My first sleep over!
I was 12.
Mom said I could go sleep over at Osato’s house.
Osato was the first child I met when I walked into the gates of Federal Government Girl’s College, Zaria. Her mother was unpacking several suitcases from the trunk of a mini-van. Osato stood by herside. From behind, I could see her cheeks! My God. They were fat. I felt like I could slice layers off it and still not touch any bones in her face.
‘Orobo’ my mother said, pursuing her lips towards Osato. She looks like she is just joining too. ‘Go say hello’ my mom said with pleading eyes. She did not know how to feel about the fact that she was going to leave me all the way in Zaria alone. She had wished I remain in Abuja and attend one of the private secondary schools, but my dad felt I needed to be tougher. You don’t do her any good protecting her like this. The world will devour your child and spit her out if she grows up under the wings of the mother hen all the time.
Now 30 year old me knows my dad was an atypical father in more ways than my childhood brain could ever contemplate. For example, he bought me every book I would ever ask for but he would never buy me a toy. That was my mother’s department. ‘Books make you smart. Toys make you stupid. Cartoons make you dull. The News makes you smart, etc’ He had his little beliefs and would sing them as rhymes. They annoyed me but probably not as much as they did my mom. When he was around, she would ask me never to argue with him. But when he was gone, she let me watch all the cartoons my heart desired. She let me play with the kids in the next compound. She let me ride the bicycle she bought me that she kept hidden in one of her clothing closets; she had 3. She let me just be me. Because my dad was gone a lot, that meant that when he was around, I did as my mom said and never argued with him. My mom would give me a conspiratorial wink as she shuffled past me, setting dishes in front of him or clearing up his dishes. That is all she seemed to do around him. Feed him. I did not know it at the time but we were the second. That is, his second family. He had another family, his real family, with his 2 sons and 2 daughters. We were the second!
‘Your cheeks are very very fat. They look like Teletubbies’ 9 year old me said to Osato. She looked at me puzzled and then to her mother. She moved closer to her mother ‘Mommy’, she said tugging at her wrapper. Her mom looked at me and smiled a warm kind smile. Her eyes twinkled when she smiled. ‘Are you also in JSS1?’ she asked warmly, her eyes betraying kindness her daughter could not muster for me.
‘Yes. I am in JSS1 too. My name is Adrianne. My mom calls me Ade, pronounced as ‘Aid’ not ‘Adey’. I rattled off. It was my routine with my mother. She hated when I was called ‘Adey’.
Osato and I became best of friends. The two most unlikely friends. My spindly legs did not match her fat stubby legs. My cheekbones were no match for her bubble cheeks. My friendly inquisitive personality was utterly dissimilar to her reserved personality. But we made great friends. She was in JSS1a and I was in JSS1c, but we spent every free time together, we went to the dinning hall together, we kept a common pool of provisions and ate together. Osato’s parents lived in Zaria, so her mom soon became my mom too, her dad my dad. Visiting days for Osato were as much my visiting days. Deliveries from my mother was labelled Adrainne Okocha and Osato Obigho. We shared everything, even her underwear. I was always certain to misplace mine half way into the term and Osato would lend me some of hers. ‘I have never worn this one, don’t worry’ she would assure me. It wouldn’t matter if she had or hadn’t to me. She was my sister.
Osato was the closest thing I had come to having a sibling and a constant playmate so I did not take her friendship lightly. I was protective of her, with our mates when they teased her over her weight. I fought and got beaten up badly because a girl had called Osato ‘fat pig’. My uniform was torn but I managed to give the girl 3 cat-like scratches along both cheeks. She was named ‘Risi’ by others after that day. I loved Osato.
‘Mommy, I don’t want to come back to Abuja. It is just 4 days. What is the point of all making that long journey? Osato says I can stay with her. Her mom and dad have invited me over. They said I can stay, mummy’. I pleaded on the phone. Osato and I were inseperable at this point. 4 days without Osato? Not when I had the option of being with her.
