“I didn’t know you were pregnant.” Comfort said to her sister. They were sitting in front of the tenement building where Comfort and her six children lived.
“I was too ashamed to tell you about it. Instead, I carried out my frustration on you when you told me you had given birth to another child.”
Comfort bit back her words of rebuke, her sister was already broken.
“So what do you want to do now?”
“I don’t know Comfort! Did I do wrong by taking your children in?”
“Are you blaming my children for your predicament? You know the man never loved you, so don’t put this on my innocent children or on me for that matter! I’m tired of you making me feel like a burden, I won’t hear it. Not now, not now when I’m putting the pieces of my life together!”
Rhoda looked at her sister in surprise and saw something she had never seen before. Determination. Her sister had changed, she sat with her back straight and there was a confidence about her that made her even look younger.
“I’m sorry.” She said quietly.
“Let’s go to sleep. We’ll talk tomorow.”
Bebeto called Mama Eli the following morning as she got ready to go to her shop. She was sore all over from sleeping on the mat and she was sweating profusely. She had barely had any sleep, it had been too hot in the small, poorly ventilated room. Elizabeth was grumpy, she refused to eat the pap that her aunt had prepared.
“Mummy please come quickly!”
“What is it?” she said irritably.
“Some people have locked the shop! They just sent me out and locked everything!”
“What do you mean they locked the shop?” Mama Eli’s hairs stood on end. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Could chief really have sent thugs to lock up her shop? How was she to survive or care for their children?
“I’m coming! Just wait there!”
It was just as Bebeto had said. The locks to her shop had been changed and a metal chain secured the handle of the gate. A crowd had gathered in front of her shop and people started to ask her who she had offended. Did she owe a levy? Had she gotten into a fight with someone in government? Was she in debt?
Mama Eli couldn’t respond, she sat on the stairs and began to cry quietly.
Comfort dusted the wooden center table and smiled. She was enjoying her new independence. Being able to work and have her own money, save and take proper care of her children gave her more joy than she could ever have imagined. She thought of her sister and how things had turned so quickly for her. Would Rhoda be able to cope in her new situation? How would they manage in her small room? What about Rhoda’s children? How would they adjust to their new life?
As she pondered these, she was unaware of her employer watching her. Rolake Gbolahan was a big woman, after the birth of her second child, she grew from a size ten to a size fourteen. Try as she did, she couldn’t lose the weight. Her husband frequently made snide remarks about her present stature and she was becoming depressed at how much she had changed. Had it been a mistake to have children?
She watched Comfort cleaning the house and she grew envious. The woman had six children, yet she had managed to maintain a slim, enviable stature. Comfort had an almost plain face but a wonderful body, and she knew that all the woman needed was some money and proper care to become really stunning. How could someone who did so little, look so good? What made an illiterate like her so confident?
“Comfort! You missed a spot.” She said irritably.
The woman turned around and scrutinized the table, looking for the spot of dirt she had missed.
“You know what? Just clean the whole thing again. Since you can’t see it, just clean the whole thing. Who knows what else you missed!”
Comfort exhaled slowly and did as she was told, wondering what she had done to deserve her employer’s scorn.
Pelumi knocked on the door and exhaled. He hated being in his father’s house but he did it because he didn’t want to cause a misunderstanding between himself and his father. Things were bad enough between them as it was. Besides, his mother had pleaded with him to be cooperative with him on her behalf. He smiled as he thought of his mother who was enjoying her time in Paris. His father had been cruel to his mother yet the woman still defended him.
Getting tired of waiting, he checked his watch. He had been waiting for thirty minutes. Why would his father invite him only to keep him waiting?
“Pelumi…” Biola said coming into the siting room.
Pelumi looked up to see the woman who had destroyed the stability his family used to have. He had no love for her.
“Good afternoon.” He said simply.
“Good afternoon dear. Chief is coming. Has the maid served you?”
“She wanted to but I declined.”
“Why? Are you angry with us?”
