I stopped going to the stream early on Saturday to respect my friendship with Ajao. I discovered the boy was quite enterprising and his stone-sling brings home birds and small animals for food. We soon establish a teacher-student relationship where he taught me to sling and I teach him English.
A routine formed and many evenings during the week, we would meet at the stream. I wanted to learn to swim too. And he cheekily told me Bisi would have to teach me because she was a better swimmer.
I laugh. “She will run from me if I ask her.”
“Tisha, she will.” His eyes twinkle with mischief. “But if I ask her…”
He chuckles. “She will break my head.”
It is early evening and we have finished both lessons for the day. I managed to strike a big wild bird for the first time, and we sit out at the edge of the forest and roast it together.
I laugh. “She will?”
“She’s not quiet the way you see her in class. She’s a troublesome girl.”
I’m glad to hear about Bisi. Just the mention of her name thrills me. “Ah, troublesome, how?”
“Hmm, she can fight. If you look for her trouble.”
I turn the bird on the spit, eager to know more. “Everybody’s like that. If you look for my trouble too, I will give you.”
“Tisha, no o. You are gentle. See the way—” He looks away. “You are gentle.”
“See the way what?”
“They must never know I told you.” He looks nervously around. “Or Bisi will be in trouble.”
I swallow. I won’t allow her to be in any kind of danger. “No one will know.”
He focuses on the bird for a while. “My mother will be so happy when I give her this bird. She will make vegetable soup from it.”
I follow his decision to change the subject. “You know, when I saw your mother, I was—shocked.”
Ajao laughs. “Strangers are like that when they see her.”
“She’s almost white.” I shrug. “How come? Though I know some foreigners come and do research and decide to stay back and live in the village.” I shake my head. “But your mother speaks the dialect. Without even a small accent.” I throw some dry sticks into the fire. “And I know I shouldn’t talk like this with you, but I’m amazed she married your father.”
Ajao grins. “Let me tell you the truth, Tisha. My mother is not a foreigner. In fact, her mother lives with us in the hut, but she is old and sick.”
“And her father?”
“Nobody knows him or where he is or where he is from.”
Amazing. I stare at Ajao. That must be tough for the family. From the way their mother looked, she definitely was half-caucasian. The few times I saw the beautiful woman who bore my love, she tied a scarf but her skin is near-white. Bisi’s hair is long and curly, and even Ajao’s cut to the scalp has the telling curls of a mixed race child.
“Our family is almost a taboo. People avoid us. Even after my father married my mother, people started hating him too. His family. ” Ajao narrows his eyes. “Grandma said she came home from the farm one day and realize she was pregnant. Two foreigners met her in the farm and forced their way with her.” He removed the roasted bird. “I am so tempted to finish it here and now, Tisha.” He smiles and my heart breaks.
“How old are you, Ajao?”
“Fourteen. Your Bisi is seventeen.”
He stands and kicks dust into the makeshift fire. My Bisi. It sounded good in my ears but not what I should encourage him to say.
“You can’t talk like that, Ajao.”
“Ah, Tisha. I am only joking.” He looks at me. “Will you follow me home so you can cut your half of the bird after I show my mother or—”
“Of course not. The whole bird is yours. It is such a small bird, how will we share?”
“Ah, Tisha. The bribe is enough o. I told you your secret is safe with me.”
I control my temper. After all, he has kept the secret so far. “It is not a bribe. Give your mother. I don’t cook in my house.”
“You are so generous, Tisha. If not that we are so poor, I will revenge that stupid Ade who arranged for boys to beat you.”
I freeze. “Is that what you said no one must hear or Bisi will be in trouble?”
He nods. “Tisha, the wind has ears. Let’s go.”
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