Sewa couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened in Mr Olasehinde’s office. She led her children home on the way back from church and wished that Babatunde had never brought up the idea of catering. Her lips still throbbed from the assault and she felt nauseated, despite the fact that she had cleaned her mouth with water and soap upon her return from the Ministry.
An army truck drove furiously past them and almost knocked over her last born who was dancing close to the middle of the road. She screamed and ran to carry the child, reprimanding him and feeling guilty about being so careless. Ahead of them, the truck stopped and two army officers came towards them armed.
“You dis woman, wetin dey do you?” A stocky man with big lips asked irritably, a frown distorting his hardened face.
“Sorry sah!” Sewa pulled her children close and knelt down simultaneously.
“Wetin fine woman like you dey tink sef?” the other soldier with a lean frame said, looking at her appreciatively.
“Sorry sah!” she replied, her head bowed.
“Be kiaful!” the stocky soldier said as the two of them jogged back to the waiting truck.
Sewa calmed her children down and led them home briskly. When they got on their street, she allowed her mind to wander again. Should she tell Babatunde or not? She thought that he should know but at the same time she feared what his reaction might be to the man and to her. Would he love her less? Would he blame her for it?
“Water e no get enemy! Omi o l’ota o, water, e no get enemy!” Teju was singing Fela’s recent track while her siblings, Dapo and Folashade danced and clapped their hands.
They were a few yards away from their compound when she heard one of their neighbours, a corp member, Saheed, popularly known as Prof, saying, “Look, the military is just as covetous as the civilian government. We are making so much money now, but instead of us to pump all that revenue into infrastructural development, we are spending it anyhow and importing all sorts of things…”
“So are you saying that we should not import?” Babatunde asked.
“No, I’m saying that we should spend that money on building capacity to produce, so that we don’t end up broke!”
The men around them laughed.
“You’re laughing,” Prof continued. “We cannot keep wasting money and think that the rainy day won’t come. Look at what is going on in the agricultural sector, it is being ignored. The government is just busy spending!”
Sewa and the children got into the compound and she closed the gate. Her husband was seated in a semi-circle with Prof, the landlord and two other neighbours.
“He’s right,” Babatunde said. “You should see how these Perm Secs throw parties every week at the Solo Club. Even at work, the chairman comes to the local government office with at least two girls, he gives money to those who greet him very well, spends maybe two hours in the office and then goes to Solo Club to go and drink beer and eat pepper soup. Prof is right, the military is not doing better.”
“You people are just here complaining, how do you know that you won’t do the same?” The landlord, Pa Nuru asked. “Especially you, Prof, if you had been posted to one of those Ministries, would you have been complaining?”
The men laughed again.
“Every week,” Mr Harrison, a dark-skinned lanky man was saying, “you see all sorts of women filing in and out of the Ministry of Agriculture. I always do my best to hand them tracts and invite them to church.”
The men laughed again.
“Mr Harrison! Those types of girls don’t go to church. Stop wasting your time.” Prof said.
“I even heard that they’re married women amongst them.” Pa Nuru said.
“A lot of them! And they will take the money home to their husbands.” Prof said.
“Any woman who does such is not fit to be called a wife.” Babatunde said.
Sewa’s footsteps faltered as she approached them.
“Good evening,” she greeted them as her children ran to their father.
Thoughts of the previous evening with Annabelle filled Inspector Toye’s mind as he headed towards Afonja Elewe’s house. He’d avoided talking to either of the women in his home, and stepped out of the building as soon as he had gotten dressed. He’d already seen evidence of his mother’s presence, the floor was clean, but it was nothing compared to the serenity and pleasure in Annabelle’s room.
He climbed up to Afonja’s flat, knocked on the door and waited. Turning away from the door, he looked over the fence and surveyed the area. The community was slowly developing, new houses were being built, and he could see that a hospital was also being constructed in the center of the area. But huge refuse dumps and garbage filled gutters marred the beauty of the environment.
The door behind him opened and Afonja peeked out of it.
“Inspector…” he said gruffly, his eyes bloodshot. “What is it again?”
“I need to ask you some more questions. Can I come in?”
“Give me a few minutes,” he shut the door before Toye could respond and opened it about three minutes later. Toye noticed that he was now wearing trousers.
Afonja led him into the sparsely furnished living room and offered him a wooden chair. Toye sat stiffly and brought out his notepad.
“Who is Papa Ufoma?”
Afonja frowned. “That’s our neighbour.”
“Your mother said she complained about their noise and you went over to talk to them.”
“She said nothing changed, yet you spent some time there and came back drunk.”
“Is it a crime to be drunk?”
Toye studied him for some time and thought he noticed a shiftiness in his eyes. “Are you friends with them?”
“They’re my neighbours, I talk to them…”
“What are their names?”
“Their surname is Okafor… why are you asking about them..?”
“Have you noticed any difference in them in the last six months…?”
“No. Did my mother say anything about them?”
Toye scribbled something in his notepad as Afonja stared at him anxiously. “Inspector, did my mother say anything about them?”
“What she told me is for my ears only…”
“Where do they live?”
“Inspector, my mother is not well. Don’t pay attention to whatever she tells you.”
Both men stared at each other and then the Inspector repeated his question. “Where do they live?”
