Our Momsi calls my sisters, from the eldest to the youngest; Damola doesn’t answer; Temi doesn’t answer; Lara doesn’t answer; Ife doesn’t answer. “Ma?” I answer, putting aside the bucket of underwear I’m washing. I wipe my hands on Ife’s towel. It’s a Saturday morning, and I’ve just taken out my braids so my hair is a clump of curls and dandruff. I’m wearing an old pair of AC Milan jersey shorts and a thin, green top. “Omotayo!” Momsi calls again, from the kitchen. “Ma?” I walk through the living room, and into the kitchen where she is. “There’s someone at the gate,” she responds, shovelling a heap of pounded yam onto her index finger, and then eating it. “Go tell the gateman to let him in.”
I don’t have my slippers or my bra on, but I make the trek to the gate. The gateman scratches his butt and squints as I talk to him. His eyes travel down to the tip of my V-neck shirt.
“Please open the gate,” I say, pressing my arms against my chest. He nods. I go back to my room.
Temi is standing by the bunk bed in the corner of the room, and Lara is asleep on the top bunk. “Why didn’t you answer when Momsi called?” I ask. She says she didn’t hear. I ask if Temi has cleaned the windows like she was supposed to: “I finished cleaning the carpet in the living room, so you can use the duster if you want.” She says she’ll do it when Lara wakes up.
“Has she been sleeping since?” I ask. Lara is snoring loudly and dreadfully, like a diesel generator filled with hot water.
“You know she has malaria.” Temi responds.
“But the way she’s snoring…”
“Do you want to sleep? I can send her to Damola’s room.”
“I’m fine. Also, Damola is sleeping,” I answer. “She didn’t sleep at all last night after we sent Lara down.” Lara snorts and shakes the wooden bunk as she turns over.
“Has she taken her medicine?” I ask. Temi says yes, she has. And she has eaten. And her fever has broken. “Has Momsi come to see her?” I ask. Temi isn’t sure.
Momsi calls again. I don’t hear her, but Ife comes and tells me that Momsi is calling me. “Do you know what she wants?” I ask. “Maybe you didn’t arrange the living room properly.” Ife answers. I put on a bra and a pair of slippers, and head downstairs.
The four couches in the living room are arranged in a semicircle, with the carpet and the coffee table in the centre. The largest couch and a two-seater are adjacent the back wall, with the one-seaters angled away from the wall. There are side-tables by each couch. Momsi is sitting on the largest couch. A light-skinned man sits on the two-seater to her right. He’s young, and he’s wearing a gold agbada and too much cologne. There is a small pile of fabrics on the one-seater to Momsi’s left—the tailor has not yet come to pick them up. The inner curtains are opened, the backs of the couches are not touching the walls, and the TV remote controls are arranged on the coffee table in order of height—the living room is arranged well.
“Can we get you anything?” Momsi asks the scented man. He smiles: “No ma.” He runs his fingers through his beard, “I’ve just had brunch with a group of friends.” He speaks with a strong British accent and never pauses between his words. It takes Momsi a few seconds to respond. She says she won’t give him a lot, and that he would be hungry again before dinnertime if he doesn’t eat now. “You know my husband is Ijesa, so we eat a lot of pounded yam,” she says. “It is a delicacy in Ijesaland. And we have so much.” He politely declines. They go back and forth. “Go and bring some pounded yam,” Momsi eventually says to me.
By the time I return to the living room, there is an older man in the room on the two-seater with Ade. The older man’s feet hang awkwardly above the floor. He has kept a few tubers of new yam on the carpet. Popsi is sitting beside Momsi, his back sinking into the couch. He is wearing a t-shirt, khaki shorts and his FitFlops. The scented man picks up one of the yams and puts it on the carpet in front of Momsi and Popsi. He prostrates. The older man says, in Yoruba: “Mommy, Daddy, you see that my son is in love with your daughter, Damola.” He pushes himself forward so that the tips of his toes barely scratch the floor, “and we have come to you today like proper Yoruba men to tell you that my son is serious about his future with your daughter.” Popsi frowns.
“Have you talked to Damola about this?” Popsi asks the scented man.
“Yes, sir.” He pulls his head up slightly but hesitates and puts it down again, “I mean, no, sir”
Popsi looks at Momsi, who is now scrolling through her phone. She sees something and laughs at it.
“Eh, Tinuke?” Popsi says to her, “What do you think?”
“Tell him to stand up,” She responds, her gaze fixed on her phone screen. “If he really wants to
beg somebody, it’s Damola that he has to beg.”
The scented man gets up and sits down again.
“Mommy, Daddy, thank you,” the elderly man says. Popsi nods.
“So, young man.” Momsi clears her throat, “What did you say is your name?”
The scented man stammers. “Ade.”
Momsi and Popsi whisper to each other in Yoruba. The older man scratches his head. Momsi makes a face, shrugs, and continues to play with her phone.
“What is your full name, young man?” Popsi asks.
“Daddy, don’t mind him. His full name is Adedotun. Adedotun Adedeji Onadeko”
“Let the boy talk,” Popsi says.
Popsi asks the question again. Adedotun answers, and we can tell he doesn’t speak Yoruba. Momsi laughs at something she sees on her phone. Adedotun looks at his father. There is a long silence.
