THE BENSON’S RESIDENCE
The coffee machine beeped to a halt and I moved over to the cabinet top to switch it off.
Zoe loved hot coffee whenever she came back from school no matter the hot weather and I always gave it to her- the apple of my eye!
Humming Joshua Bamiloye’s ‘there are forces against my soul’ song, I went into the store, picked up 5 pieces of big yellow plantain and came back into the kitchen.
‘I am gonna make my baby fresh sweet chips. My little baby’ I said aloud, smiling happily.
If you asked me what gave me joy to still remain in my unfortunate marriage to Zack, then, I would say it was my only child, Zoe! I loved and adored her!
As I started turning the almost brown chips in the frying pan, I heard the honks of Zoe’s school bus.
“My baby is here” I said aloud, moved to the window, drew the curtain and then I saw her as she stepped into the compound, looking as cute as always.
I quickly drained the first round of the chips and then introduced the other set into the hot, boiling oil.
“Hello mum, I am home” I heard her voice as she scampered into her room.
“Welcome my baby girl. How was school today?” I asked with a raised voice
“Cool” came her short response. She must be very tired!
“Make sure you pray o” I shouted again
“Ok mum” she replied softly
Few minutes later, she came into the kitchen in a beautiful white camisole and a short blue corduroy skirt and my eyes widened as I saw her.
“Zoe! Why would you wear something clean when you have not even had your bath, huh!” I exclaimed.
She looked at me briefly, sauntered to the coffee machine, poured out some and sipped it without looking at me.
My ten year old Zoe would always behave like an adult!
But something is not right as whenever she looked at me briefly, she had something bothering her but I had told her severally that this could be very disrespectful.
“Zoe, isn’t it you I am talking to?” I asked her loudly and she looked up at me and smiled briefly.
“Your respect thing again shae? Ok mum, good afternoon. Howdy?” she said and looked into my face with a ‘Isn’t that enough’ look on her face. I saw the dark circles under her eyes and I gasped.
“Are you okay?” I asked and she looked away quickly.
“Is there something you are keeping away from me?” I asked but she did not reply and instead downed another cup of coffee. I looked on, amazed.
“Mum, it seems the plantain chips are burning” she said and I turned quickly to the gas cooker, turned the knob and quickly used the colander to bring out the chips.
I served the chips inside a small salad bowl and Zoe came around to get it from me.
“Thank you mummy. You know I really do love you” she said as she walked out of the kitchen. I followed her intently
“And I love you so well too baby but you know my heart aches when you keep a secret no matter how little from me.”
“Mummy, you too like gist!” she said, giving me a half smile. I smiled too but it was short-lived.
“Is Mandy fighting you again?” I asked and she shook her head in the negative
“Ok, but she called you a proud girl again?”
“No mum, you know I already told you that I don’t give a damn what anybody calls me. I already told Mandy that if she calls herself my best friend and still tells me I am proud, it would all be over. I don’t condone that indiscipline and she has actually complied” she talked on, her gist mode activated. I smiled appreciating the fact that she talked like an adult.
“But don’t do things that would make her…” I was saying when she cut me short
“Say I am proud shae? What have I been doing? Mum, see o, ‘Give me your assignment to dub’ and I said ‘I can’t give you’. ‘Follow me to watch the drama’ and I say ‘I am not going’. ‘Ok, come to my house on Saturday’ she said again ‘No I can’t come, that’s the day I read’. The conclusion was then ‘Zoe, you are proud!’ Judge those instances well mum, do they signify pride?” she asked, really gesticulating
“No dear. I appreciate the fact that at your age, you are able to say your mind without anyone affecting your decision. That is good. Clap for yourself” I said and she gave me a funny look and then chuckled
“Mum, who does that? Clap for myself at my age and marital status? No mum. I have outgrown that” she said as she chewed her chips. I tickled her and she started laughing vehemently
“That’s what your age mates still do so. You are still a kid my dear. Don’t say because you are in Jss2 at ten, you are a grown girl o.” I said and she laughed.
“Mum, don’t say that jhur. I am a big girl o” she said again, winking at me.
God, can you just help me to train my own daughter well? I prayed silently. I dreaded the thought that I had failed as a mother.
“Zoe, can I ask you a question?” I asked and she nodded in the affirmative.
She dropped the salad dish on the glassy center table, sat close to me and placed her head on my laps. I rubbed her chin.
“Ask mum” she said
“Are you proud to be my daughter? If you are asked to choose another mother tomorrow…” I was saying when she cut me short, sitting up with such alacrity that almost scared me.
