“I miss you, Mummy.” Maggie Jimoh knelt in front of the small tombstone that read Mrs. Esther Margaret Jimoh, Wife and Mother, at the Ikoyi cemetery. Huge beads of sweat ran down her face. Keeping her gaze fixed on the tombstone, she wiped the sweat away with her blue head tie. She then spread it over her head and shoulders to protect her brown skin from the scorching afternoon sun. Just being under direct sunlight for ten seconds hurt her skin, but today she had had to visit her mother, who’d died three years ago last month.
Maggie tried to visit her mother every year on the anniversary, but this was the first chance she had had, this year, to visit. Her father, Professor Jimoh, or Professor as she called him, had forbidden them from visiting her mother’s grave for some reason. As a result, Maggie and her siblings had to concoct excuses to leave the house and visit.
“Come on, Maggie!” Dele, her twenty year old brother, yelled from the sandy path leading back to the cemetery gates. “We are already late, oh![i]“
She looked at her watch. It was almost quarter past two and father was going to be livid when Maggie and her younger sister got home. On Sundays, the girls normally got home from church around one, but since they had stopped at the cemetery they would not get home before three o’clock.
“Maggie, come now!” Dele shouted even louder.
“Don’t shout in a cemetery.” Maggie waved, getting to her feet.
She dusted off her blue wrapper and moved towards Dele, who in Maggie’s opinion was a giant. Like their father, Professor Jimoh, Dele stood intimidatingly at over six feet tall. Seventeen year old Maggie took her mother’s height and only scraped above five feet. However unlike their mother, but very much like their father, Maggie and her little sister, Ronke were, like her mother used to say, pleasantly plumpy. Maggie laughed, recalling her mother’s words.
“Oya now.” Remi, Maggie’s twin brother, drew her upper arm.
The four siblings ran down the sandy road to the bus stop as a small battered bus started to pull away.
“Wait now!” Dele shouted, racing in the direction of the bus as his siblings trailed behind him.
The driver looked out of his window and laughed at the children as they chased after his bus. Maggie could see the man was getting some pleasure from watching them run. Several passengers and bystanders were laughing too. That was all part of using public transport in Lagos, so after a few minutes, the bus driver eventually stopped. While Maggie and her siblings squeezed into the bus, an old lady began to rebuke the driver for taunting the children.
They did not have enough money to pay for four seats, so Maggie sat on Remi’s lap and Ronke sat on Dele’s lap. This way the children only paid for two seats. The conductor hissed at their economising, but took their money.
“What time is it?” Remi asked Maggie.
“We’re already late, oh.” Maggie winced, thinking about facing her father. “Professor won’t be happy, at all, at all.”
“I’m hungry,” twelve year old Ronke whined quietly. “Dele, do you have any biscuits?”
“Sorry.” Dele hugged his sister. “We will eat when we get home.”
Dele shot Maggie a worried look. It was Sunday afternoon, so they were almost out of food until Professor gave out money again on Tuesday to Dele and her three step-mothers.
Maggie understood money was always tight. Professor claimed he was very careful in allocating funds. Maybe it was because her father had fourteen children from four wives and only made a polytechnic instructor’s salary. On top of his familial obligations, Professor still entertained the boys, his large group of male friends each weekend.
Maggie had to figure out something because she was the older girl and therefore in charge of feeding her siblings. Professor would never give them any more money before Tuesday, especially since Dele had asked for his university tuition last week.
Getting food from Professor’s relatives was also forbidden by Professor because the Jimoh’s were not beggars. But Maggie’s mother had been an orphan and apart from two distant cousins in Epe, they had no family on her mother’s side to go to for help.