“So, you people share the same father and mother?”
“She told you she is my sister.”
“But is she your full sister? She looks kinda mixed.”
Yinka is really starting to piss me off. The sad thing is that her questions are neither the most obnoxious I have received in my lifetime nor the most uncommon. After all, Ayoola is short—her only flaw, if you consider that to be a flaw—whereas I am almost six feet tall; Ayoola’s skin is a colour that sits comfortably between cream and caramel and I am the colour of a Brazil nut, before it is peeled; she is made wholly of curves and I am composed only of hard edges.
“Have you informed Dr Imo that the X-ray is ready?” I snap.
“Then I suggest you do that.”
I walk away from her before she has a chance to finish her excuse. Assibi is making the beds on the second floor and Mohammed is flirting with Gimpe right in front of me. They’re standing close to one another, his hand pressed on the wall as he leans toward her. He will have to wipe that spot down. Neither of them see me—his back is to me, and her eyes are cast down, lapping up the honeyed compliments he must be paying her. Can’t she smell him? Perhaps she can’t; Gimpe also gives off a rank smell. It is the smell of sweat, of unwashed hair, of cleaning products, of decomposed bodies under a bridge . . .
I blink. The couple has vanished. Apparently, I’ve been standing in the shadows for a while, lost in thought. Bunmi is looking at me quizzically. I wonder how many times she has called me. She is hard to read. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot going on in her frontal lobe.
“What is it?”
“Your sister is downstairs.”
I don’t wait for her to repeat her statement and I don’t wait for the lift—I run down the stairs. But when I get to the reception area, Ayoola is nowhere to be seen and I am panting for breath. Perhaps my colleagues have sensed how much my sister’s presence here rattles me; maybe they are messing with me.
“Yinka, where is my sister?” I wheeze.
“Yes. The only sister I have.”
“How would I know? I didn’t even know you had one sister before, for all I know you people are ten.”
“Okay, fine, where is she?”
“She is in Dr Otumu’s office.”
I take the stairs, two at a time. Tade’s office is directly opposite the lift, so that every time I arrive on the second floor, I am tempted to knock on his door. Ayoola’s laughter vibrates in the hallway—she has a big laugh, deep and unrestrained, the laughter of a person without a care in the world. On this occasion, I don’t bother to knock.
“Oh! Korede, hi. I am sorry I stole your sister. I understand you two have a lunch date.” I take in the scene. He has chosen not to sit behind his desk, but instead is sitting in one of the two chairs in front. Ayoola is perched on the other. Tade has angled his own seat so that it is facing her, and as though that were not enough, he leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees.
The top Ayoola has chosen to wear today is white and backless. Her leggings are a bright pink and her dreadlocks are piled atop her head. They look heavy, too heavy for her to bear, but her frame is straight. In her hands is his phone, where she was undoubtedly in the process of saving her number.
They look at me without a shadow of guilt.
“Ayoola, I told you I can’t do lunch.”
Tade is surprised by my tone. He frowns but says nothing. He is too polite to interrupt a squabble between sisters.
“Oh, that’s okay. I spoke to that nice girl Yinka and she said she will cover for you.” Oh, she would, would she?
“She shouldn’t have done that. I have a lot of work to do.”
Ayoola pouts. Tade clears his throat.
“You know, I haven’t had my lunch break yet. If you’re interested, I know a cool place around the corner.”
He is talking about Saratobi. They serve a mean steak dish there. I took him there the day after I discovered it. Yinka tagged along, but even that could not ruin the lunch for me. I learned that Tade is an Arsenal supporter and he once tried his hand at professional football. I learned he is an only child. I learned he isn’t a huge fan of vegetables. I had hoped one day we might repeat the experience—without Yinka—and I would learn more about him.
Ayoola beams at him.
“That sounds great. I hate to eat alone.”
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About the Author:
Oyinkan Braithwaite is a graduate of Creative Writing and Law from Kingston University. Following her degree, she worked as an assistant editor at Kachifo, a Lagos-based publishing house, and has been freelancing as a writer and editor since. In 2014, she was shortlisted as a top-ten spoken-word artist in the Eko Poetry Slam, and in 2016 she was a finalist for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria.