Babatunde ate the last morsel of pounded yam in his plate and washed his hand in the bowl of water at his feet. Sewa came into the sitting room where he was and began to pack the empty plates.
“Thank you,” he said.
“Did you enjoy the meal?”
Sewa frowned, her husband seemed odd. “I hope there’s no problem?”
“You’re not cheerful, you seem bothered by something.”
Babatunde stared into her eyes and smiled humorlessly. “Go and drop the plates.”
Sewa returned to his side and stared at him worriedly. “Babatunde, what is wrong?”
He rubbed his eyes and folded his arms. “Tell me again what happened at the Ministry of Works.”
Her breath caught in her throat, she stared wide-eyed at him, wondering who could have told him about her encounter with Mr Olasehinde. Had Simbi told him?
“Tell me exactly what happened,” he repeated.
She lowered her eyes. “He said he would give me the contract, and that he was going to pay me two hundred naira, and then he said he wanted to help me to be rich. So I knelt to thank him… he helped me to my feet and before… before I knew what was going on… he put his mouth on mine…”
Babatunde sat up sharply. “He did what?”
“I don’t know how he did it so quickly…” she shivered as she remembered the incident. “I struggled out of his arms and slapped his face and then he said that he would ruin my reputation in Abowu.” she started to cry. “He said he would make me suffer in this town.”
Babatunde squeezed his lower lips with his fingers, got up and walked towards the window. Sewa wiped her face and wrung her fingers. There was an awkward silence between them.
“You’re not saying anything,” she finally said.
He turned towards her and stared at her for a while, and then he walked back to her and took her hands in his. “It’s all my fault, I’m sorry. If I hadn’t persuaded you to do this business, it wouldn’t have happened. Don’t be angry with me please.”
Sewa broke down into grateful tears, she hadn’t thought that he would respond this way.
“But how did you know?”
Babatunde smiled. “You need to be careful about the people you call your friends.”
“Simbi told you?” she guessed.
“She said a man in one of the ministries wanted to set up a business for you, and she made it sound as if you might change your mind and give him a chance.”
“She said that? But I told her that I hadn’t told you what happened. Why would she do something like that after she went behind me to get the job?”
“She went behind you to take the job?”
Babatunde smiled. “You have to be careful about the people you call your friends. You should have told me what happened, what if something else had happened to make her story believable? I only believe you now because I know you, and I remember that when you got back that day you were different. Remember I asked you what happened?”
She nodded, still unable to believe the depth of Simbi’s betrayal.
When Toye walked into the Abowu District Police Station and saw the crowd of people at the counter, he wondered what had happened.
“Another woman who had just restocked her shop was robbed at Alafia,” one of the corporals told him. “The woman has been rushed to the hospital, she fainted and the people weren’t able to resuscitate her.”
Toye knew that this was going to be trouble for him. The DPO would soon send for him and when he did, all hell would be let loose.
“Thank you,” he said to the corporal and went into the office he shared with Doyin.
“I see you’ve heard,” Doyin said to him when he walked in and he saw the look on his face.
“We really need to do something about these robberies. There’s something we’re missing, I can feel it in my bones.”
“What do you think we’re missing? We’ve interviewed everyone and studied all the evidence, these people are good, they leave no traces.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’ve not interviewed everyone.”
Toye got up and made for the door.
“Who haven’t we… where are you going?”
“To Alafia!” Toye yelled over his back.
Toye knocked on the door and waited. A woman opened it, she looked tired.
“Yes?” she asked in a gruff voice, retying the wrapper on her chest
“Good morning, I’m Inspector Toye from the Abowu District Police Station.”
“Police?” she said with mild apprehension. “I hope there’s no problem?”
“Are you Mama Ufoma?”
“Yes…” she answered now with visible fear.
“I want to ask you some questions.”
“What can you tell me about the robberies that have been happening in this neighbourhood?”
“Robberies? I don’t know anything about it, did someone tell you that I know anything about them?”
“No madam, we are only conducting our usual investigations…”
“I don’t know anything about them. I only heard that people were robbed.”
“And do you know any of these people?”
