There’s No Gift That is Just a Gift by Maria Oluwabukunmi Oni



I open my bag for some change to pay the fare. It’s missing something- my purse. My little one is looking at me as I ransack the small leather thing, upturning its content on my lap. A piece of wax crayon rolls to the floor. She doesn’t pick it up. I look at her and say with my eyes, where’s my purse? She looks innocently back at me. I take her bear-shaped bag. There’s a colouring book and some squeezed wrappers. Should I give up my seat? Or maybe I should apologize and get off the bus? The bus conductor weaves through the rows of seats on both sides, collecting the fare, swiftly, and giving balance. I plead with my daughter silently. The man is coming near. She pleads back, mummy can I have Munch It when we get home? Babies are wicked and insensitive, she can’t see I’m getting tired. I tell the conductor I do not have cash but my sister would be waiting at our busstop to give me some.

He looks at me and raises his nose like he’s perceiving if I’m lying. He moves to the next passenger without a word. The one sitting beside my daughter asks me what’s wrong. I tell him and he hands me some money. I shake my head, no, thank you. He says, it’s not a big deal to take money when you need it. I do not need your money, I say a bit roughly. I text my sister and ask her to wait at the busstop, we’ll be there in twenty. But what if my sister isn’t there when we alight and I’m rough handled and yelled at to the embarrassment of everyone? My debit cards are in my missing purse too. The man from earlier rings for his stop. Thank goodness! The next stop is ours. I search the walkway frantically through the large windows. I can’t see my sister. I step off the bus, staying in sight so they don’t think I’m about to vanish. Someone waves. It’s Miss Lesley, the Sunday School teacher. She comes towards us with something in her hand.

It’s my purse. I snatch it and quckly put money in the conductor’s palm. I turn to Miss Lesley to say thank you. When I turn again, the bus and the conductor are gone with my balance.Pearl is a sweet girl, she says, during prayers I asked for money. I think she must have dropped your purse in my bag while our eyes were closed. Also, I’ve been looking to thank you properly. Pearl has been feeding her friends snacks since her birthday last year. It takes committment to do that without letting anyone know. I feel like I’m suddenly pushed into an ice-cold pond. I do a quick calculation. That’s five months of giveaway of my hard-earned money. Meanwhile, I’ve been buying extra snacks in fear that my child would be in lack even as I wonder about the insane depletion every week. We wait on the queue for the next tricycle to turn in. The road is clear of traffic. It is Sunday. Other mothers in bright colours and bright smiles hold onto their children’s hands, gently telling them to wait, we’ll soon be home, laughing and joking with them. The children, of course, listen. In sharp contrast, I look and feel anxious, clueless and tired with just one. Pearl knows it and when we board the tricycle, I want to melt alongside the heat emanating from the sun-pressed seat.

See, I once had a charger with nine lives. It was white and emitted a green light when plugged in a socket. I didn’t like it; it looked cheap and so small – half the size of a regular charger. One day, the green light went off and it stopped working. I tried it again the next day and it charged though the green light didn’t come on. It performed this miracle of resurrecting whenever it stopped working, like two more times, before it met its final death in the hand of an angry man who used it as a sling. He was my father. I once met a cat with one green eye and one blue eye. She was white and beautiful and always sulky. Her name was Stacey. Her owners never let her into the house and she angrily roamed the compound. She never answered when she was called. I’m sure she never watched TV.

I once lived in a strange place where dogs ate grass and diapers. Their owners couldn’t feed them and they wagged their tails after every strange face. They usually ran to hide when other dogs passed by. In this place, rats dug through walls to escape hunger. They ate through kegs to drink palm oil and bit into plastic containers with firm lids to perceive their contents. One morning, I reached for my Nabatti cheese wafers and saw they had scratched it open but refused to eat it. It was a luxury they couldn’t understand, unlike wood and plastic. Pearl’s father was a two-timing future-faker who came to me in shiny, colourful wrapping. He sat before me and made me feel special as I unravelled him. He was the best gift ever before he travelled abroad to further his education and never looked back.

In the midst of this chaos, I survived and kept my sanity. But my daughter’s first three years in my life is challenging. I now seem like one with a psychological disability, one that finds simple tasks like keeping track of belongings and time or managing my emotions impossibly difficult to handle. A handicapped being has taken over my body. I’m unable to keep my eyes constantly on her. I can’t be firm with her because I feel inadequate and most times, have so little to say to her.

We get home and step over a myriad of manipulatives and odds as we enter Pearl’s room. I’m very sure those things were in their rightful places before we left this morning. Maybe it’s time to fix the childlock on doors and drawers. Maybe it isn’t a sign that I’m not as adaptable as I initially thought. I help her out of her clothes and go to my room to lay down my rollercoaster mind ride. Just as I settle more comfortably in my bed and start feeling light, I hear a loud scream of mummy! I drag myself off my bed. What’s she up to this time? I try to run to her room. She launches her soft body into my chest as she says, I love you. I hug her tightly. She says, mummy, you look tired. Why don’t you eat some bananas for sugar? I do need some sugar. If only human gifts weren’t always difficult to unravel and keep.


Maria Oluwabukola Oni is a copywriter and storyteller based in Lagos, Nigeria. Her stories have appeared in WRR, Akowdee Magazine, Ebedi Review, Nantygreens, Jellyfish Review and are forthcoming in more. She is currently writing her first novel. She tweets @OhMariaCopy.

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Pencilmarks and Scribbles Magazine was founded in 2017 by Clara Jack to be a home for African writers, asking them to come as they are and giving them room for growth. The publication aims to give back to the Nigerian Literary scene for the things it has given us.