Sewa found Becky crying at the back of the restaurant desperately wiping incessant tears.
She turned round to see Sewa holding Bolutife, he had tears on his cheeks too.
“He has been crying, where did you go? Why are you crying?”
“I…” Becky wrung her hands and took her child from Sewa who watched her curiously as she sat on a low stool and breastfed him.
“Why are you crying?”
The backdoor opened and one of the cooks came out. “Madam, someone is looking for you.”
“I don’t know him. He says he want to meet the owner of the restaurant and he looks important.”
Sewa walked towards the table by the window, wondering who the mysterious visitor was.
“Good afternoon,” she greeted.
“Good afternoon madam,” A portly man with a bushy mustache said. “I am Chief Lanleyin, are you the owner of this restaurant?”
Sewa hesitated before she could respond, right next to Chief Lanleyin was Mr. Olasehinde, the man from the Ministry of Works who had terminated her contract with them and sabotaged another at the Ministry of Agriculture. She glared at him monetarily before smiling at Chief Lanleyin.
“Yes, I’m the owner of this place.”
“What a beautiful woman!”
Sewa smiled politely. “I hope you’re enjoying the food sir?”
“Oh yes, I am. In fact, I want you to cater for my friends and I. It is my sixtieth birthday in three weeks and I don’t want any other person to cook the food. Everyone must taste this good cooking.”
Sewa was elated. “Thank you sir, I am grateful! I will not disappoint you.”
“Yes, take my card…” He dug his hands in the pockets of his agbada and extricated a white card. “Come and see me as soon as possible. I want us to finalize everything, I’m sure my wife would also like to see you.”
“Thank you sir.”
As she walked away she wondered why Olasehinde had said nothing to ruin the proposition.
Becky held the card that Yomi had given her and scribbled the address on it on the envelope before her. It had taken her a while to decide to write him. For some reason she had felt that contacting him would prove her sister-in-law right, but she now realized that being a waitress wasn’t her life’s dream and she ultimately had to do something about it. Although she was grateful for Sewa’s benevolence she knew that it wasn’t the way to giving her son the life she wanted for him.
She leaned against the wall behind her and allowed herself to be lulled by the crickets just outside the window.
The curtain that screened the passageway parted. Sewa peeked out of it.
“Are you awake?”
“Yes ma, I am.”
She walked towards her and sat on the chair beside the mattress where Becky and her baby slept.
“You wanted to tell me something yesterday.”
“Yes, but I also wanted to talk to you about something else.”
Sewa looked doubtfully at her.
“It’s about the women in the kitchen.”
“What about them?”
“I found them stealing the food after cooking it. I’ve been watching them for some days now. I can show you when they do it.”
Sewa’s body began to tremble with anger. “Are you sure of what you’re saying?”
“Yes, I am very sure ma. I can show you tomorrow.”
Doyin dropped by to see Toye at home, three days after he had seen Becky.
“You look like you don’t want to see anyone.”
Toye slumped on the sofa and rubbed his eyes. Doyin sat beside him.
“I just woke up.”
“I wish I were in your shoes.”
“You mean you wish you had lied that your mother had a stroke? You wish you were the one who was beaten up by Red Eye and the others?”
Doyin laughed. “I didn’t think about that.”
“Why are you in such a bad mood?”
“I swear, I can barely lift any part of my body without feeling intense pain.”
“Are you still in that much pain? Rebecca will have potent herbs for the pain…”
“That reminds me, I need something else from Rebecca…”
“Don’t tell me that you need those other herbs again?”
Doyin stared at him. “But you said your body…”
“It’s not for me.”
“Since when did you become an herb contractor?”
“You wouldn’t understand…”
“Because you’re lying and you’re getting it for yourself.”
Toye waved dismissively, as if trying to shoo his words away. “Just get me a bottle from her. The person needs it quickly.”
The men sat in silence for a while before Doyin asked.
“So when are you resuming?”
“I’m sure Bala will send for you immediately. Make sure you maintain my story.”
“I’m not a small boy Doyin, you don’t need to tell me what to say. What’s been happening at the station?”
Doyin laughed. “Alright. Well, what has happened is that some people came to report another robbery in Alafia.”
Toye slid into his chair. “Did we have to rob Alafia again? What will I tell Bala?”
“Wait until you see what Uche and his men got. By the time you get your share you won’t complain anymore. Anyway, Bala will most likely tell you to find a solution to it and you must decide what you will tell him. Apart from that, nothing much has been going on.”
