Abowu District Episode 30
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The family had gone out when Becky brought out the small pile of books that Yomi Makanjuola had given her. She made a mental note of her chores and checked to see if there was any that she had left undone.
“What kind of books are these?”
She looked at them, reading the titles out loud and wondering if they weren’t too advanced.
“The Magic of Thinking…?” She had never seen books like this before. Leaning her back against the wall of her room, she opened one and began to read, but the words were unfamiliar and hard to spell. Frustrated, she dumped them by her side and stared at the corrugated iron roof. The weather was hot and sticky and the heat from the roofing bore down on her. Beside her, Bolutife was sleeping and sweating, his little body rising and falling in peaceful rest.
What kind of life do you want for your child? Do you want him to grow up in the village that his father left?
She hadn’t been able to get Yomi’s voice out of her head, and the more she thought about what he had said, the more she realized that her life was going in the exact opposite direction of what she had desired. She had wanted to escape the poverty and hopelessness of her father’s house yet here she was, stuck in a village with no hope of getting out soon or the life she wanted.
“How can I even leave? What will Mama say?” she wondered. The old woman had taken a chance on her, bringing her to the village to recuperate and she didn’t want to disappoint her.
“Three children are playing!
They are playing!
Three children are playing!
They are playing!”
Becky got up to look outside the window. There were three children indeed, naked and running around the street with crudely made kites. They were between the ages of seven and nine and she wondered why they were not in school before she realized that there was only one school in the community that had been razed by marauding cows. The children did not have any hope of attending school. She sighed and sat back down as her eyes fell on the books. She picked them up again.
Florence was in awe of Philomena’s home. She had never seen a color television before, neither had she seen a carpet before. She stared at the intricate red and brown pattern and dug her fingers in the soft armchair the servant had settled her in. Still spellbound, she raised her eyes to the chandelier and gazed at the twinkling yellow lights in the glass.
Someone cleared their throat and she sat up self-consciously. It was the servant. “Madam said I should bring this,” he said.
She watched him set down a tray on a low black stool beside her. There was a cold bottle of Coca Cola, and a plate of fried fish and roasted groundnuts.
As soon as she was sure that he was gone, she brought out a piece of paper from her bag, put the fishes in and placed it back in her bag. Philomena came in some moments later.
“Didn’t Alfred give you some fish?” she asked seeing just the groundnuts in the plate.
“Oh, he did. I’ve eaten them.”
“Alright…” Philomena replied unconvinced.
“Sit down and tell me how to be rich!” Florence said earnestly, setting the refreshments aside.
“Is that why you don’t want to take your refreshments? Relax, there is a lot for you to learn.”
The front door opened and a man came in with a briefcase.
“Good afternoon madam,” he said.
“Obi, you people are back?”
“Yes madam, Oga will soon come in…”
The door opened again and Uche came into the house. He was frowning.
“Good afternoon sir,” Florence got up.
“Welcome dear,” Philomena said.
“Hmm,” he replied neutrally and walked in without another word.
Florence looked askance at her friend.
“Let me go and see him, he must be tired from his trip. Alfred will bring you more fish.”
“What is that woman doing here?” Uche said as soon as he heard the door open.
“Welcome my husband. I invited her…”
“You invited her. Are you stupid?”
“My husband…” Philomena got on her knees and clasped her hands. “Please let me explain.”
“Explain.” He took off his belt and rolled it around his hand.
“She said she wanted to be rich like us. Then I thought about those goods, the ones we just got from the border. I thought it would be good for us if she sold them. She’s very good at selling things… she will give us half of the profit…”
Uche let down his hand and smiled at her. “So you can think like this?”
“I thought about us…”
“You did, I am very happy. I’ve been worried about how we would sell those goods.”
Philomena smiled. “Let me go and serve your food…”
“Not yet, come and lie down, I had a very long trip.”
“Let her wait.”
Florence hummed around the house and sang of miracles and a better life. Her husband, Wole, a schoolteacher, couldn’t mark his scripts.
“What is making you so happy?”
“Things are about to get better for us in this family.”
“How is that going to happen?”
“I went to see my friend, Philomena, the one I told…”
“I know Philomena.”
“Yes, she has promised to give me some goods to sell. She will even give me a shop to sell them in.”
“And what did you say?”
