Fiction

Oreoluwa Oladimeji: What Would Jesus Do?

Image by Cdd20 from Pixabay (modified)

Third Mainland Bridge stretches lazily across the slightly murky river beneath us. All 11.8 kilometers of it. Its length, an inconsequential piece of knowledge I hadn’t given much thought to until now.

We are suspended above the water, stuck in standstill traffic, hawkers milling about, shoving bottles of cold drinks and baskets of gala at us. I wonder how far the water is from the bridge as I peer through the tinted glass. I look at my mother, wondering if she knows, if this is something of interest to her.

She bobs her head vigorously to Logan ti O Ba De, lifting her right hand occasionally as Tope Alabi’s powerful voice co-inhabits the car’s interior alongside the smell of jollof rice wafting from the backseat. Like most of our car rides, the drive from Holy Heart secondary school, the Christian boarding school I attend, is shrouded in silence except for the occasional sounds of Christian music and my mother’s inquiries on my academic prowess.

I shift my eyes back to the river, a more engaging companion, thinking sorely about the fifty days of summer break that are to come, spent mostly with my mother.

***

On the first day of summer break, I sleep till ten in the morning. I bask in the satisfaction of sufficient rest, knowing that the following days will consist of me waking up at seven in the morning, sweeping the dusty floors of our three-bedroom apartment, washing pots filled with water and the sticky remnants of the previous night’s meal, cleaning my mother’s Jeep, or preparing breakfast.

To thrive in my husband’s house, these are tasks I have to get accustomed to, my mother claims every chance she gets. I propel my body off the bed, slip out of my bedroom, and venture into the bathroom across the hallway. I can hear my mother singing, her soprano voice reverberating against the walls of the apartment. It’s a Yoruba song, a rendition of praise to God.

Bi gbogbo irun ori mi je kiki ahon, ko to ko to lati yin baba logo.

If all the hairs on my head were tongues, they wouldn’t be enough to praise God.

My mother isn’t a very expressive woman, but when she sings, particularly worship songs, she belts out lyrics with a soulfulness that captivates me. I sometimes wonder if her passion, intimacy, and expressiveness are reserved for God alone. Sometimes I get the impression she would rather talk to God than to me. I brush my teeth hurriedly and scrub at the flecks of left-over toothpaste on the marble sink.

In the mirror, my reflection gazes back at me; messy cornrows, large eyes like my mother’s. I strip off my pajama top, eager to assess my chest. Disappointment cascades through me when I see that nothing has changed. I tell myself that it is only day one. Forty-nine more days to go.

At Holy Heart, there is a widespread belief that this is the summer most flat-chested girls emerge with mounds of flesh on their chest. For some reason, the transition from Junior Secondary School three (JSS3) to Senior Secondary School One (SSS1) is often characterized by a mass change in physical appearances.

Even though I had questioned the authenticity of this belief, I took comfort in it. Perhaps, I too would join my friends, Bisola and Sharon, and become one of those girls who strut around school with their shoulders pushed back, ample chests jutted forward, and heads raised with self-assurance.

Perhaps I won’t be teased by boys like Tade any longer and called a ruler or a wall. Perhaps I will finally garner the courage to approach my crush, Senior Samson. Or maybe he will approach me.

“Ade! Come downstairs soon o!” my mother shouts from the kitchen.

This is my cue to shower, get dressed, and join my mother downstairs as I will be accompanying her to her stall in Balogun Market where she sells expensive lace material for different occasions.

In the dining room, she is setting the table.

“Good morning, mummy,” I greet, taking a bowl of steaming pap from her hands. I set the bowl down next to one of the plates of akara on the dining table.

“Good morning. Did you sleep well?” she asks.

I nod in response with the knowledge that today is one of the few days I can enjoy the luxury of sleeping in and waking up to breakfast prepared by my mother.

We eat in silence for the first few minutes before she begins to grill me once more on school.

Hope I did my Junior NECO exams well. Hope I’m still reading my bible. And then she proceeds to ask questions that are more directed at my wellbeing, somewhat affectionate even if tinted with hardness. Hope nobody is bullying you.

