They found a place to sit in a restaurant nearby and Ayo’s first statement sent a cold shiver over Martha. ‘Mum would be happy to see you?’ It was like waking up to see a ghost and Martha’s smile faded. She wasn’t going back home soon, she thought, not now.
They sat and after some minutes of staring and smiling, he asked, ‘why did you leave in the first place?’
Your dad was a nuisance. He forced me to have sex with him and he would have used me for as long as he wished.
She didn’t say that. She had planned her answer to this kind of questions. She had planned where she would tell the truth. Where? Not in a restaurant and with only Ayo as the audience. And now wasn’t the appropriate time. She was still entangled with a job she wasn’t proud about.
‘I don’t need to ask you if you are doing good… Just look at you.’
‘So what could have made you left?’ he asked.
‘Please, Ayo. I don’t want them to know you found me. Not yet. I want them to know, but not now, not this way.’
He frowned. When she nodded to ask for his agreement, he nodded back and she smiled once more. She extended her left hand over the table and he held it as they talked about life. He was studying civil engineering in the University of Lagos. He had just resumed for the new academic session and he was planning to have fun in a bar when she walked into the bar. When it was Martha’s turn, she didn’t start her story from the beginning when she left home. He would be interested there but she wasn’t going to open up like that. She bowed her head many times and looked at the plate and the side, at the people talking, but not at his eyes.
‘I wasn’t happy with my real parent’ she lied, ‘I wanted to go out on my own and earn some money and become a great woman and pay them back. I have been working at a club. The pay wasn’t bad. I’m going back to see our parents but please give me some time to prepare.’
He was quiet for some seconds as if doubting her, and then he said ‘OK. You can trust me. I’m your brother.’
Yes, he was her brother. He was the little boy who had carried her on his back, her chest against the back of his sweaty uniform. Whenever Florence did not follow them to school because of illness, they took their time to enjoy the freedom. They waited back at school and played. Martha loved basketball or dancing to entertain her friends, Ayo played football. Together they returned home to cover up for one another, telling Mrs Ajasin how they had to wait and perform some extracurricular activities.
‘Look at your cheeks,’ he reached for it over the table, ‘like puff-puff.’
Martha smiled, ‘and what is this on your cheek,’ she said, ‘touching the amount of hair on his cheek.’
Each said they were happy to see each other but the honesty of that statement came out of the way they go about the reunion that evening. They ate and talked. Then they walked out of the restaurant, ice cream in hands and they talked and talked. then it suddenly appeared that Martha was on his back like those years in Abeokuta and at first, Ayo staggered, this is a bigger and heavier girl, then he adjusted her weight and they laughed, a wide laughed that the sky above could have heard. This was the perfect welcome-back she could get after the mess she had been through for the past three nights. She could feel the veins of her neck vibrating with fresh vigour, the type a tickled child feel in a bathtub. She deserved to be this excited all the time, to have this kind of feeling that made her forget what time it is or the kind of job she does. It was a kind of days she prayed for. She wished the moment could last forever, but when she shut her eyes briefly and Ayo wasn’t talking to her, she remembered Mr.Ajasin and Uchnenna and the intimidating walls of Rendezvous. It was brief a moment, a moment that faded so quickly once Ayo attention was back.
When they departed that night, what was left of Martha’s night was spent awake thinking, about weddings, flowers, butterflies, a cup of tea in bed, the difference between kissing in public and kissing under the duvet.
They met often after that night. It could be anywhere that was right for brothers and sisters to meet, restaurant, the roadside, a club or Ayo’s hostel, and sometimes awkward moments passed when someone asked Martha who was Ayo. She would look at the face of the boy beside him who would wear a teasing smile, with an eye saying, ‘this is your mess, deal with it.’ My brother, she would say eventually and he would giggle. They catch up with the pasts. They would start bright, talking about the days in their secondary school, Martha’s love for dancing and the way she squeezed her face when Mr Ajasin would say her dance was ungodly. They would laugh and many days the discussion would lead to going back home, where Martha would think she should escape through the ground, where he would look down and found out that she had disappeared suddenly, he would blink and found that she had gone.
