By Funmi Iyanda
Yesterday brother Eleyinmi visited, that really is his name.
He was an elder but not just any elder, he was a revered one because he was rich or at least we thought he was. He knows this so he carries himself as an elder who was rich and revered, speaking quietly and slowly. I suspect he thinks us deaf or retarded, poor people usually are, retarded, not deaf, so they say.
He came to see daddy, he has a special decibel of deaf retard reserved for my father because daddy was not a good brother, never mind an elder, although he was not much younger than brother Eleyinmi. You see, my father is a brother who drank which is bad enough but he is also a brother who is single, his wife having disappeared 6 years previously. Who knows if it was his drinking that disappeared her or so l hear them say.
Now brother Eleyinmi is not only a rich elder, he is also a happily married elder to a sister who is as slight of build as she is of voice. She is perfect; dutiful, unspeaking and non-distracting of person or personality. Brother Eleyinmi always seems happy although I’ve never seen sister Eleyinmi laugh.
Brother Eleyinmi and his rich authority came with a few less rich authority brothers to have the marriage talk with daddy. They have been coming a lot lately. They sit gingerly to dodge the browned cotton stuffing peeping out of the sofa which used to be orange but now looked like dried vomit. I know that orange because l picked it three years ago when we moved from the shop in Shomolu into our own flat with its own toilet. I know dried vomit because I’ve washed it often. The elders sat, dripping disdain on the sofa and refusing the Fanta bottles daddy offered, which was as well, it was our last few bottles.
They had found daddy a suitable sister to marry.
I have been dreading this day not because l didn’t want my father to marry but because he had found himself someone he’d like to marry, a sister, but she was a bad sister, really bad. She was always talking, always arguing, always laughing and having real conversations with us. She wore brightly coloured clothing, high shoes and lipstick. She cooked exotic things like lamb with couscous and made pretty dresses. She made me the perfectly pleated blue silk skirt with a yellow and black blouse which l loved and wore everywhere. She reminded me of my mother or my rather vague memory of her.
The blue skirt went with a cream silk bib blouse she made. I was going to be her maid of honour when she married my dad.
She was remarkable sister Cornelia, one of those refugees from Liberia who had made it to Nigeria, the church had taken a few in who professed to share the faith, sometimes l wondered if sister Cornelia was a real Jehovah’s Witness or if she just said so to get support from the church, she seemed too vibrant, too alive, l had never met any sister like her.
I like the Liberians, we had this mother and her 9 year old daughter staying with us last year. l have forgotten their names but the girl entertained us with realistic sounds of machine guns and airplanes dropping bombs, so much so those idiots downstairs who think themselves better than us would panic. In truth everyone was better than us but the Liberians didn’t think so, neither did sister Cornelia who was not a good sister.
She liked to read, not just the bible but real books and magazines which was great because l like books, She also liked to dance and play music but the worst bad thing about her was that she was almost mulatto yellow, real high yellow with long un-permed coils and a very pretty face. She was slim too, like daddy. God knows what she saw in him although l suppose he is a good looking man. l always thought she could do better but hoped to God she wouldn’t. I suspect all these elders were just jealous of daddy on account of his good fortunes but thinking like that is a sin, along with masturbation, which I’m praying to Jehovah about.
Sister Cornelia had grown up sons who had made it to America during the war, they travelled on a war ship which sounded exciting until she told me about how she travelled on another war ship to Nigeria eating tinned beans and nothing else. I don’t like beans. She talked about taking us to America, which made me giddy with joy, who does not know that America was the place of dreams.
Anyways I loved sister Corny, she said l could call her that and so did the boys, my three brothers don’t love anyone easily. Daddy certainly loved her, he was always beaming when she was around. He was also scared of her so he drank less as she won’t have him drinking around her, we were always helping him hide his bottle of Guinness if she came unannounced.
I asked if she planned more children, she said no because she had us four and those sons in America. She talked about birth control which l wasn’t sure was not a sin.
For the first time in our rather bleak lives since maami went missing, there was light and fun and good food in our home.
Then brother Eleyinmi and his authority started visiting to talk to daddy about marriage, not to sister Corny but to more suitable sisters.
I eavesdropped on their conversations and told sister Corny what was going on, pleading with her not to leave us, or daddy.
Maybe l should have pleaded with daddy but l wasn’t mad, no one talks about emotions with parents.
One day last month sister Corny came and packed her things, all the silks and china, the sewing machine and the magazines, all the beauty and light. She cried and l cried too, the boys stood by forlorn, boys don’t cry. Daddy was not there.
So yesterday when brother Eleyinmi came with his own authority and those other brothers with their lesser authorities. l knew by their restrained disdain they had found daddy a wife.
A good sister, dutiful and sure to blend nicely with the drab of our flat.
Daddy has been married almost two years now, not to the sister that brother Eleyinmi found but to another good sister, a sister so full of love for Jehovah, he must be high fiving angel Gabriel. She is sister Ireti .
