The clock on the wooden table seemed to crawl as Anjola waited for the woman to say something. The minute hand had moved sleepily through about three numbers since Victoria and Uncle Chidi had left her with this woman whom she wasn’t quite sure what to make of.
Anjola watched Mrs. Adegbite as she walked round the room, looking at some books on the table and then some pictures that stood on the dull grey wall. What was this about? What was she doing here anyways? There was no way these people could help her. Nobody could.
After a while, Anjola decided she would politely ask the woman what her plan was, if she had any, and bid her goodbye if there was none. Her mum had told her to be home in time to prepare dinner. She hadn’t asked any questions about where she was going. The only matter that concerned her was ensuring she made dinner. And Anjola suspected that if she went missing, her mother would only cry about the loss of her cook rather than a daughter she cared for.
She was about to open her mouth to talk when the woman turned to her and said abruptly; “You know, I was just here thinking how much you remind me of myself.”
Anjola observed her cautiously. The elderly woman’s smooth face suddenly became intense; her eyes behind gold rimmed glasses were bright. She got the feeling that she was about to say something. The brief silence was thick and Anjola knew whatever she wanted to say had to be grave.
But then, she smiled abruptly and the moment was gone.
“Well, let’s meet you,” Mrs. Adegbite said cheerfully as she glided to the couch and motioned for Anjola to join her.
“Alright, so tell me about your family,” she said, facing her squarely. Anjola looked into her eyes and saw no threat there, nothing but genuine curiosity but she wasn’t sure what to say since talking about her family or herself was not something she made a habit of.
After a while, the older woman chucked and said, “Okay, let me go first. I’ve been married to Bode for over 25 years now. We have three children; Nathan who is our first son and is currently serving as a corp member in Kaduna, Havillah, our second daughter should be a little older than you and is in her second year in the university and there’s Emmanuel, our last child who is in SS1. My mother was a teacher and my father was a farmer who married another woman and left my mum with five children because we were all girls. What else?” she paused and seemed to think for a while. “Oh, and about me? My name is Nike. I’m 51 years old. I’m a farmer’s daughter and a Pastor’s wife. I love God, people and pounded yam…” Anjola smiled slightly at that. Only slightly.
“…I graduated with a degree in Nursing from Obafemi Awolowo University where I met my husband and I am currently the head nurse at the state hospital. I like reading, travelling and cooking,” she finished and waited.
Anjola could not reconcile her attitude with her knowledge of who she was. She had expected someone with such a serious label as “pastor’s wife” to be…well, solemn. And now, as the woman waited, Anjola knew she had to say something. Older people did not generally share information like that and something told her this woman did not just tell her those things to make her talk. She was genuinely friendly.
“Well…urrm. I have…four siblings and my mother owns a bar in Aje. My father doesn’t stay with us. But my mum is now…married…kind of…to Adio who has two children with her.”
“Oh, so you have four siblings and two half siblings?”
“No, no. I have four siblings. Thing is…” she paused and suddenly realized her family was more messed up than she thought. “My other four siblings are from different fathers except two. Three of us are from different fathers while two are from Adio,” she sounded stupid even to herself.
Mrs. Adegbite gave a slow nod, “Oh, I see. What happened to your father?”
“He…urrm…left. I’m not sure why but I heard it was because he was married and had been looking for a male child when he met my mum. So, I guess he just…left when he didn’t get what he wanted.”
Anjola bowed her head and felt that hot wave of shame that always flooded her body anytime she talked about her family – which was not often. She felt Mrs. Adegbite’s hand lying gently on her shoulder.
“Anjola, look at me,” she said softly and she raised her head to look into the woman’s kind eyes. “Whatever mistakes your parents made was not your fault. It is nothing to be ashamed of. I told you about what happened with my father. I spent several years feeling guilty about it, convincing myself if I had been a better child or begged him enough, he would have stayed. But I eventually realized it was not my fault. It wasn’t God’s fault either. He was the one who stood by us all along and eventually made something beautiful out of it all. Anjola, your parents may have made a mistake but you are not a mistake….. God had you all planned out. You have to believe me.”
“But it…” Anjola began to say when a phone began to ring in the background.
“Oh dear, sorry. I thought I put it off,” the woman said as she pulled the mobile out of her handbag. “I’ll just tell the person to call back and…huh?…That’s strange. Bode never calls when he knows I’m in counseling,” she was saying as she picked the call, raising a finger at Anjola to indicate she’d only take a minute.
“Hello, honey?…Yes?…What! When?…Ah! Ah! My God!…Mo ti n bo*. Okay, okay,” she dropped the call and turned a worried face to Anjola.
“Sweetheart, I really have to go. My husband just called to tell me Emmanuel was hit by a car on his way from school. We’ll pick this up some other time, yeah?”
“Yes ma. I’m really sorry about your son,” Anjola said, meaning every word and a little puzzled at how relatively calm the woman seemed even though she looked very concerned.
“Thanks. I’m really sorry our meeting had to come to such an abrupt end. I’ll try to fix another meeting as soon as I can. Maybe next time I’ll just come over to your house. I’ll drive you to the bus stop if that’s okay?”
