"Why. Are. We. Staring?" Jọ́jọ́ pinched her mother again. Her eyes were already watering.
"This child, I've told you countless times; there is someone moving into that house across the road and it is custom and only sensible to bore into them with our eyes until they feel uncomfortable and therefore respect us, "
She almost fell over the edge. Must she? It's not like they were going to respect her. She was only eight years old!
Then she looked around and met all the other residents doing the same; killing the poor newcomers with their ghastly stares.
"Okay, so are we done now?" She whined.
"Jọ́miloju," her mother snapped, "just be quiet and stare at these people like they killed your father,"
She blinked, "you killed my father, with that hard cassava you're always making. So inedible,"
She got a smack behind her head for that.
They kept glaring at every creature that stepped out of that Honda Jeep and began to move into the cream duplex. Everyone was glaring. Jọ́jọ́ could feel discomfort for them.
"Hm! God forbid! They are so mysterious. We need to be keeping an eye on these people," her mom clapped her hands silently.
Jọ́jọ́ couldn't understand what was mysterious in unpacking luggage and boxes from a car trunk and setting up their house. Or maybe she was missing something.
"Mummy, I'm tired, can I go back?" She slapped her leg and killed a mosquito, a tiny splotch of blood stained her sock.
"No. We have to do this together," she grabbed her hand.
Do what? Disturb a peaceful family?
"Just look. What is that they're bringing out? Oh my God, they're going to kill all of us," her mother mused.
Jọ́jọ́ sighed and decided to look. They were done offloading miniscule furniture and home decor, now pulling out all manner of gadgets, machines and equipment.
She was intrigued now. She wriggled out of her mother's grasp and clutched the fence, trying to get a closer look.
Everyone was moving closer, the amebo was just too sweet. There was no such possible thing as 'mind your business's where she grew up. In fact, there was no such possible thing as that in the entire country. Your business was every freaking person's business.
"Wow," Jọ́jọ́ said when she saw the boy pull out something like a coin machine. She immediately embraced the idea of sneaking into their house.
She knew she would get a good beating and a ton of Yoruba yelled at her but it would be worth it.
The family finally shut the trunk and closed the front doors, signalling the end of the stunt show. Everyone immediately began their gossip; some stayed outside and others found it so interesting as to go inside and gossip on glasses of Malta.
She was still staring at the compound when her mom dragged her.
"Jọ́mị come let's go to Ma Ayooba's house" she said enthusiastically, as if her happiness would quench if they did not.
Jọ́jọ́ reluctantly let go of the fence.
Ma Ayooba was the chief amebo on their entire street. Her busy body and gossip were second to none; and her fake news was just so palatable. Most of the women used to gather at her house to listen to her real and unreal stories that weren't any of their business. Her house was rarely ever empty.
Jọ́jọ́'s mother dragged her arm and ran out of the gate to Ma Ayooba's house next door. She passed the gates and walked straight into the house. Ma Ayooba never locked her front door. It wasn't good for business.
"I'm telling you, those people are here to install that mast that will hypnotize all if us and make us puppets to the foreign government!" Ma Ayooba was already entertaining a neighbor in her living room.
"God forbid!" Mrs. Effiong placed her hands on her head.
"I said it," Jọ́jọ́'s mother loud whispered, taking a seat on the adjacent couch. Jọ́jọ́ sat too, vividly annoyed.
"Oh, you don't know?" Ma Ayooba turned to Jọ́jọ́'s mother now, who shook her head in anticipation.
"They want to make us slaves all over again!" Ma Ayooba shouted.
Her mother clapped, "Impossible!"
Mrs.Effiong looked like she wanted to faint.
Jọ́jọ́ was startled a little but wanted to tell Ma Ayooba that this was probably not that serious.
I mean, all the equipment looked like toys!
"Their plans shall not work!" Mrs. Effiong shouted again, and another neighbour came scurrying in with her "Amen!"
Jọ́jọ́ wanted to go home and sleep. Or better still; start to devise her plan to sneak out and return to the least degree possible beating and the lowest possible tempo of loud Yoruba.
"I told you people that we're done for. I should've relocated years ago," Ma Ayooba grimaced.
Mrs. Effiong's hands were still over her head and the woman who'd just entered, Mummy Agaba, was speechless.
"I'm not doing any manual work for anyone o!" Mummy Agaba finally spoke.
Jọ́jọ́'s mom hissed.
"Does that have to do with anybody? Whether or not they're enslaving us you are a lazy woman and that's that," she batted her eyelashes.
Mummy Agaba looked like she wanted to kill her mother.
