Mama Abegunde sat at the back of the house with Mama Adio who was breastfeeding her last child, the child was cradled on her mother’s laps. It was late in the morning, and Becky was still asleep.
“But Mama, why don’t you chase her away from your son’s house?”
The old woman sighed. “She’s a child, I don’t want to be unfair to her. After all, my son was the one who should have known better.”
“Mama, I know that she is young, but don’t you know that she planned this? As young as she is, she planned her entry into your son’s house. She knew what she was doing, allowing Inspector to sleep with her. She should be held responsible for her actions, you’re being too soft on her.”
The old woman sighed again. “Be that as it may, I still want to treat her fairly. I’m waiting for her to give birth, and then I can start to talk to her about some of these things. Believe me, I came here for a fight with her, but when I saw how young she really was, the fight left me. I became weak in my spirit and extremely disappointed in my son. I taught him better you know.”
Mama Adio smiled sadly. “They all change when they come to Abowu. One of my friend’s brother who came here abandoned his wife and children in the village and married one of these skinny fair girls.”
“I think my son is about to do the same thing.”
This was news to Mama Adio, her ears perked up and she sat up straight. “Is that so? Who is the girl?”
Mama Abegunde regretted her slip. “I don’t know her, I just hope that my son returns to his senses.”
“What a pity, Inspector was such a gentleman when he came here.”
“Where did your own husband come from?” Mama decided to change the subject.
“We came from Idi-Ope together, but even he has tasted of the Abowu women. It was when one of them almost got him arrested that he learnt his lesson.”
“Almost got him arrested?” Mama Abegunde asked with mild amusement.
“It is a long story, but he went to sleep with a soldier’s sister.”
“A soldier’s sister?”
“Like I said, he learnt his lesson. He doesn’t even like to hear about it anymore.”
“So now he’s a good husband?”
“Now all he knows to do is drink, it’s such a shame.”
Mama Abegunde sighed yet again.
Toye walked into the office he shared with Doyin and met him seated behind a pile of files.
“So you gave Annabelle the money I couldn’t give her, isn’t it?”
Doyin looked up at him expressionlessly.
“Are you trying to get my girl? You think that because you have money, you can get her? Aren’t you content with what you have?”
Doyin began to laugh, holding his small stomach and bending his head backward. Toye was beside himself with anger, he held on to the edge of Doyin’s table and fumed.
The latter stopped laughing and heaved a sigh. “First of all, how dare you talk about contentment? Are you not the married man who is biting more than he can chew? I wasn’t trying to take your girl. She came to me for help and I thought that since you weren’t around, I should help her, do my friend a favour. Second of all, I can get any girl I want, you can too. There’s no woman who cannot be gotten with money. The sooner you understand this, the better for you.”
“What does that have to do with the fact that you went behind my back to give Annabelle two hundred naira, two hundred naira! Where do I get the money to repay you? I don’t make that kind of money and I don’t want her to have a wrong expectation from me.”
“Why didn’t you come and borrow the money from me?”
“Did you not just hear what I said?”
Doyin looked at him seriously and said, “Toye, you have the potential to be rich, but your character is your greatest problem.”
“What are you talking about? Where will the sudden riches come from?”
Doyin smiled and folded his hands. “It’s a pity that you are unappreciative. Let us talk about this case at Alafia…”
“I don’t want it to repeat itself again. Do you hear me? Even if she comes to you crying blood, do not ever give her money again. She’s not your woman.”
Toye went straight home after work for three days in a row. Becky was ecstatic, she discarded her candles and tried to pay more attention to her appearance when she knew her husband was going to be home. She welcomed him warmly when he came in and promptly placed the food that Mama had cooked in front of him. She would sit dutifully a little distance from him and promptly take the pates out of the room when he was done with them.
Mama noticed the change but wasn’t happy like her daughter-in-law. She saw the suppressed anger on his face and knew that what had brought him home wasn’t love for his wife or mother.
On the third evening, he sat on the long chair in their room and thought about Annabelle. He missed her sorely and remembered yet again what Doyin had said to him.
