“She’s doing much better, thank you. In fact, even I can feel her confidence in the subject.” Tayo Oludare, Jumoke’s mother said to Mrs Williams as they talked in the former’s sitting room.
“I knew it would work! In fact, I wish they had met each other earlier.”
Tayo laughed in response.
“So what school is she going to?”
“Well, UI is her first choice…”
“Nigerian universities! I can never send my children to one!”
“’You have the money to say something like that…”
“Even if my husband wasn’t as rich as he is, we would have borrowed the money o! Nothing but the best for my children.”
“So you think I don’t want the best for my children?’
“No o, I didn’t say that.” she flicked her long hair backwards. “I’m just saying that I would rather borrow to make sure that my children go to a school where they are not delayed. In four years, they graduate. Not five years, or six years.”
Tayo laughed uncomfortably as she handed Funke a bottle of soft drink that had just been opened.
“Like I said, you have the money.”
“And I thank God I do.” she took a sip from her drink and remembered something. “So what does Jumoke do now that she’s on a long holiday?”
“She stays at home. There’s nothing else to do.”
“Why don’t you get her a job, enroll her in a vocational class or something?” Funke Williams asked, flicking her fingers around in gesticulation.
“She’ll be back in school soon. I don’t really see the need to. Are your girls doing anything?”
“Yes, I enrolled them in a finishing school. They only go on the weekends, and sometimes they don’t, but it’s still something.”
“A finishing school?” Tayo asked unbelievingly.
“Yes, they need it!”
Tayo shook her head and thought of how different they both were. Why hadn’t Funke gotten them a job like she suggested she do for Jumoke? Funke had always been hypocritical, never willing to take her own advice. Tayo gulped down her drink before she said something she would regret.
Jumoke hummed as she grated the okra while her mother made the other dinner preparations. She thought of her last meeting with Lanre, it had been at Mama Yellow’s store where she had gone to buy some vegetable oil.
“So what are you doing tomorrow?” he had asked.
“I’m going to be reading for NECO exams.”
“Do you ever stop reading?” he had asked.
“I stop reading when I’m satisfied.” She had replied.
“No wonder Gbemi doesn’t like you.” he observed.
“What do you mean by that?”
He shrugged. “Gbemi doesn’t like serous people and you’re a serious person.”
“Well I don’t like unserious people either.”
He’d laughed and stared at her for a while as she looked vaguely at a bougainvillea tree in the next compound. “I like you.”
She’d shaken her head and tried not to smile. “I have to go, my brother would be wondering where I am.”
“Alright, can I see you tomorrow?”
“Yes, come to my house.”
“I can’t be at your house every time, my mum would get suspicious.”
“Well I can’t come to your house either, what if one of your nosy neighbours see me? Jummy you’re the one who has to come. I promise it won’t be for long…”
“But what exactly do you want me for?”
“To talk… you know, get to know you better. Don’t you want us to be closer?”
Jumoke couldn’t answer the question.
“Don’t you want us to be closer?” he’d asked again.
Jumoke shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “I can’t tell my mum I’m coming to your house again, I know her, and she won’t let me come.”
“Then don’t tell her you’re coming to my house…?”
“You want me to lie to my mum for you?” Jumoke looked unbelievingly at him. What gave him the effrontery to ask such a thing from her?
“It’s just one time. Besides, I would do the same for you if I could come to your house.” He looked earnestly at her and saw that it was getting him nowhere. “Alright, I’m sorry I shouldn’t have asked you to do that…”
“You shouldn’t.” Jumoke retorted.
“I’m sorry. It’s alright. I guess we’ll just see each other when we see then.” He replied with a strained smile and turned to leave.
“So you’re just going to leave like that?”
“What do you want me to say Jumoke? I’ve tried to reason with you…”
“No, you just tried to get me to lie to my mum for you! You did not reason with me.”
“And I said I’m sorry! Alright?” he snapped at her, the conversation was slowly escalating to something awful.
