You know you are in trouble when you hear your Nigerian mother’s voice from four houses away, shouting your name in full, at the top of her lungs, including the ancestral names that your great grand ma who didn’t live to meet you left you as though it were inheritance money. You realize you may be having a funny dream, because you live in London, and your mother lives in Akure, in the top floor of a two storey building, your father’s only meaningful possession before he passed away two years before. You have not seen her in almost a year, after she forced you to come home before Christmas to attend her sister’s husband’s cousin’s child’s wedding and even made you wear the aso ebi. “It is a family wedding she insisted.”
You did not buy her any ticket to London, not since her last visit more than a year ago, when she had changed her return ticket twice and told immigration that she was worried about catching Ebola if she returned home too quickly. She had been an absolute pain in your neck the entire time she was with you, being ridiculously loud and stoning the neighbour’s honey coloured chinook dog whenever it came near her even after your firm reminder to her that she was not in her village. But you were glad about the fresh food she made you everyday she was around and you missed her moin moin with seven lives after she left, wrapped delicately in green banana leaves, not the nylon or foil paper type. You didn’t miss her as much though, her signature smell of menthol and deep heat hovered around your house like a spirit, long after you ate the last of the moin moin she kept in the freezer for you.
Your siblings didn’t buy her a ticket either. Maybe your older brother. The one who works in Shell and has extra money to spare every time, making the rest of you look like peasants. But you are sure he didn’t. He would have told you. Besides, his wife wouldn’t let him. She has warned him about spending frivolously on extended family and reminds him often how their children’s USDollar school fees is not cheap, and how the exchange rate worsens daily, as though it is not him who writes the cheque and deposits it in the bank. Your mother does not like the fact that his wife decides when and how she gets money from her son. It is a serious issue; so serious your mother thinks she has put something in his vegetable soup so that she can control him with remote. You warn her not to get involved in their family matter, but this is a huge mistake on your part, because since you mentioned family, she will remind you that you are yet to give her grand children, yet to have a family of your own.
“When will you settle down?” “What are you doing in that London?” “You need to settle down” You don’t feel unsettled, you know that settling down has nothing to do with getting married and popping out kids that look well behaved in family portraits, but you give her a good answer, an answer you know will settle her. You tell her soon. You raise her hopes, slightly, but not too much, you tell her there’s a guy on ground, so she can stop bothering you. She smiles, an ear to ear smile, a mother of the bride type of smile, then breaks into song, and a sequence dance, mocking her enemies, dance… revealing to them that their evil plan of unmarriedness over her daughter has failed, dance dance, and casting them into an imaginary lake of fire, dance dance dance. She wishes your father were still alive to meet this handsome young fellow who wants to marry you, to ask him tough questions. Tough questions because some random guy cannot come from no where to whisk his British schooled, Masters degree holding, investment banker of a daughter away without tough questions.
What you do not tell her is that handsome young fellow is younger than young. Definitely not young in the sense that she would be comfortable with. Handsome younger than young fellow is nine years younger than you and is a Polish immigrant working three times a week in a hotel in Bayswater. You met one day in a McDonald’s at Paddington station. He was behind you on the queue, you were buying a Bacon clubhouse burger and strawberry sundae, then you stepped on him while rumbling through your purse looking for a 50p coin you were certain you had to complete your payment. You were terribly embarrassed you kept apologizing, but not as embarrassed as when he later walked up to your seat and casually but curteously leaned into you, the way you lean in to whisper quick gossip to your friend, and he surprisingly asked for your number, as though it was routine to ask for the number of the person who just crushed your big toe. No guy had asked for your number in about two years, so you gave him. But you told yourself you gave him out of pity, for stepping on him. You wrote it quickly, on the box that contained his big mac, in the white inner flap of the cover, carefully avoiding the part that was starting to seep with oil. It felt first like an autograph, the half hearted writing that celebrities have to do over and over again while force-faking a smile. But after you saw each other everyday for the next two weeks, things moved on to being serious, he started leaving you notes on takeout boxes and tissue. McDonalds today, Starbucks tomorrow, Pret A Manger the next. You did too, not immediately, but you caught on, and it became a thing, your signature thing. The type of thing that could potentially become a family inside joke in years to come.
“Did you know your grandpa and I took tissue from cafe’s and restaurants back in the day and left sweet little notes on them?” Then your grandchild, seven year old and missing two front teeth would giggle, her teenage brother would say your love life is on fleek, only he won’t use fleek, he would use language that needs explaining to you.
But you can’t think too much of kids and grandkids now because you also do not tell your mother that handsome younger than young fellow now spends nights at your house. No, because God forbid that a 33 year old daughter of a deaconess and late church elder be caught fornicating. Fornicating is not your portion. You will not be put to shame like the choir master that was disgraced and sent out of church two years ago by your mother’s pastor after he confided in him that his wife had taken in. Taken in? You bounced the words back to your mother after she gave you the gist, hot, burning gist, and you wondered where such replacement word for pregnant came from.
Yet, you have toyed with the idea of getting pregnant and having a mixed race baby, perhaps a baby will keep your mother occupied for a while, right after she has judged you for sinning against God but maintaining that children whether in or out of wedlock are a gift from Him. You think you’ll be a good mother, a great one in fact, like those ones who have it all together even in grocery stores. The ones that say don’t touch that, firmly to their toddler while staring intently at the two for price of one pack of salmon, and the toddler refrains immediately from touching, almost like a controlled robot. You know also that if you ever move back to Nigeria, for any reason, people would be a lot nicer to you because of your trophy child. They would still wonder how you let a white man climb you, but they would love your child. They would call her tomato baby because of her pulpy skin, and delicate palm, or oyinbo pepper, seeing that her beauty is eye watering. If she gets into fights with other kids, she can never be at fault. Tomato children are too delicate to be at fault.
You are not sure you want to get married, but where you come from, marriage is a victorious thing. It even ranks before buying your first car. You can get a degree later, even PhD, and begin a successful business. But why are you starting a business with no husband to wait for at home? Who will you cook for and have (boring) sex with when you are done with your Phd? Whose name will people respect you for? The other time you were in Lagos and a man bashed your brother’s car you had borrowed for your short stay only to come out and tell you to give him your husband’s phone number so he could explain the situation to him. You spoke angrily, called him ignorant and foolish but in the end you swallowed your pride and called your brother, explained to him how the unruly man had settled the policemen who showed up and wasn’t going to the station. Then he sent a mechanic to meet you up, and you took a cab to your hotel room, and stayed mad for the rest of your time in Nigeria, more sure of the fact that you were never going to marry a Nigerian man.
You have weighed the matter well, and next month, during your Christmas visit to Nigeria, you plan on telling your mother that perhaps maybe marriage isn’t for you. This idea of living with someone forever will destroy your fiercely independent self. She will be heartbroken. She’ll ask what you did to handsome young fellow that made him end the blossoming relationship. And you would lie and tell her that he was married with kids and you did not know. What you do not know truly is that in a few days, your period would not come and you would be sick and vomiting. You would have to cancel your Christmas travel and take many days off work. Your colleagues would email you to get well and stay warm because of the flu, and you would be unable to reply because your flu is not flu.
What needs addressing now though is this furious knocking on your door, and the fact that someone is indeed shouting your name.