Toye, you have the potential to be rich, but your character is your greatest problem
It seemed that Doyin was trying to tell him something, otherwise what did he mean by him having the potential to be rich, and how was his character getting in the way? He thought about his dealings at work and could not see how his behaviour with anyone had prevented him from becoming rich.
There was also the issue of this richness he had talked about. Toye had an idea of how much his superiors earned, and he knew that even that wasn’t enough for him to afford the kind lifestyle that Doyin lived. The fact that he had fifty kobo left in his pockets made him even more irritable, how was he to care for his family for the rest of the month without borrowing from Doyin yet again.
As he thought about these things, Becky came to sit by him and smiled.
Toye glanced at her, took in her acne riddled face and looked away from her.
“My husband…” she said again and fidgeted with her hands.
“What is it?” he asked gruffly.
Becky wondered why he seemed to be in a foul mood. Mama’s yam porridge had been quite tasty, garnished with slivers of smoked cod fish and spinach leaves. The weather wasn’t too unpleasant and Mama had made sure that the room was neat. What then was the problem?
Hesitantly she asked, “I wanted to remind you about the money for my business, the twenty naira I asked you for.”
Toye glanced at her again. “Go and take it from my pockets.”
Not sensing the sarcasm in his voice, she struggled to her feet. “Thank you my husband, I knew that you would reconsider.”
Toye gazed at the floor as Becky searched the pockets of his uniform and found nothing.
“There’s nothing here, or did you mean the pocket of your shirt?”
He didn’t respond, he shuffled his feet into his slippers and walked out of the room. Becky sat on the bed and wondered what she had done wrong again. As she thought of Toye’s treatment of her, she became furious and remembered that she always got results from him when she embarrassed him or became unreasonable. Again, she struggled to her feet and went in search of him.
She found him at the back of the house with Baba Adio, they were sharing a keg of palm wine.
“So you were just deceiving me? Isn’t it? Do you think I don’t have other things to do? Why couldn’t you just tell me that you don’t you have the money? Why must you trouble me the way you do?”
Toye laughed and cradled the drink in his hands.
“Small wife,” Baba Adio said, “What is the matter?”
“Ask him!” She shot back, pointing at Toye who was slowly drinking his wine.
“Why don’t you just tell me?” he said pacifyingly.
“I asked him for money, but instead of telling me that he doesn’t have it, he asked me to go and search his pockets.” she turned to her husband, her swollen stomach almost touching his face. “Why do you trouble me like this? After all, what I’m asking for, is for the good of all of us. Why can’t you just give me this money? You have it, you’re just being stingy!”
She shot forward at her last word and her navel hit his face. Toye sprang to his feet and raised his hand to her but was stopped in time by Baba Adio.
“Inspector, let her go, just let her be, it’s not worth it.”
Toye shrug his hands off and walked away from the building.
I made a huge mistake marrying that girl, I would throw her out of my house if my mother was not around. Of all the things that could happen to me, why did I have to get stuck with that pig?
When he looked up, he saw that he was in front of Annabelle’s house, hissing in disgust, he turned around and bumped straight into her.
“I made a mistake coming here.”
“Please!” she grabbed his arm. “Don’t go! Please, can we just talk?”
He allowed her to lead him in and sat on her neatly laid bed.
“I’m sorry I went behind your back, but I needed to take the opportunity. Wouldn’t you be happy to see me in a better shop, instead of that small stall at the back of the market? Wouldn’t you like it if I cooked you better meals with all the fish, meat and palm wine you like?”
“So you went behind my back because of fish and meat? Nonsense! Do I look like a street urchin?”
He made to leave but she held him back again. “I’ll tell you the truth! I did it because I wanted you be angry!”
He turned to face her.
“Yes, I wanted you to be angry enough to ask Doyin to let you know how you can be rich too! Because I love you, I did it because I love you and I know that you can be rich, you deserve to be rich, I want you to be rich!”
“What are you talking about?”
She went over to him and held him by the shoulders. “Talk to him, listen to him. Do what he tells you to do. Do it for us.”