Funmi’s hands itched to flip the page; her agitated heels would not stop jerking her knees; she needed to move, yet somehow the discoloured bottom corner of the family album held her attention and the swell of the decay from the edge left her in a trance. The sounds around the house muffled. Soon her eyes crossed, her vision blurred and her mind drifted. She didn’t know when it became a habit but every now and then she was lost in one of her daydreams.
“Kò sí ẹran mọ́,” came her grandmother’s voice. It had the familiar Yoruba rough quality accented by the musical ups and downs of the language as she yelled across the sitting room to the women bustling in and out, carrying trays of assorted rice to be served for the occasion. “There’s no more meat,” she repeated as one of the young women stopped by. Another tray in hand with jollof rice all waiting to be topped up by a piece of stewed meat. “Ẹja ní kàn ló wá. It is only fish that is left. Shebi you were busy giving food to àwọn mo gbọ́ mo yà, the party crashers? Ẹja ní wọn má jẹ. It is fish that the rest will eat.” Funmi’s chuckle broke her out of the trance, and she looked back at the discoloured album. Her grandmother stayed voiceless in the picture. She seemed about a decade younger, seated on the traditional short stool with her rapa bundled between her legs as she bent over a large cooler of jollof rice.
She was not born at the time, so she liked looking at their old pictures and making up stories that their personalities helped guide. Inventing or re-creating a world from her reality and memories of others. The picture was from her parents’ wedding and though it was not required nor necessary, her grandmother oversaw the food. Funmi could almost smell the àmàlà and ewédú, feel the heat from the heavy aṣọ-òkè the women wore around their waists and tied on their heads, and hear her grandmother shouting orders to the tired young women. She could even hear… another thud, a louder one, and this time Funmi sat up. Ears straining at the sudden quiet. The yelling in the house had stopped.
She opened her room door slightly and peeked in the hallway waiting to see what she always did. Her mother stepped out, her hand on one side of her face, eyes red. It was still early but Funmi had already noticed the telltale redness of having been struck. By tomorrow it would be red or light purple and by the end of the week, an ugly dark mark would be in its place. Her mother caught her eyes from the small crack of the door and smiled, as she always did. Funmi smiled back then went back to her room, picked up her pencils from her satchel and started sketching a picture from the album, as she always did.
Dinner was served at 7:30 pm that day, a full hour early. Sometimes they ate dinner much later and nobody checked on whether Funmi ate or not. Those days were fine, happy even. It was days like this that made her antsy and uncomfortable so she would barely eat and have to go to bed hungry. Her mother smiled through her red eyes and slightly swollen face as she asked Funmi about her day. Her father kept his head down and said nothing, focused only on his meal. It was ironic that they insist on days like this, after her parents went through one of their… episodes, to have dinner together. Like a hot meal and awkward conversations would make the noises of the day a distant thought.
Funmi forced a smile, as she suspected her mother did, and replied, speaking to her mother about the Math competition she was advised to sign up for. Funmi was not the best student in class but there were two subjects that she was great at: art and math. It was unfortunate that she would have to pick one or the other to pursue further when she moved on to senior secondary school but maybe she could convince her parents to get her extra art or math lessons if she did well in the certificate examinations.
“I will have to stay back at school to prepare for it. It’s in a month and they said the winner gets a scholarship to go to their math camp in Victoria Island.”
“Really?” her mother’s eyes widened with the already-forced smile making Funmi shift in her seat “Dear, did you hear that?” She saw her mother hide her wince by chewing on her boiled yams enthusiastically. Her father said nothing. Funmi wrung her fingers under the table as her appetite once again left her.
“Do you need money to register?” her mother turned that forced smile back to her, breezing through the conversation like everything was fine. Funmi couldn’t find her voice, so she just shook her head.
A few minutes later, her father stood up with his empty plate and walked to the kitchen while her mother scoffed. Funmi’s appetite should be back now that her father had left the table, her heels should stop jerking and it should be easier to continue the conversation with her mother. But with her father gone, her mother did not strain so much for conversation and they both continued with their meal in silence. Funmi always finished last, taking her barely eaten and cold food to the kitchen. If she got the scholarship, she would be away for a while. She didn’t care so much about school or being the best but three months away seemed a luxury she could afford.
