This is a story (fiction or fact, you’ll never know 😀 ) dedicated to a good friend and fellow SARTian, Chinazaekpere Sallie Enwere. A sort of belated birthday wish to her. Enjoy 🙂
“Walter.” The call was a faint echo, as though resonating from a distance.
“Walter.” The voice was clearer now. “Na pikin you dey born inside there?” Even the mocking irritation was ripe and apparent as I blinked my eyes and looked around.
I was in a convenience room. Toilet cum bathroom. The countertop was a gleaming granite, atop which was arranged shampoo bottles, a cup stacked with toothbrushes and a tube of toothpaste and a pile of shaving sticks. The ceramic of the bathtub and toilet bowl had the freshly-scrubbed look of attentive housekeeping hands, and there was a wicker laundry basket tucked away in a corner.
Somebody rapped on the door, and the female whocalled my name before said, “Bia, enyi a, born quick. I’m about to serve desserts.” There was a rustle of clothing from the other side of the door and the slap of slippers on the floor as she walked away.
I looked around again, my bewilderment deepening. I was in somebody’s bathroom. A woman’s. I’d obviously just made use of the toilet, because my belt was unbuckled and I didn’t feel any pressing sensation in my groin. And that was where my understanding of the situation ended. Questions careened through my mind with the mad rush reminiscent of zebras fleeing the hungry wrath of a lion. Who was this woman? What was I doing here? What was the connection between us? Were we longtime friends or was this the morning after of a one-night stand?
Only one way to find out.
I zipped up, flicked one quick look at my reflection on the bathroom mirror and stepped out into the corridor. After flushing, of course. A burst of laughter came from the doorway on my left. I moved in that direction, pushed aside the curtain that hung in the way, and walked inside a living room that was elaborately and comfortably furnished, but which had a well-used look. Reclining on the sofas scattered about the veneer-end centre table were familiar faces. Friends.SARTians. In a corner closest to the TV, Ifeyinwa was chatting animatedly with Edeeth; Ifeyinwa’s slender arms were gesticulating so much it was hard to miss the subtle glint of the band on her ring finger. Ah yes, the newlywed.
In the center of the room, both of them contemplating a game of scrabble were Ememesi (aka Mesi) and Kelechi (aka Cheesy), and hunched over on their side was Adaure. Mesi had just let out a whoop of joy. “Premium! Ha-ha!” And he leaned forward to start pointing out the numbers on the tiles and rounding up the score.
“No, no, wait!” Kelechi protested. “Onopordon – what’s that? You’ll just be forming your own English word.”
“It’s a word, my friend,” Mesi countered.
“I doubt it.”
“The dictionary is your friend.”
“Maybe you should contest it, Cheesy,” Adaure suggested, her lips twitching with that devilish delight that was familiar to me. “Who knows. . .”
“Kah! Contest nah,” Mesi interjected. “You’ll see it there.”
Kelechi grabbed the dictionary, emboldened by Adaure’s incitement, and he began flipping through the pages.
“Wait – wait first . . .” Mesi was uncertain, and his fingers hovered over the scrabble board.
“Too late!” Kelechi roared with the attitude of one on the scent of victory. “We agreed that if you drop it on the board, it’s final.” And he dived back into the dictionary. He paused when he got to the page he wanted, and his index finger began the trace. The others watched with bated breath. His finger found the word and froze. He groaned. Ememesi’s gap-toothed smile stretched from cheek to cheek.
“I’m a scrabble don, Kelechi,” he crowed. “Next time, don’t try me.”
“Did I not tell you,” Adaure chipped in. “I said, think carefully before you do anything foolish.”
“When did you say that?” Kelechi snapped as the other two dissolved in laughter.
A lusty wail drew my amused attention from them to a slenderly-built, dark-skinned man who had just walked into the room from the porch with his arms cuddling a young child.
“Eh-eh? Who is doing my god son, eh?” The sharply-uttered remark preceded the presence of Eketi as she bustled into the room from the general direction of where I supposed was the kitchen. Walking in behind her was Sallie.“Who is doing my olubobo, eh?”
“Come, you this Sister Ibinabo,” Kelechi began in a taunt, “do and go and born your own, and leave mother hen duties for Sallie.”
“Die, Cheesy!” Eketi blasted.
“On top of you!” Kelechi retorted.
“Cheesy!” Everyone else gasped in between fits of laughter.
I cleared my throat.
They turned to me.
“Ah, Wally,” Edeeth piped up. “How many were they?”
“How many were what?”
“The babies you were delivering inside the bathroom,” she quipped. “Sallie told us she could hear ‘Push! Push!’ coming from inside there.”
“In fact, I was one thumb away from calling the Guinness book of Records people,” Eketi interjected as she hefted the child’s bundle from his father’s arms into hers. “We have jokers and wordsmiths in SART, but we’re yet to have a pregnant man.”
The others sniggered.
“Ha-ha. Laugh all you want.” Then I waited a hesitant beat before asking, “Can someone tell me whose house we’re in?”
The silence was complete and it lasted three seconds, before Sallie moved to my side, a look of mock-concern on her face, and reached forward to place the back of her palm against my temple.
“Are you alright, nna,” she said. “I hear the trauma of these long-term deliveries can cause amnesia.”
The responding laughter was resounding. I smiled wanly, and wisely said nothing. What could I say, really? That this was no joke? That I truly didn’t have any recollection of being in this house before my abrupt consciousness in the bathroom? That perhaps this was one of my legendary dreams, and at some point, I was sure to wake up soon?
