Toye cleaned his small black radio and fixed the batteries into it as Becky came into the room with a sack. He paid her no attention even as she emptied the contents of the sack on the floor. They were oranges, plantains and yams, and as she examined them, she hummed a tune. Toye could see that she was wearing one of the new wrappers that she had purchased a week before. He had had to borrow the money from Doyin, who had mocked him endlessly before parting with it.
Becky got up from the bed and waddled over to the corner in the room where they kept the bucket of drinking water, and got some into a small bowl.
“I want to cook yam porridge. Do you see the big yams I just got?”
Toye paid her no attention and continued to wipe his already clean radio. Becky shrugged and went out with some of the oranges. She returned, ate her oranges and took a tuber of yam outside, along with her cooking utensils. Toye glanced at the oranges, plantains and yams that she had left on the ground and shook his head. He began to put everything into the sack where she had brought them out from, when the smell of Mama Adio’s palm-oil fried akara hit his nostrils.
He got his radio, walked out towards the verandah and sat on Pa Jinadu’s long bench. Adio ran out shortly, wiping his oily hand on his chest.
“Good morning,” he greeted quite nervously.
“Adio, good morning. Did you steal your mother’s akara?”
The boy bowed his head and nodded subtly as Toye began to laugh.
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell her. Is your father home?”
“Yes, he is sleeping.”
“Alright, go on.”
Toye turned on the radio and listened to the news anchor who was rounding up with the international news.
“In a shocking turn of events, Peter Gabriels has revealed to the English press that he would be leaving the band, Genesis. This news comes right after the recently concluded, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour…”
He changed the station and settled to enjoy the highlife music of Ebenezer Obey when Mama Adio came out of the house, her wrapper tied around her chest.
“Ah Inspector! Good morning o!” she flashed her yellow teeth at him and walked a little distance from the house. With her hands on her thick waist, she yelled at the woman who sold provisions in a little kiosk after the Aladura church.
“Basirat! Basirat! I’m sending Adio over to you, give him one wrap of sugar!”
“You have not paid for the one you bought last week!” the young woman shouted back.
“I know, just give it to him. I will pay you later this evening, you hear me?”
Toye couldn’t understand why Mama Adio could not simply go over to the kiosk and sort out the issue. He shut her out of his mind and focused on the music. But even the music could not stop the rumbling in his stomach caused by hunger and the smell of Mama Adio’s akara. She returned to the house, mumbling something about the young lady’s insolence.
“Inspector, hope there’s no problem?” she asked when she saw the glum look on his face.
“I’m alright,” he forced a smile.
“Should I send Adio to bring you some akara while you’re waiting for your wife to bring your breakfast?”
Adio knew that he should say no, but he said. “No problem, if it is not too much trouble for you.”
Forty-five minutes later when Becky returned into the room, she found him asleep, the plates of food by the bed. Furious, she dropped the tray she was carrying on the table and dashed out.
Babatunde scooped up the remains of the moin-moin from the leaf in his plate with his hands, and shoved it into his mouth. Sewa sat beside him giggling.
“Ah ah, Babatunde, are you that hungry?”
“I didn’t even know that I was this hungry!” he gulped down some water and leaned back as his wife laughed even louder.
“Honestly, sometimes, when you offend me and I think about what you will cook to compensate me, I forget my anger!”
“Is that so?” she asked amused.
Babatunde sat up. “Maybe you should start a catering business.”
“Catering business? What do I know about that?”
“You will learn as you go on. Are you going to disregard the idea because you don’t know about it?”
Sewa sighed. “Babatunde, that’s not what I want to do. My mother taught me how to buy and sell…”
“Then use that skill to sell food!”
“Do you know how stressful it will be for me to buy foodstuff and get up early to cook? Where will I sell this food? How will I carry it to the place? Or would I have to cook by the roadside? And if you were thinking about a shop, where do we get the money to rent one?”
Babatunde didn’t have answers to her questions. He sighed and rubbed his stomach. “I still think it’s something that you should do.”
She shrugged and packed up the plates. “Let’s concentrate on your carpentry business.”
Toye held his wife by her arm and dragged her into their room.
“What is your problem?” he yelled.
“You have no shame!” she countered.
“So do you! How can you go to our neighbour’s house and disgrace me like that!”
“And how could you, a married man, eat from another married woman while your wife is cooking?”
“What were you cooking, and at what time? Do you know how much my stomach was rumbling?”