Inspector Doyin was eating amala, abula and a variety of meat. A cold Coke stood beside his food and he took sips from it periodically. Toye walked into Mama Willy’s restaurant and sat opposite him.
“Doyin,” Toye replied tiredly. “I knew I would find you here.”
“Why do you look so tired?”
“I’m just coming from Alafia.”
Doyin laughed as he picked up a juicy piece of stewed beef. Toye watched him bite into it, closing his eyes as he savored the flavour. He stared at his dancing mouth and licked his lips. His eyes travelled to the plate of soup and back up at his friend.
“Doyin, is it your birthday today?”
“My birthday? No, why do you ask?”
“I’m looking at all these pieces of meat and fish in your plate. Can you finish them?”
“Hypocrite! Just tell me that you want some or better still, buy your own.”
Toye laughed uncomfortably. “I cannot buy food here today. I’ve dropped all my money at home for food.”
Doyin laughed heartily and gulped down some of his Coke. He belched and took a piece of fried fish. Toye couldn’t help himself anymore, he reached for a small piece of meat and bit into it. They ate in silence as Toye remembered what Annabelle had said about his friend moving into a new house.
“Doyin, how do you have money to buy this kind of food at this time of the month? And are you really moving into a new house?”
Doyin smiled and shook his head. “Eat Toye, don’t let this food get cold.”
Mama Abegunde stood watching Becky. She was snoring softly, her hand under cheek. It was nine-thirty in the morning and she was yet to get out of bed. The old woman had prepared breakfast washed the dirty clothes and cleaned the room. It was clear to her the complaints that her son had made about her daughter-in-law, but the greatest challenge she had with the whole affair was that much was expected from a child. She knew what she ought to do as an older woman but she did not have the heart to tell a child to act like an adult when her own son had acted like a child and gotten her pregnant.
It was 1975, young girls like her were now supposed to be in school, not getting pregnant. The old woman shuffled away from the bed and went out to sit on Pa Jinadu’s bench.
Babatunde watched his wife rearranging the furniture in the sitting room. There was something stiff about her movement and it seemed that she had become withdrawn since her meeting at the Ministry of Works.
“What did you say happened at the Ministry again?”
“They wanted me to go with them all the way to Harbour State and I can’t do that.”
Babatunde was perplexed. “But you told me that they wanted you to cook for them here.”
“When did I tell you that?”
“The first time you mentioned this.”
She shrugged. “They changed their mind.”
Something about the way she hardened her face made Babatunde walk up to her. She was examining the louvers with little interest.
“What is it Sewa? What happened?”
“Nothing, why are you asking…”
“I can see that something is wrong with you.”
“I’m all right, I’m just a little tired.”
Before he could ask her another question, she asked one of her own. “What are we going to do about the children’s school fees?”
Becky took out a new candle from the pack she had just purchased from the Aladura church. Toye still wasn’t coming home and she saw disapproval in her mother-in-law’s eyes. She prayed fervently and hoped that her prayers would be answered with this batch.
Outside the window, Mama Abegunde could smell the smoke from the candle. She was taking a stroll and heard Becky praying, singing and chanting. She shook her head, it was almost nightfall and yet she was still praying. When she saw that Becky wouldn’t stop praying anytime soon, she entered the room and began to take out the cooking utensils.
In the passageway, Toye met his mother carrying a tuber of yam and some palm oil.
“Mother! What are you doing?”
“Toye, you’re finally back.”
“Yes, good evening,” he prostrated briefly and asked again. “What are you doing?”
“I’m getting out all the cooking utensils so that I can start preparing dinner.”
“Yes, she prays a lot.”
The old woman turned away with the foodstuff in her hand while Toye barged into the room. He met her chanting, a red candle barely illuminating the hazy room.
“Do it! Do it! Fire! Fire! Fire! Burn it! Burn it! Burn it!”
“What are you burning?” he asked irritably.
Becky wanted to turn and greet him, but the woman at the church had instructed her to pray fervently until the candle burned out.
“Fire! Fire! Burn them! Burn! Burn!”
Toye stared at his wife, chanting as if she was possessed. Her skin glistened with sweat and her body gyrated to the tune of her chant. Her head was covered with a large scarf and she tied her palm-oil stained wrapper around her body. Toye wondered why he had come home.
He poked her. “Becky! Becky!”
But Becky was intent on finishing her prayers, not desiring any to go unfulfilled. She peeked at the candle and saw that it was half-way gone. She was tired, but she wanted to follow all the instructions. Good money had been spent buying the candles.
All of a sudden Toye blew out the candle and flung it to the ground. Becky screamed.
“No! Why did you turn it off? Why?”
“So you’re here chanting, while my mother is busy cooking dinner right?”
“But she knows it’s not yet time for dinner. Who sent her to go and do it?”
Just then, Mama Abegunde walked in. “Shall I make amala or fufu?”
Annabelle opened her door, wondering who was behind it at this time of the day.
“Oh it’s you…” she said.
“Were you expecting anyone else?” the visitor asked teasingly.
“You’ve not fulfilled your end of the bargain.”
“You need to be patient.”
“It’s taking too long.”
“You know how Toye is, he needs to be convinced. If we rush him, it will not go well.”
“All right, I’ve heard you. But know that time is going.”
“All right. Thank you for the money.”
“Don’t mention. I did it for him.”