“Don’t worry miss, I’ll take care of her.” Mrs Cartwright said to Jumoke reassuringly.
She took one last look at her daughter and forced herself not to cry. She would be fine, Mrs Cartwright would take care of her. Things had been more difficult than she had envisaged that they would be having her daughter with her, and she soon realized that she had to work to augment the allowance that her parents sent monthly.
Her mother had kept to her word in seeing that Jumoke took full responsibility for her child. She had been given the first year in school to settle down and get used to the system. But as soon as she got home for the holidays, her mother let her know that she would be returning with Hope.
“If you passionately disobeyed me, then you must passionately take care of your mess.” She had said.
Her father had not been around to save her, he had been away to India on official business. Jumoke had had no choice but to do as her mother wished. Mrs Cartwright had immediately noticed Hope’s presence at church upon her return from Nigeria and wondered how she would manage with her studies. When it was apparent that the young girl had no idea how expensive childcare was, she volunteered to look after her while she was at school or work. The elderly woman had recently been widowed and looked forward to the company of an energetic toddler.
Pulling her scarf around her neck, she walked into the café where she worked as a waiter and changed into her work clothes. Between balancing plates on her nimble fingers and taking orders, she stopped worrying about her daughter and just tried to get through the chaotic day. She had chosen not to appeal to her father for more money, she thought that he had done too much already sending her to school abroad after what she had done. Asking him to pay for her mistake would be asking for too much, she reasoned. She was too grateful for the second chance she was getting to ask for more favors, so she decided to do whatever needed to be done to take care of her and her daughter. It made her feel better about herself.
With this on her mind she didn’t notice a group of young men who had been leering at her and snickering or the outstretched leg of one of them as she balanced two steaming bowls of chili soup on her hands. She fell down with a thud, plates shattering and hot soup on her arm. She yelped in pain while the men tried to stifle their laughter, from the corner of her eyes she could see the manager stomping towards her.
“That’s the second time you’re breaking plates this week! Are you sure you’re cut out for this job? I’m taking this out of your pay, now clean up this mess!” He snapped and apologized to the customer whose table had been stained with soup.
Jumoke didn’t respond, she slowly began to gather the broken pieces and felt sorry for herself.
I brought this on myself. She thought.
She had continued working at the café for three more months before she found a job in her campus that paid her a little more and gave her more time to study and look after her daughter. It had been a difficult time for her, she thought of the many times she went without food so that Hope could eat or how difficult it had been to read with her responsibilities. Hope had been the only source of joy to her, she looked at her and promised herself to do whatever was necessary to create a better future for them both.
The sound of a car horn jolted her back to her reality. She was sitting in her car, opposite a supermarket and saw Hope returning towards the vehicle with a white plastic bag. The girl looked uncomfortable, she was walking stiffly and looking subtly over her shoulder. Jumoke sat up and observed two teenage boys walking some feet behind her, they were laughing and seemed to be talking to Hope.
“Yellow pawpaw!” she heard one of them say. “Left, right, left! Your waist, your waist!”
“All I want is your waist!” the other one said and they both laughed.
“Dis one no get yansh o!”
“She get now, check am well.”
Jumoke was livid, she forced herself to calm down momentarily and got down from the car. Hope looked relieved to see her walking towards her.
“Hey!” Jumoke said stopping in front of one of the boys. “Did your mother not teach you manners?” she asked.
“Ma?” one of the boys said.
“I said did your mother not teach you manners that you have to make catcalls at my daughter?”
“Where is the cat ma?” one of them said derisively, trying in vain to hide his grin.
Jumoke grabbed one of his ears and twisted it hard. The boy yelped in pain, leaning down towards the short woman whose grip was unbelievably strong.
“Ma, you will tear my ear o!” the boy cried.
“Yes, and you will go home and tell your mother to teach you some manners.”
“Please ma…” the other boy cried in fear.
“Shut up!” she shrieked, unaware of the scene she was creating. “Now apologize!”
“Madam, what happened?” a passerby asked.
“We didn’t do anything to her o!” the free boy quickly responded. “We were just saying our own thing.”
