When Taiwo arrived at the bus park in Saaji village her two elderly uncles were waiting for her, along with Sister Hajo and her cousins Eleke and Rekia. She looked around anxiously, and sure enough, a teenage housegirl was bringing up the rear, carrying a plastic chair on her head. Taiwo knew immediately what that meant, and her mouth dried up. She came down from the Ibadan bus on tottery legs. She dropped her travelling bag, and clasped her hands on her head. ‘O God, who has died again?’
‘What kind of prayer are you praying for us?’ demanded Sister Hajo angrily, as Cousin Eleke hauled the travelling bag onto his broad back. ‘Nobody has died! We just came to welcome you, that’s all. Let’s go home.’
‘Half-dozen of you? Last vacation, I walked from here to the house all by myself, today there’re six of you! Tell me the truth, I am not a child…’
‘We heard about your promotion and came to greet you,’ lied Uncle Kola, taking her by one arm, ‘is that a sin?’
‘Why are you carrying a chair?’ demanded Taiwo, ‘and why are your eyes red? Did you see Lucifer?’
‘It’s Apollo,’ lied Rekia, ‘it’s been going round since last week, it’s terrible.’
Taiwo snapped her fingers tragically and looked up into the evil sky. ‘It is Mama, isn’t it? And she was only sixty-eight! Who is going to wear all the size 49 panties that she asked me to buy?’
‘Mama that is waiting for you at home?’ said Hajo, ‘Don’t use your mouth to draw something bad, o!’
‘Is it Aunty Ranti?’ asked Taiwo tremulously, holding back her tears. Her uncles were the strongest in the delegation and they steered her gently away from the press at the bus park towards a kiosk that sold ice cold drinks and kpuff-kpuff under a thatched respite from the hot sun. ‘Somebody that I phoned this very yesterday? And I thought that the wound of her operation has finished healing! God! God! God!’
‘Stop taking the name of the Lord thy God in vain,’ counselled Uncle Toyin, lugubriously, ‘Aunty Ranti has lost a kidney, but she is alive and well.’
‘Baba! It is Baba! So the seventieth birthday we have been planning since January will now be a burial ceremony? I’m dead!’
In one voice, they denied her dad’s death so vehemently that Taiwo realised he was indeed dead. Her friends had already bought the celebratory aso ebi for the birthday anniversary! Now they’d have to convert it into a funeral uniform! Her legs locked and the funereal procession ground to a halt a dozen paces from the soft drinks kiosk. The uncles were large people, but they were also elderly, and Taiwo was pretty substantial herself, difficult to sway against her will.
Rekia snatched the chair and positioned it directly behind the bereaved woman, glad for once that she had been insistent. The uncles had argued against a chair but Rekia had known how impossible it was to escort Taiwo all the way home from the park without a blabbermouth villager expressing premature condolences. They tried to press her into the chair but they were routed by the eruption of her subterranean grief. Rekia grabbed Taiwo’s handbag for safekeeping as the wailing woman ripped off her scarf and ripped at her blouse. The relatives struggled to protect her modesty in that public place but she was keening and whirling round and around in a hysterical gyre. Soon uncles and cousins were on their hands and knees on the dusty ground and she took madly to her heels. It was left to quick-witted bystanders to grab and bear her up to the soft drinks kiosk. A reinforcement of relatives arrived on the scene supplementing the voluble remonstrations of the commiserators from the bus park.
An hour later, despite the ministrations of a bottle of cola, Taiwo had lost her voice. Still, she had calmed sufficiently for the three-hundred-metre trek to the family house. ‘Have you told Kehinde?’ she asked hoarsely, as she rose. They answered in the negative. Pulling her phone from her bag, she dialled her twin sister who lived in South London.
Kehinde had lived in England for two decades. Although she had not visited Nigeria in six years, she had already booked a ticket for her father’s seventieth anniversary at year’s end. She was standing in a rush-hour train with her husband, Damian, when her phone vibrated. Although the train was packed, it was also quiet, with only the rustle of newspapers to break the monotony of the rumbling track beneath them. They were a minute from a tunnel when the blinking phone displayed her sister’s name. Kehinde was smiling as she flipped it open, ‘Tai-girl,’ she said softly, ‘let me call you back…’
‘Baba ti ku!’ sobbed Taiwo, breaking down again.
‘What?’ whispered Kehinde. The line disconnected as the train raced underground through the tunnel. She put away the phone, blinking rapidly as she tried to master her emotions.
‘Are you okay?’ asked Damian, taking her hand.
She nodded, holding head up high, recruiting gravity to keep tears off her cheek. ‘My Dad’s just died,’ she explained quietly.
‘I’m so sorry,’ he whispered, squeezing her hand. He was about to hug her when an eavesdropping youth in front of them rose silently and offered up his seat. Kehinde dropped into the seat with a nod of gratitude. She pulled out sunglasses to shield her suddenly red eyes but it was not necessary. Everyone politely averted their eyes. Eleven minutes passed before she really had to open her bag, but the elderly woman next to her was holding out a wad of tissues. ‘It’s a pity,’ she said softly, sympathetically.
‘Thank you,’ replied Kehinde. She blew her nose discreetly as the train arrived at their station. Then they debarked and walked swiftly for the exit. As they passed a flower shop Damian hesitated and ducked into the doorway.