To this I reply in the negative, a practiced response, because academics and religion are the only things reserved on the menu to talk about. My father is one of the things we don’t talk about, even though it’s been twelve years since he died from a heart attack, an event I have no memory of.

***

On the tenth day of summer break, I ponder on the fickleness of puberty. Why does it select some before others? Why does it choose to distribute its positive traits to some and its negative traits to others like myself? I think of this as I glare at the smattering of red, sickly-looking pimples on my forehead.

“Stop touching it,” my mother scolds, clamping the sun visor mirror shut.

I cross my arms against my chest. My flat chest. I conducted another assessment this morning, just before heading downstairs to do my chores, while my mother said her morning prayers in her room, her voice raised, her requests fervent. I imagined we were in similar situations. Her waiting on God to answer her prayers; me waiting on puberty to perform its wonders on my body.

We shuffle through mild traffic along Awolowo Road, heading towards Balogun Market. Okada men dart recklessly between cars, zig-zagging through lanes. One narrowly misses my mother’s side mirror. He whips his head back for a quick second, realizing the damage that could have occurred, but zooms off, no word of apology leaving his lips.

My mother hisses in irritation, the planes of her face hard, stoic, and expressionless with only a faint show of anger.

I feel the same, except that my irritation has a different source.

Earlier this morning, I asked my mother if I could stay home. Her stall wasn’t the most thrilling place to be since I was cooped up in there most of the time and barred from interacting with her staff and talking to people in nearby stalls who were mostly men who pulled women forcefully, persuading them to patronize their stalls.

My mother often called them aggressive. To her they were men who didn’t respect women’s privacy. Men who couldn’t stand to be told no. They didn’t like my mother either. Once I had heard one of the men tell a customer not to patronize my mother because she was haughty and proud and raised her shoulders like she owned the whole of Balogun Market.

I shouldn’t have laughed but I did anyway. Even I thought my mother was stuck up. Bored, I dig through my knapsack, searching for my earphones. When my hand closes around the tangled mess, I unravel it and jam it into my BlackBerry, a gift my mother had given me, a year ago, for my twelfth birthday. It was old now and Samsung S3s were starting to be the trend. My mother didn’t care about any of that, so she bluntly refused to get me one when I asked and told me to be grateful. Didn’t I know there were people with more pressing concerns living under the bridge?

Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” pumps through my eardrums, tuning everything out, including the new Christian track my mother is listening to. I want to hum the lyrics, sing them out loud even but I can’t because my mother will chastise me.

What do I know about boyfriends at age thirteen? she’d say. Couldn’t I listen to Christian music? she’d ask.

My phone pings with the arrival of a text. It’s Sharon sending Bisola and me pictures of her and her family at a mall in Dubai. In one, a selfie, her face swallows the screen, and her lips are contorted in a kissing motion.

I sigh as my mother turns sharply into Balogun Market nearly knocking down a hawker selling oranges.

***

On the fourteenth day of summer break, I am seated in the living room, watching the male and female protagonists of a popular telenovela kiss. My mother isn’t feeling well today so she decided to stay home. I chew on the crusty end of a meat pie, engrossed with the scene playing out before me, basking in the otherworldliness of telenovelas; the drama, the catfights, the grand romantic gestures. I imagine that the male protagonist, Sebastian, is Senior Samson, and the female protagonist, Catalina, is me.

Senior Samson pulls me closer to him. Our breaths come out in harsh sounds, our lips within inches of each other. Senior Samson’s gaze is like a flame, heating me up, causing butterflies to populate my stomach. His lips approach mine. Closer, closer…

Clap, Clap, Clap. At the sound of my mother coming downstairs, I move quickly, changing the channel to Nat Geo Wild. The sounds of her slippers are louder now as I fixate on a documentary, my wild thoughts banished to another dimension.

“Ade,” my mother says once she enters the living room.

“Ma? Good evening, mummy,” I answer briskly, sitting up straight. She looks different, a wrapper wound loosely around her waist, her thick hair disheveled and jutting in different directions.

