Niniola put away the pots and dragged the rag across the wet floor. It had been another day of grueling hard work and she felt tired. She had spent two months with the Afonjas and she couldn’t see anything for her except running errands and cleaning pots. Her expectations of what her aunt would do were shattered; the woman obviously had no interest in her educational advancement. Then there was the issue of Chief and his strange interest in her, ever since that night when he had coming knocking on her door she had avoided him as much as possible and so did her best to clean up and leave the kitchen before he came home.
She wiped her hands and thought of her mother and siblings back home and wondered what horror they were putting up with.
“Just endure whatever you’re going through over her.” Her other had said to her two days ago when she called her.
“But mummy all I do here is clean and run errands, it’s like Aunty Rhoda doesn’t recognize me as her niece. I’m like a servant here…”
“Niniola would you rather come back here where we can’t even afford to eat once a day? Would you rather come back to this man who beats you for just walking by him? Or have you forgotten so soon what we saved you from?”
Niniola sighed and nodded. It had been a cold night and it rained heavily when there was a loud knock on the door. Her mother was busy taking care of her youngest so she had gone to answer the door. She would never forget the glazed look on her step-father’s face when he walked into the house and the strength of his hands as he grabbed her arms.
“You’re not useful to me.” he had said and she had almost choked from the odor of alcohol from his mouth. “
“How can you not be useful to me after all I do to provide for you and your wretched younger ones? Hmm? See your breasts…” he had staggered towards her and pinched them.
Niniola had screamed more out of fear than pain, the man before her was out of his mind.
“Your mother’s is all dry. Come and make a tired man feel some succor uhn?” he had pushed her on to the weak sofa and grabbed one of her thighs when her mother had hit him with the stick she used to prepare amala.
“You unfortunate man! Get off my child, get off my child or I will kill you!” She had continued beating him until he got off Niniola. In a swift movement, he collected the stick and began to hit her violently with it.
“Run to your room!” her mother had screamed. “Run to your room and lock the door!”
Niniola had cried her eyes out listening to her mother’s screams and curses. The next morning before her step-father woke up from his drunken stupor, her mother had given her all the money she had and instructed her to pack her bags and run away to Lagos.
“Don’t forget what we saved you from my dauthgter. See to it that you make it and come back and save your mother…” her mother’s voice had broken with emotion.
Niniola thought on all these as she walked out of the kitchen towards her room.
“Ah! You’re here tonight.” Chief Afonja said with much pleasure.
Niniola froze in her tracks, she hadn’t known that he was home.
“Where have you been?”
“Why do you always have to make me repeat myself? It’s starting to annoy me.”
“Chief…” Mama Ayo came downstairs and stared at Niniola and her husband wondering what was going on.
“What did she do?” she asked.
“She keeps making me repeat myself as if she’s deaf.” The chief said with much irritation.
“Don’t mind her, poverty has made her deaf too. I just tolerate her, she acts like a moron a lot of the time.”
“Sorry ma.” Niniola said, immediately going on her knees. She didn’t want to be sent back to her home for any reason.
“Go and bring me a malt.” Mama Ayo ordered, waving her away dismissively.
“And bring me some chicken.” She added.
Chief Afonja stared at his second wife and wondered how much it really cost to maintain each of his wives, especially Mama Ayo who was his favourite.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked, flicking back her braids.
“Can’t I look at my most beautiful wife?” he said without affection.
Mama Ayo looked away bashfully, hoping that this was a prelude to what she really came downstairs for. She took one of his hands and started to stroke it.
“You know I’ve missed you chief. It’s been a long time since we talked and spent some time together you know?”
Chief Afonja stiffened, he knew where his wife was going but he was far from interested in sex. “I’ve been very busy, there’s so much going on at the company these days.”
Mama Ayo smiled. “That means more money for us now?”
The chief smiled dismally as Niniola returned with Mama Ayo’s order. On her knees, she opened the drink and poured it out. Chief Afonja closed his eyes and leaned back, he knew he would stare at her if his eyes were open and he knew how vindictive his second wife could be.
“That’s okay, leave this place!” Mama Ayo snapped.
