"The Girl With The Louding Voice," by Abi Daré is Jenna Bush Hager's February pick for the Read With Jenna book club. Click here to learn more.
This morning, Papa call me inside the parlor.
He was sitting inside the sofa with no cushion and looking me. Papa have this way of looking me one kind. As if he wants to be flogging me for no reason, as if I am carrying shit inside my cheeks and when I open mouth to talk, the whole place be smelling of it.
“Sah?” I say, kneeling down and putting my hand in my back. “You call me?”
“Come close,” Papa say.
I know he want to tell me something bad. I can see it inside his eyes; his eyesballs have the dull of a brown stone that been sitting inside hot sun for too long. He have the same eyes when he was telling me, three years ago, that I must stop my educations. That time, I was the most old of all in my class and all the childrens was always calling me “Aunty.” I tell you true, the day I stop school and the day my mama was dead is the worst day of my life.
When Papa ask me to move closer, I am not answering him because our parlor is the small of a Mazda car. Did he want me to move closer and be kneeling inside his mouth? So, I kneel in the same place and wait for him to be talking his mind.
Papa make a noise with his throat and lean on the wood back of the sofa with no cushion. The cushion have spoil because our last born, Kayus, he have done too many piss inside it. Since the boy was a baby, he been pissing as if it is a curse. The piss mess the cushion, so Mama make Kayus to be sleeping on it for pillow.
We have a tee- vee in our parlor; it didn’t work. Born- boy, our first born, he find the tee- vee inside dustbin two years back when he was working a job as dustbin collector officer in the next village. We are only putting it there for fashion. It is looking good, sitting like a handsome prince inside our parlor, in the corner beside the front door. We are even putting small flower vase on top it; be like a crown on the prince head. When we have a visitor, Papa will be doing as if it is working and be saying, “Adunni, come and put evening news for Mr. Bada to watch.” And me, I will be responding, “Papa, the remote- controlling is missing.” Then Papa will shake his head and say to Mr. Bada, “Those useless childrens, they have lost the remote- controlling again. Come, let us sit outside, drink, and forget the sorrows of our country, Nigeria.”
Mr. Bada must be a big fool if he didn’t know that it is a lie.
We have one standing fan too, two of the fan blade is missing so it is always blowing air, which is making the whole parlor too hot. Papa like to be sitting in front of the fan in the evening, crossing his feets at his ankles and drinking from the bottle that have become his wife since Mama have dead.
“Adunni, your mama have dead,” Papa say after a moment. I can smell the drink on his body as he is talking. Even when Papa didn’t drink, his skin and sweat still smell.
“Yes, Papa. I know,” I say. Why is he telling me something I have already know? Something that have cause a hole inside my heart and fill it with block of pain that I am dragging with me to everywhere? How can I ever be forgetting how my mama was coughing blood, red and thick with spit bubbles, inside my hand every day for three months? When I am closing my eyes to sleep at night, I still see the blood, sometimes I taste the salt of it.
“I know, Papa,” I say again. “Have another something bad happen?”
Papa sigh. “They have told us to be going.”
“To be going to where?” Sometimes I have worry for Papa. Since Mama have dead, he keep saying things that didn’t make sense, and sometimes he talk to hisself, cry to hisself too when he think nobody is hearing.
“You want me to fetch water for your morning baff?” I ask. “There is morning food too, fresh bread with sweet groundnut.”
“Community rent is thirty thousan’ naira,” Papa say. “If we cannot pay the moneys, we must find another place to live.” Thirty thousand naira is very plenty moneys. I know Papa cannot find that moneys even if he is searching the whole of the Nigeria because even my school fees moneys of seven thousand, Papa didn’t have. It was Mama who was paying for school fees and rent moneys and feeding money and everything money before she was dead.
“Where we will find that kind money?” I ask.
“Morufu,” Papa say. “You know him? He come here yesterday. To see me.”
“Morufu the taxi driver?” Morufu is a old man taxi driver in our village with the face of a he‑goat. Apart from his two wifes, Morufu is having four childrens that didn’t go to school. They just be running around the village stream in their dirty pant, pulling sugar cartons with string, playing suwe and clapping their hand until the skin about to peel off. Why was Morufu visiting our house? What was he finding?
“Yes,” Papa say with a tight smile. “He is a good man, that Morufu. He surprise me yesterday when he say he will pay community rent for us. All the thirty thousan’.”
“That is good?” I ask the question because it didn’t make sense. Because I know that no man will be paying for another somebody’s rent unless he is wanting something. Why will Morufu pay our community rent? What was he wanting? Or is he owing Papa moneys from before in the past? I look my papa, my eyes filling with hope that it is not the thing I am thinking. “Papa?”
“Yes.” Papa wait, swallow spit, and wipe his front head sweat. “The rent moneys is . . . is among your owo- ri.”
“My owo- ri? You mean my bride- price?” My heart is starting to break because I am only fourteen years going fifteen and I am not marrying any foolish stupid old man because I am wanting to go back to school and learn teacher work and become a adult woman and have moneys to be driving car and living in fine house with cushion sofa and be helping my papa and my two brothers. I don’t want to marry any mens or any boys or any another person forever, so I ask Papa again, talking real slow so he will be catching every word I am saying and not mistaking me in his answer: “Papa, is this bride- price for me or for another person?”
And my papa, he nod his head slowly slow, not minding the tears standing in my eyes or the opening wide of my mouth, as he is saying: “The bride- price is for you, Adunni. You will be marrying Morufu next week.”