A Cloud of Change
By Yosola Adeniran
Ten years later, you watch her pass by your window, swaggering, her dress billowing in the breeze and you know she has changed.
Before she left your one room apartment, which you shared with your two children from different fathers, you had dropped your shyness and looked her in the eye. Those brown eyes that shone like polished wood were now full of a kind of worldliness and sad, silent wisdom. “You have changed,” you had said to her and she simply smiled. She had surveyed your cramped room with knowing eyes and shook her head slowly, pitifully. “You don’t deserve this kind of life,” she had told you. You had said nothing while she scribbled something on a thick envelope she had pulled out of her bag. She had placed it on the paint bucket, a makeshift stool, next to the glass of water you had offered her but she had not touched. She had risen to her feet and looked around again as if to capture the image well for later recollection and she had taken her leave.
Several minutes pass before you reach for the envelope with shaky hands. There is an address written in block letters on the envelope and a telephone number. Slowly you open it and slowly you count the one thousand naira notes. Ten thousand… twenty thousand… forty-five thousand naira. You are forty-five thousand naira rich! Suddenly, there is a knock on your door and you swiftly hide the money under the faded carpet and wiped the glee off your face, replacing it with a sober expression. “Who is there?,” you say. “Mummy, it is us. Open the door.” You open the door and hurriedly shove the children in. They sit on the tattered loveseat opposite you where she had sat. All is quiet for a while until your son asks you who the woman that visited was. For a moment, you contemplate lying but then reply, “An old friend.” Your daughter speaks, “She’s rich. I saw her car.” You do not respond, instead you slump in your seat, close your eyes and remember.
Many years ago, you were the loved and amiable daughter of a barely middle class family. You were twelve and you had had big dreams, bigger than most even. Then, you would go on and on about your plans for the future and how you would become rich and famous. You met Chika during a school holiday which you had spent at your aunt’s. Chika was the daughter of the new neighbours. Sometimes, when the other children from the neighbourhood played in your aunt’s compound, you would notice her looking on from her room’s window. Whenever you caught her eye, she would quickly draw the curtains close. She was mysterious in a provocative way, she made you wonder.
Perhaps, the girl’s parents had caught on to the gossip because they began to let her out to play with the other kids. At first, she was always timid and afraid, never looking up and never speaking above a whisper. While others played, she would sit and watch, only getting up to leave when her mother came for her. “Chika! Let’s go!” You used to hear the adults whispering about “These new people” but you never really listened long enough to hear the story about the new people. Chika finally loosened up towards the end of your vacation and you became friends. The day before you left she cried and asked you if you really had to go.
The next year, you went to your aunt’s again and there was Chika. The both of you became good friends. Chika was not as timid as she was the last time you met her but she was still scared when it was about time to go home. You mentioned this to your cousins and they shrugged it off but you thought and thought about it. One day you asked her but she did not reply, she looked down and when you asked again she stood up and left. You did not see her for the rest of the holiday. When you went again the previous year she came to play even though you were both past the age for playing carelessly about. “Let’s jump rope,” she said. You obliged but soon you both grew tired and while you were resting she said, “Come, I want to show you something.”
What you saw shocked you and woke in you an awareness of the dark side of the world. Her back was covered with scars -old and fresh- from being whipped constantly. “My mother flogs me on my back when she’s angry. She flogs me there so people can’t see the marks.” Speechless, that’s what you were for the next few minutes. “Why?,” you asked. She shrugged. “I once had a brother but he’s dead and I know who killed him. My father did,” she whispered.
For the next three years you kept in touch and spent time together during the holidays. Then one holiday, you arrived at your dear old aunt’s and there was no Chika. You asked your aunt, you asked your cousins. Nobody said anything to you. Later, you found out that Chika’s mother had killed her husband and had been arrested. Some relative had come for the girl and no one knew where they lived. No more Chika, no more plans to escape, no more talks about the future and you had drifted and left your dreams behind. There was no point.
You check the address on the envelope to make sure you were in the right place because the house you were standing in front of was grand. You had expected her to have a good life but nothing this… expensive. How had Chika become this wealthy? Perhaps her relatives were rich people. There is a bell and you press the button. Soon, a gateman appears to attend to you. He does not look like the stereotypical gateman; he is well dressed and speaks good English. “Good afternoon ma. How may I help you?” You tell him that you are here to see Chika and that you are her friend. He looks at you, giving you a quick head to toe scan and leaves. Suddenly, you become self conscious and look down at your outfit; the lavender dress and silver slippers was your Sunday best but in this grand environment they looked out of place. The gateman was back soon and he led you to the main house.
She is at the door to welcome you. She spreads her arms to envelope you in a rather awkward hug. You cannot look up at her but as she shows you into her house you get a good look at her. Chika is taller than you now and she is wearing makeup and has long artificial nails. The house is even grander inside; you pass through white hallways with high ceilings, decorated with paintings and several rooms in different pastel colours. You think to yourself that this is the type of house that appears in magazines; they were houses, not homes. Home is a grimy damp place.
Finally, she leads you into a living room painted in two shades of green: mint and sage. You always were good with colours. The sofas were chocolate and there were low carved antique stools. Everything was placed in a strategic position, each piece of furniture and decoration getting its deserved attention and still forming a part of a whole. No one speaks for a while as a maid shuffles in and out of the room bearing refreshments. She speaks first.
“How have you been?” she asks, her hands folded beneath her chin, waiting.
“I’m alright. Life has been fair enough,” you reply.
“Fair? No. I don’t agree. Look at you, fair is not the word that comes to mind.”
“Look Chika, some of us were not lucky enough to have rich relatives to give us a fairytale ending,” you say sharply, feeling offended. You do not expect her to erupt with laughter and you wonder if all is well.
“Relatives kwa? What relatives? No one gave me anything my dear, all you see is a result of my hardwork. I suffered, I laboured to get this,” she makes a sweeping movement with her arms. “No one gave me anything on a platter of gold. Not one.” She rises to her feet. “Come with me,” she says and soon you are both in a vehicle, destination unknown. Forty minutes later you enter a fine looking establishment: Sparkle Lounge and Bars. The place was full of people who looked like they did not know that life could get tough. For the second time that day you felt inferior and out of place.
“I used to come to places like this to make money. I’d sit and buy a drink with money I did not have and pray some wealthy man would show interest in me,” she says as you are shown to a private section of the lounge. “Now I own one.”
You begin to understand and no sooner than you made yourself feel as comfortable as you could in this place, a man approaches your table. Chika hugs him and they brush through the usual small talk then you are introduced. Names and handshakes are exchanged and you expect him to leave but he shows more interest and Chika pushes you and encourages you to keep the conversation going. Soon, she excuses herself and later when the man asks you to go home with him you decide you cannot take it anymore. You stand and take your leave, no goodbyes.
Night has come and the stars are out. You just arrived at home and you knock on your neighbour’s door. She asks who it is and when you reply she comes out with your children and you thank her. You hug your children and whisper, “Mummy is here,” into their ears.
After you put them to sleep, you sit on the loveseat where she had sat and cry. You would never know what happened to Chika but you felt it was alright. Some things are better left unknown. You promise yourself that you will work hard and pick your dreams from the shelf where you left them, it was time to move on. Tomorrow would be the first day of a new month; a wonderful time to start again. You cry some more and finally go to bed, spent.
Yosola Adeniran is an undergraduate student of the University of Ibadan, where she is an English Language major. Yosola loves to sing, and writes Poetry and Prose.