As soon as the words left my mouth, I knew I had made a mistake.
“Ah, nne. You are Igbo.” The woman I greeted tucked her phone away inside her bag and beckoned. “Come closer, good girl. Nwa azulu azu.”
I obeyed, wishing that I kept my mouth shut when I heard her speaking on the phone. But her Igbo was so old, so melodious….she reminded me of my grandmother. I greeted her in Igbo even before I realised what I was doing. I broke my one rule and I was going to pay. I just knew it.
“Onye ebee ka ibu, who are your people?” The woman asked. I felt her eyes weighing the fullness of my breasts, circling my waist and spanning my hips.
“My father is from Oba and my mother from Neni,” I answered the traditional way. I willed myself to do something disrespectful; putting my hands on my hips or in my pockets, or starting my answers with ‘Nya eh’ or ‘Nna eh‘ but my tongue just wouldn’t obey. And I needed my hands to steady myself on the bus.
“You are a true Igbo girl. You know, looking at you I could have sworn you were one of them,” she pointed with her mouth to include everyone else on the bus. “I did not know you were our people.” I made a sound on my throat, unsure of what to say to that. She didn’t seem to notice. “You are not married?” My ring finger burned from her gaze.
“Ah, that is good. You will give me your number. My son is looking for a wife.”
“I have someone, Mama.”
“We are friendshiping together,” I explained using the Igbo term.
“Yes, I understand. But perhaps you and my son will friendship too, see who you like best. Ogoli nuo di n’abo, omalu nke ka nma.” She pulled out her phone and looked at me. “Ah, you’re not sure? Look, my son is very handsome, intelligent and tall. You will not have akakpo children n’etiwaro slate.”
“Mama, it would not be fair on the man I am with. Just as it would not be fair if I was going with your son and gave my number to someone else just to see.”
“Ok.” Her mouth turned down at the corners and she put her phone away again. “But my heart has received you already. I am sure my son would have liked you. Please press the bell for me, this is my stop.”
“Yes, Mama.” I did as she asked. “Go well.”
“Thank you, my daughter,” she raised her voice forcing a few heads to look up and turn around. “Oh, these old bones. Standing up is such pain. If I only had daughters to help me go to market…Ewuu chi m o!”
“Oh my God driver don’t move!…” A voice shouted.
The woman lay by the side of the road, the contents of her bags scattered around and under the bus. Passengers alighted to help her.
“Is she hurt?…”
“She just fell…”
“Why isn’t her daughter doing anything…?”
There were eyes all over my skin, but instead of a mild irritation at having their daydreams interrupted, they were filled with something resembling judgement.
“Did she push her?” The question broke through in a way the stares could not. My arm had shot out as soon as I heard her scream and connected with the woman’s waist but somehow she managed to wriggle past and end up on the floor.
I had a suspicion she did it on purpose.
(Part 2 tomorrow)