All I can see is Joe’s behind.
“You in yet?”
“My leg’s stuck.”
“Pull me up, Joe.”
“Can’t you do anything right?”
“Please, it’s hurting. I think it’s bleeding.”
“You’ll have to wait. Not far to go now. There.”
Joe flicks a switch. The attic ceiling is low, and slopes inwards, so he has to crouch. He moves forward and stubs his toe against a support beam. I move up behind him.
“This place stinks, Joe. Why did you bring me up here?”
The attic has the same musty smell as the old books that Joe keeps hidden under his bed, just a hundred times worse. It’s thick, and airless, and I open my mouth and close it again, moving my tongue around.
“You said you wanted to do this, Marla. Just wait.”
“You think it’s in here?”
“Gonna have to look for it.”
“Hurry. It really stinks.”
Joe makes me get on my knees with him and help him search. I don’t want to tell him that I don’t really care about finding anything up here anymore. Dust is spluttering up from the floor as we shift aside boxes, and Joe’s leaving huge handprints in the ground. I’m getting tired, and I’m annoyed that I came up here in my new dress. Mama bought it for me for Tammy’s birthday party on Saturday, and the pretty birds on it are now covered in brown splotches. I stop looking for a moment and try to swallow my tears.
Joe is by the boxes stacked high at the far end of the attic. He’s shifted one down to the floor, and pulls out a worn leather photo album. It has a lot of loose yellow papers inside the front flap, and Joe goes through them, holding them up to the bulb, until he picks one out with his fingertips and turns to me. The bulb is moving back and forth in front of his face, so his eyes go yellow, black, yellow, black.
“Come over here, Marla. You’re how old now? Six?”
“Old enough for this. OK, you know who this is?”
He turns the piece of paper towards me. Joe was always being strange like this. When Mama’s friends were over, he hated it as much as I did. But when the drinks finished, and the dancing was over, and they all sat at the dining table, talking about Nigeria, and politics, and corruption, and the women fanned their faces, and said Jesus wept, and the men refilled their glasses, and spat out different words, like soldiers, or democracy, Joe would be right there, quiet, in a corner, eyes darting from speaker to speaker, even though he was only thirteen.
It’s a picture of a man. He looks about twenty, and he’s got round glasses, and a wide nose. He’s sitting down in front of a brown building with a flat roof. It says University of Ibadan on it, above his head. He’s wearing these chequered robes that look like a massive dishcloth, and they stretch down to his feet and hide most of his arms. He’s not smiling, and you can only see bits of his hair, because he’s wearing a hat that points straight up like a pyramid and has ears like a puppy.
“You don’t know who this is?”
“I said no.”
“This here is Mama’s daddy. Your grandpa.”
I stare at the picture, thinking that it would somehow change. It doesn’t. Joe has managed to sit on the box, even though his head is brushing the ceiling, but I’m still kneeling, and I want to go back downstairs.
“OK. Listen here. You know the house that Mama took us to? In Nigeria? With the mango trees outside?”
“Well that was where our grandpa grew up. I read in one of my books that there are loads of things that kids have to do in Nigeria. Like when you’re born. You have a naming ceremony. All your uncles and aunties come to it. They choose a name for you, and it’s meant to guide you. Like, predict your future.”
“So what we gonna do?”
“Obviously, I wasn’t old enough to give you a name when you were born, but I’ve found one to give to you now. We’ll get Grandpa to bless us.”
Joe closes his eyes and puts his free hand on my head. He tells me to shut my eyes.
“Marla. Our feet wander. We’re here. In England. But we have a home. In Nigeria. With Grandpa’s blessing, I name you Ilesanmi. It means one day, you can rest.”
I squeeze my eyes tight, and then open them. Joe still has his eyes shut.
Ifedolapo Apampa was born in the UK to Nigerian parents. He grew up in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, and Kent, and now lives in London. He enjoys reading. And writing.
Related country: Nigeria