She eyes me warily with tired eyes as though she suspects something, as though the holy spirit is ministering to her, whispering to her about my misdeeds. I expect her to grill me, but she simply moves to the couch adjacent to me and lays down on it. Slow, lazy movements, as though her body is a log of wood.

When she’s horizontal on the couch, her hair splayed on the pillow propped behind her, she closes her eyes. And then her lips begin to move. Not fast like they do when she says her morning prayers. Slow, like each word is a weight, and her mouth is exerting more force than usual in saying them.

It’s a silent prayer.

“Sorry, mummy. It is well,” I say awkwardly, not knowing what to do. And then I add, “Can I get you meat pie from the kitchen? You haven’t eaten much today.”

She grunts in response, shakes her head, keeps praying. Probably asking God to destroy the evil spirit that has afflicted her with illness. My mind wages a war between joining her in prayer and continuing the telenovela I was watching.

Her prayer doesn’t last long. Sleep seizes her as she tries to mumble another word. I study her as her soft snores start to fill the living room. Her face looks tender, exposed. It amazes me how illness has the power to transform her demeanor, softening the hard planes of her face, creating an aura of openness. Even with only one of us awake, I feel closer to her, like her I can open up to her, share my insecurities, burden her with the unanswered questions that plague my mind.

What was my father like? Did his death turn her into this distant woman I have known for years?

Years ago, when she wouldn’t tell me much about my father except that he was a kind man, I had gone through her things hoping I would find something. I found nothing except for a stack of pictures she’d kept hidden under her bed. There was a picture of us three at Elegushi Beach taken in 1998 when I was one. Me, small and curious, playing with sand. My father twirling my mother in a circle. When I stumbled on that picture, I hadn’t recognized my mother instantly.

She seemed different. Looked different. Her eyes were bright, shiny as my father spun her around. She seemed lighter and bubbly like no weight in the world could hold her down.

Perhaps my father’s death was the stone that pulled her down, reduced her to an enclosed woman who took comfort in Jesus alone, dedicating her life to him, leaving no room for any other man.

Perhaps my father was irreplaceable and to that end she pursued Jesus alone, her ears deaf to the mockery of other women, even those at our church who subtly shamed her for being a single mother as though she’d had a choice in my father’s death.

I had sifted through pictures, more of my parents. I studied their faces, trying to decipher if I was more like my father or my mother, trying to reconstruct early memories of my father, of my childhood. My mother found me. Enraged that I had gone through her things, she’d snatched the pictures from me, cutting my exploration short.

***

On the eighteenth day of summer break, I survey my chest for changes. When I see none yet again, I slip on my chiffon top and storm out of the bathroom, slamming the door shut behind me. My mother scolds me for this.

***

On the twentieth day of summer break, I wake from sleep, startled. My sheets are drenched in sweat and my heart is racing. I had seen a boy who wasn’t Senior Samson in my dreams. I was sitting in the hallway of our apartment, the floor cold underneath me, my eyes not seeing a thing as the hallway was engulfed in darkness. And then a flicker of light from the corner of my right eye caught my attention.

That’s when I saw him. A lone figure in the hallway. A looming shadow with no face. The light flickered some more, and his appearance gradually gained some clarity. But still he was faceless. He was short, probably a little kid. I was trying to make out his height when he beckoned to me to follow him. Come, come.

I wanted to stay rooted to the ground, but an unknown force propelled me to my feet, taking me towards him. Behind him, the light flickered some more. Neon-green. The type you would see in clubs. Not that I’d ever been in a club.

I followed him, my steps tentative, watching each facial feature appear as though controlled by the flickering light. He laughed, a throaty laugh, before turning away from me, leading me to our destination. Just as my eyes began to adjust to the light, the hallway morphed into something else.

Now we were out in the open. I heard something that sounded like water slapping against rocks. We were at Elegushi Beach.

The wind whipped at my hair, causing my braids to slap my face. The air smelt fresh, warm. I focused my eyes on the boy again. He was still walking, but his pace was quicker now. I tried to keep up, following till we got close to the shore.

