“We need to perfect our plans oh,” Chinwe says to me over the phone.
The spy camera delivery people had called her earlier to say that they would be delivering the bulb on Monday.
“We must do this as soon as possible, before he starts suspecting,” Chinwe continues.
“Ok. Have you told Mercy?” I ask.
“Yes. So tell Nneamaka, let her get ready. We will go on Monday evening.”
“Monday evening…” I think for a bit. “No. Monday evening won’t be okay. Who will I keep Gabby for? Nneamaka too – who will she leave Nuella with?”
“Yea, that’s true,” Chinwe concedes.
“Besides,” I continue, “there’s a possibility that the owner of the house might be around in the evening.”
“You’re right. Oya, let’s do it on Tuesday afternoon then, during lunch hour.”
“Tuesday should be fine. I’ll check with Nneamaka. Alright then, see you then –”
“Er – wait!” she cuts in, stopping me from ending the call.
“Did Nkaiso’s brother call you again?” she asks.
“No now, he doesn’t need to call me again. He’ll just get to her house and see for himself,” I answer. “By the way, I still resent that you didn’t hide my number before making that call.” A sulking expression eclipses my face at the memory of that afternoon two days ago when Chinwe called Nkaiso’s brother to alert him to his sister’s abuse.
“He had to know that it isn’t a prank call,” she says with some exasperation, giving me the explanation she had already given me several times before.
“That even reminds me…I have to call her to know how she’s doing.”
“Yeah, you should.”
“I just pray she’s okay sha,” I say in a more subdued tone, feeling a mix of concern and fear for my friend.
“She’ll be fine,” Chinwe says assuredly. “Her brother sounded like he meant serious business.”
“Chai! See our prim and proper NK o! Who knew –”
“Mummy peash, I want to wee-wee!” Gabby’s plaintive voice interrupts me just then. “Mummy peash nooow! I want to wee-wee!” He is holding his crotch and dancing around, and pulling at my free hand.
“Nne, biko, let me take this boy to pee, before he lets loose here,” I hurriedly say into the phone. I end the call before Chinwe can reply, and then turn to my son. “Quick! Let’s go!” I lift him off the ground with both hands and taking long strides towards his potty.
We usually hold thirty minutes of opening prayers before service starts in the church on Sundays. This opening prayer is meant to be for church workers, but everyone else is encouraged to be in attendance. It holds in the hall meant for the children’s service.
Immediately after the prayer, I join the stream of people exiting the children’s hall to the main service hall. Someone – female, judging by the nails the bit into my skin at the grip – pulls me by the hand and marches with purposeful steps to the side of the church building.
“I can’t believe you did this to me!” Nkaiso screeches once we are safely out of earshot.
“What? What did I do?” I say, looking up into Nkaiso’s outraged face, the confusion on my face complete.
“Are you going to lie to me and say you didn’t call my brother?” she bit out, anger lacing every word.
“No!” I say, realizing what this is all about. Then I do a double take. “Wait! Your face! What did you do to it?” I gaze astonished at her perfectly smooth visage.
“Cucumber and make-up,” she replies impatiently, absent-mindedly touching a finger gingerly to her face. Then her expression tightens and she rounds on me again. “Why did you call my brother?”
“Er…well…” I falter for a few seconds, still too distracted by the miracle that is her face. I squint at her for any trace of an injury or the blackness and the bumps Chinwe and I witnessed on Thursday.
The cut on her forehead! I suddenly recall, and my eyes fly up to her brow. But there is nothing to see there either; she had carefully arranged her weave to conceal her forehead.
My God! How long has my friend been hiding ugliness under fine hair and make-up? I muse inwardly.
“Well?” Nkaiso snaps, demanding an answer to her question.
I blink my focus back to her query. “You already called him and told him everything” – I let the tone of my voice put quotation marks on the word – “didn’t you? Why are you angry with me for repeating exactly what you did?” I lift a challenging brow at her, silently calling her out on her prevarication.
She draws back from me and turns away to pace a few steps. Then, she stops and faces me again. The steam has gone out of her, and she looks near tears.
