Shola searched through the top drawer again. She ran her fingers through the underwear on the left side of the drawer where she knew Shade kept it. She looked through the second drawer, then the third. Still not finding it, she took a steadying breath. She knew where she needed to check next, but with the way her heart was drumming, she didn’t feel ready to. She heard movement outside the room and went toward it. In the living room, Shina was heading toward the front door, clutching a piece of notebook paper that held spoonfuls of Milo he had nabbed from Mummy’s room.
He jumped. His fear quickly replaced with annoyance that his sister had startled him unnecessarily.
“Have you seen Sister Shade?”
“No since when?”
“Since morning when she went with Brother Kehinde.”
“Kehinde.” She murmured. She felt dizzy and couldn’t probe Shina for more details before he disappeared, eager to share his loot with the others.
Shola blew some air into her blouse and made her way to the dark kitchen. She opened the fridge and felt her way past the pot of stew and the black bags of Ugwu to find the glass bottle of Coke she hid there last night. She went back into the living room looking for a bottle opener and found one on a pile of old newspapers. Sitting on the arm of her father’s chair, she opened the drink and took long gulps. She concentrated on the sweetness of the fizzy drink and her gratitude for it. She set down the half-drunk bottle and returned to the room.
She walked past her bed to Shade’s. She knelt before the bed for a moment, imagining what she hoped to find. A battered blue suitcase that Tolani exchanged for Shade’s equally shabby black box. The roommates had switched boxes and wished each other good luck for the road ahead. She imagined its contents. Two of Shade’s nicest pairs of jeans, eight blouses, her sturdiest court shoes, a corduroy blazer and a new, hideous but thick jacket, a small bottle of anointing oil that Mummy had given to her the night before, letters from Kunle and Laide, an envelope holding pictures of herself, family and friends, a towel and a new notebook. She looked under the bed and her heart sank. She fell into a sitting position, hugging her legs.
She sat thinking about what Shade could be doing. She would have reached Lagos by now, traffic or no traffic. She would stay in a trusted friend’s house overnight, too excited to sleep, reciting the plan in her head, going over the ticket details. Silently, she’d practice the answers to the questions she was told she’d be asked. She imagined Shade getting ready. The mechanical shower, dressing in her favorite jeans, a blue chiffon shirt that she had only ever worn two months ago on her 25th birthday, a blazer, and the brown leather court shoes. She would leave for the airport at noon, though her flight was at 11:45 pm. It was then that the images in Shola’s mind blurred. This was as far as her imagination would take her. She had never been to the airport before. Her imaginations from then on would be of her sister in places and in situations she knew nothing about. It was with this thought that Shola burst into tears.
Shortly after, Mummy returned home and came into the room. She was shocked to find her usually stoic daughter sobbing in the dark. Shola tried to speak, but couldn’t get past a few syllables before her words were swallowed by her sobs. Mummy brought Shola to her feet and wiped her shaking daughter’s wet face with a white handkerchief. With an empathetic smile, Mummy said to her, “Ọmọ mi. Ma sọkun mọ. O shi ku.” There is more.
Shade and Kehinde approached the airport in his ratty blue Peugeot. Shade’s heart was beating hard and fast. The uncomfortable rhythm had started since they left Anu’s apartment. Kehinde had assured her that she wouldn’t feel this way for the entire journey. She had taken his comforting words and turned back to her thoughts as he launched into a lecture on the fight or flight response.
Kehinde squeezed her knee to get her attention. “I’ll drop you in front, I’ll go and park, then I’ll meet you inside.”
Shade responded in a cold voice, “Don’t bother. In fact, forget about me and don’t contact me ever again.” She got out of the car and grabbed the suitcase from the backseat. She wove between vehicles, lugging her box and refusing to look back. Kehinde strove to be a practical man who avoided dramatic scenes if he could help it. So no, he would not leave his car in the middle of traffic to chase after a woman that had stormed out. So he watched her make her way toward the airport and waited for the traffic to ease so he could make a u-turn.
Shade let her tears fall freely as she found her way to the terminal she would be leaving from. She asked around and found that she was a few hours too early for check-in, so she dragged her bag to a quieter section of the waiting area. She sat next to an elderly woman wearing a head tie that did not match her blouse and a blouse that did not match her wrapper. The woman smiled as she approached and Shade offered a weak smile in response.
She sat studying the procedure of an earlier flight which had already begun its check-in. She saw him then. In his ridiculous pink shirt and oversized jeans. He squinted at the terminal number, recognizing it, he spun around, looking for her. He found her sitting with her box resting in front of her. She had tired eyes and she anxiously bounced her right leg. Kehinde sat next to her and playfully nudged her knee with his own, and Shade leaned into him. He greeted the colorfully dressed woman and the teenager escorting her. Natural to Kehinde, his greeting leads to a lengthy conversation. They discussed the terrible traffic to the airport, the differences between her village in Enugu, and this loud insane maze of a place that she has found herself. She had come to see her first son off. He left about an hour ago, but she wanted to wait a while longer. She wasn’t sure which direction would take her a little closer to her son and which would take her further, so she decided she’d just stay where she was for a little while longer as he flew away. They waited together. Kehinde occasionally got up to stretch his legs and to buy them water.
After an hour, Mama felt ready to leave. She prayed for them and wished Shade a safe flight. “When you return, you both should come and look for me in Umuakpu”. They smiled and assured her that they would. They watched her slowly make her way with her escort. Shade and Kehinde remained, holding hands and waiting.
Shola stared at the picture. It was a glossy picture of her sister with a large smile, dressed in a pink snowsuit and a matching hat. She was standing in front of an apartment building surrounded by so much snow. She traced Shade’s face with her finger and tried to reconcile the familiar face with the incongruously unfamiliar outfit and environment. She began to write a response to Shade’s letter. On the thin sheet of paper, she began to offload all the things she had wanted to rush home to tell her.