“I don’t understand,” said Florence to Philomena.
“I said I can’t borrow Sewa fifty naira.”
“You can’t borrow her fifty naira?”
They were in the latter’s store and had just discussed her plan to attend the governor’s wife’s birthday party in the latest brocade.
“I’m asking on Sewa’s behalf, Sewa, our friend, the one whose shop was burgled. The one who is always quick to help and would never backbite. The one who is now struggling since her shop was burgled…”
“Florence, I don’t have fifty naira.”
“You don’t have fifty naira and you want to buy brocade?”
“Florence, why are you judging me? Is it because I told you I have a party to attend?”
“How can I not judge you Philomena? This is our friend I’m talking about. And she doesn’t need it to buy brocade, she wants to advance her business.”
“Florence, you’ve taken my friendship for granted. So because I tell you a few things about my life, you think you can tell me how to spend my money?”
Philomena stared coldly at her. “It’s alright, say no more. You don’t have the money.”
Franca was watching her friend Annabelle cry and it was disturbing. She had always known her to be strong and not given to emotions, so it was odd to see her tear herself apart over a misunderstanding with her mother.
“This pregnancy is changing you,” she said, patting her afro.
Annabelle sniffled. “What do you mean?”
“I mean this is not the Anna I know. Why are you crying over this matter? Will your mother not forget it afterwards?”
“I don’t think you heard everything I said. I told her that she was weak and that she had no plan to take care of us. I don’t think that she will ever forgive me for that.”
“Oh please! She will, all you need to do is show up at her doorstep with wrappers, a carton of rice, some beverages and money and she will adjust.”
“And what if she doesn’t adjust?”
“Then you leave her to come around. Look, you can’t blame yourself for her actions. Yes, you probably shouldn’t have said it to her face, but they were her actions. You spoke the truth, and you shouldn’t have to apologize for it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Look,” she exhaled as if she needed to weigh the impact of her next words. “I don’t want to say too much but this is really your fault.”
“What do you mean?”
“Anna, this Toye man is slowing you down. He’s changing you and I’m beginning to wonder if you didn’t make a mistake choosing him.”
“I don’t understand you.”
“You don’t understand? Alright, let me tell it as it is. If Toye had gone to your village with a big car along with a lot of gifts and money, Mama wouldn’t have come here to find you pregnant and living with him. Not to talk of the fact that he’s living in your house! What sort of man is that? I don’t know why he’s so slow to join Doyin, who does he think he’s impressing with his integrity? Every other week, Doyin tells me that he has no money, and I see how you spend your own money to clothe and feed him. Did we come to Abowu for this, what is wrong with you?”
Annabelle had stopped sniffling and stared at her hands.
“And then you allowed yourself to get pregnant? What were you thinking? A man who couldn’t take care of his naïve wife and baby? Doyin gives me everything I need but I have never even thought of getting pregnant once. What if he decides to go back to his wife? What happens then? Or what if he decides not to join Doyin, will you happily become the girlfriend of a poor man?”
At this Annabelle became afraid. “Franca, what do I do?”
“Give him no rest until he joins Doyin and as soon as he starts making some money, let him go and pay your bride price. When that is done, get all the money you can for your business. There’s a new shopping complex beside the AG Bank, you know it’s close to the GRA, you should get a shop there too. I already have two, and next month I’m going to Indonesia to buy fabrics.”
Annabelle stared at her.
“Look, these men are not reliable. I love Doyin but if anything unexpected happens tomorrow, I will be settled. Wake up and stop this rubbish you’re doing with Toye.”
Later that evening when Sewa showed up at Florence’s house, she was still miffed by Philomena’s response.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t get the money, the person I expected to give me the money disappointed me so much that I’m still angry about it.”
Sewa sat on the bench and held her head in her hands. “What will I do now?”
“I am so sorry Sewa,”
As Florence watched her walk away, she vowed to herself that she would find out Philomena’s secret and tell everyone who cared to know.
As Toye walked towards his rendezvous with Bala, he thought about how disastrous the previous evening had turned out. Annabelle’s mother had apparently discovered that her daughter was pregnant and that to add insult to injury, she was living with him without any dowry paid to her parents. Annabelle had tried to reason with her but the conversation had soon turned unpleasant and Toye was sorry that he had gone to Annabelle’s house.
“So this is what you’ve been doing here in the city? You’re living like a prostitute?”
“Mother, I am not a prostitute, and I do not live like one.”
“So what is he doing here?” She had asked, pointing at Toye as if he was scum.