Three days later, on a Friday morning, Funmi had gotten dressed up for school. She was forty minutes early but that was something Sade and Lekan, Funmi’s parents, never had to worry about. Funmi was always extra early and with Sade’s constant prodding, she forced two slices of bread and a warm cup of Milo drink through her mouth while standing. That morning had been quite eventful with Lekan shooting daggers at his wife who constantly shifted in her seat as she fed their one-year-old, Simi, with some mixture that Lekan’s mother, the subject of Funmi’s sketches these days, had made. Funmi had asked her once what was in the formula, and her grandma had listed off ingredients that Funmi immediately forgot as she listened. Sade finished with Simi, and Funmi watched her try to carefully clean up the one-year-old’s mouth of the extra food that had not made its destination. Every protest by the one-year-old felt like snapping strings while Lekan watched the two of them over his laptop. After Sade was done in what felt like forever, she went into their room before emerging with the heavy makeup she had been wearing that week to cover up her black eye.
Lekan had an early virtual meeting and would later go out to inspect the construction site for the new architectural project of an international company making a mark in Lagos. This was huge for Lekan and the agency he worked for, and he and Sade had agreed a month ago that she would drive the kids to school that week he was busy. Now, she intentionally dawdled with the baby, pulling his legs and not getting presentable on time. He narrowed his eyes as she walked out of the room, face full of makeup and slightly tinted glasses. He didn’t bother looking at his daughters before calling out to his wife’s. “Make sure you don’t take too long before you drop them off.” He heard Sade sniff just before his meeting started. He ignored her. Funmi called her goodbyes and he waved at her, his eyes never leaving his computer. He would find some way to speak to her later, maybe.
Funmi hurried along to the car, glad to be out of the house and away from her father and yet the coldness hadn’t left her body. She could feel the tiny pricks of ice running down her back as she helped her mother secure Simi at the back of the seat. She would be fine as soon as she got to school and met her friends… classmates rather. She was not sure what friends were, but she was certain what friends were not and Funmi, had no friends. She heard her thoughts whisper to her. They were getting louder these days, pushing all sorts of theories in her mind. She turned her gaze from her mother’s face where she searched for spots where her makeup had not been covered and instead made stories of the people she saw as they zoom passed her moving her far away from home. Her thoughts gently resided as she got closer to school.
“Àmàlà yẹn kò ti jí na!” Funmi felt her grandmother’s slender hands holding her shoulders as she sweated over the pot of àmàlà. Her hands were singing from the pain she felt from the heat and exercise. “You are not turning this thing properly. I don’t know if you want us to eat it or drink it.” Funmi smiled. A sharp sound jolted her. She blinked and noticed a small hand snapping in front of her eyes. Embarrassed, she still had a smile on her face, she shook herself and moved her classmate’s fingers away. Funmi didn’t look up; didn’t want to see the look her teacher would give her; that is if he even bothered to give her a look. Funmi’s daydreaming was as common as the mosquitoes in the nighttime. Some teachers had tried assigning punishments to get her to stop but had eventually given up after they noticed she daydreamed while doing those too.
Her heart started to pound, and the tips of her fingers got cold even before the bell rang. Closing time. Her mother would be outside with her sister to pick her up and take them home. Funmi hoped sometimes that her parents would be late or at least let her come home herself. They had tried once, but she had ended up getting home a solid three hours past when she was due. Funmi having no friends meant she did not have a reason to stay back at school. So, on this day of freedom, she did not wait behind to watch the boys play football at the neatly trimmed field or gossip with the others. She went on a walk long enough to circle the path to her house five times over. Her mother who had panicked all day, slapped her senseless when she finally got home. Funmi didn’t dare try that again, and her parents would not stand for her coming home herself. At least, now, with the extra classes for the math competition, she would have some hours before going home.
She stopped in her tracks when she got out of the school and noticed her father waiting for her. He had his white Toyota Highlander parked in one of the closest lanes to the school entrance with only the two front windows down. Her mother always parked closer to the road a little farther away from the school gates. He spotted her and waved her over. She didn’t see why. Her father towered over most people and his uncharacteristically white car stood out so grandly, she was pretty sure the other cars were parked at a distance because they worried to stain it.
“Good afternoon, sir,” she said when she walked up to him. He had kept his intense eyes on her since he’d seen her a couple of steps back, it felt like a day had passed by the time she finally reached him.
“Good afternoon, Funmi. How was school?”
“Fine,” she answered automatically. Nobody cared to know these things.
