“We don’t have that book anymore. Somebody took it and didn’t return it.” Mrs Adams, the company librarian tells me.
“Are you sure?”
She looks a little irritated. “Yes I’m sure. I’ve been looking for it for the past ten minutes.”
I sigh, another dead end on the project I’m working on. “Thank you.”
As I walk out of the library, wondering what I’m going to do about my work, Oyinkan, my colleague comes out of a nearby office.
“Remi,” she says again. “When am I getting my money?”
“Oyinkan, I’m very sorry…”
“Hmm…” She shakes her head disapprovingly. “I didn’t ask for your apology, just tell me when you’re going to pay me my money.”
“That’s what I’m trying to explain…”
“Okay, explain.” She replies sarcastically, her arms akimbo.
“I actually intended to pay you last month, at least half, but they increased the fees at my children’s school…”
She looks confused. “Remi, what kind of person are you? Are you the only one that has children? Do you think that they didn’t increase my own children’s fees too? Are you trying to play pranks with me?”
“No, no, no! Why would I do that?”
“I borrowed you this money because I thought you were different, I don’t like this kind of trouble…!”
“I’m very sorry…”
She waves her hand dismissively. “When are you going to pay me? I don’t want to start chasing you around this compound. Tell me when I’m getting my money.”
The truth is, I don’t know. “At the end of the month…” I hear myself saying.
“Okay, but this is the last chance I’m giving you. Don’t let me show you my other side!”
As she stomps away, I sigh and wonder how I’m going to pay her three hundred thousand naira at the end of the month with the pending bills and my small income.
I stand on the road, waiting to cross over to the other side. I’ve just returned from Abeokuta where my mother lives and I wish I hadn’t gone. The whole visit was an intervention, she and two of my older siblings, Sis Bunmi and Ronke basically let me know that I was wasting my life.
“I told you about the job in Dubai, but you didn’t apply. Do you think that Dayo wouldn’t have left all of you if he was the one?” Sis Ronke had said.
“Honestly marriage has made you slow.” Sis Bunmi had said. “The Remi I used to know was smart, always looking for opportunities.”
“We’re not trying to destroy your marriage Remi, we’re not saying move out of your house.”
“No.” the other women said.
“We’re only saying that if your husband is a weak, don’t let him drag you down.”
A salon car stops in front of me and I walk away, wondering at the rudeness of the driver but the driver reverses and stop right in front of me again.
I look at the driver distastefully before I realize that it’s my neighbor, Mr Martins.
“Oh good afternoon sir! Sorry, I didn’t know it was you!”
“It’s alright. Are you going home? Can I give you a ride?”
I hesitate for a moment before I realize how scorching the sun is. “Yes, thank you sir.”
In the car, I place my bag on my laps and fold my hands on it. He lowers the volume of the radio.
“Do you work on weekends?” He says.
“No, I don’t. I’m actually just coming from Abeokuta.”
He laughs deeply. “Owambe.”
I laugh too. “No, not at all. I went to see my mother.”
There’s silence between us until we get to a traffic light.
“I hope you don’t mind my asking, but I like to know my neighbours. What do you do?”
“Oh no I don’t mind. I’m a researcher.”
“Oh… You’re a researcher?”
“Yes I am.” I smile lightly.
“Why? Why is it interesting?”
“You don’t look like a researcher.”
“Oh? And how do researchers look?”
“Well… almost professorial. Aloof, uptight.”
He makes a funny face and I laugh.
“Well I’m a researcher. Really a lecturer, but research is the bulk of my job.”
“You’re a lecturer?” he says unbelievingly.
He shakes his head and says softly. “You’re full of surprises.”
I wonder what that statement is about but I let it go, I’m uneasy enough as it is. We continue the journey in silence until we get to another traffic light.
“Well since you didn’t ask me, I’ll just go ahead and tell you what I do…”
“Oh I’m sorry! It wasn’t intentional, I…”
“It’s alright, I was only teasing you. I’m a senior manager at RayOil.”
“Ah you’re one of the big boys!”
He laughs. “Why does everybody say that?”
I look at him questioningly. “Why won’t everyone say that? You guys are one of the best paid in the country…”
“And now that the price of oil is lower than it used to be?”
“You guys are still big, oil and gas is oil and gas.”
He laughs again.
“I’m sure you know what Bimbo does. So, what does your husband do?”
“He’s…” I hesitate for a brief second. “He’s a sales manager.”
“Oh really, where is that?”
“Oh, I know some guys there.”