“Where is this child with the food?” Momsi asks, putting down her phone. “Eh ehn, Omotayo! Bring the food!”
I quietly carry the tray to the side-table near Adedotun. I kneel, open the coolers and serve the food. Popsi and Momsi speak to the elderly man. Adedotun makes small talk. He explains to me that he is a vegetarian. He isn’t yet used to spicy food, so he wants only two servings of eforiro with his pounded yam. He wants his Coca Cola lukewarm. He asks me about my school: where it is, what my favourite subject is, and what class I’m in. Then he asks me how old I am, and when I tell him I’m sixteen, he’s very surprised. He says I look much younger. I smile.
“So Adedotun,” Popsi says as Adedotun eats, “where are you from?”
The older man opens his mouth to speak but hesitates and then leans back into his chair.
“I’m from Birmingham, sir,” Adedotun responds.
“You are from Birmingham?” Popsi turns to the older man and speaks in Yoruba. “Isn’t he Yoruba?”
“Daddy don’t mind him,” the older man answers, “you know children that grow up abroad, they start to mix things up.” He turns to Adedotun, “he’s asking where you are from originally.”
Adedotun is from Oyo, Ibadan to be specific. No—he has never visited his village. Because he has only lived in Nigeria for a year now and has not yet found the time.
“This foreigner wants to come and take my daughter away,” Popsi jokes. The older man laughs.
Momsi asks Adedotun what he does for a living. Adedotun says he is a teacher at Adesoye College. Momsi says it’s a good school: Damola took the entrance exam when she was younger.
“Young man, I don’t want to hold you up for too long.” Popsi says. “Let me tell you what I feel in my spirit concerning this matter. You see, you are a Yoruba man, even though you were brought up like a white man. And in Yorubaland, marriage is not the way it is in Birmingham. Are you with me?”
“All men are driven by what they see, and I know that my daughter Damola is indeed a very beautiful woman.”
“Not only is she beautiful, but she also has a very lovely figure.”
“Don’t be shy, son. We are talking man to man.” Popsi says. “Or have you not noticed?”
“I have, sir.” Adedotun stammers.
“Very good. And you are aware that this is a Yoruba household.”
“And you know the implications of marrying into a Yoruba household?”
“Because to a man from Ibadan like yourself, and a white man–let’s say—from Birmingham, marriage means two different things. Are you with me? We do not believe in divorce in Yorubaland. And in this family, we are all Christians. Divorce is out of the question. Do you understand?”
“I understand, sir.”
“So don’t let Damola’s fine face push you to take on a responsibility that you cannot maintain. You young men easily become confused when you see beautiful women… How old are you, even?”
“I am thirty-five years, sir.”
“You are still a young man.” Popsi says, “Not that I won’t allow you to marry Damola. That is a choice she will make for herself. I am just mentioning this because this seems to be a problem with the young men of these days.”
There is a brief silence.
“So to cut the long story short, Adedotun, I will soon call Damola from her room for you to ask her what you have just asked me and my wife. But before she comes out, think about what you are doing. It is not her hips that will pay your rent.”
“If you are sure, and you choose to go ahead with this, I will not stop you. But once you enter this marriage, only death will bring you out of it.”
“Thank you—” Adedotun says. The older man smiles.
“Or if you decide that you would rather wait and think some more—you know, if you want to think more about your finances and some other things first. Since you have not yet talked to her about it,” Popsi pauses, “abi? You haven’t mentioned this to her?”
“No sir. I have not.”
“Good. So if you decide that you want some more time to make sure, I will not tell her what you told me today, and I will not hold it against you. Are you with me?”
“O da!” Popsi turns to me, “Tayo! Go and call Damola from her room.”
Damola is dressing up by the mirror with the curtains open. I close them and tell her to stop leaving them open—the gatemen probably stare at her while she dresses up. She says they don’t.
“Well, Popsi said I should call you,” I say, sitting down on her bed.
“Tell him I’m coming,” she responds, rubbing lotion on her arms.
“You should hurry up,” I say “there’s a man in the living room.”
“I know Tayo,” she responds, “that man is my boyfriend. I wanted Momsi and Popsi—and the rest of you—to meet him. Did you get a chance to talk to him? What did you think?”
“I don’t know,” I say heading towards the door, “but he brought yams with him, and everybody looks angry. I think you should hurry up.”
“Wait,” she pauses, “he brought what?”
“Yams,” I said. “And his dad put them on the carpet. So now I have to sweep the carpet again.”
“His dad? Ade’s dad is here?”
Damola quickly pulls out a lace iro and buba. She throws on a coral jewellery set and sprays herself with perfume. I ask her why she’s dressing so fancy:
“Were you planning to go out with your boyfriend?”
“Get up and help me tie this thing.” She responds impatiently.
I help her tie her iro. She stuffs her hair under her braided wig. I tell her the wig isn’t sitting properly. She pulls on it. She puts on lipstick and eyeliner. “I think this is enough,” she says. I pat her wig down.
She rushes back into the living room, and I follow. Adedotun and his father are gone. Temi is watching TV and Ife is taking the coolers back to the kitchen. The yams are gone. Damola’s phone beeps. There is a message from Adedotun:
“Hey babe. I feel sick and I won’t be able to make it today. Can we plan for another day?”
Temi sneezes, and asks: “Did anybody come to visit?” She sneezes again, “this place smells like cologne.”