“Mummy NOW!” Gabby complains, his peeved voice dragging me out of my thoughts.
“Sorry, my dear,” I murmur, feeding him with the spoonful of food I’d left suspended in the air because of my mental preoccupation.
I am feeding lunch to him and Nuella. Feeling the desire to ruminate some more without the distraction of feeding them, I decide to let them feed themselves. After all, it is all a part of training. Handing them each their spoons, I sit back on my chair to watch absently.
And let my mind churn with anger, worry and prayers.
Why did I even think Mercy would listen to my story? That Mercy that hates my guts!
And why on earth did I also think Chinwe would keep her mouth shut? How could she think that Mimi knew? When she knows that Mimi is always sucking up to Mercy, how could she have thought that I’d tell her? Besides, was she not there when I dropped Mimi off that evening? Did she hear me say anything to her?
She just wanted to gossip – simple! I fume, hating Chinwe more by the second.
The fact that Mercy got engaged is not even helping matters sef! I sigh, remembering all the times she had been rude and bitchy to me.
I decide to call Nkaiso and ask for her opinion. The phone rings out, twice, without an answer.
“Hey! Anty, shee oh!” This time, it is Nuella’s exclamation that draws me out of my thoughts.
“What is it?!” I snap, refocusing on them.
The girl had spilled her food all over herself and the table. Gabby’s food is equally divided between him, his plate and the table.
“These children sef!” I say in exasperation.
Then I proceed to clean them up and the table, before dishing another plate of food and feed them by myself, something I would have finished doing if I had stuck to feeding them in the first place.
It seems they took cognizance of my turbulent mood, because they quietly lie down and closed their eyes immediately I took them to Gabby’s bedroom after lunch, for their siesta.
A knock on the door rouses me from slumber. I must have slept off on the sofa, because I hadn’t planned on taking a nap. I glance around the sitting room to gather my wits around me.
The knock comes again.
“Hold on!” I holler, rubbing the remnant of sleep from my eyes and standing.
The peephole reveals the visitor to be Chinwe.
Oh well, any company at all is better than none, I think as I open the door for her.
“Please, let me come in,” she says in a small, remorseful voice immediately I pull the door open.
“No wahala,” I say, moving away from the doorway to let her in.
“I’m so sorry about what went down earlier today,” she begins the moment she gets inside. “Honestly, if I had known that Mimi didn’t know about it, I wouldn’t have mentioned it –”
“How would Mimi have known?” I snap, cutting her off. “How? Where you not with me in the car when I dropped her off that night? So, how would she have known what we discussed after she left?”
“It’s true oh! Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking. You sef! You didn’t tell me about the threat now! At least, I would have –”
“Ehn-ehn, ehn-ehn!” I cut her off again, raising my palm to her for effect. “Don’t just try to turn this around on me now!” My rebuttal silences her, and when she doesn’t say anything for a few seconds, I ass, “This simply means I should never tell you anything I don’t want to get out. I should never confide in you again. So, if you don’t hear a gist in full, you won’t be okay? Abegi!”
“He-lloo!” a voice comes through the door.
I must have forgotten to lock it after Chinwe came in. No! I left the door for her to come in and lock it. She obviously hadn’t.
I turn around to see Nneamaka smiling tentatively. She had obviously heard the tail end of my tirade.
“Welcome, Nne,” I say. “Nuella is still asleep oh! Should I wake her?”
“Er…well, yes. It seems this is a bad time to sit for a while,” she says, fidgeting just a bit.
“It doesn’t have to be, you know?” Chinwe pipes up with her patented friendly smile that puts every stranger on the receiving end of it right at ease. “Chinwe…” she says by way of introduction, standing up and looking Nneamaka over appreciatively. “Lovely gown, by the way.”
“Thanks! I’m Nneamaka,” my other friend says with a smile of her own. Chinwe’s charm appears to be working.