Mrs. Adegbite called Chidi, asking him to come over. While they waited, she made other calls and Anjola just kept wondering how she would survive another stranger entering her house.
After a while, Chidi and Victoria walked in.
“What happened?” they chorused.
“Emma had an accident. I need to get to the hospital. I’ll have to talk with Anjola later,” all these she said as she gathered her things and walked to the door. “Come on dear. Let’s go,” she motioned to Anjola who followed but lingered long enough to allow Victoria a hug.
“I’ll call you.”
Anjola nodded and followed Mrs. Adegbite.
* * * *
Henry Osayi, also known as ‘Slim’, sat under the shed with a carefree pose and sharp eyes. He knew she would walk by any moment from now and was willing to wait. The sun had cut back on its vindictiveness but he still felt quite hot. He had taken a tricycle from his place to Aje. The driver had annoyed him by insisting on dropping him several metres away from his actual stop.
“Ah, oga, na here we dey stop o,”* he had said stubbornly and Slim wanted to break his neck. But instead, he gave him his money and walked the remaining few metres under the sun like a gentleman. He had to behave for her. His hands twitched involuntarily as he thought about how much he needed a drag. But no, he wasn’t going to smoke in front of her. He needed to behave.
He’d had his eyes on her for a long time, had fantasized about having her and how it would feel like. It had driven him crazy most days. There was something about that blasé attitude that called to him. She was like Rapunzel with walls that begged to be broken down, a prize that needed to be won, an ice queen with castles of frosty blocks.
He paused and smiled at his own poetic thoughts. Oh, she would like him very much. And he would make sure she did because he had plans for her, plans that went beyond fleeting intimacy. He needed more. And he would…
He sat up as he spotted her walking down the street in that confident carriage he loved so much. Her body moved fluidly, her curves playing hide and seek behind her loosely fitted gown and her eyes were cold but magnetic. He couldn’t wait for the day she would look at him with love in those eyes.
He adjusted his hat and walked up to her.
* * * *
Anjola was tired. She was tired of life and everything generally. She just wanted to go home, take a bath and sleep without nightmares. Was that too much to ask? Was it really a lot?
She was about to begin a mental evaluation of her life and what she would do with it and maybe if suicide wasn’t so bad when she spotted the guy on the hat sitted under a shed. He was already coming her way and Anjola thought she would scream. Oh, no. This was the last thing she wanted right now.
“Hello,” he called as he approached her. His face looked familiar and Anjola tried to place it before replying. It had to be one of the guys who frequented the bar.
“Hi,” she answered curtly, increasing her pace. Her house was not so far anymore.
“I was wondering if we could, talk? It’s kinda important,” and just then Anjola knew who he was. The phony American accent gave him away and she remembered him as the guy with the hat who came to the bar a while back.
“Is it about money? If it’s not, then leave me alone.”
“It just might be.”
She stopped and looked at him, suddenly curious, yet knowing she should not listen to him.
“Yes. And even more.”
He was closer now. Close enough for her to catch a whiff of his perfume – which was surprisingly good – but not close enough to be a nuisance. She cast a cursory look around; there was nothing that sold faster in the local gossip columns than an unmarried girl and guy standing alone together, even if it wasn’t dark yet.
“Look, whatever your name is – “
“ – I’m not interested in whatever you are selling. So, please just go away. I don’t want you following me around like a fly…before people start talking.” She said and began to walk away, wondering why she was even reasoning with him.
“Just a minute. Please. It’s about your school. I understand you wanna study in America, yeah?”
She came to a sharp halt. No one knew about her dream to study in Harvard except her cousin and her friend, Bose, and maybe an occasional eavesdropper here and there. So how did this stranger know?
“Who told you?”
“It don’t matter for now but I wanna help you, really I do. You wanna study abroad but do you have any plans? Have you tried to apply? Do you have the money? Have you considered any scholarships?”
She found herself shaking her head.
“You see? How are you gonna achieve that dream then? You know what I mean?”
“So what do you want?”
“I just want us to talk, that’s all. Nothing attached I promise.”
“I don’t believe that,” they had moved to the front of another shed and she felt really nervous but couldn’t bring herself to walk away. How could she trust this guy? What if he wanted to rape her? She looked around and the idea of being seen didn’t seem so bad compared with the fear of being alone with him. Her street was not a busy one but she could spot some children playing in the sand with nothing but their panties and an occasional passerby carrying water on their head or someone just walking. A car passed by and then a bike whose rider spat phlegm close to them. Asides that and some women in front of their makeshift stores, they were alone. Maybe the power was on and everyone was watching TV.
“Okay, tomorrow is a Saturday so I’m sure you won’t be going to school. Why not let us meet at your mum’s bar so we can talk?”
She thought about it for a while. Maybe she was just being jittery because of what had happened to her. Maybe he was being honest. Although she did not buy the bull about him just wanting to help her. He was probably selling something. Maybe an agent or something. Besides, what did she really have to lose?
She shrugged. “Okay.”
* * * *
Mo ti n bo – I am coming
na here we dey stop – This is where we stop.
If you haven’t read the previous episodes, you can find them here on the blog.
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