I walked with my head down because I didn’t want to meet anyone’s eyes. I was in no mood to start or even carry on any kind of conversation and so, I wore a huge sun glass for extra measure. I got to the bus stop in a more sorry state than I left home in.
I was just minutes away from market bus stop when one rogue drove straight into a porthole and splashed muddy water on me. My pants were ruined. Oh God! I was in an even worse a mood. Then my brain booted and told me that I had to return home. What to do?! I could call my younger sister to meet me at the bus stop with clean slacks. My phone. I dug into my handbag to retrieve it only to pull out my pager. I looked at it in shock and I realised that I had forgotten my phone on my dresser. It took me a full two minutes for me to put one leg in front of the other and get them into action.
By this time, I noticed that people were keeping a wide berth around me. Of course, I looked horrible. And it was no fun.
Fortunately for me, there was a pay phone at the bus stop. I dug in my brain to remember my sisters’ number and missed it on the first try. Wrong number! (What was wrong with me this morning!) I tried the second number in my head and this time, I got it right. Now what?! Error in connection. Is this how the rest of the day would look like? I was really sad. But somehow, I got the network to co-operate with me. Maybe it was by sheer will (and I could really be wilful when I have reason to be) it rang once- no response. Na wa for Tuesday o. I guess she was not yet awake, so I tried again and thankfully she picked on the second ring.
“Baby mia”, I tried to sound cheerful. “Are you awake?” I asked.
“Hmmm…” I could hear her trying to grind the sleep of her eyes (and voice). “I am now”
“Alright”, I began. “I want you to do something for me”.
Now I was getting somewhere.
“First, I forgot my phone. It’s on my dresser. Second, bring the white striped pants trouser in the general hanger for me. And try not to-“
“Bring?”, she asked. She was suddenly awake. “Bring where?”
“Bus stop. One idiot just splashed mud on me and if I come home, I’ll waste time and wouldn’t want to go out again. Seriously, this is important”. I said all this in one whooping breath before she could change her mind.
“Hmmm… gimme one-“ , she began. I cut her off. I could complete it in my head.
“Sweetheart, one hour is too much. Please for the love of God. Please. I beg, don Allah, don anobi, jor ni tori Oloun, bi-’’
‘’E don do’’, she was really laughing at me. ‘’o boy, you are desperate o!’’
‘’You can say that again! So just brush your teeth, pick a bike and I’ll be waiting.’’
I could already guess what was coming. “Bike? I don’t have money”
“Don’t worry’’, I replied. “I’ll pay. Just come. Have you left your bed yet?’’
“Yeah”, she yawned.
“Alright then. Ten minutes. And that perfume in my lingerie drawer”.
She disconnected. Finally, I hoped to get a different start to the day. And she came in all her glory and even I wasn’t able to tell that she had not had her bath. She was wearing my fragrance I told her to bring and I figured that that was the water she used to take her bath. She was wearing a face cap turned sideways but she looked fine to me. I paid the bike man and he smiled when he saw my pants, ouch!
‘’You sure took your time”, I said. “Is there a place I can change?’’ I knew she would know one and I just smiled at her when she turned her eyebrows up.
‘’I don’t …’’, she trailed off when she saw my upturned nose. I cocked my eyebrows for good measure and she silently led me to a nearby guest inn. I asked to use the loo. There was a man at the front desk and he willing obliged me.
‘’Just what did you think you were doing bathing yourself with my perfume?’’, I asked in a stage whisper. She just shrugged. I dropped it. At least she came.
I dressed in a hurry and I could see she even brought me a different top to match the slacks. Smart kid! I gave her money for a bike home and bought her airtime. That would ensure she would be online all through the day. Now I was good to go. I sincerely hoped that the day would turn out better than it started.