“Oh my God! Don’t cry oh!” I exclaim, alarmed. “What happened?”
“My youngest brother came to the house yesterday evening – the one you called. And my two older brothers are coming in today, one from Lagos, and the other from South Africa…” She pulls out a handkerchief from her purse and gently places it under her eyes, one and then the other, to catch the tears before they leak out and expose what is beneath the make-up.
“What is the matter then?” I ask, at once concerned and befuddled.
“They are all threatening fire and brimstone on my husband, who, by the way, hasn’t come home since that Thursday. And his phones are switched off.” She takes in a shuddering breath, and upon expelling it, she begins, “I don’t like involving my family in things that concern my marriage. I know how my brothers can be when it has to do with me. What if they kill him? Or injure him seriously? This is all such a mess, and not what I am ready to handle.” Through her misery, she manages an accusing glare at me.
“Seriously? That’s the only issue?” I say, starting to get angry. “What about your children? Whatever they do to him, he deserves it!”
“Ada, you don’t understand…” Her voice trembles under the heavy burden of the tears she is holding back.
“Seriously, don’t start! I’ll just leave you here and walk away! Biko, before passersby will think I’m making you cry,” I say, a tad unkindly.
“My eldest brother wants to take the children and me away with him for a while,” she says, the tears gone from her voice. “The children are eager to go with him.” She sighs.
“Ok! That’s good!”
“But…what about their schools? This isn’t holiday, you know.”
“Yes, I know. But, it is a living person that goes to school. Besides, you need a break. Shey you’re on leave?”
“Mummy Derrick!” someone calls out from behind me.
We turn to face a female church member walking up to us, gingerly picking her way across the graveled ground of the church compound on stilettos she doesn’t seem accustomed to.
“Mummy Derrick!” she calls again, referring to Nkaiso with her first child’s name.
“Yes?” Nkaiso answers.
The perfect composure in her voice draws her gaze back to her. And I find myself gaping and marveling at the transformation of my friend’s countenance. Gone is the forlorn and woebegone woman of a second ago; in her place is this beacon of poise and pleasant cordiality.
And what did she even mean by ‘cucumber and make-up’? I think as I watch her, making a mental note to ask her later.
“I can’t find your husband in church,” the woman says, coming to a stop right before us. “He is supposed to give the announcement today.”
“Yes, my sister. He isn’t in church today,” Nkaiso replies.
“Eiyaa, this his job sef,” the woman commiserates. “Always making him travel! Hope he’ll be back soon? You must be feeling lonely without him. Well, the children are there, but you can never really compare their presence with the companionship of your own husband. Jisie ike, my sister.”
Nkaiso murmurs her appreciation, and the woman turns and heads back to the church.
How can she not have noticed that this smile is not real? I find myself thinking in the wake of her departure. Then I do a mental double take. I hadn’t noticed either. For God-knows-how-long Nkaiso’s abuse had been going on, I had not seen beyond the perfectness of her smiles and the serenity of her appearance. Some friend you are, I berate myself.
“So, you think I should go?” Nkaiso says, once we are back to being alone.
“Yes. And I’m sorry for everything.”
“Sorry? You were just being a friend –”
“No, not that,” I counter, realizing that she assumes I’m apologizing for calling her brother. “I’m not sorry for getting your family involved. What I’m sorry for is not being the good friend that I claim to be to you. I mean, you have been fooling me with that smile you just fooled Sister Stella with. I am your friend. I am supposed to notice, to pick up on the signs that things haven’t being right for you. But I didn’t. And I’m sorry for that.”
“We’ll be leaving for Lagos tomorrow then,” Nkaiso says. The way her gaze skids away from mine is a tacit admission that she does not have anything to say concerning my contriteness. “I will miss you though.” She returns a wobbly smile to me.
“Me too, but I prefer talking to you on phone to crying over your corpse.”
I reach forward and pull her gently into a hug. She hugs me back for a moment, before drawing away from me, chuckling as she says, “Suffry oh, before I redesign your blouse with concealer.”