“Was I playing? Did you not see me come into the house with a sack of yams? Was I not at the backyard cooking?”
“Are you talking about this yam porridge? Ehn?” he opened the plate and ate a piece of yam.
“I knew it! The yam is as hard as stone! And the food is salty! You just wasted all this fish in the food. The fish that you could have used to cook soup!”
“So now you prefer the neighbour’s food to mine hmm? Why don’t you marry her then? Why don’t you sleep in her bed or just bring her here?”
“You have gone mad!”
“And you are a wicked man! A wicked man that has no shame and no money!”
“No money, so why did your parents dump you here? Your father said that I should give him whatever I could afford, because he was desperate. They just wanted someone wealthy to take their daughter off their hands! And you come in here, you can’t cook, you can’t clean or give me any pleasure. You are utterly useless, and I would rather eat from all the women in this building than eat your horrible food!”
He stomped out of the room while she sat on the bed and cried.
Philomena slid her hands across the yellow wrapper that her husband had just bought for her.
“Thank you sir.”
“I want you to wear that when we attend Nnamdi’s wedding. Make something nice, I don’t want you looking like a maid beside me.”
The smile on her face waned. “Alright.”
“Is my food ready?”
“Yes, let me serve it.”
He was waiting in the sitting room, when she had dished the food. He sat slumped on the couch with his arm over his head, the darkness of his bushy armpit contrasting with the whiteness of his singlet.
“I want to go and see my friend, Sewa.”
He was silent for a while as he opened the food, examined it, took a morsel of pounded yam and rolled it in his hands.
“What for?” he asked as he dipped the morsel into the bowl of vegetable soup and put it into his mouth.
“I just want to check on her, I haven’t seen her in a while.”
He shrugged. “Don’t be long.”
Sewa was weaving Teju’s hair when Philomena came visiting.
“So what style do you want to make out of it?” The former asked.
“I’m not sure yet. All I know is that I must look good at Nnamdi’s wedding. All those people who looked down on us before, would be surprised to see us looking better than they do. Do you know that Uche bought all the drinks for the wedding?”
“He did? That’s generous of him.”
“I was so angry when he did it, I told him that Nnamdi and his mother didn’t deserve it. But he said that one ought not to repay evil with evil.”
“Then he’s a compassionate man.” Sewa concluded with a smile.
The door opened and Babatunde walked in with a black polythene bag. Teju left her mother and ran to hug him.
“My dear! Your hair is beautiful. Does it hurt?”
“No,” the girl gazed up at him with a wide smile.
“Take this in, they’re eggs in there so be careful with them.”
“Welcome my husband,” Sewa greeted as Babatunde walked over to her and squeezed her shoulder affectionately.
“Good evening sir.”
“Good evening madam.”
“Where did you get the eggs from?” Sewa asked curiously.
“You know I went to deliver the chairs to Mr Carlton…”
“His wife was so impressed with them, she suddenly remembered that she had more than enough eggs, milk, sardines and sugar!”
“She gave us all that?”
“Yes, she even said that she had some clothes for Teju.”
“I must go and thank her.”
“You should, she asked after you. Have you made lunch?”
Sewa shook her head. “We drank…”
“You drank garri? No problem, I will go and take some. I know dinner will be very delicious!”
He pinched her cheeks, she laughed and watched him walk away. Philomena smiled awkwardly, she couldn’t remember the last time that she and her husband had looked at each other with such adoration.
Toye gulped down his beer as Doyin took a bite from his peppered snail.
“It’s getting late, shouldn’t you go home?” the latter asked, noting that his friend was drinking more than he normally would.
“I have no home to go back to,” Toye said with a slur.
“You can’t sleep at my house, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“I’m having a guest,” he said with a wink and inclined his head towards the ladies who were drinking two tables away. “The one with the pink dress, she’s been looking at me all night. Would you go with the one with the red dress?”
Toye waved his hand in dismissal. “No, I’ve got enough woman troubles.”
“This one will help to ease some of that trouble,” Doyin winked. “What do you have to lose?”
Becky walked out of the long building once again and met Pa Jinadu outside. The street was deserted.
“He’s not back yet,” the man said.
“Where could he have gone? Why would he make me worry so much like this?” she mumbled to no one in particular.
“Go in and sleep, he’s not a small boy. He can take care of himself.”
Becky sighed and walked in, blaming herself for her husband’s absence. She lay on their bed and tried to sleep, just as Toye lay the light-skinned lady with the red dress down on her own bed.