Gabby keeps walking towards me with his eyes trained on Emmanuella, turning every once in a while to look where he is going. This makes the other mother laugh, and she laughs quite boisterously.
Very close to me, Gabby trips on an uneven mound of earth and falls into my arms. For the moment, he forgets the little girl and gives me that heart-melting smile that makes me feel like I’m looking into my father’s face. I lift him and rise from my squatting position. Winifred hands me his bag. I thank her and start walking away.
The other woman follows me, laughing as she walks. “I told you,” she says, quite close to my ears. At my smile, she continues, “The first day I met Gabby, I came to pick up Nuella…”
“Nuella?” I query.
“Emmanuella… that’s my baby’s name,” she explains.
“Oh!” I say, cleared of my confusion.
“So, that day, I was very tired. I went into their playroom and sat on the floor for a while. After my daughter came to me and greeted me, she moved off to play, since we weren’t going yet. Gabby walked up to me, sat beside me, held my hands and kept saying something to me that I couldn’t understand. It just made me happy, and I started praying that my next baby would be a boy, handsome and smart like him.”
“Aww!” I murmur, my heart filling with pride. At this time, we are outside the school gate. I am about to head off towards where my car is parked. “How are you going?” I ask her.
“I will take a bike,” she says, making to signal one that just dropped off a passenger.
“Which way are you going?”
“New Haven,” she answers shortly, as the bike she signaled – and three other bikes – make a beeline towards her.
“I’m going to New Haven too,” I say, feeling oddly pleased. “I could drop you guys off.”
She waves away the bike men, who are already jostling among each other, asking her for her destination. “Thank you,” she says, turning to me. Relief is boldly etched on her face.
“No problem,” I reply as we both walk towards my car. “What is your name?”
“Sophie,” she answers. “And yours?”
“Adaku,” I reply.
“Do you tell everybody that your name is Adaku?” she asks.
“Yeees!” I say, drawing out my response, and frowning just a bit at the strange question. A bunch of weird thoughts run through my head in seconds, like maybe I have amnesia, and she knows me in my former life, and she knows for a fact that my name isn’t Adaku.
“It IS my name,” I continue, not sure who I am convincing, her or me.
“I do not doubt that,” she says with a small chuckle.
We are at the car now. I open the locks with the remote keys, pull open the back door to strap Gabby in. I motion for her to sit in front with her child.
“Please hand me those bags,” I say when I realize that the passenger’s seat has my hand bag and the bag of drugs I got from the hospital.
She hands them to me, and I drop them on the floor of the back together with Gabby’s schoolbag. I come round to the driver’s side when after strapping Gabby in, and strap on my seat belt, instructing her to do same.
I crank up the car engine and move out, all the while thinking of the strange question, ‘Do you tell everybody that your name is Adaku?’ What does that even mean, I muse inwardly, while waiting to see if she’ll raise the topic again. When she doesn’t, unable to contain my curiosity, I finally ask, “So why did you ask if my name was really Adaku?”
“Not like that o!” she says, laughing. “I don’t doubt that Adaku is your name. It’s just that…I didn’t think a modern and classy woman like you would tell people her Igbo name.”
“Huh? Ok, now I’m more confused…”
“Alright…Sophie is my English name,” she begins to explain. “My first name is Nneamaka, but I think the name is too local. Just like Adaku. Don’t be offended o!” At my silence, she adds quickly, “Do you have an English name?”
“Of course, I do. But no one knows me by that. Besides, I love my name. No one has ever told me it’s local and I don’t think it’s local.” I say insistently.
“I’m very sorry,” Sophie says.
“Ah! Don’t be,” I reply, chuckling to assuage her fears that I might be offended. “I am sorry you think a name as nice as Nneamaka is local. Do you know the power that follows a name? Nneamaka means ‘Motherhood is beautiful’, Adaku means ‘Daughter of wealth’. Do you even know the meaning of Sophie?” I finish with a question.
“Actually, no…” she starts.
“Aha!” I crow, cutting her short, and laughing.
“So why did you name your son Gabby?” she queries, not ready to accept defeat. “What does Gabby mean?”
“Gabriel is his full name. And if I had my way, his first name would be Ifeanyichukwu, which is now his second name, sadly.” Appreciating the discussion, I add, “And in case you don’t know the meaning of Ifeanyichukwu, it means ‘There’s nothing difficult for God’.”
“So, what is Nuella’s Igbo name?” I ask.
“Her father says it’s Chimsom,” Sophie replies. “He even insists on calling her that all the time.”
“Chai!” I say, shaking my head. A smile hovers on my lips as I add teasingly, “I am shaking my head for you.”
We share a laugh at that.
“Where am I dropping you off?” I ask as I drive past New Haven junction and move towards Nweze Street, where I live.