I smile uncomfortably and look out of the window wishing that this ride will be over soon. My mind strays to the events at Abeokuta and I ponder over everything that was said. I don’t think I’ve really changed, some things have just become more important to me. My boys for instance, how do I leave them to go and work in another country? Dayo does what he can but he’s not the most devoted father, who will check their excesses and observe their strengths? Would it really be worth it for me to leave them in the hands of their father? On the other hand is the mounting financial pressure, I’m really getting tired of the way things are.
Finally, we pull up in front of the house and I sigh in relief.
“Thank you sir.” I tell him.
“You’re welcome madam.”
Two days later while I’m in traffic on the way home, I notice that the temperature gauge is going up.
“Oh my… God please, please not here.”
“Mummy what is it?” Tomiwa asks.
“Nothing dear, just keep quiet okay.”
I immediately turn off the engine and stick my neck out of the window. It’s a long stretch of cars.
“Oh God please!” I pray again as I quickly think of what to do.
Feeling uncomfortable, I take off my jacket and wonder what to do. Traffic is moving again and I start the engine, hoping that by some miracle it’ll ease out and we will be home before the engine starts to seriously overheat.
“Mummy I want La Casera!” Dotun says earnestly.
I don’t respond, I’m too tense thinking about what will happen if the car breaks down. How will I manage parking the car and watching over the boys? What if my car is vandalized or even towed away by LASTMA?
“Mummy I want… see Mummy! Let’s buy pizza!” Tomiwa calls out.
“Mummy you didn’t buy my La Casera…” Dotun whines and continues to mumble annoyingly.
“Mummy let’s buy pizza…”
I look at the gauge. It is way past the middle and just as I feared, steam starts to escape from the bonnet.
“Will you shut up!” I yell, staring at them from the rearview mirror.
Just then I hear a horn blaring by my side.
“Madam your car is overheating! Park, park!”
I nod in acknowledgement and do as the man suggested. What I feared has happened. As I lean my head back against the headrest, I wonder if my mum is right after all.
Why am I not married to a wealthy man who can buy me a new car, as soon as I want it? Slowly, I reach for my phone and dial Dayo’s number. It’s unreachable.
Where on earth is he?
I get out of the car and open the bonnet. Steam gushes out into the cool air.
“Madam, don’t pour water inside it yet o! Wait for it to be cold!” Another driver yells to me.
I smile tightly, do I look stupid?
When I get back into the car, I realize that I have to come up with solutions quickly.
“Boys, gather your things okay?”
I call the mechanic and then try to call Dayo again. His number is still unreachable.
One and a half hours later, we’re still on the same spot. The mechanic, Mr Isiaka is pouring water into the now cold radiator.
“Madam just go gently o.” he says in his broken English as he works. “If you see say the thing don dey rise again, just park and let it cold before you pour another water.”
I shake my head wearily, the traffic is gradually easing out but it will take a while for us to get home, following Mr Isiaka’s instruction. The boys are already asleep in the backseat. Dayo hasn’t called yet.
“You did not call oga ni?”
“I’ve called him.”
“And he did not come since? Ah, o ga o! Maybe you did not tell him that you’re inside the traffic.”
I’m smiling because I don’t want to tell him how really stupid he sounds.
“Okay, madam go and start it.”
He does not accept to ride with us.
“I’m going to Palmgrove ma.”
I know he’s lying, and it just makes me feel worse about the rest of our journey.
Dayo calls me when we’re ten minutes away from home.
“Remi where are you? I got home not long ago, my battery was dead…”
“We’re almost home.” I reply coolly.
“Ehn but where are you guys? Why are you so late?”
Too tired to begin to explain what we’ve all been through, I hang up and concentrate on the drive.
“What happened?” he asks, opening the back seat as I pull up in the compound.
“The engine overheated, several times along the way.”
“Are you serious? My God, we just repaired the car!”
We carry the boys upstairs before we come back to the car to get our bags.
“What we need is a new car.” I retort as we climb up the stairs.
“No you don’t!” I reply, letting my emotions loose now that we’re home. “You’re the one driving an official car!”
“Remi, will you keep your voice…”
“I called you several times! I needed you!”
The neighbour’s door opens and Mr Martins comes out to pick up his slippers from the doormat. We all look at each other and smile.
“Is everything alright?” Mr Martins asks suspiciously in his deep voice.
“Yes, thank you.” Dayo replies. “Goodnight.”
As soon as we are inside our flat, I face Dayo squarely.
“I’m taking that job! I’m tired of living like I don’t have options!”
“Dayo, I have tried! I can’t just sit by while things get worse.”
“So the solution is to leave us for one months?”
“Would we even be having this conversation if it was you? Am I going away forever?”
“Remi you know it’s not black and white…”
“It is Dayo, it’s not at all complicated. You either see my career as important or you don’t!” I retort and walk away from him.