Abowu District Episode 40
“Becky! Where have you been?” Sewa yelled.
“I was helping the cooks…”
“Leave that. There is an important looking group at the third table, please attend to them well. We need those kind of customers.”
Becky patted her wet hands on her apron and adjusted her clothes. In the dining area was the group at the third table, three men and a woman. Becky stared at the woman’s relaxed, shiny hair that fell past her shoulders and caressed her small back. She lifted her hand to scratch her ear and Becky saw her long manicured nails, her firm red lips and her smooth caramel skin. Becky noticed her light brown polka dotted gown that hugged her upper body and then flowed down to her knees. She was saying something, gesticulating with her hands, her eyes capturing the men who were listening intently to her.
“Good afternoon,” Becky curtseyed, still staring at the woman.
“Yes,” one of the men said. “We heard the food here is good.”
“Yes, yes it is.” Becky answered, looking between the woman and the man. “What would you like to eat today?”
“Give us some pounded yam and vegetable soup with an assortment of meat.”
“And drinks… cold soft drinks.” Another man with a bald head said.
Becky wrote down their order and looked at the woman who hadn’t once looked up at her. “Anything else?”
“No,” said the first man. “Please bring the food quickly, we have a surgery in a couple of hours.”
Becky had read about surgeries from one of the books that Yomi gave to her. “You are doctors?”
“Yes,” the man replied with a mix of impatience and curiosity.
“All of you?” Becky replied, still watching the woman who had brought out a book from her handbag and seemed to be searching for something in it.
“Yes, now will you go and bring our food?”
“It looks like she is intrigued by Dr. Jaiye.” Said the third man, who was resting his hands on the table and staring at her.
Dr. Jaiye looked up at the girl momentarily. “Young lady, we are hungry can you please get the food. We have to be out of here in a short while.”
As Becky walked away, she heard one of the doctors saying, “You should have at least smiled at her. She probably wants to be like you.”
The woman doctor had scoffed.
Florence was on her way home, still thinking about Uche Okafor’s visit one week ago and wondering how she had gotten herself in such a situation. The man had visited her shop again this afternoon, declaring his intention to take care of her, silencing every doubt in her mind that his insinuation had been a figment of her imagination.
“Let me take care of you, Philomena has no choice but to cooperate with me. I am her husband, I decide what happens in my home.”
“Take care of me? I thought you wanted us to do business?”
“Yes, I want us to do business, but you know we can cement the business with a better relationship.”
She had stared at him in disbelief. “Please sir, that will not be possible. Philomena is my friend. Besides, I am married.”
“To that spineless school teacher?”
Even now as she approached her house, she could still hear his mocking laughter. “That one is not a husband, he doesn’t deserve you. Let us take care of you.”
“Look, I need a woman like you.” He had placed his elbows on the table and leaned closer to her. “Do you know that you make more money than she does for me right now? And when did you start selling goods for me? You have something that she can never have, you are smart, you are bold, and you know how to do business. She is just happy sitting at the back of her shop and eating wraps of eba. We can do big things together, you and me.”
“I am a married woman,” she had looked away. “I cannot leave my husband and my children.”
“Forget your husband, I will take care of your children.”
“Please, let us forget this matter.”
Uche had sat back and stared at her then. “Why are you rejecting me? I’m not good enough for you?”
She wanted to tell him that he repulsed her and that she could barely stand his presence in her office but she simply said, “It is not the right thing to do.”
“So you don’t like me?” he had asked, glancing down her body. “You are such a beautiful woman. That husband of yours has no idea what he has.”
She had pursed her lips, “Let us forget about this matter please. It is not right, I can do business with you but I cannot betray my friend and have such a relationship with you.”
“What if it tell you that you have no choice?”
She gasped lightly, he laughed.
“You know what, let me give you time to think about it. You are a smart woman, you know the right thing to do.”
Florence sighed and reached out to open the gate of her house when she heard a voice behind her.
“Madam Florence, let us talk.”
Becky couldn’t get over Dr. Jaiye, her confidence and the fact that she commanded the respect of her colleagues. She had watched her from the back of the kitchen door, the sophisticated way she ate her meal, the way her colleagues nodded at every word she said, the way she flicked her long hair, and her neat pointed shoes.