“Well I can’t really say that I don’t know them, they are quite popular in this neighbourhood…”
“Who are you talking to?” Someone asked from inside the house. A tall, burly man appeared behind Mama Ufoma. His eyes were bloodshot and he looked like he had been sleeping. He had a three day old stubble on his face and black, curly hair spread throughout his chest.
“Yes?” he demanded.
“Good morning, I’m Inspector Toye from the Ab…”
“Police? Are you arresting my wife?”
“No, I’m just…”
“So why are you here?”
“If you let me finish talking, then I can tell you.”
The man stopped to eye the young officer.
“I’m here to ask questions about the recent robberies in Alafia.”
“Did anyone tell you that we are the ones responsible?”
Toye stopped talking and smiled dryly. The couple were defensive and he didn’t know why, all he knew was that something fishy was going on between them and he intended to find it out.
“Have a nice day,” he said and walked away from them.
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“She seems like a good person, well, she’s been good to me ever since she came to live with us.”
Rose looked at her daughter and wondered if pregnancy was making her soft. “She seems like a good person? What sort of person would come and live with you and your husband in that small room? Take it from me, she didn’t come to do you any good…”
Becky shook her head in disagreement. “But she’s really been good to me. She looks for me, sweeps the house, she even washes the clothes.”
“If she’s being good, she’s doing it for a reason. Watch out, as soon as you give birth, she’ll change towards you. People are not just simply good, they always want something. And I’m sure she wants something, you just haven’t discovered what it is.”
Becky sighed and stared at the ground.
Pa Jinadu and Mama Abegunde sat in front of the house and swapped stories about their youth.
“I don’t like this town,” the matriarch said. “Especially what it is doing to my son.”
“The town didn’t do anything to your son, it only brought out what was already in him.”
Mama Abegunde was offended. “Are you saying that I didn’t raise my son well?”
The old man chuckled gently. “Old woman, I didn’t say that. I’m sure you did your best, but I’m sure you also know that a person doesn’t just change. No matter how hard a parent tries to teach their child, the child still has to decide whether or not he will take to the training.”
“So what can I do?”
“Leave him, let him learn his lesson as they always do.”
“And what if the price of the lesson is too great?”
“That is what we will have to wait and see.”
“So you’re saying that I should sit down and do nothing?”
“What else can you do for a grown man? Do you want to whip him?”
Mama Abegunde was distressed when she walked into the room. Becky was on her knees, waving her hands, the candle had just gone out.
“Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah!”
Smoke hung in the air and the old woman for once voiced out her opinion about Becky’s prayer regimen.
“Must you always light the candle? Can’t you pray without it?”
“Yes,” the girl said. “I was told to light it up and pray until the candle burns out.”
“And you think that your prayers are working?”
“Well, the woman at the church told me not to lose faith.”
“Did she also tell you to take better care of your house and pay attention to how you look?”
Becky stared at her in surprise, she had never heard her speak with such condescension. She began to think that perhaps, her mother was right about her after all.
Annabelle looked at the fabrics on the bed in her room, impressed with the colours and patterns. She smiled, knowing that she would be the envy of every fabric trader on the row of her stall. She foresaw a huge profit and moving her shop to a better part of the town. She thought of the newly built shopping complex and the prestige that came with telling people that one owned a shop there. Anabelle was thrilled, she lay on her bed, and dreamt of better days when there was a knock on the door.
She’d opened the door before she realized that the fabrics were still on the bed.
“Toye! What are you doing here?”
“What sort of question is that?” he asked, looking at her strangely and wondering why she wasn’t opening the door further.
“I wasn’t expecting you.”
“Are you not going to let me in?”
Annabelle was terrified, she hadn’t thought of how she would explain the clothes on the bed.
“Is there another man in your bed?” Toye asked, a dark look on his face.
“No! Not at all…”
Toye charged into the room and stopped when he saw the clothes on the bed.
“Anna, where did you get all these from?”
“Let me explain…”
Toye whirled to face her. “Who did you get the money from?’
“Let me ex…”
He crossed the space between them, grabbed her arms and shoved her against the wall. “Tell me who you got the money from!”
Annabelle was terrified, the truth came out of her mouth before she could think twice. “It’s your friend Doyin!”
when Toye showed up in his house later that night, Becky said to her mother-in-law, “Do you still think that my prayers are not working?”