07:02 am, August 29
Osun State, Nigeria.
Eniiyi woke up to something tickling her nose and she sneezed, opening her eyes. Her mom, Eartha, was sitting at the edge of her bed with one hand poised in the air. Eartha made a guilty smile, as though she hadn't expected to get caught.
She glanced at the alarm clock then propped up a pillow behind her and sat up, eyebrows raised. What was the occasion?
'Mommy, good morning,' she said, still confused. 'Am I missing something?'
'Good morning, Adekunbi. If you were to be missing anything, it'd be your smile.' She tweaked her nose.
Eniiyi smiled. Mommy was being Mommy today. She was extremely funny most times. She watched as she bent over her, her thick mass of onyx-black hair falling forward to cover her face.
'If you keep smiling at me like that, I think I'd have to pay a visit to the salon.'
Eniiyi smiled again and threw over the covers, swinging her legs to the side of the bed.
Mommy stood up too then sat back down, wringing her hands. Eniiyi thought she looked nervous. Strange.
She stretched and yawned. 'Mommy, do you want to tell me something?'
'Well,' her mom said after a moment of hesitation. 'Maybe you should go take your bath first.'
Eniiyi quickly scrambled back on to the bed. She wasn't ready to get up yet to bath. 'I've still got some sleep left in me, let me sleep them out.'
'Adekunbi,' her mom said.
Eniiyi glanced at her and blinked, the covers now covering up to her neck. What was Mommy going to tell her? It sure did seem like something serious. She couldn't come up with any answer except work. But then they had to go to work before and she'd be home alone again. That was the daily routine for most holidays except third term. It was third term holiday now and she should have gone for children's camp like she did every third term holiday but, for some reasons she wasn't sure she understood, the summer camp for that year had been cancelled. So what could it be now?
'Mommy, what . . .' she started to say.
'Adekunbi, we're traveling.'
She aspirated a sigh. Nothing much. 'Mommy, it's no problem. I've stayed at home for more than a day before.'
Eartha's cheeks slightly tinted at that statement. She always felt guilty at the mention of the incidence that happened a year ago although it'd been partly her and Mide's faults; external factors had also contributed to it, but it's their fault all the same. They'd left an eight year old girl all by herself in the house for almost two days.
'Adekunbi,' she started to explain, 'We are all traveling.' She sucked in her lips. 'You're going to stay at your grandma's for the duration of our trip to Japan.'
Eniiyi was speechless for a long time. Poor girl, she didn't know what to say.
Of all news she hadn't been expecting that. Staying at Grandma's? The grandmother she hadn't met since she was five months old. And to top it all off, she lived in a village!
'You're only joking, right?' she said in a strained voice, afraid of what she'd hear.
Eartha exhaled and tried to look less nervous. 'No, I'm not. We're leaving early tomorrow morning for Kogi State.' She added.
'No! Mommy, no! No, no, no, no. I don't want to go to G.ma's village. I'm going to die there. Can't I go with you to Japan, please?'
'No, it's a business trip. We were nominated together because we're a couple, and, I'm really sorry, Adekunbi. This project in Japan is very crucial to our company.'
Both her parents worked in Pengine, a feted company where they manufactured motor vehicles of the same name. Everybody knew their products, Pengine was the shit. Their headquarters was up in the North in Kaduna, where the Hausa* CEO lived. They had their branch offices at Osogbo — where she was —, Ikeja, Jos and Owerri, where they assembled the vehicles.
'Mommy, can't I go to your own parents in Somalia?' At least she'd met them thrice. Twice when they were still in Nigeria and once when they came visiting from Somalia. They were Somali but had at one point moved to Nigeria where they had her mother and then gone back a few years ago.
'You know we don't have time to start arranging that,' Mommy said, trying to explain.
'What of Uncle Felix's place?'
Her mother smiled apologetically. 'Uncle Femi recently had his wife's relatives join them and we didn't want to burden him more. It must be a full house already.'
Eniiyi scowled, feeling her hopes dashed against the wall.
