“Hello, how are you today, sir?” I heard my little girl, Cynthia ask a passerby. “I am ne, Cynthia, thanks!” A husky old voice replied. Cynthia was perched on the balcony, hollering at passersby as she often did on weekends. I listened in as I worked away in the kitchen, making moi-moi and jollof rice, her favorite. “Are you talking to that scary old man again, Cynthia?” Ifeoma, her younger sister asked. She had dashed from the bedroom to the living room and then onto the balcony. “He is not scary!!!” Cynthia admonished her emphatically.
“He is scary – look at the lines on his face. Can’t you see them? They…they make me scared when I look at him,” Ifeoma protested. “He is not scary!!! Why do you talk like that about my friend?” Cynthia hurled back at Ifeoma. “He is your friend?” Ifeoma asked somewhat sarcastically; perhaps skeptically. “Yes!” Cynthia replied, her voice riddled with passion. “I will punch your mouth if you call my friend scary again!” Cynthia threatened. Sensing that the passion was about to boil over, I walked to the balcony to break the rising tension.
“Okay girls, it is time to come help mommy in the kitchen,” I said politely, pretending I had not been aware of the brewing hullaballoo between them. Typical children; they quickly shelved their differences and followed me. “Are you making jollof rice, mom?” Ifeoma asked. “Yes, darling.” “And moi-moi?” Cynthia asked exuberantly.
“Yes, sweetheart.” “Yea!!!” The two of them echoed jubilantly. Ifeoma darted through the living room with excitement while Cynthia shuffled behind me, dragging her legs in a limp. Cynthia, who was eight at the time, had fallen when she was just four. Standing on the balcony, she became so excited on sighting an older woman walk by. In her excitement, she wanted to reach out and hug her…hold her. So, she ran down the steps to meet her, but she tumbled over, breaking her right leg.
I was shattered. Doctors did their best, but she ended up with a limp that made her somewhat slow. She was not the type to complain though. Cynthia played football with boys and even beat them up at times. She played hard on the street and barely ever talked about her limp. In fact, the only time I ever saw my little girl complain was when her father, my husband passed away, some two years back. She had been very close to her father, so she would lock herself in the room and cry for hours on end, refusing to go to school or to eat. Ifeoma and I cried ourselves silly, in part for my deceased husband whom we missed terribly and in part for Cynthia who took our loss the hardest. One morning, Cynthia had locked the room while I was bathing Ifeoma. When we emerged from the bathroom, I could hear her sobbing in the bedroom. I tried every trick in the books in an effort to coax her to open the door, but my pleas fell on deaf ears.
Then, I sat on the couch in the living room sobbing my heart out, while Ifeoma sat on bare floor with tears oozing down her young tender face. I could not help but think that life had dealt me a horrible hand. I managed to lift Ifeoma onto my body, wrapped my arms around her as we both sobbed uncontrollably. Then, I heard that husky, old voice outside shouting “Is my friend around today?” It was one of the old men that Cynthia would normally chat up in the morning as they walked to Mama Ogechi’s akara stand to buy some hot freshly made akara balls. Hobbling along, he shouted with every might in him.
“Is Cynthia there?” Like a thunderbolt, Cynthia bolted out of the room she shared with Ifeoma, unlocking the door anxiously. Dragging herself, she rushed onto the balcony. The old man who lived a few blocks from us had not been seen in a few days, so Cynthia was eager to make up lost time. “I am here, sir,” she said exuberantly, briskly wiping tears off her face. “Where have you been? I have not seen you in some days?” she asked him eagerly.
“I travelled to the village to check on things down there. My son took me home for a while,” the husky old voice replied. Ifeoma and I remained quiet, wiping tears off our faces as we listened to the exchange between Cynthia and the old man. We were relieved to see Cynthia chatting again. “And you did not tell me you were going to be away?” Cynthia demanded. You would have thought the old man was her subordinate. “I walked past here the day before I travelled, but you were not anywhere to be seen, so I walked by.”
“You could have shouted my name. I have been looking for you? You know…you know I…I lost my dad, maybe I was inside crying. I wish you could have stopped by to…to console me,” Cynthia protested. “How are you holding up my little girl?” The old man’s voice was closer by now. He was right on the edge of our balcony from the sound of his voice.
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