06 March 2011

Two gone... Still Counting by Oyindamola Affinnih (Book Excerpt)

I looked into the eyes of my date; the shiver that ran down my spine was expected. He was my first and I was scared. I couldn’t contain the joy that was almost bursting out my heart when we pulled over at Oxo Tower Restaurant. We had driven in silence past the Blackfriars into Barge House Street. I wasn’t exactly surprised. His taste had always been remarkable. We walked into the restaurant and were escorted to our seats by the waiter. Even though we didn’t get a window seating, we still got a panoramic view of the city, St. Paul’s and all other architectural designs because it was covered in glass. The décor prepared you for a fantastic dining experience. The bulbs in the restaurant shone radiantly from huge chandeliers hung beneath the double-sided louvred ceiling. The tables were covered in white, crisp linen cloth and were a little too close together. It was a busy night and people, mostly whites, chattered excitedly. Looking properly I noticed we were the only blacks in the room. It was a beautiful night. There was so much laughter ringing from every corner of the large room. It was an efficiently run spot. Service was professional, polite and courteous.

We got people staring at us for very good reasons while we perused the menu. We were blacks and my date was three times my age. But what did it matter? He loved people believing what they wanted. It would be understating to call him attractive, with a face wearing well for its forty-five years. He had rich chocolate skin, a slightly protruding midriff that confirmed he fed well and a touch of grey hair, a beautiful streak just above his forehead, the one that made people beg to age. He was tall, even from his sitting position, his six feet plus was unmistakable.

“Tamilore”. He called me that when there was something disturbing to say. And how I loved the way he spoke it. “Would you like your order taken now?”

I smiled, though confused, showing all teeth. What had I done this time? My brain flashed back on the events of the past week. I hadn’t done anything wrong lately.


He returned the smile too and then beckoned to the maitre d’. He was withholding information. I knew him very well. His black trim tux was worn over a crisp linen shirt. My gown hissed as I moved even closer to the table. It was one of those classic bandage dresses wrapped in expensive boxes from Herve Leger with an amazing price tag. He bought it only the day before. With the gown came a SUSANNE FRII BJØRNER black Phrenite circle necklace too. All packed in a green, Harrods carrier bag. When he shopped expensively for me, I was either in some kind of trouble or he wanted to prove a point. He also loved my face as well made up as it was. It was as if I had dressed to impress him. We both whispered to the maitre d’ and when he returned I wasn’t surprised we had both ordered the crab cocktail as starters. We exchanged uncomfortable smiles yet again, digging in. Besides the frequent stare and half a dozen more smiles, he was quiet. He chose the beef dish for his main course while I went for the Lobster ravioli which was absolutely tasty. Halfway into the meal, when he was certain I was carried away by the food, he coughed to clear his throat.

“Dear,” I guessed right. His face showed concern while he sipped wine from the clear glass. “I saw a young man come home with you from school yesterday.”

I blanched stammering “Emm…yes… he’s my classmate.”

He nodded dropping the flute. He enjoyed my befuddled state.

“I’m sure you understand how hard it is for me to watch you being taken advantage of. It’s the reason I brought you here with me to come and eat expensively. I had sworn to your mother that I’d be your first date.”

I blinked at him, smiling at his mischief. “Daaaddy!”

“Sure, so it doesn’t seem unusual when eventually you begin dating.”

“But dad, Oliver is just a classmate.”

He nodded unconvincingly as if he was jealous. “Besides, what happened to all the blacks in your school?”

“One, Oliver is just a friend and two, I thought you usually tell us never to bother about skin colour daddy.” My eyes bored into his. He smiled knowing I got him on that.

We had a wonderful time together. So was the relationship between daddy and me. He had been a solid confidant ever since I was old enough to acknowledge him as my father. And much as he was dedicated to his job at the HSBC Bank on SE9, his family always topped his mind. He had been in England for years. There he lived, worked and studied. He had graduated with First Class honours at Cambridge and lots of offers had naturally opened for him. Every penny he owned, he had worked real hard for. Mum was a client at his bank. Her own office was close to our Riddons Road, Grove Park home on SE12. She was a self-employed stockbroker who had graduated from the University of Lagos, Nigeria. They had married in Nigeria and had me almost immediately. When I turned two, we all relocated to England for an even better living. Two years after my birth, Areef, my brother, was born. My parents were very close so much so that sometimes Areef and I felt like intruders.

“You still have to be careful, Amani,” He said sotto voce. His voice jolted me back.

