Well if you ask me, it’s annoying when I’m forced to follow mum to a place I just know will be boring. If I had it my way, I would stay home kicking a tennis ball around pretending to be Jay-Jay Okocha as he twists and turns his opponent. Instead, I’m here mumbling lines to myself so that I don’t forget mums orders for when someone asks my name or age. My stomach is singing awfully and to make matters worse, I can smell Puff-Puff in the near distance. Although I know mum will probably give me ‘the look’, I’m tempted to ask her to buy it for me anyway, but in the end, I don’t. All the cars are in line, beeping their horns, looking for a space to park or a way to exit whilst people are busy weaving in and out of even the tightest spaces. I’m not sure if it is like this every day, I wouldn’t know because this is my first visit here. I see men rushing around with wheeled suitcases following closely behind. People in green uniform raid through everybody’s luggage, women are begging them not to take their personal belongings. Some aunties and uncles start removing clothes and shoes from their bags, I overhear one aunty complaining about not wanting to pay extra to be let through.
As we walk along, a potbellied man dressed in a kaftan is staring at me all the while rolling his beads with his thumb. Maybe he will be the one to ask me for my name or age. I look up at mum and she is busy moving her mouth, speaking in such a low tone that I only manage to catch a few words, “God… fire… breakthrough… London.” I’m used to her chanting Deeper Life prayers but I have no clue as to what this means. The man in the kaftan does not say a word as we pass – he is not the one. Mum drops two bags on the floor, handing the woman with an afro behind the desk two green books. She looks at me, then at the green book and then at me again, she does the same for mum before returning the books. As mum lifts the bags, the woman places a sticker around the handles and takes them from her. We walk through, stopping from time to time, to stand in different lines as they do more checks on us. Finally, we go down a long ramp, meeting two nicely dressed women who guide us to our seats. Mum helps me with my seatbelt. There is a loud voice coming from the speakers telling everyone we are about to take off, this must be the voice of God. I look out of the window and in a matter of seconds; we are up in the air.
I see big, white, fluffy clouds. Squashing my face against the window, I try to catch the ground beneath but my eyes fail. Suddenly, a strange feeling comes upon me as I imagine the plane falling. I start to get nervous but look beside me towards mum; she has her eyes shut and mouth slightly open. For some reason, this calms me and I close my eyes too. It’s not long before I’m drifting in and out of sleep, remembering the telling off I got before we left, “If anybody asks you for your name or your age, say Azeez Alafia and 10 years old.” I nodded along but I was not really listening. I was more concerned with looking like the people I saw on the TV screen; I buckled the belt of my shorts and pulled my socks up to my knees. “Small boy, what is your name and your age?” I stopped playing with my socks and looked up at mum, “my name is Abiola and I am 12 years old.” I smirked to show that I had nailed the performance, awaiting her approval. “If I slap your face, common sense will return to you. Listen well well, because I will not repeat myself – Azeez Alafia, 10 years of age!” she was fuming. “Azeez Alafia, 10 years…” I repeated sheepishly. “Ehen, much better. Get me my camera, I want to take picture of you before we go.” The camera was right in front of her; she could have easily leaned forward and taken it herself, but I knew the slap I would receive if I suggested this so I made my way to the table. Picking the camera up and placing it in her hands, “good, stand somewhere so I can take this picture.” I quickly turned around and the set of drawers caught my eye, I made my way there. I placed my arm on top of the drawers so that my watch was on show, slipping my other hand into my pocket. Standing tall, I put on a half-smile. The camera flashes, I open my eyes and the plane has landed.
