I was 7 when my dad first sat me down, and told me about that family. Back then, it seemed he was just being mean and unfriendly; sort of like the times he knew I was engrossed in a television programme, and he would change it to whatever he wanted to watch.
In that moment, I would hate my mother because she would not even take her eyes off the television while I sat sulking. I imagined she always hated me, and fancied myself going into the kitchen, and using the heavy pestle to crack their skulls.
On those warm evenings, the excited shrieks of the children, as they played an amateur game of football, bounced around the apartments sending a lovely message of youth and vivacity to its occupants. Their yells could be heard a block away. Some parents and relatively older members of the tenement could be seen staring wistfully from their verandas; some mourning their youthful days, some rubbing their waists to alleviate the ache of a day’s worth of work, and some particularly vengeful ones wishing the children would grow up already and face the harsh realities of life.
The house remained closed every evening. The black metal door, although the same colour as the other doors, for some reason seemed more daunting. Higher than the shrieks from the playful children, the screams coming from the house would soar. The regular screams could be heard (In retrospect, they were more of cries for help) could be heard from a compound away. Whenever a particular yell would cut across the compound, everyone who had heard would stand still. The children would wait a few seconds and go back to their frolicking, while the adults’ gaze would remain on the imposing metal door. Their gazes highly sympathetic, some with a sheen of tears in their eyes.
On one such evening, I sat off to the side, in my father’s empty parking spot, eating the ‘akara’ I had pilfered from the dining tray, before sprinting from the house. She came out of the building timidly, her chin tucked into her chest, sat on the dirty staircase and looked achingly at the children passing the leather ball amongst themselves. She looked over at me with this wild look in her eyes. Her eyes beckoned me and even at that young age, I knew she had a life that was not typical of her age; I knew she wanted somebody and anybody to relieve that burden.
I gestured to her to come over and she pinned her wild questioning eyes on me. She was probably willing her fiend-detector to pick up any trace of animosity in my offer. Finding none, she stalked over with the ghost of a smile on her lips. I tried to make my smile more reassuring as she approached. I had been told several times that I had the smile of a hawk. By now, some of the little children playing, whom had previously been engaged with their football match, took notice of the newcomer into the group.
“My name is Perembowei” I smiled in order not to let her know I could not pronounce her name. Even at that age, I knew that the second worst thing to do with a new friend is to be unable to pronounce a name. The first thing was obviously never to get into a “Cornflakes v. Goldenmorn” argument. She smiled at my apparent confusion and said “Don’t worry, everyone calls me ‘Ada’. I found myself wondering who “everyone” was.
Soon after, she was immersed in the game. She shuffled between the mini-groups in the small compound. Everybody wanted to talk to her and touch her hair, her luxurious mane hung below her waistline and her brown eyes were another source of the fascination with her. What happened next has forever been etched in my memory. I stood with my hand propped on a neighbour’s car looking as Ada ran around with the boys, chasing an illusive goal.
A horn blared from outside the compound and Usman, the gateman, rushed to the gate to open it. The gate groaned and whined in protest to being lifted, and a black corolla sped into the compound. The wise children scampered out of the car’s pathway. A dark-skinned plump woman stepped out of the driver’s seat, stretched and glanced questioningly at the small gathering of children. Her eyes rested on Ada whom already looked scared and nervous. She grabbed a bag from the backseat and went up the stairway of Ada’s block. Not too long after (she did not waste time at all), Ada disassociated herself from the bubbly group and walked solemnly up the stairs.
The screams started again, growing more frantic by the second. This time around, I recognised Ada’s screams. Everyone went on with what they were doing, sparsely paying attention to the cries coming from the house. Apart from the regular adult looking sympathetically at that door, it seemed the sound had sort of blended in with the other shrieks from the children.
When I got home that evening, after a chew out by my mother for scampering away with part of the night’s dinner, we all sat down to watch the news. A mother had abandoned her child in a dustbin somewhere in Osun. The baby was found buried underneath a pile of thrash, and search for the baby’s mother had proved unsuccessful. My mother dabbed her eyes as an image of the baby plugged on to different machineries popped up on screen. My father’s mouth puckered and curled, his eyebrows forming a dark bushy unibrow, as the baby struggled for its life.
I thought about something that evening. I thought about how the child had already been found and I thought about the mother’s expected disappearance. I thought about what might have led her to give up the child she had birthed and the incessant questions by members of the community where the baby was found, whom lamented on the reason a woman would abandon a child she has given birth to.
The conclusion to that the question was easy, even easier than verbal reasoning I was thought in primary 4. She did not want the child and it was easier or her to give it up. She did not want to come to a point where she would hate that child, or the child would hate her, and she took the coward’s way out. Lastly, I thought about the many children looking at their large or small television screens, or the ones laying in bed ruminating on the piece, just like her, and wishing for that fate.