Chapter I: Fatima
The noise wakes me up from my nightmares. I should be grateful, but I would rather stay in a dream where he is still alive than a reality where his necklace is all I have left. My bed of books crinkles as I rise from the ground, several back bones cracking inside me. Why I choose a fluffy carpet over my own bed still baffles me.
“You can’t leave yet!” a squeaky voice vibrates through the walls, interrupting my morning prayer of thanks.
She’s louder today, but it won’t make a difference. If I have learnt anything from my time here, it’s that my uncle is extremely headstrong and stubborn. Try to stop him from doing what he wants? Ha! It only gets worse. I have the cane marks to prove it.
On my way to the bathroom, I glance briefly at the bedroom mirror. There’s nothing special to look at: brown skin, small dark eyes, stained slightly crooked teeth. Even the scar on my left cheek looks bland.
A heavy sigh escapes from my lips as I close the bathroom door behind me. Another day to be grateful for, but why am I still in pain?
Before I even climb down one step, her furious piercing eyes have already laid their eyes on her new target: me.
“Salaam alaikum, aunty,” I beam at her with the widest fake smile I can muster as I climb down the stairs. Fake it till you make it, they say.
“Are you just getting up?” she asks with that condescending tone that triggers me every single morning. But no, not today of all days. I won’t let her get to me.
“I was studying all night,” I take a quick look around, “Has uncle already left?”
I immediately regret my nonchalance when I see the light in her eyes dim. See this is the problem with being a nice person. You have to bear others being mean, but once you even do the slightest thing to hurt someone else, you feel like absolute trash.
I quickly change the topic, “Something smells really good o. Did you make food this morning?”
I expect a smile, but I am replied with a deafening hiss. If you don’t think a hiss can be deafening, you definitely haven’t been hissed at by a Nigerian.
“Do you want to kill me with questions ni?” she bites back, storming into the kitchen.
A peek at the dining table to the right lets me know I’m just making matters worse. The table is set with steaming pounded yam and egusi—my uncle’s favorite. She wanted them to eat breakfast together no matter how unhealthy that type of food actually is for breakfast.
I want to apologize, but I can’t bring it up now or I will worsen the wound. I whisper a solemn Astaghfirullah, asking forgiveness from God for hurting her, and grab my school bag from the dusty couch in the living room. Abdul’s bag is nowhere to be found as usual. That boy must have left since. What happened to the brother that wouldn’t even eat unless I had eaten? Stupid puberty.
Immediately I step outside the front door, I am hit by the sharp bite of the harmattan wind. I consider asking my aunt to drive me to school, but we already know the answer to that. I pull my school cardigan closer around me and brace the elements. The sun is barely out, so I occasionally step into some small potholes, but I can still navigate my way through the streets of Lagos.
The akara seller down the street beams at me with her usual crooked smile and I return the gesture. She waves me over, but I politely decline her invitation considering I spent my remaining 50 naira last week. I wave at the malaam’s shop at Isheri junction and he greets me back in Hausa. I wish I understood what he meant. I should ask him next time I buy Coaster biscuits.
Near the gates of my school, Ada bumps into me ON PURPOSE, nearly toppling my small frame over. I smile at her retreating figure swaying with the perfectly balanced tray of bread loaves on her head. She must still be upset that I went to visit Nifemi without her.
“Ada na,” I call at her, but she just ignores me and goes about her hawking with the rapid speed her long legs grant her.
You would think, with all these friends I have made, I should feel at home here in mainland Lagos. But this isn’t my home. It’s not just the fact that the island region where I lived was fancier, but the sun doesn’t shine as brightly as it used to, the banter of the bus conductors doesn’t make me laugh as loud, and even the traffic jam doesn’t give me that warm familiar feeling.
Even with my brother living with me, Lagos just feels so… empty.
Maybe we actually have something in common.