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No Goodbyes- a short story.

Just as the Imam cried out the call to Asr prayers in the mosque nearby, you would appear across the street. Waiting at the mercy of the van drivers in the absence of white spaced zebra crossing, to dart across the busy road and scoop me up into your arms.

You always came bearing gifts.

Yesterday was the soft brown loaf of adanza bread, filled to the brim with the white powdered substance- Nido full cream powdered milk, my very own crack. Layered with rich Milo chocolate and sugar. “A weird combination that will ruin her stomach” Yama always protested, but one you knew made me skip down the road after every bite.

The day before, it was crunchy, but with just the right amount of softness boiled groundnut, bought from Aunty Fatima that I munched on as we practised my French.

“Conjugate the verb Aller, using we in the present tense” you had challenged me.

“Nous allons à la maison” I enthusiastically said with a smirk on my face. I won. I had been practising that all day, I just knew what you were going to ask.

We were in sync like that. 

The apple indeed did not fall far from the tree, I was a testament to that. 

You were the root and I the branch of the tree that hesitated to sprout for 13 years. 

But when I did, I was a mirror to the root that birthed and held me together.

As above, so below. 

This was us.

“Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar”

“Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar”

“Ash-hadu an la ilaha-ill Allah”

“Ash-hadu an la ilaha-ill Allah”

The Imam sounds the Adhan, signalling that it was just after 5 pm.

I glance across the street, peering through the clouds of dust risen by the vans that zoomed past, trying to make out the silhouette of your extremely high waisted trousers and worn out brown leather bag- your fashion taste was that of Mr Bean.

The ebbeh street seller has just finished packing her obnoxiously large silver pan that housed the yellowy delicacy made with palm oil, crabs, cassava, fish and loads and loads of lemon juice and spice. 

You have always cautioned me against eating ebbeh not made by Yama- but mother’s cooking has always been the tastiest and safest to your picky taste buds, no other cooking could hold a candle to hers. 

The nearby shops started shutting their iron casted doors, clacking and bolting to retreat to their back rooms and answer the call to prayer.

Kotoh Amadou leaves one door ajar to accommodate the small figure sitting on the side of it in her green and cream uniform, black school bag held tightly in her arms, with her legs crossed, as she has always done waiting for you to scoop her into your arms and walk home.

“Assalamu’alaikum warahmatullahi”

“Assalamu’alaikum warahmatullahi”

I heard Kotoh Amadou mutter from the small, dimly lit space behind the counter of his shop that housed the red patterned, rectangular prayer mat, with tassels loosely hanging on the shorter ends.

My signal that Asr prayers have ended. 

With eyes still fixated on the space across the road, I occasionally counted the number of vans against that of taxis that skidded along quickly, routinely hitting the pothole that made its presence known confidently in the middle of the road. I wondered if it knew it was an inconvenience from the mutters of curses drivers and passengers alike hurled at the ground every time they hit it.

I used this time to practice counting from fifty to one hundred in French. I just knew this was going to be your challenge for me today, and I was ready to win again. 

We were in sync like that.

“Soixante dix huit, soixante dix neuf, soixante-“

I am interrupted by the scent of hazelnut and fresh warm dough that travelled to my nostrils from the direction Kotoh Amadou, who appeared with a tapalapa split in the middle- one half of the doughy bread oozing with chocolate spread, and the other glistening with the melted Anchor butter- just as I liked it. 

Usually, you would hand it to me if you were later than anticipated, your way of apologising for keeping me waiting. 

I thanked him and chomped away at the bread. If you were staring at me eating right now from across the street, you would say: “Mama, only thieves eat that fast, take your time, the food isn’t running away”

So I heeded the sound of your voice counselling me in my mind and took my time, I wanted to leave some to share with you. I promise I counted to ten during every bite, but I was really hungry and you were taking too long.

I am sorry.

Yayi, is that why you didn’t come today? Was I too greedy? Did I eat like a thief?

The once bright orange sun has turned golden as it disappeared into the clouds across the street. I had envisioned you appearing in front of it, the vanishing sun forming a semi-circle above your head as heroes do in the Soap operas we watched in the compound. 

The heroes always appeared and scooped up their princesses.

Yama yanked my arm and continuously responded to my nagging questions which made a 3-minute walk feel like 20 minutes of agony with

“Yayi is at home, he has been waiting for you”

The Adhan for Maghrib prayers echoed in the distance. Mother had come to get me from Kotoh Amadou’s shop at sunset, it was taboo to be roaming the streets at this hour. “Timis is the playtime for jinns mama, you should be indoors whenever you hear the call to Maghrib prayers” Yama always advised.

“How come I did not see him across the street today” I interrogated her on our walk home.

She halted to tie her wrapper a little tighter, darted her eyes at me with a glance that said “you are too inquisitive for your age”- I hear this a lot in voices and looks.

We resumed our walk and I paused my interrogation of my mother to greet the shopkeeper Tapha.

“Did he use another road today?” I resumed my inquiry.

“Why would he use another road?” I whispered to myself.

He must’ve seen how greedy I was, I knew it. 

We are in sync like that.

And now he is angry with me. Maybe I should count to twenty during every bite next time.

“Yayi come clean my buttocks”, I yelled from the toilet after finishing my morning poop before getting ready for school.

My 5-year-old tongue has fondly substituted the “d” in “daddy” and the “m” in “mama” for a “y”.

So daddy became “Yayi”

And mama became “Yama”- and it was a language only us 4 understood, it was our world.

“Yayi!!!!” I shouted again.

“Yayi if you don’t come here in 5 seconds I won’t save any bread for you after school” I threatened.

A few minutes passed.

The stench of my droppings is now suffocating as I sat on the red and black dotted Mickey Mouse stool you had bought me at Serrekunda market without much convincing. 

Yama peered from the door, “do you want me to come to clean you?” she inquired.

“No! Go and bring Yayi here right now!” I asserted.

“Yayi is busy, allow me to quickly wash you up or you’ll be late for school” she begged.

I reluctantly agreed- I hate being late for school. You loved that about me. 

School was our thing. Our love for academia and proving our intelligence bonded us.

We were in sync like that.

“Come phone call for you-it’s Yayi ”

I quickly slipped into my black polished school shoes and darted across the living room- climbing onto my green stool to reach the handset that hung on the wall.

“You, you Yayi, where are you? Did you not hear me calling out to you to come to clean my buttocks this morning” I snarled down the transmitter.

“Mama, I got on a plane in the sky, I am in London. I miss you” a voice that sounded like you transmitted back to me.

You sound tired. You sound far away. Very far away. I don’t know where London is. 

I just know it isn’t here, and you got on a plane without me. 

We were not in sync like that.

You never came and scooped me up.

Here, in this living room in The Gambia, dressed for Nursery 3 in a cream oversized blouse with green ankle length skirt, at 5 years old, I learnt that love could leave without saying goodbye.

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