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On the bus that carried me to Odogbolu, there were no pastors. No one stood and hushed — even if momentarily — the conversations on the bus; no one asked people to close their eyes and open to the book of Isaiah.

No one pontificated about raging fires and endless dying. Only smart-looking students sat beside tired-looking farmers, beside exhausted mothers with their babies either quieted on their backs or straining and fussing on their laps.

I was sitting next to one in the second-middle seat, an angry-looking woman who went through a different kind of hell to get her petulant baby rested on her back. She heard me sigh out in relief. The furrows on her brow cleared.

“Aunty, dat your sigh, e get as e be o!” she said, and chortled for no reason at all.
I forced a smile to spread over my mouth, and looked away, towards the front seats, where a young man in a dirty tank top sat leaning forward, his arms hooked over the head of the driver’s seat, as though he was whispering something to the driver, who sped along the dusty road.
The woman persisted, “Wetin come make you sigh aloud like dat?”
I turned my face to the window by my side and traced the clouds of dust obscuring the green leaves that swooshed past us in a whirling blur. They reminded me of Pastor Jeremiah’s black candle fumes, these yellow clouds rising by my window. My head started throbbing quietly somewhere in my skull.
“Abi I dey inconvenience you for di seat?”
If only you would just shut up. I was tempted to look at her square in the face. For someone speaking pidgin, she spoke correctly. “No ma, thanks.” The bus jerked and some passengers shouted at the driver. “I’m quite fine,” I added, to reassure her and to shut her up.
But she wasn’t shutting up.
“I no sabi wetin dey do dis driver. Him just dey drive anyhow. E be like say dat man wey dey him back na devil. Devil wey dey whisper so-so suggestions wey fit kill all of wena. Make dem no go wake my baby o!”
I glanced at her baby and imagined that he woke up. Mama used to whisper to us about the babies in her nightmares, how they looked like thick links of blood at first, pooled in a dead silence, until their eyes appeared, wide and unblinking, and they started squalling.
“Students sef full di bus. At least, he suppose tink dat one come do jeje na.”
I released a tight smile.
“You be student?”
I clutched my bag, filled with books and clothes, to my chest. And nodded.
“I tink am.”
The bus suddenly slowed and hawkers descended on us, pushing Gala and Teem and guinea eggs and bread at us, running, their breasts bouncing underneath their faded blouses.
I looked at them and wondered if there were gaps in their souls, if they had ever spent long cold nights in a pastor’s room, said pastor’s hands crushing their barely formed breasts while he rambled in tongues and dripped hot candle wax on their naked shoulders. The tension at the centre of my head was growing, and with it all the thoughts I wanted to crush.
The bus got to a final interval. Somebody’s phone rang. A baby fussed on her mother’s back. I peered through the window, at the firm houses rising proudly from the reddish earth, at the newly tarred road, at the newly opened filling stations.
“Odogbolu done change o. Di las’ time I come, my brother-in-law carry me for him car and fuel go empty. No place to fill the tank. We rush go Iperu go find petrol. But now, dem done dey get filling stations. My husband bin dey talk say he go carry him mama come Lagos, come dey live with us.
Say Odogbolu no good for her again. Shey Odogbolu wey mama grow up abi which one? My husband sef. Lagos wey we dey manage one tiny flat! I talk say leave mama here, make I go dey check on am every two-two weeks. Na war, but I done win am.”
I placed my chin on my drawn-up knees and prayed that her child wake up. I wished I didn’t have to stop over at Odogbolu, that I could have just taken a straight bus from Sagamu to Ibadan, and then from Ibadan to Ile-Ife. My school.
That I could avoid this woman who, merely by speaking, by sharing bits of her life that I didn’t want to know, was exhuming memories I had been struggling to bury for last two months.
The first time Papa slapped Mama in front of us, it was over an argument about Iya-Agba coming over to stay with us in Sagamu. That evening at supper, a call had come for Mama from Iyabo, her young niece who took care of Mama at Ago-Iwoye, that Iya-Agba was behaving funny and repeating the phrase, “See my daughter and grandchildren”.
“Let my mother come,” Mama had said, in a low voice, dropping her phone on the dining table and rubbing her forehead.
Papa had taken him time chewing his eba and swallowing it before saying, with ominous quiet, “How many times have I told you not to pick calls when we are eating or when we are having family time?”
Mama fidgeted with her cup. My brother, Femi, swallowed noisily.
“It was Iyabo who called. That’s why I put it on speaker so you would hear what she said. Maami is seriously ill and I want to be near her.” Mama was speaking in so low a voice one would think she was saying a weary prayer at the altar of an unmovable God.
“Can’t Iyabo take care of her any more?” Papa asked. “I will transfer money to her account first thing tomorrow morning.”
“What is wrong with my mother,” Mama said, “is not money. She just needs to be with her grandchildren. With us. Do you know the last time Lara and Femi travelled to see her?”
Papa’s tone was a growl when he spoke. “I said I will send Iyabo some money for Grandma first thing tomorrow morning.”
“But why can’t Mama travel there?” Femi asked. “At least, if Grandma can’t come here, allow Mama to go and see her.”
I stepped on his foot under the table to make him shut up, but it was too late. Papa’s eyes were already live coals of flame.
“Are you mad? Am I the one you are questioning? Are you a bastard? Do you want to die tonight?”
