Fiction, poetry, writing
The opening chapters in my novel and an introduction to the characters.
This novel is about Ade, Elizabeth and Kutes who live in a large house in Manchester. At the beginning of the novel Elizabeth finds out that her father, Peter, has died in Nigeria. This is the chrysalis for the characters to begin reminiscing about how they reached the point they are at and to consider what it means to each of them to travel to Nigeria for the funeral.
Ade came to Manchester when she was 17, in 1945 with Peter, who she had met in her father’s compound in Nigeria. Peter was the white man who sometimes drove her father to his work with the foreign office. Ade was a willful child and at age 15 decided that she would marry Peter who was 5 years older than her. Meanwhile her father began holding meetings against the colonialists within his compound and Ade, along with her cousin, Funmi, started to listen in to what was being said. Move forward to Manchester, 1945, and the 5th Pan African Conference as Ade finds her feet in a new city.
Elizabeth has had what she considers a strange upbringing. Her mother is Nigerian and her father is British and yet they live in each other’s country. She isn’t sure where she belongs. She has been brought up with stories from her mother ranging from politics to magic and all things in between. She spent a lot of time wandering around the house when she was younger making up her own stories. Her friend Dia from school has stayed in contact and they begin going to black power meetings in their late teens. Dia becomes involved in the black British feminist movement and renounces men. Elizabeth wants to go along with her but resists because she is still very much caught up in her identity issues and struggles to control her OCD.
Kutes is Elizabeth’s daughter and thinks that her mum and nan are mad. She has her own pressing issues and can’t be bothered to cater to her mum’s neuroses or her nan’s forgetfulness. She certainly has no intentions of travelling to Nigeria to bury a man she doesn’t know and couldn’t care less about. Kutes is Mancunian born and bred and has no issues with who she is and where she belongs.
I am precisely where I should be; half way round the lake at Chorlton Water Park. It’s what I do on Monday afternoons. I finish work at two-thirty; have a late lunch in my car and then walk. I look at the trees, even when they’re bare like today. I listen to the birds, sit on this bench and watch the ducks. Sometimes there’s a heron. It stands on the left side of the lake. It isn’t here today. I can hear a magpie behind me, but if I don’t turn around I won’t see it and it won’t be bad luck.
Dad used to take me to the park when I was small. If he was around that was. We would always end up sitting next to the lake. In Alex Park. It wasn’t a wild lake like this one, though. A few orderly ducks and swans. Pigeons picking around the benches. Sometimes dad pretended there was a ship for us to get on. Sometimes he sat quietly.
And then my phone is ringing. It isn’t supposed to. Well, obviously, that’s what phones do, but Monday afternoons? No. That’s my time. It’s Kutes, and she isn’t saying very much, just that Tola’s crying and I’d better go home and see what’s wrong with him. As usual, she doesn’t say his name. She says ‘your brother’.
I don’t want to go home. I have things to think about. Kutes is one of them. I need a strategy, apparently. To negotiate the teenage hormones and create balance. Bollocks. I need to get away from her. It’s too bloody stressful. How am I supposed to control a seventeen year old who happens to be stunning and knows it and has worked out that guys will do anything she asks? I didn’t bring her up like that. Maybe Dia’s right and she’s searching for her father figure. Maybe that’s why she’s seeing that old man, who is twice her age and looks it and is controlling and old, did I list old? For fuck’s sake. Breathe. She’ll grow out of it. As long as she doesn’t get knocked up.
jeez me mum never stops moan moan moan she needs to get a grip at least I rang her whats her problem anyways bout hope im gonna get changed whats wrong wiv these jeans an I have to wear me vest top cos ive gotta put me work tshirt on over it an there aint no way that skanky tops touchin me skin its gross an anyways she looks a right mess them jeans were in fashion mebbe 60 years ago an that hippy top all floaty an loose like yeah man an it aint like shes fat or summat so theres no need to wear baggy shit an I don’t know why she scrapes her hair back like shes some kind of chav why dunt she put the friggin straightners on it an make herself look nice an she stands there with them goggle eyes like I just sicked up on the floor she needs to deal wiv her random brother innit instead of goin on at me for nothing she gets on me tits least I was doin me homework so what if I was watchin tele I swear down I cant wait to move to me nans house so I dont have to see her everyday
So, my husband has gone. Before I lifted the telephone to my ear and before Funmi greeted me I sensed that something had happened. I do not know how many hours I have been sitting in this chair but my body is stiff. My room looks strange to me as though I have just entered somewhere I do not know. Peter is dead. He is gone. If it had not been for that man, Sha! But what am I saying? Did he force me to come to this place?
The journey-o! How I survived it I do not know. When we arrived in Lagos port I thought I would pass out. The smell-o! Aiy-aiy-aiy! The ship was so large. I had never seen anything so big in my life. But of course I was young and excited. I was more concerned with looking over my shoulder to make sure that I had not been followed. I do not think I shed one tear at the thought of leaving my home.
It was not as difficult as we thought it would be for me to slip into Peter’s car at the edge of the village. When Funmi and I reach the Iroko tree, the women’s tree, I look up. It is as though the moon is impaled on its highest branch. Earlier the children were playing, as they do at full moon, drawing around each other with chalk to create moon-babies that litter the floor. I grip Funmi’s hand, suddenly frightened.
‘What if he does not turn up-o? What will I do? I will die.’
‘Sistah, I beg-o, you do not need to do this. It will be well. Mama will understand.’
‘But Funmi, I love him. Can you not be happy for me?’
I try to let go of her hand, but she grips me tight. The air is still, thick. The scent of evening rides on top of it. Saturating my senses. Pepper soup is mixed with charcoal and the village latrines. The river is glinting as the moon whispers its secrets in a thousand voices to its ebb and flow.
Funmi begins to cry, quietly. We hear the thrum-thrum of the car’s engine as it loops around the village. My heart leaps and my insides tighten and I know I am doing the right thing. The headlights create shadows of us that reach up into the branches. Stretching for the moon. We hide behind the tree. Just in case. Just in case it is somebody else. Just in case it is my papa returning. Peter pulls up right beside us, drives over the thick, knobbled roots.