‘Honey, we have talked about this. Your dad and I. He wants you home. He doesn’t like sleep overs. We don’t know them well’ she said, repeating what my dad said, not what she believed. She knew Mrs. Obigho well. They spoke almost every weekend. When I called my mom saying I needed something, she called Mrs.Obigho. Mrs. Obigho would bring it for me. Sometimes she bought me extra things saying they were from my mom.
‘Mommy. You know Mrs. Obigho!’ I screamed throwing a mini-tantrum. I hadn’t done that in months. My guardian, Mrs. Anydasador peered at me through the louvres of the staff room. I quickly recomposed myself. She was one of those guardians who would flog you for turning off scruffy when she sent for you or for failing a test. ‘Mommy,’ I repeated, calmyly now, ‘I wan’t to stay with Osato. I want to.’ I said, tears dripping down my face.
‘Honey, but what about me? What about mommy. I miss you too. I have an entire list of things I have written down for us to do when you come. I learnt how to flip the pancake finally without turning it in two, honey, honey I stocked up the fridge with all the ice-creams you love. I bought you a new special surprise gift. Mommy wants to see you too’ she said, her voice betraying muffled tears. I did not know it then, but with me gone, my mom had no hobbies, nothing to do, nobody to fuss over, nobody to dote on. 30 year old me knows it now. 9 year old me was disappointed. And I went home as my father wanted that midterm and every midterm thereafter. There were no sleep overs for me. My father forbade it. He forbade even discussing or crying about it. I knew the drill. I came home for every holiday. Never mind that the journey to and fro wore down my young mind and drained me of any good-will for that holiday. I returned morose, grumpy and unyielding to every affection by my mom to cheer me up. In all my mid-terms at home, my dad was never home.
Today, 30 year old me is making a little trip to Lekki. This evening, the president I refuse to call with a capital P and whose name I have refused to mention has decided to finally call the pandemic by its name; Covid-19. It took him a full 2 weeks to respond after the Ghanaian President responded and set up travel restrictions. He has announced a 2 week lockdown. No activity or movement for the next 2 weeks around Lagos and Abuja.
My phone rings , vibrating beneath the rubble of clothes on my bed. I fumble through the pile but and fail to locate it. I fling all the clothes on the floor on the bed; still no sign of my phone. The phone keeps ringing. I sit on my bed and feel my bed vibrating too. ‘This phone must be on this bed somewhere o’ I think aloud, meticulously lifting each already folded and packed outfit in the suitcase. No sign of it. The ringing discontinues. ‘Where is this phone though?’ I say aloud. I begin to pick up all the clothes flung on the floor. The phone starts to ring again!
‘You’ve got to be kidding me!!!!!’ I scream, doing my little tantrum dance and sliding from the bed down to the floor. I place my head against my suitcase, my head seems to be vibrating. ‘It is under the suitcase!!!!’ I suddenly realise. I immediately turn around and slide my fingers beneath the suitcase.
Facetime call. Osato.
‘Baby mama’ I exclaim.
‘Baby girl’ she responds. ‘You still coming?’ she says looking worried.
‘Yaaaas boo. Just packing up, I say switching the view mode of the camera to show her my suitcase!’
‘Jesus Christ!!!! Ade, what are you packing? No be lockdown you dey come so?’ she switches into her Benin pidgin.
‘Babe, I know but I don’t want to take chances abeg. Plus they are mainly lounge wear now!’ I respond, knowing she would still have a sarcastic comment to boot.
‘Sha bring all my tops you have taken from this house! You go pack suitcase full, come house, still wear all my clothes’ she says with a roll of her eyes. ‘And make sure you pack all your pant come o’ she adds mischievously.
’20 years OSATO!!!! 20 years and I will not rest that you gave me pant o.’ I scream down the line. It was our routine. She made sure to remind me every time I visited.
