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The project aims at looking beyond the smiles of the next person, to see what’s really beneath, what’s really going on? How people really need help and won’t bother saying anything about it but would rather cover it up with a façade of strength, with a smile.
It’s time to look beneath the smile and lend a helping hand. People are going through real things, these are their stories.
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The ‘Beneath the Smile’ Project.
I have reflected for days on what to write about. I have a lot of ‘Beneath the Smile’ stories but am I willing to reveal to the public? Yes? No? Maybe?
Nah. Not now perhaps.
This has to be real, else it’s going contrary to the concept of the series.
As I type, there’s a fake smile on my face.
The truth is, I’m pissed right now.
I just got back from a 9-4 class with no breaks in between and the pot of jollof I had made before I left is finished, thanks to my roomate and his girlfriend. I’m going to make noodles and I just discovered they messed up the pots and didn’t even clean up. These are things I encounter almost on daily basis and as usual, I hide beneath a smile; The Smile.
Seeing as there’s no food in the pot and I’m too tired to do the dishes, I’m going to make corn flakes. One of the inmates in my hostel just happens to be ‘passing by’ and walks into my room. We exchange pleasantries and before long, he gets to the meat of the matter.
“Guy, I go fit obtain sugar from your hand?”
I eye him and drop two cubes of sugar into his garri.
I won’t be surprised if he had gotten the garri from in the hostel.
“E be like say you get plenty milk o.” he says as he sees me pour some milk for my cornflakes. “See the kain Baba Sala container dem carry give you. Abeg put small na!”
I’m actually pissed now – very pissed- but here I am, feigning happiness. More like what my grandma would call ‘Onyeoma Eliza’ (One who does good because of what they’ll say)
I pour a full spoon of milk into his garri. Who even drinks garri with milk to start with? Very razz behavior (My opinion!)
He has the guts to ask for more milk and suddenly, I can’t hide beneath any useless smile, O ti o!
“Wait chill are you well at all?!”
Noticing I was annoyed, he asks for water which I offer him and he leaves, mumbling to himself.
Every day, we all hide beneath the smile. Sometimes, the smile is big enough to look like a real one. Sometimes, it’s small enough for its fakeness to be noticed.
At the end of the day, we are all guilty- if it were a crime, which it isn’t .
Let me go straight to the point.
This happened some eight years ago. I was still in primary school – say Class 5. As an ‘efiko’ that I was then, I was going to write the Common Entrance Examination in class 5 instead of 6. My favorite aunt had made me work hard by promising to get me anything I wanted. I was going to ask for a bicycle and probably a new phone.(I had one of the nokia flashlight phones then/)
Aunt Ebele was my mum’s younger sister. Taller than mum, fairer, more beautiful. In short, she was the most beautiful among mum’s siblings. I’m not surprised Uncle Emeka got married to her – not at all. They had one child, a girl. Ify.
During the long holidays in August, my cousin Ify came to stay with us. My aunt then became a frequent visitor to the house. Sometimes, she even slept over. It was good for me actually as I had enough time to be around her but I was a bit worried. First thing that came into my head was that Uncle Emeka had thrown her out of the house or they had gotten a divorce. Thoughts of this couldn’t leave my head and I couldn’t summon courage to ask her so I waited till when my mum got back from work one day.
Mum told me she was pregnant and that my uncle had travelled for business. Moroever, she registered for antenatal services with a hospital close to our house because it was better and also, she couldn’t stay alone at their house.
From that day, I became closer to my aunt, inquisitive about everything that had to do with her and the baby.
Christmas came that year and my aunt couldn’t come to the village with us. They had told her specifically to stay back for fear that ‘bad belle’ people in the village would do bad things to my unborn cousin. She stayed back with her family in Lagos.
I didn’t really enjoy Christmas that year as I used to because my thoughts were with my aunt and her unborn child. I wanted a boy – a cute boy like me maybe.
We got back to Lagos first week in January and I was all anxious to see her. Mom then informed me she changed the hospital to one close to her house now.
I was sad.
She wouldn’t visit like before. I got over it with time and faced my books to receive my promised bicycle.
Birthday came in February.
That was odd.
She normally came over to the house on my birthday with a gift. Why was this year an exception? The baby? At least, she could have called. She had my number so, there were no excuses whatsoever. I ended up calling but she couldn’t pick and she didn’t return my calls either.
“Mummy, is Aunt fine?” I asked after dinner the next day.
“Yes. It’s just stress and all that pregnancy feeling. She’s okay” Mum replied.
I was calm. I was very young. So I took all in good faith.
March finally walked by.
March was the target month for my aunt to deliver. She had been hospitalized since 3rd of March. I called often and we spoke. Each time, she always told me the baby hadn’t come yet.
Mum took the month away from work and moved to my aunt’s house to help her out.
On the 6th, we went on a mid-term break at school. I was so engrossed in the cartoon I had collected from a friend, that I forgot to call my aunt or my mum to find out how they were doing.
A couple of minutes past 9, and my mum came home. Weird because she informed no one of her return. She had with her, a baby wrapped in a blanket.
“OH MY GOD!” I screamed and ran to get the baby. She was so cute and adorable. I was already in love with her.
Mum started crying.
I became scared.
I had heard of tears of joy and all that. Was this one of them? She was quiet, watching I and my brother take turns to play with the baby. All that time, I was waiting for my aunt to walk upstairs but she wasn’t here yet.
Then, I said to my mum : “Where’s Aunty Ebele?”
Mum looked up and told us the plain truth – She was dead.
She died during childbirth.
It felt like a dream at first; one of those movies we used to watch but I was coming to the realization that it was the truth.
If crying would bring her back, she would have come back that day but no.
The next day, my maternal grandfather of 102 (at that time) gave up the ghost. That man taught me so many things I didn’t know.
He was my bedrock.
Dear Aunt Ebele,
I miss you a lot. I passed my common entrance. It’s a pity you couldn’t keep to your promise. And my birthday presents… We all want to see you again. Your presence is missed.
Rest in peace. Gaa nke oma.
I lost my confidant and my greatest adviser in less than 24 hours and I still hide beneath the smile till today.
• • •
THANKS FOR READING.
A PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS?
N.B. The project goes on with ‘Her Story, III’ by an Anonymous writer
You can still send in your own true stories to firstname.lastname@example.org
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