You wake up to the smell of oranges and it is almost as if you slept in one world and woke up in another.
But the king sized bed you fell asleep in the night before is the same one you now turn over in. The white silk sheets that clothed your skin during the night have not changed either. The woman cuddling up to you with a glass of orange juice looks very much like the one you met at the bar last night. Not that you remember much about last night. It had been a dark night; darkened by your team’s loss from a few hours before, darkened by the quantity of alcohol you continued to consume as the night trudged on.
The woman looks like your type; pretty with legs and hair for days, supermodel caliber.
There is no need to pinch yourself awake. You are not dreaming. This is your reality now. It has been your reality for the past four years.
Only the scent of oranges begs to differ and drag you back to the world you thought you left behind forever.
You take the glass cup away from the woman’s hands and place it on the bedside table, next to your gold Hublot wristwatch. You have one in platinum too.
There is no way the woman could have known of your dislike for oranges. You met her just a few hours ago after all; not enough time to have shared each other’s dislikes and foibles, just enough to orgasm twice.
You cannot remember her name but who needs words when moans will suffice. She is pliant and you plunge into her one more time, burying your nose in her hair and its scent of vanilla till you cannot remember what oranges smell like.
The orange seller’s son; that was what they called you. Your father had gone to work one day and not come home. You heard from your playground mates that he had taken up with some woman who spoke through her nose and had painted claws for fingernails. Your mother started selling oranges in order to feed you and soon everyone forgot who your father was. Oranges became your identity and that of your mother. Your last name did not matter. You were Kosisochukwu, the orange seller’s son.
Sometimes after school and if you finished your homework on time, you would help your mother hawk oranges that she had carefully selected and peeled during the day. Your little legs scoured the streets of your neighborhood for hours on end seeking out thirsty customers. They too had names for you.
‘Orange boy, come here!’
‘Hey, Oranges, how much are your oranges?’
You answered to the names even if they made you cringe inside. The look on your mother’s face every time you came home with an empty tray and pockets that were full of dirty Naira notes and coins made a thousand crude names worth it.
‘Nwoke oma! Good child of his mother! Well done, my son. You are already taking care of me now. My God will bless you and someday soon you will buy a big car for your Nne, o!’
Your heart would swell with pride at her words and you would eat the meager dinner she had prepared in your absence with relish. The growling of her own empty stomach were the lullabies that accompanied your dreams.
The oranges along with her job as a cleaner paid your school fees. They also paid for Mr Okemute’s new bicycle headlights after you broke the old ones while playing football. Your sleeping mat smelled like oranges. Your clothes bore their telltale scent. Oranges, and more oranges.
Football was the way out of your citrus existence but you did not know that back then. All you knew was that people forgot about the oranges once you had the ball. They had new names for you as you dribbled past the other boys and scored goals that seemed impossible.
You pick up the Hublot now. It is a little after 10am. You tell the woman whose scent has made you forget that of the oranges, that you have training to get to. It is a lie, one that you have told many times, to many other women. She asks when next she will see you. You take her number with a promise to keep in touch. You both know it will never happen. As you hurry out of the hotel room, your phone starts to ring.
‘Hello! Hello! Kosisochukwu! It is me! Uncle Mike! Are you hearing me? How is Obodo Oyinbo?’
Your heart starts to race and you imagine a thousand fates that could have befallen your mother. Because why else would Uncle Mike be calling? With your mother’s line for that matter? Before you can get a question in, the man on the other end of the phone continues.
‘Kosi? Abi is he not hearing me? Kosi, Omo Olosan! Abi isn’t this Kosi? It is me, your father’s brother. I saw you on TV yesterday sef. I was telling everyone how I was the first one to buy you a ball. Chei! That goal you scored against Celtic eh. And…’
‘Is Mama alright?’ You cut him short.
‘Ah, your mother is well, my son. It is because of your father I am calling. We are at the hospital and he is very sick. You must be strong my son. You must be strong for your mother. The doctor say he is not long for this world.’
You stand in the lobby of the hotel and from nowhere the scent of oranges assails your nostrils again. You want to ask the man at the other end of the phone who he meant when he mentioned your father. You want to ask him where your father had been those nights you went hungry. You want to ask him where the man was when people forgot you had a last name and titled you by the oranges you hawked on your head. You want to tell him you belonged to the oranges and not to any man lying on a hospital bed.
Your uncle is rambling on the phone about forgiveness and being a good son. You have stopped listening now. You walk out of the hotel lobby and the scent of oranges follows you. You walk onto the busy streets and look at the people walking past without a second glance at you. You wonder if they know their fathers. You wonder whose last name it is that they bear.
‘Uncle!’ You say into the phone instead, interrupting the man who is lost in his soliloquy.
‘Eh, my child!’
‘Please give the phone to Mama.’
She comes to the phone and you say nothing. You listen to her breathing and she listens to yours. You remember the many nights you listened to her cry. You remember the loneliness that escorted her to bed every night. How can she forgive that? How can she offer absolution to a man that left you both for dead?
‘Kosi’ She begins.
‘Mama’ you interrupt because you know what she is about to say.
‘Mama’ you repeat, this time the word a plea because you know you can refuse her nothing, not now.
‘Come home,’ She says. ‘Come home and tell your father goodbye o. It will be alright, I promise.’
You close your eyes and let her forgiveness wash over you. You are just like him after all. A runner, a deserter… In forgiving him, she is forgiving you as well…
For the times her cries for grandchildren have gone unheeded. For the mansion she didn’t need but that you built her anyway. For your absence at Easter and Christmas and every other holiday and the hundreds of gifts that you sent instead of her son.
You are no better than the man you have despised all these years. You too have left her behind. You too have broken many supermodel hearts with your carelessness.
It is another Easter in a few days so you tell your mother ‘Yes’
You hear her smile over the phone and promise yourself to do better, to be better than your father. You end the call and start to walk home. You will call the girl with the scent of vanilla in her hair tonight. You will take her out to dinner and see where it leads. You will be better.
It starts to rain in Stuttgart as you walk but you know the sun is shining wherever the oranges grow.
Song of the Day: Michael Jackson – Have You Seen My Childhood?