Never before had I seen so many white people except for on TV. Mum started chanting again but this time I listened more attentively, “God see us through, Jesus take the wheel. Fire burn my enemies. Lord, we need a breakthrough, thank you for getting us to London safely. Amen.” She took me by the hand as we waited in the line. When we got to the front mum had our green books ready. The two white men asked mum a dozen questions, the knot in my stomach tightened in anticipation but they did not even say a word to me. We remained with them for some time before they returned our books and let us go. As we waited for our luggage to come around, mum grabbed a suitcase, looked at it carefully but then put it back when realising it wasn’t ours. The next two items of luggage that came belonged to us. We made our way to the exit and mum’s face widened with a grin; I couldn’t tell why she was smiling so hard. She hurried me along with her pace quickening. My feet were aching and I wanted to sit but I had no say. When we got outside she leapt into the arms of a tall skinny dark man, her lips touched his. There were two kids by his side, a boy and a girl – both looked a little older than I was. The family looked familiar; I tried to remember why I felt like I had seen their faces before. When mum let go of the man she turned to me, “ah-ah, won’t you come and greet your dad and siblings?”
It came back to me that I had once seen their faces in an old photograph but this was my first memory of meeting them in the flesh. I had so many questions; I asked my brother Ayo and sister Eni plenty as they showed me around my new home. Mum and dad were upstairs in one of the bedrooms. The house was smaller but cleaner than where I was used to living in back in Nigeria. Eni was warm towards me, giving me biscuits, constantly checking that I was okay. Ayo was more distant but he was just so cool! His hair was wavy from the S-Curl Wave pomade, he dressed fashionably and talked with so much confidence; he was the big brother I always wanted. At first, it felt like a weird dream, although it wasn’t long before that changed. Loud footsteps came down the stairs; dad entered and started shouting, “this place is so dirty!” Ayo got up right away to get the dustpan and brush from the kitchen. Eni adjusted the cushions on the sofa and took the plate I ate my biscuits on to the sink. Dad began removing the belt from his trousers as mum came down in her wrapper. She looked confused, “what is going on?” Dad ignored her whilst addressing me, “so you will just stand there and be doing nothing? Are you stupid? You will learn a big lesson today!” He charged at me, mum stretched out her hands to protect me, but he pushed her to the floor and whacked me across the face. From that day, I learned my dad was a man that would not be afraid to use his fists over the smallest of things. The beatings happened frequently, I did my best to keep away from him when he was in the house, we all did.
I do not know the ins and the outs because Eni and Ayo would take me to our bedroom when mum and dad would argue before he beat her. Eni would tell me stories until I fell asleep but Ayo grew increasingly distant, after a while he moved out. Dad was going out more frequently; he would come home late in the night when I was already asleep. I heard them arguing one morning before school, mum was complaining that he smelt of alcohol and women’s perfume, she accused him of cheating and the bloody fights continued. One day dad left the house and didn’t return. Maybe mum told him to leave or perhaps he left on his own accord, that discussion was never had with me. All I knew is that my head was all over the place, I was glad to see him gone but beneath that was a constant fear that this joy would be short lived. I kept on thinking I would see him again when I came home from school in the evening, but eventually the smell of his cologne was replaced with mums signature pot of jollof rice which she cooked every Sunday. A university in Edinburgh gave Eni a place on the medical course she applied for; she didn’t want to leave us but because of the distance she had no choice but to live on campus.
Now that I had no father figure present, I became the man of the house because Ayo hardly visited. I made sure there was always bread and milk in the fridge and I would massage mum’s aching back in the evenings. I would go out on the Hoxton estate with a few of my mates, put a scarf over my face and pull my hood up when I snatched mobile phones, handbags and wallets. I had no one to answer to because mum was always working late. I made sure she did not need to worry about giving me pocket money with all the bills she had to pay on her own. I’d party every weekend and bring a range of girls home in her absence. It was in this period that I met my namesake – Abiola; she used to come over and cook for me. I enjoyed the attention she showed me; it wasn’t long before I stopped using a condom with her. The safety net of getting the morning after pill made me careless when it came to the moment I had to pull out. I was only half shocked when she told me she was pregnant, I knew I was not ready to be a father but I was convinced we were having a boy – that would be easier at least. On the day I found out I was having my own princess, I vowed I would do my utmost best at being a father. I made myself a promise that I would never be like him.
Edited by EzraLoves
Twitter – @delewrites