The first time Niniola heard that her mother was pregnant for the sixth time she was furious.
“Why? Why? How will you take care of it? How can you get pregnant when we’re trying to escape?” she had railed on, not understanding why her mother had been so careless.
“Well, I’ll have the baby soon. There’s nothing I can do about it. I just wanted to let you know. Is there anything you can do to help me?” her mother replied tonelessly.
“I’ll send three thousand naira to you.” Niniola grumbled. She had intended to send two thousand naira but she felt obliged to send an extra thousand with the news she had just heard.
“Thank you my child, your children will take care of you.”
“Amen. Bye.” Niniola hung up, still furious and suddenly feeling frustrated.
On the other end, Comfort thanked the recharge card seller and returned the phone she had just used. She waddled away slowly and covered her arms with her scarf, the sun was biting the welts on her skin where her husband had lashed the night before.
Niniola was desperate for money. She feared for her mother’s safety and she wanted to get her away from her step-father as soon as possible. Her frustration was making her unusually cranky and Bebeto bore the brunt of it.
Mama Eli was out for a meeting and had left an instruction for the girls to begin displaying the new goods she had bought. Bebeto as usual was lax when her boss wasn’t around, she was chatting on her phone and giggling, leaving Niniola to do all the work.
“Bebeto, won’t you come and do the work Mummy said we should do?”
“I’m coming now. After all it’s not as if I’ve not been working.”
“When are you coming? Do you think I’m stupid? You’ve been chatting with your boyfriend for the past twenty minutes, and I’ve been doing all the work. Leave that phone and come here now!”
Bebeto laughed. “Are you commanding me? So Niniola can talk? Say it again!” she mocked. “Command me again. Idiot!”
“Who are you calling an idiot?”
Niniola didn’t respond, she smiled sardonically and continued arranging the bottles of juice on the shelf in front of her. Bebeto continued chatting and giggling, oblivious to Niniola who had finished sorting out the carton at her feet. Suddenly she felt her phone snatched away from her and watched in horror as Niniola smashed it against the floor, stomped on it and kicked the pieces on to the road.
“Don’t ever insult my mother. Never, ever, in your life!”
Bebeto’s eyes clouded over in tears, her boyfriend had bought her the phone a few months ago.
“Are you crazy?” she charged at Niniola who inched out of the way just in time. Bebeto crashed on to the floor and became even more furious.
“I will deal with you today! Do you think it is that old phone you’re carrying around that you destroyed?” she got up and went outside the shop to gather what was left of the phone. The screen was broken to smithereens. She gathered the frame, battery and case and tried not to cry. She had never in her wildest imagination thought that Niniola could be so vindictive. Blind with fury, she picked up a stone and flung it at the unsuspecting girl who had resumed her work. The stone hit her head and she yelped, she touched the point of impact and her hand came away with blood.
Mama Rasheed had seen the whole display from afar. She let out a scream.
“Bebeto has killed somebody!”
Biola walked down the hallway chanting to herself.
It’s just food and drinks, it’s just food and drinks.
She held her hand to the door and asked herself what she would do if Gbenga made a move on her. I’ll walk away, I can handle this. I’m not going to throw away my life for one young man.
But as soon as he opened the door and she saw the hair spread across his chest, her knees went weak.
“Hello Biola.” He said in his rich baritone voice. “You look stunning.”
She smiled falteringly. “Thank you.”
“Come in.” he said, opening the door wider.
Biola stepped into the room and was immediately serenaded by the smooth jazz music playing and the rich aroma of all the food on display.
“You’ve invested quite a lot here.” she said pointing at the food.
“I wasn’t sure what you wanted so I thought I’d give you as many options as possible.”
“Well this grilled fish is certainly an eye-catcher!” she reached for a piece of fish and bit into it greedily. “Hmm… as delicious as I expected.”
Gbenga laughed and took a sip of his wine. “That right there is why I wanted you to come today. To make you smile in genuine pleasure.”
Biola looked away from him and took another bite of her fish.
When Mama Eli got to her shop, people had surrounded Bebeto. Mama Rasheed was holding a cane in her hand.
“Foolish girl! So you want to kill her because of a phone that it easily replaceable? You will sleep in a police cell tonight.”
“Please ma, it was the devil. I don’t know what got over me!” Bebeto pleaded pitifully, her clothes were damp with sweat and her skin was full of welts.
“What’s going on here?” Mama Eli said.
“My friend, thank your lucky stars that this girl didn’t put you in trouble today.” Mama Rasheed responded and proceeded to tell her what had happened.
Mama Eli looked at the girl in shock. “So where is Niniola now?”
“Some people have taken her to the hospital.”
“Please watch over this girl, you locked up the shop?”
“Yes, I didn’t want people to steal your wares.”
“God bless you. Let me go and check on Niniola.” She turned to leave and then looked back at Bebeto.
“You better pray that she’s alright, if not I will kill you myself.”
Niniola lay still on the bed wondering why she had let her emotions get the best of her. How would all the trouble she had created help her solve her mother’s problem? What if her aunt sent her packing?
“Excuse me.” a middle-aged woman called to her, she was well-dressed and Niniola was certain that she wanted someone else.
“Excuse me. Young lady?” She said again.
Niniola was startled, what could the well-dressed woman possibly want?
“Yes ma.” she tried to sit up.
“Lie still, lie still! You don’t have to sit up.”
