Last week’s unexpected and upsetting visit from Stephen had thrown me off-balance and had me praying that nothing overly dramatic would happen in the compound this week. I just wanted to have some peace. Ti-Abasi had gotten tired of staring at the two of us and had snatched the keys from my hands and gone inside my apartment to make herself comfortable, while waiting for me to come fill her in when I was through with Stephen.
The next thirty minutes revealed some interesting things. First, Stephen has a cousin who lives two streets away from the compound. Apparently, he’d spotted me coming out of a shop last week and had followed me home, without making his presence known. I cannot begin to say how much that made my skin crawl. Or the fact that he seemed to have conveniently forgotten that episode that happened during my vacation and wanted us to start off where we’d left off. I told him that was an impossible thing and would never happen and that I would appreciate it if he stayed away from me forever. He did look quite surprised at my vehemence, but I didn’t care.
It took me another hour to realise how much resentment and anger that I harboured towards him. All week, I’ve been asking God to forgive me and help me let go of what’s in the past and forgive him. I think I’m getting somewhere; at least I no longer get angry when Ti-Abasi teases me by calling him my Hollywood-style boyfriend.
Apparently, my hope of having a quiet week in this compound was not to be; this week’s upset was more of an emotional one than the usual compound brouhaha, and it was caused by none other than my dear friend Ti-Abasi. I never thought the day would come that I would feel anything for her other than love. Well, that day did come today and was so totally unexpected that I almost ruined a good friendship because of my worry and maybe, a tinge of envy.
I was in the market buying the ingredients to prepare a little pounded yam and white soup, when my phone vibrated inside my purse. I took it out and looked at the LCD screen; it was Ti-Abasi. The noise in the part of the market I was in was too loud for me to have any meaningful conversation with anyone. Wondering if any mischief was going down at the compound, I smiled, shook my head and put the phone back inside my purse. I’d become so accustomed to expecting trouble in that compound that it did not occur to me that she may have wanted me to purchase some item for her.
I hurried through the rest of the shopping, for two reasons. I wanted to get out of the wet and muddy market, and also make it back in time to meet whatever drama I was missing out on. However, I forgot all about my hurry at the stand where I bought the pumpkin leaves. It was the last item on my shopping list and I’d collected the pumpkin leaves and had walked about ten feet away, when I heard a shout behind me. I usually ignore such noises when I’m on the road, but since I was in the market, I turned back just in case it was someone wheeling a barrow.
It wasn’t; rather, it was the woman I’d just bought pumpkin leaves from. She was gesticulating, signing at me to come back. Puzzled, I walked back towards her and was about three feet away when she angrily said, “You never pay me my money.”
Instantly apologetic, I propped my grocery bag between my legs and dug inside for my purse. My hand felt round the polythene bag until it hit the bottom. I grasped the purse, pulled it out and brought out a two hundred naira note from inside it. I handed it to the woman and apologised again. Apparently, she was dissatisfied with my apologies because she handed over my change with a frown etched on her dark, sweaty face. I thanked her and was walking away when I heard her mutter something about beauty and thieves. Irked, I chose to ignore her. However, she said something else, this time quite loudly, and her neighbours on both sides burst into laughter.
Instinctively, I knew she was talking about me and despite my best intentions to the contrary, I found myself turning and going back to her stand.
“Madam, please if you have anything to say, I’d prefer that you say it to my face and not behind my back.”
She reared back and stared at me, while the other women fell silent. “Wetin you talk?” she said, offended. “You tink say I dey fear you? See dis gail o! Na so una go dey wear fine clot dey waka about, but una no get money. Den una go come buy pesin market wen una sabi say una no fit pay! Abeg gerrouut!”
“Abeg madam, if you want to insult me, get your facts straight first!” I fired back, really annoyed. “Who told you that I don’t have money? Abi pesin no dey make mistake again? I even came back to pay you your money. What is your problem?”
“Why you no pay am the first time? If to say I no come call you, na so you for take my money dey waka! Abeg just comot from my front!” she hissed.
“Hundred naira?” I cried out, incredulous. “Na hundred naira I wan take run? For your information, I’m above that!” To prove my case, I wedged the polythene bag between my legs again and opened the purse which I’d still been holding. The clean one thousand and five hundred naira notes, which I’d obtained from the ATM which stood at the entrance of the market, lay inside all well-arranged. I sought the sympathy and understanding if those who’d stopped by to watch and her fellow sellers, by flashing the money.
“Auntie,” I said to the woman who stood to my opponent’s left. “Please, help me see o! Will I have all this money in my purse and yet refuse to pay her hundred naira?”
The woman shook her head, as did a few others. The woman who was arguing with me could say nothing in the face of such evidence. She picked up a bunch of pumpkin leaves and began to pluck them, her face stamped with utter concentration as if she were unaware of the rest of us. I gave her a stern glare that went unnoticed, picked up my bag and walked away.
As I left the market, it occurred to me that some unscrupulous fellow may have had a glimpse of the contents of my purse and may at that very moment, be shadowing me to the compound in hopes of forcefully divesting me of my wealth. I quickened my footsteps, berating myself for that singular foolish act of showing off the contents of my wallet in other to win an argument. Idara, what have you achieved now? Serves you right if someone robs you, I told myself.