Chief Afonja wasn’t happy that his wife had sabotaged his plans with Niniola. “But Biola, why did you snap at her? She was carrying out your instructions.”
“That girl stinks. I don’t like being around her. Everything smells, her mouth, her armpits, her clothes…”
“Then buy her perfume and toothpaste.”
“What?” Mama Ayo said amused. “An ordinary house girl using perfume? Why can’t Mama Eli buy it for her? She’s her niece.”
Chief Afonja was tired of the conversation. He had a lot on his mind. “I’m going to bed, I’m really tired.”
“You’re coming to my room.”
Chief Afonja was ready for her. “Alright.”
Ecstatic, Mama Ayo led him up to her room with her food in her other hand. In her room Chief Afonja lay on her bed and stared at her, the woman was beautiful. Her skin was smooth and fair and he was momentarily aroused.
“Chief you won’t believe what happened to me today.” She said as she began to unbutton her nightgown.
“What?” he replied distractedly.
“My car broke down, I was so embarrassed. You need to change it for me.”
This singular statement returned the chief to his previous state.
“You know what? Why don’t you go and put on that lingerie I like.” He said mischievously.
“Which one? The green one?”
“Okay,” she replied with a twinkle in her eyes.
As she changed into her sexy underwear in the toilet, Chief Afonja popped a sleeping pill into his mouth. By the time Biola Afonja came out to show her husband her glorious body he was snoring with his mouth open.
Yimika, Mama Eli’s son was three years old but wasn’t speaking. It was the reason she had taken him to the hospital where she had learnt that he was autistic. Sitting on her bed she looked at him playing with a stainless spoon. He hit it repeatedly on the carpet, enjoying the dull noise he was making. She sighed and wondered where she had wrong with him. She had taken all the herbs her mother had brought and gone for every prayer meeting that had been suggested yet here she was with an autistic. How was she to cope with a special needs child for the rest of her life? How would Chief react to this news?
“Aunty Rhoda…” Niniola called, standing at the door.
“What is it?” she snapped.
“Chief is calling you ma.”
“Where is he?”
“In the sitting room upstairs ma.”
“Tell him I’m coming.”
When she got to the sitting room, she saw that it was a family meeting of sorts. Chief was seated alone, her senior colleagues were seated on the couch and she joined them.
“I’ve called you all here because we need to cut costs. Everyone has to spend wisely. Some things are going on in the company so I need you to cooperate with me and cut down on unnecessary spending.”
“Chief what is going on?” Mama Ayo asked. “Or don’t we deserve to know? You keep talking about something going on in the company but you won’t say what it is.”
“You don’t need to know that now. Just do what I have said and please cut down on unnecessary spending.”
“Does this mean we won’t get our allowances anymore?”
“You will, but no more than that.”
“Ah ah Chief!” she sat forward and frowned. “You have to tell us what is going on.”
“I’ve told you not to worry yourselves about that…”
“Stop telling us that…”
“Mama Ayo…” Mama Deji cautioned softly.
“’Stop poking me! We are not all quiet like you. How can chief tell us to cut down on our spending and not tell us why? Are we not his wives? He should prepare our minds…”
“For what?” Chief Afonja asked suspiciously.
“Mama Eli you won’t talk now abi? You’re comparing yourself to our senior wife whose children are grown up?”
Rhoda was overwhelmed by her own problems, she was in no mood for a fight. Besides, she had her own piece of news for Chief.
“Chief knows best. Let’s not bother him.”
Chief Afonja looked at his youngest wife strangely. Something was going on.
“I didn’t mean to counter you, I just have my own problems…”
“So you’re the only one that has problems?” Mama Ayo replied irritably.
Mama Eli wiped her eyes slowly.
“Ah ah is it that bad?”
Mama Eli poured out her heart to Mama Ayo whose eyes widened at the news.
“How will you tell Chief this one? This has never happened in this family. Are you sure you didn’t do anything wrong? You didn’t offend anyone?”
“I didn’t. I’m so confused…”
“Shh… stop crying. Don’t worry you don’t have to tell Chief yet. We’ll think of what we’ll do.”
Mama Eli nodded, taking comfort in her colleagues’ reassurance.