“Yes dad.” I leaned over to press a kiss to his cheek. He grimaced while he cleaned my lip gloss which now smeared his right cheek, I laughed heartily. Dad made me laugh and I couldn’t get over the love I had for him.

A white couple who sat three tables away had been glaring at us in disgust. Being black I was already somehow attuned to it, but there was something to the lady’s stare that surpassed skin colour. They had had only drinks. It was a Friday night and her companion had loosened his tie, as he swallowed glass after glass of champagne. They had perhaps come to seal a business deal because from my secret glances at them they had signed some papers brought in a flat blue Manila file. Their eyes never wavered on us. I grew uncomfortable despite mummy’s frequent lectures on composure. From the corner of my eye, I watched the lady get up to our table and my heart danced a tango. As she stopped at our table, my eyes shot up. She was upset about heaven-knows-what. Her skin had grown taut and her nostrils flared, making her beautiful face a mask of disgust. Her well-coated lips had gone horribly thin and sealed tight and her jaw was set as she looked down at us in our seats. We were just rounding off on our dessert of Shortbread and Earl Grey tea. She adjusted her navy blue jacket while she eventually spilled the reasons for her anger in very terse words. She had a firm voice, and sounded like an intelligent woman. Only she had got it all wrong.

“I see you are one of those men who take advantage of children by deceiving them with expensive restaurant and cash! Do you know where her mum thinks she is right now? Do you know what her mum thinks she’s doing?” She turned to me. “Dear, trust me, you are ruining your future if this is your idea of having fun.” She muttered an expletive at daddy’s way and just as she turned to go, daddy got up, pulling her arm firmly, yet gently.

“Nice of you Ms…” She hadn’t offered her name, so daddy continued. “But let me have the pleasure of introducing my beautiful daughter to you, Amani. Amani I hope you are not upset by the unnecessary outburst?”

I looked up smiling confidently. “No daddy. I am fine.”

The woman had now turned a very bright pink. She was dumbfounded and I could see the apology in her eyes, only daddy didn’t allow her say it. We left immediately walking past her, heads high, shoulders up. That was one thing dad imbibed in us: self-assurance; say it as it is, black or white.

The only way you can have a white listen to a black is when you have an inherent thing that pleases them, something that intrigues them. First, one needed to be intelligent, creative, honest and, most of all, confident. Areef and I lived on that school of thought and so far it had worked, in spades.

“It’s bad enough to steal my husband for the whole of the night, but when you begin to...” That was mum. She wasn’t looking for anything in particular. She just paced the living room bellyaching because I went out with daddy; she wanted a minute-to-minute account on all that happened and because I wasn’t telling she was bickering. The way mum itched for gist was alarming. She cherished meeting Nigerians when we went shopping. It was the reason she preferred the market to the department stores. Market was Deptford, while the store was Harrods and we hardly ever saw many Nigerians in Harrods.

“Darling, you too?” Daddy just stepped out from the shower, and had obviously said his prayers. He was garbed in his pale grey dhallabiyah. He planted a kiss on mummy’s forehead and narrated our experience with the white woman. I sprawled on the couch. Our house was a four-room duplex. The living room was large, with high walls covered in soft blue wallpaper. The couch was leather, beige and brown. Our centre table, which reflected light from the Marie Antoinette 8 light chandelier, was brown too with a glass we had replaced twice because of Areef’s carelessness.

My eyes were glued to the plasma TV that rested comfortably on the wall. Beside it was the guitar-shaped CD rack; stacked full. We put mum and dad’s collections to one side since Areef and I never enjoyed their choice of songs, especially one which excited them so much. We didn’t understand it, couldn’t explain what was being said, only that the word kétékété was sung several times. Then dad had taken time to explain to us–whether we wanted to listen or not, we didn’t have any choice– that kétékété meant a donkey in Yoruba, our language. The lesson of the song was meaningful to Areef and me after dad had explained several minutes later. The musician, he went further to tell us, was Chief Ebenezer Obey, and mum would chant ‘Commander’ whenever dad called his name and the song was evergreen, they told us. For no reason, I took a liking to the kétékété song afterwards, and Areef mocked me to no end, which earned me another nickname in Areef’s book— “Commander”. There was the DVD player lying somewhere on the electronic divider as well as other musical videos Areef bought frequently, and then came the invisible speakers. It was past the top of the hour and I waited expectantly for my luck.

It was the weather forecast on CNN, and I was just in time with the right presenter. I listened but couldn’t pick anything save for Femi Oke’s flawless delivery of the news. Femi was very much Nigerian and she was a presenter on CNN. She was the reason I intended studying journalism, at least so my name might be a household one and I could be a great ambassador of my country.

