Becky was eating too fast, swallowing morsels of amala faster than she was scooping them from the plate. Sewa had offered to carry Bolutife, and even he was trying to suck her fingers. She observed the young mother and wondered about her. Her clothes were faded and there was a tear at the back of one arm.
Becky stopped to drink some water and that was when she noticed how intently Sewa was staring at her. She exhaled self-consciously and paused from her eating, staring at the small piece of meat left in the plate.
Sewa couldn’t help her curiousity. “Where are you coming from? Where are you going to?”
“It’s a long story…”
“I’m not in a hurry. Wash your hands.”
Becky started to tell her story after she had settled her son at her breast. Sewa’s eyes and mouth widened at several points, and when Becky started to cry when she talked about her mother’s rejection, she cried too.
“How old are you again?”
“I turned sixteen last September.”
“Only sixteen? So where are you going now?”
“I don’t know, but I’m thinking of sleeping in a church. I don’t know if there’s any one close by.”
“Don’t worry about that. You’ll come to my house.”
“You’ll let me sleep in your house?”
Becky got on her knees and started to cry again. “Thank you, thank you!”
Annabelle couldn’t sleep, she watched Toye sleeping fitfully, his face swollen and bruised. She wondered if his nose wasn’t broken and if the gash on his cheek would heal. His afro stood out all over his head in tufts and the cuts from his encounter in the bush were reddened. He stirred in his sleep and murmured something incoherent, his face bunching up in fear.
She sighed and rubbed her face, the place that Red Eye had slapped her still hurt. Toye’s words came to her mind again, but you wanted me to do this didn’t you? Weren’t you aware of the danger you were putting me in?
“Is it my fault that I wanted us to have a good life?” she asked herself as the clock ticked away. Wondering what she would have done if Toye had been killed, she concluded that maybe the life she had persuaded him into wasn’t the best after all. Her parents had left her to her devices, Toye had almost been killed twice and was now probably resentful of her. The money she had wanted them to have had not come in as abundantly as she had hoped and life seemed not much different and perhaps worse than the one she had known before Toye.
“Annabelle, what is it?”
She sat up startled, not aware that Toye had woken up.
“What woke you?”
“Nothing, I just did.” He tried to sit up but the pain in his body forced him to lie back.
“Lie still. You don’t need to get up yet.”
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“You look… tired.”
“My face looks bad?”
She nodded, unable to express how she truly felt about it. “This is all my fault, I pushed you to do this.”
He held out his hand towards her. “Come and lie down beside me.” She did as he wished, crying as he wiped her face. “This is not your fault.”
“But you said…”
“I said what I said because I was angry…”
“But this wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t told you to join them.”
“I made the decision to join, so if you want to blame yourself, you must blame me too.”
“Can you leave the gang now?”
He laughed. “No, I can’t. Everything will be alright, don’t worry.”
Florence wrapped her scarf around her head and examined the result in the mirror. She smiled, satisfied with the contrast of the light green fabric to her dark skin and reached for her gold necklace. It was going to be a good day, the first day her new shop would be open for business.
“So you’re really going to do this,” her husband Wole, said, standing a little distance from her and watching.
“It’s a new year, and I am expectant. I am going to live a good life this year. I won’t let an opportunity pass me by because of what you think.”
“But this is not about what I think, this is what you used to think too. Weren’t you the one who told me…?”
“Look Wole, I was wrong, I thought I knew what was happening but I was wrong.”
“Now you are wrong? Now? Just now?”
“It is too late for all this talk, I am starting the business already. Are you going to come and see the place or not?”
Wole adjusted his tie and carried a small pile of books. “No, I am not going to be a part of this.”
Florence laughed. “I will see if you will say that when I make dinner today.”
“You’re a greedy woman. So, your story has changed because you were shown a few notes…”
Florence stopped smiling. “A few notes that you have never seen in your life! It is easy for you to talk to me like this when you have never seen what I have seen. I have told you, I won’t live like a wretched person anymore. I am going to live well whether or not you want to. So if you don’t want to come and see my shop, that’s fine but don’t pretend that you don’t like this life, because I don’t recall you ever rejecting all the benefits of the money that Philomena has given me.”
“Then you will see me rejecting things from now on.”
“Good. Take off the shirt you’re wearing. The undershirt, pants and trousers too. I just bought them for you from Philomena’s money.”
Wole hissed and pushed past her. Florence smiled and put on her necklace.
Toye was surprised to see Bala at his door.
“Sir? What are you doing here?” He looked out of the room and glanced sideways.
“Relax, I wasn’t followed. Remember, I have been doing this job before you were in elementary school.”
“Sir, what is the problem?” He asked when they were settled in the room.
“Who beat you up like this?”
“It’s a long story.”
“Well you can tell me now, there’s no one else here.”
Toye gave him a quick rundown of all that had happened. Bala was stunned. “So they killed Red Eye?”
“Yes, and dumped his body in the canal.”
He whistled and scratched his head. “I don’t know if you should still continue this case.”
“I can’t pull out now.”