Then Chinwe goes for the jugular by moving over to give her a warm hug. “You’re Nuella’s mum, right? Don’t even answer that! Your pretty smile and that twinkle in your eyes say it all!” she prattles on, leading Nneamaka to a seat and settling down beside her.
“Thanks! I’ve not really met you though,” Nneamaka says, clearly warming up to Chinwe.
“Yeah! This would have been a totally pleasant meeting if I hadn’t gone and offended my friend badly this afternoon,” Chinwe says, glancing pointedly at me.
“Ada? Her anger doesn’t last! Just give her two minutes,” Nneamaka says, trying to be comforting. “Right, Ada? You can forgive her, right?” She turns to me as well.
“Yeah, right after my family and I have been killed off by the guy whose secret she blabbed and who threatened me by text message,” I rejoin, still miffed.
“What? Someone threatened you?” Nneamaka waves a dismissive hand. “That is not a big issue now, once you know who the person is.”
“How so?” Chinwe’s attention is piqued.
And so is mine.
Nneamaka begins, “My first cousin – almost like a brother in fact, because we grew up together – is the DCP of Enugu State, and he was telling me the other day that there has been a deluge of threats making the rounds in the state, and that people have been advised to report any threat. Even if you don’t know who the person is, the police will use the phone network and trace the sender.”
“Hmmph,” Chinwe snorts. “Will that one work in this our Nigeria?”
“Seriously, it’s working. The Nigerian Police are actually doing more than we give them credit for. Just hold on, let me call him.” Nneamaka fiddles with her phone briefly and places it against her ear. “I will put it on speaker – Wait! It is ringing.” She takes the phone from her ear, switches the call to speakerphone, and places the phone on her lap.
The three of us quietly listen to the MTN ‘You have all it takes to be better’ caller-tune, which gets interrupted seven seconds later.
“Hello, Nne-di-mma?” a deep male voice fills the room through the tiny phone speaker.
“Obi-daddy, good evening,” Nneamaka greets. “Keekwanu ka imee?”
“I’m fine 0, just a little busy. Can I call you back?”
“Please, just a moment. This is kind of urgent. There’s this good friend of mine…Ada, actually. You remember Ada, right?”
“Yes, the woman who takes care of Chimsom for you, right?” he says.
“What about her? Is she okay?” he inquires.
“Not really. Someone sent her an sms, threatening to do something dangerous to her and her family.”
“Does she know who the owner of the number is?”
“Hold on, excuse me one moment,” he cuts her off. “Sir!” he calls out faintly. It is obvious he’s conversing with someone on the other end.
He soon returns to the call. “Ok, so, can you come with her to the station tomorrow? Come by 10am, I will be around. I have to go now, inugo? Extend my regards to my in-law and Chi.”
“Ngwanu, take care,” Nneamaka says, before disconnecting the call. She looks up at me. “So, tomorrow, we’ll go and see him after dropping…” A knock on the door interrupts her. “…Gabby and Nuella,” she finishes, her eyes following mine and Chinwe’s to the door.
I get up to answer the door. It is my gateman.
“Samuel, is everything alright?” I ask.
“Yes madam. One madam dey for gate, she talk say she be your friend, say make I let am drive in. As you no tell me say person dey come, I say make I come ask you.”
“Wetin be her name?”
“Er…I no remember again oh!” He scratches his head vigorously, as though to scrape open the part of his brain where he’d stored the name. “Madam, make I go ask am again,” he says, before taking off towards the gate.
“Mimi just sent me a text message,” Chinwe says. “It’s her and Mercy at the gate.” She looks up at me with a guarded expression.
Just great, I think sardonically. So today’s drama was adjourned from the eatery to my house!
I call out to the gateman, “Samuel, let them drive in o!”
“Alright ma!” he calls back.
Standing in the verandah, I watch as Mercy gently guides her car through the gate and park following the gateman’s direction.
