I woke up around 3am and for a moment was frightened to see a strange and occupied bed beside mine. Recollection, like an unwelcome guest at a party, hit me. My cousin Anu moved in with us the previous day. To make matters worse, we’re roommates. Sighing heavily, I tried to go back to sleep; I must have succeeded eventually. There’s a lot to be said for counting a million sheep in descending order.
The day proceeded with the drama I’m quickly beginning to associate with Anu as she refused to take a bath in the tub, calling it a “practice grave”. I had to get her two stools eventually; one to stand on and another to place a bucket on.
The days whizzed by; largely spent playing games, watching TV, visiting friends and breaking Anu in. My dad dropped the bombshell during casual conversation at dinner, a couple of days before school resumed. “Kids, I have great news: Anu has been accepted as a student in your…” I don’t think I let the last word come out of his mouth before wailing, “Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo”. If this were a really bad movie, that protest would have been echoed like 3 or 4 times. In reality, the silence that followed was so loud you could hear a pin drop. After what seemed like hours, Kunle finally spoke, “what have we done to deserve this?” My dad simply reassured us that it wouldn’t change anything, business as usual, nada cesa – nothing stops and continued with his meal like nothing had happened. In any case, I thought, our elite private school was about to get a whole lot less elite and possibly, less private too.
Anu was excited about the news and paraded about all day in the uniform after it arrived. She was quite the sight to behold – swaying like a drunk as she tried to mimic the hot high school cheerleaders and popular girl personas on TV. I had to admit the uniform fit her toned figure quite well. Kunle and I were determined to make the best of a bad situation and in the little time we had left, began elocution lessons with the still school attired Anu – she blatantly refused to take off the uniform – who I suspect has just discovered her new Sunday best. We realized quickly that we were making very little headway and eventually left her to her village-honed eccentricities. The trick to this, I thought later that day, would be getting her to keep her mouth shut. Still, the potential of the coming humiliation at school was like a dark cloud over the rest of the holiday.
On the first day of school, I asked Anu not to say a word to anyone when asked, except to give her name. We were in the same class even though she was three years older – she was that far behind in her studies. As soon as dad’s car pulled away from the school parking lot, after dropping us on his way to work and giving us the lecture about sticking together, I gave the first excuse that came to mind and wandered off, leaving her with Kunle. I got to class just before the bell rang and sat in my usual seat. Anu came into the class, looking sober but strangely, not intimidated. She survived the first class and heaving a sigh of relief, I allowed myself the faint hope that perhaps it wasn’t going to be so bad having her around.
The third class of the day was English Literature. Ms. Coker was only too delighted to have a new student, asking her to come forward to introduce herself. I had forgotten about her tendency to get students to give impromptu speeches.
“Let’s welcome our newest student, Anu Taiwo to Imperial” she said, as Anu sashayed to the front of the class. “Hi Anu, nice to meet you”, chorused the class in that well practiced tone that implied anything but. Ms. Coker wasn’t done though. “Anu, would you mind telling us a little about yourself?” I found myself praying fervently for a fire alarm to go off, a fight in the corridors, an impromptu assembly – yes, I was desperate, almost – anything to stop the debacle about to occur before it started.
Out came the practiced line, “My name is Anu Taiwo” and she turned to go back to her seat. Ms. Coker stopped her, “Would you like to share a bit more about…” Anu never let her finish, interrupting with a classic observation “I get chair already” – in village speech pattern, replacing the ‘ch’ consonants with the ‘sh’ consonants – “my chair is fine”. “No, no, I meant tell us a little more about yourself”.
“My name is Anu Taiwo, thank you”, positively pleased that she had remembered to say ‘thank you’- maybe Kunle and I did get through to her, if only a little. She turned around again in a repeated bid to return to her seat. I wished wholeheartedly that Ms. Coker would just let it rest, but no, she didn’t. Seeing as the ground had not swallowed me already, there was no reprieve, I had to endure some more – at this point, the rest of the class was in hysterics. “Go on”, urged Ms. Coker. “Hmmm…I am a girl”. “Yes, we can see that you are. Why don’t you tell us something we don’t know”?
Anu must have thought about that question for all of four seconds before responding shyly, “Sule, my bobo, tell me say I be angel”. Some of my classmates were rolling about on the floor now. “Ok, thank you Anu, you may return to your seat now” was the weak response that Ms. Coker could get out turning her attention towards restoring discipline in the class.
We had Music class in the afternoon. The music room was airy and spacious, filled with a wide variety of instruments – percussions, woodwinds, strings, drums. We were preparing for a musical concert to celebrate the school’s 20th Anniversary so lessons had been replaced by rehearsals. Anu sat in a corner as we took our places, humming to herself and singing, possibly when she had picked up the words of the song the class was rehearsing. The music teacher, Mrs. Jiboye went over to her side once or twice, I presumed to shush her. The rest of the day went by in a blur, so intent was I on focusing on foiling attempts made by classmates to link Anu Taiwo and Sade Taiwo as relatives. I wasn’t prepared to let anyone put two and two together.
On the way back home, Anu was fair to bursting, “tisha say I can be a good singer, my voice get soul, wetin be that?” It seemed that for reasons best known to her, Mrs. Jiboye had alluded that Anu had vocal prowess.
I was lost for words, so Kunle replied “that means she thinks your voice is captivating”.
“Cat ….”, Anu interjected, “I resemble cat?”
“No, no, that you have a very good voice. Soul singers have strong, sweet and sometimes deep voices” he said, laughing.
She leaned back into the car seat, beaming like a Cheshire cat. “She say I need to polish am. We get plenty polish for house so I tell her no worry, I will polish well well till e dey shine ”.
We got home and went about doing our chores and school assignments. I explained as much as I could to Anu, adding ‘Tutoring’ to my growing list of responsibilities where she was concerned and she copied the rest, although I couldn’t vouch for its intelligibility from the little I saw of it. After dinner, we settled in to watch a pre-recorded episode of Project Fame, as we were only allowed an hour of TV on school nights. The competition was still at the audition stage and we always enjoyed poking fun at the often comical antics of the hopeful participants. Tonight was different. Anu stole the show in our living room where we could only stare open-mouthed. She joined in on songs she knew, mumbled through those she didn’t but even then her performance was exquisite. She sang, wailed and crooned her way through the show, pausing only to ask us to explain the bits from the judges’ criticisms of the performers that she didn’t understand. As usual, Deron, the evil judge was on form with his sharp and barbed but witty tongue-lashings. After his comments to the 2nd singer on the night, Anu invoked the thunder god, Sango, to split his skull open, for shattering someone’s dream.
My mum popped a head round into the living room at some point to ask, “What exactly is going on?” Anu joyfully shared the good news of her newfound ambition, adding soberly, “Auntie no worry, when I rich, I no go forget you”. Speechless, my mum went back into her room.
Long after the show ended, Anu was still serenading my hairbrush and only stopped when it was bedtime. I didn’t blame her though, it was Mrs. Jiboye’s fault and I wondered how the music teacher would handle this Anu that she’d brought to life.