“I’ll see you later.” Jumoke replied and turned to leave.
He grabbed her arm and turned her to face him. “Let’s not fight, we don’t have time for this.”
He stared into her eyes imploringly and softened his hold on her arm. “I just really want to spend time with you. I can’t sleep.”
Neither can I, she thought.
“I’ll see what I can do…” she finally said.
After dinner, while Jumoke washed the plates, and Korede swept the dining area Mrs Oludare talked with their neighbor, Mrs Fasheun.
“I prefer eating fresh catfish.” Mrs Oludare said. “It’s just so much healthier and very tasty too.”
“Catfish? When Mama Akin will readily supply me with shaki, bokoto and abodi? By the time I finish preparing the soup, I’m even already satisfied! You should see the way my husband rushes home on Friday nights! If I tell him to hop on one leg after eating the food, he would!”
Mrs Oludare laughed.
“Fresh catfish!” Mrs Fasheun said almost disdainfully. It’s very good for pepper soup though.”
Just then Mama Yellow came into the compound with a young man who was carrying a keg of oil.
“Mama Yellow!” Mrs Oludare said. “I didn’t know you were coming tonight.”
“I wanted to bring the oil on time, I didn’t want to delay you.”
“Oh thank you! But you didn’t have to stress yourself this night.”
“No problem ma.”
“Please excuse me.” Mrs Oludare went inside her flat to get some money. While she was gone, Mama Yellow and Mrs Fasheun discussed the price of foodstuff in the market.
“Thank you.” Mama Yellow said, counting the money that Mrs Oludare had just given her. “When next you need something, let me know please!” she said gratefully.
“Alright I will.” Mrs Oludare replied with a satisfied smile and watched the woman turn to leave.
“Madam, please there’s something I want to talk to you about.” Mama Yellow said hesitatingly.
“Ehn ehn? In private?” she asked when Mama Yellow didn’t say what the matter was.
In a corner of the house the plump fair woman began to say what was on her mind.
“Please I don’t want you to see me as a gossip. I mind my business and just sell my goods but you’ve been very good to me so I feel I should let you know…”
“Mama Yellow, what is the problem?” Mrs Oludare asked nervously.
It’s your daughter and that boy…”
“I don’t know his name but he talks as if he was born in America… the two of them have been meeting beside my shop. It’s like they plan to meet somewhere else. Today I saw him holding her arm as if they are boyfriend and girlfriend.”
“Is this boy slightly fair in complexion?”
“Yes, his hair is full.”
Mrs Oludare put her hands on her waist and shook her head sadly. “Hmm… thank you Mama Yellow.”
Jumoke was reading when her mother entered her room later that night.
“Mummy…” Jumoke said in greeting.
“Jumoke…” she replied and sat on her bed heavily.
“What is it?”
“Have you been seeing the Williams boy?”
Jumoke heart stopped beating momentarily. Her hands were suddenly clammy and she parted her lips slightly so she could breathe out inaudibly.
“I… we see each other when I go to Remi’s house.”
“Jumoke, I will ask you again. Have you been seeing that boy?”
“You’ve been meeting him close to Mama Yellow’s store haven’t you?”
Jumoke could not speak, she simply nodded.
“Why?” her mother asked after a while.
“We just talk Mummy…. We just talk…”
“Jumoke… I’ve told you about boys like that. If you’re not doing anything wrong, why did you not tell me the truth?”
“Because you would tell me not to talk to him anymore…” she replied in a small voice.
“Stay away from that boy.” Mrs Oludare said. “I don’t want you going to their house except I send you there. It is for your own good.”
The mother laughed sardonically. “You’re a child. Jumoke, don’t let me see with that boy or hear that you are holding that boy in the middle of the road again. Do you hear me?”
As her mother walked out of the room, Jumoke realized that she was angry. She didn’t understand why her mother could not respect her feelings for Lanre. He was unlike any other boy she’d known, he was so mature and intelligent. Jumoke made up her mind to see him the next day, her mother was just being paranoid.