We both laugh, and linking our fingers, we walk back toward the main church auditorium, while I send up a short prayer, for God to keep her husband wherever he is until they leave tomorrow and make it safely to Lagos.
“Where are these babes now?” I mutter for the umpteenth time, checking my wristwatch.
I am sitting in my car with Nneamaka. We are parked on the side of the road that leads to Chidubem’s place, waiting for Chinwe and Mercy to come and meet us.
Mimi had called earlier to say that she is having stomach cramps, and so, cannot come out to join us, as she had been ordered to observe bed rest.
My phone battery had run down, and for some reason, my car charger has refused to juice up the phone. So, I am unable to call Chinwe or Mercy to know their whereabouts. Our plan though had been clear from the beginning.
I would wait here with Nneamaka and Mimi. Mercy would pick Chinwe up from her office and meet us out here. Then, Nneamaka would get into Mercy’s car, while Chinwe comes into mine. Mercy would drive on to Chidubem’s place with Nneamaka, as she would with any other friend of hers. They would find the cameras and Nneamaka would disable them. Then they’d call us, and we’d go in and install the spy bulb.
The plan was foolproof and Chinwe would like to say she’s the mastermind behind it.
“What if they changed their minds?” Nneamaka interrupts my musing to ask. She appears braced to list out the many probable reasons for Mercy’s and Chinwe’s tardiness. “Or maybe, Chinwe didn’t take delivery of the spy bulb as planned? What if Mercy decided she is more interested in her relationship than in finding out if her boyfriend is gay or not? What if something has happened to either of them? What if –”
“Ozugo!” I snap. “Nothing happened to anybody! They are coming.” I peer at my side mirror in time to spy Mercy’s car navigating a pothole a few yards behind us. “And they’re here, see?”
“Oh cool!” Nneamaka says, unclasping her seatbelt in readiness to transfer to Mercy’s car.
“Hey babe,” Chinwe says cheerily as she gets into my car. She slams the door and reaches immediately for her seatbelt.
“What held you guys up?” I ask, starting up the car.
“Mercy took forever to come for me. Plus your number refused to connect. Kilode?”
“Low battery,” I answer simply, making certain that I follow Mercy at a good distance.
“Pele. Shebi I’ve asked you to change this your Blackberry. Android is the bestest, you know,” she says, smiling. “Ehen! Mimi didn’t show?” She turns to glance at the rear of the car.
“She’s having stomachache.”
“Ha! Stomachache in pregnancy is not a good thing oh! Has she gone to the hospital? What did they say?”
“I don’t know. She just called to say that. It’s probably nothing sha. Maybe her womb is expanding to accommodate the baby. It happened to me when I was pregnant with Gabby.”
“We better stop here,” I say, turning on my left indicator light to signify that I’m clearing from the road.
“Ok, so now, we wait for the call,” Chinwe says, as she rummages in her handbag. Moments later, she comes up with a parcel.
“Oh yes! The spy bulb!” I say excitedly, reaching to take the package from her.
“Wait joor! I’ll open it myself,” she admonishes.
I watch as she unwraps the package, and then, the smaller carton containing the bulb.
“Here is the memory card,” she says, pulling open a tiny compartment in the bulb. “I ordered a 16 gig size.” She shuts the compartment.
“Nice. So, we just replace the bulb in the room with this one and – ta-da?” I ask, enthralled.
“Just like that!” she says, snapping her fingers.
“Bekee bu agbara oh!” I chuckle. “Like my father would say.”
Chinwe’s phone starts ringing then.
“Ok. It’s show time!” She opens the car door and grabs her handbag.
“For your mind, you’re in a James Bond movie, abi?” I laugh, bending to strap on my sandals, which I took off in order to drive.
“If this isn’t James Bond, what is?” she replies as she slights from the car. Then she strikes a pose, her hand on her hip and face tilted up haughtily, before saying with a poor English accent, “The name is Bond. Jane Bond.”
We are both laughing as we make for the house.
In minutes, we were back in that expansive sitting room which had been the extension to Mercy’s lawn birthday party scant weeks ago. The room had been a vast space, devoid of seats that evening. Today however, there are exquisite brocade sofas arranged tastefully in the room.