I surreptitiously glanced over my shoulder every couple of minutes, walking into a stationery car on one of those times; I almost broke into a run when a keke went by, passing so close to me that my panicked glance saw the seconds hand on the faux-Rolex watch the driver wore on his left wrist. I got to the house safely with no mishaps or waylaying bandits. The entire compound was quiet and calm in the humid heat, with only flies buzzing around the gutter where Mrs. Enemuo had poured away the water she’d used in washing out her pot of akpu.
Wondering why Ti-abasi had called me, I went into the apartment and put everything away in the refrigerator, choosing instead to eat the slices of watermelon and pineapple I’d bought, in order to assuage my hunger a bit. Quite sated with all that juice and roughage in my stomach, I lay down on the bed, picked up my phone and began to call Ti-abasi. Her phone rang three times but she didn’t pick up. I was ringing the fourth time when overcome by the stress of the day, I drifted off to sleep, only to be awakened in what seemed like minutes later by Ti-Abasi’s signature rat-at-tat knock on the door.
I roused myself from the bed and clumsily walked to the door, blood rushing to my head at my sudden upright position. Frowning, I stopped for a couple of seconds to regain my balance and then pulled back the deadbolts, chain and unlocked the key. She was still knocking, even though she heard me unlocking the door.
“Da, will you stop knocking my door like that?!” I rasped, irritated.
She laughed and did it again. Sometimes, this girl can really be juvenile. I opened the door and went back to the bed. She entered in, shut the door and on seeing the plate which still contained two or three cubes of watermelon and pineapple, made a beeline for the refrigerator. I turned and faced the wall so I could hide the smile that was blooming on my face at her disappointment.
“So you ate everything?” she asked, her lips rolling into a moue of disappointment.
“Before nko? Did you ask me to buy or remain any for you?” I retorted, pleased.
She hissed and went to where the pots were. Seeing nothing, she returned and fell down on the bed, muttering something about laziness.
“I was in the market when you called, that’s why I didn’t answer. I thought something was going down in the compound; come and see the way I was rushing to get back, only to come and see everywhere as quiet as when I left. So, what was the matter?” I asked, propping myself against the wall so that I could see her face.
She opened her mouth as if to answer and then hesitated, shutting it again. Her fingers played with the loose threads at the edge of pillowcase which covered the pillow she held on her laps. The beginnings of a smile touched her lips and then slowly faded away.
What is going on here? I wondered. It must be a very important matter, if it had robbed the garrulous Ti-Abasi of speech.
“Talk now,” I urged, now sitting up. I didn’t want to miss a single word of whatever it was that she was going to share. She sighed and smiled again, still unraveling my pillowcase. I grabbed the pillow from her and put it behind me. Left seemingly defenseless, she crossed her arms and smiled again.
“I’ve gone and fallen in love,” she blurted out, like the words were tongue-scalding hot pap that she was trying to spit out.
“Huh?” was my first response. Then the words sank in and I got up and knelt on the bed, excited and ready to elicit every detail. “Are you serious?” I exclaimed. “Anie k’edo? Who is it? Do I know him? When did this happen sef? And how do you mean you’ve gone and fallen in love as if ado idiok mkpo? Is it a bad thing? Or is the guy married? Is he? Is he a married man?” I asked, rapidly firing the questions at her.
All of a sudden, she yelped and jumped off the bed massaging her rump. I reared back, puzzled.
“What is it?” I asked, thinking she’d been bitten by a soldier ant or something.
“The seat is hot,” she replied, grinning.
“What seat?” I asked, bemused.
“The hot seat you’re putting me on, with all those questions,” she replied, her grin widening.
“Ha ha,” I said, smiling. “Sit down joor! And tell me everything from the beginning. Make sure you don’t leave out any detail.”
“Well,” she began, drawing out the word. “He isn’t married.”
“Of course I know he’s not married!” I exclaimed, rolling my eyes in exasperation. “You’re way smarter than that.”
“You asked and I answered.”
“Gimme the real gist nah!”
A strange look passed across her face; whether it was caution or she was shy, I couldn’t tell for it passed all too quickly. She looked down and gently fingered the leather bracelet on her wrist.
I was about to hurry the conversation along, when I realised that I’d seen that bracelet before. It was made of three thin strips of dark brown leather, intricately interwoven in a single braid and tied off at both ends with smaller leather strips, forming a sort of tassel. There were two different brightly-coloured stone and glass beads on each strip of leather; blue, red, grey, turquoise, green and tan, which shone brightly against the dark background. It is a unique bracelet and the first time I’d seen it, I’d wanted one for myself. Frederic had then promised me that the next time he went to Cameroun, he would get one made for me. I tried to wrap my mind round it, but it was nigh impossible.
“Frederic?” I asked, confused.
Ti-Abasi raised her head sharply, staring at me. “How did you know?” she asked, surprised.
