It’s the start of a new series! thank you for being here. I apologize for not keeping my word about posting short stories occasionally, believe me, the water was much more than the yam flour.
This new series is called The Family, and I hope you enjoy it. Please share this website with someone!
“Generosity has its limits, you know that!” said Mrs Rhoda Afonja’s mother.
Mama Eli as she was popularly called was the third wife of Chief Afonja the famous textile merchant. She was loud, impulsive and indiscreet but she had a large heart. The kind that made her take in strangers and help the needy in whatever capacity she could. Mama Eli was a generous woman. Her generosity however proved to be her Achilles heel. It all started when Niniola came to her shop one afternoon, right after she had finished her lunch of efo riro and fufu.
“Aunty Rhoda. Good afternoon ma.” the girl knelt before her, carrying a ghana-must-go bag on her right arm.
“Hmm hmm? Nini, how are you? Get up, get up! Sit down.” She said sitting up in her plastic chair and pointing to the one beside her.
“Thank you Aunty.”
“How is everyone? Hope there’s no problem? How is my sister?”
“She’s fine ma. She said I should greet you.”
“So she is well?”
“So what brings you here?”
Niniola began wringing her fingers in her hands.
“Why are you twisting your fingers? Are they itching you?”
“Sit up and speak up! Why are you behaving like a dunce?” she asked irritably.
Niniola promptly sat up and placed her palms on her laps. “My mother said I should come here.”
“Your mother said you should come here?” Mama Eli sat forward, placing her elbows on her plump thighs. “To come and do what? Did they tell her that I have a home for stragglers?”
“No ma…” Niniola shook her head vigorously, harassed by this large woman and angry that her mother put her in this mess.
“Stop trembling like a thief!” Mama Eli said in her loud voice. “Ah Mama Rasheed!” she called to her friend whose shop was opposite her. “Welcome! How is everyone at home?”
“Fine, we thank God.” Mama Rasheed replied, covering a bowl of flour with a green perforated fabric.
“Ehn ehn! What did she tell you come and do here?” she resumed her interrogation of Niniola.
“She said I should come and learn from you.”
“Hmm hmm? Is that so? But why didn’t she tell me herself? That mother of yours has never known the right way to go about things. How can she just send you here without informing me first? I don’t like this kind of thing! If I send you back now they will say I’m unkind.”
“Ah ah Mama Eli, what’s happening? The whole market can hear you.” Mama Rasheed came over to her shop, holding her son on her hip.
“Thank you o!” Mama Eli responded gratefully, then proceeded to tell her neighbour the issue at hand.
“People are just funny but then family will always be family. Let her spend the night then send her back to her mother tomorrow. We are all hustling.”
“Thank you o!” Mama Eli said, spreading her hands out. “Have you eaten?”
“Bebeto!” she called out to one of her shop attendants.
“Go and buy some food for my visitor.”
Niniola’s head remained bowed.
Later that night, Mama Eli walked into the family kitchen to see Bashirat picking pieces of meat from the soup pot, eating them and quickly licking off her fingers.
“Ehn? Bashirat!” she yelled in her loud voice as the girl jumped up startled, dropping the cover of the pot on the floor.
“Ah! Very good! Just stand there like that! If you move I will beat you mercilessly.”
“Please mummy!” Bashirat pleaded.
“Ehn who is your mother? God forbid that I would be your mother. Just stand there like that! Mama Ayo!” she called her immediate senior wife as Bashirat started crying.
“Yes! What is it?” Mama Ayo asked irritably, angry to have been distracted from the home video she had been watching.
“Come and see what your relative has been doing in this house.”
“What did she do?” she turned to Bashirat. “What did you do?”
“Please ma!” The girl pleaded again.
“I caught her picking pieces of meat from the pot and eating them one by one. She must have eaten about ten. I stood here watching her with these two eyes of mine.”
“It’s not up to ten ma!”