“Wow! Exactly how rich is this guy?” Chinwe whistles as she takes in the room.
“I know, right?” Nneamaka agrees with an exclamation of her own. “I mean, this place looks like all those unbelievable houses they show on Fine Living Network.”
“Yeah, exactly –”
“Enough!” Mercy snaps, obviously not enchanted with Chidubem’s wealth anymore. “You guys should focus!”
Chinwe and Nneamaka cease their chatter immediately.
“Ok, so the security cameras weren’t even on,” Mercy says, “so, let’s place the bulb and disappear from here, before either one of them shows up.”
I can’t help but notice that she abstained from mentioning the names of Chidubem and his alleged lover, Chetanna. Even the ‘them’ she placed in lieu of their names came marinated with a wealth of loathing.
She leads the way through the door that connects to the rest of the house. We walk behind her along the passage. Before long, she stops before one of the doors, raising her hand to turn the door handle.
“Wait! This wasn’t the room I saw them in,” I halt her with a whisper.
The other three turn to look at me.
“That’s the one.” I point at another door further down the passage.
“Oh boy!” Chinwe responds in a whisper of her own. “We have just one bulb. What if they never do it in the room we’re going to put it in?”
“Oh my, it’s true oh! This is just a wasted effort!” Nneamaka says, her shoulders sagging with defeat.
At this, Mercy sighs in irritation. “What is this? You guys, focus!” she snaps in a low hiss. “Think about it. There was a party, and I could have gone into the master’s bedroom to freshen up and found them if they stayed there. So, they decided to use the visitor’s room, which I had no business being in. So, we put it in the master’s bedroom, ok?” She swings her gaze across our faces.
“One question!” Chinwe says, raising her index finger like a pupil in class.
“Yes?” Mercy says waspishly.
“Why are we whispering?”
The question provides just the comic relief needed, as we all burst out laughing. The tension instantly eases more than a bit. Mercy opens the door and we step in.
I can feel Chinwe and Nneamaka holding back their gush of amazement at the sight of the bedroom. I mean, I too am having a hard time trying not to compliment the vast opulence of the room.
“So…” Mercy says, looking around. “Where are we putting the bulb?”
This snaps us out of our awe.
“Ehen! Ok,” Chinwe speaks up in a brisk tone. “We should find one that points directly to the bed…” She points at one of the lamps fastened to the wall opposite the king-sized bed. “We’ll change it with this.”
Digging into her handbag, she produces the bulb. Mercy drags one of the cushioned stools before the vanity mirror close to the wall, underneath the bulb to be swapped.
I watch as she holds the stool steady while Chinwe climbs on it, and reaches below the intricately-carved lamp cover for the bulb inside. Just then, I find myself wishing it isn’t true that Chidubem is gay. God knows that Mercy can use a little bit of comfort and happiness after all she’s been through.
“Uh-oh,” Chinwe says softly.
“What?” Mercy and I say in unison.
“The endpoint of the spy bulb is pin, and the place where it’s supposed to connect with this appliance is screw!” She heaves a frustrated sigh.
Mercy sighs too and drops dejectedly to the floor. With her shoulders slumped, she suddenly loses the take-charge attitude that the woman who walked into this house possessed.
“Oh my,” Nneamaka exclaims. “What do we do now?”
Chinwe gets down from the stool and pushes it back to the vanity. “First of all, we need to get out of this room. We need another plan.” She stretches a hand to Mercy who is now near tears.
I feel a surge of commiseration for her and despair at our failed mission swamp through me as we start out of the bedroom.
Written by Adaku J.
ONE MORE THING: And on that How-To-Get-Away-With-Murder-like cliffhanger, I have a notice to give on behalf of Adaku J. Due to some extenuating personal circumstances, the writer of The Housewives’ Tale will be taking a short break from penning the series. She pleads your understanding as she takes the time to sort some things out. And she assures that the hiatus won’t be for very long. She can’t afford to go off for long o – believe me, there’s much more drama waiting to be told.