He turned. His face was clearer now. It was rectangular-shaped with large eyes, a small mouth, and a partition through his left brow. I scrutinized his face, wondering who he was, and why he was smiling at me as if he knew me. I opened my mouth to speak but he ran into the water, startling me.

He played in the water, lapping it up, splashing it against his face, his clothes. There was a lightness to him, a glaring innocence. I stopped moving, studying him. As if sensing the intensity of my gaze, he stopped mid-play, smiled again. This time as if he knew something I didn’t.

And then he started to move backwards. I watched as the water swallowed the length of his feet, thighs. He was still laughing, smiling, playing with the water.

“You’ll drown!” I shouted, finally finding my voice. As if I had ordained it with my warning, the waves began to take him.

He was no longer laughing. No smile in sight. There was only panic now, flailing arms, loud gasps as he struggled to stay afloat. I tried to save him, pushing my legs, forcing them to move but they couldn’t.

“Stay there. Stay there!” he shouted at me. He sounded angry as though he was upset that I would put myself at risk to save him.

Still, I kept trying to move my legs, tears tumbling down my face till I no longer saw him.

***

On the twenty-first day of summer break, the boy from the dream is still on my mind, imprinted in my memory. I check my chest for changes, signs of sudden fullness, but I’m distracted. I focus for a few seconds, see nothing, feel nothing, and leave the bathroom. Disappointment is not as potent as the previous days because my mind is occupied.

My mother had taught me to recite Psalms 91 seven times whenever I had a bad dream. I did that yesterday, stopping at the third recitation when my lips began to grow weary. This morning, I did the same thing, successfully making it to the fifth recitation.

I haven’t told my mother about the dream for fear of her ferrying me off to a pastor for deliverance. I don’t want to spend five hours on my knees praying, while the sound of a jangling bell grates against my ears, supposedly chasing evil spirits away. Besides, it was probably nothing to worry about. Probably just something random.

However, I can’t seem to shake it off as I peel yams in the kitchen. For the first time, my mother let me stay home. When I asked this morning, she agreed on the condition that I lock the front door and the main gate and stay inside the house. I wanted to lament, but I took what she offered.

I’m replaying the scene in my head. Elegushi beach, the boy disappearing into the water, my legs unable to move. Who is he? Was he someone I had met before and forgotten? I’m not in the habit of dreaming about people I’ve never met so it baffles me.

Elegushi Beach. I had only been there once. In 1998. When I was one. Was he a kid I’d run into at the beach?

And then an idea pulsed through my brain. Perhaps my mother’s stack of pictures might tell me more about this boy, confirm that he was someone I’d met. But why would I be seeing someone I hadn’t seen in twelve years in my dream?

I drop the tuber of yam on the counter and dash upstairs to my mother’s room.

I am certain the pictures aren’t underneath her bed anymore, so I search other potential hiding spots. I’m about to give up when it occurs to me to check her filing cabinet.

I sigh in victory when I find them. I sift through, searching for the boy imprinted in my mind. I keep going, hoping I will see something, find something. And then I see it. Him.

In one picture, he is carrying me, doing his best to balance my weight against his right hip while I pinch his right cheek. In another, we are standing next to each other, in between my parents, holding hands, smiling brightly at the camera, him towering over me.

The wheels in my head are spinning but the questions keep bubbling. Who is he? A family-friend? A cousin? It can’t be a cousin because I know all my cousins. I study his face, every detail, looking for similarities to mine, to my mother’s. There is none except the large eyes. Nothing significant. But then something sticks out to me as my eyes zero in on my father then the boy.

The boy’s face is shaped like my father’s. I study other features. Their smiles, chins, ears. Although my father’s hairline recedes in the picture, something becomes apparent. The boy looks like a younger version of my father.

***

On the twenty-second day of summer break, my mother is weaving through traffic, cutting lanes, flouting traffic orders, ignoring angry policemen. She is screaming into her phone in Yoruba, “A ti n’bo. A ma de be n’sin!”

We are on our way. We will be there soon!

