Abowu District Episode 24
Philomena watched Florence eating and smiled. Florence swung her hand up and down to contain the viscosity of the okro soup in the bowl before her. She swallowed the morsel of eba in her hand, ate a juicy piece of ponmo, a sliver of stockfish and wiped her brow.
“Philomena, so this is what you have been enjoying? Na wa!”
Philomena laughed. “Are you sure you don’t want me to order another bowl for you?”
“No, this is alright. I must not eat more than this.”
“Alright, if you say so. Take your drink.”
Florence obeyed, taking several gulps from a cold bottle of Coke. Philomena laughed again and continued to eat her own food. When they were done, one of the maids in the store packed up the plates. It was late in the morning and the store was full of people who wanted to buy beverages, soaps and toiletries and foodstuff at wholesale prices. Philomena was distracted by the noise and constantly looked towards the front of the shop where impatient customers haggled prices with her maids.
After some time, the maids would come and drop some money in the big wooden box close to Philomena’s feet. The front was turned away from the view of anyone but the madam of the store, but Florence didn’t miss the piles of five and ten naira notes that the maids brought out of their aprons. After a while, Florence could no longer be silent.
“Philo,” she said seriously. “What is your secret? Teach me how to make money like this.”
Philomena laughed. “My friend, it is hard work.”
“Yes, my husband and I work very hard.”
Florence tried not to laugh. “Yes I know, but we all work hard. Even you know how long I have been selling clothes and jewelries, still things are the way they are. I am nowhere close to where you are.”
“Well,” Philomena said, fishing for the right words. “There are other factors… for example, are you spending all your business money…?”
“Philomena, stop talking as if you’re talking to just anyone. It’s me, Florence. We have known each other for years. We gave birth to our children almost at the same time. Please talk to me and tell me what I need to do, I’m tired of living like this. Just this morning, my children went to school with garri because I couldn’t afford to give them more. Or are we not friends anymore?”
Philomena smiled mysteriously. “You don’t know what you’re asking for.”
“What do you mean?” Florence countered. “Are you saying that I should be content with this life?”
“I don’t know what else you expect me to say to you. I’ve told you, all you need to do is work hard, the rest will take care of itself.
Florence decided to stop her inquisition, she could see that Philomena was offended. “Alright, if you say so.”
There was an awkward silence between them.
“How is Sewa?” Philomena asked.
“She’s fine, she still sells food in her house.”
“What about Deborah and Simbi?”
“All of them are fine, we’re all just looking for money.”
“Are things better for Sewa now?”
“Well, she’s doing her best, people really like her food.”
Another awkward silence passed.
“You’re not asking me why we moved without telling you…”
Florence sighed, “To be honest, we were all surprised that you left without a word. But like I said, we’re all looking for money. We’ve just accepted it as one of those things.”
Philomena smiled and stared at the floor.
“Can I come and visit again?”
“Yes, I have to go and work hard as you say.”
There was a flash of resentment in Philomena’s eyes. “Of course, you’re welcome here.”
Toye sat in the grove between the market and the Catholic Church, staring at the ants in the sand. Annabelle’s words replayed in his mind: go and see him and do what he tells you to do. There’s nothing new under the sun. Besides I won’t tell you to do something bad would I? The more he thought about their conversation and the revelation of her knowledge of Doyin, the more he began to wonder if he wasn’t making another mistake with her. There were things that Annabelle wasn’t telling him that he needed to know, he needed to know her.
He looked up at the pedestrians and began to seriously consider getting out of the police force as the solution to his problem. Maybe if I resign, my life will be free of all these problems. But what about Annabelle, would she stay if he was no longer a police officer? And what would he do to earn a living? Ever since he left secondary school, he’d been a police officer, it was all he had ever wanted to be. Toye had no other dream but to solve mysteries and catch criminals but it seemed that Abowu was not the place to do this. Yet he couldn’t go back to Igba and admit that he was unable to succeed. Besides, Becky and her son would be there. He dismissed thoughts of them and focused on the problem at hand.
I can’t resign, and I don’t want to be a criminal, he concluded. Just then an idea formed in his mind. What if he pretended to be on Doyin’s side and gathered enough evidence to take down the whole operation? It would require a lot of cunning and if he was found out, he could be killed but he knew that it was what he ought to do. It would make Annabelle happy to see him aligning with Doyin and he would get the money they both needed. There was just one problem, he couldn’t go undercover on his own, he needed to have the backing of a higher authority, but who could he trust? How high did the corruption in the force go? Bala wanted him to solve the case at Alafia at all cost, perhaps he could be trusted. Toye decided to speak with him and see what kind of man he was.
