One could have heard a pin drop as both boys waited with bated breath. Julia’s face became expressionless and the only sign that showed that she had heard the question was the clenching of her jaws. After a long moment, she said; “Ask your dad”. She then stood up from her chair, smoothed her dress and walked to her room. Both boys winced when they heard her slam the door shut.
They were still in the sitting room when they heard her open her door room again, slam the door shut behind her and stomp down the stairs. That her children were ready to fly the nest really got to her. She almost couldn’t remember a time when she wasn’t without them; it was as though she were afflicted with selective amnesia. She hadn’t even bothered to change her clothes, wash her face, or even take off her shoes before storming back out of the room and stomping down the stairs; she wondered for a brief second, why she was so angry at the thought of her children leaving home, then immediately shrugged the thought off, she was angry and that was it. Her kids were not leaving home until she decided they were old enough to. “Oh” she thought “and woe betide Femi if he should as much as suggest that ‘they are only going to school babe’ hmm” she actually mumbled the part of “they are only going to school” in a whiny voice and shook her head at the same time. She was passing through the sitting room to the kitchen at that moment and the twins looked on, too scared to be amused even though the scene looked comical. They continued to stare after her as she walked into the kitchen and slammed yet another door after her.
They tip-toed to the kitchen door, still very confused. Both boys had been certain that at most she would have turned them down with a smile and told them firmly that they could maybe in their second or third year, but neither of them had envisaged the drama that was unfolding before them. They stood close to the door, listening for a while, there was no sound and then suddenly the door flew open. They froze in their tracks unable to move, neither of them certain of what their next move should be. Eventually, both boys straightened up from their crouched positions. Julia left the door open, glared at them briefly and then walked back into the kitchen. The boys looked at each other, now thoroughly confused and then looked at their mother. She had her back turned to them and they couldn’t see what she was doing but they could see her make some jerky movements. Eventually they heard a sound they couldn’t quite fathom, but they were still too scared to approach their mum. Julia was chopping onions so fast that the sound was indiscernible as the movement of her hands was a blur. It was when she turned to scrape the onions from the board into the oil that was already in a sauce pan on the gas cooker that the boys knew what the sound was. They couldn’t quite decide whether to go back to the sitting room or to go into their bedroom so they simply stayed put.
After a few uncomfortable moments, they heard the honk of their dad’s car in the driveway. Kenny heaved a mental sigh of relief, whereas Tai wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or more worried. They heard their dad’s key turn in the sitting room door lock and both of them shuffled to the sitting room.
“Hello boys!” Femi’s voice boomed as soon as he saw the twins. He had had a good day at work and was slow to catch on to the boys’ moods. “Where’s your mum?” he asked and Kenny pointed in the direction of the kitchen. He took a few swift steps to the kitchen while the boys tip-toed after him. He walked right up to his wife and tried to plant a kiss on her lips. Julia moved her head just in time so that the intended kiss landed on her cheek. Femi twisted his neck and gave the boys a quizzing look. They shrugged. Femi was used to his wife’s rare bouts of temper but she hardly ever exhibited it in front of the kids. He wondered what the kids had done this time that had somehow become his fault. As he walked past the boys standing in the doorway he signalled at them to follow him.
“Pick up those plates and set places at the table” Julia stopped the twins in their tracks as they moved to follow their dad. She didn’t remove her hands from what she was stirring, neither did she signal at any plates in particular, but the twins knew better than ask so they just shuffled into the kitchen and picked up the first plates they laid their eyes on.
Later on at dinner, conversation was stilted, Femi first tried to converse with Julia about some funny incident that at happened at work and when he met a brick wall there, he started pushing the food about in his plate with his fork. After a little while, Julia who seemed to be the only one who was eating anything at all glanced up at him; “Is anything the matter with the food?” She was poker faced “Oh it’s very well done” Femi said and immediately started shoving the food down his throat. Julia glanced at her kids who immediately followed suit. After a few brief moments and in between mouthfuls, Femi asked; “So how are you guys preparing for school?” Kenny choked ,Tai dropped his fork and immediately ducked under the table to pick it up. Julia looked up from her plate and said in a deceptively light tone; “Oh the boys want to know if they can move out of home as soon as school resumes.”
She looked expectantly at Femi, who slowly picked up his glass of water and took a few sips while she looked on and then he eventually said; “Absolutely not, they are too young and the school is close enough so they can go from home everyday” While this was going on, Kenny kept gulping his water and Tai who took a suspiciously long time to find his fork remained ducked under the table. Eventually dinner was over and Femi was the first to leave the table, he no longer wondered what the kids had done wrong, he felt Julia was a bit overprotective of the kids but he was smart enough not to air his opinion – at least not yet.
