The haze hung from heaven like a rebuke, wreathing the entire compound with its chilly breath. His fingers stung as he dipped the bowl into the bucket to splash water on the car. He cracked and stretched them to remove the stiffness and he resumed wiping the windscreen, gingerly pulling back the wipers. The water sluiced around the glass edges taking with it the harmattan dust. "Ahh! "He particularly hated banging his numb knuckles against the rusty red tyre rims of the old Peugeot 405. The smarting skin and mounting inner unpleasantness were just the beginning of the long Christmas. He spread over his lean muscled frame over the hood of the car and scrubbed the roof and windscreen.
It was early morning and his only company was the sound of splashing, the lazy tweets of a disinterested bird and the crunching of his slippered feet on the gravel of the drive way as he washed the car that would take every body away. Everybody but him.
He clanged the metal bucket back under the antique brass tap for a refill scratched his crotch through his worn shorts and idly watched the morning break over the gleaming dripping car as his thoughts echoed and swirled like the water hitting the bottom of the bucket. He would be missing the best Christmas holiday of his life.
Weeks before, he had failed his grade exams by a small margin that his father then solemnly deemed "unacceptable". Now he would be spending Christmas studying and copying notes with his grand mother. His siblings commiserated with sympathetic noises briefly then excitedly turned to each other to make more holiday plans without him.
The gate bell buzzed at the door of his house. His "warder" his Grandmother had arrived. He turned off the tap over the half full bucket and hurried noisily down the graveled driveway to open the gate. He peered perfunctorily through the slits in the gate as he opened the padlock.
He could see the thick heavy shape of his grandmother as she called out "Awa ni". (It's us)
He greeted in her back in Yoruba as he threw the gate open and prepared to genuflect halfheartedly then he saw that she wasn't alone. Standing next to her, sullenly handling two archaic portmanteaus was his elder cousin from the 'home town'. He made to help her with one but she set both pieces of luggage before him and walked off towards the house.
"Awon Mama ati Baba e nko?"( Where are your mother and father?) queried his grandmother in Yoruba as she sort of waddled past him.
He replied in an awkward blend of Yoruba and English telling her they were inside getting prepared for the trip to Lagos while he swung the gates shut and fumbled with the padlock. He picked up the suitcases and stumbled after them.
"Hell just got hotter," He thought grimly. This was not a good beginning to an already promised excruciating Christmas holiday. Between his stern grandmother and his bossy cousin, he wouldn't get any breathing room in this stuffy house.
Minutes later in the parlour, his parents debriefed his Grandmother on the terms of his stay. No TV.No going out or visitors. He was to be on lock down and copy his notes and study. His siblings looked at him in mixed sympathy in their new travel clothes.
His grandmother had brought his cousin over to assist her in keeping an eye on him and take care of her also. Her diabetes was slowing her down.
He slunk away to his room to lie down on his bed and soon heard the cheery goodbyes and' safe journeys" exchanged as the car started and left the compound. His abandonment had begun.
He was laid on the bed with his head to the wall when he heard his at his doorway.
"Why did you fail your WASC? I thought you were bright".
"It's none of your business Fola".
He hated her crude accented English. He hated the fact that she was 2 years older than him. He hated her bossy –know – it - all -attitude, always trying to assert herself over him when she visited. Wasn't she was just a simpleton from the village in those days that his parents supported? Though he conceded that she always did well with her grades in spite if her disadvantaged position.
He heard the door close and smelt the (un) fragrance of freshly sewn batik and body musk hovering over him.
That was very rude. Turn over and look at me when I'm addressing you Jide".
He fumed briefly at her tone and then he slowly turned to consider her.
She had always been taller than him and now she had definitely outstripped him in physical maturity. Her slightly hairy arms crossed over her chest did nothing to hide the heft of her round breasts. Even her very modestly cut dress couldn't hide the fact that she had hips now. He started to cross his legs to hide his swiftly returning morning wood but thought better of it and sat up on his bed and scowled up at her
"What do you want here?"
"Mamma insisted that I come here and help you with your studies instead of spending Christmas at home. So you had better behave yourself and do what I tell you or I will report you to her and your parents"
"I really don't care for your help"
She leaned in furiously and in turn he locked his defiant upwards gaze on her. This close to her he could smell her earthy odor and his nostrils flared. The sun suddenly broke through morning haze and shone brightly through the windows rendering the simmering scene into artistic silhouettes of a face off.
She blinked furiously him and then glanced at the source of the interruption, turned swiftly and went though the door to heed Mamma. He watched her go and noted that his shorts were was tight with his erection. He stiffly got off the bed and made to his bathroom to pee and shower.
The distant afternoon cry of the muezzin wafted through Jide's room and over his bent over form at his table. He stretched his arms high above his head and cracked his knuckles and finished the last few lines on his Government notes. He tossed it at the pile of finished notes and picked the Regional Geography notes and got lost in the reading and transcribing of 'Sources of Bauxite in Nigeria"
He didn't hear the rustle of clothes swishing towards him but he heard the clink of cutlery hitting porcelain.
He looked up to see Fola deposit a tray of covered food next to his books. She waited there, arms folded.
He spoke to her without looking up.
"Weren't you taught how to knock in your village?"
.... There is more of this story ...