He looks at me again; his eyes narrow and then he walks off. I swallow. This is the second time Frank has called whilst I’ve been at Lewis’s.
Late that night I lie alone in my bed, and wonder what it would like to belong to Lewis totally, mind, body and soul. I know that’s what he wants and deep down that is what I want too, yet something lies between us and it’s too big for me to ignore.
It’s about Nigeria, Duty, custom and a promise made between my Father and his best friend when I was just a kid. It’s about the nice decent Doctor waiting for me in Lagos, hoping that I get this quest to find myself out of my head and come home to settle down. His name was Frank Bamiboye and my mum loves him. Everyone did. Why couldn’t I? Why was it every time I closed her eyes it was Lewis’s opaque eyes that mesmerised me, , his face I longed to trace with my fingers, the feel of his lips against hers, the only thing I wanted to remember, and in this mess I found herself in, his feelings the only ones I did not want to hurt.
Nigeria We Hail thee Our Dear and Pleasant Land
I remember learning the Nigerian anthem, reluctantly, wondering as a 12 year old how many years I had left in school before I could go back to England. My parents quick to instil the norms and unspoken rules and regulations of this place I know had to call home on me. Don’t give people things with your left hand, curtsey before your elders, don’t do this, make sure you do that.
Nigeria reminds me of what is expected of me. Yet I had been good. I had studied and got my degree and made everyone pleased with me. That was why I had started dating the young man who my parents had introduced as the son of a family friend.
He is a doctor you know. We have known his parents before you were born. My father had given Dr Frank his seal of approval. We had been going out for a couple of years when I started feeling suffocated by the relationship and everyone’s expectations that I was just going to get married and settle down with 3 kids and forget about my dream of going back to England.
You can teach here ? Frank was puzzled. Besides when we get married you wont need to work. You will be too busy looking after your family.
I was sure that between him and his mum they had the whole wedding ceremony planned down to the name of our first child. It was just the spur I needed to decide that I needed to get some teaching experience abroad. It would look so well on my CV I tried to sell them the idea. You know. London trained. Put me right in the front for a Vice Principal position.
My mother was unconvinced. Frank reluctant, his mother unimpressed and my father confused.
What do I tell Frank’s mother? Mother wanted to know.
That I’ve gone to London to work. I suggested.
Are there no schools here? What kind of nonsense is this? She gave me a stern look and I was 8 again. I had just broken a plate.
Are you ok at all?
So with their doubts and fears ringing in my ears I had come back to Blighty and tried to pick up the threads of the life I once knew. Amanda and Tim grey haired but joyous met me at Heathway with lots of hugs, kisses and tears.
Sadee was back in town.
Six months later I got a job in Bonthills Comprehensive. A day later I met Lewis and three months later he asked me out. I still dont know why I said yes.
I call to sleep and sleep refuses to come. So I think about my mother instead. I think talking about hair with Lewis has unleashed this avalanche of memories with it.
I was about ten and Mother was plaiting my hair. She was laughing. By this time next year you will be enjoying real sun not this type of sun that comes in and out like a mouse dodging a cat. We will be back home. This was her way of telling me I was going back to Nigeria.
I remember twisting my hair out of her grip and hearing the click of her tongue. Now I have to plait this one again. My mother always spoke through what she did; the heavy silences, the cutting of the eye or the clicking of the teeth.
She had other sayings as well.
Hm- this world is funny. A country where a dog lives in a house with human beings. Meant in Nigeria dogs stay outside and eat the left overs of humans. I later found out when I went to Nigeria that sometimes this could be after the food had passed through the said human’s digestive system.
You are not the Queen’s youngest child you know. Don’t start getting ideas that you are white because you are a little Black Nigerian girl who is living with foster parents in Portsmouth while her parents work and study in London. At no time during the said arrangement should you begin to think that you are their child.
Do not worry Sade. I can understand it is all strange to you now but you will love it when you get there. Fresh food, lovely weather. A place where people respect their elders and you are part of a family. This country is crap, full of crap people, crap morals, constant crap weather and crap food.
These hints used to be like dark fingers pushing back the sun, warning about coming rain and I should have prepared myself, but with the blinkered innocence of childhood, never saw the skies darken until the storm broke out in our front room, threatening to sweep me out of 11 Lavender Close, Portsmouth P031 6HJ away to unfamiliar territory and people.
I thought I knew Africa and I guess I did, in a distant kind of way you think you know that new couple that’s just moved into the street. Someone kills their Missus and the neighbours tell the reporters .We didn’t know them too wellbut they seemed like a happy family. You think you know something but you don’t know anything about anything.
I thought I knew Africa from the programmes of the late sixties and early seventies I watched growing up Tarzan, Daktari Love Thy Neighbour and other programmes the media of the time used as a vehicle to portray a whole continent to the world. After watching them I grew up fearing the Africa of deep dark jungles where tigers and lions lurked ready to pounce on the brave colonial. A place of bedlam where semi- naked people communicated in grunts, fought against each other and waited for Tarzan to swing past on his rope and save them from mortal peril. It was no wonder that the kind of man I wanted to marry back then looked more like my Barbie’s consort Ken, than my Father.