He didn’t feel any fear as he drove into the compound. The fear of her confrontation about why he’d ignored her calls was expected but it didn’t manifest. His mind overflowed with bliss, strange but lovely.
He whistled as he parked his car. He came down with a foreign poise, jiggling his car keys. Cynthia’s car, a dark blue Camry, was parked at a corner.
He asked Okon how long his madam had been around. Referring to her as madam came out a bit uneasy this time. There has been a happening, one capable of reversing titles.
“E done tey, Oga.” Okon said, his lips pinched out in the characteristic way he spoke.
The short man scratched his head. “Erm…erm…Oga, e done tey o. It has really really tey.”
He resigned to a sigh and walked upstairs, Okon tagging along with his traveller’s bag.
He drew back the curtain and met sudden raucousness.
The speakers blared with Omawumi’s voice as she begged to be given bottom belle so that she would cool her heart. Stella, their live-in maid, was at the centre of the room, twisting this way and that in frenzy as she tried to move her huge self to the rhythm of the song.
The AC was on but the sweat poured off her like one drenched in rain. The remote in her right hand towered above her head while her other hand held her wide skirt together as she hihi and hehe’d to the song.
She only realized their presence when Oga turned the player off.
She jolted. “Welcome, Oga.” She raised her shirt to wipe sweat from her face. Oga could see the washed-out bra that held her bounteous breasts in place.
“Where is your Madam?”
“She went out, sir.”
“Without her car?”
“She said she need walking.”
“Yes, nee…need to walk.”
“Needed to walk.”
“For whatever reason would she?”
“Take the bag from Okon.”
As Okon transferred the bag to her, they exchanged expressions, the quick and silent facial communication that was common to servants. It looked like one rebuked the other while the one being rebuked did to mean she didn’t care.
Cynthia returned an hour later. She was breathing heavily as she entered the sitting room.
Richard lowered his paper and sat up on the couch. “Where have you been?”
“Went walking and I just ran up the stairs.”
“You are exercising at this time?” She worked out a lot and it had given her that desirable trim body that any woman would kill for.
“Not really. Dr Hope said I shouldn’t be going heavy for now anyway. But I really can’t sacrifice all my efforts.”
“Dr Hope? You went to the clinic?”
“Yes.” That came out with a gasp. She flopped down on the couch, curled round him and kissed his cheek. “She said I’m three weeks gone.”
He was sure he has heard a statement like that before, in the movies maybe, but he struggled now to decipher what she meant.
Cynthia’s face had lit up in glee. Her whole dentition showed in a large smile. It wasn’t often that she smiled like that.
“Baby, what do you mean?” he asked.
She slapped his shoulder lightly. “Come on, I”m pregnant.”
He momentarily blanked out. His fingers on her thighs felt numb.
But then he recovered. And slowly his mind settled and he understood what Cynthia’s pregnancy meant, that it wasn’t something to be scared of now. Not like Chidimma’s when he was 16. Now he is a man and can take responsibility.
A picture of a cute baby formed in his mind, pink toothless gums showing in a jerky baby smile.
A smile crept onto his face and soon the excitement spread over him like smoke in a room, shutting off all that were his earlier thoughts.
He hugged her tight. “Baby, we gonna have a baby.” He was smiling.
Cynthia nodded promptly, holding him tightly back.
“A baby, can you believe that!”
She kissed his shoulder and nodded again.
From behind the separating wall of the dining room, Stella pitched a long hiss and entered the kitchen.
She would not add salt or pepper or Maggi to whatever she was going to make that evening, whatever ingredient that’d make the food less tasty.
She started noticing the signs some days ago; the new change to her flow, a milky difference, slight and strange, the unusual tenderness of her breasts and the new sensation at her nipple area.
And there was the killing fatigue. She would barely get by an hour without feeling like dropping down on whatever soft, stretch her legs and sleep.
Things were still normal enough with the changes though…till the onset of the morning sickness. That was when Onyiudo Ekemma, her mother, confirmed her suspicion and she reacted.
She watched her that morning till the loud retching sounds stopped.
Nwamma spat and took a cup of water from the tall metal drum. Her eyes were all teary as she drank a bit of water, gurgled and threw it out. She was on a repeat when she heard her mother”s voice.
“Bia, Nwamma, come here!”
Her heart pounded as she dragged towards her.
Onyiudo Ekemma stared at her with near disgust, like someone with an unsightly boil on her face.
She touched her face, pressed down the skin area around her eyes and jerked her face to a side. She yelped, slamming her palms together. “It has finally happened! My enemies have tried me and gotten me!”
She examined her daughter’s face again. She clapped again. “Ewoo! This girl has finally done it! Hey! Finally she has brought shame to me!”