It’s not that I hadn’t heard of the inefficiency of the Nigerian government, the high level of poverty and even higher level of crime and lawlessness, but dad was always particular about what we ourselves gave back to the country instead of what we were getting from it. He had his big plans on settling in Nigeria after he resigned and though we were sceptical, we always went with dad’s wishes. Although he, hard as he tried to hide it, knew he couldn’t have attained such success ladder early, had he studied in his own country. We however had to work towards giving back to our motherland. I shared at least a good percentage of his opinion and maybe mum did too because of friends and family back home but Areef totally despised Nigeria. It was rare for him to speak about our country and it worried our parents. The most important thing to him was that he was a British citizen and he planned living the rest of his life in England. In fact, he had no black friends. Though dad explained his precarious choice to him, Areef was less bothered.

I got up to my room just immediately Femi got off the screen, glancing at my parents; the smiles I expected to see on their faces were there. Once again they confirmed my interest for Femi and, of course, not the news.

It wouldn’t be fair to call me arrogant at my school on Horn Park Lane. No one knew who my parents were, who our guests were when we held parties, how close dad was to many dignitaries all over the world or how many houses daddy had, home and abroad. I was just seen as ‘one of those blacks’ in school. My clothes were neat and my long hair was always beautifully plaited in cornrows by mum since she did part-time hairdressing for friends. But I loved wristwatches and perfumes. Daddy spoilt me with them. I was always followed around by some notorious Africans in school just by the trace of my scent. The previous week I had unconsciously left my gold wristwatch on my desk to have lunch. I hadn’t got halfway when I remembered; only it had grown legs when I returned. I fumed painfully in silence but couldn’t ask anyone. No one in my class except Oliver, who had left the school upon his relocation to Scotland, ever spoke a straight sentence to my face except jeers. Well I would say the girls were jealous and the guys…well maybe scared, except Kwame. He was Ghanaian and talked to no one other than the instructor. The only day he had been pushed to speak was when he almost beat an Irish classmate who had dared call him names.

One would think Kwame and I would be an item but the boy was eccentric. I recall hearing him speak to me just once, the day my wristwatch was stolen. He had come to my table, his dark skin shining like he used some of mum’s coconut oil she fondly called adi agbon.

“I can’t say who took your watch but pay them no mind. They are just jealous because you are smarter and have a better body structure.”

And then he left. It could have been imagined. “Body structure?” This was someone who hadn’t ever spared me a double glance.

Today was going to be difficult I knew. My classmate’s constant jeers, sneers and bitchy retorts have sometimes rubbed me the wrong way and other times created a tougher coat on my skin, only one couldn’t tell their next move and I couldn’t predict my temper. I took a quick scrutiny on myself and just when I assured myself I was good to go in, they started when I entered.

“Hey! Look who is early today.” Josh, the obese, childish one in the group had alerted as he moved unbearably close. I stood to the roots, my eyes thinning with anger.

“Little miss.” Another of them smiled mischievously.

I counted the imaginary 1-10 so as not to lose it but dear me!

“Haven’t I warned you repeatedly?” I was on my knees in the living room, my hands folded behind my back staring at the floor. I dared not look up at dad. He was boiling with so much fury since he had been called by my school instructor on the day’s incident, rudely interrupted from work.

“But daddy...” I tried raising my head, what I saw, I didn’t like. His eyes were red with rage. “Daddy I was as careful as I could. He sat at my desk running dirty talk about me, my family and... even my country.” I had put in the last one to win daddy’s heart but he wasn’t fooled.

“Amani, that’s no way to fight for your country!” He yelled. I shivered. He never got this irate, especially with me. Areef was a better candidate for dad’s wrath.
“Irrespective of what he said to you, couldn’t you have kept your cool? What kind of lady are you growing up to be?” That’s mum. She bothered more on my being a lady.
My heart beat angrily, rapidly. “But I am always harassed daddy.” I fought back the tears. “The other day it was my wristwatch.”

He turned to me abruptly. “I can remember buying you another and telling you to forget it. What exactly has come over you? Would you consider changing your school?”
“I am not a coward daddy,” I rasped. I said my apologies even though I wasn’t sorry and left for my room. I recalled the incident in class earlier and smiled. I had poked the bloated brat right in the chest when he sat on my desk and somehow he had tripped, falling butt flat on the floor. He had hurt himself real bad. His accomplices had reported me quickly and as expected blew it out of proportion.