“Madam, what happened?” The man asked again.
“These two insolent boys were making catcalls at my daughter. She’s just eleven! You should have seen how uncomfortable she was.”
“Madam, which one is catcall again?” The man asked.
“That’s what we were asking her o!” the free boy replied.
“Please help me beg her to release my ear sir!” The punished one begged.
“Madam, please release him…”
“Not until they apologize for their behaviour!”
“For what? What did we do?” The free boy asked adamantly.
Jumoke twisted the ear in her hand even harder.
“I’m sorry!” the punished boy screamed.
“I’m waiting for you.” Jumoke said to the other boy.
Seeing that the welfare of his friend was in his hands, he grudgingly apologized and briskly walked away with his friend who held his ear tenderly.
“If anything happens to my friend’s ear, you will be in trouble o!” the free one said from afar.
Jumoke wanted to run after him and smack his mouth but hissed and held her daughter.
“Please madam, what did you say those boys did again?” the confused passerby asked.
Jumoke tried to explain what the boys had said.
“So that’s why you pulled that boy’s ears? It’s a normal thing now! They’re boys, what do you expect from them?”
Jumoke shook her head and regretted giving the man an audience. “Obviously, you’re equally capable of such a stupid behaviour.”
“Ah ah! What’s wrong with this woman? You think I’m one of those boys? I will beat you here and nothing will happen!”
“Really? Lay a finger on me and see what happens to you.” She retorted, fury rising up within her.
“Mummy… please, let’s just go.” Hope said fearfully.
“You women don’t know how to talk, one man gave you a car to drive, and you think you can speak to any man you see anyhow!”
Jumoke laughed in spite of herself. “You must have serious self-esteem issues. Did you walk here?” she looked around the park. “Yeah, looks like you don’t own a car and it must really frustrate you to see me drive my own car.”
“I’m warning you this woman!”
Jumoke took off her shoes and tossed them in the car. “Hope, get in the car.”
“What’s going on here?” someone said, walking towards the two fighting adults.
Jumoke turned to see Derick Dede carrying two large plastic bags.
“What’s going on here?” He asked again.
“Do you know this woman? You better warn her before I mess up her face this night!”
“Please come and mess it up!” Jumoke moved menacingly towards him.
“You’re now bold because your boyfriend is here abi?”
“Ju…” Derick tried to intervene.
“Mind your own business!” she spat at him.
“I don’t have time for you.” The man said and turned towards Derick. “You better teach your girlfriend to behave herself when men are talking. Idiot!” he walked away hissing.
Jumoke looked around and grabbed a stone. Derick caught her just before she stoned the departing fellow.
“Get a hold of yourself!” he held her hand and forced her to face him. “He’s not worth it!”
“Why didn’t you just mind your own business?” she retorted, almost choking on her fury. She had needed an outlet for her anger and Derick had deprived her of it.
“Oh, so I should have allowed you to probably kill someone tonight?” he stared at her until she looked away. “Take a deep breath in… out…”
Jumoke allowed the stone to fall to the ground. “Girls shouldn’t have to put up with boys’ foolish behaviour just because they are girls.”
“I agree.” He said softly.
“Then you should have said something when that buffoon was running his mouth off.”
“You told me to mind my own business!”
“You should have addressed him, instead you were tryiing to get me to back down.”
He sighed. “I’m sorry I was such a disappointment.”
“Yeah you should be.”
Jumoke folded her arms and looked away, she was now aware of her barefoot on the ground.
“You have nice feet.” He said.
She stared at him witheringly but looked away when he grinned.
“Don’t try to salvage your ruined reputation.”
“I’m not. I was just making an observation.”
Jumoke sighed and opened the door. “Thanks for nothing.” She muttered.
Derick stuck his head in the car and addressed Hope who looked traumatized. “I might not agree with your mum’s methods but learn this from her, never allow yourself to be intimidated by any boy or man. Stand up for yourself, but choose your battles wisely.”
“Yes sir.” She replied.
Jumoke observed him briefly. “I didn’t tell you to educate my daughter.”
“I apologize.” He held up his hand.
She observed him yet again as she started the engine and then drove off.
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