The more I think about my son’s teddy, the more worried I get. It isn’t helping matters that Chinwe had gone and planted ‘tedophilia’ in my head, and that nauseating thought had taken root so fast. I also worry about Nkaiso.
“What is her deal sef?” I say out loud to myself.
Responding to my quick spurt of irritation, I pick up my phone and dial her number. I am informed that the number I am calling is not available at the moment.
Sighing audibly, I drop the phone beside me on the bed.
I don’t even know where and when Gabby learned the word ‘spoil’; knowing that would have helped me have had an idea what it represents to him.
Tossing and turning restlessly on the bed, I will myself to get up and do something around the house, and stop overthinking about the teddy. But I remain on the bed, consumed by lethargy. A glance at the wall clock informs me that the time is 10am. I decide to sleep for an hour, and thereafter, do some stuff around the house before going to pick Gabby and Nuella up at 1 pm. They usually do not hold after-school lessons at the school on Fridays.
Just as I turn to sleep on my left side – just as it says on WebMD – a pinging sound comes from my phone, indicating the receipt of either a whatsapp, BBM or text message. Grabbing for my phone, I check it out.
It is a BBM message, and the sender is Chinwe.
Chinwe: Hey! Do you want to hang out? Office is dry today. I mean, Fridays are dry, but today is the worst! BBMYawnSmiley.
Me: Can you come with me, let’s go to Nkaiso’s house. I’m worried about my baby’s teddy.
Chinwe: You’re not serious! Stop worrying jaré! She just forgot to pack it. Well, until proven otherwise.
Me: Wait! Was it not you that got me worried with that your weird story about tedophiles? This one is on you! You have to come with me oh!
Chinwe: No problem. It’s better than staying here sef!
Me: Cool. I’ll be in your office in the next 10 minutes.
I immediately rise from the bed and dress up. Fifteen minutes later, Chinwe is opening the passenger’s door of my car and getting in.
“You said ten minutes, but you took up to thirty!” she fumes as she straps on her seat belt.
“What if I changed my mind about coming out at all?” I challenge with a smile.
“Huh? I will… I will… In fact, I’ll just spoil you!” she says, laughing.
“Womanophile like you!” I retort.
We both laugh as I turn the ignition and pull out of my parking spot.
“Biko, Ifeanyi and Leticia’s introduction is in two weeks’ time – that is, after this tomorrow Saturday, the upper one. Do you want to come with me?” I ask.
“I would have loved to oh! But Ebuka and I have a thing. Actually, he travelled to Awka to see his people. From there, he’ll go to Lagos. His immediate family stays there. He’s coming back that same Saturday by flight, and we’re supposed to see a movie that day.”
“Tell him to rest from his waka-waka now! You guys can see the movie on Sunday.”
“I actually want to see that movie oh! But, maybe, I’ll give in to the temptation to go and see it alone, and then blow him off that day.” She says this with a mischievous look.
“Don’t try it oh! Actually, don’t worry about me. Just stick to your plans with Ebuka.” A moment of silence passes before I venture into the topic that just came uppermost in my mind. “What are you guys even doing?”
“Who guys?” Chinwe queries.
“I mean…you and Ebuka. Are you guys like friending or dating or engaged or married?” I end my question with a chuckle.
“Hian! Biko, if there’s any category before friending, that’s where we are.”
“What do you mean by that?” I ask, glancing briefly at her.
“Nothing really…we’re just there.” She shrugs.
“Wait oh! He doesn’t have a family member living here in Enugu, and he came all the way from the UK just to see you, spent how many weeks in Nigeria without seeing his folks. And you guys are ‘just there’? Babe, no fall my hand oh!” I finish, turning into the outset of Nkaiso’s street. The environment is empty as it always is at this time of day. I can’t help but admire the quietness, something that is not obtainable in my neighbourhood.
“I don’t just want to rush anything for now, biko,” Chinwe says with a flick of her fingers. “I am taking it gently, taking my sweet time.”
“Time and tide…” I start to say, when a car suddenly appears from a bend.
The driver recklessly drives straight at me, tyres screeching, as if he has lost control of his brakes.
