The inside of the car smelled like Vaseline and five different types of Avon deodorant. The heat of the early September sun, beating down on the car with a fiery vengeance, had managed to successfully evaporate the artificial fragrance of the deodorants, leaving behind a cacophony of odors that threatened to give Liz a headache.
She didn’t understand why Mummy insisted on Kathy and Lola coming along for every school drop off even though Mummy knew that she hated it. Especially when Mummy knew that she hated it.
It wasn’t like Kathy and Lola were not old enough to stay in the house by themselves. After all, they were old enough to have crushes, paint their lips with colored lip gloss, and use long hair attachments that snaked down their back and swished from side to side.
Mummy would have killed her, resurrected her, and killed her again, if she had attempted half the things that Kathy and Lola now got away with. Lola, the most boisterous of her eight-year-old sisters, already had a boyfriend, a fact that she boasted about to everyone who would listen.
Even Sister Janey doesn’t have a boyfriend, she would proclaim loudly after telling the “romantic” tale of how her nine-year-old amour had plucked a red hibiscus flower from one of the shrubs by the gate of their primary school and insisted that she become his girlfriend. The first time Liz had heard that story, she had just returned home for the painfully short two-week Easter holiday. As soon as she and Janey had set down their school boxes in the room they shared, Kathy and Lola had pounced on them, filling their ears with all that had happened while they were away.
Oh, did they know that Mummy Ini was now pregnant with her fourth child? She had promised Lola that she would name the baby after her if it was a girl. Uncle Olu from the boys' quarters was moving out next week because he finished building his new house in Alakia. Oh, and Aunty Blessing from Sunday School said that Kathy had a follow-follow spirit. Mummy was not very happy about that but she didn't say anything because Pastor was there. Oh, did they also know that Lola now had a boyfriend?
Liz and Janey had shared an alarmed look because surely the mother that almost disowned Liz over the Tito incident did not know her youngest child had a boyfriend. But Mummy knew. Oh, she knew.
You know how Lola is, she said with a dismissive wave. We will not hear word in this house if I tell her not to have a boyfriend. Besides, they are only eight years old. What do they know?
I was only seven! Liz wanted to scream in response, but she kept quiet, just as she did when Mummy said Kathy and Lola were coming with them to Christ Mercy. What else could she do?
It wasn’t just that Kathy and Lola were, for sure, going to embarrass them the second they arrived in school. It was that she and Janey were practically in each other’s laps for the whole fifty minute ride from their house in New Bodija to Tollgate, a route filled with more potholes than road tar.
The car ran into a rather large pothole just then, and Janey’s shoulder bumped into hers painfully. Janey flashed her a glance that was at once apologetic and frustrated, and Liz felt vindicated. If Janey, the patron saint of kindness, was also irritated by the presence of Kathy and Lola in the car, maybe she wasn’t doing too much.
Thankfully, that rather large pothole was a signal that they were only a few minutes away from the slightly faded yellow archway that welcomed visitors to Christ Mercy. Where your child is always welcome. Those few minutes could not pass fast enough.
Janey yawned, and Liz could smell the eba and egusi they had had for lunch on her breath...that was how close they were sitting. It didn’t help that Mummy absolutely refused to allow Daddy to increase the air conditioning past the second dial turn.
A fuel scarcity is coming, she predicted in her Mummy omniscience. Mummy Obalende’s sister’s brother-in-law works in NNPC and she told me on Sunday.
“You can at least try and hide your happiness that we are about to get to school,” Janey whispered with a knowing smile.
Liz scoffed playfully, “Why would I do that? Shouldn’t I be happy to go to school? You know, women weren’t allowed to go to school when Daddy was growing up. So, please oh, let me be happy.”
Janey merely shook her head and looked away.
“Sisi Lizzie,” Lola started, and Liz winced. She hated being called Lizzie, had hated it since the Tito incident, but that didn’t really matter to Lola, or anyone else in the Bello family, except Janey and sometimes, maybe, Daddy.
“I heard Deacon Omarosa telling Sister Comfort in church today that the son of one senator is coming to Christ Mercy this term. Did you know about that?”
Liz eyed Lola with impatience, “you are always hearing something, Lola. You, that you are supposed to be in the children's department...how did you hear what they were saying?”
Lola rolled her eyes and kissed her teeth loudly, “Is it not when they came to see Aunty Bolaji in children’s department that I heard it? If you don’t know, just say you don’t know.”
Lola irritated Liz’s soul because she knew, just knew, always knew, exactly what to say to get under Liz’s skin. It didn’t help that the car was hotter than the ogi Grandma liked to drink on a cold harmattan morning. “I know it’s not me that you’re talking to like that, you this tiny ting. I will ssslap you, you will urinate yourself.”
Janey laid a calming hand on Liz’s shoulder just as Lola wailed, “Mummy, Sisi Lizzie said she will slap me!”
“Lizzie, don’t slap your sister,” came Mummy’s disinterested voice from the front of the car.
Lola stuck her tongue out at her and Liz rolled her eyes and looked out the window, just as their car rolled under Christ Mercy International High School archway. The rusted red gates were ajar, as was typical on Resumption Day, and though the windows of the car were up, Liz was sure she could smell the clean scent of the red Ixora flower shrubs that lined the driveway. There had once been talk of landscaping those shrubs to spell out the school name and Liz had been wildly against it. Not because she particularly cared about gardening, but because she thought nature was at its most beautiful when it was allowed to do its thing.
Of course, Janey was right. She loved being in school. Christ Mercy was her personal kingdom. In Christ Mercy, she wasn’t just one of the Bello girls. She was just Liz, or Bell, a nickname Mary, her schooldaughter, was very proud of coming up with. Not that it was a particularly inspired nickname, but that was Mary. A lovable Mrs Obvious.
As Daddy steadily navigated their 2004 Honda Odyssey through the haphazardly packed cars on the vast multipurpose field, Liz could already see three of her classmates arguing with their parents about something. Liz knew that was about to be her in five minutes when Mummy decided that she knew the layout of the school better than Liz and Janey who lived there nine months of the year.
God, give me patience.
It was a perfunctory prayer, she knew. She had no desire or intention of being patient with Mummy, especially when she became Outside-Mummy. Outside-Mummy spoke full, unbroken, Queen’s English. Outside-Mummy had a patronizing “don’t mind her” at the tip of her tongue, ready to whip it out as soon as she detected a whiff of friction between Liz and any of the teachers assigned to check-in.
Elizabeth, you don’t have a bathing bar soap in your toiletries. You know that it is required.
Don’t mind her oh, my dear sister. I told her when we went to the market.
Mummy never “told” her. She “trusted” Liz and Janey to know what they needed for school, but Outside-Mummy had amnesia.
“Lizzie and Janey, do you have everything on your list?” Mummy called from the front just as Daddy pulled the car to a halt. “I don’t want your teachers to be looking at me like I’m a bad mother.”
“Sisi Lizzie, Mummy is talking to you,” Kathy supplied helpfully.
“Don’t mind her. Let her continue behaving as if there is cotton wool in her ears.”
Ah, the emergence of Outside-Mummy. Also, why wasn't there cotton wool in Janey’s ears, too?