“I stay on Nweze Street,” she says.
“Oh? That is where I live o! What’s your house number?”
“Number 50,” she replies, looking as excited as I feel.
“We’re neighbours!” I half-shriek, cutting it short because of the warning pang of headache. “I stay in House 48,” I say in a lower tone.
“Wait! You’re the snobby woman?” she blurts, looking surprised.
“Snobby woman?” I ask, mirroring her expression.
“The women in my compound always refer to you as ‘snobby’, ‘don’t dirty’, ‘selense’….”
“Chineke mee!” I exclaim, again forgetting my headache, and being rudely reminded when my head pounds in retaliation. “How now?”
“I don’t know o! We moved into that compound like five months ago, so, I don’t know why,” Sophie says with a shrug. “Anyway, I’d take that as a compliment if I were you.”
“Hmm. O di egwu o!” I say, pulling up in front of the open gate fencing in House 50.
“Here we are!” Sophie says, opening the car door. “Ours is flat four. We own those two dogs in the compound.”
“Can I have your number?” I ask.
“Sure!” she says, collecting the phone I am proffering and typing in her number. “Let me flash myself, so that I’ll save yours too.” She hits the green button, and Boqui’s Molejo intro beat sounds briefly from her handbag.
“THAT is your ringtone?!” I ask, excited. “It’s mine too!”
“Yes. It is like my favorite song.”
“Me too! We must be sisters…”
“I’ll call my mum and ask her some questions,” she deadpans, and we both laugh. “Nice meeting you, Adaku,” she says, as she steps out of the car. “One of these days, I’ll come and visit.”
“No problem,” I say cheerily. “Take good care of you and Nuella.”
Just as she walks off towards the gate of House 50, cradling her baby, Gabby starts crying.
I turn to face him. “Are you serious?” I ask him as sternly as I can. “Oo gini? What is wrong with you?”
His cries turn to whimpers immediately, but he continues looking at the retreating form of Nneamaka-cum-Sophie and Nuella.
I drive forward, towards our own gate. Thankfully, the gateman had noticed me coming and opened the gate already. I drive in, towards cold water, a warm shower, some pills and bed.
Of course, after reasonably settling Gabby for his afternoon nap.
“You’re just too snobbish!” Ijeoma screams into my ear over the phone. “Couldn’t you have asked the nurse to leave you so that you could talk to your friend? Honestly, babe, you don’t give me attitude like you give others! I am your friend for chrissakes!”
“Nne, relax now!” I say placatingly. “The nurse was helping me see the doctor without joining the queue…”
“And you saw me on the queue ba? Shouldn’t that have made you stay on the queue?” she rages on. “You’re always feeling like a queen! People are cutting corners for you all the time, and you don’t care about other people’s feelings…”
That stings me, but with an effort, I say in a mellow voice, “See, ba? This kind of talk is the exact reason why we quarreled, and you’re doing it again, Ijeoma. Have you even asked me what brought me to the hospital? Do you know if I’m ill? Do you even care? You’re just too selfish! I wonder how I put up with you all these years…” I realize that my voice has risen at least three octaves. I take a deep breath, and try again. “Ijeoma, oya sorry. Sorry that I did not treat you the way you deserved as my friend. We have come a long way to be quarreling like this. Besides, you don’t want to spoil something that after you put to bed, and your raging hormones calm down, you’ll start regretting, biko.”
“Ok, I’ve heard,” she returns in an off-handed tone.
“I don’t like the way you’re sounding,” I say.
“I’m ok. Just feeling sleepy,” she replies.
“Alright. Can I come around and see you tomorrow?”
“No o!” she says hastily, and then, as though realizing how she sounded, she adds, “Erm…I mean, I won’t be around. I’m busy.”
“Ok. When should I come?” I ask, feeling disappointed.
“I don’t know o, Ada. Whenever you want,” she says, sounding irritated.
“What will you be doing tomorrow? Is it something we can do together?”
“Yes. But I already asked someone.”
“What is that?”
“I’m going baby shopping for the few remaining things my brother did not send.”
A wave of inexplicable sadness surges through me. “Ngwanu, no problem. Get some sleep.” I say, and then end the call.
Just then, Nneamaka calls.
“Hello? Nne…” I answer.
“Good evening, Ada. How are you?”
“I’m ok. You, nko?”
“I’m fine. I just wanted to check on you,” she says.
I feel warmed by that. “Oh! That is nice. Thank you.” After a few seconds of awkward silence, I say, “How will Nuella go to school tomorrow? Do you mind joining us?”
“Oh, that will be great!” she gushes. “My husband would have dropped her off, but, we’ll just follow you and Gabby.”
“Good! See you tomorrow, then,” I say, feeling my mood lift just a little bit.
Written by Adaku J.