Becky watched Toye packing his bag and wondered where he was going to. He had said nothing to her since the day before when she had created a scene in his office. Even though she was relieved because the DPO had assured her that Toye would not hit her anymore, she was miserable because he had become even more distant from her. She had been rearranging her bag, where she kept her clothes, when he suddenly opened the door and began to throw a few things into a small black bag.
“Where are you going?” she asked tentatively, hoping that he would talk to her.
He finished packing and then went to the corner to drink some water. When he had placed the cup on the table, he rummaged his pocket for some change and threw them at her and left the room without another word.
She looked down at the money on the bed and wondered what exactly was going on. Was her husband leaving her for the other woman? The door opened and he stuck his head into the room.
“Before you go and cry at my office, I’m going to Oke-ado on an official assignment. I don’t know when I’ll be back.”
And then he was gone again. Becky sighed as her eyes drifted towards the anointed candles she had placed in her bag. The baby kicked within her and she began to wonder if it hadn’t been a mistake not to get rid of the pregnancy and let Toye live his life. The both of them were miserable and she had barely enjoyed any affection with him. None of her fantasies were coming to pass, and she knew that she was unwanted.
She lit one of the candles and started to pray.
“God, I am sad…”
Annabelle was attending to a customer when Toye showed up in front of her stall. The customer was irritable, wondering why Annabelle didn’t have better designs.
“Why is everything like this?” the plump woman said, wiping sweat from her brows.
“Can you come back in a few weeks? I’ll soon get new fabrics…?”
The woman laughed, “You think that I will wait for you? Are you the only one who is selling fabrics in the market?”
The woman dumped the fabric in her hands on Annabelle’s and walked away. Toye saw the disappointed look on Annabelle’s face and smiled encouragingly.
“If I had one hundred naira’s worth of good in my stall, that woman would have been begging me to sell to her.”
Toye’s smile faded.
“What do you want? Why are you here?” she asked, rearranging the textiles on the sticks she had arranged horizontally to serve as make-shift shelves.
“I came to see you before I leave.”
“Leave for where?” she asked apprehensively.
“I’m going to a village on official assignment.”
“All right, good bye,” she said dismissively, walked further into the stall and sat on a wooden chair. He followed her and leaned close to her.
“You’re going to leave me like this, three days to when I need the money?”
“Did you even try to raise the money? No.”
“Things have happened…”
Toye sighed and told her what Becky had done and the threat hanging over his head.
“She did that? But what is wrong with that small girl? If she doesn’t want you to be happy, why can’t she just carry her things and go?”
Toye shook his head sadly. “In fact, I’ve made the greatest mistake of my life marrying that woman. When I get back, we will sort things out, but I must go now.”
Annabelle laughed mirthlessly. “I am disappointed in you Toye, I must tell you the truth.”
“Bear with me my dear, please.”
He kissed her taut cheeks and walked out of the stall.
When Toye got off the truck that dropped him at the junction that led to Oke-ado, it was late in the afternoon and the sun bore down on him mercilessly. His undershirt stuck to his skin and he wiped sweat off his brows with a damp handkerchief. According to the jovial truck driver, the village was straight down the road, an Anglican church announced the entry to it.
The church was deserted and he kept walking, hoping to find someone who could tell him where Mama Abeni lived. Her son Afonja Elewe had tried to describe the place to him but Toye could make no sense of it. All he had got from his second visit to his house was that she lived in Oke-ado. As he walked past mud-houses and a public tap, he saw two young women approaching him, baskets on their heads.
“Good afternoon,” he greeted.
“Good afternoon,” they replied shyly, taken by his looks and his uniform.
“I’m looking for Mama Abeni. Do you know where she lives?”
“Yes,” one of them answered. “Just go straight down this road, when you see two mango trees, turn right and keep walking. You’ll see a house where they make dye, hers is right next to it.”
“Thank you,” he said and walked away, he felt their eyes on him and looked back at them suddenly. Caught in the act, they turned away giggling.
Toye found the house and knocked on the low wooden gate that barred entry into the house, the wooden door behind it was open, revealing a fairly illuminated passageway. He could see baskets of palm fruit lined up by the wall and a low wooden bench with a woman’s headtie lying on it. The passage gave way to four entrances, all covered with dusty curtains. At the end of the passage sat a black, pregnant goat, staring at him just as he stared at it.
“Good day!” he called and knocked on the door this time around. “Is anyone home?”
A soft breeze blew behind him, giving him some respite from the oppressive heat. Mama Abeni emerged from one of the entrances, a wrapper tied around her sagging breasts. Her grey hair was woven into cornrows that ended in the middle of her head, her face was swollen from sleep and she scratched her wrinkled cheek trying to orient herself with his presence.
“Good day Mama, I am Inspector Toye, from Abowu, you came to our station some time ago…”
“I remember you, you and your friend who looked at me as if I didn’t know what I was saying…”
“It was not like that Mama…”
“So how was it?” she asked, standing beside the palm fruits and holding up her wrapper.
Toye realized that he would get nowhere if he didn’t appeal to her. “Mama, I am very sorry. The both of us were under pressure from our boss,” he lied. “That is why I have come here to hear you again.”
