The night was coming. She was leaving. Palm trees swung back and forth to the wind’s melody while the sun gradually began to say goodbye.
Like the sun, she was saying goodbye. She said it repeatedly into the still air, feeling a slight irritation as she realized her younger sisters were not replying. Instead, Favour and Temi were staring blankly. Lara’s irritation swelled. However, it dissolved as she noticed the tears welling up in their eyes and playing with their eyelids, their heavy sighs and the silence thereafter. Slowly, she understood. She smiled and decided not to break the silence, suddenly feeling a word would be empty.
The atmosphere remained quiet, except for interrupting chirps of birds sitting on electric lines, whistling trees and the sound of whizzing insects. Lara’s mother tugged the loose end of her wrapper repeatedly. Using her forefinger, she wiped the sweat trickling down her cheeks as she served dinner. “Food is ready,” she shrilled, breaking the silence unconsciously.
Within a few minutes, the Adigun family sat around the large dining table. The air was dense with soberness; Favour and Temi battled tears while Lara noticed her mother’s unusual quietness and her father adjusting his agbada with pride. To him, fathering a seventeen-year-old daughter who had won a scholarship to study medicine in America was a great success.
“Lara,” her mother called softly.
“Say the prayers quickly and let us eat this food.”
Lara then mumbled a short prayer and looked at the clock. It was ticking monotonously. She wished it could move its old hands faster while her young hands shook with anxiety, making the cutting of pounded yam with her fork a struggle. Her throat felt dry, her appetite began to diminish and she felt the night dragging; it seemed too slow and long.
“Oyinbo,” her mother teased, “the only one in this family who eats pounded yam with a fork.”
She continued, “My lovely daughter, I am glad you are going to Princeton. I will miss you.”
Her father smiled and then shouted, “everybody, eat fast o! Lara must not miss her flight o!”
As Lara wondered why her father often added ‘o’ to his sentences, she realized that she would no longer hear him shout, laugh or joke often. She was not going to enjoy these anymore: the warmth of his olive skin, his broad smiles and lovely poems. She was definitely going to miss everyone in the family. She was sure her memory would replay this night often. It would replay the sound of birds chirping noisily into the humid air, the neighbour’s noisy generator, Papa licking his lips as he ate the last chunk of meat, her shivering hands, her vanishing appetite and her younger sisters crying unendingly.
Later, on their way to the airport, her father spoke on why she should graduate with a first class and how to remain pure in America while her mother continuously prayed. To her, they were exposing their fears unconsciously. She sensed her father’s fear: America could change his little girl. From the prayer points, she guessed her mother was wondering how she would survive alone in another country. “I will be fine and I will remain a good girl,” she said, as if she had read their minds. Lara’s emotions were mixed. She smiled and cried because she was both excited and sceptical. She was finally leaving home, and this time it was not for a holiday or a camp, she was leaving to live in another country, leaving family and friends, and leaving the Lagos weather her body liked.
At the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lara’s heart twisted up and her lungs soared. As the darkness of night increased, with the moon proudly illuminating the night sky with its silvery light, and time ticking away, everyone in the family kept hugging her tightly and saying sweet words to calm her nerves, thumping her back continuously, as though there were other feelings to be expressed that did not exist as words. As she began to board the plane, saying goodbye again, tears streamed down her father’s cheeks while her sisters waved frantically until she was out of their sight.
She sat down and looked at her watch. Thereafter, her eyes moved to the window. After a while, she checked her watch again. It was 9:59 PM. She realized it was going to be a long flight, a very long night without her parents or sisters. A nostalgic feeling descended, causing a salty tear to drip down her cheek. It turned to two, then three, and kept increasing, until her eyes swelled and reddened. Eventually, she decided to sleep. As she closed her eyes, she smiled, because it was her new relief. She was sure that when she woke up, the long and tiring night would be over and dawn would be unfolding.