She knew she was in trouble immediately she noticed the sun had set. How she lost track of time, she couldn’t tell. All she knew was that she was supposed to be home a couple of hours ago and here she was playing ‘pretend’ with Nneka, her best friend. “Yeh!, where is my slippers”, she screamed. “Why are you shouting?” Nneka asked. She ignored her and went in search of her slippers. It’s a different thing to get home late, that for sure was trouble, but to get home without your slippers was double trouble. “I would rather be beaten for getting home late only”, she thought. “What are you looking for now. Answer me jhor”, Nneka persisted. “Mama is going to kill me. It’s dark already and I haven’t even gone to collect what she asked me to”, she replied, almost close to tears. Nneka suddenly felt sorry for her friend. She had also been a victim before, so she understood what awaits her friend upon her return home. They both searched around for her slippers. It was getting darker and their search seemed to be futile. Nneka noticed her friend was already crying, she was about to reassure her not to worry when her little brother who hadn’t started walking yet, crawled with the slippers in between his arms. “Ah. Thank God”, Nneka said as she grabbed the slippers from him and handed it over to her friend. “Oya quickly wear your slippers Bola and be going. Hopefully your mother wouldn’t be too angry today”. Both of them obviously didn’t believe that. Bola forced a smile knowing fully well that Nneka was just trying to make her feel better. Her mother was always angry. Sometimes she wondered if she was her real mother because the rate at which she got angry at her was incredibly high. “Bye Bye” she shouted as she ran out of the spacious compound. She almost hit her head on the gate all in a bid to get out as soon as possible.
She hadn’t planned to stay long at Nneka’s place. She had intended to visit her briefly and give her the latest gist about what had happened in school during the period her friend was indisposed. Bola tried to calculate how long it would take her to get home, but no matter how she tried, she knew it wouldn’t change the fact that she was late and her mother was going to beat her mercilessly. Exactly like the last time, just two weeks ago. Her mother had wanted to cook vegetable soup for her father who was supposed to return from a business trip that evening when she noticed there was no seasoning left in the house. She had sent Bola to get some seasoning at the nearby store as fast as possible. “I give you twenty minutes. Run if you must, I want you and that seasoning back here in twenty minutes. If not enh, you know what I’ll do”. And yes she ran, she knew better than to play with her mother’s threat. She got to the store, bought the seasoning and was already on her way back home until fate decided that she was to cry that night. On her way home, she saw Nneka and Jide; a classmate of theirs, walking, giggling and throwing stones. Rumors in school had it that Jide liked Nneka and was planning to make her his date for the end of the year party dance coming up soon. She tried her best to ignore them and continue her journey home, but curiosity got the better part of her. “Where are you people going”, she asked. “Bola, come and join us. You know that guava tree in Uncle Toba’s house shey, we are going to pluck some fruits”. Bola couldn’t mask her excitement. She immediately forgot about her mother’s errand and followed her friends. Of course she had fun, and ate as much guava as she pleased. But all that was forgotten as her mother’s cane landed on her buttocks when she got home. If not for the timely arrival of her father who commanded his wife to stop, Bola was convinced she would have died that night from her mother’s beatings.
“Get away from the road, you this girl. Alakoba!”, the cries from the okada rider jolted her back to reality. “It would be better if this okada have hit me sef”, she thought, “at least Mama would not be able to beat me”. As she neared the gate of her house, her heart began to beat faster. She already imagined her mother sitting patiently at the front porch with that smug smile on her face, swinging her cane in that manner Bola hated. Her father had gone on one of his business trips, the gateman who sometimes saved her from her mother’s wrath had gone to his village for his father’s burial. This means she was alone and no one was going to save her today. “My own don be today”, she said as she walked into her compound.
Everything seemed fine, she walked towards the front door with her heart in mouth. Her head was already filled with different types of excuses and lies, trying to filter out the weak ones so as to make way for the perfect one that might help diffuse her mother’s wrath. With this on her mind, she walked towards the front door. The door was slightly open which was unusual, but Bola was preoccupied with other thoughts to notice that. She walked into the sitting room. Upon realizing that her mum wasn’t waiting there, she felt a form of relief. Thinking her mother was most likely resting in her room like she sometimes does in the evening, she decided to go to her room with the perfect lie already formed on her lips.
As she opened the door, Bola could not tell who was more shocked, she or her mother. There lay her mother entangled between the arms of Uncle Michael, her father’s mechanic. The image looked exactly like one of the pictures usually shown in those magazines Jide snuck to school; magazines a 12 year old shouldn’t even have any business reading. Uncle Michael’s trousers were spread out on the floor together with her mother’s inner garments. But at that time, Bola didn’t notice all of this, all her attention was focused on the look of shock and helplessness on her mother’s face; her mother who she thought was a saint, her mother who was the perfect example of a good wife and mother in the community, her mother………
Now it all made sense. All the events of that day began to make sense to Bola within the few minutes she stood speechless in front of her parent’s room. The excitement in her mother’s voice when her father had called to say he might not be able to make it home that day, the eagerness with which she had sent Bola out of the house to collect some materials from Iya Buki; whose house was so far that Bola hated going, the way she had forced her to walk there and not take a bike there which was unusual. It all became clear to her. She didn’t know where the strength came from as she ran out of the house. She stumbled upon her father who just got in at the gate. “Where are you running to”, he asked. Bola looked at him and for the first time in her life, she wished he hadn’t come home at that time. She knew how much this would hurt him once he finds out, which was only a matter of minutes. But at that time, she couldn’t utter a word. Her mother’s cries for her; “Bola Bola Bola” from within the house didn’t give her shivers as it used to, at that moment all she felt was nothingness as she watched her mother’s face crumble as she emerged from the house and saw her father.