I know who she’s talking to. It’s Pastor Mayowa, the head pastor of the protestant church we attend in Lekki. Pastor Mayowa with the long, white, flowing gown that hides his feet. Pastor Mayowa with the jangling bell and an intense love for long-winded prayers.

“Mummy, slow down!” I shout as she overtakes a red Chevrolet, swerving like a mad woman. The man in the car curses, says something about women who should not be allowed to drive. Women who should be at home tending to their families, taking care of their husbands.

My mother ignores him. Her hands grip the steering wheel tightly, a determined look on her face as she overtakes a danfo bus.

All this because I told her about the dream and asked who the boy in the picture was.

“Jesu! Jesu!” was all she kept saying when I got to the part during which the water swallowed him, taking him away.

I was confused, more baffled by the whole thing.

The wheels in my head are still spinning, trying to figure out who this boy is and why my mother is acting like she’s seen a ghost.

Once I finished recounting the dream to her in the kitchen, she dashed upstairs to her room and returned almost immediately with a large bottle of anointing oil she’d gotten from church.

I didn’t get a chance to speak before she dipped a finger into the oil, and slammed it against my forehead, making the cross sign, all the while saying, “Lord, protect my daughter. I banish every evil spirit appearing to her in her dream. Every familiar spirit.”

Although not as dramatic as now, this is somewhat typical of her each time I have a bad dream, or she has a bad dream.

But something is off. And I can’t place my finger on it yet. The wheels in my head are spinning because I get the sense my mother won’t tell me.

“Mummy, who is the boy in the picture?” I ask again when she swerves into the church compound, hoping she can alleviate the headache I’m beginning to feel at my temples with a clear answer.

She signals to me to come down from the car, giving no response. Pastor Mayowa’s office is a small room that adjoins the church, so we don’t go into the main building.

I’m surprised to see that the rows of plastic chairs in front of his office aren’t occupied as they usually are by people seeking miracles. His assistant, a short man in white, gestures to my mother to go into the office.

In his office, the greetings are brief as my mother and Pastor Mayowa waste no time getting to the task ahead. My mother pushes me to my knees when I refuse to kneel. Pastor Mayowa hovers over me, his eyes closed, as if a spirit has taken over him. He reaches for his bell.

For two hours he and my mother are embroiled in warfare, spouting prayers and requests, rebuking demons, casting and binding evil spirits.

The rocky ground that is Pastor Mayowa’s office floor bites into my knees. I occasionally join in prayer, although I’m perplexed by what’s going on because it’s the first time we’ve come to Pastor Mayowa’s office for a bad dream.

Regret courses through me. I shouldn’t have told my mother.

***

On the twenty-fourth day of summer break, my mother and I are in the kitchen removing weevils from a tray of beans. We aren’t speaking but there are things I want to ask her. Later, I check my chest for changes. A slight swell, subtle. A triumphant smile spreads across my face. I’m a little unfocused though because the boy from the dream is still on my mind.

***

On the twenty-eighth day of summer break, I study the pictures on my phone for the tenth time. I took screenshots with the anticipation that my mother would hide the pictures in a new place.

But what does she have to hide? And why won’t she tell me who this boy is?

I assume he must be a part of my extended family or a family-friend my mother is no longer in touch with. I scroll left to one picture, zooming in on the boy. I scroll right to another, zeroing in on my father’s face.

A question is forming in my mind, but each time it surfaces I suppress it because it makes no sense to me. As I study the pictures, the question gathers strength, weakening my resolve to push it aside.

Now it’s monstrous, formidable as I eat dinner with my mother whose eyes have been on her plate for the past few minutes, seeing nothing, eating nothing.

“Mummy, I noticed something,” I start, gathering courage.

That gets her attention, diverting her mind from whatever has a hold on it.

“The boy in the picture…he sort of looks like daddy. Are we…”

“What are you talking about?” she interrupts, her eyes widening, the space between her brows creasing. “Eat your food.”

Her voice is shaky. Not from anger. Almost like she’s on the verge of tears. I press on regardless, the question at the tip of my tongue now. And I think she knows it.