“I’m fine. Thank you.”
“You think I cooked the food? No I didn’t. So it’s not poisoned or anything like that.” The young man looked at her sternly and she was glad to finally get a reaction from him. Apart from looking at her however, Pelumi did nothing else. He simply looked at his watch again and stared blankly at the television.
Biola felt dismissed and insulted. She huffed and walked away just as Chief came into the sitting room.
“Ah ah Biola where are you going?”
“I’m not welcome here so I’m leaving.” She replied.
“Good afternoon sir.” Pelumi greeted, rising up.
“What do you mean by that?” the chief asked his wife, distracted by her distress.
“Ask him.” she pointed at Pelumi.
“What is she talking about?” the chief asked his son.
“I don’t know.”
“Ah ah Pelumi! Are you out of your mind? I asked you a question and you’re driblling me.”
Pelumi shook his head, he knew he shouldn’t have come here. “She came down, I greeted her. She asked me if I’d been served, I said I was fine. That’s it.”
“Chief he didn’t insult me with his words, he did it with his body language. It was almost as if he was sending me away!”
“Is that so?” the chief said, feeling torn. Here was the son he had been looking forwad to seeing yet his wife was unhappy.
“Dad please can we just talk? I didn’t come here for this…”
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about! Should you be talking to your father like that?” Biola suddenly interrupted.
Pelumi was angry. He hated this tiring exchange and it made him lose even more respect for his father who looked weak. He was tempted to pick up his bag and leave but he remembered his mother’s words:
“Just be patient, whatever you do, be patient. Don’t be rash!”
Pelumi exhaled and closed his eye, wondering what the best way was to diffuse the tension in the room.
“I’m sorry.” He said to hs step-mother, then he looked at his father and repeated the apology. “I’m sorry.”
Unable to say anything further, Biola hissed and left the room. The chief shook his head and sat down. The son sat down too. There was an uncomfortable silence between them.
“You’re too far from me.” the father eventually said.
“I know you don’t mean that apology.”
“I do.” he smiled sadly.
They looked at each other again, the son saying to the father what he could not say with his mouth with his eyes.
“I have to leave now.” Pelumi said and left the room.
Mama Eli had gone to her shop several times, hoping that by some miracle she would see her husband so she could beg him for her business but her hopes were dashed. Chief didn’t visit the shop or allow any sort of communication with her. She slowly came to the realization of the fact that her shop was gone.
Depressed and hungry after another visit to her shop, she went to the bukateria she visited often and waited hoplessly for her turn at the serving point. Suddnely she felt someone poke her arm gently, it was Oladapo, the man who mysteriously appeared when she came to eat here.
“Good afternoon.” He said with cheer.
“Good afternoon.” She replied tiredly.
“Why don’t you go and take a seat. I’ll make sure they bring your meal.”
Too tired to argue, she ccomplied. He always seemed to know what she would prefer and she ate her food gratefully. As she ate she thought of her conversation with her sister that morning.
“Rhoda! You need to start doing something else. Chief is not taking you back!”
“How do you know that? You’re just jealous of me Comfort!”
“Jealous? Why would I be jealous of you?”
“Because I married a rich man…”
“Who doesn’t love you, who has never loved you and who will most likely never love you!”
“And your husband loved you?”
“No he didn’t. But it took me getting to the gates of heaven to realize that. Now I’ve moved on!”
“It’s easy for you to move on when your husband is not rich.”
“And it’s easy for you to want to be married to an unloving husband when all you want is his money.”
Rhoda had almost slapped her then.
“Move on Rhoda, you’re stonger than this! If I could move on, you can. You don’t need chief and his money when you can make your own!”
“I’m not ready to start cleaning anybody’s toilet.”
“Then find something else to do!”
Rhoda took a sip of her drink as the good Samaritan returned.
“You look sad today.”
“I am.” Rhosa replied.
“Care to share what the problem is?”
Overwhelmed, Rhoda leaned back and began to talk.