Alice was beautiful. She had a glossy dark skin, beautiful eyes with long perfect eyelashes. She also had long grey hair that danced around her shoulders. Boubous and colourful scarves were her favorite things in the world. She adored colors. Her palms indicated the hard-work of the African woman – dark, strong, firm with calluses and glistening veins. She liked to cook for me – different colorful dishes, ranging from the African Dinner (okele) to English Breakfasts.
Alice and I connected in a rare way. Despite the age difference, she was my comfort. She listened to my problems, and related to them as a peer would. She always had soothing words for me. I could never get enough of her.
I read Alice the newspapers in her later years, as her eyesight dimmed. She would insult the leaders, her throaty voice rising above the sound of the wind. She liked to insult one in particular. “He is a baboon and someone needs to send him back to the zoo.” At other times, it was her Yoruba Bible I read to her and she would recite along with me, from memory with glee in a sing-song voice.
With the passage of each day, I grew into a young woman that took after Alice’s charisma. A little part of me, held on to Alice with whatever might I had. A little part of me, just had to let her go.
It was either I never noticed her illness or she was worse at the time I was a first year undergraduate. I felt like my eyes had just been opened at this point. It was also during this time I found out that she had been visiting a psychiatrist. For a little while, I felt she had cheated on me my whole life but the feeling slipped and was replaced with a sympathy – I felt sorry for my best friend.
She talked to herself more often that normal during her last years. She even hallucinated. She summoned the dead; my grandfather, her husband – with whom she was angry with, her late sister, the doctor with whom she had long late night conversations with. Her eyes grew more melancholic. Whenever I cried while weaving her hair, she would quietly put it across to me that tears would not solve anything. She was fully aware that she was in wonderland.
She joked frequently during this period. She insulted Abacha and mimicked him as well. She laughed at Ojukwu, said he was a joke. She told her doctors she had 7 husbands and claimed to be the Queen of England.
The day before she died, Alice commanded me to take out all her hair with her old pair of scissors. I had no choice even though I used twenty minutes to display, strong-headed resistance. She had beautiful hair that no scissors or razor had touched in about Sixty years. She said she could see death standing at the door. I cried as I cut her hair. I knelt down on the long strands of completely white hair and sobbed in her laps. I said a short prayer and looked into her eyes. Although they smiled, they were distant and tired.
When mother found her the next morning, she had a smile etched out, sprawled like a little child asleep. I almost laughed. Alice was no longer in wonderland.