“Yes you can, you can tell them that you don’t want to be a part of their business based on what they’ve done to you.”
Toye smiled and shook his head. “I’ve earned their trust, I’m closer than ever before. Besides, they know where I live, they know my wife, I can’t leave now. I must out them all in prison first.”
“Alright, I see your point. Anyway, I came for another reason.”
Toye’s eyebrows bunched together in confusion.
“That thing has happened again, can you get me the herbs as soon as possible?”
“You heard me, get me the herbs as soon as possible.” He saw the look of disappointment on the young man’s face and said, “Look on the bright side, it is a cover for us to talk in the open.”
Becky had reached an agreement with Sewa, she waited tables, cleaned the restaurant and washed the dishes in exchange for free meals and a place to sleep. The work was draining but it gave her a sense of purpose and she was happy to have a place to sleep and some of the money that benevolent customers gave her.
Sewa was good to her, giving her clothes and nappies for herself and Bolutife. She would also briefly talk about how she was getting along and ask if she was in need of anything. Everything was alright, except for the fact that there was no time to go and look for Toye. There was also the trouble she faced with the women in the kitchen.
From the onset, they had seemed displeased that Becky was too close to Sewa. They wondered if she wasn’t too young for the work and if she wouldn’t steal the foodstuff? She had overheard their conversation with Sewa, on her second day, as she was about to return a pile of plates.
“She will stay here, that is my decision,” Sewa had said.
The women frustrated her, sending her on several bogus errands, especially when the cooking was being done, right before the service. Becky didn’t understand why they were so antagonistic towards her. She tried her best to do whatever she was told, but it didn’t stop them from making snide remarks about her motherhood status, or snapping at her for no apparent reason.
It had been two weeks since she walked into Sewa’s store, she walked to a table and asked for the order. The customers were a young couple, newly married it seemed from the way the woman glanced at her rings several times. But it was the man who caught her attention. He was as tall as Toye and had an afro as well.
“We’ve made our order,” the woman said a little too loudly, slightly amused by the intensity of Becky’s stare.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “He looks like someone I used to know.”
She proceeded to the kitchen, opening the door absentmindedly so that she barely made a sound. She couldn’t get Toye out of her mind. She had been standing for a few seconds before she realized what was going on before her. The women were scooping meat and stew from the pan on the fire into smaller containers and hiding them under their clothes. They were too caught up in their activity to notice Becky who quickly stepped out of the kitchen. She had heard Sewa complain endlessly about the food suddenly not being enough and now she knew why. She also knew that she owed it to her to report what was going on. But would Sewa believe her?
Two days later Becky realized that Sewa deserved to know what was happening, she also had proof. She’d observed the women and knew when they stole the foodstuff. She had to get Sewa’s attention at the right time and direct her to the kitchen so that she could see with her own eyes what they did.
On the day that Becky had decided to tell Sewa what had been happening to the foodstuff, a familiar face showed up at the restaurant. Doyin, her husband’s friend had come into the restaurant with three other people. She had been so happy to see him that she greeted him with both knees on the ground, as a sign of deference to her husband’s friend.
Doyin looked surprised to see her, almost as if he didn’t recognize her. “Is this the treatment everybody gets here in this restaurant?” he’d asked to the amusement of his companions.
“It is me sir, don’t you remember? Becky…”
She saw a glimpse of recognition in his eyes before it turned to repulsion. “Are you in your right mind? I don’t know you. Get up and take our orders please.”
“Doyin, give your girlfriend some money, they always need money.” One of his companions said.
Doyin now looked furious. “My girlfriend, this small girl? In fact, I don’t want you to take our order, call someone else!”
Becky had walked away dejectedly, and called on someone else. She’d cried shortly in the bathroom before carrying on with her duties. A short while later, she stepped outside to empty the bin when she felt a hand on her arm. It was a small boy.
“Someone is calling you, he’s waiting for you in that building. He said he knows where your husband is.”
The boy had disappeared by the time she looked down at where he had been. Curious, she walked to the three story building and found Doyin in the lobby.
“Becky,” He said familiarly.
She wasn’t sure what to make of his changed behavior.
“You’ve changed! Is this you?” he said, his eyes running down her body. “You’ve become a woman…”
“Where is my husband?”
“He’s not interested in you anymore.”
“Just tell me where he is. Maybe I can convince him…”
“He’s married now…” he replied distractedly, his eyes still on her.
“Married? How can that be? His parents did not present another bride price before another family…”
“They got married in the court.” He moved closer to her, rummaging his pockets. “Take this money. Get yourself nice clothes and… where do you live?”
“I…” For some reason, Becky didn’t want to tell him where she was living.
“You don’t want to tell me? Alright, I will come and eat at the restaurant again. Just use this money to get yourself some nice clothes.”
“But where is Toye?”
“Forget Toye, his new wife is pregnant. He doesn’t want you anymore. He doesn’t know what he’s missing.”
Becky saw the way he was licking his lips, his eyes still on her. She grabbed his hand and put the money back in it. “I don’t want the money, thank you.”
Then she ran away, not wanting him to see the tears in her eyes.