CHAPTER SEVEN ⃝ FINDING DIDI

ǁǁǁ The bright hot morning sun filtered its way angrily into the room defying the curtain blinds as if forcing its hot vitamin D on me. Opening my eyes, I felt the dried tears stain my face, my left nostrils blocked and my dried throat hurting….crying the entire night can have that effect. Still clutching the letter to my chest, I saw Ali standing cross-legged and sipping what smelt like black coffee. He was topless, in white shorts and blue ankle-length socks. My eyes went to his mid-section before rising to his face…..no blame me, eyes sabi roam too. It was flaccid. No visible member.

“Good Morning” he said studying my face. I was not in the mood for talks so I simply nodded.

I sat up. The only thing on my mind was going to The Mirage and go home. It was a mistake coming here obviously. Ignorance sure was bliss. My world was falling like a pack of cards and I had no control over it. My head aching like a skilled carpenter had his big sized hammer positioned on the left side of brain dedicated to his art; of making sure that the six inches nail got down to touch my medulla oblongata in good tight fix. I shut my eyes momentarily to steady the slowly overwhelming dizziness and pain.

“Breakfast?” he asked as he stood before me.  

“No, I’d like to go back to The Mirage now if you don’t mind” I said licking my nearly cracked lips and swallowing down painfully. My dried throat tasted bitter. Thanks to the burnt chicken.

“Alright. I will take you when you are ready. A change of clothes” he said pointing to the neatly folded pile on the bed with his half empty cup.

I nodded and mouthed a thank you like a grateful soul. I was, wasn’t I?

He dropped his cup and went about his grooming business rather happily in the ante-room coming to the room to pick his phone and making calls oblivious to my existence. Was this the almighty Ali Bricks? It sure didn’t feel like he was that big a deal now. ***Seeing person nakedness dey get that effect all the time.

Getting up, I made a decision. I was not going to regret my actions; moments before I take my last breath.

TIP #9: You have just one life to live. Live it full, make mistakes and learn from them. Regrets are death bed affair……..Just make sure you die quickly if you have lots of them.hehehe

Mentally tired, I dragged myself to the bathroom. Funny how I didn’t tingle at the memories of what happened here last night….the nail down my brain was working. It was 9:09am before we left the house dressed in a slightly larger navy blue jeans and cute white polo shirt.

Undies?

**************************************************************************** 

We drove in silence. There was nothing to be said for now. Of course I had questions but I’d rather have the answers on my own. I still doubted the letter and pictures in my hand. I literally jumped from the car immediately at the parking lot and walked away before He had opened his mouth to talk. I wasn’t ready to have my ears troubled with coordinated alphabets.

Walked past the reception absent minded and came back for my card half way up, got to my room, packed my hand-luggage, checked out and headed to the house.

****************************************************************************

The small white old house sat peacefully in the valley like an old woman taking an evening rest under a large kolanut tree. It was an extension of the GRA right before the old Calabar Mountains. I walked slowly to the house, memories rushing in, tears blinding. The simple metal gate suffocated with sprawling vines of long stemmed weeds. The evening walks, laughter and games. Oh! She thought me how to prepare soups in this house…………..the pepper soup was my favourite @longthroat.

The first time here was like redemption. A get-away from the abuse and insistent ‘drama’. It was just me and mum. I was 14 years. Hiding out here for weeks alone-peaceful and happy; and then he apologises; she forgives and crawls back expecting a change. I hated her weakness, her inability to take a decision, her submission, her sense of loyalty and acceptance. Abuse shouldn’t be tolerated, it should be resisted.

“Why do you let Daddy treat you bad?” I had always asked.

“You won’t understand dear” was her standard reply; pulling me in her embrace while her tears wetted my hair.

When I was older; I got her tissue and walked away. I was pissed at her for taking it all in. The last time here; we quarrelled. I had nursed her wounded torso and demanded she divorce him. I was 25years. She told me she would never do that.

“Then this is the last time you will see me” I had made a resolve. I left home that year. 6 months later, Dad called me.

