The chilly harmattan wind whistles each time it sweeps across the compound, ruffling the dried fronds of the lone coconut palm standing just beside the cute little bungalow. There is a white casement window, shut, with its curtains dropped, totally shielding whatever lies in the room from view. Intermittently one or more palm fronds drop on the aluminum roof, although the resulting sound is not loud enough to disturb the veil of silence which settles in place after each gust of wind passes, and just before the arrival of the next one. Yellow light from a single naked bulb hanging outside the door struggle but do little to actually penetrate the general darkness, which is made denser by the pervading seasonal haze.
“Are you sure he’s okay?”
“Of course he is. Maybe a little shaken, but I’m sure he’s fine. He is no longer sneezing and his temperature is normal.”
“If you say so, then he must be. I’m worried though. He’s been sitting at that window for close to two hours, completely mute, just staring straight outside as if he’s looking for something or expecting someone. And you say we shouldn’t let mom know what happened?”
Funke turned and grabbed her younger sister’s hand so hard it hurt.
“Don’t you dare, she hissed through clenched teeth. You know what happens if you do that don’t you? She’ll panic and never allow us to go swimming at the Coles’ residence again. Where will that leave us?”
“Okay okay, I get it. Now will you let go of my hand please, you’re hurting me, Jesus!!!”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to do that.”
Funke’s expression was sheepish as she let go.
“Moreso, mom won’t cut short her trip and come flying from Dubai, so what’s the point of telling her and making her unnecessarily bothersome? As it is, she feels perfectly okay leaving us to take care of ourselves during her trips abroad rather than sending us to Grandma’s. We don’t need to give her any reason to change her mind.”
“That’s okay sis. I totally understand. You know I don’t like grandma’s cramped and musty apartment or how she constantly henpecks one every second of the day to obey her one million and one rules, all the while asking if that’s how one will behave in a husband’s house. As if that is the only reason for living. Imagine, young girl like me, husband matter every time.”
The both burst into laughter.
Shade’s face suddenly lit up as she remembered something.
“Speaking of husband, do you think Daniel has started liking me or is it just my imagination?”
(Daniel was the handsome undergraduate son of the millionaire business man who lived next door whom Shade had a massive crush on).
“Likes you? Funke snorted. That’s the understatement of the century. He could barely keep his eyes off you today. I saw him and if the there’s something I know about, it is how boys look when they like a girl. Shebi I told you your swimsuit was baaadt, see his eyes popping at your chest. I can authoritatively tell you that Daniel Dehinde Cole is going to be eating out of your dainty hands very soon.”
“Hmmmm, I’m not totally convinced though. It’d be nice of him to at least say something in that direction. One can’t risk assuming that he does like one without any concrete proof, before somebody now goes and start catching one sided feelings and trailer jams person after. You know he has loads of beautiful girls, all constantly drooling over him.”
Her older sister dismissed her fears with a casual wave of her left hand.
“Come on babes, I’m sure he’ll confess his affection real soon. You know he’s very shy. How can he fail to notice the hottest seventeen year old in this part of town? Just give him some time girl, he’ll come around and see the light. That’s exactly why we cannot jeopardize the chance to continue going to their place regularly.”
Her voice dropped conspiratorially.
“If mom heard about the incident that happened at their place this afternoon, it would most certainly be the end of our visits there for the foreseeable future.”
Shade nodded in agreement.
“True. What happened has to stay between us. Nodding again, this time in their brother’s direction, she asked. Did you drum that into his head as well?”
“Of course I did, replied Funke. I told him what would happen to all of us if he ever mentioned the incident to mom. He loves going there too remember, and we don’t have a PlayStation console here, so he won’t go telling tales to mom, trust me. Plus I told him earlier to stay away from the adult pool, but his big head wouldn’t just listen. If not for the scare he gave everybody today, I’m almost tempted to say it serves him right and twist his ears.”
“That reminds me, where exactly were you when he fell in? I know it was your turn to watch him and I remember telling you that I wanted to get something to drink from the fridge.”
Funke’s eyes flashed in anger.
“Oh! Now you want to paint it like it was my fault right? I see what you’re trying to do there, make me out as the incompetent nineteen year old sister who can’t take proper care of her own ten year old brother, in the absence of their mother. Is that your plan?”
“Of course not now, haba! Relax joor, I was just asking.”
“Don’t ask me in that accusing tone again. It was an accident, something nobody expected, pure and simple. Let’s all just thank God that it wasn’t more than an unfortunate incident that left no permanent injuries.”
She paused to look at the time.
“Speaking of which, it’s time to go to bed. I’m sure we should have forgotten about it all by the time mom returns from her trip in a couple of days.”
“Yeah, sure, echoed Shade. I’m sure we would have.”
Glad for the reprieve, Funke stood up to go and fetch their younger brother from his seat by the window; while her sister rechecked all the doors to be sure they were securely locked. The quick burst of anger had been necessary to cover her guilt, as she was supposed to have been watching Ade, not hiding behind the gatehouse kissing her sister’s crush Daniel. If word ever got out that their brother had almost drowned as a result of her amorous negligence…
Those two short minutes had been the longest of her life. The shouts from the pool side had brought her running from behind the gateman’s shed, Daniel close behind. By the time they got to the pool, Shade too had come out of the house, and the rest of the party was there, distraught. Ade had fallen in the deep end of the adult pool and none of the kids in the immediate vicinity could brave the depth, none except for Daniel, who had been with her. Of course he dived in immediately he got there and emerged moments later, carrying her motionless brother in his arms. Time seemed to freeze as Ade remained on the rough concrete floor just beside the pool where Daniel laid him, eyes closed and not breathing, while the rest of them screamed and ran around in total confusion. Then he had suddenly coughed up some water and sneezed loudly, before he regained his breath. It was only much later afterwards that she discovered that it had only been two minutes between his falling in and him breathing again.
Two hellish minutes…
The brother in question sat near the big sitting room windows, totally oblivious of the conversation between his sisters.
Ade sat beside the open window, looking out into the yard expectantly. The rest of the family – his sisters and mother – were in their rooms, sound asleep. The house was quiet, as was the night outside, except for the chilly harmattan wind which moaned and whistled in succession each time it passed through their compound. He was waiting for her to come again, as he knew she would, as she has done every night since that afternoon five days ago when he had seen her for the first time at the bottom of their neighbor’s swimming pool. They would go swimming again tonight, undisturbed, just like they did every night, while the world slept in oblivion.
He must have dozed off, until the soft rattle of falling fronds on the aluminum roof startled him awake. The wind moaned again, mournfully, and he shivered from the cold pouring through his open window. The full moon was out and the curtains were neatly rolled up, allowing him to see the whole compound quite clearly despite the power outage. There is no haze tonight.
One moment it was all empty, and the next she was there, floating, beyond the sill of his window. Her long white robes reflected the silky moonlight, and billowed as the wind continued to moan. Her features were the same as always, shifting, liquid, and her beautiful smile was inviting. Joyfully he ran to the open window and climbed out; arms outstretched and ready to grasp her intangible hand. She had seen him, and although she didn’t say anything (she never says anything) the mist surrounding her fluid presence coalesced, visibly manifesting her silent word of greeting.