(Just so you know, this story has some terms from my Yoruba culture.)
Brown, viscous water splashed on my face. My eyes dared to open in the sight of that seething ocean, making fitful creeps up its white, porcelain prison. Not even the plastic bristles of my brush could squelch its spirit, and my sinuses continued to strain from its fumes.
What the hell, Dad? I thought. It’s Halloween. . .
I could still hear the pops of my soaked feet as I rumbled down the stairs. There I stood, clad in dark blue vests, a goblin mask, and a hoodie, flaunting my invite to David’s Halloween Party. "Have fun,” Mom encouraged, whisking and gathering treacle on a table strewn with butter and packets of Reese’s. Her remark churned my trot into something almost like a skip. Almost.
“Olamide, where are you going?”
I hissed. “Sir, I’ve cleaned your toilet.”
“Ehen? You want to go see women do ‘work, work, work, work, work, work’ at party?”
“Sir, it’s all-boys. Just to celebrate the end of the school year.”
“I don’t care. If you want to have fun on this holiday, you do it here.”
“Sir, now! it’s not fair--”
“Bọwọ fun ara rẹ!” His Yoruba cracked on my head like a kola nut.
“You know he’s been having problems at work,” Mom said as I passed her.
“That doesn’t give him the right to deny mine. You know I earned this.”
“There’s leftover cake in the fridge, and I'm making Apple Tart. We can still celebrate here.”
My sizzling limbs trundled up the stairs, as I recollected the wake of last year’s battle. Online learning hurled a fist full of shit to my studies. It was decent at first, eighty-five per cent and all. But after all the Zoom meetings, trapped in a square for six hours, begging for the class to end so you could fill up your remaining time with UK drills and chatting despite knowing you have an exam in two weeks, you can expect that session to have been clanking with shanks and guns on poles.
First, 72 per cent in English. Then, when the school opened again, I was forced into sweeping duty for being late. Next, the principal sent me home after yelling at my teacher for constantly throwing Nature Valley packets on the patch I already did. My Third Term score was the last shot to be fired. Even I was caught lacking. That didn’t spare me from the coming mayhem.
“You think paying your school fees is easy? This is how you honour our sacrifices?”
“Sir, wait-- It’s Mr Figels. He never--”
“Don’t give me that nonsense again. You want to be out on the streets smoking with friends, eh? Give me your iPod.”
“If you come home with crappy scores from your mocks, I won’t even wait for you to do the exam before I send you to Ibadan.”
My tawny arms crumbled into the grand toilet that was my bed. Dad just wanted the best for me. All his life, he had to fight for his success. He struggled to keep his father’s business afloat while caring for his sick mother and sister. Income was stable … until Abacha came. Following that were the black-vested men carrying their tax forms, which was only worsened by the protests. No, that shop would have never lasted. Soon, TB decided to take his mom, too. His sister was the only family he had left; selling Zobo after church, he gathered just enough to get to college. Ebenezer Obey was always his favourite musician: he still listens to him today. Such an appealing voice may have been what sparked his desire to study Sound Engineering. University theory (plus some late-night tinkering) helped him get a scholarship to Oxford.
That’s where I met him, mom always said. The man was a genius, too. Built his own amplifier like it was a chair.
He always strove to instil that fighting spirit into me. But the fact that I was wasting his efforts on T-shirt masks and sagging. . .
Past papers were strewn across my bed and table, coated with the tang of two-week-old Milo. Science With Hazel. Mr Bruff. Everyone was marked by the click of my mouse. Dad even smirked and gave me a pat once.
Summer ebbed away like the currents of a lake, long replaced with a hard, icy layer at a cold, ruthless winter. I signed up for the easier subjects first, the exception being English. Surprisingly, four hours of each paper went with ease. Most of my time in Math was spent rustling through the workings with almost no pause for correction.
But then... there was English.
Hours had been rubbed away by the scratching of pencil on paper, memorising every possible intro and conclusion I could use for my narrative. Yet, all that effort was wasted by only four sentences.
Four prompts, I thought. No image. How could generate my ideas without an image? Why would they choose to remove it right before the exam? It felt like walking through the streets of York in a fugue.
If there’s one thing Mr Salles taught me, it’s that no matter the setback, I must not stop writing. My pen met the page, and from it poured out my thoughts. An unbending union. Mind to paper. Nothing else mattered during those 45 minutes.
. . .
“Stop eating chicken with two hands,” my dad grabbed a fork. "The oil would be too hard to wash off.”
“Let him do what he wants to do, now,” Aunty Runke nudged in.
“Please, the last thing we need right now is to argue.” Mom came with an Apple Tart, its crimson layer swelling with melted butter and the occasional stabs and sparkles of Reese’s sticks and Roman Candles.
Aunty giggled at Dad’s fixed eyes and slightly opened mouth. From here, I realised something— family is like an iridescent bubble. It has many colours, some you like, some you don’t. But everything works together to create a scene as dazzling and wholesome as this.