Mum was critically ill. She was bedridden.

I lost it on seeing her and still hearing her preach forgiveness and love. I never understood.

I still did not.

Slow rage built and in months, Dad followed.

I shook my head to clear the sad dark memories as I pushed the old rusty gate. It creaked weakly as if it voice was tired as well. ‘Who is it again’ it seems to say. The grasses over grown, the Almond tree in front of the house had its fruits littered on the floor with bird marks and the mixed sweet smell coming from the overgrown white lilies and roses. I gave a sad smile. It had been six months since I came for a visit. As was usual, I walked round the house noticing no changes. The attached garage housed my favourite car; an old black Peugeot truck. I learnt how to drive in that woman with her long slender stick that resisted my feeble attempt at changing her old gear; changed it the last time I was here though. I was to take her for a spin down the old mountain road before going back. I smiled with the memories of dragging her along the streets without guidance. She was an Igbo woman I nicknamed Agaracha….strong woman. She sabi spoil for road if you shout for her head! But she was the best, she was alive and she had ears.

The tour ended back on the front porch; the thick trees surrounding the house provided shade and squeaking birds free accommodation. I smiled at the yellow and black bird building her nest blissfully; unmindful of my presence as I watched fascinated by her skill and joy in putting up her residence on free property. I took a snap shot.

Bringing out the bunch of keys at the front door, I opened the old mahogany door to the big airy courtyard with corridor leading to the renovated kitchen with modern appliances-thanks to my last visit. I walked down corridor and took in deep breath. The central courtyard was as clean as I had left it. The two adjoining doors to our rooms just before the kitchen locked awaiting my keys. There was no sitting room.

Since her death, I had locked her room and never gone in; I wasn’t ready. I walked to the kitchen exit and powered the house. She came alive immediately. The florescent lights exposed the amount of dust that had gathered on surfaces of the linen used to cover items and some dropping cobwebs. I felt the instant need to make noodles and bush meat just the way she taught me. The hunger pang was unanticipated. I made to open my room.

My room smelt of the huge camphor I strategically placed on window planes. No much dust here. Dropped my bag and made to air the room and clean it. I was tired by the time I finished and had a bath. The headache gone.  

Went to garage and checked Agaracha….she already knew I was around and she seem to be happy to see me as I was to see her. ‘Someday, I will take you to Abuja with me’ I muttered as I stroked her head and opened the ‘bonnet’. Few checks and she powered on like she was ready for a ride. Obviously she heard the Abuja promise and wanted to show her readiness to go with me. I shook my head. Agaracha baby…..

 I went out to get food supplies and see what was new. She was sound and we raced on.

I felt free.

I was home.

****************************************************************************

The hot steaming noodles and bush meat disappeared quickly into my small intestines hours later; the large intestines will get theirs later…..hehe. Picking the half cooked onions and carrots that stained the plate with dripping nose-I got carried away with the pepper. I missed Tessy now. She would have been licking iced cubes to help her tongue………funny dog. My phone had being switched off…..low battery syndrome. I didn’t see the need to charge it. I sat at mini wooden dining table for two in the kitchen. Didn’t have the heart to let it go with the rest of the old furniture I disposed of months back. I looked over at her spot and shook my head. Mum or Aunt?

“Why didn’t you tell me” I said to no one in particular. The appetite disappearing……….after I don chop belle full.

The rest of the day went uneventful. Going to my room and pulling out an old novel by Philips Andrews….Love and Affairs….. I slept half way down the first page.

****************************************************************************

The cool evening breeze woke me up from the peaceful deep sleep. I stared at the ceiling. No reflection. I should have a mirror fixed. My mind drifted to the reason I was here. How true was the letter? Was I ready to find out? Her room would hold buried secrets, wouldn’t it? I took a deep breath. There was one way to find out. I was going to her room to find details or clues. I rolled over to get the envelope again from my bag. I looked at the pictures and got up. If this was some huge joke, Ali Bricks will pay. If not, then Akhmed will. Either ways, this was going to determine whose team I’d be playing for.

