This is the final round of the literary challenge between James and Walter. On behalf of the duo, I would like to thank everyone who participated in this exercise, casting votes, critiquing our works and offering encouragement. We have learned so much from this shared experience.
The stories told today are based on the theme: The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born. Read and enjoy, vote and critique. Thanks.
“Hello! Hello! Hello!” he continued to yell into his phone.
“I can’t hear you, the network is terrible,” he added.
“I said I need just hundred thousand naira,” the voice on the other end of the phone replied. I could hear her clearly from my sit beside him. I wondered why he pretended not to hear her. It was obvious he didn’t want to give her any money so he had to tell a lie we have all told.
“MTN is terrible,” he said as he hung up. He smiled at me mischievously; he wore a yellow polo shirt with the letters “MTN” inscribed boldly on it. His eyes spoke, they were trying to convince me too that I did not hear the woman’s voice at the other end of the phone.
I smiled back in solidarity, I didn’t say anything. It was none of my business. Besides I wasn’t really in a position to lecture anyone about integrity.
It had been less than an hour ago when I told Madam I was stuck in traffic. When in reality I was stuck in the traffic in her bedroom. Oga’s engine needed greasing, since Madam rarely paid attention to it, I often helped to service it. But I didn’t tell Madam when she called to inquire if I had seen the document she asked me to fetch; I ought to have left her house when she called.
I thought about the irony of life, Madam’s omniscient nature, extremely thrifty and her tendency to take advantage of others yet easily fooled by her husband. Maybe she wasn’t fooled, she carefully drafted this script to justify her numerous sexual escapades. Or she never saw me as a threat; she trusted her husband so much and believed strongly that even if he would sow his oats wild, I would never be the one to taste it. She failed to see that a faithful man doesn’t exist, that they will always go after any duckling in skirt as flies always hover around waste.
“Driver please stop,” a female voice said from behind. The bus screeched to a sudden halt and everyone jerked forward.
“Haba!” “Driver small small” “you nor go driving school?” the complaints from several passengers had barely been made when I heard a thudding sound from the rare. I turned quickly to see what was happening.
“Idiot! If you dare say anything I will slap you again,” a middle aged woman fumed. Beside her a boy of about sixteen caressed his sore cheek as tears dropped from his eyes.
“Madam why you go slap person like that na?”
“Oboy wetin you do am?” Other passengers asked. I was silent, I knew something sinister happened. I saw it in the dumb look in the young boy’s face. He opened his mouth to speak but before he could utter a word another unsolicited slap visited his cheek.
“Madam what is your problem?” The man with the MTN shirt asked angrily.
“Why are you harassing him?” He added.
“Harassing who? This idiot just grabbed my breast!”
“I didn’t , it was ……” another slap rammed his protest down his throat.
“Madam wetin na, you wan kill am?” The driver asked.
“That serves him right” a passenger said.
“That’s how they go about smooching their mother’s mate in a bus,” another added.
“I wasn’t. …” an impending slap was stopped midway by an astute passenger.
“Madam please let him explain.”
“I just bumped into her when the bus stopped, it wasn’t intentional.” The words flowed in spurts from his mouth as heavy tears snapped on their heels.
“Shut up! You made numerous attempts before then,”
“I wasn’t, it was the potholes the driver insisted on entering,” the boy explained, hands still caressing his sore cheek.
“Madam please apologize, it’s obvious he didn’t mean it” Mr. MTN shirt said. But she would not budge, she insisted he did it intentionally. She only reluctantly mumbled an apology after several vile statements from other passengers.
“Madam na so you dey beat your husband for house?”
“Small boy like this you wan kill am,” the attacks rained on her.
I was still silent, gulping fully the fickle nature of humanity; one moment they write eulogies and chant your praise the next they bury you in insults. We are all bunch of homo sapiens with ugly personalities, probably we would become something beautiful when evolution sets in again.