“It will not be well with your family, especially your useless mother who brought you here to disgrace me. How can you do this kind of thing without thinking of what people will think of me? What else do you want? You’re living in a rich man’s house and eating good food. Why have you chosen to be so ungrateful?
“I’m sorry ma. It was a mistake ma.”
“I know, I made the mistake of asking you to come here too. Go and pack your things, you’re leaving this house tomorrow morning.”
“What’s going on here?” Mama Deji, Chief Afonja’s first wife asked coming into the kitchen. This was one of the nights when she was tired of her life as Chief Afonja’s wife. Her head ached badly and the noise her rivals were making was making it worse.
Mama Eli explained the situation, with several interferences from Mama Ayo who was not done cursing Bashirat.
“Is that why you’re shouting?” she held her head tenderly.
“Senior wife let’s not take this lightly. This girl has been putting her filthy hands in the soup our husband is eating. She’s been poisoning us!”
Mama Deji had had enough. “Everyone go inside. We’ll sort this out tomorrow.”
“But Senior Wife…”
“Please let’s not make noise over this anymore. I will deal with it tomorrow.”
The two junior wives reluctantly agreed, Mama Deji had always been soft, and it had allowed their husband take two more wives. The next morning, Bashirat was sent away and Niniola suddenly became useful as her replacement.
Niniola bore the insults, and hardwork she encountered in Chief Afonja’s house. It was better than being at home. She slept in the guest room which also doubled as a junk room and every night before she slept she prayed that her dreams of a better life would come true.
One night after her chores, she was on her way to her room when she encountered Chief Afonja who was sitting in the sofa in the living room, deep in thought. She tiptoed away from him, having no intention of distracting him from his thoughts.
“Why’re are you still awake?”
“What are you doing tiptoeing all over the place?”
“I’m coming from the kitchen sir. I was cleaning up…”
“What is your name?”
“Niniola…” he said slowly, as if pondering over it. “Where did you come from?”
“From Oyo sir, my mother is Mama Eli’s sister.”
“Is that so?” he said scratching his beard. “Get me some cold water.”
Niniola rushed off to do his bidding and returned shortly with a tray.
“Good night sir.” She said.
“I didn’t ask you to leave. Sit down.”
Niniola stared at him for a few seconds, refusing to believe what she had just heard.
“I said sit down.” Chief Afonja said, taking a long gulp from his cup.
Niniola sat gingerly and wrung her fingers. She would be in a lot of trouble if any of the wives came out and saw her talking to Chief.
“What’s wrong with you? Why are you so tense?”
“Nothing is wrong sir.”
“Niniola…” he said again, stretching out on the chair and closing his eyes. “Tell me about yourself.”
“Young lady stop asking me to repeat myself, I know you can hear me loud and clear.”
“Tell me about yourself.”
Niniola looked at him discreetly yet again, wondering if he was drunk. Why was the chief asking her to speak with him like an equal? What was his game?
“My name is Niniola, I’m seventeen years old. I’m the first daughter of my mother. My father is dead but my mother remarried… I have two brothers and a sister. I’ve completed secondary school, I passed all my papers…”
“So why aren’t you in school?”
“My mother doesn’t have the money to pay for my fees.”
“Why are you here?”
“I want to learn my Aunty’s trade.”
Chief Afonja laughed. “Well there’s not much to learn about selling tins of milk and sugar! You should have stayed back at home if you came for that.” He laughed again, boisterously. “You came to learn your aunt’s trade!”
He wiped the tears from the corner of his eyes. Niniola was humiliated to hear her plan being mocked by this buffoon of a man. She looked away from him, pressed her lips together and kept her face straight. Chief Afonja snorted and reclined even further in the chair.
“You can go.” He said simply.
Now Niniola was confused, she looked at the man afraid to ask him to repeat the order again. Slowly she got up, picked up the tray and left the sitting room. By the time she got back to the sitting room from the kitchen, Chief Afonja was nowhere to be found.