They were at his room in the hostel, a room with kitchenette and bath, when he popped the question as usual. ‘When will you go home to see mum and dad. I didn’t call them because I want you to do it.’
A moment passed, as though her silence could answer him as if she could just ignore the question and everything would be fine. It wasn’t fine and so she said, ‘I need to prepare and I want to surprise them. They should be very, very happy to see me. This place to Abeokuta is not a short distance.’
He was sitting on the bed, Martha taking comfort on the cushion. He was looking across the room but now her eyes were on her. ‘This place to Abeokuta is just two hours.’
Martha looked away at the postal of Micheal Jackson covering the larger part of the wall opposite the bed. She thought about how the main in the poster could stand on his toe so easily, holding his crotch. She stared at Ayo and she saw that same determination in his eyes, the determination that if she wanted to leave, she could stop making excuses.
‘We could get home in the next three hours if we follow a night bus,’ he continued.
Martha smiled. she had come to Lagos through a night bus, but she was not ready to take that again not for the fear of nights but as an excuse to remain in Lagos and prepared her life for the day she would eventually meet their parent. She wanted it to be grand on such a day when her foster father would look up at her and grimace and shed a lot of tears and ask for her forgiveness. But if done now, her return would be that of a prodigal daughter who had done worse with her own life, who had done many unmentionable things before she turns twenty.
‘I will go home soon.’
The days passed on gradually, Martha and Ayo were such a specimen in any romance. They were siblings and admirers and crushes and lovers at the same time. when they hold hands, it felt too emotional for Martha as if he was holding her hands and walking through an aisle to the front of a crowd where his parents were sitting, but she was smiling and holding on, she was contented with holding his hands and looking at him, having him beside her. Then it led to a stage where they started admiring each others body. ‘I like the way your beards is growing,’ said Martha. ‘See as your lips are cuter than before,’ said Ayo. ‘These your legs are too long, hope you will not become taller than the room,’ said Martha. ‘And you will not stop getting curvy like Kim Kardashian,’ said Ayo. They were becoming a case. For Martha, Uchenna was a man who used to exist except that she had forgotten than police officers aren’t the type to give up on anyone on their hands easily.
Uchenna came back for forgiveness. Martha would hide. It was a fun thing when she employed her friends to do it. All she had to do was run into her room and locked the door. She would hear how they handle it from the walls of the room. On one funny day, they asked him to sit that Martha just left to buy magi. He sat and waited and they made him a true visitor that he was, offering him drinks and snacks and giggled loudly as he turned them down. After an hour, they advised him, ‘maybe you should check back later. We don’t know it would take her this long to buy magi,’ and he left, a round of laughter escorting him to the door.
‘Do you still dance very well?’ Ayo asked one night when they were at his hostel.
‘I still dance,’ she said.
She remembered dancing in the rain or in her pants or dancing anywhere she could as a young girl. How he would play with any device to give sounds, she remembered, how he played with sticks on metal poles, how he hailed her when she danced. So they took off and attended a night club where she could let loose and become a younger, happy version of herself again, with that same boy clapping and dancing along with her. When they held hands and danced to 2face’s song, it felt like a new experience as if she hadn’t danced holding someone’s hand before. The giggles came from the depth of hearts and the smile was as pure as the one she had when she first ran away from home. She shut her eyes for some minutes and stepped closer and his hand found its way to her waist and they danced awkwardly to a dance ‘my angel,’ by 2face. She was her brother anyway and she didn’t have to be afraid that anyone would look at them in a funny way and so she danced, happily, enjoying every moment of it as they go about it. Soon she would stop seeing him so that she could focus on becoming on a doctor and so that she could stop him from dragging her home faster than she wanted to.
Three days later, she wouldn’t have guessed she would be heading to Abeokuta, ahead of Ayo. It was the beginning of a different experience, one she wished she should have stuck with her initial plan not to come. With a murder stains on her hand, she could only pray about getting out free.