“Driver behind you” someone said, the driver turned to see two policemen approaching quickly. There was a police check point a few poles behind us, they had flag down our bus and collected their customary ‘Roja.’ The driver had foolishly stopped in a no parking zone and on seeing the officers coming, he quickly zoomed off.
“Mumu! I cram your plate number o!”
“Shebi you go pass here again? Your ‘Roja’ for today don double” they shouted.
I shook my head in despair, policemen who were supposed to maintain law and order becoming miscreants because of cash. I wondered when a better breed of police would exist.
I looked at my wrist watch; Madam must be fuming at the office. She needed the document for a meeting with some clients. I was intentionally behind schedule, I had been tipped off by a friend that the so called investors were fraudsters. I should have informed Madam but I didn’t, she was omniscient, she should be able to tell. So I employed delay tactics, I needed to give them enough time to yield.
My phone buzzed and a long hiss followed when I saw it was a text from Chidi.
I wondered when he would get the message that it was over between us. How does he expect me to continue dating him when he has nothing to offer? He is crude, lacks vision and totally irresponsible. The only stock in his locker is his looks, he is smashingly gorgeous. The right physique and a monster in bed but he failed to realize good looks like a flower fade quickly. A man ought to be worth more than his looks, his worth is measured by something deeper. I wondered if I would ever find one who is beautiful in looks and character.
“Driver please stop,” I said and again the driver screeched to a sudden halt and everyone bumped forward.
“You nor get better brake?” someone asked from behind.
“I tire o!” another added.
I alighted off the bus and dashed into the office complex. Power was out so I couldn’t use the lift. I hated climbing the stairs and was on the third floor when my phone buzzed again. I reached for it and a smile quickly covered my face as I read the text message;
***Okay! We agree to your terms. 60:40.***
I knew they would yield. Madam had cash to spend, she had successfully siphoned her husband’s cash to an offshore account in her name. They could not afford to let me wreck their plans. It was better to share the spoils of war than to loose completely, since I couldn’t rip Madame off, I can as well sit and watch others do the job. Especially when they have just agreed to share it 60:40 besides the cash wasn’t legitimately earned, her husband is a government contractor who rarely execute a project beyond the half way mark. I wonder yet again if I still have a beautiful mind, maybe society rids us of the beauty of innocence or probably we were never born innocent. I guess that idea is a fallacy, even the Holy Book said we were born in sin. Maybe after judgement we can be called beautiful, because the world itself is not a truly beautiful place. For even if there are beautiful ones, they are not yet born. We are just a fine collection of ugliness, myself included.
SOUP IS THICKER THAN BLOOD
“Becky, what are you doing?” the female voice hollered as its owner sauntered into the kitchen.
Rebecca had known the visitor was Esther long before she even made her way to the kitchen and called out to her. The strong, peculiar fragrance of Esther’s perfume, which usually preceded her presence in a room, had teased Rebecca’s olfactory sense to the knowledge that it was her cousin who’d walked into the apartment after she heard the front door slam shut.
“I’ve started seeing rats in my kitchen,” Rebecca answered as she moved her right hand jerkily, in a motion that caused sprinkles of the liquid in the small, tainted glass bottle she held to drop to the ground.
“Rats?!” Esther said in a near-shriek, the horror evident in her voice reminiscent of one who had suddenly happened upon a corpse breaking out of his grave. “You mean you have rats in your house?”
“Calm down joor,” Rebecca chided as she sprinkled some more of the liquid in the corner between her plastic water drum and the kitchen counter. “They are not rats, they’re mice.”
“And the difference is?”
“Mice will run away from you when you say ‘Boo’. Rats will come back when you’re asleep to chew your toes for daring to scare them.”
“You’re gross,” Esther said with a shudder as she moved toward the gas cooker.
“Well, the good news is,” Rebecca continued, “with this otapiapia I bought from the market today, the end is here for them.” She straightened from her task and turned when she heard the clatter of aluminum. “What do you think you are doing?”