My heart sank at those words, truth staring at me from her eyes. “Frederic is the only person I know who owns a bracelet like that on this side of the Niger,” I replied, nodding at her wrist.
“Oh,” she exhaled, covering her wrist with her right hand.
“Do you mind telling me what is going on?” I asked, pointedly staring at her. “When did this start?” I continued, annoyed. “Ti-Abasi, of all the young men available, why Frederic? He’s got a girlfriend for Pete’s sake!”
“Please stop shouting,” she pleaded, her left hand absently twirling the bracelet around her wrist. “I didn’t mean for it to happen. And besides, he’s no longer seeing Isioma,” she said, adding that bit of information with a look of satisfaction.
“What do you mean he’s no longer seeing Isioma? When did they break up?” I asked, calmer but still infuriated.
“Remember that time Mrs. Azubuike made trouble, when she was angry that you let Junior cut in at the line waiting to fetch water?”
“Yes, that was almost three months ago. What has that got to do with this?” I asked, already having my suspicions.
“Well, they broke up a week after that. And before you begin to lecture me, no, I wasn’t the reason for their break up. They were having problems way before he and I began to really like each other.”
“Ti, do you even know how much you sound like the other woman? Telling me you’re not the reason for their break up and actually looking happy each time you say the word break up? So he asked you out the next week and you agreed?”
“No, he hasn’t asked me out, officially that is,” she said, a goofy half-smile lifting the corners of her lips. “We just found out that we have a lot in common and have had fun getting to know each other in the past few weeks.”
“And has it occurred to you that he might be on the rebound and is just using you to cope with the pain of the break up? He’ll move on when he heals,” I said, a bit tartly.
“Don’t say that,” she rasped, offended. “You don’t know him! Frederic wouldn’t deceive me like that,” she said in earnest.
“Really? Ameneke anim s’etang ado? You really believe what you’re saying? That’s what you tell yourself?”
“Hey, get off my case!” she cried. “I just came here to tell you that I think I’m in love, not getting married! What’s with you sef? Acting as if you’ve never fallen in love with the wrong person before.”
“So you do agree that he’s the wrong person,” I said triumphantly.
“Yes – No! I didn’t mean it that way!”
“Well, how did you mean it, Ti-Abasi? He’s not born-again and I don’t think you should even consider him as a candidate for your affections unless he’s that,” I said quietly. “What would your parents think?”
“This is not about my parents,” she retorted. “And who says he’s not a Christian? Have you even seen him recently? He’s changed!” she exclaimed, getting up from her reclining position.
“Yeah, right!” I said, scornfully.
“It’s true!” she virtually yelled, jumping off the bed. “He’s started going to church and is really changing the way he lives. What do you even have against him? Why do you dislike him so much?” she asked accusingly, hands akimbo.
I paused for a few moments to think of my reply. To be honest, I really like Frederic. He’s funny, smart, good-looking, kind, patient and he’s a favourite with the children in the compound. And though I wasn’t chummy pals with Isioma and I don’t know why their relationship ended, I do believe that neither of them would be without a measure of hurt. And they were live-in lovers, for goodness sake! Call me a prude, call me a puritan, but I don’t think either of them should be in the business of liking anyone for now. The fact that it’s my friend that’s involved in this really irks me.
“It’s not that I have anything against him Ti,” I said quietly. “It’s the fact that even if he’s an amiable person, I think he’s all wrong for you. He just ended a serious relationship, he’s not a Christian, at least not to my knowledge, he may be on the rebound and as far as proximity is concerned, I think the fact that the both of you live in the same compound is not ideal at all. You’re like a sister to me, Ti and I’d hate to see you end up with a broken heart.”
“Well, it’s my life and I think I have the right to love whomever I want to and live it the way I like,” she said defensively. “Besides, I know him better than you do and I’m telling you, he’s not as bad as you think!”
I was a bit taken aback at her tone of voice, but I held myself in check. One episode of my loose tongue was enough in a day.
“If that’s the way you feel, well, I can’t stand in your way. Besides, you’re too old for me to tell you what to do. Just make sure that your mother knows what you’re up to. It’s for your own protection,” I said, as she began to shake her head at the idea of telling her mother. “I know you don’t think you need any protection but I believe at least one member of your family should be aware of what you’re doing and with whom you’re doing it. And since you’re closer to your mother, I think you should confide in her.”
We both fell silent and after a few minutes of the awkward silence, she got up and announced that she was leaving. I bid her farewell but couldn’t resist reminding her again to tell her mother about her new relationship, which she promised to do. I lay back down and began to go over the conversation in my head again. I examined my feelings; did I really have her best interests at heart or was I envious that she had found love albeit with an unsuitable person, and I hadn’t?
I don’t deny that sometimes, I’d like to be part of a couple and I do look forward to that time. I just pray that I haven’t begun to envy those who have found bliss. But come to think of it, how did they both manage to have had something going in this compound where everyone seems to know everyone’s business? Sneaky pair! No longer tired and satisfied that I hadn’t done anything that a well-intentioned friend wouldn’t do, I sighed, got up and began to make lunch for myself.
Written by Eketi Ette, @Ketimay