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The sounds from her mother’s kitchen pierced the strangely silent house like a needle through a piece of cloth. Or like a hot knife sears through butter. There was something so weirdly satisfying about the calmness the silence brought, and an even weirder connection between the stillness and the peace she felt within her. The tall guava trees in her compound had the children of her neighbors and church members in a frenzy during its season as they all scramble for its fruits, which fall in abundance like the tree was tired of them tugging at her and just poured out her content for their satisfaction, moved with sheer reluctance.

The silence itself was not particularly strange because it was a Saturday evening and usually, it was bursting with visitors and unfamiliar voices echoing in their living room, hallway, and sometimes, kitchen. It felt strange because she could feel the tiredness of the day, the trees sighing when the wind touched them, moving lazily like they were being coerced to do it. More like they were tired of their job and wanted to do what humans did for a change. Work and pay bills. Or at least that was the only thing she thought they did not do yet. Still, she wondered how anyone would want to live that way; work all day, eat, pay bills, work some more, get a couple of days off work, and feel bad while at it because you think you do not deserve it, and eventually die. That was such a pathetic way to live.

Their Saturday mostly involved seeing unfamiliar faces and hearing unfamiliar voices of people who had come to ask her dad for one thing or another. Sometimes, they were semi-familiar because they were people from her church or people she at least knew by their children’s names. The other day, Papa Nkechi had tearily come to seek help concerning his failing crops in the village. She wondered why he had his family in the city while his means of livelihood was in the village.

‘Everybody wants to live in the city, you know.’ Her sister once said to her. His wife, whom everyone called Mama Nkechi, roasted corn and pear and sold them at a junction about three blocks away from the church, close to the commercial hub of their town. There was usually a throng of people in the evening around her fireplace and she made quite some money from the business, or so she thought the few times she had seen her selling. She did not think anyone should live like that, living from hand to mouth. Or maybe she assumed this because she came from a place of privilege and did not have to worry about these things.

She had never seen her parents seeking assistance from other people or being short on funds; they took care of everything, including feeding, clothing, and schooling. She did her hardest to avoid taking a stance on anyone, but she also believed that everyone should make an effort to improve their current condition.


And if there was no one physically talking to him about assisting financially, her father was on the phone with someone, and he always looked so serious while at it. It was not a new sight. It was not always pleasant either. Unpleasant because these people sometimes felt entitled and were too demanding. Not that her father was complaining but on their behalf, she had some shame since they refused to have some for themselves. But as Pastor Ike said every Sunday, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ often accompanying it with a song about helping people and not looking down on them.
Most Sundays, she was stunned when, upon starting the song, Pastor Ike would turn and look at her father, who usually sat at the first pew of the church, just beside her mother in matching attire. She and her siblings were in the next pew. A visitor would almost think they were there for a special event – a family thanksgiving or some sort but no, that was their Sunday tradition.

It was almost like the church worshiped her father because of his wealth and affluence and she hated it. She hated how her peers would cower whenever she was around them and try to be on their best behavior like that would erase the ill they spoke of her father’s source of wealth or tried to befriend her in the hopes of financial support or assistance from her father, either to work in his company despite their under qualification or to come live with her in their ‘mansion’.

She always wondered about the level or manner of confidence these people had when they approached her father for a job and upon asking them about their highest level of education, they responded with ‘I just finished WAEC, sir.’

‘WAEC?’ she had blurted out loudly once with her eyes wide open, when she stayed with her father during one of his ‘sessions’. She had been so shocked by the response that the word just slipped out of her mouth before she could even stop herself from saying it. The shock in her eyes could jumpstart a dead car battery.

Her father looked at her and as if by telepathic communication, she got up, said a quick ‘oh sorry, excuse me.’ and left the room still in complete shock as to what had happened and what she had heard. The young lad from then on refused to speak to her. He must have been embarrassed, she had thought to herself when the following Sunday, she said hi to him and she got the coldest stare there was to give.

The best she had seen was a young guy in his mid-twenties, or so she thought, who was in his second year of Ordinary National Diploma at the polytechnic opposite her father’s office. It was not much, but she admired his resilience in the pursuit of education and was even more impressed when he continued his studies after completing his one year of industrial training at her father’s company. Her father had promised him employment upon graduating from the polytechnic. She really wished he never did.

She thought it odd whenever Pastor Ike immediately suggested her father’s name to fill the position of the building committee chairman or the supervisor of the welfare team or even the director of the medical team. She once asked her father if he had any medical experience. He simply rolled his eyes at her and told her mother to ‘warn your daughter ‘right in the middle of service, just before the thanksgiving offerings were to be collected, where her father proceeded to drop his fat white envelope, holding it high for the whole church to see, as though he owed them that display.