‘Babe, if i woze you eh? 20 years? Christmas wey you come my house, you no carry my pant commot for this house?’ she responds
‘That was lingerie!!! And you do not wear it! And the Lord had need of it’ I respond with a wink and flourish of my teeth! If only her husband knew that most of the lingerie he gifted his Osato ended up underneath another man’s weight. ‘Babe, I am done now. I will call you when I am in the car abeg. Your wahala too much’
‘Pidgin no fit you!’ she says and waves me good bye!
I was going to spend our longest sleep over together. 30 year old, married Osato pregnant with her first child and me going through my 100th relationship, our favourite thing to do was still sleep-overs. Osato’s husband was stuck in the US when the lockdown began! We did not imagine it will get this bad. So I was going to stay with her during this time, not because she needed me, but because we spent most of her time, without her husband, together.
It was like that since our first sleep over!
I was 12. It was JSS3 extension period. Osato and I debated just staying together for the one week break without telling my parents. She was pro-tell and I was against it.
‘My dad will just come up with another excuse why I shouldn’t stay’ I said to her in a whisper during night prep. ‘He never comes to visit me o but he is the one that wants me to be travelling all that way to Abuja every time. I don’t want! I am not telling them!’ I say to Osato.
‘Stubborn goat!’ she whispers back and we both burst into laughter. Osato had learned with me to say whatever and be whatever. There were no filters. There were no boundaries.
‘What of mommy though? You won’t tell her?’ Osato said, toying on my heart strings. She knew my mom and I were more than daughter and mother, she was my friend, my fellow inmate in the prison my father had built for us.
‘But she will just end up telling daddy?’ I respond.
‘Ask her. And then beg her not to tell your dad. He doesn’t even know there is a holiday. He only knows because mom tells him. Tell her and beg her not to tell your dad’ Osato says. As a force of habit and familiarity, Osato called my mom ‘mom or mommy’. We were that close that she shared my mother too. My father was a distant unfamiliar figure to her, so she called him, ‘your dad’.
‘I will try but if it doesn’t work, we are fighting’ I announce to her under hushed tones.
It did work. My mom I suppose had gotten tired of my grumpy attitude when I returned home against my will. Maybe it was also because I had thrown in ‘Mommy, it would be just like our bicycle. Daddy doesn’t have to know’. Maybe also because Osato was standing next to me chiming in ‘Mummy please. Mummy please’ occasionally. We wore her down and she accepted. ‘Mom is the word’ she said in a conspiratorial whisper, like we did when my father came to visit. ‘And you are the best mom in the world’ I announce in a high pitched squeal with Osato and I bouncing around in circles! Mrs. Anyasador shot us a glance and we quietened down.
Our first sleep over!
Osato’s house was like her mom’s smile; warm, welcoming and familiar. I marched behind Osato as she led me into our shared room as though I knew every corner of the house. There were pictures of her parents, Osato and her brother siblings all around the house. I knew all her siblings by name. They were my siblings too. Her parents were my parents too. Her dad called me ‘the Iroko’ because I was slim and tall. I loved how affectionate it was. He had a name for me. My father called me by my full name ‘Adrianne’, but Mr. Obigho had a name for me. I felt at home.
Osato and I were to spend a week and then return back to school to commence our examinations for the Junior West African School Certificate (Junior WAEC as every other person calls it). We unpacked our little suitcase in excitement.
‘Bring out all your dirty clothes, put them on that side and then pack your books on that table there’ Osato said pointing first to where I should keep my clothes and then to the table.
I unpacked my books and dropped them neatly on the table and then toppled the clothes on the corner where she had pointed.
‘I said your dirty clothes o’ Osato said in correction.
‘I know’ I responded ‘all my clothes are dirty’ I said unembarrassed. I added to the pile of clothes on the floor, the one I was wearing. Osato starred at me naked, flat chested at the top and in her underwear and then at my pile of clothes.
‘You are a pig!’ she says, bursting into laughter.
‘I know’ I say moving over to her wardrobe. ‘What can I wear though?’ I say, pointing at her clothes, watching her split her sides laughing. ‘And it is really not that funny!’ I add, which sent Osato into another spell of laughter. Osato laughing made her cheeks bounce around, she looked like a cartoon, like an animation character. I started to laugh too. There we both stood in her room, staring at each other, laughing ourselves silly!
