No Be From Hia
Meet the Ayomides and the Kombes, Zambian-Nigerian-Jamaican powerhouse families brought together during the post-colonial migration of the 1960’s to the UK – and later separated by death, divorce and betrayal. Scattered between London, Lusaka, and Lagos, only the new generation can save this family.
Maggie Ayomide and Bupe Kombe are cousins on either side of the world who couldn’t be more different. Zambian-Nigerian and Zambian-Jamaican, both yearn for their disbanded family to reunite. When Bupe leaves Brixton to go to secondary school in Zambia, she brings light and disorder to Maggie’s world. However, the girls are hindered by dark family secrets such as the mysterious death of their late grandmother, and Maggie’s missing Nigerian father.
From the blazing streets of Brixton riots to multi-party elections in Zambia, glitzy Independence Day celebrations, and adventurous nightclubs in Lagos, this heartwarming story breathes life into the modern-day result of postcolonial Africa and 20th Century migration as it follows two ordinary girls trying to find their identity and reunite their family.
Read The Prologue From The Book
Margaret Kombe stretched her hands through the dim evening light, fumbling for her hiding place. She paused to rub her temple. It throbbed, and lately, it never stopped. A protest march thundered through her head. Her fingers trembled along the edge of her Afro, which had shrunk to a tight bed of knots. She wiped the beads of sweat from her forehead. Beneath her bed were secreted shampoo bottles from hotels around the world. They sat concealed in a domed wooden box passed on to her by her late mother. She opened one in haste, inhaling deeply before she took a swig of hard liquor. Finally, she felt brave enough to go into her walk-in wardrobe.
She slid into the sapphire blue stage dress given to her by Fabiola, the soukous-dancing starlet from Congo’s Léopoldville. The first time her husband laid eyes on the dress, it had mesmerised him. Fabiola’s dark skin and large brown eyes had held every man who laid eyes on her in capture. Margaret had watched as Fabiola’s thin waist, which could move in seven different directions, ensnared him. Margaret was not stupid—she was wise. A woman’s success is that of her marriage and nothing else. She would never betray him. Her love would be enough to get through this. That, and one more drink.
Some of the small plastic bottles had vodka, a few had brandy, and others gin. Margaret had stopped caring what she drank long ago. She went back to the dressing table, tripping over the edge of the rug, to powder her slender face and line her eyes densely with kohl. She pressed scarlet lipstick to her lips, applying it thickly and slowly. Through bleary eyes that slanted upwards like pumpkin seeds, she placed that last touch of beauty on her face—a black spot to the left of her mouth, just the way her dancing counterpart did it.
From within her woolly, undefined space, she decided she’d call her babies the next day. She would speak to her children in good English. Maybe they would love her more, though she knew her baby Kabaso still fell asleep to the Bemba hymns she sung to him.
Margaret sighed. Thinking of her children coming home only once a year, every English summer, always brought a deep, exquisite pain. CJ, her first, was almost done with boarding school now, but it would still be some time before he returned home to Zambia from university in London. Stella, her middle child, was her father through and through, fierce and misguided. And her baby, Kabaso—she sniffed—he was only nine. She’d missed him terribly for two solid years.
“It is for the best,” her husband said, his voice booming as he sat in his black leather recliner, his nose buried inside a gold-foiled volume from Kwame Nkrumah. “The children should be educated in Britain if we want them to make it in the New World. That is why we spent so much time and sacrificed so much fighting for this country, so that we too could enjoy these benefits! One day, they can return to build their country and take over from where we will leave.”
A bass guitar and a piano played the prelude to trumpet notes from Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue. The music filled the room. That was Bashi CJ’s favourite music. He was Bashi CJ—or “the father of” CJ—to her, but to the world, he was the great, honourable Charles Kombe. Maybe he would like it if he found her playing it for him, dressed beautifully, like his starlet.
She braided her hair in rough plaits and placed a blonde beehive shaped wig on her head. She looked at the pills on her table and shook a handful of shiny red capsules into her palm. She swallowed them with another drink. A warm glow spread outwards from her stomach. It was enough to numb the pain. She looked in the mirror and touched herself gingerly. Perhaps that was how Charles touched Fabiola. She clutched her womb as though trying to tear out fistfuls of flesh while returning the blank stare of her image.
Margaret glided through the hall with bare feet and stepped carefully down the stairs—the glamorous, sapphire-blue train of her ballgown trailing behind her. Its cold silk hugged her skin softly. She paused, one hand holding the banister and the other touching her forehead. Sweat beaded on her lip.
She passed the indoor courtyard to the red brick veranda and down to the swimming pool. Perhaps a short dip in the water would give her some relief. She plunged her foot into the water. It was cool. Inviting. She felt dizzy, happy, and sad all at the same time. How could this be? She laughed at the irony of it all—perhaps this way, the gods would feel she shared their wicked sense of humour.
The world swam in Margaret’s vision, a blur of blues and greens against the twisted silhouettes of rustling trees. She heard them whisper, laughing, nudging each other with murmurs of scorn and hisses of accusation. She looked up. The world swung. She felt light, lighter than a leaf tossed on a breeze. For one beautiful moment, just after losing her balance, she seemed to hang in the air above the placid green water, like an angel. Her gown flowed gracefully behind her, obedient to the power of the warm night wind. She felt free, finally, like the earlier days from the mountain tops of Chinsali: rushing rivers gushing beneath her feet; rich verdant valleys rolling out to the skies before her to the point where the sky meets the land, the horizon where God can be found. That place where the goddesses rest their pestles against the skyline.
With a splash, she fell into the kidney-shaped pool.
Her eyes shut tightly as she sank slowly. Her dress tangled around her thin legs.
Water. It surrounded her. She moved her hands through it, searching for the surface, but she was so weak. She opened her mouth wide for air, kicked her legs, tried to climb.
Another deep gasp for air, and her face was smothered in fabric like a smoothed oval tarpaulin. The sapphire silk wrapped itself around her while the water spiralled her downwards, sinking her further into the wet abyss.
She had never learned to swim.
In London, young CJ and his best friend, Abisola, clambered downstairs to see who was calling incessantly at such an ungodly hour. Mrs Ayomide had beaten them to it, and she crept out of the drawing room. She was sweating profusely, and her eyes were unsteady. “CJ, your father is on the line for you.”
He took the handset and felt its cold coiling cable along his skinny arm. He turned away from the look on his friend’s mother’s face and inclined his head low, to the right, as though it would help him to hear the voice on the other side better.
“Good morning, sir,” he said, greeting his father, still wondering why he would call so early at his friend’s home. His eyes were pressed shut as he adjusted to the sunlight seeping in through the glass of the drawing room.
“CJ, your mother was found dead in the swimming pool this morning.”
CJ slumped onto the wooden cabinet behind him.
His father’s deep baritone voice rolled through the phone line from the other side, distant and cold, like a dart to a board. He minced no words. “I’m making arrangements for your flight. Please be ready for your pickup at four o’clock this afternoon and remember to thank the Ayomides for looking after you. Unfortunately, this is one of those times in life where we must stand strong, my son. Your siblings need not be disturbed by this news. Not a word to them until I say so—do you understand?”
“Your brother and sister will continue the term, and we will see them during the summer holidays as always.”
The phone went dead with a click.