He opened the boot of the car for her to drop her things. Again, something he did that she didn’t understand but neither thought about nor questioned. She loosened her grip on her bag, only just realising that she had been clenching her fingers around it. He made her drop her things in the car boot on the rare occasion that he picked them up from school so she would have more room to be comfortable in the car. She did not have her father’s build. Just shy of fourteen, Funmi felt like she could fit anywhere without taking up space.
“You are not staying back today for the competition right?”
Her head snapped at that. He had been paying attention. “No… it’s uhm. It’s not until next week.” He slowly nodded as he closed the boot while she walked to the front of the car. Seated, she adjusted to click her seatbelt in when she noticed Simi at the back. Now that was odd. “Why isn’t she with Mummy?” the words had come out before she had even given them permission to.
“Your mother had an important court case,” he replied stiffly locking his seatbelt in place. He did not elaborate and Funmi did not question further. She looked outside again and watched the people zoom past her. She settled to get into one of her daydreams.
“Do you still draw?” Funmi blinked and turned back to her father, a blank stare on her face. She panicked. What had he said? “I’m fine,” was all she could come up with.
“I know that” he chuckled, “I asked if you still draw.”
“Not as much as before? Are you any better now?”
“I don’t know,” she answered quietly. What was with the questions? Simi shifted in her car seat. “Why didn’t Mummy leave Simi at the daycare at work?”
“I don’t know.”
“Will she be back late?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“What about dinner, will she be…”
“I don’t know Funmi!”
She shrank in her seat and looked out the window again. She did not daydream; instead felt prickles in her eyes as the tears welled up. She hated when that happened; when the feeling to run away became overwhelming and the voices in her head got so loud, she could almost hear what they were saying. Lekan sighed and her ears pricked up. She needed to pay attention.
“Would you like some ice cream?” he said in his calm, almost playful voice. A peace offering but Funmi was old enough to recognise a bribe. She shook her head and saw her father nod from the corner of her eyes. The faster they got home, the faster this painful awkwardness between them ended. Except, when they got home, Lekan did not take Simi out of the car but told Funmi to go straight in, take enough clothes for one night and get back in the car. Funmi hesitated, but only for a second. The questions itched at the tip of her tongue, but she knew better than to ask her father anything when he’d just given marching orders. She stepped out of the car and walked to the house, careful to look around the rooms in case she might find her mother. When she got to hers, she took her time gathering her things. Where were they going? Why was her mother not with Simi? She was always with Simi… Funmi thought as she absently put things in her school bag, removing her books and replacing them with pyjamas, a pair of underwear, a toothbrush, and a casual set of clothes.
Funmi almost stepped out of her room before remembering her sketchbook. She stood at the mouth of the door running her thumb over the handle of her backpack as she deliberated whether taking it would be a good idea. She soon started digging her nail into it and faintly registered that it was hurting. She jumped when she heard her father’s car horn and made the split decision to grab her sketchbook and stuff it in her bag. Her father had not told her to bring anything for Simi, but it just made sense to bring a little bag for the baby and who knows, maybe when he saw her carrying extra things, he would not make a big deal of her staying too long. She had been alone with her little sister enough to know where her already-packed travel bag would be and grabbed it on the way.
Her father’s intense eyes followed her as she walked over carrying two bags over each shoulder. As she had hoped, his eyes moved to the new bag she walked over with, and he said nothing when she got in and dropped Simi’s bag next to her in the backseat.
Settling in the front, Funmi buckled up and, habitually, turned to look to her right, out the window. Lekan pulled the car from the curb of the road and drove gently out of their neighbourhood. They lived in Yaba, the heartbeat of Lagos city. Its buildings though were not as fancy as the glass offices in the state’s capital, but they were close to the University and one of the city’s biggest markets. That was fine to Funmi, lots of people to watch and so for the third time that day, the people, the cars, and the landscape caressed her vision. But her mind was too busy to daydream.
Her father mostly kept to himself, and Funmi never asked for them to be best friends. As long as she did exactly as she was told, there was no problem between her and her parents. Sade had warned her a couple of times about her father’s temper; having seen her mother’s face herself, Funmi did not need to be told twice to keep a safe distance. But this was all new territory, Lekan had grabbed her and her sister and without her mother to act as a buffer, what would become of the two of them? Two hours’ worth of awkward silence later and Funmi sat up and tore her eyes from the window to the windscreen. She recognised the turn, the trees, and even the stores. She had felt that way for a while now and knew exactly where they were going.