As I lay on my comfy bed later at night, a smile of victory danced on my lips. I hugged my fluffy pillow tighter to my chest. Kwame broke his own record and was respected. Even the girls flirted around him trying to get his attention. I hoped to God I be awarded the same respect henceforth. As for the flirting, no way.

It was a Saturday and my parents always slept in after their Subhi. I picked up my article which I had placed on my table the night before to do a check. Pulling the seat back, I slumped into the chair, the soft cushions massaging my buttocks. It brought some comfort to me on those nights I read till dawn for exams. Every item in my room was luxurious, from SECCIO. Daddy believed in us and made it imperative that we be comfortable. My room was the orange room while Areef’s the blue one. It was brilliantly colourful. The Formica of my wardrobe, the shelves, the bed stand and the reading table and chair were of very bright orange and white. The wardrobe was originally white save for an attached orange arc on the left corner. A beautiful, transparent twin handle hung jointly at the centre with a vague inscription. The top of the table was white with some touches of orange while the chair was strictly orange with the crescent moon and star emblem carved out from it. My laptop lay on the table as I checked for received email messages. I always loved surfing the net because it was the only place I had friends and, well, if there was also an assignment.

We were to choose anything interesting about our country to write about and discuss in class some days later. I decided to choose something very Nigerian, something that would not only catch the interests of the teacher but be good enough to divert the attention of everyone to my article. Daddy was whom I could rely on to help me to the top since our views matched. I was sure he would be awake poring over a copy of Financial Times, one of his novels or his Quran. My bet was on the Quran. If it was, it meant I had the benefit of only being glanced and nodded at. He spoke no word to anyone when reading, his concentration unwavering with lips moving silently and eyes constantly doing a runover from line to line. He looked like a child when observing this most precious moment. I threw my housecoat which had been hung on the rack close to my polished closet over the lilac satin and lace lingerie Areef had given me on my last birthday.

Their room was the closest to the staircase, the one right between Areef’s and mine and the biggest. Whenever we had stuff to do and we didn’t want them in, we just tiptoed across. Once dad had caught us sharing some junk right in front of their room; it had been a harrowing week of punishment.

Surprisingly their room wasn’t locked. The door was ajar and they were not asleep. In fact they were wide awake and seated on their VI Spring Super King Herald Supreme Divan bed, with daddy holding mum in his arms. I looked carefully. She was crying! That was alarming. We had all slept in good moods; what could have happened overnight? I was sure there hadn’t been a break-in. When I took an incremental step ahead and was not noticed, I was convinced something was wrong.

Slowly, grudgingly, they glanced at me and like I was a child, they tried to wipe the tears, replacing it expertly with feigned smiles. I was pissed. I took a few steps backwards, slumping into mummy’s large dressing chair. It was mahogany, polished to a very sharp hue.

“Dad, mum,” I sighed. “It will hurt me very much if I ask and you tell me ‘all is well’ or ‘it’s nothing we can’t handle.’ ”

Daddy sighed heavily, mummy was wiping her tears.


No one spoke. Nor did they spare me a glance. I looked around to even get a picture of something. Perhaps a phone call but their mobile phones were not even in sight. They found it difficult switching them on on Saturdays.

“I’m sure we are not going to sit here quiet?” I fumed softly. In my family, one needed to remind my parents at every opportunity that I wasn’t a child anymore and was up to the task of handling situations.

Silence again.

“I saw your topic on Yoruba mythology Amani.” It was mum.

My face lit up in a smile at their usual concern only to get into more confusion. What about it?

“Simbi don’t cause any unnecessary...”

“TJ, it’s only fair to let her know.”

Daddy sighed annoyingly in confusion, pacing the room in long strides. It was unusual seeing them like this and even more calling their first names! What happened to good ol’ ‘Sweets’, ‘Dearie’, and the like?

“I have an experience to share with you Amani. You have to listen.” All the while her tears hadn’t ceased. I was by this time certain there was trouble.

“After I had you Amani...” Dad sighed distracting us. He didn’t want this out. What million dollar secret was this? Did dad have another wife stashed somewhere? Do I have half-siblings? And why hadn’t they called for Areef’s presence?

“We just got our visas and we were superbly ecstatic. We were coming into the UK to stay on a more permanent basis and your daddy had been offered a job.” Mummy continued. “Things were going to be a lot easier and we were glad about the development. In the heat of all the excitement, I had had you strapped to my back, since I was cooking and you were cranky from teething.”

Dad turned to mum infuriated, stopping dead in his tracks. “You really have to stop it there my dear. I can’t watch you ruin her. I can’t listen to the hogwash. This means you believe it would happen.”

