“…and they lived happily ever after.” Mummy closes the book, smiles, and kisses me on the forehead.
Tito – my sister, she’s six- is snoring beside me on our bed. She fell asleep – a long time ago – when mummy opened the book to read Cinderella’s story. Mummy always says Tito is too tomboyish to enjoy stories from a good book. Ruffian – that’s what she calls Tito. Mummy is very happy that I love to read, just like she does. She says she used to be a teacher before I was born. Mummy says she stopped teaching when she married Daddy and started to have babies. So, she likes it when I read. Mummy doesn’t mind what I read, so long as I read. She’s always happy every time I tell her I want a book for a present. Mummy likes to read to me too. Tonight, she’s very happy to read to me because Tito and I are travelling again tomorrow. Tito and I travel outside the country a lot because Mummy and Daddy are very rich. That’s what Aunt Dokun – Dad’s sister –says. But this time, we are travelling for good…we are going to be in a new school. A boarding school for girls. Somewhere in London. It’s supposed to be the best school for young girls and Mummy and Daddy always want Tito and I to have the best. They say there aren’t many good schools in Nigeria anymore because there’s too much erhm…bribery and ehrm corruption and that ehrm…the leaders don’t care too much about education. They are very worried about the new president. Babaginda – I think that’s his name. It’s a long name. Daddy says he fears this new president will make Nigeria worse.
Mummy and Daddy – they call us Adunni. Daddy says it means My Delight. Mummy also likes to say that I’m her dead mother who came back to life. Yetunde…that’s my other name. But Daddy doesn’t like it when mummy calls me Yetunde. Daddy says it’s super – ehrm – superstitious? to say someone is their dead mother come back to life. So Mummy only calls me Yetunde when Dad isn’t looking.
“Did you enjoy the story?” Mummy asks.
I nod. I’ve heard Cinderella’s story many many times. I never get tired of it. I sigh because I’m happy. Very very happy. I love Cinderella’s story. It’s my best story of all. I like her pictures in the book too. Cinderella has white skin and long hair. Her eyes are blue. I have black skin and my hair is not that long. It’s black and it hurts a lot when the hairdresser is fixing it. My eyes are black too. But it says in my passport that I have brown eyes. And I have glasses. Everybody in my class thinks I’m smart because I have glasses. My white teacher, Mrs. Herbert – she looks like Cinderella, but she’s old – always tells Mummy and Daddy that I’m an intelligent Nigerian girl. She says I’ll be a professor one day. I don’t know about that. I don’t think I want to be a professor. I think I’d like to be Cinderella.
But it’s going to be hard for me to look like Cinderella. Look at her hair. Look at mine. I have attachment in my hair to help it twist into braids. Bob Marley – that’s what Mummy calls it. Bob Marley style. Tito and I, we always have Bob Marley style on our heads. It takes forever for the hair dresser to get it done, but once she’s done, we always look pretty. I know we look pretty because Daddy smiles and says, “Adunni mi.”
“Mummy, when I grow up, I’m going to be very pretty like Cinderella. Then, I will fall in love, get married and live happily ever after.”
Mummy frowns. “Ehn?”
I repeat myself.
“Kofoworola, you are very pretty now. I don’t want you to be like Cinderella. I want you to be Kofo. Besides, no talk of falling in love yet. You are a little girl. Just eight. You need to face your studies and then, you’ll go to a good university and when you finish university, you will marry a good man.”
I nod. But I’m confused. Why doesn’t Mummy want me to be like Cinderella? She’s pretty. Prettier than me.
“Why don’t you want me to be like Cinderella? She’s very pretty and she lived happily ever after.”
Mummy shakes her head slowly and stares at me. “Oloun e ma gbami.”
“I think I’ve made a mistake.”
Mummy smiles a little. I think she can read the question in my eyes. She shakes her head. “Kofo, I want to tell you a story that’s even better than Cinderella’s story. It’s a story my own mother told me when I was a little girl.. It’s a Yoruba story about a girl. Her name is called Adunni too. She was just like you.”
I sit up immediately. Mummy has never told me a Yoruba story before. “Is there a book? With pictures?”
Mummy smiles sadly “No. Not that I know of. May be one day. I’ve heard rumors that there will be a television show on NTA soon that will show Nigerian stories like Adunni’s. If it’s true, I’d like to name it ‘Tales by moonlight’.”
I smile. Tales by moonlight. I like the sound of it..
“But for now, it’s not in a book and it’s not on TV. So, it’s an alo.’
Alo? It’s an odd word.
Mummy grins. She likes it when I’m confused. Because it means I’ll be curious. And curious in mummy’s eyes is a good thing.
“Alo means folklore…. Or a story in Yoruba. And when I say, ‘Alo o’, You’ll say ‘Alo’. Okay?”
“Alo,” I reply.
“A long time ago, there lived a girl called Adunni. She was very beautiful. She had lovely skin like yours, Kofo.”
I giggle. “Did she wear glasses?”
Mummy smirks. “No. She didn’t wear glasses because they didn’t have glasses back then.”
I giggle again.
Mummy wags an admonishing finger at me. “And don’t interrupt me in the middle of an alo. It’s not good.”
I stop giggling and sit still.
“Adunni lived with her wicked step mother. One day, Adunni’s step mother sent her to a forest that was far away to go and fetch some water. Adunni fetched the water but got lost on her way home. So she began to sing a song, asking for help from Olodumare, the god of their village. Now, there was a prince passing by. He wore purple aso-oke and had many servants. He heard Adunni singing in the forest and he loved her voice. So he sent his servants to go and fetch Adunni. When Adunni saw the servants, she got scared and wanted to run away but the servants told her not to be scared; that the prince had heard her beautiful voice and wanted to make her his wife. So the servants brought Adunni to the prince. The prince was happy because Adunni was just as beautiful as her voice. So, he married her and on her wedding day, he gave her a purple aso-oke, just like his own to wear. And they lived happily ever after.”
I sigh. “That was a beautiful story, Mummy. I like alo.”
Mummy’s smile is very big. She looks really happy with herself. She rises from the side of my bed. Tito snores loudly.
“Good night, Kofo,” Mummy says. She gives Tito a quick glance. “Sweet dreams.”
Sweet dreams too Mummy, I say in my heart. I close my eyes and fall asleep.