“Grandma’s house,” slipped like a whisper from her lips… a prayer.
“I’m sure she is already making your àmàlà.” Funmi blinked and turned to her father. Surprised that she had almost forgotten he was there and now the questions slammed her like she’s walked into a brick wall. She missed her grandmother; it had been months since she had visited. Her parents had even gotten into a fight about it so why were they going there now? Is Mummy there? Will she meet them there? What about Simi, was she the one to take care of her now? The dust rose as Lekan expertly manoeuvred his way through potholes and overgrown grass. At every scrape, Funmi winced thinking about his immaculate white car through the dusty uneven road. Her grandmother lived in one of the suburbs of Lagos, what everyone else would call a village. It was not gated and was quite far from the tarred roads and noisy shops or civilisation as most Lagosians would say.
The older woman stood at the mouth of the front door; she wore a loose blouse and tied an old rapa around her waist, she stood with her legs apart, hands akimbo and her glasses sliding a little low on her face and she looked over them. She spotted a frown and her left hand shot out, pointing frantically at Lekan and then the gardens, a sign to avoid running over her ugwu and ata rodò she had just planted. Lekan groaned as he turned the steering wheel, carefully avoiding her garden and parked his car next to her grandmother’s under her mango tree. Funmi did not wait for Lekan to unlock the doors or even help with Simi. She jumped out of the car and ran to her grandmother who opened her arms to receive her.
“Ọmọ mí. How are you my dear?” she hugged and rocked Funmi as she said this.
“I’m fine,” Funmi dragged out ‘fine’ as she rocked back.
“Funmi! Come and carry Simi from the car now.” Funmi immediately tore herself from her grandmother and made it to the car when the older woman grabbed her shoulder.
“Can’t you do it yourself? Why are you stressing my child?” Funmi tried to hide her smile when Lekan rolled his eyes and moved to get the one-year-old out of the car. The bags they had packed were settled at the foot of the door.
“My child, go inside and wash your hands. I made pounded yam and Egusi, dish your own and eat, you hear?” Funmi smiled at Grandma and all the questions from the day had disappeared from her mind. She heard her father grumble something about his mother spoiling her.
“Àgbàyà Lekan! Ṣe mí kìí n tọjú ẹ lá tẹ n kàn? When you come to this house, my grandchildren are my babies. I have taken care of you long enough. Don’t come and be crying to me, you are not a baby.”
Funmi felt her muscles relax. The only person who could ever talk back to her father and made her feel safe was her grandmother. Every day she wished she could either live with the older woman or have her grandmother move to Yaba to be with them in the city. But Grandma seemed too content with the quiet, simple life to leave. She did not have neighbours who lived right next to her and was strict about her privacy. Despite that, Funmi’s grandmother had friends all over the small village. Funmi had spent two months with her grandmother during the long holiday, and on the day she got home, she learned the word to describe the lump in her throat, anxiety. Ironically, nothing had happened that week, which made her feel worse because all she did was worry about when something would happen and how bad it would get this time. Her parents had progressed from foot rubs to barely saying two sentences that day. So, she assumed she was thinning quickly when she brought up the subject of living with her grandmother but unfortunately, that was the match to the fire that had been building long since Funmi came home. She didn’t see Grandma for months after that and learned the hard way to keep her thoughts to herself.
She smelled the Egusi from Grandma’s kitchen and saw the mortar and pestle washed and placed right next to the door that led to her backyard. The firewood whistled quietly as the thin smoke danced from its dying embers. Grandma had only just put it off so the food would still be hot. She preferred to cook out in her backyard with heaps of firewood and large steel pots as opposed to using the eight-stove gas cooker and oven Lekan had bought for her a year ago. Funmi ended up being the only one who used it.
“Mí kìí jẹ àwọn ijẹkújẹ,” Grandma had once said when she saw her frying some eggs to have with noodles on one of the mornings she spent the weekend. “My own is to cook my moin-moin and fry àkàrà. All these omelettes abi scrambled is not for me.” Funmi smiled as she scooped some pounded yam with her fingers, rolled it and dipped it in her hot bowl of Egusi soup. She let her grandmother’s cooking coax the worry from her muscles. The buzzing in her head from the confusion reduced to a low hum. She tried not to worry about her mother’s absence. She did not think about Simi. She turned away from her father so she would not ask why he had chosen to bring her on a school night. She banished thoughts of making it to her class the next morning, in time for the English test she never studied for. Tomorrow, she would worry. She ate the pounded yam and Egusi, savouring the taste and the sound of Grandma yelling at Lekan across the room. Did she hear something about Yemi… a friend? Her stomach felt tight from all the food… she swallowed another roll.
