In the bank lobby, a little boy of seven walked up to me and slipped his hand into my palm. He was looking up at me and smiling. A woman stepped up, said, “Don’t mind my child, Sir,” and pulled the boy’s hands away. I followed. 

“I hope you won’t beat him,” I said to her.

The mother’s face was heavily wrinkled and her red fabric blouse hung loosely on the hinges of her clavicles. She looked tired.

“I’m just fed up,” she said. “He does this to every stranger he sees. And I don’t want him to grow up thinking that’s right. You can’t just go on holding people’s hands like that. That isn’t right.” She looked down at the boy as if in silent wonder. The boy was smiling, unaffected by the punishment he was sure to later receive. His eyes were white and his skin was light and soft. 

“Children are like that these days sha,” I said. “They rarely think of people as strangers. And you know there’s only so much we parents can do.” 

The mother’s face contracted as if I had punctured all her years of hard work. She looked helpless and ready to lie still for a long time. 

I felt guilty for making her sadder. In order to lift her spirits and prepare for my own swift exit, I told her about my niece Omali who had clung to a strange woman at a party at Oke-Baale and refused to let go. The tactic didn’t work. The smile on the woman’s face was almost like a scoff and I suddenly became self-conscious.

Before she turned and began to walk slowly to the trapdoor, I saw the glow of a transient curiosity across her face and I felt the instantaneous need to complete my story of Omali. I followed her through the trapdoor and we were soon in the vestibule and then on the gravelled entrance of the bank. On the marble pavement of Aregbe, she smiled fully, her chest heaving, and she let go of Jonah’s hand.

She told me she lived at Oke-Fia and was a single mother and her grandmother’s neighbours liked to call her Beatrice.

Jonah was walking too fast and Beatrice screamed his name. The boy stopped in his tracks and turned. His cheeks were flushed and his forehead red. An agbero who was by the roadside stared at us for a long time and I wondered what he must have been thinking. A husband and a wife walking their albino child for the first time on the streets of Osogbo. If he knew I had left my own wife in the bank manager’s office, he would think: a husband walking an albino mother and her son. If he knew her name was Be-a-trice and that Jonah’s father had died seven years ago, he would turn his head away because to hear of another’s story of loss is to also share in it. 

At the First Bank junction where abokis sold watermelons, I was thinking: fuck fuck fuck, your wife is in the bank manager’s office and you left her there to follow another woman what was she going to think of you? What are those people who saw you go out with the albino woman and her son going to think of you? Dammit, what she says about you is true, you will never be a man enough to be a father and a husband at the same time.

But Beatrice was finding new ways to keep me. It was as if after long years of being without a man—for that is who I was at that moment, even temporarily and with all its suggestiveness, a man—she was finding and inventing new ways to keep him close. 

Maybe that was a lie. Maybe I was the one finding and inventing new ways to be kept. I was the one asking questions and offering to hear the story behind the answer. It was nice and cool walking beside a woman with whom you felt invincible, with whom you were experiencing laughter for the first time. 

Beatrice lived with her grandma, she told me. Grandma was 83, had dementia, and kept a large album in the broken fridge. From there Beatrice first saw her own mother, black, supple, with almond-shaped eyes and redwood for legs. 

I lived with my wife at Owode, I told her. She was a former adviser to Baba Kabiru Aregbesola on Fiscal Policy and Other Related Issues. Before I was an Insurance Officer at Moneygate Loans & Co., I was now the Head of Utility, which was a fancy name for cleaning, at LAWNA. 

Beatrice had been so scared that her child was going to be an albino like her, she told me. The first thing she did when he was born was to ask the colour of his skin. Was it black, was it black? 

She laughed, looking embarrassedly at her feet. “How stupid!” 

“Not so stupid if you think about it,” I smiled wryly. 

“Not like that. Well, not exactly,” she rebutted. “My mother was a really beautiful woman. And I had expectations.”

“As a child, I used to measure my height every two months or so,” I replied in turn. “I was soooo obsessed.” 

“And I grieved I wasn’t like her,” she said, “then I blamed her, then I blamed myself, then I—”

“I thought I could become dwarfish like my father was,” I said, “the fear was there, if you—”

She was looking into space as she intoned: “No almond-shaped eyes, no supple black skin, no thin straight nose, no black very dark pupils, no walking in the sun without a glass no—”

“Like his father before him,” I said. “And the one before him. It went on and—”

She paused, looking blankly. I kept talking. It felt nice talking to a stranger because it felt like shouting into a bottomless echo. 

I continued: “My mother wouldn’t understand, when I was nineteen, I imagined, I just imagined what—”

Then she burst out suddenly: “Jonah’s father was so so… Jesus!”

“Barely five foot, the day I found out—you know, my father was three foot six, was he? That evening anyway, my mother was in the kitchen, I was with a tape rule and—”

“Had bright purple eyes, tender brown skin, a sweet flaring nose, a really beautiful big lower lip red on the inside,” she said. “He was a man I could be with. Jesus! He was complete! Complete like any man should!”

“And then there were the other things,” I sighed. “Like, like—” 

“Had a big ha-ha laugh and all his face begin moving at the same time and at the same time as his face is moving and all, you begin to wonder at his voice and—”

“It’s funny,” I said. 

She paused and said, “It’s really funny.”

“You spend your life chasing one thing,” I continued, “and when you get it you realise how much of other things you have lost control of and how much of—”

“But then he died,” she continued, “and it felt like, still feels like there is a giant echo somewhere in the corner of my room. Like, this big.” She demonstrated with her hands. “This deep chasm swallowing everything.”