“Blood of Jesus!”
“Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!”
Chinwe and I scream in unison.
I make a swift sharp swerve to my left just as the car comes close, and it misses my car by a hair’s breadth, just as I miss wheeling into the gully on the side of the road.
I look back to see if the car stopped, but the driver is still speeding on, his engine screeching in protest.
“Is that not Nkaiso’s husband’s car?” I ask, my heart still beating a wild tattoo at the near accident.
“I don’t know! Do I know their car?!” Chinwe screams, visibly shaken. “Whoever is driving that car is the devil! It is not my time to die yet! And I’m not dying by road accident! God forbid! You hear me?!” She turns in her seat to scream at the receding tail light of the car. “God forbid you!”
“Thank you, Jesus,” I mutter more to myself, before carefully maneuvering my car back to the road.
In a short while, we were ascending the stairs to Nkaiso’s house.
“I hope she’ll be around oh,” Chinwe says.
“I hope so too,” I respond.
“What do you mean? You didn’t call her?” Chinwe asks, pausing to turn and stare at me.
“Her number didn’t go through. But she’s on leave.” I walk past her. “I’m sure she’ll be at home.” She had better be, I think to myself. God knows I need to sit down somewhere and calm my frazzled nerves.
“I hope this isn’t a wild goose chase.”
The words are just out of Chinwe’s mouth when I see Nkaiso’s door standing open, affording me a glimpse of the bric-a-brac littering the verandah, and all the way into the sitting room, as far as my eyes can see. I stop right there in the stairwell, wondering what is going on. First, her husband’s car drives past me like a bat out of hell, and now, her home is wide open and disordered.
Chinwe must have noticed the open door, because she stopped short beside me. “Oh my God! What happened here?” she whispers, holding her palm to her chest, as if to calm her racing heart.
“It’s like armed robbers came to this house this morning oh,” I whisper in reply, “and they probably found the keys to their car.”
“Armed robbers in broad daylight?” Disbelief is etched on her face. “That’s unlikely.”
I shrug in response.
“Let’s go and check,” she orders, moving a step ahead of me.
“What?! With them possibly still in there?” I hiss, drawing her back.
“Well, you saw them speeding off in her car. So, they can’t be here anymore,” she says, regaining possession of her arm.
Carefully, we pick our way toward the open door.
“Hello! Is anybody home?” Chinwe calls out when we do not see anybody in the sitting room.
“Hello!” I holler too, shutting the front door behind me. Great! Lock yourself in with the robbers, you hear? I chide myself, before reopening the door just a crack.
“Nobody oh,” Chinwe says, flailing her arms. “Maybe they left in a hurry and forgot to lock the door. This house doesn’t look burgled to me anyway, just scattered.” She sets herself gently down on a sofa.
Ok then, I think, closing and locking the door.
“Let me try calling her,” I say, digging out my phone from my handbag.
I place the call and put my phone on speaker. Shortly after, as the buzzing sound of the ringing emanates from my speaker, simultaneously, we hear a phone ringing somewhere inside the house.
“Isn’t that her phone ringing?” I ask Chinwe, turning my head in the direction of the ringing sound of the phone.
“I don’t know. End it and call again.”
I end the call, and call again. The amplified buzz from my speaker coincides once again with the phone ringing inside the house.
“Should we go and check?” I ask, feeling weird.
“Of course, we should go and check!” Chinwe says, instantly getting to her feet. She promptly follows the sound of the ringing phone out of the parlour and into the adjoining hallway.
Soon, we locate the room from where the phone is ringing. The heavy curtain hanging over the windows greatly diminishes the amount of daylight able to get into the bedroom.
I open my eyes wide, trying to adjust my eyesight to the room’s dimness, while resisting the urge to look for a light switch. Soon, I am able to make out a female figure sprawled in a sitting position on the floor with her back reclining against the king-size bed positioned centrally in the room. The woman’s head is tilted backward on the bed.
“NK?” I say, squatting to touch her gingerly.
“Hmmm…” she grunts, opening her eyes. She seems disoriented for the first few seconds, as she glances about the room, blinking at the semidarkness.
