The Wind of Change (working title)
I’m exactly where I’m meant to be when my phone ring. I’m half way round the lake at Chorlton Water Park. This is what I do on Monday afternoon. I finish work at two-thirty; have a late lunch in my car and then walk around the water park. I look at the trees, even when they’re bare like today. I listen to the birds and I sit on this bench and watch the ducks. Sometimes there’s a heron. It stands on the left side of the lake. It isn’t here today. I’ve been here for thirty-three minutes and I’m due to leave at four o’clock, so I’ve twenty-seven minutes left. My phone isn’t meant to ring. It rings for fifteen seconds, which is not a lot of time if it’s in my bag. I usually miss the call and then have to ring back, but I don’t miss it today. It’s Kutes, and she isn’t saying very much, just that Tola’s crying and I’d better go home and see what’s wrong with him. Well obviously she doesn’t say his name. She says ‘your brother’. I don’t want to go home. It’s four o’clock when I leave.
I’d forgotten the number of traffic lights between there and home were uneven, so by the time I arrive I know it isn’t going to be good news. I cleaned the hallway before going to work and the Ocean Spray still smells strong. The lilies on the hall table are shedding their pollen and the smell makes me think of magic potions. I don’t know why. I can’t recognise my face in the mirror. My skin looks yellow and pinched. It shouldn’t. It should be shining with the cold air and the almost countryside walk I’ve just had. My hair needs dying. My eyes look scared. I take three calming breaths before heading for the stairs.
Kutes is sprawled out in my living room watching TV.
‘I’ve gotta be in work soon. Are you taking me still?’
I always drop her at work. She’s made a mess on my cream rug.
‘Do your homework upstairs, please. You’ve got a desk in your room. I hope you’re going to get changed.’
Her eyes don’t leave the television. We have this conversation regularly. I count to ten, twice before I speak to her again.
‘Has Tola been in? Have you spoken to him?’
Of course there’s no response.
Across the hallway it’s all quiet and for a few seconds I forget I’ve had the phone call, that the traffic lights are uneven and that Kutes has made a mess on my rug. It’s eight steps to Tola’s door. I count them slowly. Open his door without knocking. Walk across the room. Four. He’s curled up on his bed and I sit down next to him.
‘What’s wrong Tola, has something happened to you?’
He keeps his head buried in his arms as he talks to me and it’s hard to make out what he’s saying.
‘Gone where? What do you mean gone? Who says he’s gone? I don’t know what you mean.’ I can hear my voice rising.
‘He’s dead. He’s gone. Seye rang me…’
‘That can’t be right. How can he be dead?’ Am I shouting?
My dad’s dead. It’s the 10th. Bad things shouldn’t happen on the 10th.
jeez me mum never stops moan moan moan she needs to get a grip at least I rang her whats her problem anyways bout hope im gonna get changed whats wrong wiv these jeans an I have to wear me vest top cos ive gotta put me work tshirt on over it an there aint no way that skanky tops touchin me skin its gross an anyways she looks a right mess them jeans were in fashion mebbe 60 years ago an that hippy top all floaty an loose like yeah man an it aint like shes fat or summat so theres no need to wear baggy shit an I don’t know why she scrapes her hair back like shes some kind of chav or summat why dunt she put the friggin straightners on it an make herself look nice an she stands there with them goggle eyes like I just sicked up on the floor or summat she needs to deal wiv her random brother innit instead of goin on at me for nothing she gets on me tits least I was doin me homework so what if I was watchin tele if she sorted the house out like she was supposed to i wouldn’t have to use her room would i shes supposed to do me kitchen an get me a proper telly
So my husband has gone. Even as she greeted me I could hear in Funmi’s voice that something had happened. Now I do not know how many hours I have been sitting in this chair but my body is stiff. My room looks strange to me as though I have just entered somewhere I do not know. Peter is dead. He is gone. If it had not been for that man, Sha! But what am I saying? Did he force me to come to this place?
The journey-o! How I survived it I do not know. When we arrived in Lagos port I thought I would pass out. The smell-o! Aiy-aiy-aiy! The ship was so large. I had never seen anything so big in my life. But of course I was young and excited. I was more concerned with looking over my shoulder to make sure that I had not been followed. I do not think I shed one tear at the thought of leaving my home.
It had not been as difficult as we had thought it would be for me to slip into Peter’s car at the edge of the village. Funmi had kept look out and I had hidden behind the women’s tree. That is what it was called. Mama and the village women had met there, before I was born. It was where they discussed matters that the men were not interested in. Peter had pulled up right beside the tree, driving over its thick roots. My belongings were already stored away in the back and I climbed in beside them, lying low.
Driving away I dared to look up one more time and Funmi was still standing, her hand over her mouth as though to stop herself shouting out. The mud houses and the school shimmered in the sun so that they looked like a mirage. I did not cry. When we had travelled for some time Peter said I should sit up and look like someone. I sat as I had seen Papa sit many times in the back of that big, black car. When we travelled through villages and children came running up alongside I waved and smiled as though I was someone-o. Only once did I sense Peter was afraid. As we were arriving in Lagos another car, the same kind, pulled up alongside. He told me to keep smiling, to greet the other man as though I was used to it. His fear made my whole body prickle. I did not want to return to my village and face Mama.
Killing two birds with one stone is what Peter said. Killing two birds with one stone-o. Returning the car to the Lagos office for repairs and dropping off Mr Okeji’s daughter with her aunty. He lied so easily. And he did not return the car but drove us straight to Lagos port.