I ring the doorbell and listen to the monophonic tune sound from inside Nkaiso’s house. This is the fourth time I am ringing the doorbell, and the fact that no one has come to the door yet is beginning to annoy me.
Heaving a sigh, I decide to leave, wondering if I should go to market alone or put it off until I hear from Nkaiso.
You see, we are preparing for Women’s Day in our church, and a majority of the women decided not to wear the regular red-and-white uniform. The recommendation for an Ankara replacement became instantly popular the moment it was suggested.
Nkaiso, being the Secretary (or Financial Secretary, I forget which exactly), was asked to pick out two sisters to go with her to the market to price and bring back samples of some fabrics. She chose Sister Ruth and I. Early this morning, Sister Ruth called to say that she wouldn’t be able to make it for the expedition. That leaves Nkaiso and me, which means that the shopping will be fun.
At least, that is what I thought, before now that Nkaiso is neither taking her calls, nor answering her door.
I start going down the flight of stairs, with the intention of going back home. There is no way I will shop for a group of women all by myself, I fume silently. I don’t even want to answer the questions that they’ll likely ask.
I am rounding the first landing when I hear a door open. I stop.
“Nk, is that you?” I call, craning my neck upward.
“Who is that?” Nkaiso’s voice is a thick mumble.
“It’s me, Ada – were you asleep?” I reply, going back up the stairs. I get to her floor and stop short when I see her slightly-bloated face. “Oh my God,” I exclaim. “What happened to you?”
“Nothing, dear,” she says, blowing her nose into a handkerchief. “I just have a bad cold.”
“Sorry o. Your eyes are red and puffy, as if you’ve been crying,” I observe, standing before her, as she blocks the entrance to her house with her body.
“I tear up whenever I have catarrh,” she says, sniffing and flicking her right forefinger over her eyes.
“Can I come in?”
“Erm… Yeah, but I think you should go round back through the kitchen. My parlour is a huge mess,” she says with a self-deprecating chuckle.
“Why, I don’t mind…” I start to say. “Shoot! I thought you’d be ready, and we’d leave immediately. So, I didn’t lock my car door. Just a moment!” I turn around to start bounding down the stairs.
“You don’t have to come back up!” Nkaiso calls after me. “I’ll be right down with you!”
And so, a few minutes later, I am sitting in my car, playing a game on my phone, and waiting for Nkaiso to come down. For a short while, I wonder at her odd behaviour upstairs. Asking me to come in through the backdoor because her sitting room is a mess… I don’t know what to make of that. I wonder fleetingly if there is something she is hiding in her house.
“Where are we supposed to be going today?” Nkaiso asks just then, startling me.
“Chineke!” I gasp, jumping in my seat and dropping the phone on the car floor. I breath out a nervous laugh as I turn to look at her. “You scared me! I didn’t hear you coming.”
“You were busy facebooking now,” she says. “So, where are we going?”
“Ha! This catarrh is affecting your memory too, obviously. Are we not supposed to go to market today?”
“Oh? What are we going to the market for?” she asks again, the befuddled look on her face genuine.
I arch my brows at her question. “This is serious. He-llooo! The Women’s Day uniform? You asked me to come pick you up today? We were supposed to go with Sister Ruth?”
“Oh my God, it’s true! I forgot!”
“Obviously,” I say with light sarcasm. “Are we still going? Sister Ruth has already opted out.”
“Yes, let’s go right now,” she says, coming round to the passenger’s side and opening the door.
“Like this?” I ask, gesturing at her casual attire of blousy shirt, plain skirt and flip-flops.
“Oh.” She pauses, and then shrugs. “Yes. Is it not just market? Let’s go.”
“Ok.” I reach down for my phone. “I just think it’s unlike you to go out dressed like this,” I say, in a final attempt to make her go change into something less informal.
“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?” She looks down at her body and back up at me.
“Well, your shirt is faded…and flay-checked skirt with big flowered shirt? Really, if the fashion police were a real thing, we’d both be arrested, you as an offender, and me as an accessory. And to crown it all – slippers!” I chuckle to take the bite off my words. When she doesn’t say anything, I ask, “Are you going to change?”
“No.” Her tone brooks no more argument. “Let’s go. We’re only going to market.”
“Ok,” I say, raising my hands in surrender. “You never know who you might jam, but that’s just me.” I turn on the ignition.
“In case you have forgotten, I’m married. Who else do I want to attract?” Nkaiso returns.
I focus on pulling out of my parking spot, using my concentration as an excuse not to answer, as I do not want to dwell on the issue.
I have never really shopped with Nkaiso, and if I thought it was going to be fun, I was so wrong! The woman haggles and haggles and haggles some more. There’s just no give in her business with shopkeepers.
“Nk, can we just pick up like two or three out of these ones that you like and show them to the others, and let the house make the final decision?” I ask for the umpteenth time, my voice tinged with exasperation.
“I have to price it well, and also consider what will fit every one,” she replies tersely, before returning her attention to the seller. “So, between Excellence and Super Java,” she queries, running her fingers over the fabrics laid out before her, “which would you honestly advise us to buy?”
“Like I said all the time you’ve asked this question,” the seller says, his struggle to tamp down his annoyance obvious, “they are both good materials. It depends on your budget…”
“Bia k’anyi checkia ebea,” a familiar voice draws my attention from the two of them.
