Becky was on her knees, her hands held together, muttering fervent prayers. The strong odor of burning red candles filled the room. The woman at the Aladura church had been pleased to see her, her wide mouth had curved awkwardly as Becky recounted her ordeal with her husband and her suspicions about his abandonment of her.
“Our mother, I think he’s having an affair. How can he be doing this so soon? We haven’t even been married for six months.”
“You talk as if you expected him to have an affair.”
She had looked down at her laps. “Well, my mother told me that all men have affairs and I have seen that it is true.” She’d huffed. “He can even do it when we are much older, you know when our children are all grown and he wants a small girl to play with. He can do this, but not now. I am not even twenty! Why would he do this now?”
“Did you offend him?”
“I know I’m not perfect but I’m not a bad person.”
“Set your mind at ease, you must be full of faith and prayer and we will have the victory. Did you bring the money for the candles?”
“Yes, this is three naira. It’s all I have for now.”
“It will do. Come back in the evening, the candles would have been anointed by then. When you get them, you must pray fervently until the candle burns out. It’s one candle per day and we will anoint seven.”
“Yes, our mother.”
And so Becky prayed, that her husband’s eyes would be blinded to seductresses and that his love for her would increase. She also prayed that she would have a son, so that he would look upon her with favour. She prayed until sweat formed like beads on her head and slid down her neck and back. She prayed until her back ached and she had to sit down. By the time the candle burned out she was exhausted.
Shortly after, there was a knock on the door. She rose as quickly as she could and opened the door.
“Why did it take you so long to open the door?” Toye asked.
“Sorry, I was trying to get…”
“What’s that smell? Did you burn something?”
Toye looked at the room in its usual state of disarray, clothes were strewn on the couch and the bed, shoes peeked out from under the bed and he could see a pile of unwashed plates under the table, in front of the couch. Apart from the smoky smell in the room there was an overpowering putrefying smell.
“What is that smell? What smells so rotten in this room?”
“Oh! It is must be the fish entrails, I forgot to take them out.”
She went to the corner where they kept their drinking water and took out a small plastic bag. Toye shook his head and mumbled his regret for coming home. He sat on the bed and took off his shoes and shirt and lay on it. No sooner had he done this than the smell of the bed sheets hit his nostrils. It was a combination of sweat and dry spittle. He shot off the bed, threw the sheets on the floor and lay on the bare mattress.
“What happened? Why did you throw it on the floor?” Becky asked, coming in and picking it up.
“When last did you wash it? In fact, when last did you wash anything?”
“Are we fighting? What have I done again?”
Toye turned on his side and stared at the wall. He was angry that he had decided to come home, but he was angrier that he had allowed his misunderstanding with Annabelle to degenerate. It all began when she asked him for some money some days ago, she needed one hundred naira to invest in a business opportunity. Annabelle was a trader in African wax prints and she, along with others, had found someone who was travelling to Indonesia and was going to buy the fabric in bulk. The first time she had brought up the subject, he had laughed and asked her how much she thought he earned. This evening, while they were eating pepper soup at the local bar close to her shop, she had brought it up again.
“I know you can get the money.”
“And where do you think I’ll get it from?”
“You have more money than you’re letting on.”
“What makes you think that?”
“I know you’re giving all of it to your little wife and I wonder why when I’m the one who makes you happy.”
He had steered the conversation to another topic and had been able to avoid the subject until they were in her room. She had lain beside him, stroked his chest and said in a drawl.
“Toye, what about that money? Mama Chike is travelling in five days.”
He had looked at her intently and seen how serious she was about getting the money from him. “Anna,” he’d said, rising up on his elbow, “I don’t have one hundred naira. I do not. Where do I get it from?”
Anna had risen with equal seriousness. “You are being stingy.”
“Anna, what job do you think I do? I am a policeman…”
“With access to a lot of money.”
“What access? Do you know my job better than me?”
“Obviously…” she muttered, got up and started to put on her clothes. “I have given you everything, sacrificed my desires for you. No other man has my attention, no other man, even though you are married. Yet I ask you for hundred naira and you won’t give it to me. Do you know how many times I have borrowed so that I can cook you something nice, or how many times I have made excuses for you to my friends when you won’t buy me small gifts?”
Toye had sat up and stared at her. “I still don’t know where you expect me to get this money from? Do you think I work in a bank or with a ministry?”
“Oh you are so naïve! Must I spell it all out to you? How do you think that Doyin can afford all the things he buys for Clara? Aren’t you both policemen? How come he always buys the drinks when we’re together? What kind of friendship do you people have when he cannot show you the way?”
Toye had laughed then. “What kind of gifts do you think that Doyin can afford? His salary is the same as mine!”
“He bought Clara a television last week and he’s moving into a three bedroom house next week!”
“I think you should go. I need my space, I need to think about if I can be in this relationship anymore. I know that one hundred naira is a lot of money, but if you can’t make sacrifices for me, then I don’t know what we are doing.”
Still dazed at what he’d just heard, he’d simply gotten up, put on his clothes and left her room. Now, as he lay on his smelly mattress with his pregnant, dirty wife, he thought about what Annabelle had said about Doyin moving to a three bedroom house. Could it be true? If it was, how was he able to fund this? And why had he kept it a secret from him?
