“Where did you get that bracelet from?” Mama Eli asked Mama Ayo as she zipped up her son’s lunchbag the next morning.
“It’s none of your business.”
“So you’re seeing another man?” she clapped her hands together. “He leaves me for you and you’re seeing another man?”
“Rhoda, it seems that you’re deaf. I said it is not your business!”
“Oh I’m deaf?”
“You must be. And jobless too. If you have nothing else to do with your time but report my activities to Chief you’re not busy enough.”
Mama Eli looked scathingly at her senior wife. “I will show you.”
“And I will equally surprise you. If you think you can sabotage my happiness in this house I will make your life miserable and that is not a bluff.”
She hissed and left the kitchen.
Deji, the first child and son of Chief Afonja was in his mother’s shop. He had just returned from a trip to India.
“Pelumi said you were not feeling too well. Are you alright now?”
“Yes, I’m fine.” She smiled contentedly.
“Good, because I want you to follow me to Lagos.”
She immediately began shaking her head. “To do what? What happens to my business here?”
“You need to rest and you can’t do that here. I will take you back home now so we can pack your things.”
“I’m not leaving. What happens to my business?”
“I’m sure Sis Ronke will take care of things, you’ve trained her well.”
“But I don’t want to be a burden to your wife…”
“She was the one who initiated this. What are you worried about? Chief? He has two other women to take care of him. Please forget him and come with me.”
What Deji couldn’t understand was his mother’s need to remain loyal to her husband even when he had betrayed her. She had made a vow to be married to him for better or for worse and she had no intention of breaking her vow. Her parents would turn in their graves if they knew she was even discussing the possibility of abandoning her husband. How could she tell her sons to persevere in their marriages if she left? It just wasn’t done.
“Thank you Deji, I’ll be fine.”
Her son hung his head, he couldn’t take her away against her will.
“I will tell my accountant to send the money to your account.” Chief Afonja said to Mama Eli as he donned his cap. “I hope he stops crying like a possessed person when he starts school. Last night I wanted to come downstairs and smack him, I couldn’t sleep.”
“Is that why you didn’t come to my room last night?”
Chief looked at her sourly. “You better take care of that boy, he’s an embarrassment. And discipline him, you’re too soft on him.”
“But he didn’t cry all night, you could still have come to my room. You’re just avoiding me.” she folded her arms.
Chief Afonja exhaled and tried to control his temper with Mama Eli, he had made such a huge mistake marrying her. She was constantly pestering him.
“Rhoda, did you marry me or did I marry you?”
“Ehn ehn Chief don’t start that!” she yelled. “I’m not made of wood! You’re denying me of my right and I won’t take it! Don’t test my patience o, just don’t test my patience! I’m not the kind of person you can cheat.”
He shook his head. “I should never have married you…”
“Well you have married me and you will do right by me! What does she have that I don’t have uhn?”
“What does who have?” he was confused.
“Mama Ayo.” She replied putting her hands on her waist and shaking her right leg.
“You’re such an uncivilized woman! I curse the drink I was drinking that day! To think that I would end up with a person like you.”
Mama Eli hurt with each word he said, she knew he didn’t want her but to hear him say it so callously brought tears to her eyes.
“God will judge between you and me, because I didn’t force you to marry me.”
“Really? You think I don’t know that you planned it? You trapped me with your pregnancy!”
“How was I to know that I would get pregnant that night? Or did we do it more than once?”
“Are you not a woman, you women know when you’re most likely to get pregnant? You just needed someone to rescue you from your poverty stricken family. Your mother was so happy to see all the things my family brought! Greedy woman! I’m sure they must have eaten the yams for months!”
Mama Eli was crying slowly. She wiped her face furiously with her hand and walked away.
“Are you leaving?” her husband asked laughingly.
“Thank you again for the bracelet.” Biola said to Gbenga.
“You’re welcome, I’m glad you liked it.”
“So can I take you out later tonight?”
“Okay can I bring you something to eat later today?”
“No, my staff would talk.”
“So let’s meet someplace where you’ll be comfortable.”
“I told you I’m not available Gbenga, please stop asking me for what I can’t give you.”
“There’s a hotel at Bayo Ajibade Street, it’s a new one…”
“I know it.”
“Let’s meet there to eat. No funny stuff, I promise.”
Biola sighed. “Gbenga please…”
“Biola please, I’m dying here.” he said earnestly. “I just want to spend time with you.”
She sighed. “Okay.”