"You better shut up you-"
"Hmm. It is well o," Mrs. Effiong shifted and let out a loud sigh so as to prevent the incoming rows of insults that would engage the two women.
Ma Ayooba was shaking her fat leg and saying, "hm....hm," at intervals.
Jọ́jọ́ decided to look at it from their point of view and wondered how they were going to stop them from being enslaved by brooding over it in Ma Ayooba's house.
"Mummy," she whined.
Her mother ignored her.
"In fact, I'm going to be the first one to go and visit then, lemme go now. Oluwa will not allow them to go ahead with this," she snapped.
Mrs. Effiong, Mummy Agaba and Ma Ayooba chorused the "Amen".
And with that, she up and dragged Jọ́jọ́, who was relieved that she didn't have to sneak out after all.
"Jọ́mịloju. Jọ́mịloju. Jọ́mịloju," her mother dragged her ear, "how many times did I call you?"
Jọ́jọ́ scratched her head and violently pulled her cornrows, "three times," she said, irritated.
"Respect yourself in that house. Respect yourself oh! I don't want you moving to anywhere, just stay by me, ṣe o ti gbo?"
"Yes mummy," she mumbled, knowing full well that it was a big lie.
They stood on the porch of the cream colored duplex and pressed the doorbell, while her mother whispered binding and casting prayers directed to the ginger cat nestled in a basket-like bed beside the cane chair.
Jọ́jọ́ suffocated the urge to break free of her mom and play with it.
"Ah, neighbours," an auburn haired slim woman greeted Jọ́jọ́'s mom.
"Come in, come in," she stepped aside, smiling.
Jojo's mom walked in, slowly, guiding Jọ́jọ́ each step as if she couldn't walk. She stooped as if to brace the both of them for an incoming avalanche; her large bosom grazing the top of Jọ́jọ́'s head.
The woman looked at them weirdly.
"Uh, you can have a seat," she directed her hand to a couch opposite a fireplace they would not need. They'd probably forgotten that they were now north of the equator.
"My name is Kaitlyn, what's yours?" she smiled, taking a seat.
"Mojisọ́la. I live opposite you," Jọ́jọ́'s mom forced a smile.
"Oh, is it the brown house? That's lovely. Welp, I just moved in with my husband and little guy, we work around here now," she said, pouring herself a cup of Brandy.
"You care?" She stretched her hand to the other to pour.
"No oh, I'm good," her mom smiled, shifting on the couch. Jọ́jọ́ was already dying of boredom.
"I don't take alcohol," her mom said again.
"Oops," Kaitlyn chuckled, "would you like water then?" She offered.
"No. I'm okay," Jọ́jọ́'s mom nodded.
Jọ́jọ́ sunk her back on the seat of the couch, patiently waiting for her mom's smack.
"Oh, she's so cute. Darling sit up, is that your daughter?" Kaitlyn mused.
"Yes," Jọ́jọ́'s mom said, suppressing the urge to smack her.
"What's your name honey?"
She sat up from her position if defiance.
"Jọ́jọ́," she smiled.
"Her name is Jọ́mịloju, but we call her Jọ́jọ́ for short," her mom said.
"Goodness, my son's name is JoJo," she giggled.
"Are you serious?"
"Yeah, but you know, the intonation is quite different. Here, let me call him. JoJo!"
Jọ́mịloju prayed with all her might that her son would be her age so they could ditch these two and go play to their heart's content.
The dusty haired boy came skipping down the stairs, a transformer toy in hand.
"This is my son, JoJo. JoJo this is Jọ́jọ́, say hello,"
"Hello," he mumbled. Jọ́jọ́ didn't blame him.
"Hello," she grinned at him, he seemed to significantly lighten up after that.
"You guys can go have fun," Kaitlyn said, smiling, obviously happy that her son already had a play mate.
Jọ́jọ́ could feel the curly hairs on her mother's neck stand on one end.
She slid down from the couch slowly, her eyes intent on her mom's face.
"Come on," JoJo said enthusiastically.
Jọ́jọ́ finally got off fully and jogged to him, giggling.
They both ran downstairs, JoJo in the lead.
He took her to the basement.
"Dad! Dad!" JoJo called out.
He pushed the door open and they both entered.
"JoJo...who's this?" His dad asked, wiping sweat off his forehead.
"Dad, this is my new friend, Jọ́jọ́,"
Jọ́jọ́ didn't even notice the introduction, she was too busy scanning the entire basement, mesmerised. It looked like something she'd seen in cartoons before. PlayStations and spinny things and noisy buttons and joysticks and ticket booths.
"Oh, hello Jọ́jọ́," he chuckled, "welcome to our arcade."