It was 5:44pm and it was dark already.

Her door gave a thick croak as I pushed its stiff joints.  The smell of dust and dampness flooded my nose. Her room smell survived though. She loved the apple drummer boy air freshener and had them hidden. I threw them away when I found them….I didn’t like them.  Tears flooded my eyes as I saw the ‘I love you mama’ stiches on calico material right from my junior secondary school days. It was a home economics project on stitches. We did it together because I hated needles and ended up sticking them in my fingers instead of the cloth. The project was too good to be mine, Mrs Vero had me do it again right in class. I didn’t. I wasn’t scored but I told mum mine was scored the highest. It sure scored the highest with me. We had it framed. She must have hung it after our last tiff.

It was old now, handing on her wall pitifully; waiting for the day it would be saved. I stood at the door unable to enter momentarily. I took the first step in and my heart gave out. A deep breath and I walked to the centre of her room; standing on the Persian rug in front of her large made bed covered with linen that had gathered a thick layer of dust.

The last time I was here was over a decade. It felt like I had her locked in but somehow she had strangely escaped. The room felt empty and totally deserted. I looked around for nothing in particular.

“Time to come down” I said to the framed cloth. It was dusty and dirtied my hands immediately with fine brown powder. Turning it over, it read………….

I wish you were mine’

Love you

Mummy.

What did that mean? I frowned at the words. Dropping the frame on the bed, I walked to her wardrobe and forced it open. Piled up boxes of books and files in cartons mostly were in the topmost shelf; I took another deep breath, dragged her bedside stool, stood on it and pulled the first heavy carton out. The weak bottom gave out on my head as its dusty webby content fell on my head with my eyes receiving blinding particles.

I rushed to wash my eyes in her bathroom. The tap croaked and croaked, then vomited brown smelly water that was almost used to wash the particles out before I ran across to my room for a good safe rinse.

Of course my eyes were bloodshot and I silently cursed the weak box, heavy content and dust for being there in the first place.

The night had come; the crickets using their vocal cords judiciously.

Soaking my eyeballs in the bowl of water and rolling it opened helped get the dirt out; gently wiped it with cotton wool.

I matched back, determined and bold.

If I was going to find out who I was, I would gladly go blind doing it.

Putting on all the lights in the room, I closed my eyes and yanked the linen covering the bed away. Packed the spilled content on the bed and started digging for my identity-my future.

This was it.

****************************************************************************

It would take two days to go through all her boxes, separate the wheat from the shaft. Took boxes of ‘wheat’ to my room to be read and digested. Of course I had different emotions playing out……….I’d cry, I’d curse, I’d laugh………going back and forth with pictures and letters.

It was tedious, it was revealing, it was worth it.

 Of course I ate and even tried out a recipe she scribbled out on a yellowish weak paper found in the pile. It was grated cocoyam balls in shredded chevon chili sauce. I made it and playfully asked her if it tasted as it should have while I ate in the now dirty room reading a letter Ali had written to her to reconsider their baby and his marriage proposal.

‘This is the last I’m going to say on this matter’

He had written on the last of his letters that I found.

The story started in love letters, the dreams and the promises. She sure knew how to compose poems that would melt resolves. Ali too had his heart out for her. It sure was ‘love’ but tribe and family background didn’t let the love be. Ali’s father was a force and Mum decided to let it go. Ali would not. She got pregnant and found another man. There was only one option, terminate it. Ali was not having it.

She was adamant. She wanted it terminated. He refused to let her. A stalemate. She would deliver the baby and give it to him.  

It would seem I had a niece-Ummi; and she was sick. Could it be that Mum thought the abuse was her punishment for abandoning Ummi? The last of her correspondence hinted that. Ali had cut off all ties after Ummi was born. And he had kept her as his solely. Mum had asked repeatedly where Ali had kept her, but either he didn’t reply or I didn’t see the letter. Good thing Mum had a good filing system.