Rhoda had dropped Yimika off at his new school and she was feeling free. Not having to put up with his hysterical crying was comforting, she needed time to decide what she would do about Chief’s nonchalance towards her. She had tried to endure him but things had become unbearable. There was also the issue of what Mama Ayo’s affair, she was saving that arsenal until she had more proof. It would break chief’s heart and she looked forward to seeing his reaction when she told him.
In the corner of the shop, Niniola was eating and wondering how she would sell her recharge cards. The only option left to her was to sell them when her aunt was not around. She would slip out on the guise of going to buy food and hawk her cards. Her mother had said her younger brother was indisposed and she wished she could send some money home so that he could be better taken care of. Everytime she thought of home, she was motivated to change her life.
Bebeto was replying to a text on her phone. Her real name was Khadija but she was called Bebeto because of her forwardness. Bebeto was known for joining in on conversations that she wasn’t invited to. But this weakness was useful in sales, which is why Rhoda employed her. She knew how to persuade customers to buy things. She scratched her scalp and laughed gently at something on her phone.
Rhoda’s phone rang.
“Hello? Madam please come and take your son!” the school’s head mistress said urgently.
“What do you mean?” she looked at her watch, it was just a few minutes to eleven.
“But it’s not yet time…”
“Madam, you didn’t tell us that your son has problems, he has injured himself.”
“Come here quickly please!”
“Okay.” She grabbed her handbag and rushed out, leaving her attendants confused.
“What’s wrong?” Bebeto asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Aren’t you living in the same house, why is she always in a bad mood?”
“I don’t know, why don’t you ask her?”
“What kind of response is that? If you don’t want to tell me just say so.”
Niniola shrugged and reached for her waist pouch. It was time to go selling.
“I’m going to buy something. I’ll be back soon.”
“What are you going to buy?”
“Ah! Mind your business!” she shook her head disapprovingly.
Left alone, Bebeto went into the inner store and stole a pack of biscuits from a carton that a rat had eaten. When Rhoda eventually saw it she would assume that a rat had eaten it all. Or so she thought.
Niniola turned into the corner where Iya Moshood fried and sold yam, akara and puff-puff. She had to collect two hundred naira from two people. She stopped in front of the cooperative building and bought some plantain chips when somebody bumped into her.
She hissed, looked at the retreating back of the guilty person and resumed her selection of the chips she wanted.
“Everything is sweet.”
She nodded perfunctorily and opened her waist pouch so she could pay the woman but her money was gone. Furiously she searched the pouch but the money was nowhere to be found.
“Ah ah, I put it here! I put two hundred naira here just now!”
“What is the problem?” the plantain chip seller asked, subtly taking the chips from her hands.
“I can’t find my money! I just counted it and put it here!”
“How much are you looking for?”
“One thousand, two hundred naira.”
“Did you close your pouch?”
It was then that Niniola realized that she hadn’t closed it. “But it was just a few minutes ago! Not even up to five minutes…”
“Someone must have seen you counting the money. You shouldn’t have counted it in public! Where are you from?” the woman said irritably. “Buy your plantain chips! Sweet chips!”
Niniola had been dismissed. She began to cry, her business had just started and someone had stolen all her money. She wondered how she would recoup her loss. Thankfully, her recharge cards weren’t stolen.
As she returned to her aunt’s shop she saw the young lady who had offered her aunt some assistance. She came out of the stationery shop hurriedly and went out of the market.
Rhoda sat with her legs apart and put her elbows on her thighs. She sat inside the inner store and cried slowly, Yimika had a bandage on his head and he was asleep. The proprietress had given her the fees she had paid that morning and begged her to take her son away.
“He didn’t allow anybody to touch him. He was just crying and hitting his head on the wall. We had to hold him to treat his wounds. I have never seen this type of thing in all my years as a teacher. Madam please get him some help, maybe you should take him for deliverance.”
“God what kind of life is this?” Mama Eli thought. A husband who didn’t love her and a son who was an embarrassment.
“What have I done to deserve all this?” she cried.
Niniola and Bebeto were attending to the customers but they knew their boss was having a moment. They noticed with shock the bandage on his head and surmised that he had been sent away from school. As Niniola gave a customer her change, she remembered the lady she had seen outside the stationery shop but she decided that her aunt didn’t deserve her help. She had lost her money because she was forced to look for another means to sell her goods.
“Give me two more packs of semo.”
“Okay ma.” Niniola said to the customer.
She went into the store and saw her aunt crying profusely. She swiftly got what she wanted and went back outside.
As she resumed her duties, Niniola began to have a change of heart. The misery in her aunt’s cry was heartbreaking.