The day after yesterday - an excerpt from my untitled novel
I wasn’t prepared for the wait. My patience was tested over and over, as the days dragged on. Mrs. Akande said the results would be released in four to six weeks. The sixth week had come and gone, and we still had not received any news.
School was dreary. Common entrance and scholarship examinations over, we, the year 6 pupils, were left to our own devices. We passed our time, making grand plans for the future and waiting. Mama grew so tired of me asking her whether any letters had arrived, she started saying no before I even opened my mouth.
My best friend Sade turned eleven in June. Luckily that year, her birthday fell on a Saturday and because it was her last year in primary school, her mother had agreed she could have a party. Planning the party, took up more of the waiting time. ‘Leke and I were invited, and surprisingly Mama had said we could go. She was not a big fan of Sade’s mother, who was one of the most gossiped about people in the village. No one we knew could claim to have met Sade’s father and as a result her mother’s morals were a constant source of chatter. It was said that her wealth had come from her numerous boyfriends outside Metu. No one could categorically say when these rumours started, but everyone seemed happy to make sure they never died. Sade, in her defense, maintained that her father worked in the army and had been stationed in the north for many years. She said he did visit them but only for short periods of time. She also told anyone who would listen that her mother had inherited a lot of money and the house they lived in from Sade’s grandfather.
‘Leke and I headed out, our destination, one of the best houses in the village, but what we were really looking forward to was the food. Sade had promised it was going to be an extravaganza. As we stepped out of our kitchen, angry shouts pierced the air. Mama quickly pushed past us. A mob, made up of our neighbours and some other people from the area, were gathered round a man. He held up his hands and ducked as he was struck with arms, sticks and other items. Mama instructed us to stop. She stood on her toes behind the crowd, the man screamed and begged for mercy but no one listened. Mama pushed through, and stopped just as she made it to the middle, she clapped her hands in a jeering manner, shouted “Thief!” and pushed back out.
“Don’t worry, It’s just English Mike, I hope he brought our money back.”
‘Leke wanted to stay and watch, but I pulled him away. The policeman who lived three compounds away sprinted past us as we went out the gate.
Sade’s house was not a long walk away, but my brother had chosen to wear the pair of shoes our older sister had brought for him when she visited us, two weeks before. ‘Leke inspected the ground as he walked, slowly manoeuvring around puddles, avoiding stones and stopping to wipe the shoes after every few steps. My floral print dress was also a gift from the same source, and although I was very appreciative of the gesture, I knew it had once belonged to another girl somewhere else in the world. The label had been cut off, I had seen my sister covertly sewing a button back on before she’d given it to me and to cap it all, it smelled of soap. That said, it was still one of the three good dresses that I owned and I loved it.
The blue bungalow came into sight eventually. ‘Leke was still picking his steps, not realising how frustrated I was or how close he’d come to being abandoned. Music was blaring from the speakers set up outside. Plastic tables and chairs were arranged neatly under a big white canopy. My friend Tosin, her older sister and some other girls were at one of the tables,
“ Adebola, welcome, do you want to sit with us?” Tosin called.
“Hello Tosin,” I replied, looking round for the celebrant, “let me find Sade first, do you know where she is?”
“I think she may be over there,” she pointed nowhere in particular and went back to laughing with her sister.
There were some adults seated a couple of tables away from Tosin and her group.
“Good afternoon Ma, Good afternoon Sir.” I greeted them with ‘Leke following suit.
They returned our greetings, clapping and grinning at the dance moves of some small children. As we moved through, a waft of smoke blew into my eyes, fumes from the charcoal furnace, which would have been working since the early hours of the morning and was still going strong. The backyard would have been full of women, pounding, stirring, frying, gossiping and engaging in playful banter. Pulling ‘Leke, we kept on moving, Sade wasn’t outside.
The smells, held captive in the living room, escaped as I opened the front door. I inhaled the aroma of the spread before I saw it. ‘Leke’s mouth opened and he gravitated towards the platters. I gripped his shoulder,
“Not before we see the celebrant,” I whispered loudly into his ear, “We should at least say ‘Happy Birthday’”
“No! ‘Leke, let’s find Sade first, ok. “ I said and yanked him away. H pulled a long face, which I ignored. I admired the array of food. Meat pies, sausage rolls, cupcakes and so much more. My mouth watered in anticipation. There were more people seated inside, with laden paper plates. Sade was still nowhere to be seen.
“Hi Kemi, have you seen Sade?” I asked a girl I recognised.
“I think she’s gone to her room,” she replied whilst covering my face with bits of meat pie.
Once again, there were adults to get past. We exchanged greetings, some of them asked about our parents. Metu was such a small village, our behaviour, good or bad would get back to our parents at some point.
We went into the corridor that separated the living room from the bedrooms. A slither of daylight came in through one of the open doors to the left side. I heard voices and moved towards them. Sade was standing between two women in a doorway. I could see that one of them was her mother. They didn’t notice us.
“Good afternoon Ma,” I said, ‘Leke echoed my greeting. They jumped slightly. Sade exclaimed, rushed over, hugged me tightly and screamed excitedly in my ear, “I got it! I got one…”
“Got what?” I pushed her back so I could see her face. Sade trembled, her mouth opened but nothing came out.
“The scholarship,” Sade’s mother came to her rescue.
The other lady was Mrs. James, she pulled some white envelopes out of her bag and gave one to me, “The letters arrived yesterday evening, here’s yours”
I stopped breathing, my heart pounded loudly. My hands shook as I read my name in black on the white background. I had spent countless hours imagining and waiting for this moment. It was here and I didn’t know what to do. I fought back the urge to open it there and then. This wasn’t the audience I needed. I wanted my parents, my siblings to be there. I stared at it, not saying a word, not moving. I couldn’t open it; I had to get home, now.