I felt sorry for her. Why didn’t she have another child with the abuser? Aka my ‘Dad’. I  was soon to find out Ummi took her womb with her. Complications at birth. The more reason the abuse was more.

Oh mum! She didn’t disclose her status to my step-father. He was pissed.

But did he know that Ummi was still alive? No records except a little letter she had written to Debbie. I kept wondering who Debbie was.

They were close. The post marks said Lome on Debbie’s occasional replies.

Then they letters stopped.

I was on the third box. There were business letters, old newspaper clips, envelopes, books, nothing in particular.

The Fourth box had pictures. Old photo albums that had almost all its pictures damaged from moist; pictures of Mum and a younger woman. They were identical. No pictures of my old people alias grandparents though. A tall slender man appeared once in the pictures with the beautiful sisters. On the back was this inscription in Mum’s writing.

‘Me, Debbie and Philips.

1961 Christmas.

                                                                      Lome’             

Flipped more, there were other pictures of sisters in crowd of students. It looked like an orphanage establishment but the pictures were cut. It looked like deliberate cuts.

It was not until the last night that I saw a plastic folder containing sensitive documents. In it were credentials, share certificates, letters of appointments and several certificates. I was almost dropping it to continue my search when I saw a birth certificate; a pale blue cardboard paper that had suffered and survived the years waiting for such a day as this.

Registration Number: 4819

Date of Bith: 10 October, 19**

Sex of Child: Female

Full Name of Father: Philips M. Collins

Nationality/Tribe of Father: Nigerian-***

Full Maiden name of mother: Deborah C. Collins

Name of Child: Michelle Didi Collins

Place of Birth: ***

The next document cleared it all. They were adoption papers.

My adoption papers

Ali Bricks was right.

The rest of the boxes showed nothing more than confirmations and investments.

One question that kept coming to my mind was how much Akhmed knew.

I was ready to talk with Ali Bricks and decide whose team I would be playing for ǁǁǁ.

****************************************************************************************

<<< The light knock on my door brought me out of my absorption. I dropped the diary and stood up to get the door. It was Akhmed standing with a smile. Hands in pocket.

“Sorry to bother you” he said stepping into the room without waiting for an invitation.

“Come in” I said after him.

“What are you reading? Her diaries?” he was suspiciously curious.

“Yes” I said going back to the bed to cover the page. He was already scheming the opened  page.

“You didn’t come down for lunch” he said taking the seat by the window that was left opened.

“I had some cake” I said gesturing with my chin at the empty cake plate beside him on the straw stool.

“No real food?” he asked with teasing eyes. He wanted something.

“I should eat real dinner tonight” I indulged him.

“I was wondering if I could read her diaries too” he finally came out with it.

For a fleeting second, I saw something flash in his eyes. It seemed he was out to get information from her entries.

It wasn’t 48hours yet and I was already in need of “guidance”.

“Sure you can. I will send it to you after I am done. Should be done tonight hopefully. Not too late yea?” I said sweetly. He let out a hidden breath. Perhaps he thought I was going to say no.

“Tonight is good. I want to wait on performing the burial rights” he looked sad then.

Funny how he could change expressions and moods. I didn’t trust him.

“Why?” I asked offhandedly as if it didn’t matter.

“I want to be with her a little more” he said with such devotion that I would have thought sweet but thanks to the entries, every move was now suspicious.

“I understand” I said with emotion.

“So, do you go out?” he asked.

Why was he asking?

“You need me out of the house?” I asked and bit my tongue.

Careful Unen, Careful.

“I wanted going to the city. Take a drive. You want to come?” He said standing up. He didn’t seem to take notice of my tone.

“Na, I should finish and let you have these. I’m sure she would have wanted you to have this. Feels like I’m imposing” I said standing up.

“No, you are not” he said with a grin.

We walked to my door and went for the door at same time. Touching.

“Sorry” he apologised. I nodded.

He smiled brilliantly with a courtesy bow before heading down the hallway.

I went back immediately.

The need to finish more now than ever >>>.

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