I look up to see Ijeoma walking into the shop. Coming up closely behind her is another lady, who is bearing a baby basket. Ijeoma sees me and stops, and a smile wreathes across her face.
“Nwanyi a, i na-ere zi akwa?” she jokes.
“Ehee nu! Nke ego ole ka ichoro?” I reply, rising from my seat and moving forward to hug her.
“Oh my God – is that Nkaiso?” she whispers in my ear as we hug. “What the hell is she wearing?”
A bubble of laughter rises from me at her words. She joins me, her eyes flashing with wicked delight.
“Ah! Customer, imego offload?” the seller hails, beaming at Ijeoma as he moves away from Nkaiso.
“Yes oh! We thank God,” Ijeoma replies, patting her diminished midriff.
“Nwa gini?” the man asks.
“Nwanyi oh!” Ijeoma says, gesturing to the lady behind her.
As though on cue, a soft gurgle rises from the baby carrier in the woman’s arm. The seller and I turn our heads to look into the basket, at the bundle that has just moved on the coverlet. My heart catches as I take in the baby’s rosy cheeks, rosebud mouth and dark, curly mop of hair.
“Heu! Nwa oma! Ada Bekee! Nwata amakazi, eh!” the seller coos at the child. “Chukwu nna gozie gi.” He reaches into his pocket, comes out with two one-thousand Naira notes, and presses them into the baby’s tiny palm.
“Awww,” Ijeoma and I say in unison.
“Thank you so much,” Ijeoma adds.
The other woman – who I just now realize is Ijeoma’s husband’s sister, the one who came for omugwo – drops the basket, collects the money from the baby’s grasp, and unostentatiously but urgently begins to rummage in her handbag.
“Ah, maka obere ihe a? Rapu okwu biko!” the seller brushes off Ijeoma’s thanks modestly.
“Biko, I want quality wrapper for my sister-in-law,” Ijeoma says. “And then, another for me and my husband.”
“Ijeoma, I am greeting o,” Nkaiso speaks up then.
“Oh nnem, daalu so. How you dey?” Ijeoma returns the greeting.
“What’s the occasion?” I interject. My eyes are still on Ijeoma’s sister-in-law as she continues rummaging in her bag.
“Dedication o,” Ijeoma says, watching as the seller produces an assortment of materials. “Stephanie’s dedication is in three weeks.”
“Wow! Cool! Nwunye nwam is growing o,” I say, bending to pick the baby up.
“No! Wait a bit,” Ijeoma’s sister-in-law says to me, with her hand thrust out, palm up as though halting traffic. She finally fetches a small Olive Oil bottle from her bag. She unscrews the bottle and tips a smidgen of its liquid content into her palm. After screwing the bottle back and dropping it in her bag, she rubs her palms together, and muttering something inaudible, she rubs the oil on Stephanie’s hands.
I watch her in incomprehension, mindful of the fact that Ijeoma and the seller have become too engrossed in their transaction to notice what is going on over here.
She looks up and sees me watching her. She gives a quick shrug and mutters, “You never know who is who.” This with a sidelong glance at the seller.
I nod in understanding, before moving to join the others.
The seller ignores Nkaiso as he attends to Ijeoma. To her credit, Nkaiso doesn’t say anything, seeming not to mind as she sits in her corner, waiting for them to finish.
“Can we not bargain anymore when he finishes with Ijeoma?” I say in a low tone to Nkaiso.
“Where were all these nice materials he is bringing out for Ijeoma when we came?” she retorts, her tone betraying the ire she has so masterfully kept hidden.
“Just pick three please,” I implore, already dreading the next phase of the haggle that Nkaiso’s response indicates.
“Ok!” she concedes almost grudgingly. “I won’t take you for shopping again, by the way. You can be so impatient.”
Biting back my rejoinder, I nod and turn my head away.
After Ijeoma is done with the seller and her purchases have been wrapped up, I elect to see the two women off a short distance, in order to let Nkaiso assess and choose the fabrics she approves of, without interference from me.
“She looks horrible!” Ijeoma exclaims the moment we are out of earshot. “Is she okay?”
“She told me she has catarrh.”
“Seriously, catarrh made her dress like that? And what is going on with her eyes – did she cry?”
“Catarrh makes her tearful.”
“Hmm,” Ijeoma grunts.
“Let me go back, dear,” I say moments later, stopping to hug her briefly. “We’ll see later. I even have gist for you.”
“About Leticia?” she asks, her brows lifting over a suddenly excited expression.
“Yep, and it’s a good one.”
“Now, I can hardly wait for the gist! When are you coming? Tomorrow?”
“I’ll call you,” I say, chuckling and then turning, with a small sigh, to go back to the shop.
Bia k’anyi checkia ebea – Come let us check here
Nwanyi a, i na-ere zi akwa? – This woman, do you also sell clothes?
Ehee nu! Nke ego ole ka ichoro? – Yes o. How much do you want?
Customer, imego offload? – Customer, have you offloaded?
Chukwu nna gozie gi – May God bless you
Maka obere ihe a? Rapu okwu biko – Because of this small thing? Please leave that talk.
Written by Adaku J