Her cousins Nerat and Tom were as excited to see her as she was them. By some special miracle, Nerat was only twelve years old, just four months older than Talitha. The girls made fast friends. Tom recently turned sixteen and he was usually alone in his room, ravaged by a noise in the permanent earphones that were like a growth on his ears.
Tom looked at Talitha, but he barely spoke to her. He watched her play with his sister, sometimes, observed as they taught each other songs and games, and whispered silly confidences that always climaxed in giggles, oblivious of anyone else in the room. But Tom took to his aunty. Talitha’s mother was an upbeat person, she liked to tease and play and she was always picking on him about the music he perpetually listened to.
“It’s J-Town guys, aunty,” he explained finally, a little self-consciously at first.
“J-Town?” Talitha’s mummy quirked an eyebrow.
“Hah! Aunty, Jos!” his tone sounded like he was offended that she didn’t know this slang name for Jos.
“Okay,” she laughed.
“Sokoto will not allow you to flow with these things,” he carried a faint aura of adolescent superiority. “Jos is the city where hits are made – M.I, Ice Prince, Jesse, Bella, and Yung Tom someday,” he seemed wistful, a child unconsciously confiding his dreams to an adult.
“Yung Tom!” she hi-fived him and he reluctantly rubbed palms with her.
“Lemme show you some rap,” he let the headphones hang down his neck then cleared his throat and began:
Ummm. Ummm. Tsk-tsk-tsk-tsk.
Dra la la la la la la
I hand heavy on your neck like a collar,
You know the boy’s so fresh you gotta holla,
Ladies be like… Yung Tom!
Oh Tom! Don’t go, don’t leave me!
And I be like… girl go on home to mummy,
Yung Tommy-Tommy better hustle,
No time for love, no girl drama!
Talitha’s mummy squealed with delight and patted him fondly on the shoulders.
“Yes,” she exclaimed. “There’s a rapper in the house.”
Nerat and Talitha had hurriedly left their game outside to check what the excitement was. When they came in, they only met scraps of Uncle Wang’s warning to the effect that Tom should not be encouraged in his obsession with music. They quietly went back out.
“You know, after Chriisttmas, when all our parents go to Vanessa’s wedding, we’ll have a party with a DJ!” Nerat told Talithat conspiratorially.
They were playing at braiding some of Nerat’s big dolls.
“Really?” Talitha’s interest spiked.
“Yes! I can’t even wait anymore. I’ve begged Tom to let us join,” Nerat said.
Though they were virtually age mates, Talitha marveled sometimes at how very different they were.
“Tom will perform too,” Nerat chattered on. “You’ll like it.”
Nerat then persisted in talking about this party so much that Talitha genuinely began to look forward to it. Tom was warming toward her too, it seemed, though once he called her fat and compared her to Nerat who was as thin as young girls came sometimes. It was during that holiday that she learnt that most boys found flatness undesirable in girls, and that she was even fat. It made her so uncomfortable she had to ask her mother if she really was fat.
“You’re only a baby, darling,” her mother had been reassuring. “You’ll grow out of it.”
But somehow she became conscious of faint tremors as she moved. Yes, her body shook while Nerat was sprightly anad hardly showed any signs of straining a muscle.
“There should be a boy you like,” Nerat was in a gossip-y mood just then.
They were in bed for the night but they usually talked for long until sleep would steal them away. Talitha’s mind vaguely circuited to Jerry and she smiled to herself.
“Mine is a boy in my class. His name is Oche. He’s always taking first position,” Nerat continued.
“What about you? Which position do you normally take?” Talitha asked.
“Third or fourth,” Nerat was indifferent. “Oche is always firstand Shola is always second. If I’m lucky I’ll come third; if I’m not lucky Simi will come third. That’s the way they’re doing it in my class,” she said and yawned.
“Me, I usually come first sha,” Talitha said with grave modesty.
Nerat giggled. “When you meet Oche one day, two of you will solve Math then I’ll know whether first in Jos is like first in Sokoto,” it was a vague challenge, holding no thrust, but Talitha felt moved to defend her school.
So the first week passed. In the second week, Aunty Jummai gave the girls Christmas hats and told them to prepare for a children’s party at the Wild Life Park.
“I love those Christmas parties,” Nerat enthused. “We’ll have ice cream. You like ice cream?”
“Very much!” Talitha caught the fever, “and Father Christmas!”
“Yes,” Nerat almost jumped. “But we’ll not touch him o! Last year he gave me lice, and he smells,” she waved at her nose, fanning away an imaginary odour.
“Okay,” Talitha agreed.
All their games then became Christmas-centred. They played at make-believe a lot: sometimes they were two friends, sometimes husband and wife, sometimes mother and child, or teacher and student, or anything they liked; they even played knife and potato once. It was after seeing them at one of these amusements that Tom remarked to Talitha’s mother:
“Aunty, this your daughter is too slow,” he shook his head pathetically for emphasis.
Talitha’s mother only answered that her daughter was born gentle at which everyone laughed and called Talitha the gentlegirl. Talitha now became very cautious because in addition to finding that her size was disproportionate to her age, she was now made aware that her movements were not energetic enough.