“What do you think I told her? I told her I was grateful.”
“But you told me you thought there was something fishy about her.”
“I don’t think there’s anything fishy about her.”
“Philomena. Sit down and let us think about this. What kinds of goods is she asking you to sell and why can’t she sell everything on her own?”
“Wole, what sort of questions are these?”
“These are questions you should have asked her. Why is she being kind to you when she wasn’t good to Sewa? Or isn’t that what you told me?”
“Look, this is all I know, I don’t want to live like this anymore…”
“Live like how? I know we don’t have everything but we’re happy…”
“We are, or you are? Look, there are people who are rich in this life and they don’t have two heads. Why can’t we want more?”
“Why should we want more? We can’t all be rich…”
“Well, I want to be rich, I don’t know about you.”
“Florence, don’t accept those goods from her.”
“You must be joking. I will accept it and we will all enjoy the money.”
“I don’t want her money.”
“Where do you think the fish you ate with your food came from? Sit there deceiving yourself. Christmas is this week, do you have money for us to spend? Or are we all going to share two eggs again? I did not come to this life to suffer, I’m taking those goods.”
“And if they are illegal?”
“They can’t be illegal.”
Christmas was two days away, yet the joy of the season was absent from the relationship between Annabelle and Toye. Annabelle cried continuously and Toye avoided her, not wanting to say something unkind to her. The shame of what had happened at Annabelle’s parents’ and the debt he had incurred weighed on his mind and for the first time, he began to think that he had made a mistake leaving Becky for her.
He pulled on his trousers, thinking about how he would get his weekly report to Bala unnoticed when Annabelle began to moan.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know, I just feel pain.” she held her hand on her abdomen and curled up on the bed.
“When did you start feeling this?” he asked, going over to her side.
“This morning but it has become unbearable.”
“What did you eat?”
“We ate the same thing…” she moaned again.
“Try to sit up…” he helped her up and that was when they saw the blood stain on her gown.
“Toye…! The baby!”
“What do I do?” he asked anxiously.
Annabelle started to cry.
Toye stroked Anabelle’s head and held her hand. A nurse ran past them with a file in her hands.
“I’m sorry Toye, I’ve put you in so much trouble…”
“Stop talking, you need to stop thinking about that. The doctor says you need to rest. Don’t bother about anything, I want my baby to be alright.”
“I should have just kept quiet. I wouldn’t have brought this shame upon us.”
“What is going to happen to us Toye? My parents have refused to accept you. Is this baby going to be a bastard? Will I never marry you?”
“Yes you will…”
“How? You heard all my father said.”
“We’re going to get married in the court. Just the two of us, Clara and Doyin.”
She stopped crying and looked at him.
“We don’t need our parents to consent to our love. They will accept us when they are ready. But for now, we have our lives to live.”
Annabelle smiled. “You really love me.”
“Don’t you know that by now?”
It was a few days to the end of the year and Becky was depressed. She still hadn’t heard from or seen Toye.
“We have a letter from your husband,” Dapo, Toye’s youngest brother said to her, standing by the doorway. “Mama is calling you.”
At the front of the house, the family had gathered to hear from Toye. Fijabi, the postman had the letter in his hands. Becky wondered why no one had called her to read the letter but shrugged the concern off.
“He says he has sent some money to you.”
“Yes, you just gave that to us,” Baba Abegunde said.
“He also sends his greetings to everyone. He says that very soon, he will send for Funmi.”
Funmi danced in her seat to the annoyance of Funto.
“He also says that the beverages are for Baba and Mama.”
“Didn’t he ask about me?” Becky asked.
“Why don’t you keep quiet and let’s hear what the man has to say. Has he finished reading the letter?” Dapo said.
“As I was saying, he also says that Dapo should take start preparing for his exams…”
“I’ve told him that I don’t want to go to school. I want to do business.” the young man murmured.
“And lastly, he says that Becky and her son should be allowed to go back to her parents. He says and I quote, “let us accept that what happened between us was a mistake and go our separate ways.” That is the end of the letter.”
“He didn’t say when he would be coming home?”
“Thank you,” Baba Abegunde said solemnly. “A mistake?” he said when Fijabi had left. “Mama Toye, do you hear that? Your son says she was a mistake.”
Mama Abegunde’s eyes were on Becky. She was sitting still, staring at the sand.