“No, It’s not funny!” Jessica’s lips were like an old newspaper that had been used to sell Akara.
“Whaaat…” Christopher and I giggled at the feet that dripped with a horrid mix of palm oil and the white from a raw egg.
Jessica’s face would dart crystal bullets at us if it had a 1-second chance to do so.
“Today’s first of April; it’s April fool’s day!” Christopher pointed to the calendar.
Jessica glanced at the white calendar that hung on the pale yellow wall.
“Oh, really?” her face sank. She used to be the prankster and not the pranked — this year was different.
Jessica was rather older than her height portrayed. Her face glazed an innocence like that of a-year-old lamb. She was slender, light weighted and seemed like she would stumble if the Sahara desert rained a little sandy breeze on her. Her skin shimmered with a tan of melanin. Her face was nearly spotless save for the cylindrical scar on her left cheek that constantly reminded her of the accident she encountered two years ago when she was only 11.
I watched her snail to the bathroom to get cleaned up; she was anything but pleased.
It is not that I love to prank people, I just felt like it was a perfect day to look for trouble. Our actions, however, backfired — we were running late for school and we could not go because Jessica had to clean up the mess we caused before we set out together.
“Do you know what is time?!” Mum asked, “What is you still do here? Ehn? Don’t you know you have late for school?”
Mum was different from the rest of us, and it was not just her level of education, she was fat and huge. She often punished any of us for grave wrongdoing by folding our thin frameworks into the pot-like hollow of the black armed chair — the sunken chair with peeling leather coating — and using her buttocks as our cover just the way mother hens do. I’ve been sat on before. All three of us have been mum’s chair. And she could easily capture us no matter how fast we ran — I wonder if she was the Sports Prefect during her school days. I had to scrape off that thought because, according to her, her formal education ended in primary 4 before she served as a salesgirl at Balogun market for her aunty for years. Sometimes, she drummed on our heads with whatever we were nearby. And when there was nothing, her large palm sufficed.
Everyone was alert. Mum spotted the eggshells in my hand. And so, I, alone, became the reason everyone was going late to school.
“Ebube what have you do to your sister?!” Her face was stained with red from within her head. Her legs took off. I began to run, too. But I was certain that if I did not reach the door in a second or two, I would be mum’s chair for the day.
Thankfully, an empty water jug that was balanced on the kitchen table fell. Mum had to wait back to pick it up giving me more time to escape to the open.
My siblings knew better than to stare and watch. They had run out, too. Jessica ran with her shoes in her hand, Christopher, without brushing his hair; they dared not go back inside.
Despite realizing that mum was no longer chasing us, we still dashed with the momentum we had initially. Running was fun. Not being caught by mum was even more interesting — but we were rarely lucky.
Around 27 minutes to 2 pm, after school closed, we got back home — it was a Friday. We washed our uniforms after which, we ate the rice that mum prepared before she left for the Balogun market.
Dad came back relatively early. By 6 pm, he was home as opposed to the 9 pm he usually arrived. He was to travel to Onitsha from Lagos the next day — and he had to be well-rested before driving down there. Mum came back early too, minutes after dad arrived. Dad went to get a shower and in minutes he joined us at the parlour.
He took the remote and with the press of a button, the television went blank.
“Your mum and I want to discuss something important with you, Ebube,” his stare stabbed mine.
He started with a walk down history. Back to when they got married and how they found it hard to have a child after many years. Then he spoke about how they got me — from an orphanage home.
“Mum, is that true?” my eyes could rain a spoonful of tears.
“Yes, Ebube.”Mum’s face was filled with rue, “daddy is talk truth.”
“We had been childless for seven and a half years,” Mr Jonathan adjusted his pair of reading glasses, “we couldn’t face the embarrassing gestures from our neighbours and…”
Mum reached out to cup my palm into hers, she stretched her head towards me, “and so we adopted you, my love.”
Silence became a new tenant in the parlour.
If mum and dad chase me out, where would I go? How would I survive?
I turned to Jessica; I will definitely miss her troubles and her tiny voice, too. I steered my head towards Christopher. Who would trek with me back from school? On whose back would I climb if I wanted to pluck mangoes from the tree behind the office of our most often-than-not-absent principal?
“But I… I have no place to stay.” I stuttered. My heart was soaked in gall and then stabbed back into my chest to circulate the bitterness.
“No one said you should go.” Mr Jonathan’s head steered to his sides he looked mum in the eye, “We only wanted to legally and formally let you know.”
Mr Jonathan’s last sentence was meant to pacify my troubled mind but it would have been better if I wasn’t around to hear all this sad news in the first instance.
Mum, her throat filled with tears or whatever it was that prevented her from speaking clearly, spread the tears from her eyes across her face with her dorsum. She was as broken as I was; it was evident.
The burning fragrance which peeped from the kitchen called her without speaking. I watched mum press her palms against the sofa propelling her whole weight upwards until she stood erect. I watched her dash towards the kitchen, her loosened wig fleeing from her head.
“Ebube, help me pick up my wig.” I could see some white weeds sparsely sprinkled behind her head. Mum was getting old.
I bent over, picked up the wig and examined it. The wig appeared foreign to me. The wearer became foreign to me. Even the whole building and its contents wore a gown of foreignness. Everything seemed to fade to grey.
Why was I cursed to know this? What would I do now? How would Jessica and Christopher see me now? What would Jude, Adeniyi and my other proud classmates say when they find out? Will they call me the son of a bastard or a…
“So my son,” Mr Jonathan’s voice stole my attention. “that is the very important message we wanted to tell you.”
“I felt I needed to tell you before embarking on this rather long trip.” Mr Jonathan propelled himself from the sofa. The sofa squeaked as it inflated from its prolonged cringe. “I need to eat and rest against tomorrow’s journey.”
I was confused. They just told me that I was not their child. Why was Dad still calling me his son?
The redness of the fire extinguisher which hung on the wall near the front door caught my gaze as dad walked towards the diner table. I wonder when we would ever use it in this house. No, not in this house; I don’t want any non-edible item in the kitchen to roast away. Using it outside on an expired car tire or so would be much better.
“Mama Christopher, check that rice; It is burning.” Mr Johnathan yelled.
Mama Christopher? So suddenly mum has changed from mama Ebube to mama Christopher; It makes some sad sense — I am not their child. Now I understand how I am, according to mum, older than my brother by barely 8 months; I didn’t come from the same womb he emanated. We were both two years older than Jessica yet we were not twins. Maybe if mum and dad were a little more patient, they would have noticed that their baby was coming before they decided to adopt me.
I sat on the ground, my thin head cupped within my palms. My heart and head, silent. Cold as the breeze from the North Pole. I stared heedlessly at mum and Dad’s wedding photo which hung lifelessly on the wall. What do I do now? Where would I start from? Or should I…
Ebube Ezeadum, a lover of creative writing wrote via email@example.com