“Lacking in everything else, if you see what I mean, Beatrice. I was la—”

“Filling it up these past seven years filling it up with everything I’ve got with the bulk of my soul with—”

“Pale green, she said. What’s with that dull colour? I stay at home, take care of the kids and all. I haven’t learnt how to want so much. I wanted blue paint indoors,” I said. “Told her. Blue paint was perfect. A child’s fantasy, but still. Beatrice, even the kids wanted it. I wanted it. A home, painted blue in—I don’t care what’s outside, really, whether we had a garden or not, whether there was a garage or not—blue was a place to move around in, if you see what I mean. I could be at home in a blue room. Where I could be in without—”

“With the cutleries, the chairs, the letter from the bank, debts debts debts, so many debts I didn’t know he’d accumulated, all those things he bought, brought home, everything. All those—”

“Tried to keep my head straight, if you see what I mean,” I said. “Beatrice, a man was supposed to keep his act together, he can’t, mustn’t blame anybody for all that’s happened to him or something like that, you know, a man ought not to break up because that was going to be stupid, don’t you think?”

She sighed and looked again at her feet. “It’s funny,” she said.

I sighed. I was mute with all the angst I had accumulated all these years and locked away in a secret place in my heart.

“Nights I would sob sob and sob. Wailing sef. Jonah was two. He would be asleep. Sometimes he was not—”

“I felt trapped like my life was slipping from my grasp,” I said.

“What if Jonah saw me crying, ehn? What if he knew what was happening, why he’s having those kids tease him? What would he think of himself, I mean outside there? Outside there. He hasn’t got a chance. I don’t know how long I am going to really be with him, he will grow up, he is growing up, and he doesn’t know anything and I don’t know if he’ll ever do. He has a clean heart but he hasn’t got a chance in the world. If someone walked up to him—if someone bullied him, would he fight back? How would I teach him to when I’ve not fought for anything? Every day feels like Jonah asking me why we’re still here, why he might fail in the world, but I don’t know the answer to all of that.”

She repeated many times, saying: “He hasn’t got any chance, really.” 

I stopped talking and started listening. There were tears in her eyes.

“Sometimes—most times,” she added, “I feel what Eniola left for me after his love was this giant hole he wanted me to fill. Without complaining—just doing it and doing it every day even when my back aches even when I’m looking for where to put that love away even when it hurts, really hurts. Just doing it because the moment you pause you’ll lose everything you’ve worked for because that’s what love makes you do, isn’t it?” 

Her face and her neck were moist with tears; her décolletage, pleated with gold embroidery, wet and dark. I blamed myself for not listening more, engrossed in the intricacies of my own loss. We were under a large cashew tree shedding its sodden leaves. Away from the world we shared, the streets of Fakunle raged on and on and there was the steam of a July sunlight bouncing off the tarmac into the boughs of pale Salvation trees. Passersby rolled by like bales of cotton. Beatrice was in my arms, frail and warm. Having shed pound after pound of the weight of memory, what remained was the debris of what was, what could’ve been, and what would never be. 

Jonah stood two metres away, staring at us with lips pursed. What was he thinking? 

Soon we were walking again on the grass-covered roadway. She was light and the whirl of her skirt floated in the air. I was heavy and wanted to cry. None of us, I’m sure, wanted to leave. I’m sure if I had said we should hold onto ourselves a while longer, without talking, just holding on, she would’ve wanted to. She would’ve wanted something sacred like that. The sky was white, and scud clouds far off drifted into the whiteness, silent as night. 

When Beatrice had gotten herself back together, she asked what my name was. 

“Joshua,” I said. “Joshua Badejo.”

She apologised for being dramatic, and asked if we could meet sometime soon, again. 

“I don’t know,” I said, stammering. “We could—can. Er, can I visit you instead?”

We had crossed the road to the other side, but we were holding time while Koropes brushed past. 

“My Grandma will be home,” she said. “But I can visit you. I want you to tell me about you, if that’s okay. Can we be friends? I’m being too jumpy, isn’t it? But I think we should be friends. Today feels like magic, Jesus,” she exclaimed. “I haven’t opened up to anybody in years! Today is a miracle! It felt like I was talking to myself. We can be friends, if that’s okay.”

I did not want to tell her that my wife and I were travelling west to a stately home in Danzig with a porch and a garden and a swing and a lawn with a trampoline on it and a fence to keep things out and people in. I knew there was no way we would meet again, but I wanted her to leave with the hope that we could. 

“Sure, sure, we can be,” I replied, duplicating her effulgent eagerness, and gave her my Nigerian number which by tomorrow will be unreachable. “Call me anytime next week. I’d love for us to talk again.” 

I slipped my hand into her hand. She was looking at me and smiling. I felt like I had just begun to live.

“Beatrice, I hope you know you have a beautiful kid and that you’re going to be fine,” I said.

She smiled heartily, leaning in. “I know, I know,” she replied. “I will call you when I get home. You’ve given me so much hope, Joshua.”

After a moment, a Korope parked in front of us. From inside the bus, Jonah and Beatrice waved at me. The blue commercial joined the road and on and on it went, gliding down the tarred road into the unquiet distance.


*Photo by Sergi Dolcet Escrig on Unsplash

Isaiah Adepoju

Isaiah Adepoju is the author of Happiness is a Sickle-kinikan in my Belly (Abibiman Publishers, UK). He has been at two national residencies and is a fellow of UNDERTOW Poetry Fellowship, UK. He studies Literature-in-English at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.