The Brotherhood Part 2
Ben drew a final stroke with his brush and stepped back to view his latest creation, the painting of a tired-looking woman roasting boli by a refuse dump. Setting down his brush on the high stool beside him, he gave it a closer look. Had he created enough light? Was her head a little bigger than he intended? Were the tired lines of her face sufficient? He sighed and looked at the other painting in his gallery. to his right, there was one of a young beautiful woman nursing her baby, another of a lanky man relieving himself by the roadside, a carrot dangling from one side of his mouth, and yet another one of an old taxi driver, sticking his greying head out of his cab and yelling at someone. To his left was one of two women on the sea, one had a baby strapped to her chest while the other one paddled, and a large one of a crying child, flies swarming around her oil stained mouth.
Feeling weak and hungry, he strolled towards the plastic chair in the corner of his small gallery and sat down with his legs outstretched, the noisy traffic of cars jarring his frayed nerves. His car had been towed away, just as he feared and the officials had demanded a fee of twenty-five thousand naira, after much appeal. He didn’t have such an amount nor did he know where it would surface from. He would not be driving his car anytime soon and it weighed on him like the loss of a huge amount of money. His stomach rumbled, reminding him that he’d had nothing to eat for almost twenty-four hours. Reaching into the back pocket of his faded jeans, he brought out his worn wallet and counted two one thousand naira notes. It was all he would have until someone paid for the painting he had taken to the gallery at Thompson Street, in Ikoyi.
He looked out of the door and stared ahead at Madam Peace’s canteen. A short queue had already formed and he could see people filing out from the narrow door with transparent plastic containers of food, anticipation impressed on their faces. Wearily he got up and peeped into the shop next to his. Harrison, the portly owner was counting big plastics of paint.
“I wan go Mama Peace canteen.”
Harrison merely nodded, his mind on his chore. The road was busy, cars, trucks, tricycles and motorcycles all contended for the narrow two-lane road of Kalu Chukwuma road. Ben walked closer to the traffic light and waited for it to turn red, then he walked slowly across the road, knowing that it would take about a minute for the light to turn green again. Fellow pedestrians jostled past him but he was distracted by the thought of his hopeless life. He set one foot on the paved reserved area and felt something slip out of his pocket. Spinning, he saw two young men fleeing on a motorcycle with his wallet in the hand of the passenger, who was snickering at him. Without thinking, he made to chase them and that’s when he felt something hit him, something big.
Chidi stifled a yawn and yelled. “Next!”
A small man with big spectacles sat in the chair opposite him and sniffed.
“Good morning, how can I help you?”
“I want to open a savings account please.”
“All right, are you here with the necessary requirements, proof of identification…?”
“I came with everything.”
“All right, please fill this form.”
The small man collected it and got up slowly. “Thank you”
He attended to other customers and as time progressed, things suddenly became rowdy, too many customers were waiting and there were only two bank officials attending to them. It wasn’t until the end of the day, when he was going through the forms on his table, that he discovered the form with the utility bill that didn’t match the name on the form.
Gbenga read the file on his desk as the door opened. In walked a plain looking woman with a wide nose, wearing an oversized black t-shirt that had the imprinted image of an open bible on it. Her natural kinky hair was tightly held with a green ruffle and she carried a dark blue purse in her hand. She sat in the chair opposite him.
“Good morning Doctor,” she said in a soft voice.
“’Good morning, Mrs… Ade. How can I help you?”
“I don’t know… they just said that I should come here.”
“My relatives,” she wiped her face with her hand and sighed.
Gbenga sat up and stared at her. “I don’t understand you madam.”
“My hus… his family said I should come, they brought me here.” she looked away from the table and out of the window behind him, her mouth twitching. “He died, he went out and he didn’t some back. No warning… no goodbye…nothing.”
A bird flew to the window and chirped and then it flew away. She pulled her eyes away from the window and looked at him.
“They said that I should come here,” she said again.
He stared at her for a few seconds and then looked down at the file. Her sorrow was palpable. “I am sorry for your loss, madam. But you have to take care of yourself.”
He noticed her cracked lips, dull skin, and the paleness of her small eyes.
“Your BP is high. You need to rest and eat well, otherwise you could be in serious trouble…”
She laughed mockingly and he observed how pretty she suddenly became.
“I’ll give you some antidepressants…”
He kept talking but he saw that she wasn’t listening. She was looking out of the window again.
When Ben woke up he found a nurse staring down at him with a file in his hand.
“Mr Okorie? Can you hear me?”