“The boy. Is he related to us? To me?” I ask.

She looks up, slowly. It’s almost comical the way it happens. Her composed, stoic face gradually losing its steel, crumpling, dissolving. The tears that spill from her eyes are bits of confirmation but then her words cement it all.

“Yes…Yes. He’s your brother.”

***

On the thirty-fourth day of summer break, I’m not thinking of the fickleness of puberty, of how it taunts you, offering you a little bit and leaving you longing for more. I’m not bothered by the subtle change that remains on my chest, no additional growth.

Instead, I’m thinking of telenovelas. Of how much my life now resembles one. Not because Senior Samson is kissing me ferociously or because he’s just defied his parents because of his love for me, but because of what I’ve just learned. What I now know.

He’s your brother. The words are still echoing in my mind, reverberating against my temples. A brother I hadn’t known about for eleven years. Or rather a brother I’d been made to forget about for eleven years. Almost like he’d never existed. Like he was a memory extracted from my brain or wherever memories are stored in the brain.

My mother’s face while saying those words is still etched in my mind. Not just because it’s the first time I’ve seen her cry but because it’s confirmation that she isn’t perfect like she claims to be.

My mother, the prude, the holiest person I know, masking a secret for eleven years. A person.

Now the tables have turned, and I can say to her would Jesus approve of this?

But I can’t because I’m also thinking of my brother and how he left this world, because that’s the most jarring aspect of this story, this telenovela that is now my life.

At night, after my mother had recounted all there was to know in between sobs, I tried to picture everything as she’d described it, adding elements of my own imagination to it.

Me sleeping peacefully in my cot, unaware of the door opening.

The man approaching the cot, looking about carefully, not wanting to be found out.

My brother engrossed with his PS3 in the living room, shouting at the TV as though his opponent can hear him.

My brother sighing as NEPA cuts short his glee.

My brother going to look for the man, seeking another distraction, another treat.

My brother calling for him, searching for him in the guest room.

My brother venturing down the hallway to the nursery, knowing he might find him there feeding me or soothing me back to sleep.

My brother seeing him bent over me, pushing his fingers in between my thighs.

My brother dashing towards him, pushing him away, his little arms flailing.

The man trying to calm him, telling him he was only playing with me.

My brother screaming his head off, adamant that the man had tried to hurt me.

The man panicking when my brother threatens to tell my mother.

The man, angry now, hoisting my brother by his collar, throwing him across the room.

The man dashing out of the room, leaving my brother on the cold floor.

My brother watching as blood spills from his head, soaking the carpet.

My brother still as life gradually leaves him, unable to tend to me as my cries fill the room.

My brother dying five days later after he’s rushed to Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) where my mother used to work as a nurse.

My mother sobbing wildly, pleading with my brother to return to her.

My mother mourning the loss of a husband and a son, the only men in her life. The only men she could trust.

My mother angry with herself for having trusted the man who took my brother’s life, the man who assaulted me.

My brother. It’s a strange addition to my vocabulary, but he is all I can think about now.

***

On the thirty-seventh day of summer break, I’m thinking of forgiveness and wondering if my mother deserves it.

“What would Jesus do?” my mother would ask in the past when I held a grudge against someone.

“Forgive,” she would say, answering her question.

She isn’t saying that now. Instead, she’s making me food, taking me to fun places, trying to talk to me, trying to pacify me.

***

On the fortieth day of summer break, I am sitting in bed, reading a Harlequin romance novel when my mother walks in. In the past, I would have replaced it quickly with a Karen Kingsbury romance novel upon hearing her knock on my door.

Now I don’t. I hold it to my face in defiance, not acknowledging my mother’s presence. I know she just sat down at the edge of my bed because I feel it sink slightly.

“Ade,” she says softly, beckoning.

“Yes?” I answer. No mummy added. The novel is still held up to my face even though I’m not reading anything.

“Ade. Please I want to talk to you.”

I keep reading. Reading nothing. Seeing nothing.

“I’m sorry.” The novel comes down with a plop, more forceful than I intended, more reactionary than I planned.

