Dumebi | Aishat Adesanya | Fiction

Part 1

The two Bible-clutching Jehovah’s Witness preachers knocking on the door of House 8 on Moferere Street had no idea, but the stones that were coming for them were only stopped by what the little girl in dirtied school uniform thought was a brilliant idea. She brought her raised hand down with the rough-edged pebble in it, keeping it between her thumb and middle finger as her index drummed against the side of her head, jiggling her scruffy plaits, and parting her lips to reveal gleaming brown teeth.

The weather was typically cool in Moferere like it was this fine afternoon. It was just a little after midday. The street was often deserted at this time. The only people around were those who didn’t have work. The girl could tell that the preachers on the front porch neither had work nor lived around here.

She dropped the pebble and the pack of stones in her other hand, pulled at the straps of her backpack, and trotted down the dirt path cutting through green grass on either side of the compound, moving in measured steps like a predator sneaking on a prey.

“I’m guessing you’re the cleaners we’re expecting, eh?”

The shorter of the two preachers jumped with her hands racing to her chest, her Bible almost falling. The taller one mouthed her fright in a low-pitched shriek, the type a frightened kid will give at the sight of a loaded injection needle. The little girl was at the foot of the steps to the cracked veranda on which the preachers were standing, only about two arms-length away, and they had not sensed her sneaking up on them at all.

“The cleaners for the doghouse shey?” The little girl asked again, climbing up the steps to stand before them on the veranda, her clenched teeth helping to keep a burst of gathering laughter tumbling around in her gullet at bay.

More embarrassed by her size than their fright, the preachers’ voices stayed lodged in their throats for a little longer, too heavy to make words. The shorter lady was the first to break out of her trance, adjusting her brightly-coloured Ankara gown. Her counterpart, dressed in an even brighter gown was, however, the first to speak, starting with a stutter before stabilizing, like a car with a bad battery being pushed to work.

“Oh, de… dear. We… We are…” She held her Bible to the girl’s face, her pampered skin showing off gleaming rings and a wristwatch that screamed expensive. “We are me-messengers of Christ from the Jehovah’s Witness Ministries.”

“Eh ehn,” the little girl’s face wore an exaggerated surprise. “I know you are messengers, but I did not know that people from government ministry also clean doghouses.”

“We are not messengers!” It was the shorter woman, the veins on her neck animating her anger. “And we don’t clean do…”

“Ehn ehn, Sister Agnes,” the taller woman reached her expensively wristwatched arm for her counterpart, her lips parting into a gap-teethed smile and her cheeks’ bulge looking like it could rival Minnie Mouse’s. Turning to the little girl, explained: “Jehovah’s Witness Ministries is a church of God and we have come from there with the message of God. I am Mrs Okoli, or you can call me Imelda. With me is Sister Agnes. You must be the little girl who lives here. I see that you attend our Okoli High School. Shouldn’t you be in school? Anyway, we have come to see your grandma.”

“Oh.” The girl’s eyes widened, her little arms hooking an akimbo at her waist. “So, it is you.”

Sister Agnes’ face softened.

The gap in Mrs Okoli’s teeth seemed to widen as she smiled and said, “Yes, it is us. Is she around?”

“So, it is you who gave her advice on how to punish me,” the little girl’s eyes gleamed, her face hardening.

“Oh…” Mrs Okoli’s found herself saying, the word purged out of her by the little girl’s fixed gaze. Her face again pulled on the armour of her gap-toothed smile: “When she told us about you, we only gave her some advice on how to correct you in the Lord’s way, so that you can turn a new leaf and become a child of God. Wouldn’t you like to be a child of God?’

“Child of God, child of God, that’s how she beat me, and I landed in the hospital.”

The two preachers stiffened and exchanged wide-eyed looks. Mrs Okoli’s fine smile quickly slid off her face.

“Shey you know my parents are in abroad?” the little girl continued. “They sent army and police to her. It was chaos on this street. She told them it was her preacher friends who advised her, and they said they would arrest you too. When they released her, she too had to be admitted to the hospital. She’s there right now.”

Mrs Okoli took a step back from the door. “Really?”

Sister Agnes was already climbing down the steps, holding her wrist before her eyes, and saying, “Oh, look at the time. We better get going.”

Mrs Okoli nodded her scarfed head in agreement. “True Sister Agnes.” She had squeezed up the butterflies around the hems of her gown with her free hand and was climbing down after Sister Agnes who was already at the open iron-wrought gate.

The little girl growled after them. Waiting until they were out of view before kissing her teeth and easing her backpack off her back. As she unzipped a side pocket and reached into it for her key, she muttered beneath her breath: “Nosy neighbours will not let me rest… Dumebi this, Dumebi that. Now outsiders too want to join their own.”