Sewa was stacking up washed plates in preparation for the next day when Babatunde came into the kitchen with a worried look on his face.
“What is it? Why do you look so worried?” she asked.
“I’m just coming from the landlord’s flat and he said that he cannot accommodate us anymore.”
“But what did we do? Have we not paid the rent?”
“We have but he said that the compound is becoming untidy and rowdy because of us, my carpentry business is by the side of the house and people are always coming into the compound to buy your food…”
“But they also come in to buy Simbi’s food…”
“He wants us to stop the businesses or move out of the compound by the end of the month.”
Sewa gasped and leaned against the sink. “What do we do?”
“We have to gather all the money we have and get a space for you in the area or in the market.”
“We will have to get tables and chairs but let’s do it one at a time. Let’s get a place first.”
“And what about you?”
“I will go and speak to Mr Carlton tomorrow, perhaps he will let me use his land, the one beside his house.”
“Isn’t that too much to ask? And what if he says no?”
“Well, I have to at least try.”
“But Babatunde why is this happening? Every time we are about to make a headway, something happens.”
“I don’t know the answer to that, but I think that this might end up being the best thing for us. Don’t be worried.”
“Did he ask Simbi to move out of the compound too?”
“He didn’t say anything about her and I’m not concerned about that.”
The streets were dark when Toye walked down Missionary Close towards the bar at the end of the road where he learnt that Bala usually relaxed. He looked over his shoulder several times to ensure that he wasn’t being followed and thought about what he was going to say to Bala again. The sounds of highlife music reached his ears as he got to the front of the building.
What if Bala didn’t approve of his plan and forced him to reveal all he knew, what would he do? How long would it take before Uche got to him and pulled all his strings as promised? He walked into the bar, still thinking about the riskiness of his plan when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned around to see Doyin with a bottle in his hand.
“Toye, what are you doing here? This is the bar of the big boys,” his speech was slurred, and he swayed like a tree.
Toye’s body went cold but he managed to say, “I came to see someone, a chief someone told me about.”
“Really? What is the name of this chief?”
“Chief Badmus, I heard that he loans people money.”
“You came to borrow money here at this time of the night, when men are relaxing and their minds are hazy with alcohol?”
“I was told that this is the best time to ask him for money.”
“Whoever told you that wanted to get you in trouble. Even if he lends you money tonight, you can be sure that you will pay twice the amount you borrowed. He will insist that that’s what he agreed upon.”
Toye trembled slightly with fear, hoping that Doyin truly believed him and wondering how he was able to speak coherently, despite his condition.
“Go home, we will discuss this in the morning. I don’t know why you didn’t just ask me for money. Go home, this is the place for big boys.”
Toye turned round and breathed out as normally as he could, wondering what would have happened if Doyin had seen him talking to Bala.
Annabelle had cutouts from Good Housekeeping in her hand, there was one of cream silky curtains and another of a black American oven. She added them to the pile of cutouts she had placed in a brown envelope and smiled, she was getting closer to her dreams.
Annabelle Etim was born in Enugu to Joseph Etim, an army veteran and his wife, Joy Etim a kind housewife. Their home was an average one, she had three siblings, two brothers and one sister. Things had been good for them until Joseph started to have an affair with a beautiful Yoruba woman who sold local gin at the officers’ mess. Annabelle had watched her mother age with worry because she didn’t have money to take care of her and her siblings. She heard her cry herself to sleep several times, praying out loud that a miracle would happen and she would be able to feed her children the next day.
When the war broke out and they had to escape to the east, her father had a change of heart. War and raw fear reminded him of what was important, but it was too late to take away the lack that Annabelle and her siblings had suffered and the impressions that had been formed in her mind.
Annabelle decided that she would not rely on any man for her sustenance, she would have her own money to do as she pleased so that if he decided to walk away from her, she would simply carry on with life. But Annabelle didn’t consider that she could fall in love, or meet someone who could make her reconsider her plan. Toye had come into her life and softened all the hard recesses of her heart.
Still Annabelle didn’t want to be dependent on him. They would build a life together, she would sell the dream of the life she wanted to him and make him accept it. She knew how important she was to Toye and she intended to use it to her advantage. He would be rich, but she would be rich too.
Later that night after Toye had come back from his failed trip to the bar on Missionary Close, they lay down, both consumed with thoughts of how to manipulate the other.