30 year old me thinks we should have laughed more. We should have enjoyed and savoured that moment more. I think Osato knew, hence why she kept laughing, long after I was done, long into when it became annoying, long into when I took offence and started to ignore her.
‘Dinner time o’ Mrs. Obigho said, poking her head into our bedroom. Osato, pack the clothes to the boys quarters let maiguard start washing them tomorrow. You girls only have a week to be home. Make sure there is no underwear in the pile o. Ade come to the dinning table. Food is ready’.
Osato protested that over half the clothes there were mine and responded saying I was her guest. I helped Osato pack the clothes to the boys’ quarters and we marched together to the dinning table.
We were savouring a plate of hot vegetable soup and boiled yam. Cutlery clanged against the transparent glass plates Mrs. Obigho had served us with. Glass plates at home were reserved for father. Even mother ate from the ceramic plates. Sitting there eating the hot piece of yam and peppery vegetable soup with lavish chunks of meat, a feeling of pain shot through my chest that I had been born into the wrong family! I felt a stab of guilt go through my chest because mom is perfect. It was just dad. Why was he so absent? Why was he never there? Why did we not ever eat together like a family, like Osato’s family?
‘Bimpe, but I have told you that I don’t like this much salt in my food’ Mr.Obigho began, interrupting my thoughts. It was like Mr. Obigho to crack jokes and find humour in everything. I chuckled thinking this was one of them! The food was perfect. He possibly could not be serious.
‘What? You are trying to poison me! I have told you not to be cooking all this your Yoruba food like this in this house. How many years?’ he said pushing the plate away from him. He was angry. I caught the damp in the atmosphere and immediately focused all my attention on pushing the pieces of yam around my plate.
‘Silas! We have a guest’. Mrs. Obigho said sharply. I looked up in disbelief, a piece of yam stuck half way in my mouth. Mrs. Obigho called Mr. Obigho by his name? Since that day I had only heard ‘my love’, ‘mine’, ‘daddy Osato’ etc. ‘His name is Silas’ my young mind registers. My eyes shift up tentatively, meeting Mrs. Obigho’s eyes, her smile was gone.
That was the start of the rest of the night which ended in shouting fits, raging tempers and banging doors and banging on doors. Osato’s mom ushered us into our rooms with our plates of food which remained untouched the rest of the night after her husband’s ‘you are a mad woman!’ response to her remark. The rest of the night, I heard shouting, insults and rage. I heard Mrs. Obigho scream once, a painful tearful scream and footsteps. Fast footsteps running down the hall. Osato sat up on her bed, peacefully, eyes trained on the door and I sat fearfully beside her.
‘What is happening?’ I asked, unsure of what I should be saying, unsure of how to feel.
‘Mummy is running into her room. So daddy will not hit her again’ she responds, offering commentary like it is a football game. ‘He has been drinking again. He hides in the boys’ quarters to drink and smoke most nights. When he does, things like this usually happen!’
I hear door locks turn and I banging on the door! Shouts, curses and crying, her dad was crying too. ‘What is happening?’ I ask again, this time, to myself. I did not want Osato to respond. I was baffled. I never saw my parents argue. Never! My dad asked and my mom did whatever he asked. When she disagreed, she wouldn’t mention it, she would just do as she pleased when he was gone! What did I prefer? Seeing my mom look like a weakling or seeing my dad pummel her if she argued? Was daddy a wife beater too? If mom disagreed, would he beat her too? Would he curse and chase her down the stairs? Did my dad drink? I had so many questions! So many questions!
A few minutes after, the house quietened and Osato slide under the covers. ‘Good night’ she says. I sit up in disbelief and fear. What if it started again? What if her dad came in here and beat us. I wait a few minutes for Osato’s sleeping breath to even out and I stood up and walked to the door and locked it up.
