‘FOLAAAAAAAA! OMOWAFOLAAA! O nií pa mí lónií!’ Mum screams. You will not kill me today!
I can tell when she’s mad because her Yoruba starts showing. Can I ever get any peace in this house?
‘I’m coming, Mum.’ Turning back to the mirror, I try to style my afro. It’s summer so my hair’s on a break from weaves and braids. My hair-care ritual is long. I did all the heavy lifting last night with the shampooing, conditioning, parting my afro into sections and twisting it. The end result is a twist out. As I take my hair out of the twists, black curls bounce on my dark brown skin.
‘Fola, come out of the bathroom!’ Mum shouts. ‘What are you doing in there? Why must it take you so long?’
‘Mum, I’m coming!’ I open the door to find Mum and Bisi waiting outside.
You’re actually wasting my time,’ Bisi moans, trying to push past me into the bathroom.
I screw up my face at my sister. ‘What are you smirking at?’
‘I’m laughing at that mop on your he–’
I don’t let her finish as I swat her ear. She cries out.
Dad emerges from his bedroom, frowning. ‘Ah ah.” He’s dressed for work in his smart trousers and ‘strong’ shoes, as he likes to call them. Dad’s shoulders are so wide that he takes up more space than me and Bisi put together. ‘Stop fighting. Bisi, you need to learn how to respect your elders. And Fola, stop hitting your sister. You better hurry up and get dressed if you want to drive with me.’
He shakes his head and stomps off. My dad teaches at my school, which I’m still not used to. I don’t like it, but what am I supposed to do?
After buttoning my white shirt and tucking it into my pleated grey skirt, I shrug on the ugly green striped blazer which, after, like, 50 years, finally fits me. Mum always said I’d ‘grow into’ the uniform, but tell that to 12-year-old me. It’s been four years! My skirt used to swing around my ankles. As if I needed anything else to make me stand out at that school.
I fix my hair in our full-length mirror, loving the way the tendrils fall around my face like a flower blossoming. Lifting up my camera, I turn my head at different angles and take some pictures in the mirror. Should I start my own channel about hair? Yeah, no. Forget that! I’ll just get drowned out by all the other people online.
Once I’m done, I follow the sweet smell of yam and egg down the narrow corridor. Sometimes I swear this house feels too small for the six of us, but at least it’s bigger than our flat in London. I guess moving to Kent wasn’t that bad –actually no, it is, as I’m still sharing a room with Bisi. My older brother Deji and my younger brother Roti get their own rooms because my parents said Deji is ‘too old’ to share. He’s only nineteen – three years older than I am.
The walls of the orange corridor are covered in plaques of Bible verses. The ‘As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord’ one is always crooked, and this makes sense because Bisi is a pagan. I stop at Deji’s closed door. It’s odd him not being at home, but I definitely don’t miss hearing him groaning in pain at night.
I wish there was something I could do for him, but there isn’t because I’m not a doctor. Slouching down in one of the Ike kitchen chairs, I yawn loudly. ‘I’m hungry, Mum. Is the food almost ready?’
‘Come and finish these eggs. Where are Rotimi and Bisi?’ Mum asks as I pull the spatula from her overworked fingers.
I stab at the scrambled eggs and whisper under my breath, ‘How would I know? I’m not Google Maps.’
Mum’s head turns like a handle, and I know she’s heard me. Even if I was standing on top of Mount Everest whispering, my mum would still hear it all the way from Kent.
‘I’m your mother, not your friend, Fola! I never spoke to my mother like that.’
‘Okay, okay. Mum, I’m sorry.’
Mum leaves the room and Bisi swaggers in like a lioness with no care in the world: youngest child syndrome. Her 18-inch Brazilian weave settles softly on her right shoulder as she drags out a chair to sit down. The weave is from my aunt, and now my aunt’s wallet is crying.
Meanwhile, Roti is going through an awkward stage with his gangly body like a grasshopper. One minute I was looking down at Roti, but now he’s looking down at me. As Roti enters the kitchen, he mumbles ‘morning’ to me before serving himself food. Once he’s done, I dish out yam and egg for myself, taking a seat next to Roti at the glass dining table.
‘Aren’t you gonna serve me?’ Bisi asks. She even has the nerve to give me a dirty look like I’m her slave.
Turning around, I look over my shoulder to the left and then the right because Bisi must be talking to someone else.
‘Your legs aren’t broken,’ I reply mid-chew. “Serve yourself.?’
Roti sniggers so hard that a small piece of egg goes flying out of his mouth towards Bisi, making her shriek.
‘Let’s pray,’ Mum says as she enters the kitchen. She gives Roti the eye to drop his fork and we all bow our heads. ‘Thank you, Father, for allowing us to see a new day and for the food we’re about to eat. I want to pray for healing for Deji. Heavenly Father, make the cancer in his body disappear, in the name of Jesus. I know his health is in your hands,
Heavenly Father, and I pray the surgery goes well.’
‘But if Deji’s health was really in God’s hands, then why’s he sick?’ Bisi asks. ‘You pray so much, but why isn’t he better?’
I can feel Mum’s glare from where I’m sitting. Here we go.
‘God, I’m asking you..’ Mum’s head flies back and her mouth twists as her words attack like missiles. ‘Kí ni èsè mi tí olorun fi funmi irú omo báyìí?’
What did I do to deserve a child like this?
She narrows her eyes and points a calloused finger at Bisi. ‘Why are you like this, Adebisi? I didn’t come to this country for this.’
Bisi’s glare matches Mum’s. ‘We get it. You and Dad came to this country from Nigeria with nothing.’
Roti chokes on a piece of yam, which he’d slid into his mouth when Mum started shouting. If I spoke to Mum like that, the only thing being shipped back to Nigeria would be my body.
‘What is going on here?’ Dad bellows from the doorway. ‘Stop it! We are a family.’
‘Yeah, sure we are,’ Bisi scoffs, getting up from the table and slamming the front door on her way out.
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Excerpt from FINDING FOLKSHORE published by Jacaranda Books. Copyright © 2023 by Rachel Faturoti.