She has periods of quietness. They are long and unsettling. Unsettling because Sayo was never a quiet child. Of all our children, she was the noisiest. The one most like her mother, Ranti. The one I loved the most.
I know parents aren’t allowed to have favorites. I know it is wrong and unfair to my three other children that I have favorites but I have an excuse. She was born on a Sunday. At home, because the streets of Lagos were flooded. It had just been me, Mama Oroge, our neighbor and Ranti for the duration of labor. It lasted all of 3 hours. That is what Mama Oroge told us. In my head, it lasted a lifetime.
But suddenly there she was, my first born, slick with blood and wet with angry tears. Mama Oroge placed her in my arms immediately so she could attend to Ranti’s bleeding. For the first few moments of Sayo’s new life, it was just me. I had never felt so much love or responsibility.
The quietness is hard to watch but not as hard as her tears. She tries to hide them. I have seen her cry only once since it happened. But I know she cries every other night. I know because when everyone else has gone to bed, I go and sit at the foot of her door to listen. To do more would be to expose the disguise my child has chosen to wear.
“Halloween is over Sayo. You need to take off your angel costume now.”
“But dad if I take it off, I will stop being an angel.”
She was 7 that Halloween and Ranti had been away at business school in Manchester so I let my child stay an angel until the school principal had a word with me about smelly children.
Seventeen years later, I am still letting her wear her disguises. This time, it is a torn Superwoman suit. This time is a smile that shouts loudly “Everything is alright” until night time when she is alone with her fears.
What do you tell your child when the man she loved died in her arms? A aman I never met? A man she had told us about only a few months ago before he got shot in one of Chicago’s many gang cross-fires.
‘It will be alright Sayo, everything will be alright’
That is what I had said when I picked her up from the airport a few days ago. She had let me hold and said nothing.
Ranti is better at these things. I am only good for letting my child get away with disguises and masks.
Another night is here and so I pretend to try and fall asleep before heading to my daughter’s room to hold vigil over her sorrow.
‘Why did she have to fall in love so young?’ I ask my wife, who rarely sleeps either.
‘I married you at 22 Oba.’
‘You were very mature for your age.’
‘So is Sayo’
‘She can’t go back to Chicago! Ever. If she tries to, I will lock her up in this house. We should never have let her go there for college. Now she thinks it is the best thing since jollof rice.’
My wife laughs, but it is a subdued laugh, not like one of her real laughs. I haven’t heard that laugh in a while. Not since we heard our daughter had been one step away from death.
She sighs after a little while and turns around to hold my face. “You are such a sweetheart Baba Sayo. Sayo and the others are lucky to have a father that wants to shield them from every hurt.”
She is quiet but I know there is more she wants to say so I say nothing.
“But you can’t protect them all the time Oba. You can try your best but it won’t always be enough. Let her hurt Oba. She is afraid of hurting in front of you because you are never able to accept that it is okay for her to hurt. Abi why else will you let a child wear a costume for 6 days straight because you were afraid she would cry if you amde her take it off? How will you ever be able to kiss better her wounds when you won’t let her have any? ”
We make love like we haven’t done in a while that night and I fall asleep in my own bed for the first time since Sayo came home to nurse her broken heart.
I wake up to the sounds of laughter. Ranti is gone from my side. It is Saturday and the sun and the weather agree that it is.
I pull apart the blinds and look outside to where the laughter is coming from. It is just Ranti and Sayo in their swimsuits beside the pool I had built for my family. I look hard at my daughter for traces of a disguise but find none. In this moment, she is herself. She is weeping and laughing while her mother holds her.
I don’t when we will get there, me and Sayo, but Ranti was always been only one step ahead of me in these matters so I am hopeful. It is time to take down the disguises, mine first.
Song of the Day: Glowreeyah – Covenant Keeper