“You should take it home, did you just get here?” Sade’s mother interrupted my thoughts.
“Yes Ma.” I looked round for ‘Leke who was no longer there.
“Go and enjoy yourself, I will hold on to it till you’re ready to go,” Sade’s mother offered.
“I could drop it off for you, I need to go past your house anyway,” Mrs. James presented me with another option.
I pondered the suggestions for a moment and shook my head; now that I had this letter, nothing could pry it out of my hands. I asked if I could leave ‘Leke behind. I would not be able to think of anything else until I knew what was inside. Sade’s mother said it was okay and our headmistress offered me a ride. Sade asked if she could go with me, her mother said no. I accepted the ride and went to find ‘Leke, who nodded as I spoke to him, although I was sure he didn’t hear a word. All thoughts of the food and fun to be had, had totally disappeared from my mind.
Sade walked with me to Mrs. James’s car.
“Did I tell you my scholarship is to attend a school in the United Kingdom,” she said excitedly.
“Hmm…No…Really? That’s good…congrats.” I responded.
“I’m sure you’ll get one too,” she continued undeterred, “we’ll travel together, won’t that be fun”
“Yes...sure,” I agreed. She pressed a plastic bowl into my hands and hugged me.
“I can’t wait for us to go,” she said, as I climbed into the car.
It was my first time in Mrs. James’s car, an old yellow Volkswagen Beetle; the truth was I’d been in few cars. I sat on the edge of the passenger seat, one hand gripping the door, the other, the letter. The bowl of goodies with the appealing aroma, lay forgotten at my feet. The car stalled, and got a little push from some volunteers, coaxing it to life. She chatted excitedly, what did I think the letter said? What would I do if I got one? Where would I chose to go? She went on and on. I just wanted her to be quiet, so I mumbled something here and there, but was mainly unresponsive. The radio was on and I could faintly hear Will Smith telling us he was “getting jiggy with it”, any other time I would have been singing along. I willed the car to keep on moving. Every time she changed gears, the car shuddered and made a grinding noise whilst it got itself together again. We finally pulled up outside, I jumped out, mumbling my thanks to Mrs. James as she yanked on the handbrake.
The clothes on the line were flapping around my mothers’ head, her blue plastic laundry basket at her feet. I ran towards her waving the letter. Mrs. James was not letting me off the hook that easily, breathing heavily as she tried to keep up.
“Mama! Mama! It has arrived, the letter is here, oh”
The wet shirt dropped out of her hands, she wiped her hands on her wrapper, shouting as she moved quickly towards me, “Adebola, what’s the matter with you? Where’s your brother?”
“Mama, nothing’s wrong, the scholarship letter has arrived,” I gasped, pushing the envelope under her nose. She grabbed hold of my shoulders and shook me, “ Never shout out to me like that again, you nearly killed me.”
She took the letter from me, “Come on, let’s go inside. Where is ‘Leke?”
“He’s at the party, he was having too much fun”
Mrs. James stood quietly, still breathing heavily, my mother acknowledged her, “Sorry, Ma, you know these children… Thank you.”
She chuckled, “ Never mind, I am as anxious as she is to find out. I had to stop myself from opening all the letters as soon as I got them”
Inside the house, I bounded excitedly in to the bedroom, where my father was sitting up, eating. Some soup dribbled off his spoon, two dark spots appeared on his vest.
“Adebola, what’s the matter with you?” he glared at me, “Get me that cloth”
“Sorry, Papa, the scholarship letter has arrived.” I handed him the cloth, “Mama said I should come and get you.”
He grunted, trying to hide a smile. The soup discarded on to the side table, I helped him out of bed. He was frail but determined to make it to the living room. In the time it took us to get to the living room, I contemplated failure, what if the letter contained bad news? Then confidence took over, if Sade could get one, so could I.
My mother gave me the letter. My hands shook as I opened the envelope. I started to open the folded paper and then changed my mind. I gave it to Mrs. James who opened it:
As a result of achieving a 95% average in the entrance examination, the Youth Enrichment Programme is pleased to offer Adebola Aderonke Ahmed a full scholarship to one of the following schools in Nigeria.
I didn’t know I could scream that loud, the windows shook, my body developed a mind of its own and started jumping. My mother reached out to me, I momentarily stopped to hug her and the jumping resumed. Mrs. James stopped reading, tears in her eyes. There are no words for the joy that engulfed me, I cried, I laughed and then I cried again. My mother burst into song and danced round the living room clapping, my father joined in the singing, his voice surprisingly strong. Mrs. James half heartedly tried to call us back to order, waving the letter, eventually she danced a bit as well.
Mama broke off song and hurried into the kitchen, she came back with one of the cartons of juice she’d been hoarding since my sisters’ visit and some glasses. Mrs. James gave the letter to me. I continued reading,
Please indicate whether you intend to continue the process by completing the acceptance form included and indicating your three school choices in order of preference. If we do not receive your response by July 15th 1989, the offer will be withdrawn. You will be required to attend an interview at each of the three schools and the scholarship is subject to you being offered a place in at least one school.
It was the 20th of June.
Mrs. James picked up the discarded envelope. She shook and another folded piece of paper fell out, it was the acceptance form. She told us she had to go and give out the rest of the letters but would drop by the next day.
Mama and I walked Mrs. James to her car. We couldn’t stop smiling, at last my family had some hope. I was a step closer to my dream.