Niniola obeyed and watched the woman curiously.
“I saw them bring you in. Are you feeling better?”
“Can you tell me what happened?”
Even though Niniola didn’t know this woman she told her what happened and why she had been so provoked. She poured out her heart to the strange woman who sighed when she was done.
“That’s sad. Are you educated?”
“I’ve completed secondary school.”
“Do you want to further your education?”
“Yes but I can’t afford it.”
“Would you be interested in taking an examination? If you pass it you could qualify for a scholarship.”
Niniola sat up a little. “Ma?”
The woman pushed a card into her hands. “Go to that website.” She pointed to a web address. “You will see all the details there.”
“Why are you helping me ma?” she asked confused.
“I used to be like you.” she said sadly and left. Not long afterward, Mama Eli came in.
“Niniola! Good Lord! What were you and Bebeto doing? Why did you get into a useless fight with her? What if you had died?”
“I’m sorry ma.” she replied as remorsefully as she could.
“You have beautiful skin.” Gbenga said pushing the hair away from her face.
“Thank you.” she replied bashfully, wiping ketchup from her hand. “I should go now.”
“My mother-in-law is at home and I don’t want her to be suspicious of me.”
“But you have nothing to hide, we haven’t done anything. I haven’t touched you…”
Biola blushed, looking away.
“Not that I would mind if you touched me…” he continued.
“Stop talking like that Gbenga. You know I can’t have anything to do with you. Can’t we just eat and drink?”
“Yes we can, but maybe next time you should come wearing a hijab.”
Biola laughed. “Or maybe next time we can eat at a restaurant.”
“Yeah, as if you would agree to that!”
Biola laughed again. “My husband is popular in this city. I can’t risk being caught with you.”
“Then maybe we should go somewhere where he’s not popular.”
“What do you mean?”
“Let’s go to Papari Resorts.”
Biola looked at him unbelievingly. “Don’t be ridiculous Gbenga, you know I can’t do that.”
“Is your whole life going to be a series of restrictions? Come with me!”
“I can’t. What would I tell my husband?”
“You keep talking as if he would miss you that much. Are you his only wife?”
“I’m his favourite wife.”
“Yet he married someone else after you.”
That hurt Biola. “Yes but he still favors me. He had to marry the woman, he didn’t want to.”
Gbenga shook his head disdainfully. “I can’t believe you’re making excuses for him. You women!”
Biola was even more hurt. “Who are you to judge him? Are you even up to half of the man that he is?”
Gbenga’s ego was bruised. “You’re comparing me to that old man you’re married to?”
“I’m telling you not to disrespect him because you’re not half the man that he is.”
He set down his wine glass. “I find it challenging that you keep comparing a virile man like me to an old impotent man like your husband. Perhaps I should show you the stuff I’m made of.” He leaned towards her and grabbed her head, forcing his lips into hers.
Biola pulled away in shock and anger. “Gbenga what do you think you’re doing?”
“Oh wow, you’re just as delicious as I expected!”
Biola grabbed her bag and made to get up but Gbenga pulled her back. “I was waiting for you to give it to me but since you’ve questioned my manhood I might as well take charge.”
“Gbenga!” Biola cried fearfully as he forced her back to the ground. “Stop it! I was only angry with you, I didn’t mean to offend you…”
Gbenga was overcome by lust and anger he hitched up her skirt and forced her legs open with his knees.
“Gbenga please!” Biola cried in fear as her charming date unbuckled his trousers.
Ene Johnson sat in the home of the Afonjas looking at the wall clock.
“Aunty Ene. I’m sorry for keeping you waiting. I wanted to quickly finish making the ila asepo.” Mama Eli said.
“No problem ma.” Ene replied without a smile.
Mama Eli sat down with a flop, she had had a tiring day. Niniola was resting in her room and she had to do all the housework.
“Before we start…” Ene said, bring out a green file jacket. “I want to let you know my fees. I charge by the hour…” she handed a piece of paper to Mama Eli. “These are my rates.”
Mama Eli studied the paper.
“Ah Aunty Ene, this is expensive!”
“My services are rare and I’m fully committed to my clients…”
“Still, this is a lot! My husband won’t help me with this child, I’m sponsoring everything. Please consider my plight.”
Ene sighed. “Alright, I’ll just charge you half of the session rate.”
Mama Eli sighed.
“That’s the best I can do for you. This is an early intervention so I feel I should support you.”
“Thank you Aunty Ene.”
“I want you to answer some questions for me please. And try to be honest as possible.”
“First let’s focus on the positive. What’s his favourite activity?”
Mama Eli smiled. “Aunty Ene, he loves to play with colors!”
Mama sat outside the compound drinking bitter leaf juice. She was glad that she had come to her son’s house after all, she’d spent time with her grandchildren and helped Mama Eli remain in her husband’s house. The gate opened and she watched Mama Ayo drive into the compound.
She spent some time in the car staring downwards and then opened the door. As her daughter-in-law walked towards her she saw the beauty that her son was entrapped by. The woman was graceful, but she knew that beneath that layer of composure was malevolence.
“Mama Ayo, welcome.”
“Mama, good evening.” She curtseyed.
“Hope there’s no problem?”
“No, none at all.” Mama Ayo replied. “Let me go and freshen up.”
“Alright.” Mama replied, and took a sip from her bitter leaf juice.