The kids waited till their mum stood up to leave and then Tai ventured; “Mum I’m sorry” she glanced at him and her gaze softened. She spreads her arms wide, both boys stood up tentatively and then hugged her.
Later in their room that night, Kenny shook his head and said “Dude we are stuck!”
“No girls, no all-night parties, no nothing” Replied Tai
“Wait no girls? So the only reason you want to leave this house is because of that girl?”
“What girl?” Tai was confused for a few moments and then realisation hit him so he continued
“No not her, I’m talking about our school girls generally”Kenny grunted and this time Tai decided not to back off
“You like the girl?” he prodded,
“You can have her, I don’t like her that way myself, yes I’d like to be friends with her but she’s not really my type.”
“Oh you have a type now?” Kenny asked
“You have never even had a girlfriend so you can’t have a type” he taunted.
Tai was getting really upset now, he didn’t know why his brother always had to be nasty whenever she came up in a conversation, and he was getting fed up with the attitude, but he didn’t know how to deal with it since they hardly ever quarrelled. He decided to go along with the situation and be nasty as well.
“She really isn’t my type, I’d know my type if I saw her, but she would probably prefer me to you as I am the nicer, more cultured and better brought up one”
Kenny drew back as he wasn’t expecting this, then he retorted, “Yeah right, like she would be able to tell us apart, I’m not even sure she knows you exist” then he dropped onto his bed, put out his bedside lamp and turned his back on his brother. Within minutes, he was asleep., Tai who was sitting on his own bed, kept staring at his, brother’s back. He was deeply puzzled, Kenny’s attitude whenever “she” came up in a conversation was beginning to frustrate him but for some reason however he could not help but bring her up in their conversations from time to time..
“Hello” It was a female voice.
Both Kenny and Tai turned their heads simultaneously, Tai jerked up from where he was seated, Kenny actually dropped his phone and then shot his foot out to break the fall of the phone. He landed awkwardly on his buttocks; shot back to his feet immediately, bent to retrieve the phone and then started dusting off his pants seat while at the same time carefully examining every millimetre of the obviously undamaged phone. It was “her”.
They had been sitting on the bench just on the outside of the basketball court waiting for their friend Bob who had promised to come and play a few sets of one on one basketball with them. They hadn’t heard her approach and had no idea she was behind them until she spoke. Now she just stood there staring in amusement at Kenny who absolutely refused after the first glance to look at her. Tai was also looking at his twin in amusement, while also using his amusement to shield his own shyness. She still couldn’t tell them apart even though she could see both their faces at close range, she had spent a few minutes staring at the backs of their heads and their shoulders to see if there were any physical differences. It had taken her a while to summon the courage to say the one word she had so far said, but she was determined to prove that woman wrong.
She still always thought of Susan as “that woman”. She had happened on her dad and Susan in the middle of a conversation. She was just at the separating door between the dining and sitting room, undecided whether to go back to her room or continue walking towards to the front door entrance when she heard those words. Her dad and Susan were not shouting at each other, in fact they were barely speaking above whispers but the whispers sounded fierce. She had not meant to eavesdrop but from where she stood, she couldn’t help but overhear snatches of their conversation. At first the words didn’t make sense but eventually they started to and then she had heard Susan call her “socially stunted”.
“Honey” she had said “that girl is socially stunted” with emphasis placed on the honey to express her sarcasm. It was at that moment that Claire decided she had heard enough and stomped through the sitting room and out of through the front door. Both her Susan and Ken looked on mouth agape but neither made an attempt to stop her.
Susan had actually been making a case for Claire to be allowed to proceed to the university and was throwing every ammunition in her possession into convincing Ken to do this. It was in her bid to make him see that it was better for Claire to proceed to university even at her very tender age; to enable her fully integrate into the society , that she had referred to the girl as socially stunted. Now Claire had made up her mind about two things, she would not go to the university that year and she would go all out, no matter how daunting the task was; and prove to that woman that she wasn’t socially stunted.
She had no idea how she was going to go about achieving these two goals, but she knew she had to; as she walked towards the basketball court, she was almost taking her usual route – which would take her through a barely used footpath where she rarely came across anyone, but this time she squared her shoulders and determinedly took the major footpath used by most people. It was here that she had come across the twins seated on the concrete park bench with their backs turned towards her.
Stay tuned for next week's episode, episode 13.