“What are you doing here?” I ask stonily as she and Mimi approach.
“At least, let me in first now,” she replies.
“And if I say no? What will you do? Set your boyfriend on me?” The calm in my voice is nonexistent inside me, as all the anger I feel due to her bitchiness pulls bile to my mouth.
“Ada, please calm down and hear her out,” Mimi cuts in.
“Hian! Onye nkea esikwa ebee?” I say tartly, sweeping my glare in her direction. “Let me give you both a message for Chidubem.” I swing my stare from Mimi to Mercy, and just then, I notice her remorseful demeanor and red eyes. I realize then that she must not be here for a fight. But I am already on a roll, so I continue, “Tell your Chidubem to ask questions very well next time before issuing a threat. Mtcheeeew!” I turn and walk back into the house, leaving the door open.
They both come in and sit. There is no exchange of greetings between them and the two women already in the house.
After about three seconds of awkward silence, Mercy begins, “Ada, please, I need your help here. You know you are the only friend I can ever boast of having…”
I let out a derisive laugh at her words.
“Is this how you treat your ‘only friend’?” Chinwe interjects, lifting quotations marks around the two words with her fingers. “No wonder you don’t have any friends then. You have been nothing but bitchy, rude and downright insulting to Ada since I knew you – as if you both are in a competition or dragging something.”
“Ada is the only one here who knows my story,” Mercy says resolutely, not rising to the bait in Chinwe’s remark. “That is why she puts up with me –”
“Chere oh, nwa-ada!” I cut in. “Which story do I know? I don’t know any story of yours o! I have just been putting up with you because I’m naturally a patient person.”
“You don’t need to deny me, Ada! Don’t you remember Steven?”
“Steven…” I say, thinking for some seconds. “That was your school boyfriend, yes?”
“Yes. You know how we ended things…”
“No, I don’t. You said you would gist me then, and you never did.” My voice becomes mellowed as curiosity supersedes my anger.
Mercy takes a deep shuddering breath then, as though fortifying herself for the story she has to tell. She looks briefly down at her hands, which I see are clasped tightly on her lap. This particular trip down memory lane is obviously not one she is happy doing.
“Steven and I graduated and served together in the same state. Just before service was over, he got an internship position with the United Nations under Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Immediately after this internship, he got a job with them. He was supposed to travel to the Netherlands to start the job in three months. So, he asked me to marry him.”
She blinks rapidly over eyes that suddenly seem to have welled up. Then she lifts a hand to flick the tears off.
“So, what happened?” I ask, rising to get the tissue box on the television stand and offer her.
“Thank you,” she says. She draws two pieces of tissue and wipes at her eyes and her nose. “Of course, we had dated for five years by then. My parents knew of him, even though I hadn’t taken him home to them yet. His parents knew me. In fact, his mother used to call me almost every day, even more than my mum used to call me. I didn’t think twice before saying yes to him. He said he wanted us to wed before he travels, so that once he gets there, he will arrange for me to come over as his wife. It would be easier that way.”
She stops to sniff and dab her eyes with the already-soggy tissue in her hand.
“Well, I told my parents, and my dad travelled to the village to get the list. Our village people said it was too rushed, and that the time was too short. Besides, we have seasons in my place, season for burial and that for wedding. And that period was the burial season. I begged Steven to leave out the traditional marriage and maybe, we should do court wedding instead. Then, later on, we can come back and settle things up traditionally. Even my parents bought the idea, but Steven was having none of it. He wanted everything done in order. So, my father had to do a lot of traveling that period in his mission to convince his people to agree to our wedding, bargaining for it to be a small in-house gathering, so as not to entirely violate the tradition.
A solitary tear escapes her eye to roll slowly and unchecked over her cheekbone at this point, and her body begins to tremble with emotion.
“During one of those travels to the village – this was one month-and-half before Steven’s trip overseas – my father got involved in an accident and was seriously injured. His phone was shattered in the accident, so no one could contact us.”