Again they were silent. Doyin spoke first.
“Franca wants to get pregnant. She’s beginning to wonder if something is not wrong with me. She said, ‘Toye impregnates his women without delay. Why can’t you do that?’ I asked her if she wanted me to try another woman out.”
It was Toye’s turn to laugh.
“And what did she say to that?”
Doyin waved his hand uninterestedly. “Don’t mind her.”
“You should be grateful that she isn’t like Becky who didn’t bother to ask me if it was alright to get pregnant or not.”
“When last did you see her?”
Toye looked at him. “Why are you asking that question? I haven’t seen her since the week she had her child. I set myself free from her.”
“So you don’t think about her?”
“Why should I think about her when I have Annabelle?”
“So you won’t be bothered if you hear that she’s remarried?”
“Someone else can have that dirty girl.”
Doyin simply smiled.
Sewa sat with her arms crossed, she shook her legs. The three cooks guilty of theft were on their knees, appealing to her.
“Please madam, we didn’t mean to steal. It is poverty that drove us to it. Our children are starving.”
Sewa was ready to let the three cooks go, it was the end of the day and her husband Babatunde was with her, listening to the women and thinking that his wife should give them another chance.
“Are you the only one with children?” she asked.
“Please madam,” another cook begged. “May you not watch your children starve.”
“Please excuse us.” Babatunde said to them. The women cried out of the restaurant, holding their heads and begging God for mercy.
“If you let them all go, where will you get new cooks?”
“I will manage with Becky. I can’t stand thieves, and ungrateful thieves for that matter.”
“I know, I know, but we must face reality. You and Becky cannot handle all the cooking…”
“Then I will employ temporary hands.”
“You don’t know how that will go.” He held her hands. “People make mistakes, give them another chance.”
And Sewa did.
Florence sat opposite Philomena in the restaurant beside the governor’s office. She glanced around the room, awed by the socialites, politicians and the other well-dressed diners. She heard Philomena giggle and she looked back at her.
“Florence! Stop embarrassing me! Must you stare at everyone?”
“I’m sorry. I have only heard about these people or seen them in the newspaper.”
“This is where the big people eat.”
Florence exhaled. “Philomena, thank you for showing me this good life. I really appreciate you.”
“You’re welcome. What are friends for? How is business, I hope our share of the profits is coming in?”
“You don’t have anything to worry about. I will send my bookkeeper to you tomorrow.”
“I’m glad to hear that.”
The waitress came to take their orders, followed by a younger waiter who brought them some wine.
“Have you heard from your friend?”
“Which one?” Florence asked, sipping her wine.
“It’s been a very long time since I head form her. You know how business is, one doesn’t have time for certain things anymore.”
“I understand my sister.” Philomena held up her glass and made a mock toast to her. Florence laughed.
“I understand certain things now, things are different when one had something tangible doing.”
“People see things differently when they are in a better position. I’ve stopped feeling guilty because people don’t understand me. That’s their concern, I do what I need to do to move on in my life and leave them behind.”
“That is what I’m doing too, especially with my husband. He doesn’t really support the business and I think it’s because he’s jealous.”
Philomena had nothing to say to that. “Forget all that, let us eat.”
Becky and Sewa were cleaning the restaurant. It was early in the morning and they had just arrived at the shop.
“I wonder where these women are. They should be here by now, cleaning the pepper and preparing the meat.”
“I wonder why they are late too, it’s unlike them to be this late.”
“I told Babatunde that these people weren’t worth it,” she muttered.
The door opened and two men strode in.
“We’re looking for Mrs Sewa Olaiya.”
“Yes? I’m the one.”
“We’re from the Abowu Food Control Agency.”
Sewa frowned. “What can I do for you please?”
“I am Detective Cole and this is Detective Ofor.” A slim short man said, producing his I.D, followed by his older-looking colleague. “We received information from a reliable source that you instruct your cooks to put contraband seasoning in your soups in order for it to taste well.”
“Please come with us madam, we would like to discuss a few things with you.” Detective Cole said.
Sewa stared at Becky and began to shake her head in disbelief. “Me? Who told you this? I would never do such a thing.”
The men stepped closer to her.
“Madam,” Detective Ofor said in a sharp voice. “Please come willingly, let us not use force.”
Sewa started to cry as they led her out. “Please call my husband. Call my husband!”