My mother twists her hands in her lap. Her eyes are focused on a spot next to my head. Sorry isn’t a common word in her vocabulary. Sorry isn’t a word she says to me. Something stirs within me as I wait for her to speak, giving her a chance to explain herself.

“What happened to your brother…and to you…I hid it because…because I thought I was protecting you. I didn’t want you to spend the rest of your life dwelling on that incident like I have.” Her shoulders sag as she stops. I imagine that a weight is being lifted off her shoulders as she utters these words.

My resolve is weakening because I’m beginning to understand her, to comprehend why she would bury such a secret. I’m beginning to understand why she’d practically shut me from the rest of the world like doing that would shield me from any harm. All my life I have tried to figure her out. Her overprotectiveness, her coldness towards men, her strictness.

And now that I know why, relief courses through me. Now that I know that my mother isn’t all stone, rock, and hardness, hope rears its head. Hope that someday she can become the type of mother with whom I can share my thoughts. The kind of mother I can talk to about Senior Samson. The type of mother I can share my insecurities with.

“Mummy you can’t protect me from everything. I won’t be with you forever.” At this, a look of alarm crosses her face, almost like she’s scared that she’s done something beyond repair. So, I add, “Although I understand why you did all that.”

Her face softens, her gaze on me warm and intense. She lifts a hand, slowly. I hold my breath as she touches my face. Her palm is smooth, cold, bliss. I lean into it.

“I just want to be close to you, mom. But I’m always scared to tell you things. And you never tell me things either.”

A tear rolls down her face. “I’m sorry I made you feel like you couldn’t talk to me. I’m sorry. Really sorry,” she says in a conciliatory tone, more tears spilling from her eyes.

I slip my hand over hers, holding it close to my face. “I forgive you, mummy. Just like Jesus would want me to.”

At this she smiles, a beautiful smile that warms my heart.

***

On the fiftieth day of summer break, I am in the bathroom eyeing my chest. My mother is outside the apartment, loading my things into the car. I think of the things I craved this summer, the things I truly wanted. The things I thought I truly wanted. Breasts, Senior Samson, trips to Dubai.

I’m also thinking of my mother’s words to me the night before when I shared my grievances about puberty. Everything happens at the right time and even if you don’t end up having huge breasts, you are still beautiful, in and out.

Beautiful. In and out. I put on my bra top then my uniform, a white shirt with blue stripes. I adjust the collar against my neck, smiling at my reflection, basking in the warmth that now envelopes our house, the warmth that now holds my mother and I together.

“Ade come downstairs. You’ll be late for school,” my mother calls from the driveway.

I dash out of the bathroom, eager to drive with my mother to Holy Heart, reunite with my friends, and tell them the events of this break. Not about the slight physical changes that manifested over the summer, but about the metamorphosis my relationship with my mother has undergone.

About the author

Oreoluwa Oladimeji

Oreoluwa Oladimeji is an MPH student at Drexel University. Originally from Nigeria, she obtained her bachelor’s degree in Biology (pre-medicine) from The Lincoln University of Pennsylvania. When she isn’t dealing with the familiar rigor of school work, she enjoys penning down her thoughts in the form of stories. She will be starting medical school this fall and is in the process of choosing a school. Her work is forthcoming in the Kalahari Review.

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  • Oh my gosh, my attention was held from the beginning till the end. The story telling was captivating. As a girl who grew up in Nigeria and has been away for a while now, it was nostalgic. The language, the chores, the driving, the high school experience, the food reminded me so much of home. Good job Oreoluwa 😘😘😘

  • I teared up reading this, as I could relate to the strain on their relationship. It took somewhat of a tragedy to bridge the emotional gap between my parents and myself considering that I spent most of my life in school and the little I spent with them was spent in fear of disappointing them.
    I remember being envious of girls with smooth faces, acne and scar free but couldn’t voice it out to my mum cos I felt she wouldn’t understand being acne free growing up.
    All in all the story draws parallel to my life from the fears of youth to not knowing of a lost sibling.
    Ore you are a great writer 😊, keep sharing your talent with the world 💝

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