn’t set yet.

“How is Tolu?”, she had asked

“Happy. He misses his Aunty Banke”, I had replied, and that was enough.

I poured the last of the ingredients into the ofe nsala and turned to the sink, almost tripping over a something, or in this case someone, in the process. I almost screamed.

“Sshhh aunty Tessy!”  Toluwani hissed.

Nonye bounded into kitchen, all 6-foot of long arms wide shoulders and athletic legs.When did he get so grown? I wondered. 

“Found ya!”, he headed straight for Tolu who squealed and hid behind my skirts. The whole commotion almost upset the boiling pot of soup.

“Boys, out of the kitchen,  NOW!” Mum’s voice was like a whip that administered order and calm. Solemnly, Nonye exited to the TV room, while Tolu raced out of the kitchen, flying at Mum like a monkey.

“Mummy!”

“Yes, son?”  she smiled at him adoringly

“When is Aunty Banke coming? I miss her” he pouted adorably

I wiped a single tear from my right cheek and returned to the cooking.


Seun Ajijala

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