I took a bus to the next major bus stop and alighted at the last bus stop. I walked to the nearest fuel station to get a bus to Ikeja. I wanted to cut corners. From Ikeja railway, I took a bike to LASUTH to get a bus going to Yaba. By that time, transport had doubled in price as if to tell us to leave home earlier than usual. I took the bus and alighted at e-centre. I walked to the next bus stop which was less than a stone’s throw to my destination so that I could have time to compose myself. I was already about two hours behind on my appointment but I felt the least I could do was try to see this mysterious man. I do not know how he got my phone number. But I know that I have been receiving calls for the past eight weeks. Today was the unveiling of the masquerade.
I re-arranged my clothing and stopped in front of a parked car to check myself in the window. I looked OK (to myself at least). I quickly sprayed a little fragrance all over me, bolstered my courage, and walked into the lobby. I felt several eyes on me but I went straight to the front desk and asked to see Mr George.
‘’May I ask who’s here to see him?’’, the receptionist asked.
‘’Ifelola Williams. From Maryland.’’, I replied confidently.
She made a call immediately and told me to take the elevator to the last floor; someone would be waiting for me. I thanked her and followed her directions. She smiled and pointed a manicured hand towards the elevator. We were just three in the elevator and I closed my eyes all through till I heard the PING that I had gotten to my floor. I found a well-dressed man waiting for me just as I stepped off. He bowed slightly as he led the way. I was late but I still got the red carpet treatment. Strange but interesting. I really wanted to know what or who was behind the mask. I waited only a few minutes before I was ushered into a plush office with the secretary leading the way. As soon as I sat:
‘’Tea, coffee, juice? Which will you have?’’, she asked.
‘’Orange juice is fine’’, I replied.
‘’In a minute.’’
As she closed the door, another door I had noticed earlier opened as if on cue. I heard voices before I saw the faces as eager assistants hovered around a grey-headed man. He dismissed them all with only a wave of his hand and they all filed out. The man who walked in had a strong resemblance to my mother. I stood up to greet him and started to apologise for my lateness.
‘’ Sir, I am so sorry for coming this late. It was solely due to circumstances beyond my control. I am afraid I did not make a good first impression and I am really sorry for keeping you waiting.’’, I held my breath but he only smiled all through.
‘’That is okay. I had an emergency meeting and had you come earlier, you might have been kept waiting. So it was just as well.’’, he smiled. ‘’ so have you been offered anything? Would you like to watch a movie?’’’, he asked.
‘’ Yes, I have just been offered juice.’’’, I hedged.
‘’And the movie? I just want to try to make this meeting as informal as possible. However, it would have been inappropriate to invite you over to my house for a first meeting. So how about a movie?’’
I was staring at him and I had to mentally shake myself so that I could respond. ‘’ Alright a movie then, sir.’’
He picked up his intercom and cancelled the juice. He called the lobby to get the driver ready although the cinema was only a few buildings away. He ushered me to the door and told his secretary we would soon be back. We got into the elevator and descended to the ground floor. I only caught glimpses of the artwork there. We got into the car and in a few minutes, we were there. We took the escalator to get to the movie hall. He selected the movie and he walked me to the popcorn stand to get a huge one and got me an orange drink. He seemed to know what I would like. My mind was not on the film but I tried not to show it. Naturally, my curiosity was piqued. Who was this man, this stranger? The movie was about to start so he led me to the entrance. We walked down the sloppy walkway and took a seat at the middle. The preview had started by the time we took our seats. I just sat munching my popcorn until he was ready to explain himself to me. He just sat me out and I noticed we had the same mannerisms (right to the way we squint when thinking). And then he spoke.
“I know you are wondering who I am and I myself am wondering why I feel this is the right time to tell you this”, he paused to sip his drink. “I am your mothers’ twin but I don’t know if she ever told you that. She was the one who gave me your number’’, he confirmed.
My heart was beating faster than usual. I sensed something more was coming. The sounds of the movie were distracting me. I was starting to perspire even in this cold room.
“I am your father”. He said it so gently that I almost missed it. I blanched and he saw me go pale. “Are you alright?” he asked concerned.
I just nodded my head. “No…no…it’s not true”, I murmured in disbelief. And the next thing I knew, my world blackened out…