Chekwube arrived home tired and weary, the long trek from school proved strenuous especially as the sun was so hot in the afternoons. She walked up to the door of the room she shared with her sister and brother-in-law and knocked. There was no response. She knocked again and again.
“Ola!” She called out, hitting the door hard.
There was still no reply.
“Olanma! Open the door!” She called out.
She checked the burglary and realised that it had been padlocked. Where in the world was her sister? She wondered.
Chekwube hardly knew anyone in the compound and she didn’t really socialise with anyone. She stood at the door intent on waiting for her sister till she returned from wherever she went to. She had hardly waited for five minutes when a middle-aged man everyone referred to as Broda Stanley walked past her, he suddenly stopped and turned around to regard her.
“Hello…what are you doing outside here?” He asked.
“Good afternoon.” Chekwube greeted.
“Isn’t your sister at home?” He asked.
“No…she’s not.” Chekuwbe replied.
“Haba! How come she didn’t even give you a key?”
“Maybe she thought she’d be home early.” She said.
“You can come and wait in my room.” He said.
Chekwube didn’t really know Broda Stanley, except for the fact that he was always fetching water and filling the drums in his room as though there was going to be a kind of water scarcity. She also knew that he wasn’t married and that he lived alone.
“Don’t worry. Thank you for your kind gesture.” She said.
“I see you’re very polite.” He said. “You speak English so well, better than your sister.” He said with a smile.
Chekuwbe didn’t respond, she was so tired and very hungry.
“Have you eaten anything?” He asked.
Chekwube looked at him and didn’t respond.
“We are all family in this compound. Didn’t Mr Nosike tell you? We are one big family here and he’ll be angry if I saw you standing out here and I didn’t help you out.”
Chekwube pondered on his words.
“Yes…I am hungry.” She said.
He pushed his hand into his pocket and brought out five hundred naira.
“Take this and go and buy food from Iya Iyabo, buy two plates of food…I am hungry too.” He said. “You can buy drinks if there’s change.”
Chekwube took the money and curtsied in thanks, she was so relieved. She had skipped breakfast that morning after the argument she’d had with her sister over the perfume so she hadn’t eaten all day.
“Thank you very much, sir.” She said as she dropped her bag by the door and hurried off to buy the food.
Gbenga looked at the woman peering at him and couldn’t believe it.
“Won’t you come out of the car and give mummy a hug?” She asked with a wide smile.
Gbenga didn’t respond, suddenly his eyes caught the young teenage girl who was walking up to the car.
“Bunmi, is this your son?” She asked, staring at him.
“Yes…he’s so big now…and he looks so surprised to see me.” Bunmi said. “Soji, drive in…I’ll follow behind.” She said.
Uncle Soji drove in and Gbenga sat at the back seat, his heart pounded so hard. She was here! He thought to himself. After years of waiting to see her, of longing to have her close, she was finally here.
He opened the car door and alighted pulling out his school bag with him. His mother’s hug nearly knocked him down.
“My baby! Look at my baby! Such a big boy!” She said in a mixture of some kind of strange accent. She planted kisses on his face and Gbenga cringed as he went through the torture.
“Hold it! Stop it!” He protested.
“I know you feel you’ve outgrown mom’s kisses but my darling….I haven’t seen you in years…it’s proper that I give you all the kisses you never received from me.” She said.
Gbenga looked at his mother and wanted to feel something, anything, but he couldn’t. He had always replayed the scene in his head; he’d thought that at the sight of his mom, he’ll scream and jump into her arms while goosebumps wash over his skin but it wasn’t the case. It was as though he was meeting a stranger.
He pried himself away from her choking hug and said.
“I have to go inside.”
“Wait…won’t you tell me how much you’ve missed me?” She asked with a smile.
The teenage girl and a woman walked into the compound with bags in their hands, it looked as though they had come to stay.
“Where are they bringing the bags to?” Gbenga asked.
“I came to see you so, it’s necessary that I stay with you.” His mother said.
“Look, I think you should stay at a hotel…my dad won’t be happy to have you here.” Gbenga said.
“Are you kidding me?” The teenage girl half-yelled. “I thought you said that we’re going to stay at the mansion with your son and his pops.” She said to Bunmi.
“Son, are you really going to kick your mom out in the cold? I am your mother…and I carried you for nine months in this belly, you were my tenant for a very long time and I nurtured you…don’t tell me that you can’t give me a room to lay my head in for a few days.”
“I am not the owner of the house…I don’t want dad to get mad at me.” Gbenga started.
“You are the heir to all this fortune…to the house and to everything your dad has. I wonder why you aren’t acting like the owner of all these…” His mother started.
Mummy Justina made her way out of the house and stared at everyone standing outside, she looked quite confused.
“What is going on here? Gbenga! Who are these people?” She asked.
“And who are you?” His mother fired at her.
“She’s our housekeeper and has been like a mother to me for as long as I can remember.” Gbenga said.
“Well…you don’t need her anymore because I’m here.” Bunmi said.
