She grew anxious as the man began to brag about his son and how people should now call him Engineer Abidemi Adejobi, because he had finished his studies in Scotland, and he was ready to come home and work and build his first house, possibly on Victoria Island in Lagos, because Ibadan had become too small for him.

“Excuse me, Sa, I need to find my sister.” Patience walked on and didn’t wait for his response.

No more greetings, she thought.

She made a swift turn toward the exit of the tent, then started toward the house. She could no longer ignore the dampness under her arms. She decided not to wait for her stepmother’s permission. She was going to change her clothes.

“Patience,” she heard an unfamiliar voice call out. Who the hell is this now? she thought. She turned to find out. A tall, slender woman dressed in English attire—a lavender double-breasted skirt suit that looked like it was plucked from Princess Diana’s wardrobe—walked toward her.

“Patience, how have you been?”

Patience squinted as the woman came closer.

“Do you know who I am?” the woman said in a slight whisper.

“Oh . . . hello, Ma.”

The woman smiled again. “I’m Aunty Lola.”

Patience hesitated, still confused.

“I haven’t seen you in so long. Don’t worry. I know you don’t remember.”

“I’m so sorry, Ma.”

“Your mother, Folami, she was . . . she is . . . my best friend.”

Patience’s chest shuddered as she took a long breath.

“How are you?” the woman said.

“I’m . . . fine . . . I’m okay.” Patience smiled, hoping to conceal her shock. The woman leaned in to hug her. Patience softened into her embrace. The woman’s voice, her bouffant hairdo, the smell of sticky hairspray, her floral perfume—it was true, Patience had known her once. She hadn’t seen the woman since her mother’s departure ten years before.

“Wow, I’m surprised my father invited my mother’s friend to his party,” Patience said.

“Well, my husband is now commissioner of health in Lagos, and he’s known Kolade for years. We moved to Lagos a few months ago, so we are just here for the party.”

“I’m moving to Lagos next week to go to UNILAG. I finished SS3 this year.”

“Wonderful. My daughter, Bimpe, just finished at University of Lagos. Maybe you can meet with her when you arrive. She can tell you all about the school, I’m sure.”

“I don’t mind.”

“I want you to visit me at home so you can tell me about how you’ve been getting on. Please come and see me,” the woman said, now in a hushed tone. She dug into her purse and pulled out a pen and an address book, scribbled something, and tore the page out. “This is my address.” She placed the paper in the palm of Patience’s hand and clasped her fingers shut.

Patience felt like she was in a dream, standing with a person who had acknowledged her mother after all the years of her absence and all the years of her father and Modupe acting as if she didn’t exist.

“My father told me my mum went back to America. Is it true? Have you heard from her?”

“Patience, that is quite a long story. Please, when you get to Lagos, come to my house and I will tell you all that I know.”

“Aunty Lola, we can go to my room and talk if you prefer.”

“I know you must be anxious to know more, but this isn’t a good place for me to tell you anything. By now you know that your father doesn’t like to discuss your mum. We will talk.” The woman placed her hand on Patience’s shoulder and walked on. Patience turned and watched her approach a man. She stared as they mingled, then as they made their way along the path that led to the parking area.

Patience followed.

She peeked from behind a wall and saw them enter the back seat of a black Peugeot. The car pulled out of the driveway and pressed toward the exit of the compound. Patience looked down at the paper the woman had given her. Written with her name was her Ikoyi address. She tried to picture herself navigating the intimidating streets of Lagos alone in search of it. She would find her way there even if it killed her.

“So, how many people have you greeted?” Margaret said as she crept up behind.

Patience stuffed the address into her bra, then turned to her half sister.

“I hope you knelt down for people,” Margaret said.

“Yes, I did my greetings. But please, let us get out of these dresses. Aren’t you hot?”

“Very hot. Let me go find Mummy to let her know we’re going to change.” Margaret walked back toward the tent, braving the crowd of people again. Patience thought about her encounter with Aunty Lola. She needed a moment alone.

She decided not to wait.

She walked toward the back door of the house, climbed the winding staircase, and dashed into her room, locking the door behind her. She rushed into her walk-in closet and pulled the large quilt off a medium-size box, finding behind a thin sheet of plastic her mother’s jeweled black sweater, one meant for Christmas in cold American cities.

Then there were her mother’s books: To Kill a Mockingbird, Things Fall Apart, Oliver Twist. Patience read the title of the thinnest book: Becky. It was about the little Black girl who went out shopping with her mother and found a doll that looked just like her. Patience sat down and held the book against her chest. She flipped through the pages and remembered listening to her mother recite each word as she sat on the side of her twin-size bed in her parents’ former apartment in Washington, DC—her birthplace.


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Excerpted from: Patience Is a Subtle Thief. Reprinted with permission from the publisher HarperVia, an imprint of HarperCollins. Copyright © 2022 by Abi Ishola-Ayodeji.