It was 6:00pm, the last Friday in May and I was on the streets of Obalende, running. The wind whistled harshly in my ears, but I kept running – faster – as the earth vibrated with the rumble of a brewing storm. Somewhere not so far ahead I could see a thick fog of people and vehicles tangled in that messy chaos that was only typical of a Lagos bus-stop setting. They all appeared to be struggling, pushing against each other in their pathetic attempt to extricate themselves and get to shelter. The dark clouds seemed to darken with black fumes from their tired exhaust engines and foul words free falling from angry lips; their noise unifying to become a terrible cacophony. I shrugged and plunged in, shoving bodies aside, pushing my way through the throng with just one thought in mind: To get to the other side and to my dreams. The wind was gathering momentum now, pungent smell of dust and debris thickened the air like incense from the lamps of a mass-server. I sneezed, so did a million people around.
How much germs were we even transmitting?
Something heavy went flying and then another; the later narrowly missing my head. I stopped abruptly, turned and stared. Just some distance away, a large mass of dirty brownish-red iron sheet that once-upon-a-time served as roof to a building laid messily on a side gutter, almost like a ready-laid mat, it’s edges sticking out sharply cutting anyone who was dumb enough to walk over it. I was shocked.
That thing had just missed my head by a thread!
I stood transfixed, staring at the item as people passed by it, jumped over it, even risked walking over it to get to the other side. From nowhere came a blinding flash of light accompanied by a deafening sound of thunder and people began to race in different directions, more desperate to get away. That was my reminder to get going.
“Get out of my way, girl!” A woman, short and rounded with flowing white hair, pushed me – in a not-so friendly way – from behind. I rolled my eyes at her, watching her retreating back as she ran off struggling to hold on to her nylon bags. Someone else jostled me and this time I pushed back, greatly pissed.
“You no dey see this rain wey dey come, abi you blind? Abeg commot for my road, if you no get where to go!” A masculine voice shouted impatiently into my face, trying to get around me. He nearly knocked me down as he let himself through. My retort was lost in the howling of the wind. It began to rain heavily. I sighed in disgust, pushed my way through and ran down the lane into a lone street, cold air wickedly slapping the hairs on my skin causing me to shiver.
I could see it now as huge and towering as ever, unpainted and yet so beautiful. I particularly liked the stones embedded within on every block and also the serenity of the surrounding. I slowed as I neared, awed by the amount of space it occupied. What would life be like living here? I wondered as I finally stopped under a tree just a few feet away. This was always where I stopped to watch, wait and maybe dream. I had never gone beyond the tree, never gotten close to touching those beautiful great walls or going past the heavy metallic black gate into the world within; the one I badly wanted to belong. This was my dream but the wall was my barrier. I sighed inwardly. There came another flash of lightning. The thunder accompanying it was so mean, it rattled the tree so badly I thought the tree would be uprooted right out. I rushed out greatly distressed, cold, drenched to my underpants and heavy hearted; as if the walls sat deeply upon my soul. The sky began to growl in that familiar tone. I knew what was coming and I scurried off, in the direction I came from.
That was my twentieth visit.
* * * * *
“Where the hell are you coming from, it’s 8:00pm!”
Mum lashed out as soon as I showed up by the kitchen door, dry and freshened up. She was behind the small counter that served as the kitchen’s table; a used knife in hand with freshly washed ugu leaves on the table, some chopped into tiny pieces and others untouched. “Young lady, I deserve an explanation and it had better be good.” she set aside the vegetable to glare at me, one hand on her hip.
“I went to see a friend.” I said. There was a lone stool by the door, I carried it to the counter.
“A friend is hardly an answer, where went you?”
“I went to that…” I sneezed, my chest constricting with the force of it. “… that place.” I finished.
Mum shook her head at me, deciding against whatever caustic speech she was going to deliver. “I will make you a hot cup of tea,” she said instead, dropped the knife and headed for the gas stove.
I sighed and absently studied her get busy by the stove. Something was up. The caustic retort would have been better than whatever mum was ruminating over, I thought to myself. Mum looked pensive, her posture from behind appeared tensed. She was cooking up something and it sure wasn’t going to benefit me. I cleared my throat to speak, but mum’s next statement slammed the words back down my voice box.
“So, I obtained the Newman’s writing institute admission form today…”
“What!” this sure wasn’t good.
Mum shrugged. She seemed to be doing something else by the sink. I got the distinct impression she was avoiding facing me. “Why what?” she asked.
“You must be joking, right?” I was off the stool by now. “Why would you do that?” Involuntarily, my voice went up a notch.
Mum turned to face me, her eyes shooting arrows to my soul. “Because, Ndidi, I love you and that is what people do for their loved ones who are too scared to start living their dreams.” she stormed out of the kitchen and I followed, shaking with the velocity of my rage.
“It sure beats you going all the way from Yaba to Obalende every other day, trespassing private property and putting your life at risk. Just in case you’ve forgotten, you’re all I’ve got.” She muttered, heading for the dining area.
I answered right back. “It still doesn’t give you the right to butt into my life, mum!”
She stopped at the dining table and faced me. There was no mistaken that she was hurt. She pointed at a brown envelope on the table, my eyes followed on their own volition. The envelope had my name written boldly across. “Well, I already have and I filled out the forms, so just do me the honor and submit it.” She walked off, towards the hallway and past it, like a deflated balloon. She was heading for bedroom and so I followed.
“Mum, I didn’t mean to hurt you.” I said.
At the door, she stopped and faced me. “Make your tea yourself and make dinner. Don’t wait up for me, I have loads of scripts to mark. Good night!”
Seconds later, I was standing alone at the entrance of the hallway really angry at mum’s interference. I stared at the envelope on the dining table and hissed. “I am never going to submit that thing” I muttered to myself, sulking all the way through dinner preparation.
I never made the tea and I never ate dinner either
* * * * * * *
I sat up finally, after tossing and turning for hours unable to sleep. The room was too hot, there was no light, as usual. I stared at the ceiling, it seemed non-existent in the darkroom. I turned to adjust my pillow then lowered myself unto the bedspread, hands behind my head, legs crossed. It had been two days since mum and I had the fight over Newman’s writing institute. She hadn’t spoken to me ever since and it bothered me. The whole thing didn’t worth me at loggerheads with mom…
Maybe if I snuck out of the house in a not-so-subtle manner, mum would come around. I laughed off the thought yet still picturing mom frantic. Sighing, I began to hum Adele’s Hello. What was it like on the other side? Will I be welcomed, will I be rejected? What if I wrote and my article was picked and I was admitted? What if it wasn’t?
“All this what-ifs aren’t going to help you, Ndidi. You’ve got nothing to lose by writing and if you’re not picked, well, you move on!” I sat up feeling reenergized.
I sat up and began to fumble blindly for the blue torchlight that never left my bed. I combed through the underneath of the pillows and found it. The room came alive with white light. It was 2:50am. I found a pen on my bedside table then made for the door hurriedly, excitedly. I ran past mum’s door, almost tempted to wake her up to witness me fill the form, but thought against it as I stepped into the dining room.
“Now, where are you, brown envelope?” I sang, ransacking the chairs and table.
But it was gone.