Things changed after Bunmi’s demise; that was the story. At the beginning of the previous month, neither Dayo nor Tolu would have thought they would lose something. Not even Bunmi, their daughter, would have thought that she would be sleeping on the Lord’s bosom, as the pastor had said when he was comforting her parent, instead of sitting on her favourite dining chair, lapping her breakfast up amidst chuckles.
Bunmi’s soul had been harvested together with the first half of the month. That morning–Dayo kept telling himself and everyone who cared to listen–was worse than insurgents launching an attack on a village at dawn, catching villagers who are still basking in the comfort of their beds by surprise.
He remembered Tolu’s frenzied screams as they both shook their daughter, who didn’t move.
“She must be joking!” Tolu had shouted. “If she thinks that we bought this bed for her to die on it, she must be joking!”
Dayo was confused. He couldn’t explain what was happening. He didn’t even understand. He just kept tapping Bunmi whose face remained peacefully.
“Tell me who the fuck does this rubbish this girl is doing? Who greets her parents goodnight, to die in her sleep the next morning? Who?!” Tolu screamed again.
Immediately the word ‘die’ left Tolu’s mouth the second time, something changed between them. Tolu realized that she had accepted the reality right there, Dayo on the other began to hide from it, confusion still clouding his reasoning.
Tolu, embracing the reality, had called Pastor.
“Papa, you need to come to see what Bunmi has done,” she screamed into the phone and ended the call.
Dayo, in his confusion, started to roam on Google. He wanted to type ‘how do people die in their sleep’, but he wanted to avoid the word ‘die’. Later, he thought of typing, ‘how to know when a child wants to leave earth’, to know if Bunmi had shown any sign of dying, which he didn’t notice. On typing ‘how to’, Google displayed lots of search results like ‘how to make money online’, ‘how to make money as a Yahoo boy’ etc. He was contemplating tapping on one of them to amuse himself when he was interrupted by Pastor and his wife who barged into the room.
“There she is,” Tolu pointed at Bunmi on the bed, “Tell her to get up.”
Pastor chuckled sadly and shook his head. “That’s not possible sister Tolu-”
“And why is that?” she snapped, interrupting him, “Jairus’s daughter rose from the dead, why should mine not?” she quizzed.
Pastor cleared his throat and picked his words carefully.
“Because, people have different destinies, and I am not Jesus.”
“Oh, you mean, Bunmi is destined to die?”
“Look, I can feel your pain mama Bunmi-”
“No!” Tolu let out an eerie scream. “Don’t call me that, don’t call me the mama of this wicked girl, just answer my question!”
Tolu’s veins bulged out of her forehead and neck, the hair on her body stood on their ends, and she vibrated from inside. Dayo, who had been standing aside, watching their conversation, ran to hold her back from hitting the pastor as she began to flail her arms about. She broke free and ran out of the room.
After Bunmi’s funeral, silence became the garment that both husband and wife wore. It settled on every part of their home like harmattan dust on flat surfaces. Tolu had insisted that no one should visit to mourn their daughter’s demise.
“Nobody should mourn in my house,” she’d told her husband when visitors started to trickle in.
Only her mother-in-law and her daughters visited once, to sing the ‘olomo kan o kuro l’agan’ song – which they always sang in high pitched voices – with their eyes while they told her to take heart. It seemed the song had changed to olomo kan ti d’agan, because their eyes held the ‘I told you so’ look. She couldn’t even tell, her eyes were glued to the television screen. When they were done, her mother-in-law, flanked by her daughters, stood and stared down at her, giving her a why-are-you-dressed-like-nothing-happened look, which Tolu returned with a mind-your-business look. The woman left in anger with her daughters, muttering something about how a woman who could be best compared to a masculine pawpaw tree had charmed her son.
* * * *
Dayo thought he was dreaming. No, he was sure that he wasn’t. He had just seen Bunmi. He rubbed his eyes to be sure of what he saw. She was floating in the air and buzzing, like a bee. She screamed ‘daddy’ and waved before she zoomed away.
“Bunmi!” Dayo screamed after her. “Come back to us,” his voice broke, “you’re the only one we’ve got on earth.” Somehow, Dayo became hopeful that Bunmi didn’t die, she was just lurking somewhere around the house. He ran to Tolu who was cleaning the house so hard to remove every trace of Bunmi.
“Dear, I just saw Bunmi!” he shouted gleefully.
“Who?” Tolu asked, sizing him up with disdain.
“Our daughter,” he said.
“We. Us. You and I. Me and you,” he responded as irritation started to build up in his eyes.
Tolu clapped her hands. “You must be on some real cheap crack.”
“What? When did you start saying these things, ehn? Is this the woman I married?”
“Of course not. Which woman remains the same after five stillbirths and a wicked sixth child who repaid hard labour with death and poor hope?” she paused. “Please, just shut the fuck up,” she went back to her washing.
Dayo saw Bunmi twice more, in the kitchen and front of her room. He tried to tell Tolu, who never let him finish any sentence that had Bunmi in it before telling him to ‘shut the fuck up’.
* * * *
The whistling of the kettle poked through the thick silence that hanged between Dayo and his wife and filtered into the sitting room, where it jolted him to his feet.
“That must be the water boiling,” he told Tolu, his wife, who merely nodded and continued to trace and connect the edges of all the objects in their living room.