The contents of her unzipped bag dropped to the floor and formed a trail after her as she hissed and made her way into the house. She neither bothered to shut the door nor pick up any of the fallen items.


Part 2

Much like in Moferere Street, the weather was typically cool in Gbajumo Street this fine midday. After all, the two streets were adjacent to each other. If you could see it from above, you would see how the union of the two streets formed a big L. Gbajumo was characterized by a blend of greenery and architectural prowess so beautiful it could make a hundred unique postcards. Much like Moferere, the houses were old, but the difference in class was perhaps sharper than the bend between the two streets.

At this time of the day, most of the people around were housemaids and gatemen. Others were people either business owners who didn’t have to be at work, or old and retired. One of such people who should be home was the old lady who lived in the house numbered ‘18’. At least her little friend, Dumebi, thought so, until she arrived at the house earlier that afternoon like every other weekday and met her absence.

Her heart sunk lower and lower with each knock on the door, with chirps from birds sitting on the electricity wires traversing the skies, the only other sounds. Weighed down by her disappointment, she had dragged her feet across the compound with her head bowed, letting the angry clang of the gate register her feelings as she flung it shut after her. She swaggered slowly along the road and tried to remember if she had hit her left foot against a stone on her way there because that was the sign that you won’t meet a person you’re visiting.

Maybe this grandma’s superstition doesn’t work after all. This was her thought as she came upon a deserted football field. As thoughts of her friend continued to run unhinged in her mind, she decided she would kick around a deflated soccer ball she saw on the field and go home later.


The old lady lived out most of her lonely life from a wheelchair; an automated one that whirred and creaked like a temperamental canary when it was in motion. She could still walk if she had to, but most of her activities had been long limited to how far she could push the wheeled sitter. These days, it was more about how far she could push herself and that bit had become herculean lately.

Sometimes on weekends, her son visited with his family. She preferred it whenever the visits were for her hospital appointments, like today, because then, it was just him. Those were the only times she got to feel like she still had something that was hers. It was hard not to feel so after losing her parents to a car crash as a child, her husband to cancer before their son was even born, and the son after he got married and moved out with his wife.

When her arthritis got worse and the doctors recommended a wheelchair, she had hoped to move in with them. Instead, they sent her a housemaid to help her around the house. She needed the girl but clouded by anger, she sent her back: ‘I am fine on my own!’

She had forgotten how to smile until she made a new friend recently; one who made her look forward to every weekday. She had been expecting that friend this morning, until her son showed up unexpectedly, reminding her of the doctor’s appointment. She brooded all through the 10-minute drive to the hospital. The doctor asked a dozen times why she was so distant, but as much as she wanted to share, she knew she could not tell anyone; not the doctor, and especially, not her son.


Part 3

Much like in Gbajumo Street, the weather was typically cool in Ekute Waterworks Road this fine morning. After all, the two streets were adjacent to each other. If you could see it from above, you would see how the union of the two streets formed a big L. Ekute Waterworks Road was where most of the rich old people in Gbajumo made the bulk of their monies, but with new hotspots springing up in several other parts of the city, it was not quite the same these days. Yet, it still housed most of the old businesses in this locality.

One of those businesses was Okoli High School. The boys wore shirts and trousers – or knickers, depending on if it was a senior or a junior – and the girls wore shirts and pinafores. The colours were white and dark green. Everyone had just dispersed from the morning assembly and the other people not in white and green were the teachers, like the young moustached man who was just dismounting from his pulpit after addressing the assembly.

He wore his displeasure on his face, like many of the mornings lately. One of his students had turned truant and he was not able to reach the parents. He knew he had to do something soon or there might be trouble. As he scribbled his signature on the register from inside his car and passed it back to the waiting security man, he promised himself he would find the parents, but it wasn’t happening this morning because he had someplace else to be. When the gates parted, he steered the wheel of his powerful Toyota SUV towards Gbajumo Street.


Part 4

Much like in Ekute Waterworks Road, the weather was typically cool in Ajilosun Reserved Area this fine evening. After all, the two streets were adjacent to each other. If you could see it from above, you would see not only how the union of the two streets formed a big L, but also how Ajilosun completed the big uneven rectangle that was the quadruple of Moferere, Gbajumo, Ekute Waterworks, and Ajilosun itself.

Ajilosun used to be a hub of uncompleted buildings and dilapidated structures, but when most of the rich people couldn’t find space to put their offices on Ekute Waterworks Road anymore, they started to buy the paupers on Ajilosun out, and soon the street was sprawling with exotic structures most people in this area only once saw in movies. Gbajumo lost its crown as most of the rich people moved here. It was in this area that the hospital was located.

