Fola and I had a thing. It was not a special thing, it had no meaning whatsoever, it was just a thing we did. It had started when we were six years old. I used to live with my grandmother in Benin City and she had been my neighbour. We’d spent countless hours playing in the sand and climbing the many mango trees that populated my grandmother’s large compound and running around with her many dogs.
It had happened one day, a happy day in the never ending line of happy days that I spent living in that house, while we sat on the bare ground, not mindful of the sand that would stain our clothes. For some reason I cannot remember, I touched the tip of her nose with the tip of my index finger and she had broken into an uncontrollable giggle. For years, I had wondered why it made her laugh and had come up with nothing but everytime I did it, she would giggle.
After a while, it became our greeting. I would touch the tip of her nose, she would let me and then she would giggle. The giggle slowly evolved from a giggle that would throw her into barely controlled fits of laughter into a small laugh that would cause the edges of her eyes to crease. Our friendship didn’t evolve with it. Beneath our shells of forced maturity, we were still just two six-year-olds playing in the sand. And she was always there.
She was there when my grandmother had died, ten years after that day we’d forged the ‘thing’ that would be such a big part of our lives. She had hugged me while I vainly fought back streams of tears from my eyes, she had hugged me tight and said that she would never let go. I touched her nose and she’d giggled, soft and sad. It had made me smile and she’d kissed the top of my forehead.
She was there when I went to the university, sad that money had forced us apart. That day, she’d said, “One day, we will stop being slaves of money, I promise you”. I cried that day too, small tears concentrated with emotion too much for words. I touched her nose and she’d smiled and hugged me. She’d been there when I had graduated, when I got a job, good days that made the giggles easy to come by.
She had not giggled during labor, it was the one time she hadn’t. She’d slapped me when I’d had the ill-conceived idea of touching her nose then. She did giggle afterwards though, while she held our son in her arms for the first time and I could swear that at that moment, with sweat covering her brow and the aftereffects of great pain etched all over her face, that that was the most beautiful she’d ever looked. She had named him Ayomide meaning “my joy has arrived”.
When I had lost my first job and we’d had to fall back on her and the small shop she owned, and food and basic necessities were hard to come by, she’d sit beside me on the one couch we had while I moped about another futile day of job hunting and she’d hug me like she did when my grandmother had died and she would assure me that better days were coming, that she still believed in the promise she’d made and she would put my finger to her nose and smile a small smile.
Those days were dark days, she overworked herself too much. I tried all I felt I could to help, but sometimes, it haunts me that maybe I just didn’t do enough for her. When I had finally gotten another job and had enough money to spoil her and our son, I did. But it was too late.
She’d giggled on her deathbed. I had touched her nose and my finger had come back with a coat of sickly sweat. I had wept more tears than I had before, more than when my parents had died. I cried because we had finally fulfilled her promise and she couldn’t be there to enjoy it. I cried because the more I saw her leaving this world, the more my spirit died. She’d smiled and told me to live for our son. She had been right, she’d always been right.
Seven months after she had died, I sat on the couch in the living room of our house, quietly looking at Ayomide while he sat down on the floor with his toys. I remembered Fola and all she was and the hole that she had left behind and couldn’t hold back the tears. I put my head in my hands and wept as I whispered her name to myself. Then I felt a small hand and looked up. I saw Ayomide, concern written all over his small face as he stretched out his hand, and I began to giggle and then to laugh because there he was, our joy, with his tiny finger on my nose.