She and l are not talking now because we fought over a brother who wanted to marry me. That happened last week. My step mum Ireti is tall, full figured and pretty, daddy must have something. She had my baby sister last year and called her JehovahTosin, which I personally thought was an overkill, Oluwatosin is just as good.
Tosin is a gorgeous baby who follows me everywhere, we both look like daddy.
We call my step mum Mama Tosin.
They say I’m a moody and intense teenager; mama Tosin is loud and haphazard, more dutiful to Jehovah than to daddy but they like each other, I think. Not Jehovah and mama Tosin, that would be weird, but daddy and mama Tosin although if Jehovah can like anybody, he must really like her, she loves him. I like books and music, nothing else. I don’t think boys like me, the one time l had gone with Ronke to visit her boyfriend, his creepy friend had tried to touch my breasts, they were not even a good size. I didn’t know Jehovah Witness girls could have boyfriends outside the church but Ronke was so beautiful, who could blame them, or her. I don’t believe the few boys who say I’m pretty, l think they just want to have sex, which is a sin. I’m determined not to have sex or get pregnant or anything stupid like that. I’m going to university somehow. Maami told me l must before she went missing, what if she came back?
I think I’m a good sister, there are no sister elders, however old you get; women cannot be elders, just sister. So l was a sister, a dutiful one who had preached almost every street from mile 2 to navy town. I was a star sister, a regular pioneer and good debater. Aside from being a good sister, I only really wanted to go to university. I didn’t know how to do this because there is SAP and daddy had left his job. He was also drinking more and had still not been made an elder because of course he wasn’t rich, he drank and liked music and lightness. Who can respect that? In truth it wasn’t fair to expect his love for music and lightness to die just like that, it only disappeared a bit when his wife went missing. He always said if his tyrant father hadn’t stopped him he would have joined Roy Chicago and toured the world playing music. But maybe that’s just drink talk.
Anyway, I have finished WAEC and my grades are good so l need money for JAMB and university. I’ve started teaching English and maths to more fortunate children in the estate, l had refused to hawk on the street as my mama Tosin suggested. She always has these survivalist ideas, l always have expansionist ideas that my ego could live with. I hear they say I’m proud.
Teaching from house to house wasn’t easy either especially as l had to convince parents and get referrals when l was the daughter of a brother who drank. I am bad at maths so I have to teach myself so l could teach the children. The parents always treat me like l don’t exist except sometimes when the fathers squeeze my breasts, l hate them squeezing my breasts, they are not even big. Since we can only afford one meal a day, it is tough teaching whilst these families cooked dinners so I’ve learnt to feel full on smell of cooking food. They never offer you food.
Mama Tosin is lukewarm about university, she thinks that if l must go then it’s best l went in there as a married sister to protect me from a place the devil roams wildly in.
My grandpa Ida-Ogun also thinks this. He said universities were the devil’s footstool and there was no point to worldly education when Armageddon was so near. He is still a tyrant but he is rich so he is an elder. He and daddy started talking again after maami disappeared because well daddy had to start talking to someone didn’t he? He also needed help with us four, so he became a Jehovah’s Witness again which made grandpa Ida-Ogun pleased, he never seem happy at anything. I have never seen him laugh.
It seems that although l was a good sister, dutiful, quiet and respectful, no one trusts me. Maybe it’s because my quiet is reclusive and no one seem to be able to get into my head. Frankly l just hate my life and I want to be an adult and a doctor.
So it was that mama Tosin, concocted a plan to match make me with this man who worked in an oil company. She was blissfully unaware that the old and gross man -I hear he’s almost 30- had already been giving me bad vibes with lecherous moves. Brother or no, l can always tell the ones who want to get into my pants but I’m determined to go to university and become a doctor.
Last week he came visiting bearing gifts, which he handed to me in a shopping bag. There was that new Seiko watch, the one everyone wanted badly, a bottle of Samsara perfume and 50 naira.
Mama Tosin went to the kitchen for some reason. In that time he stepped up to me and tried to hug me, his penis poking my long skirt like all those stupid men on the bus to school.
I really don’t know what came over me but a blinding rage travelled through my belly button and flung the gift bag out of our second floor window. It landed back on the formerly orange sofa because the window had mosquito netting and burglar bars. I was so mad; l tore the netting with my bare hands and tossed the bag out through the bars.
Everybody has been angry with me since because you can’t talk emotions with parents. Daddy isn’t laughing or playing music as much these days, it is almost as if he is an elder even though they haven’t made him one still. I miss my daddy.
Maybe I’ll slip one of my long letters to him through the floor of their bedroom. That used to work.
If he asked me l would have told him that l was appalled that this man and everyone else thought that of all the possibilities open to me at age 16, the best was marriage which seemed the least intelligent survivalist option. I couldn’t communicate how disgusted and belittled l felt. Nothing about it made me feel excited or hopeful. The thought of it made me feel entrapped and frightened.
I hate feeling trapped.
I still hate feeling trapped.