But most of all, she couldn’t forget the condescending manner in which the woman had treated her. She remembered the way she had scoffed and snapped at her to be hasty with the service. At the end of the meal, the woman had paid the entire bill and added a tip.
“Use it to buy yourself some proper clothes and stop wearing tight clothes that make you look like a woman of the night.”
Becky was washing the plates the family had just finished using to eat dinner. She could hear Bolutife laughing, playing with the other children. His laughter was pure, and full of contentment. but how long till it changed to a reluctant chuckle when he realized how hopeless their situation was, just like she had when she became old enough to see how tough it was for her mother to give her and her siblings a decent meal?
Becky realized that she didn’t know how long she would serve Sewa for, or what her life would be like in the next five years because it was all dependent on Sewa’s benevolence. She recognized that if she decided to take her own life in her hands, she had a better chance of reaching her goal faster.
Sewa came into the kitchen with a book in her hands. “I’m looking at the accounts, I just saw that there is a surplus.”
“Yes, we didn’t have enough change, so I decided to use my money so that the customers would not be delayed.”
Sewa smiled. “You have a good head for business.”
Becky smiled falteringly. “Thank you ma.”
“Did you see that group of doctors?”
“Yes, I saw the woman…”
“I saw her too. She’s not married.”
“I didn’t notice…”
“I doubt that she will ever get married, doctors are very busy.”
“Must she get married? I was married, what good did that do me?”
Sewa looked sadly at her. “There are still good men out there.”
“If you say so ma.”
Florence turned round slowly, saw who it was and exhaled.
Toye laughed. “Were you afraid?”
“Inspector, why are you following me around?”
“We need to talk, Madam Florence.”
“What about?” she looked around apprehensively.
“What does Uche Okafor want with you? That man is too dangerous to be around you.”
“I told you he came to see what we have in the shop.”
“And why did he come to your shop again today?”
Florence looked surprised.
“I have been watching you Madam Florence, we know you sell stolen goods…”
“Oh you didn’t know or are you pretending not to know? You are reaping the benefits of someone else’s labour.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about Inspector.”
“Tell me what he came to discuss with you and stop lying to me.”
Florence gathered her bag to herself and made to open the gate. “Goodnight Inspector…”
“He will kill you and dump your body in the canal when he is done with you. I am here to help you madam, talk to me, or do you want your children to be motherless?”
Florence hesitated. “Why should I trust you?”
“Because you have no other choice. Take my card,” he handed her a card from his breast pocket. “Call the number on it and tell whoever answers it that you saw a boy robbing an old farmer’s house. I will come and meet you here at this time.”
The surveillance work at Florence’s shop had revived Toye’s desire to make an impact in the force. He didn’t want what happened to Afonja to happen to her too, so he decided that he would put his best effort to protecting her and making sure that the information she gave him would end Uche’s reign of terror. The man reminded him too much of Richard and he was sure that the two were somehow linked.
She was walking into a restaurant now, and even though he had planned to wait for her to leave the place, he followed her in.
Sewa stared at Florence, pursed her lips and sat down opposite her.
“Florence, you are in my restaurant.”
“Yes, my friend.”
“Your friend, we are friends? You said you would talk to Philomena for me, then you came back and said that she didn’t have the money. But not long after, you start your own business and people tell me that they see the two of you together. What kind of friend are you?”
Florence smiled sadly. “All is not what it seems Sewa, I know I have offended you but please let us put all that aside.” She fiddled with her hands and exhaled.
“What is the matter?” Sewa asked skeptically.
“I am in trouble, I can’t tell you much, but I want you to promise to look after my children if something happens to me.”
Sewa leaned forward. “What kind of trouble are you talking about? Florence, what have you done?”
Toye walked into the restaurant and sat down in one corner of the dining area, watching the two women talking. He recognized Sewa from the robbery case the year before and became all the more curious of the nature of their conversation, when out of the corner of his eye, he saw someone familiar standing by a table not too far from him.
Becky was holding a notepad and smiling at the woman who looked like she was making an order. She looked even more changed than she did the night he had seen her. He hadn’t noticed her curves, her angular face and the disappearance of the acne. Neither had he noticed the confidence that emanated from her. Her clothes were ill-fitting but she still looked ravishing. What had happened? He wondered how she had changed so much.
As if she could feel his eyes on her, Becky turned in his direction and saw him looking at her.