Femi picked a piece of fish from his soup and started chewing.
“Oko mi,” Mama said, facing Papa squarely. It was the first time I would see her face Papa so fully, the first time I would hear her persist on a subject after Papa has said no. “Please, let me travel.”
“I said no. What is wrong with you? I said I would send money to Iyabo tomorrow morning! She can use it to take Grandma to the hospital.”
“Please, oko mi,” Mama said, and I worried that her soup would run cold.
“Enough of this matter, Biodun.”
Mama pressed her palms together and raised them. “Please.”
That was when Papa flung out his hand and slapped her, heavily, so heavily that Femi stopped chewing, so heavily that the spoon in my hand fell into my soup.
The bus had stopped for a family to come down. The woman was the first to come down, then she reached out to help her husband with the bags. He lifted their three children down the bus and then paid the conductor.
The bus moved and I looked back through the window to see who carried the bags and who handled the children between him and his wife. Then I thought how different it was for me, for my family, how Papa made all the rules and Mama just obeyed. Even when he ruled that Femi be sent out of the house to go and live anywhere he pleased, Mama had only said, “But he is still your son.”
“Eh? A son doing that kind of a thing? Where will he say he got it from? From me? You must be joking. That is no son of mine. That is a bastard.”
Femi was homosexual and Papa would have no homosexual son living under his roof. So he sent him out. He let him take his music books and score sheets. He let him take his guitar. But he collected his phone and destroyed the SIM cards.
He also revoked the payment of his tuition fees. I would always remember how Mama had been forced to borrow from a cooperative bank to keep Femi in university, and how — after several semesters — we had gone to visit him one weekend, only to find out that he had dropped out months ago.
Till now, we don’t know where Femi is.
It was because of Femi that I met Pastor Jeremiah. We had sent his pictures to all media houses. We had gone to the police station. But Femi remained missing. Papa never joined us in the search. Mama came close to deranged. One afternoon, the day after I filled my JAMB form online, my friend Tolu came to visit.
She mentioned her church and how the pastor of her church was powerful. How he could catch wind and walk through fire unharmed. I didn’t care for religion but I cared for my brother, and for my mother’s mental health, so I went with her.
And then began a chain of events bigger than I was: meeting at first on mountaintops, early in the morning, and praying over Femi’s photo, black and white candles placed around it; then, as the weeks lengthened, we started meeting in his room, Pastor Jeremiah and I.
I was sceptical. I wondered why we couldn’t keep meeting on the mountain, or better still, in the church. But Pastor Jeremiah’s spiritual eloquence and swishing white robes and red crucifixes and monochrome candles melted my doubts away and made me comply.
Even when he said he would have to lie on my naked body and speak in tongues. Even when he slipped his shaft into me and I watched my body break and my redness flow down the white prayer sheets.
Even when I lost myself and wondered constantly who this young woman going to university and reading Law was. If she was still me, if I was ever her.
I had been saving some money up to get an apartment for Mama and me so we could leave Papa’s house, but Pastor Jeremiah kept asking for more money and more money to buy spiritual materials potent enough to find my brother.
And now I could barely pay for my tuition. That was the reason I had to stop by at Odogbolu. The man I had met and chatted with on Facebook said he would give me #50,000 if I came to his place and spent two nights with him. His wife and children were out of the country and his neighbours were no longer nosy.
“No longer nosy.” I had wanted to laugh when I saw that message.
“All diz students wey dey here, I sure say dem still dey go far. No be all of them dey school for Odogbolu. UI students dey there. Even OAU students.”
I wished she spoke quietly. The students would hear her now; I didn’t want undue attention in my way.
“You. Where you dey school?”
I said nothing.
She peered closer at me. Her baby rustled on her back. I watched his puny fists twist over the edge of the green wrapper.
“Wetin dey do you?”
I thought she was referring to her baby. But I saw her black eyes on me, fixed, questioning, intent.
“I done dey ask you question since, you dey look me like say na radio dey talk,” she said, a bit of irritation lining her words. “If sometin dey do you, make you talk am. Na eachoda sister’s keeper we be for dis bus na, as we come be passengers like dis.”
I glanced at the students watching me, earpieces dangling from their heads. I looked away, towards the window, and started counting the houses, noting their colours.
The first blue house after the WELCOME TO ODOGBOLU sign. It’s a storey building. It has a black gate. It’s majestic. You can’t miss it. The message had read in my Messenger. A blue house with a shiny black gate loomed in the distance. I decided to answer this woman. To say more words to her.
“Ma, can you see the back of your head? If you can, then you stand the chance of knowing what is wrong with me. Otherwise, mind your baby. He’s waking.” I raised my voice. “Driver, I’m getting down here. Please stop.”
The bus rolled to the side of the road, a few feet away from the blue walls. I threw my bag behind me and stepped down. I did not look back to see the expression on the woman’s face, on the students’ faces, even on the driver’s face. I did not turn back at all until I got to the black gate and knocked gently on it.



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