Ours was a simple life. My older brother was my primary care giver. Though, if I want to be honest, we took care of each other. Nnayi ukwu was what I called him-as a mark of respect. He made sure I wanted for nothing. He has been taking care of me since I was seven. Our parents were killed during a very dark time in our history. Elections were looming back then and father was a very strong voice for the opposition. The incumbent chairman of our local government fearing that he would loose the elections had put a bounty on the heads of all those who would scuttle his mandate. Our house was set ablaze while my parents slept. They were burnt beyond recognition. My brother had recently been deployed to Benin Republic by his company. I was spared because I was on admission in the hospital. My aunt, my mother’s sister had spent the night with me. If not for malaria, all four of us would have perished in the fire that killed my parents.
After my parents were buried, my brother took me with him back to Lagos. We had a total of eighteen years between us. I was born just before his eighteenth birthday and named Adaeze, daughter of the king. My parents had waited long to have me. My father despite societal pressures never took a second wife, or a concubine, as is a common feature when no other baby was forth coming after my brother. My brother always used to say, our father never took another wife not because he was so in love with our mother but because he was a stubborn man. My mother was not his parents’ choice but he went ahead and married her anyway. He was a principled man, he danced to the beat of his own drum. Marrying another woman, or taking a concubine would have put a blight to all the battles he had fought and won over marrying our mother.
My brother and I lived in a three bed room apartment, on the first floor. We had only two neighbors. Alhaji who lived above us and Mama Flora who lived on the ground floor. My brother was a private man. He wasn’t married and I worried about him. Apart from myself and his friend Ojugo, he had no other permanent fixture in his life. Every Saturday, he would insist I try on all my clothes, while he sat on a stool sipping his Guinness. If a dress appeared just a little tight; a pair of trousers an inch or two above my ankle, he would put them in a little pile which he gave away and replace them immediately.
Alhaji was a dark man who stood a good head shorter than my brother. Apart from his cook, who doubled as his driver, he lived alone. Nnayi told me he had a house with three wives and many children. However, after suffering from a heart attack for the second time, he had abandoned his house to rent an apartment, far away from his crazy family. I found that funny though, considering he was the author of the madness he was trying to escape from.
Mama Flora was a short, skinny woman with a big mole that stood perched on her upper lip, the mole looked like a fly. Every time Mama Flora spoke, it looked like the fly was about to crawl into her mouth.Mama Flora’s husband was in Abuja; or so she tells everyone who cares to listen. I have lived with my brother since I was seven; I am now fourteen. I have never seen her husband. Nnayi says she isn’t married but ashamed to say so because people will not respect her. She has one daughter, or so she says; I’ve never seen her daughter, either. She rents the salon in front of our building and spends a full hour praying in the loudest voice before opening. She sprinkles water from her church which has been blessed by her pastor in her salon. She is always very nice to my brother. She makes my hair without charging him but my brother always insists on paying her. He will squeeze money into her hand, she will smile coyly and say..”Oga Uche abeg na, leave the money..” But he will make sure she keeps the money. I used to ask him why he always insists, since she likes me. He will throw his head back and laugh. Adaeze, my little one, what she wants I can’t give biko.
Mama Flora says her church is very powerful, her pastor sees visions and prays away evil spirits. And so, that morning when I had a nightmare, a bad, bad dream that covered me with sweat and I shivered with a fever; my brother was very worried. He sat me up and fed me akamu, which came out of me after a minute. I couldn’t go to school, that was obvious.He had to go to work but couldn’t leave me. He tried to call his manager but network was busy. Eventually, he went to Mama Flora. She told him not to worry, she would take care of me. My mind was in a haze and I shivered more out of fear than because of the spike in my temperature. Every time I closed my eyes, the dream seemed to replay itself in my mind. Mama Flora stayed with me, she closed her shop and made me breakfast. Ada, abeg na…eat something. I kept my eyes fixed on her mole, as she bent over to give me tea to drink. I saw there was a single hair strand growing out of the fly -of -a-mole.
I told her about my dream. My brother was on his way back from work, his car was caught up in traffic. I was on the side of the road, trying to reach him. I kept on walking, then running, never catching up with him. Then, all of a sudden from the corner of my eye, I saw a big truck appear, it headed straight for my brother’s car….hitting him head on. I started to cry. If anything happens to Nnayi, I don’t know what I will do. She pulled me close and comforted me. Don’t worry my Adaeze. I will tell my pastor. Don’t tell Oga Uche o. She called someone on her phone and within thirty minutes, he had arrived. A tall skinny man, I didn’t think it was possible for a man to be that skinny, but he was. He prayed with Mama Flora. I can’t say for how long they prayed but I know after a while, I felt better. They sang some hymns after praying, I tried to join them but my throat was parched. By afternoon my brother had called six times. I did not tell him about the man, Mama Flora said not to.
By evening, I felt much better. I had eaten twice and kept my food down. I sprinkled the water around our apartment. The water the pastor brought for Mama Flora. When Nnayi returned from work, he was so happy to see me. He lifted me up and hugged me. Touching my face, checking my temperature. Nne, don’t scare me like that again. There were tears in his eyes. After, a week I told Nnayi of the pastor. I told him, I promised Mama Flora not tell him. I was afraid he would be angry but he was not. In fact, he seemed relieved. He told me Mama Flora had told him and he was waiting for me to tell him on my own. I was confused. Why didn’t she want me to tell you then? He shrugged. Maybe she wasn’t sure how I would react. But her heart was in the right place. Forget it.
One day, I came back from school and met her plaiting the hair of a young girl half my age. She looked exactly like Mama Flora. “Come and meet my daughter, Adaeze”. Flora was a skinny one just like her mother. She scurried off the small stool she was sitting on. “Good afternoon Auntie”. I hugged her. So, she had a daughter after all! I spent a lot of time with her daughter after that. She was enrolled in my school and so we walked to school together. It was Flora that told me her Mother’s story. Her father, Mama Flora’s husband had abandoned her mother shortly after her first birthday. He had absconded with another woman to Abuja. He had recently been arrested by EFCC. Her step mother had packed up everything she could lay her hands on and called Mama Flora to come and pick her daughter. She said her mother wept with joy when she saw her. For as long as she could remember, she had wondered about her mother.
One day, I hope Nnayi ukwu will start to like her. He still shakes his head though, telling me: Adaeze, my little one, what she wants I can’t give biko.