“Who is she and what’s she talking about?” Mummy Justina asked Gbenga.
“Justina, meet Bunmi, she’s Gbenga’s mother.” Uncle Soji said.
Justina stared at Gbenga’s mother with mouth wide open.
Chekwube rushed back with the plates of food, she had been salivating all along as Iya Iyabo dished the food, the aroma of the stew assailed her nostrils and she wanted to gobble everything up as soon as possible.
The door to her place was still locked so she hurried to Broda Stanley’s room with the food. She knocked at the door and heard his voice from within ushering her in.
“Come in…” He said.
She pushed open the door and walked inside, Broda Stanley was standing beside a dingy looking fridge, the room was quite warm as the ceiling fan swirled around in circles.
“Thank you for buying the food.” He said.
“Thank you, sir, for the food.” She said dropping one of the plates on the small table in front of the bed.
“Eat…you should start eating.” He said.
“I will eat outside….thank you.”
“Outside? Why? This place is big enough for us…” He said.
Chekwube looked at him and nodded, she felt it would be very disrespectful to refuse his offer since he’d bought her food to eat. She sat on the ground as there was no chair and began to eat the food, while he stood beside the fridge and ate his. Chekwube wanted to tell him that standing while eating wasn’t ideal but she kept silent and focused on the meal. She was so hungry and the food before her suddenly meant everything to her.
Ten minutes later, they had both finished their food and Chekwube stood to pick the plates. She pushed them into the polyethene bag and wanted to take them out when Broda Stanley stopped her.
“Don’t worry…Iya Iyabo will send one of her children to pick the plates.” He said.
“But…I can take it to them.” Chekuwbe said.
“Aren’t you tired of walking up and down? Lie down and rest…have an afternoon siesta.” He said.
Chekwube looked at him in confusion.
“Siesta?” She echoed.
“Yes, don’t you know that it’s good to take siestas in the afternoons?”
“Yes but…I’d rather go out and wait for my sister. Thank you again for the food.” Chekuwbe said and turned towards the door.
Broda Stanley rushed up to the door and leant against it.
“Go and sleep.” He said.
“I don’t want to sleep.” Chekuwbe answered, trying hard to understand what was going on.
“I want you to stay here for a while at least, keep me company…”
“I want to go outside.” She insisted.
“So, after buying you food worth two hundred naira, you can’t even stay with me and gist.”
“Gist about what? You are not my age mate and I don’t know what we’ll be talking about. Please leave the door and let me go.” She said.
He shook his head.
“You have to pay me for the food if you feel you don’t want to stay.” He said.
“My brother-in-law will pay for the food when he comes home. I’ll tell him.” Chekwube said sounding quite annoyed. He had been the one to insist on buying her food, she thought, why then was he acting like she’d forced him to buy her food.
“No, I want my payment now.” He said.
“I don’t have any money. You saw me outside when I came home from school and you know that I don’t have any money.” She said.
“Ehen, so pay me with what you have.” He said.
“What I have? I don’t have anything…” She said.
He reached out to caress her face, Chekwube’s eyes widened in horror.
“No! Let me go! Let me out of here! Get out of the door! Get out!” She yelled as she tried forcing her way through the door he’d barricaded with his frame.
Broda Stanley clamped his hand over her mouth and pushed her towards the bed. Chekwube struggled hard with all the strength in her body but it was no match for his.
Ola hurried home, she knew she was late and she had made up excuses to tell her sister but then again, she felt she really didn’t have to explain herself since it was her house and Chekwube was living with her.
Baba Tee had taken her out again today and he had shown her the best part of Lagos, they had been to the beach and she had been so excited to see the huge waves of the sea. He had also bought her a new pair of sandals which she knew she would have to hide from her husband again. Baba Tee’s gifts were already becoming too much and she was sure that soon, she wouldn’t be able to keep up with hiding them. She had an idea, she could ask her husband to start a business for her so that she could use her store’s proceeds as a coverup for all her gifts.
She walked into the compound and headed towards the door of their room, she saw Chekwube’s bag at the entrance and sighed. Her sister was already home.
“Chekwube!” She called out.
She walked towards the back of the house and saw no one.
“Chekwube!” She called again.
She made her way to the front of the compound and saw some children playing about. She asked them if they’d seen her sister but they shook their heads. She made her way out of the compound and looked left and right. She was still looking when someone tapped her, it was a small boy.
“My mama say make I collect our plate wey ya sister use buy rice.” He said.
“My sister wetin?” Ola asked she was already getting a hang of the pidgin English spoken in the neighbourhood.
“Ya sister come buy food, she talk say na for her and broda Stanley.” He said.
Ola looked at him in confusion, she knew broda Stanley but she hardly ever spoke to him except exchange greetings with him.
“Broda Stanley?” She asked.
“Yes, ma.” He said.
Ola was angry, when did her sister become friends with Broda Stanley? She thought. Didn’t she have her age mates to speak with? She stormed into the compound with the little boy on her heels.
To be continued….