And knowing how potentially catastrophic that critical juncture of my exit from these dreams were, the question begged to be asked: What would happen here?
A fire outbreak? A Boko Haram attack? Armed robbery? Perhaps a missile launched from Russia to test its strength on Nigerian soil?
I fought my unease. Perhaps this wasn’t a dream. Perhaps I really did have amnesia, and for some reason, I’d blanked out my entire visit to this house, up until a few minutes ago.
“Dessert is ready!” Sallie finally announced moments later.
The meal was ice cream, lots of it, and large cubes of cake. As Sallie – who I’d now deduced was the hostess – and Eketi dished out the desserts, Mesi murmured, “Yummy! This all looks good.”
“It does,” Kelechi rejoined. “It’ll kick your cholesterol to an all-time new high, but you’ll die a happy man.”
“Don’t be so morbid, Cheesy,” Ifeyinwa chided with a laugh.
We soon dug in. The talk swelled around us. Normal chatter among people who knew each other well. The atmosphere waslight, and the laughter came very easily. Companionship amongst SARTians was always so effortless. I observed our hosts – Sallie and her hubby, Chimezie. I watched them move next to each other, their bodies touching, somehow fitting together. The entire afternoon was delightful, and by the time the shadows had lengthened into the evening in the wake of the departing sun, I was feeling a pleasant buzz hum through my body.
It was time to go. We stepped out of the house into the slight humidity of Lugbe’s environs. Abuja in that time of the year was suffering under the kind of heat that had all without standing limp and wilted. Every one of us had quite the journey ahead of us to the different places we were staying in the capital city. We loitered in front of the Enwere’s home, while the conversation lingered and the heat simmered.
“Oga!” A raucous female voice called. “Oga, I don carry am come again oh!”
We turned. Approaching us was a young woman. A hawker. Dark-skinned with round piquant features. Her figure was sturdy, and she wore her hair in cornrows underneath the small basin balanced on her head.
“Ah, Rakia, you don come?” Chimezie hailed with a perfunctory smile.
Rakia was beaming at – well, at Chimezie. Just him, as she walked with a hip-swaying gait to where we stood. “Na fresh corn I carry come, oga,” she enthused. “Sweet, very sweet. You go like am.”
Kelechi’s brows lifted at me in an expression that seemed to say: She’s talking about the corn, right?
I stifled a smirk and tried to preserve my blissful ignorance.
“Really?” Chimezie was saying. “Oya, bring your market down let us see.”
With practised ease, the woman maneuvered the basin down and began to rifle open the milk-coloured wrap that secured the top. Steam lifted into the air from the basin in wispy tendrils, carrying with it the tantalizing aroma of freshly-cooked corn.
“Ah, that smells nice,” Sallie said. “How much are you selling it for?”
“Oga, how much you wan buy?” the hawker said instead, still looking . . . er, well, adoringly at Chimezie.
Sallie blinked in astonishment. The woman’s snub wasn’t even subtle. And then, Sallie narrowed her eyes at her. I felt a stir of indignation on my side, and turned my head to see a scowling Eketi.
Chimezie seemed blissfully ignorant of the sudden tension, because he continued bantering with Rakia. “Wait first oh, if I buy plenty, you go give me jara, abi?”
“Yes nah, oga. Jara boku well-well, anyhow wey you want am.”
Kelechi shot me that look again. I nodded my understanding. And from the stony expressions on the faces of our female companions, they understood it too. This Rakia woman was playing the risky game of honing into another woman’s territory.
“Sweetheart,” Sallie said, sidling up to her husband’s side and managing to spit out her words while smiling wider than her lips had been built for. “Are you sure we need corn? I mean, we’ve just had a heavy meal.”
“I know,” Chimezie cajoled. “This one is just extra for our guests to go home with, and for us to munch later.” He had a disarming smile on.
And perhaps, on any other occasion, his wife would have melted into its charm. But standing before her was another female hanging on her husband’s every word, grinning coquettishly at him and using her market as a cover for the marketing of her other ‘market’.
Rakia was wrapping up Chimezie’s purchase when she said, “So, oga, make I come tomorrow again, abi?”
Sallie’s lips tightened and she cut in before Chimezie could respond, “Sure, Rakia, come again tomorrow. First of all, I have to give you something you’ll remember when you decide to come. Hold on.” She turned and stalked back into the house.
The seconds ticked by.
We didn’t have to wait long.
Moments later, Sallie was back outside, one hand grasping a bucket. A bucket of water. A bucket of water from wherein wisps of steam escaped. A bucket of hot water. Sallie’s face was like thunder, with eyes that were snapping with outrage and lips that were peeled back into a snarl.
She was coming close to us.
Everyone noticed her approach and turned to look at her.
Bewilderment registered on our faces.
She had eyes only for Rakia.
And as she lifted the bucket, one hand clasping the bottom and the other holding steady the top, she hissed, “Next time you want to come, Rakia, remember this.”
And she swung her arms forward.
The water sluiced from the bucket, a steaming hot mass plotting a trajectory through the air, its hotness singeing the barest follicles of my skin as it flew past me, a scalding cascade headed straight for the hawker.
Rakia’s eyes widened with terror, and her mouth formed an O through which a scream had started to escape.
Milliseconds were ticking by fast.
The water was about to splatter all over its victim, who with a shriek had raised her hands to protect her face from the burning splash.
And . . .
I opened my eyes and gasped awake with the ominous words of William Congreve banging about in my head with such resounding strength. Those words about hell having no fury like a woman scorned.
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