‘Don’t do that’ Osato says startling me to death! ‘Don’t do that’ she says quieter now. ‘Sometimes, mom has to run in here. He never enters our rooms. I do not know why. Maybe he thinks we do not know and do not see. He never enters our rooms.’ she says, alarm and pity in her eyes that I had seen all of her now.
12 year old me did not talk about what had happened. Not to Osato. Not to my mom! That night, all I knew to do was to wrap my arms around Osato as she cried into her pillow. I cried too because I wasn’t sure what to say, how to feel or how to look at her parents the next morning.
After our first sleep over, my mom got comfortable with our secret and would always ask Mrs. Obigho if I could stay. She always welcomed me. Osato was happy she had me around. I was happy to be with Osato. I never said anything to her. But when she cried into her covers and pillows, I would cry too, with my arms wrapped around her. Her mother was my mother and her father was my father. We were children born into domestic abuse.
Osato grew in the habit of telling me what happened like it was just another conversation we had. ‘Dad got angry yesterday and told mom to leave the house. He threw her out.’ she would tell me over the phone. ‘She slept in the maiguard house. The maiguard let her in when dad had left the gate and he was sure he had fallen asleep’. Another day she called me to announce ‘Dad pushed mommy’s heard against the wall. He said she stole his money. He ended up finding his money where he kept it’.
12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17….year old me cried my heart out and prayed my heart out. Mrs. Obigho was my mom too. She was beautiful as she was kind. Mr. Obigho was funny when he was around us. He was kind to me too. He is not a monster. It is the alcohol so I prayed for the alcohol to stop. I prayed my heart out! I am not sure when I stopped praying and only cried. I am not sure but it has been a while now.
‘Bish, I am at your gate!’ I announce to Osato’s stuffed face! ‘You are eating again!!!! Ordinarily pregnancy, you are feeding for 100 people!!!!!!’ I look at her with teasing disgust!
‘I am having twins, fool!’ she announces nonchalantly, not oblivious of the fact that this was news to me.
‘Stop playing! Osato! Twins? Are you serious??’ I scream, driving into the compound, as her gateman smiles and salutes all at once. He knew me now!
Osato’s pregnant belly is waiting at the door, stuffing her face with some excessively creamy cake and waiting with a familiar smile.
‘Twins? I ask again!
‘Twins’ she says, beaming from ear to ear!
I hug her pregnant belly. I hold on as though for their life. ‘Babee!!!!!!!’ I say, tears in my eyes!
‘I got tired of waiting for Gbenga. Who knows when he will be back from the US with this lockdown. I haven’t told him I checked sha! My doctor said he will keep the secret’ she said cheekily, grinning from ear to ear. ‘I wanted to tell you in person. I knew you would behave like this. I wanted to see it!’ she continues, laughing again. The twins moved and I jumped around in excitement at the thought that they respond to me. ‘They already know me! They already know their god-mother!’ I announce, arms spread out, like a footballer, prancing around the field upon scoring a goal!
‘Mumu!!’!! Osato says dragging me by my pants into the house. ‘I have told my father that if he wants, he should kill my mother before she sees her grandchildren. And I told my mother, that if she wants, she should stay there and die, before her grand children come! It is over me at this point.’ she says betraying the real worry, and perhaps her only worry with her pregnancy.
‘They will see their grandchildren’ I say, standing behind her, wrapping my arms around her and nuzzling her cheeks with my cheekbones.
‘Ade. Mom called me this morning. She says he poured hot pap on her because she did not put a spoon on the tray. Ade!!!! Hot pap! I do not know how they will do in this lockdown o. 2 weeks locked up in a house alone! No shop for mom to go to! No way for them to avoid themselves! Two of them stuck in one house for 24 hours! Ade…!’she says, her voice trailing off.
I hug her tighter, my heart beating too loud. ‘Ask mom to come here! Ask her to come! It is only fair she has to be with her pregnant daughter’ I say, quietly, already knowing the answer.
‘She says she has married her own husband and I have married mine. She is not running away from her husband’s house’ Osato recites an answer that I know too well!