“It’s me…” I say. “It’s Ada and er…” I look around for Chinwe. She is standing by the doorway, observing.
“What are you doing here?” Nkaiso croaks, her wits clearly getting back to her.
“Er…” I falter, suddenly realizing that I’d forgotten the reason why I am in her house in the first place. “Your front door was open, and I thought that maybe you were robbed…”
“What… What?!” she screams. And like a demented person, she staggers to her feet in a flash and dashes out of the room.
Now what? I think as I rise and follow after her, leaving Chinwe to bring up the rear.
We get into the sitting room to see her frantically trying to put back everything in place.
“NK, what’s going on?” I ask after watching her for a short while.
She whirls around to face us.
“Oh my God!”
For the second time that day, Chinwe and I exclaim our shock in unison, this time at Nkaiso’s bruised and battered face. Her right eyes were slightly swollen, her lips were pumped up to about three times their normal size, and her face was covered with various cuts and contusions.
“What happened to your face?” I ask shakily as I walk slowly toward her.
“Stop, please…” she says in a small gasp of a voice, a hand outstretched, indicating I come no further. “No now… Not yet.”
“What started as a mistake has ballooned into this mess,” Nkaiso says, sitting on one of the sofas in her now perfectly-arranged sitting room.
She’d refused say a single word to us until she had put the sitting room in order, magically transforming the room to perfection, where there’d once been chaos. As I watched her adjust the final piece of furniture to her satisfaction, I wondered if this wasn’t perhaps the real definition of my friend – immaculateness hiding much imperfection from the unobservant eye.
Hearing her narrative, I stop wondering. I know.
“My children are no longer safe.” Looking at me pointedly, she adds, “I hope you won’t be offended if I ask you not to bring Gabby to the house anymore.”
I shake my head no. She needn’t ask; I have already decided that.
“You know, that last time you brought Gabby here, he fell into one of his black moods, which my children recognized and ran into their room. Gabby didn’t. He grabbed for the boy, and because I didn’t want to explain to you how Gabby got injured, or lie and say he fell, I ran and grabbed him back from my husband. We really struggled for him. I won, and he was left with Gabby’s teddy. He angrily pulled the head and both hands out of the teddy. It wasn’t enough for him. He still beat me that day.”
“But you have to do something about this now!” I say, aghast. I stare at the ugly gash on her forehead, and shudder at the thought of the animal mauling my friend so.
“Oh, but I am,” she says, smiling ruefully. “I am.”
“Ok, what exactly are you doing? Do you want to share?” Chinwe quizzes.
“I am praying about it. You know the bible says that the heart of a king is in the Hand of God –”
Chinwe lets out a long hiss, cutting Nkaiso off.
“Seriously, don’t hiss,” Nkaiso says in soft protest. “I know what I am talking about. I believe that God will change him.”
“Ok, let’s backtrack for a bit here,” Chinwe says. “He hit you for the first time when?”
“About three years ago.”
“Then he apologized, and never did it again until like five months later, abi?”
Nkaiso says nothing.
“And then, he apologized again, and fasted and prayed with you for the demon that possessed him to do it to go away. Only to hit you again after another few months, right?” Chinwe’s lip has curled with derision at this point.
Nkaiso remains resolutely silent. Her battered face is studiously expressionless.
Chinwe pushes on. “And that was how the time in between the abuse kept reducing –”
“Don’t call it abuse!” Nkaiso finally flares. She appears to check herself and continues in a softer voice, “Abuse is when the person does it intentionally. I know my husband. He just needs prayers of deliverance from anger issues. He will get better –”
“The time in between the abuse kept reducing,” Chinwe picks up from where she was interrupted, as if Nkaiso hadn’t uttered a word, “until he started abusing your children too. And they had to learn how to recognize his ‘black moods’” – she brackets the two words with her fingers – “and run away from him, hiding and cowering with fear in their bedrooms. Nkaiso, have you ever paused to think that this ‘black mood’ can make him break down the door to their rooms and beat them to death?”
There is no response from my friend.
“NK, please…” I beseech, as my heart aches for her. “Please, you have to call your people and report him. You know your brothers alone can instill fear into him. Please, for the sake of your children.”