At this juncture, the control she has been holding over her emotions slips and she hunches slightly forward to give rein to her tears. Mimi, who is seated next to her, instantly moves closer to give her a consoling embrace.
“Just let me be,” Mercy says, her sharp tone stopping Mimi from advancing.
No one says anything until she has gotten her misery back under control a few moments later and resumes speaking. “So, two days after my mother and I didn’t hear from him, we began getting anxious. It was unusual, my father’s silence. There is poor network in my place, granted. But at least, he would have gone to the place where there is network to call us. My mother and I had to travel to the village on the third day to look for him. We were told that he left three days before. So, we traced his way back, checking the hospitals on the way. Soon, we found him.”
She takes a deep breath and blows her nose.
“He was just lying in one corner of one roadside clinic, unattended to. His injuries were festering. We took him straight to UNTH, like the clinic people suggested. We didn’t have much money. Steven came to our rescue, using the little money he was supposed to pay my bride price with. We paid the amount charged for the surgery. They were going to amputate one of his legs. However, he died in the theatre.”
Shock overtakes everyone else in the room, and on its heels comes a wave of emotion. The four of us reach for the tissue box, pulling one sheet after the other.
“We buried him soon after, since it was burial period. And Steven left for the Netherlands immediately after the burial. He called me once he settled in. Just that once…he didn’t call me again for a long time. I was worried out of my mind, alone and to crown it all, pregnant. I found out about the pregnancy after he left. I left home, because I didn’t know how to face my mother. I went back to Ekiti State where we served, and started some mini business with the little money I had. When he finally called, I was twenty-two weeks gone, and I was going to tell him that I was pregnant. But the call lasted for all of thirty seconds, during which he told me to move on with my life, that he had realized that I will be too much of a burden for him.”
The tears flowed freely now, and Mercy didn’t try to wipe them anymore.
“Such cruel words for someone he dated for all of five years! For someone who had given him EVERYTHING! For someone who lost her father on his account!” Her words had become forced and bitter.
“I went to abort the pregnancy, and was informed that it was too late to do so. I wept all the time, wishing the pregnancy away. God must have wanted to spare me some heartache, because I woke up one morning to find that I was bleeding profusely. I had lost the baby. That prayer had at least been answered. It was difficult putting my life together again after that. And just when it seemed I was making headway in doing so, I heard the news that Steven had gotten married to Nneka.”
“Oh my God!” I gasp, my hand going to my mouth in stupefaction. “Nneka, your best friend from school then?”
“Yes. My own Nneka… The same Nneka I always called when I was down in the dumps…the same Nneka that I gave the number that Steven last used to call me, so that she would call him and beg him for me, or at least, find out what exactly I did. And just like that…” – she snaps her fingers – “they got married, and Nneka joined him in the Netherlands.”
“Bitch,” Mimi hisses.
“Oh wow!” Nneamaka exhales.
“I can’t believe you passed through all these alone,” I say, feeling very sorry for this vulnerable woman I never knew existed.
“I’m so sorry you had to go through all that,” Chinwe adds.
“You can imagine, therefore, my shock and how betrayed I felt when you told me that the one person I’d decided to give a chance after Steven broke my heart is gay,” Mercy says, looking at me.
“Mercy, look at me and listen closely,” I say earnestly. “Yes, I saw Chidubem and Chetanna kissing. Ask yourself one question. What would I gain from lying against them?”
“Nothing,” she answers, shaking her head sadly. “It was the answer to that question that brought me here. Plus I noticed some strange behavior that same day he sent that text. I noticed the date when you gave me your phone to read the text, and I made the connection. I caught him going through my phone that day, and following that, he kept asking me some questions about you, like how many children you have, where they go to school and where your husband works.” She pauses to give a small wry smile as she says, “Good thing I have been too self-involved with you to know the answers to where Gabby goes to school and where your husband works. So I couldn’t answer him that. Then, he asked me to get closer to you, that you are a good influence.”