I looked from dad to mum and then to dad again to beg them of my presence and how much I felt this talk affected me, but my presence was not recognised by either of them.

“The wrapper I had used in tying you had snapped loose. There was the acrid smell of something burning in the kitchen and as I got up to get it...” She burst into fresh tears. “...you fell.” She sat upright to explain shivering with panic. “Amani it all happened so fast, for some seconds your dad and I just watched you there on the floor.

Still confused I tried to find my voice. “Did I hurt?” The last time I checked my brain was very functional.

“That’s where the myth comes in my dear. The Yoruba people believe such a child would never have a steady husband.”

My mouth flew open in dismay. Mum didn’t spare me a glance. Dad’s eye caught mine but he couldn’t keep contact.

“It is said that such a child would face the death of all the men she marries until the eighth one.”

“But that’s gross!” I exclaimed.

Dad lifted his head from his hands. “Amani the fact that it is a belief doesn’t mean it will happen to you. Things like that are called superstitions; they are old convictions.”

“But daddy…I….” I was confused. I felt like I had been given an unexpected punch in the solar plexus. “Why now so suddenly? Why are you just telling me now?”

“It’s because of your assignment.” Mum said.

“And the fact that you are now old enough and have already started inviting male friends over.” Dad put in.

“Oh! This is about Oliver all again?”

“Amani cut that out.” His voice was rigid yet tender.

“But that is not all Amani,” Mummy put in softly, crying. There was more! My eyes cried out. “I was told it had a remedy but… but I couldn’t do it.”

Somehow a wave of anger and hate for my mother ran through me. “Why?” I whispered silently.

Dad burst out. “She was told to run round a large market seven times, naked.” His face wore a horrifying mask of terror. I didn’t get to see him like this often; I looked at him closely, never.

My eyes widened. Daddy wasn’t having fun discussing this, I could tell. He was an organised person. I knew how much this was costing him. I pictured mummy without clothes running all of Deptford market.

“It’s absurd.” I didn’t know I had spoken it aloud. My voice was as soft as I had never imagined it before. “Who’ll want to do anything as stupid as that?”
Dad swallowed a lump. “Yes it is absurd. Please let’s not let this issue be a basis for weighing us down. We have no reason to be sad as long as we remain one. We have loads of superstitions where we come from and so do other tribes and countries. Islam and Christianity have put them all behind us that it is only unbelievers and illiterates that still believe in them. Tamilore come over.”

I went to him kneeling in his presence. We did that always. I could never be bold enough to greet daddy without going down on both knees and Areef would never for anything forget to prostrate with his chest brushing the floor in greetings. It was the way it is done in our culture, we were told. And daddy was a culture freak. Daddy prayed for me. I could sense it with the way his lips moved silently over my head. He was reciting from the Quran, Suratul Falaq for its protection purpose. Then he raised my head up.

“Amani, may God be with you all the days of your life. You shall have no cause to cry.”

“Amen.” Mum and I chorused. I got up.

Just then Areef came in with a tray of sandwiches and tea for dad and mum. He dropped it gently on the bedside stool with the tea label dancing on the side of the teapot. Mummy uncomfortable searched for a reaction on dad’s face. What she expected to see was there. Areef was dressed in his pyjamas with the shirt button unfastened. When Areef acted like this, one could sense the extent of daddy’s disapproval. Areef was male and had no business in the kitchen. Daddy never failed to remind us, and two, there was mum and I present to do the stuff Areef sought pleasure doing. They took turns in reminding him firmly, albeit gently, because Areef had a fiery temper mummy tried her best to cover. Much as he was always almost dragged to do his prayers, he never would believe in the superstitions. So it was better they left him out of it.

Gently the days passed and subsequently, I did my article on the fall from one’s mother’s back. Like I expected, it awed the bulk of the class and I got all the attention I had envisaged. I had written so passionately about it, perhaps because of my own sudden involvement, only I wasn’t fulfilled. I googled it to make enquiries, but I got nothing. It seemed like it was a no-go area. Then I knew the only place to be better informed was in Nigeria, the part where the belief was held strongly.

Two gone... Still Counting was written by Oyindamola H. Affinnih and is an excerpt from her début book of the same name (HoneyMix Productions, Sept 2010).

Copyright © Oyindamola H. Affinnih 2010.

Oyindamola Halima Affinnih was born in Nigeria in 1982. Her short stories have been published in magazines and newspapers. She also writes scripts for television. Two gone... still counting is her first novel.


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