“I’m hungry joor,” Esther whined as she peered into the pot she’d just uncovered.
“Gerraway from my soup!” Rebecca barked.
“Becky nau –”
“Don’t ‘Becky nau’ me. Every time you’re hungry, you will always come to my kitchen to forage for food. Very soon, I’ll park away from this Festac for you and move to Lagos Island. Let me see if you’ll pursue me to that place to have breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
“You sef, you can like to talk,” Esther said with a light laugh. “After all your gra-gra, you’ll still give me food to eat.”
Rebecca shook her head. Inside her, irritation warred with the indulgence she usually felt for her cousin, as she moved to elbow the other woman away from the gas cooker, and lit the fire underneath the pot of soup, setting the tainted-glass bottle down on the counter top beside the cooker.
“Ehen, now you’re talking,” Esther crowed, stepping over to the fridge and pulling it open to fetch a drink of water.
“There’s leftover garri in there.” Rebecca jerked her head at the mortar beside the fridge. “Take out the quantity you can finish, and I’ll be done with the soup in a minute.” Then she continued, “You should get serious with your cooking, you know. We may live in a world of feminism these days, but every man still expects his wife to know her way around the kitchen.”
“Yes, yes, whatever,” Esther drawled before taking a gulp from the water bottle. Then she said, “Speaking of men and wives, I ran into Andy this morning.”
Rebecca instantly froze.
“At Shoprite in Ikeja,” Esther chattered on. “I could not believe how good he was looking. Damn! That guy’s still got it, I swear. Looking at him, I couldn’t believe I dumped him.”
Rebecca said nothing still. Instead, she remained standing with her back to her cousin, her eyes now shut, feeling the world closing in around her. No, no, no… The words started as a slight tremor in her head.
“He was so surprised to see me.” Esther was still talking. “So surprised he actually dropped the stuff he was buying.” She gave a light mocking laugh. “He still likes me, I know. After all these months, and in spite of how I treated him, he still likes me. Perhaps even still loves me.”
No, no, no…! The volume of the mantra was fountaining in Rebecca’s head, creating a force that seemed so solid it threatened to crack her skull. And with the increase in the silent clamour came a surging of something hot and blistering inside her.
“Why do you say he might still love you?” she finally rasped, somewhat surprised that she still sounded normal. She turned off the cooker and lifted the lid off the pot so that steam and the soup’s aroma rose out of it to inundate the space.
“Well, because I flirted with him and he flirted heavily back,” Esther said. “And then he asked me out on a date. Tonight! Can you believe it!” She gave a tiny squeal of delight.
The hot surge inside Rebecca was swelling faster, scalding her insides, and at the same time, leaving her extremities cold. He loved you, you selfish bitch! She wanted to screech at her cousin. And you dumped him! You destroyed him. I was all he had left, and I took care of him. I nursed him back to health because I love him! Me! Not you! And yet, here you are, about to take from me the man I brought back to life! She suddenly had an insane desire to scream.
“I’ll go on the date with him,” Esther continued, oblivious to the torment her cousin was going through. “But I don’t think it’ll go any further than that. Maybe, we’ll have sex. But that’ll be that.”
Something slammed shut inside Rebecca. The silent din in her head died down, leaving in its wake the whisper of icy purpose. And then she asked in a quiet voice, “And then you’ll dump him again?”
“Well, duh!” Esther said with a laugh. “I’m way out of Andy’s league, cuz. Like, way!”
Rebecca nodded. A wintry smile lifted her lips lightly. Her back was still turned to the other woman, and Esther was not paying particular attention to her. She ladled some soup into a bowl, and with a quick sleight of her hand, she swept up the tainted-glass bottle beside her, unstoppered it and tilted it toward the dish. A generous amount of otapiapia dribbled unto the soup.
Rebecca replaced the bottle on the counter, lifted the bowl in her hands and shook it slightly, to evenly spread the poison over the soup.
Then she finally turned around to face Esther with a smile, saying, “Your soup is ready.”