“Nawa o!” Chinwe ululates.
“I need to catch him red-handed, and I need your help,” Mercy says to me.
“Ha! He has already marked me,” I protest. “How do you now want me to help you?”
“I don’t know. Maybe we can blackmail him with that text message he sent you…” she starts to suggest.
“I have already concluded plans to report that text at the police station. Maybe when they summon him, he will have to confess,” I say.
“Mba o!” Mercy counters with some heat. The miserable woman of a few moments ago is fast disappearing. “Did you not notice that he didn’t mention what exactly you saw? How then do you expect he’ll confess to threatening you because you saw him kiss another man?”
“Kai, it’s true oh! Should I goad him by replying?”
“That could work. But what will you say?” Mimi questions.
“Ow-kay! Here it is!” Chinwe pipes up.
All eyes and attention rivet to her.
“I found something that can help us catch him.” Thumbing through her phone, she reads out, “The light bulb with camera with IR is unique in that the bulb will capture video to an optional micro SD card, and even has IR illuminators for night recording. As soon as you screw the light bulb covert spy camera into a socket, it will start recording… blah-blah – Ehen! This covert light bulb camera can store up to four days of motion-activated video on a 32GB SD card, and twelve hours of constant movement with light movement. It can last up to a week…” She looks up at us. “So what do you guys think? Let’s order it and place it in Chidubem’s room. No evidence like video or photographic evidence.”
“Cool!” Mimi pipes up. “After all, he’s not the only one that knows how to hide cameras.”
“But won’t his CCTV catch us going in?” I ask, still skeptical.
“Yeah! That will be a problem o!” Chinwe concedes. “How are we going to do this now?”
“I know how to turn CCTV cameras off,” Nneamaka speaks up after a little pause.
“Excuse me?” Mimi says, turning to face her, clearly noticing her for the first time.
“Sorry,” I intone. “Mimi and Mercy, this is my friend and neighbour, Nneamaka. Nne, this is Mimi and Mercy.” Then I refocus on Nneamaka. “So, you can put off CCTV?”
“Yes, and since I didn’t come to the party with you guys, Mercy can bring me in with her like any other friend. So when this Chidubem later sees the recording of my visit, he won’t think anything of it. I will then turn off the camera, and you guys will come in.”
“That’s so cool!” Mimi enthuses.
“Cool? Wait till you hear this!” Nneamaka continues. “I can do it in such a way that the recording will still go on as if no one is there, you know, like they do in the movies. They call it ‘freezing’. I will like take two or three screens from the past few minutes and put them on repeat. Then I’ll deactivate it after we are done.”
“Uhm ok, this is sounding like mathematics!” Chinwe says with laughing protest.
We all join her in laughter, except Mercy, who has been staring into space. I feel sorry for her. Reliving all that experience right in the wake of hearing that you have been building a second romantic castle in the air can’t be easy.
“Just do it the way you’re sure we won’t be caught, ok?” Chinwe says to Nneamaka.
“So, let’s order this thing,” Mimi says enthusiastically.
“How much is it sef?” I ask.
“Err…” Chinwe peers into her phone and returns a hesitant look to us. “Two hundred and forty nine dollars, ninety five cents –”
“Jesus!” I gasp.
“And that is without the memory card o.”
“Oburokwa obere ego o,” Mimi says.
“Who has a dollar account here? It will be easier to order with the person’s account details,” Nneamaka says.
“I don’t,” I say.
“I do,” Mimi says, “but I don’t have that kind of amount in it.”
“I’ll take care of it,” someone pipes up.
And we turn to Mercy, who is now holding out her ATM card.
Keekwanu ka imee? – How are you doing?
Onye nkea esikwa ebee? – Where did this one come from?
Oburokwa obere ego – It’s not small money
Written by Adaku J.