The sun was slowly starting to lick at the mountains in the distance, and the old men and women who had come to do their check-ups were all starting to shed off the hospital building.

The young teacher helped his mother into the backseat of his car, her nags and hisses bouncing off his determined ears. It was going to be a long ride to her place, and he might need more than mere determined ears to survive the distance. As he brooded over how to score a fast-forward on the next couple of minutes, an opportunity cat-walked out of the hospital building, tripped on the edge of her own skirt, and fell flat like a gift-wrapped present before him.

A few minutes later, the teacher was driving not to Gbajumo, but to Moferere Street, another old lady seated beside his tensed and smouldering mother in the back seat, effectively shutting her up. Thankfully the lady wasn’t hurt from her fall. She probably wasn’t even cat-walking in the first place.

Part 5

It was evening now, and the weather was still typically cool in Moferere. With sprinkles of people milling around, the street was much livelier than it was in the afternoon. Kids were back home; people who had work too. Some people who didn’t live here were visiting their friends and family or dropping off a stranger at home, like the driver of the Toyota SUV cruising at a steady pace down the potholed street.

His mother wondered why his speed was uncharacteristically slow. He caught her glances in the rear-view mirror and felt relieved that the other lady was there, hoping her house would stretch a little further away. The other lady, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to alight and run. The vicious long stare from the older woman seated with her in the backseat had her sitting on one buttock. She wished she hadn’t accepted the ride, but the young man had been so sweet, she simply couldn’t decline. She thought she saw her late son in him, and so she couldn’t resist. Now, here she was.

It had been ten years and she still mirrored her son on people, secretly hoping that someone would finally snap her out of her bad dream and tell her it was a joke all along. Her son and his wife had died in a car crash. The car had been so badly crushed, everyone wondered how their little girl was still breathing. It was for the little girl that she left the village to live in this very strange city, in the house her son left behind on Moferere Street. Better to raise the child here, in the house where she grew than to bundle her to the village, she had thought.

“You said Number 8 ma?” the young man’s calm and respectful voice pulled her from her thoughts.

Just after she said, “Yes please,” fate sent a soccer ball shooting towards the cloudy evening skies from behind the fence of Number 8. The ball soared high, holding its audience spellbound, before peaking and descending into a fall.

The young man moved many meters away before the ball landed, but only in his shocked mind. In reality, he was grappling at his steering wheel in the parked car, with a wide-open mouth and eyes shining with fright. The older lady in the backseat was the most composed of the three, but even she let out a whimper as the ball thudded forcefully against the windscreen.

The little girl’s grandma knew exactly from whose careless kick the ball had shot and was already halfway out of the car as it struck and bounced off the hard glass into the middle of the road. “Dumebi!” She screamed.

There was a new wave of shock as the older woman in the backseat stiffened and shot stunned glances at, first the woman who had just slammed the door in her face after screaming a name she hadn’t been called in over sixty years, and then, the mirror hanging down beside her son in his driver’s seat, where she could see his face masked by a confused expression that seemed to animate his thick moustache.

The unmanned gate at Number 8 pushed open to reveal Dumebi, her bare feet wearing coats of loam. She still had her dirty school uniform on. Her mouth was just going to break into a race to explain what spirits had possessed the ball and made it develop wings, but she caught sight of Mr. Okoli’s bright coloured Toyota car and a hamstring pulled a halt in her sprint. She was not only stunned into silence, but she was also standing like time stopped and froze her into a statue.

“Agnes!” It was the young man breaking out of his trance. He climbed down from the car and went around it to stand before the transfixed little girl.

The grandma stood somewhere in-between the car and the two before her house-gate, looking from one to the other and back to the car repeatedly, now just as confused as the other lady still in the car.

“So, this is where you live…” the man spoke in a gentle tone, shaking his head. Then turning towards the grandma, he asked: “Is this your daughter ma?”

“She is my granddaughter,” replied the old lady, “and what exactly is going on here, please?”

The little girl remained frozen.

The young man scratched at his moustache with an index finger. “I am Mr. Lota Okoli, her teacher and school principal. She hasn’t been to school for about three weeks.”

The grandma’s eyes lit up as her lips parted as though she was going to exclaim. She lost grip of the purple bag in her hands, and it crashed against her feet.

“You this little witch!” she muttered heavily under her breath, “you tell me every day that you’re going to school. You even bring home notes!”

“You called her Dumebi.” The young teacher’s words interrupted her. “We know her as Agnes Okafor in school.”

“Agnes Okafor is her name,” the grandma said, her hard and gleaming eyes not once trailing from the girl. “I alone call her Dumebi.”