“Mum, I will choose you!” she said, nodding continuously. I looked on at her with my mouth suspended
“Mum, there are lots of things many of my friends can’t tell their own mother because it is either they beat them blue black or they take them to church for deliverance but for you, I can tell you anything. I can run towards you with poop smeared all over my body but you would still hug me and tell me with love ‘Daughter, you smell’. That kind of mother is rare. Mum, it would be you and you again a million years to come” she said and I was so pleased. I pulled her close to me and pecked her cheeks.
“I love you my daughter. Thank you for the encouragement” I said and she smiled
“Mum, never for once should you doubt your quality of good motherhood. You are good inside out” she said again as if to say she was the mother and I was the child! Zoe won’t kill me with laughter!
“Ok ma” I responded and she smiled and placed her head on my laps again. I picked up the remote control and started flipping through the different channels
“Mum, there is something I want to ask you” she said and sat up again. I reduced the volume of the television to the barest minimum and she held my hands
“Mum, is it bad for me to have a boyfriend at this age?” she asked and my eyes widened in shock. I opened my mouth to say whatever would come out but she rubbed my hands softly.
“Just say yes or no” she said and then pursed her lips
“Erm, see dear, you know…” I stammered on and on. If I said ‘Yes’ she would say ok but do I know what she would go and do behind me? If I said ‘no’ then I was opening the gate of immorality to my young girl.
These high school musicals tho! I almost lamented loudly.
I looked at my daughter’s expectant face and quickly clad a wide smile as my heart pounded loudly.
“See my love, what is your definition of a boyfriend?” I asked, picking my words
“Mum, ok, lemme explain to you. Someone that would stand up to support you when everyone probably bullies you in class; someone that would call, text and exchange gifts with you; someone you can look at and say ‘I love you’”
My heart burst out.
I am in soup!
Had I not made a serious mistake when I enrolled my only daughter in the school of the rich and the elites?
From where has this girl learnt all these?
My heart raced on and on but I could do nothing at that point. Her innocent face looked on at me expecting more soothing advice. I pulled her up to her feet and smiled at her. I surveyed my daughter from head to toes.
She had really become grown!
She had all the curves.
She was rotund, beautiful with very long hair- her inheritance from her Fulani father.
Her breasts were also standing hopefully on her chest. She looked like a 15 year old!
She had almost become an obese two years ago until I decided it was time to come back to Nigeria. The life in France really spoilt her!
“Mum, talk now. Why are you just running your eyes over my body like that? Are you a pervert?” she asked jokingly and I smacked her lightly across the face. I pulled her to my laps and placed my hand on her chest.
“My daughter already has a suitor? You want mum to be a grandma so fast?” I asked, trying to lighten the mood. She gasped and looked into my face
“Mum, see, it’s not what you think o. I am as decent as anything. I am even the one that tries my best to encourage and advise my mates to desist from doing bad” she said, so assuredly and I looked so shocked.
‘What does she know? What does my daughter know oh Lord?’ I asked myself and she laughed.
“Mum, this one that you are looking shocked…let’s forget about that part and please let’s go back to my question” she said and I swallowed hard, trying really hard to conceal my fear and shock.
“You have never told me anything about any bad thing going on in your class Zoe!” I said passionately.
“Mummy, it’s not all the eyes see or the ears hear that the mouth must report. That’s why we have a pair each of the eyes and ears but one of mouth.” She preached on and winked at me, brushing her petite finger across my nose. I shook my head vigorously.
“No dear. I want to know everything o. Your mum isn’t a witch. I am a presenter, I can learn from your entire gist. Do you promise to gist me daily?” I asked and she laughed loudly hugging me so tight
“Look for a mum that treats her daughter as a friend, listen to her gist and still crave for more gist and I will show you my mother.” She said as she gave me a ‘high five’
“Don’t worry mum. I will tell you later. Let’s face my own issue now” she said almost anxiously.
“Ok boo, what exactly do you want from me?”
“Lemme be frank with you mum. You know I am the youngest in that class and all of them know, although I am bigger than most of them.”
“Yes daughter. I know” I said looking into her face. She would never feel bad for her stature. In fact, she loved it! I really taught and instilled in her boldness and confidence plus love for oneself.
“Mum, to be frank, I have a crush in my class” she dropped the bomb and my chest rose up with pain arising from it.
“Crush? What’s a crush?”
“Mum, it’s a Sam. He is the Class rep and I am the assistant. He behaves matured, he is handsome, he doesn’t do bad things, he only goes on his way and even for me, he plays hard to get” she said and I really could not help myself as I let out a serious sigh.
But she didn’t look at me.
“It has been like that for long until yesterday when we were in the Biology lab when he walked over to me and dropped a note in my hand and ran away.” She continued with satisfaction on her face.
