Babatunde waited for Sewa to return from the children’s room after she had put them to bed, before he began to tell her what was on his mind.
“There’s another opportunity to cater for the Ministry of Agriculture. I overheard someone talking about it at the local government and went to ask her what it was about. They are planning a get-together for about fifty people and they want jollof rice and pounded yam with vegetable soup and a lot of meat. I told the woman that you can do it.”
Sewa sighed and cradled her chin in her palm, showing her displeasure.
“I know you don’t want to hear this, especially after what happened with that useless man, but life must go on. We cannot say that because things didn’t go well with him, we should give up. We have to keep trying.”
“But Babatunde, why are you hell bent on me doing this particular business? Why can’t we try our luck elsewhere? Why do you want me to keep doing what I don’t like?”
“Are you saying that you don’t enjoy cooking?”
“I enjoy cooking. But Babatunde you know me, you know that I don’t like talking so much with people, I’m shy…”
“You can overcome your shyness. After all, you will be paid and you do it so well!”
“But what if someone else wants to sleep with me?”
“It’s a woman who is in charge of this one.”
Sewa sighed and Babatunde held her hands. “You can’t stop because of one person, try again.”
Toye had gone out to speak to Papa and Mama Ufoma again but had met their door firmly locked. Surprised, he had walked over to the next compound and walked up to a man who was standing by the doorpost of a long building.
“The Okafors? We know them,” the man had said spitting out saliva and holding a mangled chewing stick.
“I noticed that they’re not in.”
“They don’t live here anymore.”
“What? I was just here last week!”
The man laughed.
Toye looked at him strangely, wondering what was so funny.
“Things change in a split second, did they tell you that they would be here today?”
“No, we didn’t really talk much. What can you tell me about them?” Toye had asked, simultaneously bringing out his writing pad.
“Well, the man used to work with NEPA but I think he stopped going there. They must have let him go.”
“Why do you say so?”
“Because he’s very aggressive, I don’t think I’ve ever really seen him smiling. He always fights with the wife and beats her. In fact, he fights with everyone.”
“Hmm.” Toye wasn’t surprised, his encounter with them was convincing enough. “Did he fight with you too?”
He smiled humorlessly. “He once accused me of taking his old shirt from the line.”
“And how did you resolve that?”
“I told him to come and take it off me. He’s so arrogant.”
“What about the wife, what can you tell me about her?”
“She looks like a quiet person, but her dressing is always so flamboyant. Especially, when she started working for that family.”
“There’s a white man and his Yoruba wife who live on Havillah Street.”
“The popular Havillah Street?”
“How do you know them?”
“I used to be their gardener, before they sent me away. They said I didn’t know how to preserve their flowers but I knew it was all a ploy to get me out so that the wife’s relative could take over. They put me out of a job and employed a naïve young man who doesn’t even know the difference between weeds and flower plants. I hope their garden withers so that they can appreciate me.”
Toye had rounded up his conversation with the man and walked away from the street. As he walked towards Mama Willy’s restaurant, he hoped that the woman would sell some food to him on credit and wondered if there was anything fishy about the Okafors moving out of their house. Afonja Elewe had been away from the house too.
As he stepped into the restaurant with a mixture of trepidation and hope, he thought about Annabelle’s words to him the previous night. Picking a table close to the window, he sat down and stared at the brown plastic jug. His thoughts strayed towards Becky and his mother, and he wished that he could rent a two bedroom flat like Doyin and confine both of them into one of the rooms. He would go into his own room and avoid the madness that his wife brought him and he would be able to give her money to do whatever distracted her from getting on his nerves. But most of all, he would marry Annabelle and get a better place for her. Going to Becky and his mother would only be to avoid the latter’s anger, and after a while he was sure that she would accept Annabelle and help to chase Becky away.
He jingled the coins in his pockets and looked around for a waitress. After some time, one walked up to him and before he could make his order, the woman said, “Mama Willy said you should give me the money you owe her before you order for anything.”
He was first surprised before he was enraged. “She said that?”
“How much do I even owe her?”
“Four naira…” he voice faltered, knowing that he couldn’t pay her anytime soon.
“I’m waiting for you sir,” the waitress said with her hand on her waist.
Toye eyed her maliciously. “Why don’t you dip your hands in my pockets and take it?”
“Sir, I’m not here to fight with you. Do you have the money or not? There are other customers to attend to.”
“Is it me you’re talking to like that? Have I become so unrespectable?”
“If you won’t respect yourself, then I won’t respect you. Why would you come in here without intending to pay for your food, do you think we’re doing charity? If you can’t afford this place, why don’t you get your wife to cook something for you…?”
“What’s going on?” Doyin asked joining them.
“Inspector!” the woman smiled warmly. “We’ve been expecting you. What will you like to eat today?”
“What’s going on?” Doyin asked again, facing Toye.
Toye didn’t respond, affected by the difference in the woman’s attitude to Doyin.
“Thank you sir, he is owing my madam four naira and she said that I should collect all her money before he even orders for anything.”
“Is that so? And is that why you’re embarrassing my friend this way?”
Doyin stuck his hand into his pocket and thrust two five naira notes at her. “That’s ten naira. Take out his debt, and bring us hot amala, ewedu and an assortment of meats.” He sat in the chair opposite Toye. “And tell someone to bring some cold drinks too.”
“Thank you sir,” the woman replied and walked away.
Toye’s head was bowed. “Thank you,” he mumbled.
“You don’t have to thank me, I’m sure you would have done the same thing for me.”
There was an awkward silence between them. Toye looked out of the window, his eyes burning with tears of shame. Doyin smiled inwardly, he had Toye exactly where he needed him to be.
“Annabelle said I should talk to you.”
“She did?” their food came and Doyin stopped talking. He washed his hands and took a bite of a succulent piece of ponmo. “Let us eat, we will sort everything out.”
After they finished eating, Toye waited for him to speak but he sat up.
“Today is Thursday, come to my house on Saturday, we will talk about everything. But are you prepared to do what it takes?”
“Of course, you have always known me to be a hardworking man.”
Doyin smiled and got up. ”Well, I will see you then.”
Sewa had gone to the Ministry of Agriculture and had concluded with the woman in charge of the catering contract, to prepare food for fifty people for fifty naira. She was in high spirits as she walked home, thinking abut how things had worked so well after all.
She turned round to see Florence walking hurriedly towards her.
“Have you heard?”
“Philomena had moved.”
“Philomena has moved?”
“Yes, I went to her house yesterday, but I was told that they moved out four days ago. One of their neighbours was saying something about them moving into their own house. I think he’s their next door neighbour, although he looked drunk so I don’t know if he was telling the truth.”
“They were building their own house?”
“That is exactly what surprised me the most! Where did they get the money from?”
Sewa smiled uncomfortably. “They must have had the money…”
“Where did they get it from? How much were those people at Havillah paying her? Or was it his job at NEPA that gave them that money?”
“Well maybe they were doing business…”
“What business, Sewa? They have a secret! And why wouldn’t they tell anyone before moving? Not even you?”
“Teju will miss Ufoma,” Sewa said.
“I will get to the bottom of this, don’t worry.” Florence said and walked away as fast as she had come.