Shola Allyson’s voice gives me goose pimples. She has inspired this one. It is a bit long. Forgive me. But there is so much I wanted to do with Sally and Ropo and Todd. I hope you know that the future should not be mourned for. Even if it seems lost; it isn’t. It is in the future and it will be bright.
How do I know these things? “Oro Oluwa ko ni lo la ishe…”
She wakes up to the song that played in her dreams. It is a song she never thought she would again hear but here it is, filtering through the gauze of dreams into reality.
She has a new house mate and she guesses that it is through this medium the song has found its way back into her life. The girl moved in yesterday so Aderopo can not fault her. It has only been 24 hours after all, too soon for house mates to become friends, too soon to know each other’s highs and lows or the things that set them off.
Aderopo doesn’t really need the rent money as much as she needs to fill the house with the presence of another living being. She is allergic to cats and doesn’t have it in her to love another dog as much as she loved Hamper, the dog of neighbors that had moved away last year. Plants are useless as housemates-they don’t move and live for the sun. Aderopo hates the sun and keeps the blinds in her bedroom closed and sunglasses on as often as she can.
She had placed an ad on Craigslist a week ago:
“Seeking quiet housemate on a monthly basis for house in Dorchester. Close to subway station. Female preferred. $400 per month. You will have your own bathroom and small living area. Welcome to share massive kitchen and garden. “
There were no photos attached to the ad but the responses had been innumerable within the hour and Aderopo had wondered if it had been a mistake to use Craigslist. She had heard horrible things after all.
She was going through her email and deleting the responses one by one when one had caught her eye.
“I am not sure if this is for real (the price is so low!!!) but if it is, I am interested in renting this place. I can afford $400 for the next few months and if after that, I can’t, I am a student but also a photographer when I am not working or schooling. If you need some photos of your house or yourself or something, we can come to an agreement on the months I am unable to pay.
Please let me know.”
Maybe it was the simplicity of the response. Maybe it was the honesty. It was the only email Aderopo ended up responding to.
Three days ago, they had met for the first time at the Starbucks closest to the house. Her name was “Sallie”.
“Sallie with an ‘e’. Like Sallie Mae” The girl had informed Aderopo.
“Everyone calls me Ropo,” Aderopo responded, all the while taking in the girl’s tattoos. There was one of an angel on her left wrist, another of a dove on the side of her neck and she had noticed the cross on her hip just before they sat down. Sallie wore more rings than Ropo had ever owned in her life and had a ring in her nose as well. Her hair fascinated Ropo too, the Afro and curls reminiscent of someone she once knew but couldn’t seem to place a finger on at the moment.
“I am a Christian.” The girl suddenly announced in between sips of her café frappuccino.
“Great!” Aderopo answered, unsure of how to respond. That explained the cross and angel, she thought to herself.
“Are you?” the girl asked.
“Am I what?” Ropo answered, her mind still focused on how much it must hurt to have your nose pierced.
“Are you a Christian? Do you love Jesus?”
“Oh!” Ropo said. It had been a long time she thought about religion. Her mother had made her go to church often as a child but she had not thought about the church or Jesus or anything in that vein in a while.
“I am a Christian by birth. As for loving Jesus, I am not sure what that means. Anyway all of these questions are getting quite personal. How about we move on to the matter at and?”
The girl looked at Ropo strangely.
“I will be sharing a house with you. What could be more personal than that?” She retorted.
Being married. Making love. Spending 9 months in my belly. Another 9 months latching onto my nipple…
Ropo had many responses for the girl but she was suddenly too tired and even though Sallie seemed like a handful with her tattoos and rings, Ropo felt strangely comfortable with her so she kept her mouth shut and said none of the things she wanted to say that would have scared the girl away.
Sallie had moved in yesterday with one duffel bag and a case that contained her photography equipment. Aderopo had made her some tea and shared some of her rules.
“No sudden loud noises”
“Absolutely no sleeping over of male friends.”
“Female friends are welcome but they must be respectful.”
“Cleaning lady comes twice a week but please clean up after yourself as much as you can”
“You are welcome to share my groceries but please replace them.”
After they had gotten the rules out of the way, the girl had asked;
“Are you African or something?” At which Ropo had laughed and said “Or something?”
“Sorry. I mean you have a lot of African art around the place is all.”
Ropo marveled that the girl even knew what African art was.
“I was born to Nigerian parents and spent most of my childhood in Nigeria and Ghana. I came here when I was 12 but lived in Sweden for an exchange year.” She answered.
“Cool!!! My mom is Nigerian, Nigerian Yoooruba I think and my Dad is from Sweden or Norway-I am not sure. They are divorced and I haven’t seen him in a while. I have never been to either country but I love Yoooruba music. We have so much in common!” Sallie announced.
Ropo had spent the rest of the evening trying to teach her how to say “Yoruba” properly.
