The Other Side of Nothing (Week Five)
By Aderomola Adeola, Nigeria:
As kids, Tamara would join Ebiere and me on the water banks as we launched our fishhooks into the creek for tilapias. She was the eldest of us three, yet would take instructions from Ebiere to bait the hooks. When we caught fish, she'd exclaim with joy; we would share the tilapias equally or sometimes take them to Ebiere's mother and roast them. Her father was very strict but it was his face that was in fact scary. It was almost unimaginable to think of a smile on his naturally vicious face. When she got pregnant and people talked about her rancid affair with Timipre, the humiliation was too hard to bear, she ran away and so did Timipre, her parents relocated with their two younger siblings when moral eyes began to despise them.
“I saw her in Lagos,” Ebiere said, flapping her legs in the water and watching it splash.
“What does she do now?”
“She is married. Her husband is one mallam, an old Hausa man. She is not as fine as she used to be.”
I could only imagine. Her sharp almond eyes, perfectly raised cheekbones, dimpled cheeks. How did it all look now?
“How did she get to Lagos?”
“I don't know, she didn't say,”
I reached for a woven basket close by and brought out some stale bread. We began to throw bits into the water and watched fish hop to the top then disappear. In the early years of childhood, it used to be fun, but now it was different. We nonetheless recalled childhood memories of just being in each other's company and savored the moments – gossiping.
When it was time to leave, we scurried across the pebbles and I escorted her to the car. Dusting her feet, she sprayed a bottle of something on her leg and asked if I wanted some as well.
“What is it?”
“Purifier – for all the bacteria in the water,” she said.
When we were younger, we often bathed with water that was sometimes cream with green particles, I wondered if she now bathed with this purifier, it looked very small.
“Do you bath with it?”
“That's an ignominious question.”
I mouthed that word as well, wondering why all so suddenly she was using all these big words, “I don't understand you Ebiere.”
“How can I possibly bath with it? I only use it for my skin whenever dirt comes on it.”
“Okay. I want some too.”
She popped a little unto my hand and said, “Rub your hands together.”
Hesitantly, I felt a cold sensation on my palm.
“It looks like mucus,” I observed inhaling a strong smell of gin mixed with stale palm-wine.
“Are you going to use it or not?” her voice grew angry.
A tingling sensation moved up my feet as I yielded and rubbed my palms against them. When she drove off, the reality of our lives apart began to strike me. Our lives were suddenly not on the same page and it was hard to talk about recent years: it was hard for her because I knew nothing of fortune; it was hard for me because there was nothing to say.
Though I knew nothing of how she had stumbled upon wealth, I was determined to be part of it somehow.
I worked hard to impress my madam and when eventually she brought me the UME form, I studied harder. On weekends, I would return to the creek and assist my mother in planting cassava while my father was away. When he got back home from the forests, he would give me palm wine to drink claiming it was medicine for the brain. My mother, would sign my forehead with oil and insist that I drink holy water every day. I obeyed. If I was asked to throw food into the creek every morning for the river gods, I would have done it because I was desperate that way.
I slept and woke with resounding croons: my very own jeep and yellow dress.