“He’s just here to visit me…”
“You must think I am a fool, do you think that I have no eyes? Chai! And I’d been expecting you to talk about him coming to see your father. What are his clothes doing in that bucket?” She pointed at a bucket full of clothes soaked in detergent. “Or why are his slippers under the bed? Do you think that I didn’t see you sliding them under there? Ever since I got here, I’ve been telling myself that it is not what I think but seeing him here now has confirmed my fears. And you, young man,” she turned towards Toye who instinctively took a step back. “My God will judge you for using my daughter like this. Why have you not come to pay her dowry? You’re a police officer, are you not supposed to be law-abiding…?”
“Mother, please leave him alone. He did not force me to accept him here…”
“He’s living with you? What kind of man lives in his woman’s house? Police officer, don’t you have a house of your own…?”
“And yet you accepted him into your house, hmm, Annabelle? I am disappointed in you. Mr Police Officer, what is your name?”
“What kind of name is that? What village are you from, I hope you are not one of those Edo people?”
The older woman had widened her eyes, shrieked, and then plopped onto the bed. “Anabelle, you have disgraced me. What will I tell your father? How can you be sleeping with the enemy? Have you forgotten what these people did to our people? The war ended just five years ago…” her voice choked with emotion. “Just five years! How could you bring this disgrace upon us? They will cast me out of my age group association, your father will be mocked! Where have we gone wrong, after all I suffered with your father, how could you do this?”
Annabelle knelt beside her. “I love him mother…”
Her words were cut short by a slap, and the room echoed with the sound. Toye gaped at his girlfriend and her mother who had a malevolent look so striking that goose bumps rose all over his skin.
“Love. You love him? Did I not love your father and did he not hop after that Yoruba witch?”
Annabelle had stood up and looked down on her mother. “I am not you, I am not weak and my man is not your man. You had no business, no plan to take care of yourself or your children, but I have a thriving business. You were married for years and yet he hopped after the witch, I am not even married to him and he has made more sacrifices for me than I could have ever imagined. I am not you, I am strong.”
The other woman had cocked one eyebrow, smiled coldly, shuffled her feet into her slippers, gathered her few belongings and left the room without another word. Toye had tried to say something but the suddenness of everything stuck his tongue to his teeth.
He had been unable to sleep, Annabelle had taken the bed and he the long chair. Perplexing thoughts plagued his mind as he forced himself to focus on Annabelle and who she had been to him, he refused to ask questions or analyze anything. A few minutes before her alarm went off, he’d gotten up and crept out of the room before she woke up. But as he walked towards his own house, his mind finally succumbed to one nagging question, what kind of love fights off everyone?
Bala belched, filling Toye’s nostrils with the odor of digesting catfish pepper soup and beer. It was two hours to the close of the day, yet Bala was eating pepper soup and beer. He kept a straight face, held his breath momentarily and listened to the man.
“So you have to make weekly reports…”
“Weekly reports sir? How do I do that without arousing suspicion?”
“And how do you expect me to just assume that all is going according to plan? I have to see your progress, and if I don’t see them, I’m pulling you out of the case.”
Toye sat back in his chair and wondered if he was not taking on more than he could handle. Bala ate a piece of fish, wiped his chin with his palm and sat up.
“Remember the goal of this mission must always be on your mind. No matter how much money you see, don’t forget that the aim is to get incriminating evidence that will ensure we arrest all those criminals. I’m retiring in the next one year and I want to get these people.”
“By the way, that thing worked. Can you get me another one for, you know, a long-lasting effect?”
“I will see what I can do sir.”
“I thought you said you didn’t need my money,” Doyin sneered at Toye who stood opposite him outside the station.
“Things have changed.”
“Really? What changed?”
“Annabelle’s mother came to Abowu.”
Doyin stared at him in disbelief.
“She found out that she’s pregnant, they exchanged words and the woman packed her things and left her house in the night.”
“Franca didn’t tell me this.”
“It happened last night.”
“So now you want to borrow money from me? What do you want to use it for?”
“Am I a small boy? What sort of question is that?”
“I’ve said it countless times, you take things too personally.”
“Are you going to give me the money or not. You don’t have to insult me.”
Doyin laughed. “Who has insulted you? All I’m going to say is that you still owe me.”
Toye sighed “When are you going to take me to see this rich uncle of yours? Perhaps he can help me to set up a small business.”
“You want to meet my uncle?”
“Of course, I’m sure that as an elderly man, he can teach me a thing or two.”
Toye could see Doyin’s eyes twinkling with mischief, he knew that he thought he was unaware of the fact that this rich uncle was really the boss of a criminal gang. Toye was happy to see that his strategy to get Doyin’s attention had worked. All that was left was for him to take him straight into the world of compromised policemen and security operatives.