“Y…yes…” he managed to say. “Where am I? What happened?”
As the nurse began to tell him what happened, he remembered the two thieves on the motorcycle who had snatched his wallet and all the money he had. His head pounded violently, he lifted his hand to it and felt a dressing. His right arm was bloody, his injury was covered with a white dressing but it felt as if his skin had been scraped and treated with dry red pepper. He moaned.
“Please lie still, you hit your head hard. Is there someone we can call?” the nurse said.
He thought about Faith, and he knew that she would be more irritable about the fact that he was in trouble yet again, than concerned. He nodded.
“Chidi… Chidi Nwabueze.”
“All right, we’ll call him. Try to rest…”
“Pain…” he winced.
“I’ll be back with a painkiller. Meanwhile, the woman who brought you here wants to see you.”
The nurse left and Ben stared at the ceiling thinking about his gallery and if Harrison had bothered to close it up for him.
A dark skinned woman dressed in a short red gown walked into the room, the dress clung to her full body seductively and even in his pain, he could see the firmness of her voluptuous body. Her long, straight, slightly brown hair fell to her shoulders. Her face glowed with comfort, her brown, small bright red lips were taut.
“You stupid, stupid man! God will punish you! Even if you wanted to die, why did you have to do it in front of my car? Ehn? Why didn’t you go to the Third Mainland Bridge or stand in the middle of Ikorodu Road?”
Ben stared at her, she looked even more beautiful when she was angry. “I…”
“I’m not going to be responsible for a suicidal man. I hope your family members can pay for all your bills. I’ve done enough already, bringing you here. There are people who saw what happened, so if you decide to sue me or anything you’re only wasting your time…”
Ben continued to stare at her, too overwhelmed by her anger to even speak. Suddenly, she stomped out of the room, mumbling to herself and flinging back her hair. Her perfume lingered, and he liked it. He fell asleep again.
As soon as the nurse told Chidi the outstanding bill that Ben had incurred, he hoped that Gbenga would come soon. In the meantime however, he had to deal with the agitated woman who had brought Ben in.
“He just ran into the road, just like that! I mean what if he had died! I was on my way, and your friend just messed up my entire day! You should have seen the way people ran towards me, accusing me of killing him and calling me all kinds of names. Thank God the traffic wardens saw what happened, who knows what they would have done to me!”
And then she broke into tears. “God knows I don’t need this right now!”
Chidi had been sitting by her, folding his hands, she sounded just like the elderly woman who had been furious about not getting her ATM card earlier at work. When she began to cry he sat up and loosened his hands, wondering how best to pacify her.
“I’m sorry madam. I’m sure something happened. Ben is not a troublemaker. I’m really sorry for all the stress you’ve gone through.”
“What if he had died, ehn?” she cried.
Gbenga came into the hospital shortly after, looking tired. Chidi shot up to greet him, they shook hands and moved away from the crying woman.
“How far? How bad is it?”
“They stitched his wounds but he needs a transfusion, apparently, he’s anemic. They’re keeping him for a while for observation, they say he hit his head hard. They said other things I don’t remember now but that’s the bottom-line.
“But how did it happen?”
“Apparently, Ben ran into the road, just as the light turned green.”
“Ah ah, where did this happen?”
“Kalu Chukwuma road.”
“Can I see him now?”
“He’s sleeping. I haven’t seen him either.”
“Okay, what about the person who brought him here?”
“She’s over there,” Chidi said tossing his head towards her subtly. “She’s…vexed… just avoid her.”
The two men were able to see their friend in a short while, even though Ben was still asleep. Or so they thought.
“What was he even doing in the middle of the road?” Gbenga said.
“I spoke to one of his neighbours, he was leaving just as I got here. He said he was going for lunch at a canteen on the other side of the road.”
“This wouldn’t have happened if he had just gotten a proper job in a nicer environment.”
“Gbenga…” Chidi looked back at their friend. “Let’s just concentrate on him getting better.”
“Yeah, and as soon as he gets better, I’m going to tell him some home truths. Now I have to pay for an accident that shouldn’t even have happened…”
“C’mon Gbenga, an accident can happen anywhere. Stop being ridiculous!”
“You’re the one who’s being ridiculous! He’s no longer a twenty-two year old student of fine arts, this is real life! He’s got to be responsible! We’re always bailing him out!”
“I’m going home! I’ll come by early tomorrow morning, before I resume work.”
Chidi sighed as Gbenga left and stared at Ben’s sullen face. Then he sat uneasily for a minute before he also left. Ben opened his eyes slowly, huffed and turned away from the door.