Eartha tucked a wayward strand behind her left ear. She tried to press down the guilt that was eating it's way up to her heart. If she had her way she'd have had their daughter come with them, but as it was she knew it was better she stayed. The project was going to be needing all of their attention and the poor girl was just going to be stuck in the middle.
Little did she know that the decision was going to change their lives forever.
'Mommy, why didn't you tell me this earlier, so I could have planned my escape?'
'We too just got the message this morning. I'd have arranged for you to stay with family friends but most are unavailable.'
'Probably went on vacation. Adeayo's and Adanma's family are on vacation. That's what families do during the long holiday.' She gave her mom a pointed stare. The pointedness of her criticism was impossible to miss.
Her mother flinched at the stare and looked away, blinking her eyes once, twice, thrice. 'Adekunbi, you know how important our jobs are. Me and your dad have to work hard to earn money so you can live a comfortable life.'
Eniiyi scoffed inside. As if! She didn't know just how rich they were but she knew for a fact that they were one of the richest in the estate and was aware the school kids called her rich brat behind her back (the brat part wasn't true).
She pursed her lips and gave her best scowl. There was nothing she could do about it, even if she tried. She knew it was just for show that she was being asked for her opinion, so it wouldn't seem like she'd been forced when in truth their minds were already made up on the matter.
It goes without saying that her parents didn't work for the money, no, they had that already in overflowing abundance, it was because of the thrills and spills of their damned job. Eniiyi accounted this to the fact that they worked together, 'But then I'd never have met your mom if not,' as Daddy had put it. They'd have thrown her into boarding school long since if not for the fact that Mommy had phobia of them. It had something to do with the bad experiences she had while she had gone to boarding school in her days which had left a scar on her and she had vowed that no child of hers would go to boarding school. Eniiyi didn't know what it was or how bad it had been, Mommy always avoided that subject whenever it was asked about.
'But I don't want to go, Mommy. I'm not going,' she still demurred, crossing her arms over her chest and scowling some more till her face muscles started to ache.
Eartha closed her eyes for a second and aspirated a sigh. 'I can't deal with this now, Adekunbi. Please, try to understand. There's no time to arrange for you to go anywhere else and you know that, so just stop trying to make things more difficult. You're going to your father's mother, whether you like it or not.'
Eniiyi looked away bitterly, feeling something die inside her. 'Okay,' she said in a small voice. It had taken her all to utter that one word and her heart filled with bitterness at it.
'That's a good girl.' Eartha smiled at her daughter and pat her head. Her hair was looking rough and needed fresh braiding but that would be another time. She could even have it done at Mide's mother's place. She felt that stab of guilt again but numbed it out. Everything would be okay.
'Now, how about you get up and go have your bath?'
Eniiyi continued to stare off, unresponsive.
'I'm serious. And come say hello to your father after that.' Eartha started to stand up.
After a while, Eniiyi flung back the covers for the second time that morning and got off the bed. Getting angry wasn't going to do anything. She might as well play along and try to be on her best behaviour, maybe that would make them change their minds. Besides, she was sure going to the village was all Mommy's idea, if she talked to Daddy he'd listen to her.
'When are you leaving for work today? What are you even going to do, anyways?' she asked, although she didn't really care.
'Oh. We're not exactly going to work today. We'll just go get the necessary documents and the likes for our trip. And it's about extending the company to Eastern Asia . . .' she was reluctant to go on, since she didn't want to start boring the girl with the details.
'Then are you going to learn how to play shogi?'
Eartha smirked. 'So, you still haven't forgotten. We're going for strictly business and nothing else.'
In one of their rare family moments together, they'd gone to the cinema and watched this movie where they played shogi. Eniiyi had been fascinated about another form of chess and had asked her parents if they could go learn it together. The question had been asked flippantly, for she knew what the answer would be. Work.
Eniiyi scowled back. 'That's very boring, you're very boring.'
'Ìwo lo mò,' her mother said in Yoruba** and headed to the door. 'Freshen up and come downstairs.' She shut the door behind her.
