“Mr. Carlton gave me a loan, and the strange thing is that I didn’t have to ask him for it. He came to my shed and we started talking, then he asked about your business and I told him what the landlord was threatening to do.”
“What would we do without Mr. Carlton?” she replied indifferently.
“What is wrong?”
“What if I fail Babatunde? What if people don’t like my food? What if they don’t like the restaurant? What if my cooks steal the foodstuff? I’ve heard so many stories, what if I don’t make profits? What if I can’t repay Mr Carlton…?”
Babatunde held her hands and sat by her. “You have to believe in yourself Sewa, nobody can do that for you. You have to stop being afraid of failing. I don’t know why you can’t see what others see, what I see. Yes, there will be hard times but you mustn’t let that discourage you from the good times. This is not beyond you, I believe in you so much, but you have to believe in yourself too.”
“If you think that you’re not good enough, why do you think that Simbi is doing all she’s doing? She knows that you’re better than she is.”
“She’s just jealous…”
“Because she knows that you’re better. Look, stop worrying about so many things and take it one day at a time.”
Toye was nervous but he tried not to show it. He took a sip from the beer before him and looked up at the wall clock opposite him. The conversation around him was rowdy, there were about ten men in the room, four he identified as policemen from other stations. They all looked older and experienced than him. Some of them were smoking cigarettes and he almost choked from the cloud of smoke circling in the atmosphere. They talked about politics, women and the price of crude oil in the international market. Toye realized that he barely knew anything about their conversation, apart from that about women. He didn’t listen to international news or pay attention to the politics of the country.
“Doyin, who is this friend of yours who can’t even talk? All he does is sip his one bottle of beer and stare at the boss’s clock. Does he have somewhere else to be or is the clock the most beautiful thing he has ever seen?” A lanky, bloodshot-eyed man said.
“Don’t mind him,” Doyin said. “He’s from the village, he’s not aware of what is going on in his environment. But he’s a very sharp man.”
“This one doesn’t look sharp at all.”
Doyin laughed and took a swig from his beer. “Don’t be fooled by his calm demeanor.”
“How old is he?”
“Red Eyes, what sort of question is that?” Doyin replied with mild irritation. “He’s old enough to be here.”
“Can’t he speak for himself?”
“I told you, he’s sharp, he doesn’t waste his breath on small talk.”
“So I’m making small talk, little man, is that so?” Red Eye said to Toye who simply sipped his drink and continued to stare at the wall clock.
“Am I not talking to you, little man?”
Toye boiled with anger but he knew that he couldn’t afford to lose control, he was not here to pick fights with drunk men. But Red Eye wanted to take things as far as he could. He shot up and stood before Toye.
“I’m talking to you, how dare you ignore me as if I don’t exist?”
Toye exhaled, wiped his eyes and spoke in a tired voice, so that Red Eye felt even more insulted by what seemed like Toye’s condescending response to him.
“What do you want?”
“What do I want?” Red Eye asked incredulously and raised his hand to hit Toye.
“Red Eye…” Toye heard a deep, full voice call sharply. “You want to hit my guest, how drunk are you?”
The man standing behind Red Eye was round and short with an ebony complexion. He had yellow stained teeth that stood out against his dark skin when he smiled. His loose brown shirt cascaded over his large stomach and a cigar dangled from between his thick fingers. He was flanked by two heavyset men with cloudy eyes.
“Good day sir,” Toye rose up swiftly and bowed to the man. Red Eye slid away from him.
“So you’re the police officer who Doyin has been talking about. I can see what you see Doyin.”
“I knew you would be impressed boss.” Doyin was on his feet too.
“Young man, come with me.”
Toye followed the man as he waddled out of the house towards the small garden by the side of the compound. A gentle breeze ruffled the fragrance of the flowers into a mysterious, relaxing aroma. The man sat in an iron chair cushioned with pillows and pointed at the chair in front of him.
“Tell me about yourself.”
Toye hadn’t thought that he would have to talk about himself, he cleared his throat and began to speak. Giving vague descriptions about his life, his strengths and the frustrations he experienced.
“So you need money?”
“’What do you want to do with the money when you get it?”
Toye heard a grunt and a disturbance from the trees beside the garden and he turned to see the two men he had assumed were the boss’s bodyguards dragging Red Eye by his arms. They dumped him before the boss and he saw that his face was bloodied, his nose had been broken and there was a deep gash on his cheeks. Toye stared at him aghast, wondering when he had been beaten and why.
“The next time you raise your hands to my guest again, I will cut it off.”
“Yes boss,” Red Eye replied in between breaths, his mouth dripping with blood.
“Get him out of here.”
“I’m sorry boss,” Red Eye said.
As they dragged him away, the boss asked again. “So what do you want to use the money for?”
Toye’s mouth suddenly felt dry, he licked his lip and thought well about his answer. “Well… I want to take care of my parents and my woman.”
“Don’t you want to start a business?” the man asked with a strange look in his eyes.
“No sir… I feel that I already have a job. I don’t know how to do business.”