Just then, the awkwardness of the moment took an even more interesting turn. The older lady in the backseat had crawled to the side where all this drama was happening and was sticking her head out of the window, trying to make out what child these two were talking about.

Prior to three weeks ago, the last time she had a namesake, she was about the little girl’s age – thirteen or so – back in the village. The little girl had walked gingerly into her lonely compound one fine morning and politely asked: “Please ma, can I pluck some oranges?”

She had recognized the uniform the girl had on. It was from the school she laboured all her years to build, that now belonged to Lota. This was one of Lota’s students.

“Little girls like you are in school, you are here begging for orange.”

“Eh ehn! Don’t abuse me o. I only asked to pluck orange. It’s either yes or no.” The girl’s little mouth had babbled at her, and then her piercing little eyes slowly wandered to the wheelchair she was seated in. Looking back into her face, the girl had added, “shouldn’t you even be happy that I’m offering?”

The old lady had been charmed by the audacity. The girl should have been in school, but she was charmed all the same, because this girl shared not only her name, but also her attitude when she was about her age.

The icing on the cake was when she asked for the girl’s name, and she had gleefully reeled, “Agnes Dumebi Okafor.” That was confirmation that God was finally sending some succour for her loneliness in those her dark days. A conviction that became stronger when she learned that they both had lost their parents in similar circumstances at the exact same age.


The voice was weak and lean, but it sauntered through the thickly burdened air with enough punch to unlock the freeze that imprisoned the little girl. Her face melted into a confused look before a dimpled smile took it over. Ignoring the other two, she trotted towards the car to embrace her friend through the barrier of the door and rolled down window.


Part 6

The weather was cool on Moferere Street even now. The evening had just slowly dissolved into dusk with the disappearance of the sun. Both the crickets and frogs were already clearing their throats in preparation for their vocal showdown later in the night. The unmanned gate at house Number 8 was wide ajar. Dumebi and her grandma were waving as Lota drove his mother away, not in the direction of Gbajumo Street, but of Ajilosun Reserved Area, just as he came.

Dumebi had her soccer ball clasped under her armpit, her face brimming with a full-faced smile. The rows of wrinkle on Grandma’s forehead had also slightly smoothened out. Even the drooping of the loose flesh around her mouth seemed to have firmed up a little.

They had all talked for about an hour in the small living room of House 8, and somehow, they had all agreed that this entire strange event had happened for the good of everyone.

The content of Dumebi’s bag were still laying in a trail across the house when they came in. He had picked up one of the exercise books and was surprised when he flipped the pages. The first page had a biro-sketched caricature that looked like him. Even if the crawly handwriting beneath it didn’t spell ‘My Teacher’, he would recognize his moustache anywhere. There were several other, better-looking drawings on the next pages. Many more pages in, he saw the lessons of his mother in the little girl’s handwriting.

He would learn that his mother had been teaching her, and the seasoned but long retired principal – that he took over from in what was now his school – had made more progress in three weeks, than all of the girl’s years in school. The old woman had told them how she discovered that the girl never used her biro because she was always scared of not being able to erase mistakes; how she got the girl to use her pencil more by allowing her draw; and how she let the girl peel oranges with her sharpener-razor without penalties.

“The deal was: I’ll teach you first, and then you can have as many oranges as you want,” said the old woman.

The girl had seemed to Lota like a lost cause just this morning, but now he was convinced she was a lot smarter than the school had thought her to be, and that they had been teaching her wrong the whole time.

As they rode in silence to his plush estate in Ajilosun, Lota put a call through to the one person who wasn’t scoring a win in this situation.

“Yes, honey?” Imelda, with her throaty voice smiled through the line.

Eavesdropping on the call, the old woman’s face stretched at the corners of her callused mouth. She of all people knew that indulging a truant was bad for the kid. He was disappointed in her, just as much as she was ashamed of herself, but he had always worried about her and how she spent her time in that old and lonely Gbajumo house. Imagining her smiling face right now lifted his spirit and made him feel a lot lighter. He shut his eyes for a few seconds and sighed gratefully that he finally found the perfect reason to have his mother home with the family again.

Photo by Prince Akachi on Unsplash


Aishat Adesanya is a 20-year-old Yoruba hijabi who started drawing at the age of nine. She later discovered her love for writing and published her first story at age 17. She is an avid reader and aspires to use her art and unique African culture to make a positive impact on the world. Her writing has been featured in The Journal of African Youth Literature, Hearth Magazine, and Schuylkill Valley Journal. She also has work forthcoming in Witsprouts‘ Love Grows Stronger in Death anthology. Aishat writes from the West Midlands in the United Kingdom.

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