Now Ropo wonders if the girl knows the meaning of the song she is singing softly along to. When she and Todd had bought this house, it had made them laugh to imagine the sounds of their love making filtering through the thin walls to their children’s ears. Todd had wanted to rebuild but Ropo had loved the old house the way it was. It reminded her that growing old didn’t mean one had to fall apart, she told him.
“Speak for yourself” he had answered as he kissed her round belly and she ran her hand through his graying temples.
Later when they brought the child home, Todd had thought it great that the walls were thin enough so they could hear every time Sally cried or fussed. The day Sally died, they had been woken up by Hamper’s barking (Hamper had been so named because he was found abandoned in a gift hamper). Hamper was not a dog that barked often. Sally was not a child that let anyone else beat her to the waking up of her parents. That was how they knew something was wrong; the thin silent walls that were no longer animated by Sally’s cooing or crying or calling for “Papa”!
Sally died and life moved on. Except Todd didn’t. No matter how much Ropo tried to get him to, her husband couldn’t seem to reconcile himself with life as a father who had lost his child. One day Ropo came home from work to find him gone.
“I love you but every day I look at you, I see the woman our daughter could have been. I cannot forgive myself for living while my child lies dead in a cold grave. I cannot forgive God for taking her from me. I cannot forgive the world that moves on like nothing happened. I cannot forgive but I can forget. So like a coward, I am running away to forget. I will never forget you. I will love you till I die. But everything else, I must forget.
The song playing now, “Oro Oluwa” was by some Nigerian gospel singer that Ropo’s mother loved. When Sally was born, Maami had moved in without asking anyone. It meant Ropo and Todd could make love at odd hours without their newborn’s interference, as well as in odd places. Like the closet with their moans stifled so Maami wouldn’t hear. Like the downstairs bathroom with the water running to drown out the joy of their love. Like the guest bedroom downstairs because while noises filtered down, they never did up. They would make love as Maami sang along to “Oro Oluwa” playing on her iPad to the delight of Sally who joined in with coos and bubbling noises.
Maami finally moved out when Sally was around 3 months old but every time she visited, she would play the song for her grandchild who would smile and sing along in baby language.
“Oro Oluwa, ko ni lo la ishe
Ife Oluwa ko ni lo la ishe
Imo oluwa ko ni lo laishe”
And now, here was Sallie singing her daughter’s song. Ropo wondered if it was coincidence that she had dreamed of Sally only to wake up to her song. In the dream Sally kept saying “Papa” even though Ropo was trying to get her to say “Mama!”
The tears start to leak from Ropo’s eyes even though she has them closed and her loins contract with love for the child now lost to her. Her mourning is silent at first and then it finds a voice and she starts to wail. No one comes; not Sally, not Sallie, not Todd. When she is done, she goes to the bathroom and washes her face. The song is no longer playing but Ropo can still hear it in her head. She opens the blinds in the nursery where she has slept since Todd left for the first time in a long time.
She knows where he is. She didn’t go to law school to be stupid enough not to know where her husband is. She had always just hoped he would find his way back home himself. She has been hoping for a year but now she knows better. Now she knows everyone needs a little help to find their way back home.
Aderopo knows Sallie is gone before she knocks on her door. She is not surprised. Sally died at 9 months. Sallie is 19. Sally loved to stumble-run after doves in the park but ignored every other type of winged creature. Todd said it was because of the doves’ cooing. Sally wore a cross pendant her Swedish grandmother bought for her christening. She slept in a room covered with angel wallpaper.
Ropo sits in the room Sallie just vacated for the rest of the day, looking out the window. There is nothing left of the girl but suddenly Ropo remembers everything she thought she forgot about the child she lost. When afternoon comes, she hears the neighborhood children returning home from school. When Sally died, sounds like these had tormented her. Now she finds that it isn’t so bad.
Evening comes and she gets on Orbitz for a one way ticket. Sally’s first vacation had been in Oslo because Maami thought it was unfair that she would get to see Sweden before she saw Nigeria and Todd was always a pushover for Maami. Oslo, was the closest they could get to Sweden without offending Sally’s favorite grandparent or the ones she had been yet to meet.
A one way ticket to Oslo, Norway because even though Todd said he wanted to forget, Ropo knows that more than anything that what he really wanted was to remember. Just like she had needed to. Just like Sallie/Sally had helped her to.
Tomorrow she will call the agent that Todd uses and ask that the house be put on the market. She figures life in Oslo can’t be that bad. Todd will be there.
She goes to sleep that night and dreams that Sallie says “Mama” with a smile wider than any she ever had in real life. Ropo wraps her in an embrace sealed with kisses for a long time. Sallie pulls away after a while and starts to walk away and Ropo lets her go, duffel bag in one hand, camera in another, wings poised for flight.
Grief mourns for the future it will never know. Ropo finds she can let go of grief now that she knows what Sally would have been in the future. An angel. A Sallie with an ‘e’.
Song of the Day: Shola Allyson – Oro Oluwa