“Hmm. Did your colleague tell you what we do?”
“He didn’t say much sir, he only told me that I have to be brave.”
“I like you, I don’t why, but I do.” He took a drag from his cigarette and exhaled. “Follow Doyin, let him teach you what we do. Follow him and you will do well.”
“I don’t need to tell you what will happen to traitors do I?”
“No sir, I understand completely.”
The man laughed and took another drag from his cigar. As he walked away, a woman came out from the trees and sat in his place.
“I don’t like him.”
“You don’t like anybody.”
“Richard, I don’t like this one, there’s just something about him.”
“Thank goodness, you’re not me, you would kill everybody.”
“I don’t like him. Give me a cigarette.”
It had been three weeks since Toye had agreed to work with Doyin, and even though he hadn’t gone out on any operation, he had become a beneficiary of the proceeds of the activities. His tasks had been restricted to closing cases, letting arrested suspects out of jail and tampering with evidence. He wasn’t hard pressed for money and it made him less cranky but things between him and Annabelle were strained since the night she and her mother had exchanged words and he knew that she blamed him for it.
He sat in the long chair in her room and watched her clean up after dinner. Her abdomen was barely protruding and he couldn’t help but wonder at the difference between her and Becky. She picked up the bowl of water on the table and made to walk away when he held her hand.
“Can you sit down?”
“Now? I want to drink some water.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll get it. Sit down.”
“What is it Toye?”
“I just want to talk to you. You’re angry with me aren’t you?”
“I don’t understand you, do I look angry?”
“Things haven’t been the same between us since your mother came here and you know it. Have I disappointed you? Let us talk about it, I don’t want there to be any fighting between us.”
“I am disappointed Toye, I must be frank with you. Sometimes I think that my mother is right. I mean, what plans do you have for us? By the time the pregnancy starts showing, the women in the compound will being to mock me and say that I got pregnant out of wedlock. Why won’t you do the right thing?”
“I want to do the right thing, just give me two more weeks, and I promise you that we will go to your father’s house and I will pay your bride price.”
“Are you sure Toye?”
“Yes, I am very sure, and very soon, we will move out of this room to a two bedroom flat.”
“Two bedrooms? What if we have guests?”
“Alright, it will be a three bedroom flat then.”
“Are we going to move into the house before you see my parents? Because you know that I cannot marry you under my own roof. You have to provide a house for us.”
Toye knew that this would be practically impossible without borrowing from Doyin yet again but he said, “Whatever you want, I will do. It might take longer than two weeks because I have to get the money but I will do it because I want to make you happy.”
The year 1975, was coming to a close, it had been almost two months since Becky came to live in Igba with her husband’s family and she was bored. Mama Abegunde still wouldn’t let her do much apart from breastfeeding and taking care of her baby. She had recently began washing her clothes and her baby’s and although she felt pain when she sat, she enjoyed the feeling of being able to do something to get her mind of Toye and the issues in their marriage, especially when she did it in the grove beside the Adan stream.
On a relatively cool afternoon, after she had put her son to sleep, she gathered the clothes that needed washing and announced to her mother-in-law that she was going to the stream.
“Don’t be long, no one in this house can breastfeed your child.”
At the stream, she began to wash and think of Toye when a man walked up towards her with a jerrycan.
“Good day,” he greeted.
“Good day,” she replied, noticing his polished shoes and clean shirt. His skin was smooth and fresh looking and she wondered where he had come from. He got to the banks of the stream and stared at the mud, wondering if he should walk into it with his shoes or take them off. Becky noticed his discomfiture and said out loud.
“The mud won’t bite, but I think you should take off your shoes.”
The man stared at her, wondering how a village girl was able to speak articulately. She watched him take off his shoes meticulously, roll up his trousers and walk gingerly in the mud. Becky began to chuckle when he walked into the muddy water and clumsily got some water into the jerrycan. Again, she watched him put on his shoes and got caught staring at him.
“You’ve never seen a man put on his shoes?”
“No, I have never seen a man who was afraid of mud.”
“I wasn’t afraid of the mud.”
“Hmm,” she giggled and set aside the cloth she was washing.
“I’m going to Chief Makanjuola’s house. Do you know how I can get there?”
“Who are you to him?”
He exhaled in frustration, wondering why she was being nosy but knowing that she probably wouldn’t help if he didn’t tell her.
“I’m his grandson.”
“Oh… I see the resemblance…” Yet she wondered how a grandson wouldn’t know the way to his grandfather’s house.
He nodded impatiently. “How do I get there?”
“Yes, you walk down this road and keep going straight until you see three palm trees, then you go left until you get to village clinic and then turn right at the junction. His house is the third one on the left, there’s a tree, and I think it is a …”
“Mango tree. I remember it now.”
“You’ve been there before?”
“Thank you,” he replied curtly and walked away from her.
Later that evening, a bunch of bananas were sent to Becky from the Makanjuola compound. When Becky explained why they had been sent, Funto eyed her.
“I hope you’re not flirting with another man, right under your father-in-law’s roof.”