That night, Funmi’s eyes rolled restlessly behind her eyelids. Her body felt heavy, and her mouth was clammy. She forced her eyelids up; the room seemed strange, and it was dark, where was she? She felt panic when she realised she couldn’t move. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Her mind screamed and thrashed but her body stayed put, her eyelids growing heavier. She spotted a shadow in front of her, and the adrenaline pushed until she sat up abruptly in her bed and calmed when she remembered, Grandma’s house, she was in her room in Grandma’s house.
“So, you are awake already. I knew you wouldn’t be able to sleep here,” the shadow said in a hushed but sharp and familiar whisper.
“Mummy?” Funmi’s muscles shook as she strained to look at the stranger with the familiar voice.
“Oya get up now.” Funmi forced her legs off the bed. She tried to remember what had happened. She ate a very heavy meal and went to bed early, probably at 7 pm. She wanted to go back to sleep.
“Mummy… what’s going on? Have you finished your court case?”
“What court case?” her mother sucked her teeth. “You’re not awake, are you?”
“Daddy said you had a court case,” Funmi said, the sentence coming out like a whine. Sade grabbed the bags from the floor and zipped them up without checking what needed to be repacked. Funmi didn’t fuss when she saw that at least her sketchpad was in it.
“Your father lied. There was no court case, he is trying to take you away. Get up… we are going home.”
Funmi sat up at that and her eyes cleared a little more. Home? She was home. What was her mother talking about? For the past couple of years, Funmi had found the right balance between her parents. She stuck to her mother mostly; selfishly, she believed that if she did not, and her father lost his temper, he would go after her instead of her mother. She did not like being pulled in two different places, but that night felt like one of those rubber band moments. Her mother was pushing her, all too roughly, off the bed so she obliged. Simi was sleeping next to her, so Sade picked her up gently, careful not to wake her in the middle of the night, and they walked out of the room.
The house was dark save for the dim light in the corridor. Funmi glanced at her mother and her breath caught. Her mother’s black eye was a terrifying shade of purple under the dim green night light, and she looked worried… very worried. Whatever was going on that night was very bad. They got to the kitchen and slipped through the back door leading down the steps to the backyard. Funmi felt her mother grab her hand and shove her to the side, but she was still too drowsy to move quickly, “no, don’t step on that…” too late. she found herself tripping on the steps face-first on the dirt. She heard her mother suck on her teeth while she dusted herself looking back at the liquid on the steps. She recognised the smell and finally noticed that the backyard seemed engulfed in that smell.
“Ssssshhhh!” her mother snapped at her “Will you keep quiet?!”
“Your father,” was her reply. Funmi was too alarmed to keep her questions back this time.
“Daddy spilt Kerosene on the steps? He doesn’t even cook why…”
“He tried to pour it on me,” Sade said, her eyes welled with tears as she turned to Funmi. “But don’t worry, nothing touched me, not even a drop. Your father just threw the keg on the floor and said he would light it up if I came close.” The older woman adjusted the sleeping Simi on her shoulder, walking Funmi over to a strange-looking rundown green Toyota Camry. Sade answered before Funmi got the question out. “He picked Simi up from day care and took my car away when I was in the office.” She shook her head as she said “Your father has found another woman. And now he wants me to leave that’s why he came here. Your grandmother is the one that brought the woman.”
The voices in Funmi’s head started buzzing. She had heard of stories like this but thought they mostly existed in Nollywood movies. She noticed more spills of Kerosene around the house as they made their way to the car. Had their father chased her that far with the kerosene? She shivered as she thought about what could happen if he saw them now, if he came at them with a torch. She thought her mother said something about looking for the keys to the car as she passed the baby to Funmi who numbly accepted her. “She has been asleep the whole day,” Funmi started to think. “Was she drugged?”
“Sade!” her father’s towering figure slipped through the shadows of the house towards them. Funmi found herself shaking her head as if she could warn him not to step on Grandma’s ugwu leaves as he reached them.
