I pretend not to hear the knock on the door. It is light, as though the visitor is sorry to have to bother us. It is light enough to ignore, so I don’t move an inch even at the second knock. I will the guest to leave, there is no harm in wishing, but I know she will not. Aunty Ejiro will not leave. Everyone knows when she is at the door by the way she knocks, Rap. Rap. Rap, as though to inform the occupants that it is not some random stranger brushing against their door. Her knocks are always happy, never hurried. Of what use is it to bang on your host’s door and get them all upset? So, rap rap rap her knocks always are. They annoy my father greatly.
I am surprised my mother has not asked me to get the door. The curtain that separates our room into two is pulled back half-way and I can see her. She is sleeping, pretending too.
At the fourth knock, it becomes embarrassing. The raps are louder, but are just as patient, as happy, as certain that the occupants would soon do as is expected of them and heed its call. My mother’s eyes flip open and meet mine. She does not say a word. I stand and make to get the door.
“Good evening, aunty Ejiro,” I say rubbing my eyes and letting out a little yawn.
“How are you, Osas? Your mama nko?”
“She’s sleeping, ma,” I say, now scratching my left arm. I do not move away from the door. I watch her stare at me. She does not budge either. There is silence, an awkward one.
“Na Ejiro?” My mother’s voice is low as someone who should have been asleep.
“Na me ooo, my friend,” aunty Ejiro replies dusting her feet on the footmat outside and walking in to sit on the single sofa in front of the tv. “How body? E don tey. I say make I come check up on you.” She is brimming with smiles like someone who has won a lottery, but I know she hasn’t. Aunty Ejiro cannot win a lottery. Why, she can’t even afford the ticket.
“You do well o,” my mother says from the inner room. She throws her faded MTN-everywhere-you-go t-shirt over her head and her wrapper drops to her waist. She tucks it in firmly.
“Ahhh, I don knock tire. I say whether na women fellowship you go. This sleep really carry you.”
I retreat into the room just as my mother emerges from it. “My sister, as I come back from school, I just weak. Those children really wear you out.”
“Doh,” aunty Ejiro sympathizes.
“How market?” my mothers asks.
“We thank God, my sister,” aunty Ejiro rubs hers palms together. I am on the bed in the inner room, my maths homework is spread out before me, but I cannot solve a single question. I did not understand what Mr. Dawodu taught today. I never understand what he teaches. All he does half the time is stand before us with his full moustache and protruding belly, winding his cane, a long terrorizing one. I do not shut my books even though I know I will not do the homework. I will copy Adaobi’s tomorrow, before assembly. I know my mother is stealing glances at me. She has asked me to always busy myself whenever we have visitors, so I bend over my books and scribble at the back.
I hear everything aunty Ejiro tells my mother. A customer accused her of selling bad fruits to him. Mama Nonso has not paid up the debt of tangerines she bought a week before. The KAI officials threatened to demolish her make-shift shop. My mother oohs, she ahhs, she claps her hands, she shakes her head, and then, they both fall silent.
I am very happy my mother did not ask me to go and buy aunty Ejiro mineral from across the road as she normally would. I am also happy she did not offer her the last chin-chin in the house, that’s my school snack tomorrow, the one I hope to share with Adaobi- the only person who will allow me copy her maths homework. I think my mother is quite annoyed with aunty Ejiro today. I don’t even know why they are friends at all. Every time aunty Ejiro visits, she always leaves with something, sometimes even a cube of maggi.
She begins to speak, aunty Ejiro, in a voice I am all-too-familiar with. I wonder what it is she will beg for today. Her voice drops. It’s barely above a whisper. My mother is hunched forward, shaking her head slowly. I grasp only a few words. Hospital. Operation. Friday.
Aunty Ejiro is sick! Or maybe it is her daughter, Onome, who is sick. I know it is money she has asked for this time around. There is no money in the house, or in my mother’s bank account for that matter. I know because my mother told me. The only money there is is the one my mother has promised to buy me a new outfit with this coming weekend. It’s the outfit I plan to wear to my school’s end-of-year party, the one with which I plan to impress Adaobi and make her fall completely in love with me. I have never worn new clothes for my school parties.
My mother rises from the chair and walks towards me. I make sure not to look at her, and scribble harder into my book. That cannot be the money my mother is reaching for in her old brown bag. But it is anyway, and she pats my head on her way out of the room.
“Thank you, my sister. May you never lack. May help come your way when you need it. You and your household will never fall sick,” aunty Ejiro prays with outstretched arms. To each, my mother says a quiet Amen.
“I promise you, I go pay quick quick. Next two weeks latest,” aunty Ejiro is on her feet, smiling her ever-annoying smile. I sigh in relief. Two weeks is still in order to get my outfit and make Adaobi swoon.
Today as always, I am the one who opens the door for the messenger. Sayo is out of breath as she greets my mother. She lives next-door to aunty Ejiro.
“My mummy say make I come tell you say if you fit come, make you come now. Aunty Ejiro don die for hospital.”
“What!” my mother’s face is incredulous. Mine too. Sayo shakes her head at my mother’s questions. She does not have details of the death. She runs out of our house to continue the delivering of her message of doom.
My mother starts crying. She sits on the floor and pulls at her hair. She kicks the plate, but it is the empty one I used to cover her food. Her half-gone meal waits patiently on the low stool. “God why?” she asks. Her tears are flowing unhindered. I didn’t know aunty Ejiro meant a lot to her.
I am crying too, for aunty Ejiro and her family, and the new clothes I will not have.