Sometimes she wondered if he truly worshipped God because of who He is or because he wanted to show off his wealth to the church or prove a point that she did not understand. Twenty-six years of her life and she still could not decipher who this man she called her father was.


A typical Saturday in their home usually started with a loud bell being rung around the house by her mother, followed by shouts of ‘wake up for devotion’. That bell had been around for as long as she could remember. It had become so old but the jingle of it was still as startling and loud as ever. But not for once did Idunnu understand the need to shout in the morning.

She would rather be awakened softly, spoken to gently, or lightly tugged at to wake up. Most times, she was awake before her mother’s bell even sounded. But her mother would open her room door still, ring her bell as loudly as she could and leave it ajar after shouting her usual line. She had told her mother on several occasions to try to close her door whenever she was leaving her room but was always met with ‘this is my house’ in response.

Her mother’s voice was shrill and rather too loud for her small body. Everything about her mother’s body was exaggerated, for all she cared. Her smooth round face and a jaw so sharp it could cut through the glass were her favorite features about her mother. But her eyes held a different opinion on disciplining her children.

The legendary eye-rolling and stare that got her children into character was something that fascinated her. The skill, the mastery, and the power behind it. It worked every time and she was always amazed at every exchange of it that she got to experience. Just her mother staring at them as if telepathically twisting their ears like she would do at home to bring back their home training since they seem to have forgotten their roots. The thought of the pain from the twist was a motivator to get out of her bed every morning before her mother came a second time.


A loud song of worship from her father kickstarts the devotion, followed by a long message which usually lasts about an hour. In all fairness, she never thought of her father as a preacher or a teacher but rather as a speaker. All he ever said was basic knowledge, not exactly preaching the word of God as Pastor Ike did. Just morality with a dash of spirituality. Sometimes, she wondered if he wanted to become a seminarian and was just practising with them. But she knew he would do badly at it because of his love for the display of his wealth and wanting to do things in the house of God just so people praise him.

The closing prayer was usually said by her cousin, Bintu, and the grace was shared by her younger sister, Abiye. She and Bintu were not the best of friends and this tension between them crossed into even devotion when she struggled to say amen to Bintu’s prayers every time she led the closing. Immediately after the sharing of the grace, everyone moved to their chore station as Romola, her younger brother and the last child of her parents, had once described it. It was where they did their daily chore so it might as well be called that, he had said to detail his description, feeling so proud he had come up with something that his sister had considered interesting and did not tell her ‘No Romo, you don’t say that’, or ‘That is not correct, why don’t you look at it this way.’ and then she would go on to explain how better he could have approached the matter or done it. Not that he was mad at her for doing that.

He enjoyed it, the fact that she was always there to hold his hand and guide his fifteen-year-old self through life. But sometimes, he just wanted to explore his creativity and be allowed to make mistakes and learn from them. He was a rather quiet child. Not that being quiet was bad, she just did not want him to grow up timid and not be able to voice his opinions or stand his ground on matters that mattered. Or worse, not being able to stand up for himself due to his shyness. He thought he was never seen or noticed, but she always looked out for him. This was why his statement surprised Idunnu, who was further shocked when he gave that explanation. She understood his struggles as a high school student and tried to have a conversation with him at every chance she got. She was almost like his counselor or his soundboard as he called her. Whatever he called her, she was content. The goal was to get him to be comfortable talking to her anytime about anything and it was working.

She assisted her mother in the kitchen with breakfast, Romola washed the cars and tended to the Calathea flowers in their rather large compound, and Abiye swept and cleaned the sitting and dining areas while Bintu cleaned her parent’s room. She had always wondered why her cousin was the one saddled with the task of cleaning her parent’s room, and when she asked her mother, ‘It is your father’s choice’ was her curt response. Curt because her mother had looked at her with disgust as if taken aback by her boldness to question her father’s authority in the house. Could she not ask her mother a question again? She questioned silently as she looked away from her mother to the furry rug that she sat on in their room that Sunday afternoon.


Shortly after breakfast, their gates were opened to the throng of people who most times started lining up there from as early as 5 am and stayed back till as late as 7 pm. Sometimes, her parents tasked her and Bintu with cooking for some of them who ate and even took some home, or sometimes, were given foodstuff to take home with them.