The kettle was beginning to rumble when Tayo made it to the kitchen. His stomach roared too, reminding him of its need. He turned the cooker off, and kettle’s noises dissolved into curls of steams that played over the boiled water as he poured some of it out into a pot. He scooped some tablespoonfuls of Quaker Oats into it and stirred. Oats was his and Bunmi’s favourite breakfast, and they’ve both won the war against Tolu a long time ago on whether to eat Oats or Sandwiches for breakfast.
“Dear, oats is proteinous–” he once told Tolu, as she complained while he served.
“Yes mummy, protein will build your body and you will become big, like this,” Bunmi had cut in, stretching her arms wide, while her eyes raved over mother’s slender body.
He hadn’t tasted oats for a month, and he wondered what it would taste like without Bunmi at the breakfast table. Oh! She may decide to come over today, he thought aloud, “maybe,” he said louder, as he served oats into three enamel bowls.
“Who were you talking to?” Tolu asked as she pulled out a chair. Her voice jolted Dayo to reality.
“N-nothing, I mean, no one,” he stammered and settled on the chair beside hers. He was grateful that she didn’t probe further.
He closed his eyes and prayed briefly, only to find Tolu questioning him with a stare.
“What?” he asked.
“Why are there three bowls here?” she turned her stare to the third bowl, “who is the third person?”
“Don’t explain!” Tolu stood up, kicked her chair away and marched out of the room. The silence returned, this time, it poked Dayo, and its graveness filtered into him. He looked at the third bowl on the dining table.
“I wanted to say Bunmi,” he said in a strangled voice.
* * * *
Dayo stood aside as he watched Tolu tossed some clothes in a leather box. He didn’t try to stop her, he only hummed to the song she was singing. When she was done, she picked some books on her shelf, threw them in the bag and zipped it up.
“You aren’t serious about leaving, are you?” Dayo asked.
“No, I’m not, this is just a drama rehearsal,” she replied, sarcasm dancing in her tone.
Dayo sighed deeply. “I know you’re angry,” he started, “I read that it’s one of the steps to griefing-”
“Enough,” Tolu raised her right hand to silence him.
“No, je ki n soro,” he objected firmly. “You’re angry at your daughter, our Bunmi,” he emphasized ‘your’ so much that Tolu’s lips began to quiver, while tears gathered in her eyes. “Please don’t,” she whispered weakly.
“We have to talk, and you know it,” he moved closer and took her hands in his, “we’re both hurt, we’re bearing the same loss,” he said as he led her to sit on the bed. “I don’t even know what I’m feeling, I don’t know if this feeling is called grief, it feels like I’m Bunmi too like we’re one person.” He paused and regarded her for a second. “And you, you’ve been angry.”
“Really?” Tolu chuckled and pulled one hand away from his grip to smoothen a lone strand of grey hair.
“Yes.” He drove his hand through his hair. “You haven’t shed a tear since Bunmi’s death. It’s okay to cry, I know you’re angry with her, but it’s not her fault. Is it?” He raised her chin and looked into her eyes searchingly. “Look, we can fix this, you don’t have to leave.”
Tolu snatched her chin from his hands. “I’ve been crying, inside. Do our people not say that the most painful tears are the ones that no one can see.”
She stood up abruptly and made to leave. Dayo blocked her path.
“I have to leave,” she said firmly.
“No, you don’t. You’re just too angry-”
“Hold it. Yes, I’m angry. It’s been hard to say with you or her, or both of you, but since you’ve made it clear that you both are one, it’s easy to say you.”
“Yes, you. You shattered my dreams, not Bunmi, I’m angry with you for that, and at myself for letting you do that.”
“How, you know I love you-”
“Hold it right there. You loved me, or you think you love me. When our third child died at birth, I remember telling you to forget kids if you wanted our marriage to last. I remember going back to my father’s house when you didn’t stop pestering me to get pregnant again. I remember how you knocked on my father’s door and refused to go home without me until I conceded. Again, I refused to have more children but you persuaded me, and we had the fourth and fifth stillborns until Bunmi came along, and you both disappeared into each other. I lost you, along with her, with a part of me. I thought you loved me so much, that you would come pleading again when I returned to my father’s house after that fight with your mother, but you simply sent words to my father that I should return your daughter. Then, your mother started coming here daily to breathe my back down to have another child, you simply told me to try more. Now, the daughter is gone, and we barely know each other anymore-”
“Were you jealous?” he picked his words carefully.
“Of who?” she burst into laughter and shoved him away.
“Where are you going?” he regained his balance and went after her. “Don’t you think we should try to find each other again?” he questioned as Tolu started to drag her leather box out of the room.
“I’m going to my father’s mother. Only she can comfort me, we’re victims of the same circumstance; mothers of dead children. Only she deserves to see me weep. You, too, go back to your mother. And no, I don’t want to find you, ever again.” She looked around the room, “I’ll come back for the rest of my things, my books, I know your mother will come here to burn things, like she did when your brother’s wife left, tell her not burn my books, or else, she’ll die by fire. Goodbye.”
Dayo listened to the heels of her slippers as they slapped against the staircases.
“It’s not my fault, I swear,” he muttered, as he parted the curtains just in time to see Bunmi zip past.
“Bunmi!” He screamed until he lost his voice.
About The Author: Foyin Ejilola is a student of English and Literature at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She’s an avid reader who finds home in the arms of old songs and Semo.
Handles: Twitter – @Foyinsaye, Instagram – @foyinsaye
Blog link: https://foyinejilola.disha.page/