Anike’s heart beat wildly against her chest, threatening to burst out. She got down from the motorcycle and paid the man. An agbero was instantly beside her breathing liquor into her face.
‘Na where you dey go?’ he asked in Yoruba.
‘Where your load make I help you carry.’ He was hoping to make a little money by helping her carry her load.
‘No load.’ Anike told him.
The disappointed agbero then directed her towards the Ibadan bus. Anike boarded the bus while waving away bread hawkers who insisted on selling her their wares. One even dropped a large loaf of bread in Anike’s lap and left without saying a word. Anike shouted after the woman that she wasn’t buying but the woman had disappeared. She looked helplessly at the woman carrying a baby beside her who told her not to worry; she will come back for her bread. She was just trying to press Anike into buying it.
True enough, the woman came back after a few minutes complaining about young people who didn’t know they had to buy bread for the people at home. If not for her agitated state, Anike would have laughed. She glanced nervously through the window every minute, afraid that someone might come looking for her. After what seemed like hours, the bus was filled and the driver drove off. Anike bowed her head and said a quick prayer. She was seating in the back row of the bus.
The woman and her baby sat to her left while a venerable looking man sat to her right. She thought the man looked very much like a pastor and as if to confirm her suspicions, the man hailed everybody in the bus and proceeded to preach the gospel. Someone in front of her groaned but she didn’t mind. In fact, Anike was grateful for the sound of the pastor’s voice. It gave her something else to concentrate on apart from her inner turmoil. She glanced back a number of times as if to make sure she has not been followed.
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Minute after minute, the pastor droned on and Anike’s thoughts slowly turned inwards. She prayed she could still remember her grandparent’s house. The last time she was there was three years ago. In fact, his uncle had come to pick her from her grandparent’s the day he took her to live with him in Lagos. They lived at Akobo, just behind one secondary school whose name she couldn’t quite remember. She was sure she could remember the directions to the house though. All will be well, she thought, once she saw her grandparents. Surely, they wouldn’t push her out. They doted on her a lot and she loved them just as much.
Anike alighted at the Iwo road motor park in Ibadan and stretched her limbs. Free at last, she thought. She had had the good sense to ask the woman with the baby about how to get to Akobo. Luckily for her, the woman was also going to that neighbourhood so they boarded the same taxi. When the taxi got to Alegongo bus stop, Anike recognized it instantly. She thanked the woman and alighted. She made a conscious effort to calm her wildly beating heart. It was excitement this time rather than nerves that made her heart ache so. She could see the house from the road since the road was higher than the land surrounding it. Anike broke into a run, going through the compound of the school. She almost ran into a man carrying several books, a teacher by the looks of him. She hastily apologized and continued on her way. Before long, she was at the gate of her grandparent’s house.
The house is exactly as it was, Anike thought. She knocked on the gate and a voice answered her.
‘Who is there?’ The voice asked in Yoruba.
‘It is I,’ she answered, ‘Anike.’
The gate creaked open and an elderly man put his head and a foot out. He looked at Anike with a frown .
‘Who are you looking for?’ he asked.
‘The people who live here, my grandparents.’
The man’s frown deepened. He opened the gate wider and told her to come in. He entered the little house by the gate and brought out a plastic chair. He placed it beside the one that was already there under the shade of a mango tree. He sat down slowly and motioned Anike to do the same. She obeyed with a questioning look. She wondered why the man was acting so strange but didn’t say anything. The gateman took a moment to study the young lady’s face before he talked.
‘Where are you coming from?’ he asked.
‘From my uncle’s place in Lagos,’ she replied. ‘Where is Mama and Papa?’
‘Your grandfather is dead,’ the man replied with a straggled voice. ‘He died three years ago and your grandmother has been at the hospital ever since.’
Anike’s hand flew to her mouth to suppress the scream that emanated from her. She couldn’t believe what she had just been told. Her grandfather couldn’t have died three years ago because that was exactly when she left. When she pointed this out to the man, he asked her what month she left.
‘I left in April or May.’ Anike told him.
‘It must have happened just after you left then. I got this job in late May and was told that the owner had just died and the wife had to be moved to the hospital for round-the-clock care.
Anike started weeping. She grieved for her grandfather’s death, her grandmother’s illness and her own ill luck. Why was all this happening to her? she asked herself as silent sobs racked her slim body. The gateman watched her for a while. He had no idea how to offer her comfort. He felt deeply for her but couldn’t quite work up the words to offer her succour. In the end, he simply got up, laid a hand on her shoulder and went into his little cubicle.
An hour later, Anike walked into the reception of Royal Sceptre Hospital. She had cried for a good thirty minutes before the gateman had kindly given a description to this place. She was going to see her grandmother. After making enquiries at the receptionist’s desk, she was led to another wing of the hospital by a nurse. This area housed the permanent residents and the long term patients of the hospital. She saw her grandmother immediately her escort opened the door to the room. She was sat on a straight backed chair facing the entrance. She still looked her old self except she had aged about ten years. She had the same angelic face, with shocking white hair framing it. Anike rushed to embrace her. Anike felt such joy she could have burst into a song. After a moment, the old woman gently disentangled herself from Anike’s hug. She looked closely at girl’s face before she spoke.
‘Young lady, do I know you?’ she asked.
Anike smiled. Surely, her grandmother couldn’t have forgotten who she was. ‘I’m Anike, your granddaughter.’
Mama smiled benignly. ‘But I don’t have a granddaughter,’ her smile turned rueful before she added, ‘I only had a daughter who died.’
‘Yes Mama. Your daughter who died, I’m her daughter. You remember me, don’t you?’ Anike asked, looking into Mama’s eyes but the older woman’s face was now like a mask. Her teeth were set and her eyes had narrowed into slits.
‘Take this person away from me,’ she screamed at the nurse that brought Anike, ‘I don’t know her and I have no granddaughter!’
To be continued…