Annabelle stared at the glittering rings on her finger and smiled. In spite of all that had happened, her dream with Toye had come true. Her baby kicked within her and she giggled in appreciation, all was well with the world, and nothing could take away her joy. Clara had been right after all, all she had really needed to do was to make demands and give Toye an ultimatum.
The noise of a vehicle distracted her from her thoughts. She sat up and watched a black station wagon drive down towards her shop. It stopped and the driver stepped down. She smiled, the wagon was full of fabrics recently purchased from Indonesia. This had been Toye’s doing as well.
“Good morning, Madam.”
“Mr Sunday, you’re late. What happened?”
“Don’t be offended Madam, we had to come through another way, there are custom officials patrolling the roads. It seems that they’re trying to catch smugglers and if they saw us, they would have assumed that we smuggled your load.”
Annabelle frowned. “Smugglers?”
“Yes, I even heard that policemen were caught last night with several trucks of smuggled goods.”
Annabelle’s frown deepened, she had not seen Toye since the afternoon before. “Hmm.”
“Where should we put them madam?”
“There,” she pointed vaguely, and waited impatiently for them to finish unloading the wagon.
Becky was grating cassava chunks in the hot sun. She stopped and sighed, wiping her wet forehead. It was the first week of January and Toye had still not come. Mama had told her not to worry, that she would find a way of reaching him and talk some sense into him, but it seemed that had been an empty promise, because no one had talked about the letter since the day Fijabi had come to the house and the reproach she suffered from her in-laws had grown.
The night before, Funto had slapped her when she insisted on going to rest instead of doing her laundry, in the end, she had put her son on her back and walked to the grove to do it. Baba Abegunde had also taken to snapping at her for the slightest mistake and the rest of her husband’s siblings had used her like a servant. Becky remembered her mother’s words about suffering if she went with Mama and she wept. She knew that things would have been terrible living with her parents but she doubted that she would have had as much sorrow as she was experiencing with her in-laws.
Bolutife was playing beside her and she thought about Yomi’s words to her again. But Becky didn’t want to give up hope, she had learnt quite a lot since coming to Igba and she believed that all Toye needed was to see how much she had changed and give her another chance. Besides, Mama didn’t want her to leave.
She stopped pondering and continued grating the cassava.
“What happened? Did you not settle the customs officials?” Richard said to Edward. The gang sat in anxious silence as Richard yelled and paced the room. It was the middle of the afternoon but Richard looked drunk, he usually drank under pressure.
“I did Boss, the same amount. I even sent them some gifts to cushion the deal…”
“So why did they arrest our boys at the border? Including some of the police officers?”
Edward was equally surprised.
“They knew we were coming.” Jay, a grey-haired man with lean muscles said quietly. Everyone listened to him with disbelief clouding their faces. “You heard it all Boss, Edward settled them and even gave them gifts, just like before. The only thing I think could have happened is that a different set of customs officials were tipped off by one of us.”
“What are you saying?” Red Eyes asked. “That there’s a snitch amongst us?”
Jay stared straight at Richard. “Boss, think about it. This has never happened to us before.”
“Come with me,” Richard said, clomping out of the room.
“Who do you think could have done it?” Richard asked when they were in the garden.
“What about the new man?” Jay said.
“Hiring him is the only different thing we have done in the last few months.”
Richard considered it. “If he truly had anything to do with this, Doyin will wish he never laid eyes on me.”
“We don’t know if he escaped, I’m still waiting for my contact at the customs to let me know which of the policemen were arrested.”
“No news about Doyin too?”
“He traveled boss, remember he said he got a letter from home?”
“Find out what’s happening immediately, and if Toye was not part of the arrested men, bring him here. Get across to Doyin, he must come back to Abowu at once. We need to deal with the arrested policemen.”
Annabelle met Toye when she got home. He lay on the chair sleeping, cuts all over his face and arms. He’d drawn the curtains, making the room look darker than it should at six-thirty.
“Toye!” she cried.
As he sat up and adjusted himself on the chair, she asked him what had happened and why he hadn’t sent word to her.