She says nothing.
“Shebi you were the one that is always telling me that our children are our first priorities? Why are you knowingly putting them in danger?” I ask.
For the next few minutes, Chinwe and I take turns in trying to persuade Nkaiso to rethink her position. It is as if we are calling on Baal. She does not as much as nod in acknowledgement of what we are saying.
“Don’t just worry!” Chinwe suddenly fumes. “I am calling WACOL for you right now.” She rummages briefly in her handbag and comes up with her phone. She flicks her fingers across the screen of her phone with tight lips. She is really angry. After some seconds, she places the phone in her ear. “Since you are pretending you can’t hear what we are saying… What kind of rubbish is this one sef?” she grumbles. “Thank God I have a one-on-one relationship with Dr. Joy Ezeilo.” She continues grumbling as she waits for her call to be answered.
I can hear the faint ring-ring of the phone on the other end.
“Okay! Okay!” Nkaiso speaks up then. She’d probably heard the ring.
“Hello? Good day, ma,” Chinwe speaks into the phone, ignoring her. After listening for a beat, she says, “Yes, ma! I’m fine, ma. Listen, there’s something –”
“I said Okay now!” Nkaiso says in a sharper voice, rising from her chair and making straight for Chinwe, hand stretched out and going for the phone in her ear.
“Just a moment, ma,” Chinwe says hurriedly into the phone. Then she removes it from her ear, places her other palm over the surface, and stares up at Nkaiso. “Okay what?”
“End the call first.” Nkaiso towers before her.
“For now.” Chinwe returns to her call, wraps it up and disconnects. “So, Okay what?”
“I will call my brothers,” Nkaiso says tightly.
“And you’re calling them right now, yes?” Chinwe demands.
“Yes. Let me just get my phone from the room.” She leaves the sitting room.
“Were you actually calling WACOL on her?” I whisper to Chinwe, when Nkaiso has gone out of earshot.
“Of course not! Samsung fake call,” she replies smugly.
“Mean!” I say with a chuckle.
“But necessary, my dear,” she returns, chuckling also. Then she frowns at the door through which Nkaiso had passed. “Come. She’s taking too long to get the phone oh! Let’s go and make sure she hasn’t escaped through the window.”
“Wait a little bit more…” I start to say, but I am interrupted by Nkaiso’s voice as she walks back into the sitting room.
“They are all fine,” she is saying into her phone. “Ok now. Bye.” Then she takes the phone from her ear, presses what I presume is the end-call button and faces us.
“Was that your brother?” I ask.
“What did you tell him?” Chinwe asks.
“I told him everything. I actually feel better now that I’ve spoken to him.” She sits down on the chair she vacated some minutes earlier.
Chinwe and I nod, not believing her for one second. I am thinking that she didn’t call her brother at all; and if she did, she didn’t tell him ‘everything’. I glance askance at Chinwe, and from her tight-lipped expression, I believe she is thinking the same thing as I am.
“So, what can I get you?” Nkaiso says then. “I have food – er…there’s rice and stew. I can boil yam…” She begins to rise from her seat again.
“Don’t worry,” I interrupt, looking at my wristwatch. It is already a few minutes to one.
“I’m actually hungry,” Chinwe interjects, throwing me a warning glare. “The yam won’t take long, abi?” she directs at Nkaiso.
“Not at all, just about ten minutes,” Nkaiso replies, before moving out of the sitting room.
“What are you doing?” I ask immediately she leaves. “You can’t possibly want to eat yam –”
“You’re right. I don’t,” Chinwe says. She gets up, takes the few steps to the seat Nkaiso just vacated and picks up her phone. She brandishes it in the air with a tight smile. “We are taking her brother’s number and calling him anonymously,” she announces, running a quick navigation through Nkaiso’s phone. “Done! Now, let’s go and tell her to forget about the yam.” And she proceeds down the way Nkaiso walked out earlier.
I stare after her in wonder. She may be an incurable gossip, but Chinwe sure knows how to handle a difficult situation, I think as I rise and follow after her.
Written by Adaku J.