That day, everywhere was so hot and everything was just irritating me so much that I actually thought about packing up the akara and going home to sleep. But I knew Mama may shout and then tell me again how she started selling market at 8 years old and not only that, but sold everything, everyday, under this type of harsh heat.
I also calculated the more important thing, which was that with Mama’s sickness then, if I did not work, the only real option was to suffer like the rest. I didn’t want to suffer. I just wanted to go back to school.
So I bought pure water to wash my face and drink and I stayed, until 7 o’clock when the clouds started to become very grey and come down slow slow, as if they wanted to sit on top our heads.
By that time, I only had one out of the thirty five akaras left, and the people on the road were vanishing small by small, and other traders started walking home, so I just went too.
On my own way home, I saw Akan sitting inside the boat with his father, but he did not see me. The man had been teaching him how to fish for how long now, because in his words: it’s not that he doesn’t like that his son likes books oh; but left to the boy, he would chase his books and chase them until there were no more books to chase, and that’s how one day he’d realise that in this Lagos, no be book person go chop. After all, he asked, no be for school dem dey even dey kidnap children nowadays?
Akan was the smartest in our class.
The day he left school, Akan’s eyes were red and he was telling everybody that he had Apollo — and they used their mumu brains to believe him; but obviously, as his real friend, me I secretly knew the truth, and when everybody was playing, I used style to tell him.
“You can never hide from me.”
I thought he would just ignore me until later, but he took me to the back of Mr Ayeni’s class immediately and my friends were coughing and making funny funny noise because they thought maybe he was going to do something like kiss me.
When we got there, I could see that he was trying his best but suddenly, he started crying and crying, and after raising his head up from my shoulder, he said, I just, I just feel like dying. I know that the remaining cry was still inside Akan’s throat because it was dragging his voice back inside as if it did not want me to hear. But me, I heard.
When he left, even though I did not see it, I knew that our friendship stood up with him and left. Because that was exactly how I lost Simbiat, and Miriam, and then Mary.
I just wanted it to stop. I wanted money to stop stealing from us. I wanted my friends to stop falling away like maybe my life was an open hand and they were sand.
Anyway, I got back home when it was already dark. I tried to enter quietly because I thought Mama would be sleeping. But she was not. Instead, Mama was sitting at the edge of the bed and coughing as if there was a big drum inside her chest. At first, I sat down close to her and kept saying sorry mama, sorry mama, but her body was hot as if the sun was hiding inside. I ran to go and fetch water so that I could bathe her and calm her body down.
When I came back, people had already gathered round our house. Mama Mary was crying and other people were blocking the door and making painful sounds. Our compound people gathered together, but they did not touch me. They were just looking at me as I was looking inside the house. Akan was there too and I could see tears on his face.
I knew immediately; I am not stupid. But I did not cry.
When my father came to see me for the first time in 10 years, I did not cry. When 2 months later, I started working as a housegirl in Ikoyi, I did not cry. Even when my Madam asked me to be calling her Mummy, me I did not cry.
It was almost a year later, after I heard the scream and ran up, only to see Madam’s child on the floor. It was after the boy raised his face up and I saw blood covering everywhere; after they had rushed him to the hospital and I entered the bathroom to fetch water to mop the floor. Those ones affected me too, because the boy really injure and I was so afraid of what Madam will do. But Madam kept saying it’s okay it’s okay, he will be fine — and as I was just worrying, worrying, I didn’t even know when I carried the bucket and put it on my head. It was after I had left the bathroom and come back to the parlor and was ready to bring the bucket down to start mopping that I started crying.
Because that day, nobody knew, but with one more akara still waiting inside the house, Akan who I had just pitied, standing there with his father crying for me and that sick feeling of aloneness sitting with the bucket of water on top my head, it was me that died.