Choosing among alternatives is paralysing. This is the excuse I had for spending fifteen minutes in front of the glass at the supermarket, staring into aluminium bowls containing rice, fries, fish, grilled chicken, barbecued chicken, and other things I have no name for. I folded my hands behind my back like a soldier standing at ease, bent my head down—almost kissing the glass, and furrowed my brows in contemplation. If I were buying this just for me, I’d have given up a long time ago, but with the girlfriend, anything less than perfect would be rewarded with a veiled jab, then it would be mined and reused in future discourse as a reminder of my failings. I wasn’t ready to allow that to happen.
A woman and a girl had moved beside me.
“Are we going to keep this up for the whole of today?”
“Depends on what?”
“I don’t know. We’ll see.”
They were both in blue jeans; the girl wore it with a white shirt and a blue knitted sweater and the mother, a black t-shirt. The girl’s afro was held back with an alice band that had flowery patterns and the mother was sporting a low cut. They had the same nose—slim and almost long like a mullato—and the puffiness in the mother’s face was already finding its roots in the daughter’s.
“Are you at least going to allow us talk about it?” The mother continued as the girl focused on the glass and assumed a contemplative pose too.
“Kike darling. Oya ma binu. I should have told you he was coming.” She laid her hand on the girls back.
“I’m not annoyed by the fact that you did not tell me mum. You’re an adult.”
“So, what is the matter then?”
She stepped away from the glass and faced her mum, their noses almost touching, “The last time he waltzed into our lives like this, it ended in a disaster. It took you the better part of a year to mend.” The mother turned her face down as if she was studying the tiles. “I don’t want to see you hurt anymore. I’m not sure I can take it.”
“Things will be different this time. I promise.”
She turned back to the food on display and ordered fries and a bag of grilled chicken.
“Is that all you want?” the mother asked.
“Yes. Except if you want something too.”
“No. I don’t. Perhaps we’ll buy you some ice cream on our way out.”
The daughter looked at her mum and smiled. “I can see Mrs. Ojo is back to using bribery as a methodology”
“Who? Me? When did it become a crime to buy Ice Cream for one’s awesome daughter n’tori olorun, ehn, for goodness’ sake?”
“You’re impossible. Very impossible.”
I did a flashback to the possibility of having a similar conversation with either of my parents in what would have been about a decade ago. It would either end in me getting a slap on the face or a knock on the head. Perhaps, it is the thought of producing replicas of oneself with whom the things missed in childhood can be re-enacted, that makes the idea of bringing life into this wretched world even worthy of consideration. I never talk like this when I’m with the girlfriend, of course. She awws and coos at the sight of babies as if the little ones are calling to her eggs like John saluting foetus Jesus.
The mother dragged her daughter into a clumsy side hug “I just want you to be happy.” She planted a wet kiss on her cheek and the girl shook her head in mock disgust. “You know what?–” the mother continued, “–From now on I won’t discuss anything with him without talking to you.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“I know. But I want to.”
The daughter collected their order and held her mother’s arm in the crook of her own as they proceeded to the cashier.
Their voices sailed to me one last moment. “I can’t help but hate him for how he treated us. I can’t.”
“I know. I hate him too. But sometimes, I love him too.”