The streets were beginning to smell of barbecue by the time I got out. It is the familiar smell of coal-cooked everything I associated with the markets of my home, and I held on to its comforts. I need all the comfort I can get.
It was not particularly hard to get a trike at this point, although I was hard-pressed to find one that will take me to the precise place I had specified. In the end I chose a more palatable corner to get off at, a spot that wouldn’t be hard to walk from.
This place smelled of spoiled spillage and hopeless dogs, with some sulfur thrown in. I grit my teeth and pressed on; I had no choice.
The house is patchwork-tall, with scrapyard wood holding up stolen concrete blocks – I can tell because they are broken and mis-matched.
The door—if you can call it that – is made of cardboard and curtain. I nevertheless knocked.
She answered the door. We studied each other’s necks, unwilling to face each other.
“Mama,” I began.
She cut me off. “If you start with pleasantries, Isyang, I will slap you as hard as I done when you were fifteen.” Without another word, she retreated further into the house. It was the way she always used to invite me in. I stepped over a short wall that protected her home from flooding, sidestepping Sandwich the dog’s enthusiastic welcome. It wouldn’t do me any good to be distracted by the sweet little Chihuahua mix mongrel.
There’s no avoiding it now. I took a deep breath.
“Mama, come live with me. Stay with me, where it’s safe.”
My mother said nothing for a long time. She busied herself with pouring water and opening a packet of soda crackers. She slapped at deflated throwpillows on the hard wooden bench that served as her couch. She made me wait while she changed into less sweaty clothes. Then she responded as I had expected her to. “No.”
I clenched my fists at the hem of my shirt. “There’s no need to stay here! I have a job and an apartment in a decent neighborhood. You don’t need to worry about rats like your so-called landlord, and you can have food you like! I don’t understand…” I choked. “Why can’t I take care of you?”
Her mouth pressed into a hard, unforgiving line. “Because you pity me, Isyang.”
I said nothing.
She finally looked straight into my eyes. “If there is nothing else…”
“I have to go,” I responded.
She nodded and finished her glass of water. As I was stepping out, she stopped me. Wordlessly, she handed Sandwich over.
When I got back to my street, the dog and I shared barbecued intestines and crispy-fried chicken skin.
I held him close as I walked through my own door, painted a pale blue and modest white, into my spartan apartment.
I still smell the sulfur. I gave Sandwich a bath and instantly felt better.