“What Lekan?!” Sade rounded back. “You want to take my children from me?! After everything you have put me through. You just want to throw me out of my house like aṣẹwo and take my children?”
“Sade!” Lekan walked closer “Stop. Bring the children back or…”
“Or what?!” Sade screamed and this time, Simi woke up. The sudden yelling had upset her, and she started to wriggle and wail in Funmi’s arms. She was trying very hard to calm the moving child, turning this way and that to keep the baby from slipping through her hands. She strained to listen but could only catch parts of the conversation.
“I told you this would happen,” came Lekan’s voice.
“You bastard!” that was her mother, and she could tell that there were tears in her eyes as her voice shook. “You will not take everything from me! You hear me! You and your witch mother will go to hell for everything you put me through.”
“Don’t you dare play the victim here! I warned you, and you and I both know you caused this and… Sade… what are you doing? Sto…” Funmi turned around almost as quickly as it happened. Her eyes did not move fast enough to catch when Sade had picked up the bottle or when she had smashed it on her father’s head. Lekan lay hunched down with his hand over his head, blood seeping through.
Simi was wriggling and wailing a lot more, but Funmi had a hard grip on the baby as she gazed at her parents; her legs felt like they were glued to the floor and her eyes must have been as big as Grandma’s eba bowls. Funmi saw Grandma run towards her, pestle in hand which she dropped immediately Sade swung the piece of broken glass at her. Funmi felt her heart push through her chest when she saw her grandmother kneeling before her broken-bottle-wielding mother, her hands stretched in front of her palm up; she let fat tears drop from her face. Her nose was running and seeping into her open mouth as she wept before the younger woman.
“Ẹjọ̀ ọ,” her grandmother said “Sade ẹ máa dẹ ṣàánu wá.” Grandma’s words came in loud ragged gasps as she begged Sade who also had tears in her eyes.
“Ẹ jẹ́kìí ṣàánu yín?” Sade repeated with a hiss “What about your son and his oloṣo girlfriend you were going to help him take my children to? Ṣe ẹyin náà ẹ ṣàánu mí??”
Her grandmother was crawling closer to her son who seemed unconscious. She would pause and rub her palms together in front of Sade, begging her. Funmi did not know where she got the courage from but watching her Grandma crawl and beg brought a feeling that gnawed at the deepest parts of her.
“Mummy,” her voice seemed small, very small but it was all she could manage. “Mummy please let’s go. Let’s go before Daddy wakes up.” Sade started and looked at Funmi, as if only just realising that she had been standing there. She looked at the older child and the wailing baby then snapped back and the aged woman who was now cradling her son.
“You will let us go,” Sade said with the sharp edge of the bottle pointed at Grandma “you will not shout, I will not hear kpim and you will not follow us. Ṣẹ gbọ́?” Grandma nodded slowly, gasping as she sobbed. Funmi tore her eyes away from her grandmother and gave her mother Simi, whom she rocked gently before placing her in the back seat. Funmi would have to ride at the back with her since the strange car had no seat for the one-year-old.
Funmi had the bags now, her numb legs moved by themselves and stood at the boot of the car, waiting for her hands to drop the bags in. She felt herself shudder and wished that this was just a very vivid dream, but the taste of bile in her throat kept her firmly planted in reality. She thought she spotted something blue in the boot but her fingers had started getting cold making her shrug off the bags quickly so she could get in the back seat with Simi, gently collecting and placing the baby on her front. Her mother got in the car and drove away from the house. Sade had parked her car by going in, not backing in and now had to reverse to get into the road. Funmi looked at her grandmother and father who had regained consciousness and leaned on the mango tree where his car was parked. She noted his bloody handprints on his innocent white car and despite herself, breathed a little easier knowing the blood had clotted over. She shivered when she remembered the kerosene spills. How had her father become someone so cruel? She dared herself to glare at him and watch his ever-intense eyes follow the car and when they met hers, she blinked away stunned by their effect.
Poor mum, she thought as Sade worked her steering wheel frantically like her father might change his mind any second.
Once on the road, Funmi tried counting and breathing to calm herself, but she couldn’t. The night made her restless, her head was pounding from being woken up so suddenly and she felt cold. The voices in her head had picked up their game again and Funmi tried to quieten them by thinking of the image she had of her grandmother that afternoon but that soon shattered as she felt her heartbreak. Grandma and Daddy had planned to throw her mother out as if her father’s incessant displays of cruelty were not enough. She looked over at her mother in the driving seat and noticed that Sade had still not calmed. The woman would turn around and look at her mirrors every few minutes. There was something else, something Funmi hadn’t noticed… the smell.