Eniiyi slumped dejectedly unto the bed. Was there really anything she could do? She was just a small girl, no one would listen to her.
She sighed and reached for the remote control on the bedside table to turn on the flat screen TV mounted on the wall but remembered what she'd been posting on her website yesterday and dropped it, reaching for her fire-engine red Samsung tablet instead. The colour of the tablet was actually black but had a red pouch.
She wasn't gone on ten minutes when her mom popped open the door.
'Are you . . .?' she froze.
Eniiyi stared at her mother, frowning.
'Adekunbi, I'm closing my eyes now—' her mom shut her eyes '—if by the time I open them I still find you sitting in this room, I promise you, you will find more cause to keep frowning at me,' she threatened.
She wanted to object, to show she was still angry at her, at them, but she dropped the tablet, anyway, and dragged her feet to the ensuite.
Later when she had changed out of her nightdress she picked up her tablet and slid down the banister to the lounge room. Daddy was sitting in front of the TV which was on but his full attention was on the laptop balanced on his thighs as he typed away.
Not good enough for her, but she was going to make the most of it and try to convince him to let her go anywhere that wasn't her grandmother's.
'Morning, Daddy,' she said in greeting, hugging him from the side.
'Morning, Adekunbi,' said her father. He suffered two seconds away from the screen of his laptop to kiss his daughter on the cheek.
She stared the computer screen. She didn't comprehend jack of what she saw. 'Daddy, what're you doing?'
Her dad threw her a how-could-you-be-so-dumb look. 'Typing.'
She turned down the corner of her lips. 'Daddy . . .'
'Work,' Daddy finally said. 'Has your mommy told you of tomorrow's schedule?'
Of course, everything was a schedule to Daddy. Even getting off the bed and brushing his teeth.
'Yes, sir,' she replied. 'But, Daddy, I don't want to go,' she countered.
'And where do you want to go?' her dad asked, not looking away from the computer.
The crashed hope in her started to stir. She could really talk Daddy out of the idea of going to the village.
' I don't know, anywhere that's not G.ma's. Uncle Felix's?' she provided.
'Femi has his hands full,' her dad said of his brother. 'I don't know why you're so worked up about the idea. Mother is very nice and you'd love her at once.'
She scowled. 'I seriously doubt that.'
'You go on and do all your doubting till you meet her.'
Eniiyi wanted to reply but then Eartha arrived, a steel tray balanced on her palms. 'Breakfast,' she announced. 'I thought since we're all here we could as well have our meal here.'
'Mide, did you manage to get through to the agency?' Mommy said to Daddy.
'Oh, I booked for the 11:15. I figured we'd be at Zik*** by past ten, all else the same.'
The young girl glanced from her Daddy to her Mommy and sighed sadly. Anger and hurt married in a quick ceremony in her heart, her stomach, her head, her soul. It was now very obvious that whatever she did wasn't going to stop them, their minds were made up.
She tried to mask her anger and disappointment as she stood up and picked her tablet from the couch.
'Where are you going?' Her dad glanced at her.
'I'm going to brush my teeth,' she replied, although her mouth still smelled freshly of the Close Up**** she'd used not long ago, and stormed off to her room, slamming the door as loud as she could.
She knelt by the bed and buried her face into the sheets, her body shaking in anger.
She was doomed to go to the village, after all, she was just a small girl, her decisions didn't matter.
When Eartha made to go after the girl Mide put a hand out to stop her.
'Let her be. She'll get over it, soon and realize going to the village is the best decision we could make for her.'
Eartha sighed and went to sit beside her husband. He was right. Going to the village was the best decision.
Little did they know that this decision was later going to change their lives forever
Eniiyi – a Yoruba name which means 'person of prestige'.
* An ethnic group living mainly in Northern Nigeria.
** An ethnic group living mainly in Southwestern Nigeria as well as in communities elsewhere in West Africa, Brazil and Cuba.
*** Shortened name of airport at Abuja, the capital of Nigeria.
**** A popular toothpaste brand made by a plc in West Africa.