“Yes mum, a note. I have kept it safe in my wardrobe. It says ‘I like your kind of girl and I won’t mind if you don’t, to be your boyfriend’ and mum, I walked out of the lab into the restroom to read over and over again! I could tell nobody. I was so excited” she said, sighed and stood up from my laps to the window side.
What should I do?
What kind of a thing is this?
What sort of a Sam has gotten the premature heart of my kid?
What do these kids understand oh Lord!
These were the questions that ran through my head as I looked at her. If I beat her now, of what use would that be? If I go to their school tomorrow to report Sam to the school authority, of what use is that?
Lord, please teach me the right step to take! I prayed as I looked up at the ceiling as if my life depended on it.
“Daughter, tell Sam that you are inviting him for dinner in your house on Saturday” I said and her eyes widened as she ran to me.
“Mum! For real?” she asked, smiling widely. My heart broke but I smiled and nodded in the affirmative.
“Yes for real. Let’s meet him and see if it’s a devil’s proposal” I said. I didn’t know where that idea dropped from but it dropped anyway. She stopped in her tracks, her smile fading away.
“A devil’s proposal?” she asked and I nodded.
“Yes dearie. On many occasions, the devil proposes to us daily. We either say yes or no to the proposal. This is a proposal from someone, not necessarily Sam but when he comes, by the look on his face, his word to you and all, I will know if it’s a devil’s proposal or just a juvenile stuff” I said and with her mouth suspended, still looking at me, I knew she wanted more.
“See, the devil can tell you ‘hiss at your mum’. It’s just a proposal, you either say yes or no” I explained further and she nodded, closing her mouth.
“I understand! Like when Dad would come home and shout at you, then you would send me inside without replying him. You were saying ‘no’ to the devil’s proposal” she gave her own illustration and painful as it were that my own daughter made an illustration as this, it was the truth!
I could do nothing but nod!
“But mum, why does Dad shout at you all the time?” she asked and as the wave of pain rose in my heart, I pulled her close to my chest if her chubby cheeks could just calm my heavy heart.
“It’s just a devil’s proposal to him for which he said yes. That’s why we have to pray for him the more so that he would say no the proposal one day” I said and Zoe nodded
“Mum, that’s true. I just remembered something. I want to tell you to tell Mummy Mandy to be like you” she said and I pulled her up, looking into her face.
‘What?’ I asked
“Mandy likes a boy in my class and fortunately, it is a mutual thing…” she kept on saying.
What is so fortunate about this whole saga girl! I fumed in my heart.
“Ok?” I replied, asking her to continue
“Mandy got home yesterday and told her mum about it. Jesus! Mummy, if you see her face today, it was so swollen; her mum beat hell out of her! Her mum called her names and even dragged her by the clothes to school today. She had even made an apron for Mandy that she wore. She wrote ‘If you see this girl with a boy, call this number…’ and they brought out the boy on the assembly ground and gave him 6 strokes of the cane! All because she is a pastor’s daughter. Ah!” she said, shaking her head.
I could understand the plight of Mrs. Otito as her first daughter in SS 3 had reportedly been impregnated by a teacher in her school. Little wonder she took this one personal but she went too far!
“Mum, see, today, the boy still sent her messages of consolation and all. Does the mum think the apron and the lashes would stop them? That is why I love you. When one tells you something, though it meets you in shock and you pause like for an umpteen time, you would still come out with happiness” she said and I smiled.
Thank God I had not failed her test if not; I would have only lost my daughter into the hands of friends.
My phone rang from the kitchen and Zoe ran to get it!
“Mum Zack” she shouted as she ran inside the sitting room. I had instant tummy ache at the mention of that name.
I had always hated my mother-in-law!
I pressed the receiver and placed the phone to my ears, an intense frown on my face.
“Hello, good evening ma”
“Evening. Are you home?” she asked
“Prepare the guest room for me and also prepare pounded yam. I am at the bus stop already”
“Bus stop!” I was saying when she dropped the call. That is like a stone throw from my house. How did she expect me to meet up?
“This woman sha! Must she come here! Oh God!” I almost cried aloud, tugging at the throw pillows.
I felt Zoe’s hand on my shoulder and I looked into her face. I had forgotten that she was there.
“Mum, it’s the devil’s proposal and you are saying yes!” she said and I smiled and patted her head.
“Thanks for the reminder dear. Now, rush into your bathroom, shower and read your ‘higher everyday’ I will ask you questions on it afterwards.
“Ok mum” she said as she scurried away. I shook my head regrettably.
I really do wish this was a devil’s proposal that I could resist!
But for real, I hate my Mother-in-law with passion!
“Oh! I have forgotten to ask my daughter what bad things she said are happening in her class!”