“We were surrounded, I just managed to escape…”
“About four policemen were arrested. I was so worried…”
“I don’t know what happened, we settled them…” he said to himself.
“What happened to your arms and face?”
“The grass cut me. I had to run into the bush, they chased me. They almost caught me, but I ran.” He sighed and held his face in his hands. “I hope these people will not be the death of me.”
“I hope so too.”
“But you wanted me to do this didn’t you? Weren’t you aware of the danger you were putting me in?”
She moved away from him, “Are you blaming me?”
“I’m just saying don’t pretend to be surprised that this kind of thing is happening. You knew what you were asking me to do.”
“I’m hungry… is there anything in this room to eat?”
Annabelle got up from the chair. “I met you in the house didn’t I? You should have gone into the kitchen to check yourself.”
Toye watched her walk away and hissed.
“Something is not right,” Sewa said to Babatunde as they prepared to go to bed.
“What is wrong?” He asked, rubbing his eye and yawning.
“I feel as if I’m spending too much money on foodstuffs.”
“Why do you think so?”
“When I plan my budget, I think the foodstuff should be enough, in fact when the cooking begins, I think it would be too much, but when the customers come, it’s suddenly not enough and I have to send the women to buy more foodstuff.”
“You’re just starting the business, things like this are bound to happen. Don’t worry about it,” he yawned again.
“You don’t understand, the food is a lot when I’m cooking, does it mean that I’m suddenly feeding more people? What do you think could be happening? Babatunde…?”
He replied with a snore, she sighed.
Becky was asleep, a wrapper tied loosely on her chest. Bolutife was snoring gently beside her and sweating just as she was. The door creaked, someone had come in, their footsteps barely audible because of the mud floor. The person watched them, walking around their mat and closely observing them.
Becky woke up as soon as she felt the air on her chest, she wondered why Bolutife was hungry again so soon. When she saw who it was, she opened her mouth to scream but it was immediately stuffed with a piece of rag.
“Keep quiet and listen to me. My brother says he no longer wants you, but I can have you. Just say you’ll be mine and I’ll marry you. You can be a wife again.”
Becky tried to talk, but Dapo had clamped his hand on her mouth, the other one was on her neck. She tried to shake her head instead and began to push him off.
“I don’t know why you’re struggling with me. Is there anything special in you? Are you not a common girl that trapped my brother?”
Becky started to cry as she pinched his skin and tried to shut her legs. He started to grope her, giggling at his discoveries and urging her to be quiet. Then she remembered the oil lamp by her head, grabbed it and slammed it on his head. He shot up, held his head and groaned. In that moment of distraction, she kicked him in the groin and pushed him off with all her might.
“It will never be well with you,” she cried, getting on her feet. She tied her wrapper on her chest and wiped her face. “Dapo, I said it will not be well with you. So this is the kind of person you are, you didn’t even think about my baby!”
The door opened and Mama Abegunde hurried in, followed by her husband.
“What is happening here?” she asked in confusion.
“He came in here and wanted to force himself on me.”
“Dapo is that true?”
“I’m allowed to marry her, aren’t I?”
“Only if your brother is dead. Is your brother dead? Is she a widow?”
“You are a shameful child,” Baba Abegunde said and then turned to Becky. “It is enough. Tomorrow you will leave this house. You have brought enough sorrow to this house.”
Toye and Annabelle were asleep when there was a pounding on their door.
“Toye! Wake up! Wake up!” she whispered.
Toye grabbed a stick. “Who is it?” There was no answer but more pounding, he slowly opened the door but it was pushed open, flinging him to the ground. Two men burst into the room and shining torches in their faces.
“The boss wants to see you now.”
“Red Eye, is it you who is barging into my house at this time of the night?”
“How dare you talk to me? How dare you call my name?” he asked, hitting him in the face repeatedly. Annabelle started to scream but he slapped her face hard.
“Scream again and see what I’ll do.”
In the twinkling of an eye, the men picked up Toye and pulled him out of the room. By the time Annabelle recovered from the shock they were gone with him.