The woman raised her hand and I quickly turned my face away, to the right. I thought she was going to hit me for removing her child’s hands from my thigh. I thought so because she was wearing a scowl. I was wrong; she raised her hand to adjust her scarf which had sloped down to the back of her neck. She hadn’t said a word since we left Zaria.
Her elder daughter signalled to her to see a place which seemed as though they knew when we got to Jaji and she smiled. The woman smiled for the first time since we started our journey to Kaduna.
Her baby’s little hands were cute, but they irritated me. I couldn’t stand to look at her. The child was all over me, crawling like a slug, poking fingers into my nose, reaching for my ears.
It was the first time, after months of confinement, days of reflection, that I went out, and travelled for a few hours on road. I had to go to Zaria to get some important documents I had left in my hostel, gathering dust, for months.
The Pandemic made me scared of everyone, and there I was, sitting in the back seat with three other people. It was hell enough and I can hardly put the facemask on for more than ten minutes – it had always felt like a strong hand trying to suffocate me.
“Conductor, four people no too much for back?” I had asked when I was about to board the bus.
“Aunty, you go enter abi make I carry another person? People dey wey go gree enter boot oh,” The bus conductor had replied. His rudeness reeked for miles.
I had no choice but to squeeze in.
I thought of home as the bus moved – the lockdown had made so many people look back to analyse their past and see what they can do with their present. I thought of hope and hopelessness that flickered on people’s faces. I thought of how dry Ramadan was and how scared we were to pray in the congregation; we couldn’t even do the exchange of food we usually do in Ramadan.
The pandemic had turned a lot of people into ruined houses. Most people would say it brought no single fortune. But for me, it was in-between.
When the lockdown was announced, I had arrived home from school, my family was really excited to see me for I seldom came home from school even during holidays – I was always busy. At some point, they thought I was shutting them out until I explained to them how demanding my course of study is.
It was exciting to have everyone at home, the house was full: my elder sister, the four boys, Dad and Mum. We would watch movies together and talk about it the next day. We are crazy about movies in my house. Dad would challenge the ladies in the house once in a while, “Daddy is going to prepare a very delicious meal. Just watch. You ladies only brag, but you know I cook better than any of you.” He wouldn’t even allow us to help him out with anything while he cooked. So we just watched TV while he cooked.
Honestly, Dad is a good cook, but I can’t say he cooks better than any of us; my mum, sister or me.
The lockdown gave the blessings of filling in the closeness that was missing. For months, I had not been able to spend good family time with Dad and my immediate younger brother especially. Those two are the closest to me in my family.
I knew Dad was going through a lot. One evening, he was seated outside while we were all in the living room. I decided to join him when he didn’t come into the house after some hours. I sat on the bench with him, he was so concentrated on the sky. “How have you been?” He had asked, still staring at the sky.
“I have been OK, Daddy,” I said. “How have you been?”
“I have been fine,” He had said with uncertainty. He knew that I knew he wasn’t saying everything.
“Tell me about everything, Daddy. You have become thinner than the last time I saw you,” I had said.
That night we talked about so many things. Who said talking isn’t a good therapy? I couldn’t solve almost anything, yet I saw sparks of relief inside of my father after we spoke that night about our challenges. I could see through him.
“I am tired of staying at home and now the pandemic,” My immediate younger brother said while we were taking a walk one morning.
“Don’t worry. Everything happens for a reason,” I had said to him. I had no right to think I could make him feel better.
Somehow, I felt I had failed him. He had applied for NDA twice and he wasn’t shortlisted. On many nights he would leave the house without a word of where he was going, and when he came back he would sit outside for hours before coming in. I had tried so many times to make him pour his heart out to me, but it was always so hard. My courage kept running away whenever I needed it.
My sister, on the other hand, kept mumbling and complaining about NYSC’s refusal to overlook the pandemic and invite them.
Remembering some of the memories while staying with my family during the lockdown made me chuckle, forgetting I was in a tight bus. I felt a little bit embarrassed. I felt the baby’s little hand on my skin again, this time she touched my hand and somehow, I didn’t see any fault in her. I took her hand into mine and smiled at her.
Life is a risk, anyway. When I looked up at her mother she was smiling at me. The woman was trying to say something with her hands, that was when I realized that she was dumb. I nodded even though I didn’t know what she was saying. We arrived at Kawo and the woman waved me goodbye when we alighted from the bus and parted ways.