“What do you want to eat?” Becky asked.
Toye didn’t respond, his mind was far away from her. He wanted to see Doyin and ask him questions, but most of all, he wanted to make Annabelle happy. Toye concluded that he was in love with the fair-skinned trader with the cooking prowess.
“I cooked okro soup and eba. Should I serve your food? Toye…” she shook his shoulder when he didn’t respond.
“Leave me alone!” he yelled, slapping away her hand. “Who is interested in your tasteless food?”
Becky perceived that she should leave him alone, but her heart was sore from being rejected continually by her husband.
“What is it Toye? What have I done to deserve all this?”
“What have you not done? You are dirty, disorganized, you cannot cook, and you are so unintelligent! There is no order in this home, this whole place stinks! Did your mother not teach you anything?”
Becky stared open-mouthed at him, tears clouding her eyes. Shame and anger made her ears tingle and her nostrils flare. “And you think that I do not regret marring you? What good has come from being married to you? How much money do you give me? Is this the kind of house that your friends live in? All you do is complain and complain like a little boy! `Pa Jinadu was telling me today that you have not seen him, and the neighbours make jest of you behind your back. The policeman who doesn’t pay his dues but goes around telling people that he’s a policeman!”
In a swift movement, Toye got up from the bed and slapped her across the cheek.
“You are the one with bad luck, the one who brought bad luck into my house. Go and ask all those people if I wasn’t paying my dues before you came here? Go and ask them if I didn’t wear better clothes. Go and ask them if I wasn’t happier! I give you all my money for food that it too salty, peppery, burnt or tasteless! The room always stinks, all you do is sleep, eat, buy clothes and give your miserable family my money! Don’t you ever tell me that I do not have money again? Don’t ever permit your fat lips to utter such words to me again. Do you hear me?”
He took one of her ears in his hands and pulled it.
“Do you hear me?” he asked again.
“You have no shame! You slept with a small girl like me and now you’re here talking as if I’m the one who forced you to impregnate me.” Becky cried.
“How many times have I touched you?” he pulled her ear harder. “You are a greedy little thing who has bitten more than you can chew. I’m sure your illiterate mother did the same to your poor father. No wonder you did everything you could to get pregnant.”
He left her ear as she fell on the bed.
“If you want to give birth to this child in peace, just shut your mouth. Otherwise, I will deal with you and no one will come to your aid. I’m a policeman.”
“Is it true?” Toye asked Doyin the next day about the things that Annabelle said.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about…” Doyin said evasively.
“Doyin, don’t play games with me.”
Doyin faked a laugh. “Where would I have gotten the money from? Don’t mind Annabelle, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She only said that to get you angry…”
“She was serious about what she said, Annabelle wouldn’t joke with such a thing. Don’t try to fool me, tell me what’s going on.”
“Why do you want to know? It’s not as if you can handle it.”
“Handle what? I’m a police officer, I’ve heard so many things in this profession…”
Doyin laughed. “You’re too proud of this police work…”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
Doyin was going to respond when they heard someone wailing, the noise came from the reception. They rushed to the place and found Becky crying bitterly.
“Please help me to beg my husband, please just beg him for me. I know I have offended him like a wife can, but he said he will kill me and my baby and nothing will happen because he is a policeman. Look at all the marks on my body where he beat me last night,” she proceeded to show them self-inflicted welts on her thighs and legs. “Just beg him not to kill me, I’m the firstborn of my parents, I’m not twenty yet! Please!”
She thrashed about on the ground with her swollen abdomen, the policemen behind the counter rushed to her and helped her up, trying to pacify her as well as maintain her decency. Her wrapper had come undone, revealing her black underskirt.
Toye looked at her shamefaced, his colleagues were trying not to laugh.
Bala, the plump DPO with tribal marks stared hard at Toye.
“You are an embarrassment to this station. A complete embarrassment and a serious disappointment to me. You came highly recommended from your village and I was hoping that you will help us to do some serious work in this station, but you have become a wife-beater… Where did you encounter that young girl who is almost old enough to be your daughter…”
“I’m just twenty-five sir…”
“Shut up! How dare you defend yourself when you should be covering your face in shame? And then you threatened to kill her and now you’re serious trouble, because if anything happens to her you will be arrested because she has told everyone what you said.” He huffed, his thick chest rising up and down. “I’m going to redeploy you to Igba, go back to your village…”
“Please sir! Please sir! I promise it will not happen again! I will do whatever it takes to regain your respect…”
“What have you discovered about the murder in Isale-odo, nothing, and the theft in the community high school, nothing, and what about the robbery in Alafia, nothing…?”
“I have a lead sir, I have a lead! I was actually hoping that you would grant me permission to pursue it.”
Toye told him about Mama Abeni and what her son, Afonja Elewe had said.
“Then go and find this woman and get to the bottom of this. Otherwise, you are on your way back to Igba or whatever the name of your village is.”
“Yes sir! Yes sir!” Toye saluted, grateful for another chance, even though he didn’t know how he would crack the case.