A Short Story by Michelle Mojisola Savage
On the same day of the same year, two girls were born, a stone’s throw from each other’s house. A bond stronger than sisterhood was also born, destined to last a lifetime. As they grew, their friendship blossomed; and where one was found, the other never strayed. They ate, wore, and did the same things, attended the same schools, and often shared a bed. Although occasional squabbles arose, they were always laid to rest in the bosom of an old confidant, Iya Ewe.
In their fifteenth year on earth, a series of changes suddenly demanded the great sacrifice of friendship. Ireti lost her father to a brief illness, while Yewande’s widowed aunt requested her helping hand. With tears and tall promises, they parted ways without exchanging goodbyes. For the word belongs to friends that can be separated by distance.
Fifteen years later, death brought them back together. Iya Ewe had joined her ancestors, and a befitting burial was to be given to the childless spinster, who had raised the village’s children and their children. When Ireti and Yewande saw each other again, they hugged and screamed and laughed and cried. Time spun its magical wheel, to remind them of how to love each other. At the village square, they entertained people with funny tales of their childhood. But the old eyes that had watched them grow watered. For the children who were so alike, yesterday were now as different as night and day. A healthy body; a sophisticated gait; a warm smile, telling stories of good living. A tired smile, a bony frame, a cowered look, evidence of abuse.
In Ireti’s house, tears flowed as the story of fifteen years was told in fifteen minutes. After her father’s death, tradition empowered her uncles to strip her family of most of their possessions. They declared that they would rather burn than watch their brother’s wealth squandered by the witch that murdered him. Hence, before her mother could step out of her mourning state, they were already homeless. Turned out of their home by the very people who should have comforted them.
“Bless the little old lady’s heart,” the villagers whispered as Iya Ewe opened her humble abode to the young family of five. A grumbling stomach is far louder than a teacher’s voice; hence the children quit school. At seventeen, when a recently-widowed pastor asked for Ireti’s hand in marriage, the family consented at once, ignoring his obvious financial challenges and unbothered by their thirty-year age difference.
“But I am happy,” Ireti assured Yewande. “My children are not as hungry as they look. Growing children often look thin. Did you see my shop outside? It’s the one with the mannequins. People come all the way from the city to me to make their clothes. We don’t have a lot, but by God’s grace, we manage.”
While Ireti repeated how happy she was again and again, Yewande thought of the numerous things she was grateful for. A thriving career in architecture. A dear aunt and a loving fiancé. A beautiful house to go back to.
“You can’t be serious. Happy? In this dump?” Yewande blurted out her thoughts. And the moment she asked those questions, she knew that their friendship was soiled forever.“Get out!”
“Ireti mi. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. I understand-”
“No! You have said enough!” Ireti yelled, choking on the tears she had been trying to hold back all day. “You don’t understand anything. Ever since you arrived, you have done nothing but humiliate me with your demeanor, attitude, and looks. I know I live in a dump, but you didn’t have to point it out. Do you understand how it feels to be compared to your rich and successful friend in your presence? To squint hard at your children’s faces every day, trying to determine their paternity because you don’t know if they belong to your husband or one of his numerous friends who force themselves on you at night? Do you? Look at my back.” She pulled up her blouse to reveal whip scars. “These marks were left there by my husband’s sisters after they caught me running away. No! You can’t understand. Go back to your big house and handsome fiancé. Goodnight!”
Time’s arrow never stops moving. In a blink of an eye, another fifteen years passed. The final reaper brought the women together again. This time, to lay Yewande’s aunt to rest. After the festivities that came with celebrating a well-lived life, Yewande went in search of her friend. To extend an olive branch.
Ireti was reading a book under a Moringa tree, oblivious to the presence of a car in her compound, when she was startled by a familiar voice. When their eyes locked, there was no emotion felt by either. Yewande had expected to be racked with heavy guilt from her last visit but felt nothing. Meanwhile, Ireti closed her book and stared. Not saying anything. Just staring. In those fifteen meters between them, there was more emptiness than had ever been in their last fifteen years apart.
Suddenly, their attention was diverted to a scuffle between two girls fighting over a stick doll. At that very moment, time’s arrow did something it rarely did. It reversed! Traveling over bitter memories to a day when they had fought over a similar doll. Gifted by a cunning admirer who had refused to name an owner.
In that memory, Yewande found the strength to close the distance between them. And under the cool shade of the Moringa tree, the friends reconciled. With giggles, tired smiles, unspoken words, and understanding nods.
“The women also laughed when I enrolled in school,” Ireti informed her friend, who was having a bout of coughs from laughing too hard. “My husband is dead, and my kids are grown. I have too much time on my hands. I might as well do something. Do you remember how much I loved going to school? I loved learning, but more than that, I loved to teach. After my WAEC, I’ll apply to teach at the community grammar school. Please, convince me that I’m not a fool.”
“Well, there’s no fool like an old fool,” Yewande teased. “But think about it. If you don’t write the exams, you’d be an old fool in a year. And if you do, you’d still be an old fool. But one with a WAEC result and a job to love.”
Laughing at each other’s follies and struggles, they painted a better future. Ireti regaled her friend with stories of her daughter’s lavish wedding, her new bread business, and the four kittens she was nursing back to health. Yewande also had a lot to talk about. Her cheating husband, an expensive European tour, and a dead son.
And as they babbled and teased themselves into the night, they created a new friendship. One that suits the type of woman they had become. Women who have lived fifteen lives in one.
“Tick! Tick! Tick!” Time sang while twisting a bunch of seconds into fifteen years. Yewande sat beside her friend under the cool shade of the Moringa tree. Telling her everything. Her favorable divorce, her fling with a younger man, Ireti’s WAEC result.
And as the sun set and evening came, calm and tranquil like all evenings, children walked by and wondered why the rich city woman talked to a grave.
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Michelle Mojisola Savage
is a writer and Engineering
student at the University of
Lagos. Her interests include
playing the guitar, strong
political arguments and
talking to dogs.