“I don’t have anything to say to you,” she said, retreating into the room she’d come out from.
“Mama! Wait! Who are you afraid of? What did they say to you?”
She stood still, and stared wildly at him.
“Don’t be afraid, no one knows I’m here, your secret is safe with me.”
He saw the fear in her eyes recede and leaned inward. “Let me in Mama, talk to me,” he said gently. “No one will know what you’ve told me.”
The woman sagged her shoulders.
“The truck was there on both mornings, and I never saw it again.” the old woman said. They were seated on the bench in the passageway. Toye had a calabash of cool water in his hand.
“Can you describe it?”
“It was the color of the leaf.”
Toye wrote in his notepad, a green truck.
“What about these neighbours, what did you say about them?”
“Well, they used to be quiet, although the husband beats the wife, so sometimes I hear him shouting at her. But some months ago, I noticed a change in their lifestyle, the children became fatter, the man too and the woman put on new clothes. And then the noise started, they would always invite their friends over at night, I would hear them laughing and singing.” She heaved a sigh and shook her head. “I don’t know why no one called them to order.”
“What about your son, did you tell him about them?”
‘’My son,” she pouted her lips sadly. “I told him, and then one day he went to talk to them. When he returned, he was drunk, he slept off on the chair immediately.”
“Hmm,” Inspector Toye said and thought about Afonja’s involvement with these neighbours.
“What are their names?”
“I don’t know their name, I only know them as Mama and Papa Ufoma.”
“So who threatened you?” Toye asked after a short silence.
The elderly woman fidgeted with her hands and stared at the floor.
“Mama, did you hear me?”
“I cannot say.”
“You can tell me! Let your mind be at ease.”
Her frail chest rose and fell. “I don’t know him, I didn’t even see his face.”
“Where did you meet him?”
“It was at night, the day I came to your office. I was walking back home, my friend, Iya Segun’s daughter had just had a baby. Just as I walked past the newspaper man, he…”
“He did what?” Toye could see how rapidly the old woman’s chest was rising and falling and he knew that he was taking her too far but he had to know. He promised himself to let her be after this.
“He put his hand on my mouth and dragged me into the bush. He told me to keep my head down and told me that he wouldn’t hurt me because I was old enough to be his mother. I just kept pleading…”
She was crying now, and holding her chest.
“I pleaded and he told me to keep my mouth shut. He said that he knew I had been to the police station, and that I shouldn’t talk to anyone else and that he was watching me.”
“Did you tell anyone that you were coming to our station?”
“No, no one knew. I deliberately told no one because I didn’t want anyone to hinder me from coming. If I had known, I would have kept my mouth shut. I would have been with my grandchildren now.”
“But he didn’t say that you should come back to the village…?”
“He didn’t have to, what kind of life would I be living in Abowu, knowing that someone is watching every step I take?”
Toye wrote that down, reassured the woman and bade her farewell shortly after.
Toye thought about the old woman and her lonely existence as he walked out of Oke-ado. His thoughts strayed towards his own mother and he decided suddenly that he needed to see them. So, instead of crossing over to the other side of the road and waiting for a vehicle that would take him to Abowu, he walked further down the road and found some women sitting beside heaps of farm produce.
“Good day, where are you going?”
“Igba,” they told him and he sat on a big rock and waited for the lorry that they hoped would come.
He had dinner and sat outside his parent’s house, staring at the half-moon. It was so quiet, unlike Abowu where the Aladura church would be singing warfare songs and praying fervently. He didn’t miss the women calling out to one another across the street or the noisy radio of the English teacher who also lived in Pa Jinadu’s long house. Most of all, he didn’t miss Becky and the chaos she brought into his life.
He thought about how things had been just a few months before, when he had been full of expectation about the kind of life he would live in the developing town of Abowu. A frog hopped across the ground and he stuck his hands in his hair.
He looked up to see his mother walking towards him and made room for her on the bench.
“I’ve missed Igba.”
She smiled. “It has missed you too. The women still talk about your valiance in the market.”
Toye laughed half-heartedly, if only his mother knew how little success he had accomplished in Abowu. His past accomplishments were like a distant memory.
“How are things with you and the girl?”
Toye knew that she was referring to Becky.
“They’re fine,” he simply said.
She laughed and picked her teeth with the broomstick she had been holding. “I am your mother, you cannot deceive me.”
Toye looked away from her and smiled. They were silent, each waiting for the other to speak.
“She’s making my life miserable.”
“The room is always smelly, and dirty. She’s very untidy and she’s a terrible cook. The food is either salty, tasteless, peppery or burnt and she’s always asking for money for one thing or another. Not a day goes by without us fighting, she has no regard whatsoever for me.”
“Have you reported her to her parents?”
“No, I didn’t bother. I doubt that they would help.”
He told her of her antics at his station and his mother was infuriated.
“Did I not tell you not to marry that girl?”
“Yes my mother, you said so.”
She said nothing more and left him sitting alone. The next morning when he was ready to set out, his mother was dressed.
“Mother, where are you going to?”
“Abowu,” she said, pointing at a sack on the floor. “We’re going back together.”