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In the letter that my father wrote to me when I was 16, he recalled an interesting outing we had some years before. I was 12 at the time. I just returned home for holiday after my JSS 1. Even though we had had several of such outings since then, I remembered this particular one quite well. It was a cool Saturday morning, not much doing.

After a quick breakfast, I had climbed back into bed, looking forward to another lazy morning of rolling around and listening to music. I was about to plug in my earphones when I noticed a presence in the doorway.

“Aliya, are you alright?” It was my dad. He was still holding the door and I could only see half of his body. “Yes, Dad, I am fine. You want me to do something?” “No. I want to drive around and was just wondering if you would like to come along.” “Of course,” I said, dropping the earphone and jumping up from the bed.

“Are we going anywhere in particular?”I asked as I tried to figure out if I needed a change of clothing and what shoes to wear. “Not really. I think you are okay,” he said, gesticulating to indicate that my outfit was fine.

I was wearing a pair of blue jeans and a Chelsea Football Club jersey that had my nickname, First Lady, printed on the back. It was his gift to me when he returned from London some months earlier.

“I think that’s fine,” he said, pointing at the pair of sandals I had just picked up from the floor. I was actually divided between those and the Nike trainers on the shoe rack. By this time, he had come into the room and sat on the bed. He watched as I stood in front of the mirror, trying to arrange my hair.

You are going to be worse than your mother,” he said with a broad grin. “Come on, let’s go.” “Daddy, I am a lady, I have to look good,” I retorted with a smile as I applied some lip gloss.

Where is the lady? You are a child!” “I am not a child. I am a lady,”I protested. “You are a child”. “I am a lady”. We continued this way as we walked down the stairs and we soon started laughing. Mummy was on morning shift. If she was at home and heard us arguing the way we were doing just then, she would have said, “What are you two Tom and Jerry arguing about this time?” It was pleasant drive.

The traffic was light. The sun was bright. For me, who lived behind a fence, any opportunity to go out and see other people was always a thrill. At the traffic light, a lorry pulled up beside us with ‘No Condition Is Permanent’ inscribed on its side in uneven letters. Somehow, the first word had faded off, and at first glance it now read, ‘Condition Is Permanent’. Two girls about my age scurried between vehicles and tried to sell oranges and cooked groundnuts to us in transparent plastic bags. “You want some?” Daddy asked me. I shook my head. The traffic light changed and we moved on. “You know, Daddy, I actually envy those girls,”I said. “Which girls?”

The girls that we saw by the traffic lights selling things.” “You envy them? And why is that?” “I guess they must be having fun. I mean… the freedom to go anywhere you want and meet different people.” “Well, I don’t know if they are having fun or not.

But I know they would not mind trading places with you right now, Dad said. I reflected briefly on what he said. I agreed that maybe those girls too would look at me and wish they were the ones sitting in an air-conditioned car. Well, maybe he was right. But I still wondered why we had to stay behind those tall fences all the time.

Grandma said the fence made our house look like a prison. I guess that was why she would never agree to come and live with us, despite several appeals from both Dad and Mum.

My grandfather was long dead. So, Daddy worried a lot about grandma. To make matters worse, and for reasons no one quite understood, she would not accept to have a house help. “It looks to you like they are having fun,”

Daddy was saying about the girls as he changed lanes. “But if you had to stand in the sun for hours to sell what in the end amounts to very little money, I doubt you would still consider what they’re doing to be fun. I know rather well, that kind of life.” We ran into a pothole and he had to swerve quickly to avoid falling into another, much bigger one. “Sony,” he said, casting a quick glance at me.

Do you know I was once like those girls?” he asked. But he was not asking a question. He had told me several times how growing up was difficult for him. His mother was a petty trader. He and his elder sister, the one I called Big Mummy, had to hawk some of their mother’s wares after school.


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