As much as she loved how her parents were helping the less privileged, their entitlement disgusted her. One time, a young woman had asked her for money to pay her son’s school fees. Idunnu told her to meet her father but the woman was not ready to do that and told her, ‘So you wan tell me say you no get money for hand as your papa get money reach?’ Idunnu was taken aback not only by her rudeness but also, by her sense of entitlement.

This Saturday, however, was different. Her father had fallen ill from work on Thursday and had been on bed rest ever since. The devotion that morning was rather solemn; her mother did not ring her bell, and she did not shout either. Rather, she knocked on their doors, opened and beckoned them to come downstairs for devotion. For a moment, Idunnu thought her dream of a solemn, slow wake morning had finally come true before she realized why this was happening.

The devotion that morning was quick too, her father did not join and she and her siblings heaved a sigh of relief when after the sermon, her mother started the closing prayer, giving no room for Bintu to take it. Abiye had slightly opened her eyes and winked at Idunnu, whose eyes were wide open and they shared a sinister smile. Chores were also done solemnly and this time, Idunnu and her cousin were in the kitchen cooking while her mother tended to her father upstairs.


‘Be wary of Bintu. I am not sure of her ways,’ her mother had once told her and she instantaneously remembered this when Bintu reached to add something to the pot of stew that was cooking over the gas cooker when they had to cook that evening. Her instincts kicked in and she moved quickly to hold her hand before she could add it.

‘What is that?’ she asked quite sharply, grabbing Bintu’s wrist firmly. Bintu was shocked, taken aback by her sudden movement. She staggered a bit, and struggled for balance. There was a look in her eyes that Idunnu could not exactly place. It looked like hot coals of fire burned in her pupils and ashes filled her iris. But Idunnu was not moved. She stood grounded and still held on to her wrist.

‘It’s curry powder,’ Bintu responded quite sharply before adding ‘Why did you grab my hand like that?’ and rolling her eyes at her cousin. Bintu did not particularly like Idunnu’s doggedness and rather fascinating bravery. She thought a woman should be gentle and submissive and rather cower at the sight of her husband or any man at that, but Idunnu was different. She embodied all the opposites of her feminine characteristics, acted like a man, and questioned a lot of things, particularly regarding their norms and traditions and she did not like it.

‘Oh. I thought it was salt because I already added salt,’ Idunnu replied, slowly releasing Bintu’s wrist from her grip.

That was a lie, and they both knew it.

Their facial expressions showed that. Bintu eyed her but she paid no attention and the rest of the cooking was done in silence. The sound of pots being scrapped as a result of the jollof rice getting burnt and spoons hitting the pots, stirring soups at intervals pierced the deafening silence that had taken over their house. Even the visitors were minimal today, and their visits were very brief. Her father needed all the rest he could get. He worked too hard and Idunnu sometimes pitied him whenever she got up at around midnight, majorly owing to insomnia.

Once, she had set out to make herself a glass of warm milk and saw his study room light on. Her father always worked round the clock on most weekdays, working on a proposal or speaking to his business partners on the other side of the globe. She stood outside his study, observing him for a while before going in to give him the glass of milk she had made for herself, and he smiled at her thoughtfulness, looked proud at the daughter he had raised, and said, ‘God bless you.’ She felt proud that she had done something to ease the stress he was going through and went to bed, without making another glass of warm milk for herself.

‘Mummy said you should set the table for dinner’, Abiye said quite grandly as she swayed into the kitchen with not a care to spare for whoever heard her. She moved to the fridge and brought out an apple.

‘She also said Mr Harrison is coming over to pick up the vegetable soup she asked you to make for his wife,’ she continued as she took a big bite of the apple in her hand, resting against the door of the fridge. Her sister and cousin continued their work and paid her no attention. Abiye looked from her sister to her cousin and from her cousin to her sister, both acted like they had not heard a word of what she said.

‘Hello?’ she yelled and both of them looked at her. ‘Did any of you hear what I said?’ she continued, looking from one person to the other.

‘Which one of us were you talking to? Is that how to talk to people?’ Bintu asked, a bit too harshly. Idunnu did not like that. She had no right to speak to her sister like that.

‘Yes, we heard you. We will set the table and pack the vegetable soup soon,’ she interjected as she looked at Bintu and stressed the ‘we’ in her sentence.

‘Please take these dishes to the table. I will bring in the other one,’ she continued, gesturing at the large blue ceramic dishes on the kitchen island. Abiye moved toward the island and opened the lid of one of the dishes. The aroma of the jollof rice in it filled the room as the steam rose to fill her nostrils. She closed her eyes for a couple of seconds and inhaled so sharply that her sister almost thought she wanted to sniff the rice through her nostrils. She simply savored the aroma before putting the lid back on and taking it to the dining area as instructed by her big sister.

