Ten days after your mother dies, you take off the black abaya you’ve been wearing since her funeral and transfer some of your already folded clothes from the drawer to a backpack which you put into the trunk of your Toyota Highlander 2019 model. You check to make sure that your credit card is in the pocket of the jeans you’ve changed into, and then you get into the car. Your drive out of the compound onto the streets of Jos is heralded by a huge cloud of dust and the early morning cry of the muezzin as the Muslim faithful throng to the mosque for the morning prayers. You drive past the mosque and you remember the day your mother had called you to say, “My name is now Saratu” and you wonder if there is really something in that building, so strong, that could make you change your name from Mary to Maryam. You hope your stepsister had not heard you leave the house, and make a mental note to text her once you reach your destination. You hear Chile in your head, saying, “You’re just like your mother”. Those were his words some days before you left Abuja for Jos.
“How?”, you’d asked him.
He pointed to your boxes, two of them, heavy with clothes.
“Here I was, making plans for our future together and the only thing you know how to do well is fold clothes into a box”, he paused and looked around until his eyes landed on your camera, sitting pretty on the bed. He shook his head. “And then you add that camera of yours and say you’re a photojournalist who loves to capture nature. Really?”
“Really?”, you scream into the emptiness of your car and jam your foot against the accelerator.
“Really?!”, your voice clashes against the high-pitched horn of your car and becomes a jagged melody that tickles your ears. The only thing that had ever tickled your ears was your father’s laughter. You haven’t seen the man since you were twelve, so you continue to honk and scream, listening as the words clash against each other.
When you were five years old, you watched as your mother folded clothes, yours and hers, into a duffel bag, saying, “We have to get Uyo before evening”. You were sandwiched between her and the rider of the bike that took you to Ikot Ekpene plaza where you boarded a taxi to Uyo. Your father was there to welcome you when the taxi offloaded at Itam junction. You would now be living together as a family and he wouldn’t have to make those weekend trips to Ikot Ekpene anymore.
Your mother took the Boys’ Scouts’ motto personal. The day your father raised his hand and stopped midair, inches away from her face, your mother walked into the bedroom and rolled out her box. You were sitting at the dining table, trying to solve a maths assignment, when she told you to get your things because you guys were leaving. That was the last time you saw your father. That was also the last time you had an empty box.
You met Chike at the sendoff party that your department had organised for the graduating class. He asked to buy you a drink and you said there were too many things about yourself you were scared you’d reveal under the influence of alcohol. So, you drank Chapman instead and he talked about his role as a sales personnel at the retail company he worked for in Abuja. He asked a lot of questions, like if you were going to pursue a career path in the course you’d studied (Mass Communication) and if you had a boyfriend. You joked that this was why you’d said no to alcohol, and you asked if all the answers to his questions were lies and you said, “Only one. My dad isn’t dead, I just haven’t seen him in ages”. You gave him your number when he asked for it, because you knew you’d want to hear his voice again. When he called, few days later, asking to take you out on a proper date, you obliged. He was going to be in Uyo for only two weeks before returning to Abuja and the day before he left, you told him, “You’re my boyfriend.”
His eyes peered into yours and you said, by way of explanation, “I didn’t want you to jinx it by asking me to be your girlfriend. That way, we don’t have a particular day we began. We just are.”
“What about anniversaries?” he asked.
“We’ll figure it out.”
When you moved in with him after you got your first job at a tech company in Abuja, you told him how your mom moved to Jos when you went to boarding school because she’d wanted to go there for her NYSC but was posted to Lagos instead.
“A history of movement,” he commented thoughtfully.
“I’m here to stay, babe,” you heard yourself saying. Your mother got married to a Muslim and had a daughter, Jamila. You did not attend the wedding; you were trying to prove to yourself that you could stay in one location for up to three consecutive years. Then, one day, her husband called to tell you that she was sick and you realised that you did not even have to pack your box. It was already ready.
The day you left, Chike asked if you would come back and you said of course, that you had a job.
“You know what I mean,” he said. And you answered that you did not know. It was only your mother that could walk out of a house and not turn back to check if she’d locked the door.
Your foot collides with the brakes and your car screeches to a halt. You lean your head on the steering wheel and begin to sob because, today, you don’t know where you’re going.
Blossom Umoren is an experienced content writer specializing in creative and engaging storytelling.