by Ikhide R. Ikheloa
Memories of my past, harried dad chasing after you, little one, you with the two teeth, come rushing at me in the cold bluster of England’s faux indifference. How are you, princess? Miss me, do you?
I step into Ominira’s room. It is a mess. She won’t clean her room, this princess of ours. We have tried everything, nothing works. She stands there, dreaming, like me her father, dreaming into space, traveling a world alien to us. We are tired of screaming at her. She is tired of screaming at us. Nothing works. Ominira’s room. It is a pretty room. If only she would clean it. It is a pretty room made for little girls who have no care in the world. There are pink colors everywhere. I pick up her things from the floor .Lots of things. She is standing there in the middle of her mess with eyes that ruin a father’s resolve. She stares at me, the beginning of defiance and tears welling up in her eyes. The dam of tears will break without fail once the scream-fest begins. I have no screams in me this morning. Wordlessly I begin to clean the room. Relieved, she flees the room, to go stare at the world through the computers that litter the house. She has won this battle. Again.
I pick up her things, she has too much. And she has forgotten what she has. Because she has too much I retrieve a video game console from deep within Christmas wrappings shredded by feverish little hands. She wanted that hardware so badly. And she stayed at the foot of our bed, begging until we gave in. There are pretty little dresses with the names of alien designers on them. She will be back to them. She loves dresses. I hold one dress and remember the Christmas of my childhood in Nigeria. I don’t remember buying “ready-made” clothes. We went to the tailor. It was cheaper. And boy, were they creative, those tailors.
Our little girl has too much. We must build shelves for her things. In one corner she has two bags of old clothing. They are not really old. She does not want them anymore. I take them out of the room to go join their relatives – more bags of clothes waiting for the trip to grateful relatives in Nigeria, or to indifferent charities in America who swear we are only doing it for the tax deduction, charity be damned.
There is a poster on the wall. It talks about girls being princesses and boys waiting on their princesses. I hope she keeps up that attitude. I will need the bride price for my old age. There is a poster on the floor. It is a wordless poster, full of dogs. She wanted a dog. We said no. Actually, mom said no. And now, we are miserable. Because she wants a dog. Everywhere we go we see dogs. And she sighs. She asks us questions about dogs. It is always about a dog. Can we get a dog? When are we getting a dog? Daddy, let’s go to the pet store, please! We are not getting a dog for this little girl. She has two gerbils, Lunar and Ginger. Ginger is dead, frozen one cold night, because you-know-who forgot to bring the cage up from the cold basement.. Lunar survived by a shivering whisker. We had fish once. You don’t want to know what happened to the fish. But a dog! In America, a dog has the status of a child. It is a permanent status for as long as the dog is alive. It is the law. We don’t need another child. This one, Ominira, is a handful.
We did not get Ominira a dog. We got a dog poster instead. She did not like the dog poster and she left it on the floor with the rest of the rejected sacrificial offerings to a finicky princess. I snatch the poster from the floor and I go looking for our daughter. Where do you want this poster, princess? Her eyes light up like a puppy’s and she asks: Are we getting a dog, daddy? I avert my eyes and I ask her again: Where do you want this poster? She sighs and points to a general area near her bed. She doesn’t care for mute dogs that live in one-dimensional posters. I put the poster up. I step out of the room, lean out the door, look in and the room is clean and pretty again. I ask Ominira, What do you think? Silence. I turn around, she is gone. I can hear her at the foot of our bed, tormenting her mother, my lover, with the same question over and over again: Are we getting a dog today, mummy?
I step out of the room, lean on the door. I look in and the room is clean and pretty again. She’ll be back to torment me with the awesome noise of her willful silence. Sigh.