‘You should help Abiye set the table, I will finish washing the plates.’ Bintu said to Idunnu rather calmly. As much as that sounded like a nice gesture, Idunnu had her doubts but she did as Bintu said. She washed her hands and joined Abiye at the dining table, setting down the plates for dinner.

They spoke in low tones about the food, their parents, the house, and the silent but quite visible tension between Bintu and Idunnu.

‘I don’t think I understand her problem. She thinks we should worship her because Daddy is her uncle and we are only privileged to be his children. What manner of sick thought is that?’ she had said to Abiye, who then responded, ‘I wonder o.’

‘To a large extent, I think Daddy is accommodating her excesses. It’s becoming too much. I understand her father helped him rise up but then, there should be a boundary and Daddy does not seem to know where to set it,’ Idunnu continued.

‘I think he is scared of Uncle Dele. If he isn’t, Bintu will not be getting away with so much and he will be supporting her,’ Abiye shared as she moved to put the final touches on the setting.

‘I also don’t understand why mummy is not doing anything about this,’ Idunnu continued. ‘It is not the best sight to see what she is doing but…’ She caught Abiye’s eyes, the silent message that said, ‘Bintu is here and she is behind you.’

Swiftly, she turned, smiled at her, and collected the last dish in her hand to put on the table.

‘Please tell Mummy and Daddy the table is set. They can come downstairs now. Call Romola on your way back too so we can all eat.’ Idunnu dished out the instructions to her sister and from the corner of her eye, she could tell Bintu was a bit upset. She would have wanted to do that, take charge, and give instructions, but Idunnu was doing that and she could feel her rage building up.

‘Yes, call them. I was about to tell you that,’ she quickly added before Abiye could turn to leave.

‘Yes, Aunty Bintu’, Abiye responded and walked away. One could almost hear the sarcasm and detest in her voice as she replied to her cousin whom her father had mandated she added the prefix, Aunty, to her name when addressing her. She was beyond shocked the first time he mentioned it to her over dinner on a windy Thursday evening. He looked her straight in the eye and she remembered how his eyes had looked that day. Calm, holding no emotions.

He said it so casually she almost thought it was a joke. She had laughed and he added, ‘Share the joke, Abiye’ and continued to look straight into her eyes as he expected a response but got none.

Everyone at the table instantly became quiet as if struck by something that she neither saw nor knew of. She knew he was serious about what he had said and was not playing around. She would have objected and said something like she always did if it had been her mother.

But it was Chief Kolawole Enitan. Her father. The revered one. The feared one. Nobody questioned him, his decisions, or his choices. Not even his wife, or children. His continued stare was her cue to not speak anymore and she responded with a very quiet ‘Yes, daddy’, almost a whisper. Dinner that night was solemn and quiet. One could almost hear her heart beating as it raced against her breath, having heard her father’s stern voice. She hated to hear it. She never liked it. He had only spoken to her in that manner roughly five times in her twenty years on Earth.

Stern yet gentle a voice.

She hated to hear him speak to her that way. And it was because of her cousin, Bintu.

‘Don’t worry.’ She heard Idunnu whisper as she lightly squeezed her hand under the table.

But Bintu, who sat across her, smiled, sipping her water with so much pride. Reveling in the glory her uncle had just won for her.

She remembered how Bintu came to stay in their house, initially as a holiday of two weeks, being the best-behaved young woman she had seen. Then, two weeks stretched into two months, two months stretched into two years, and now it had been almost six years since the day Bintu moved in with them. In those six years, they had changed houses twice and she was still there. She had asked her once within the first year of her stay if she was going back to her parents or not. Bintu gave her a very demeaning look and sucked her teeth so hard she, for a second, thought her tongue might bleed from all that force pressing into her teeth. Bintu was about nine months older than her and somehow, she managed to use that every time they argued. ‘I am not your mate.’ She was always reminded and she would wonder how exactly she meant, exerting so much power and authority in her own father’s home.

Idunnu knew from that moment onward that Bintu was not going to be anywhere near her good books.

Tobi Ojenike

Tobi Ojenike

Tobi Ojenike is a freelance writer from Lagos, Nigeria. She enjoys long walks, strawberry milkshakes, and reading Danielle Steele and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whom she hopes to meet someday. She is currently working on republishing her maiden book, On Edge. Tobi is available on X and Instagram at the handle @tobiojenike. Tobi‘s website is: