Yejide has started breaking things. Her hands used to be steady: she could thread the needle in a record time. Since last night however, after she had picked a call on her mum’s phone, her hands had started shaking uncontrollably. This has resulted in things dropping from her shaky grip. Two breakable plates were victims of yesterday. Today, her coffee mug and her small mirror took one for the team. And at her shop, later in the morning after she had summoned up enough courage to go to work where she worked as a tailor, she couldn’t thread her needle for the day’s job.
Papa looked at the grandfather clock the hundredth time. It was still a quarter past ten. Was it broken? He was sure he has been sitting in his armchair for more than fifteen minutes since ten o’clock. For the hundredth time, he resisted the urge to call Mama and failed again. Mama didn’t pick the call for the hundredth time.
“It is not your fault.” Papa silently muttered at the phone as the ringing tone slowly came to an end.
“It is not your fault.” He repeated for the sake of clarity, hoping against hope that somehow Mama would hear him from her shop where he was sure she was.He looked at the clock instinctively again. Now he was sure it was broken.
Mama decided to admire her new phone again. The phone was about a month old but she was still reeling with delight at the device. From a safe corner in her shop, she pulled out her big nylon-bag. From her nylon-bag, she took out her a big bag. From her big bag, she brought out her small purse. From her purse, she rummaged for the pouch that housed the phone. She then unzipped the pouch and took out the phone.
“Ah… I have missed calls.” She smiled to herself.
When Yejide got home that night, she met Papa and Mama arguing. Quarreling.
“Mama, you’re meant to hold your phone. Don’t put it in its pouch, then put the pouch in your purse, then put the purse in your big bag, then put your big bag in your bigger nylon bag. Yesterday you forgot it at home as usual. And if you don’t forget it at home, you bury it in your bag.” Yejide’s voice was soft as her parents’ were hard.
“I do that for safety, my daughter. I didn’t hear it ring. Why won’t I pick his call?” Mama defended her naivety.
“It is not your fault. I shouldn’t have allowed Dami to buy you that phone. We were fine when he used to call us on my phone. And I never get to worry about you then when you had no phone. Now you will tell me to call you. I will call a hundred times and you won’t pick. Even Dami has stopped calling your line.”
Then for a while, they were all quiet. Like they were trying to find some thoughts that had escaped their minds.
“Bush woman!” Papa blurted out suddenly. His laughter was contagious. Yejide and her mother joined him.
“Thank you. That was how you met me and couldn’t leave me.” Mama continued the friendly jab.
Yejide left them. She had always seen them like that ever since she was a kid. If they quarreled, which was always mild like this, they got back immediately. Even in their old age (Papa was sixty, Mama, fifty-five) they still managed to exude some romantic candor.
She could still hear their high-spirited laughter laced with intermittent coughing as she slipped her key inside the keyhole. Her hands were still shaking, she noticed.
Her world shook too yesterday.
Just yesterday, in the afternoon when she came back home early because there was not much to do at the shop, she heard her mother’s phone ring. Her mother had forgotten to take the phone with her to her shop again. She ignored the first ringing. Then the second one. She would have ignored it the third time. She was going to get something from the kitchen when the phone rang the third time. So she stopped by the dining table where the phone was and checked for the caller’s name, hoping it was her dad. It was an unknown number. Private number. Curious, she picked the call and her spirit quailed immediately the caller started speaking.
She undressed. Slowly. Deliberately. She replayed the conversation that shook her world just yesterday a millionth time in her mind. Hoping, for a millionth time, that she would remember something she had forgotten that the woman had said. Something that would negate what she now knew.
The replay came out the same way the millionth time.
There was a brief pause on the other side. A brief pause that suggested a number of things. One, that the caller was relieved that the call had been finally answered. Two, that the caller was now speechless now that the call had been answered. Just at the moment when Yejide wanted to repeat her hello, a myriad of words came tumbling through from the other side.
“I didn’t mean to wait this long. I certainly didn’t mean for this madness to go on for this long. There is no excuse for my actions. They were purely selfish. I can’t look in your eyes and tell you things that would make you cringe. Things that have given me joy…pure, selfish joy. I’m sorry, Mariam. I need to be forgiven. I need to make peace with you, with myself, with my God. I’m dying, Mariam. The breast cancer is in its advanced stage. There is nothing more to do than to wait for death. My doctors say otherwise. But I know they are just lying. Besides, it is my body. It is tired, I know. I can feel it giving up. It is not going to fight any longer. We’re not going to fight any longer. You’re a woman like me. We survive by intuition, by being suspicious… I know you must have suspected Ralph and I. You are right, Mariam…”
Silence on the other side.
“Aunty Linda.” A statement this time from Yejide. A confirmation.
“Oh my God. Yejide. Yejide is that you? Oh my God. You sound so much like your mother. I’m so sorry. Oh my God.”
After undressing, Yejide stood in front of her standing mirror. Naked, she wondered if she has the same figure as her mum when she was her age. With her eyes closed, she slowly examined her left breast with her right hand, pressing it down firmly but softly as she ran her fingers through the rounded mass of flesh. With her left hand, she did the same with her right breast.
Her hands shook throughout the self-examination.
Aunty Linda was family. Yejide grew up in her hands. She was the one who thought her how to wear make-up. She was her mum’s maid of honor. Just last week, her whole family had gone to see her at the hospital. Her mum had cried her eyes out. Yejide too had been withdrawn from her activities since that day. She was just getting over the gory sight of Aunty Linda’s disease-ravaged body. And now this.
“My father has been cheating on my mum with Aunty Linda.” Still naked, Yejide finally admitted the naked truth to herself.
She wondered how her mum would have reacted to the sordid revelation. But that could wait. The question was how would she react. Her hands shook as she wrapped her bosom with a large white towel. On her way to the bathroom, she heard her mum silently sobbing while her father was consoling her. She retraced her steps back to the sitting room.
“Linda is dead, Yejide.” Her mum raised her head and looked at her with tearful eyes.
Yejide stood still. Like a figurine.
“Oh my God. Oh my God.” She said a million and one times.
All the while, her father held his wife as her body heaved up and down. He said nothing.
Sometimes, you say it best when you say nothing at all.
“My best friend is dead, Ralph. My best friend is dead. She promised to call me this week…that she wanted to tell me something. She couldn’t. She couldn’t.”
Yejide moved towards her mother like she was in a trance. She took her in her arms, drawing her away from her husband’s grip. And they cried together.
“She called you, mum. She called you yesterday.” Yejide said with a shaky voice. A shaken voice.
“She did?” Her mum cried louder.
“Yes. She called you yesterday afternoon. You forgot your phone at home yesterday. Remember?”
Her mum nodded her head slowly. Then she asked what she alone didn’t know among the four of them, “What did she say?”
Yejide wiped the tears from her eyes with shaky hands. With shaking hands.
“She wanted you to forgive her, mum. She said you should forgive her if she has ever wronged you. That you were the best thing that ever happened to her.”
“Forgive her for what? Linda never wronged me. I may even have wronged her, unknowingly maybe. But she never hurt me once in her lifetime.”
Unknowingly. Yejide moved in for the kill.
“That was what she meant too, mum. Unknowingly. She wanted you to forgive her for any wrong she might have done to you, knowingly and unknowingly. She wanted you to pray for her soul to rest in peace.”
In her grief, Yejide’s mum forgave her friend. She could have absolved her of all her sins if she could. She prayed for her soul to rest in peace. Her husband said amen. She fell silent after that. She moved back into her husband’s arms and he held her tightly. Tighter. Her head rested on his chest. Peacefully.
Yejide and her father looked into each other’s eyes. Her father blinked first. In his eyes, Yejide saw remorse. She thought she saw some other things. She stood up then and looked at her father again. He didn’t say it out. She didn’t hear it. He only formed the words with his lips and she saw it. Thank you. And she nodded. Twice. You’re welcome.
The following morning, while she brushed her long long beautiful black hair, Yejide noticed that her hands were not shaking.