Funmi caught a gasp in her throat. That night, something else had woken her before her mother had even said anything. The smell… that strong smell… kerosene. But her mother had said none of it had touched her. Maybe it had and she had just not known. But then, Funmi could feel her eyes well up again. What was Grandma’s blue jerrican doing in the boot? Grandma loved to cook outside with her stacks of firewood and when Funmi stayed over, she was regularly going on runs to refill the blue jerrican with kerosene for her grandmother. Grandma was very strict about how that liquid was handled, keeping it in a corner outside the house. She had heard tales of people being set on fire intentionally or mostly by accident due to poor management. Funmi had seen it in the boot, but that still meant nothing. Her mother shuffled in her seat and looked at the back again. Something felt very wrong, and she shivered.
Her fingers, Funmi’s eyes widened, they were cold, almost numb, like how she felt every time she was home, how she felt when she was in the car on the way to school, how she had not felt all day since she got to school. Not even in the front seat next to her father and the awkward silence smiling between them. The voices were screaming, joining the melody her pounding headache had generously supplied and now, exhausted, she let them speak, let their voices overwhelm her. Her father was a monster who hit her mother whenever he got the chance. Except that she had never seen him hit her. Just heard them… she heard them… she’d heard… The voices were like a broken record in her head now, she could decipher her mother in their oceans.
“What will you do ehn? Tell me… you want to go where? To court… to divorce me? Have you forgotten you are married to a lawyer?” Something smashed.
“Sade please stop…” her father’s voice.
“What do you think will happen?” a thud.
“Sade! Please!” Lekan’s voice shook as another crack echoed off the walls… her mother laughed and sighed “it’s me and you Lekan…” and the door clicked. Funmi opened her door and looked at her mother, watching Sade hold her hand up on her face, she smiled, and Funmi smiled back. Her father would later join them to eat, head down, eyes haunted while her mother just, smiled…
Funmi’s heels started jerking and Simi stirred in her hands. She had an idea but please, please let her have the courage. She saw a fuel station up ahead or rather she guessed. Her grandmother loved to go for drives and very long walks so she knew everywhere like the back of her hand. The station was still open so it must not be midnight yet. She could do it.
“Mummy?” she was surprised when her tiny voice slipped out.
“Ehn?” her mother asked checking her mirror for the hundredth time.
“I think…” she cleared her throat, “I think I forgot to carry pampers for Simi and she has soiled herself. It’s now leaking on my clothes too. I’m also hungry. So… so I was just wondering… if maybe… maybe we can stop… at that… that filling station.” Her voice had barely helped her the rest of the way, but she got it all out. Sade said nothing. Her thumb tapped the steering wheel. She finally looked back at the two girls from the rearview mirror and sighed. They must have looked a mess because she made a sharp turn into the filling station and parked abruptly making Funmi and Simi both jump.
“Stay here,” her mother hissed “I’ll run in and get it.” with that Sade pulled the keys from the car and walked into the store.
Funmi was stunned to silence and finally gasped only now realising that she had been holding her breath. Simi wiggled slightly and Funmi watched her closely, registering that this was the first time that she had seen truly her awake all day. She worked her way to her mother’s bag and carefully but quickly looked through it. She clasped her hand over her mouth to muffle her scream. Matches. They ran electric cookers at home so if her mother had matches…
“It’s time to go,” she said more to herself than Simi. Her legs shook as she opened the car door, doing her best to keep it quiet. Her mother had only been out for less than two minutes, but Funmi was sure it was longer. She was wasting time. She hesitated for only half of a second before remembering her father’s eyes. His intense eyes caught hers through the blood and glass. She saw pain, and not the kind you get when you have a gash the size of a pen on your head. It was a different type of pain. She did not know if she would regret her choice tomorrow, but as she walked farther away from the car, the feeling returned to her fingertips. She buried the ache she felt from leaving her satchel filled with her memories behind and forced her feet forward.
She prayed that Simi would stay quiet and that no bandits would be lurking that night. She cried as she thought about the snakes that might be looking for food. She ignored the scrapes of the bushes and the slap of sand on her calf. She didn’t realise when she started running, to her father, to Grandma. She ran home.