Her younger brother came out then. He asked their mother what the problem was but Onyiudo Ekemma shoved him aside and picked one of her rubber flip-flops. “Foolish girl! Tell me who is responsible!”
The slapping sounds of flexible plastic burst in the air, peppered with loud screams of pain.
Onyiudo Ekemma was unrelenting. “Tell me now! Tell me the he-goat you opened your legs for! Tell me!”
Pa pa pa pa, went the slaps on her back, shoulder, buttocks, anywhere that seemed possible now.
She held her firm with one hand so that running off was not an option.
Finally she was able to and she ran deep down the small bush bordering their compound. She stood under the avocado tree and tried to breathe.
Onyiudo Ekemma was unrelenting still. “Your bags are outside!”
Her screaming voice was followed by jingling sounds of materials thrown off carelessly. “Go to the man that has impregnated you! You can’t live with that shame in my house!”
Her voice lowered. “Mbanu, no! It can never happen. I did not bring shame to my mother so why would my own be different.”
“Mama, what is—”
“Bia nwokem, run inside now before I descend on you!”
The young boy quietly went inside.
Onyiudo Ekemma cursed some more before she entered her room and dressed up for the market.
She didn’t talk with her fellow traders at the market and even shouted at her customers.
“Go! If you don’t want to buy go! Do you not know what is happening in the North right now? Do you think we cultivate onions? Did I cultivate the onions myself?”
The people that knew her before, her usual sprightly attitude and refreshing perkiness, were amazed.
She slept under the avocado tree that night.
At some point her younger brother, after he’d brought her things and sneaked her some jollof rice wrapped in a plastic bag, told her to now come inside that their mother had slept.
They gathered her things quietly and with one careful step after another, they crept toward the house. Like a ghost, the night-darkened image of Onyiudo Ekemma appeared before them at the veranda, momentarily stopping their hearts.
She called the boy “nwoke obioma”, held him tightly by the hand and pushed him through the corridor.
She turned up the lantern in her left hand. Mma’s teary eyes glistened in the yellow glow. “Mama, biko, please forgive me,” she said.
Onyiudo Ekemma stared at her with an expression close to what’s expected of someone addressing a thief, one caught in the act of shameful and petty stealing.
“Mama? Please, bikozienu.”
“Bia, nwata, disappear from this place before I kill you here and kill myself!”
Later that evening, she told her fellow women during their Ezinne meeting that the devil has finally penetrated her house, using her daughter as a tool. They hissed, hummed and sighed, consoling her.
In the morning, Nwa-amulu-na-mma wiped dust off her long gown and walked to Nkechi’s shop. She hadn’t opened so she sat on the paved space before the shop door and waited.
Soon Nkechi’s round figure appeared on the wide ebe-ato road. Her long-roped recharge card bag was slung across her like a pageantry sash.
She walked slowly, twisting this way and that in her peculiar duck-like gait. She hummed to Onyeka Onwenu’s “Onye Ihem na Ewe Iwe” while popping sounds made by chewable gum burst out from her mouth once in a while.
Mma rose and waited, all the while wishing she could throw some sort of magical rope round her big waist and yank her to the front of the shop.
“Good morning,” she greeted as Nkechi finally arrived.
“Morning, Nwamma.” She shot her a suspicious look, still humming and popping gum. “This one you are here so early, hope there is no problem.”
Mma shook her head. “No problem. I just want to make a call.”
Now Nkechi stopped humming. “You want to make a call?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“To who? Who do you know that you want to call?”
Mma scowled at her. “Do you not make calls again or has Echezona collected his phone back?”
Nkechi’s face changed suddenly, from condescending to defensive. “The phone is now mine. Whatever that is given in dating goes with the dating.”
“Anugo m, can I make the call now?”
“Won’t I sweep my shop?”
“No, it’s urgent.”
She gave her a slow look before she started to open her bag.
She brought out a big Nokia phone. “Call the number.”
Mma carefully unfolded the paper she’d written down his number on.
She’d protested when he told her to have it, to call him whenever she needed anything. “But I don’t having a phone to call you, Sir.” She’d said to him.
He told her she could use a public center and promised to get her a phone on his next visit.
“Ok, calling the number, Sir,” she finally said to him.
“Won’t you write it down somewhere?”
“Calling it. I writing it in my head.”
He looked at her, first in surprise and then defeat.
She got home and wrapped the N10, 000 he’d given her in a plastic bag. She tore out a paper and wrote down the numbers.
As Nkechi entered the digits, her face fully focused like one working with a delicate stock analysis software, Mma felt an urge to grab her and shake her to activity.
“Take, it’s ringing now.” She finally stretched the device to Mma.
Mma took the phone from her. It felt heavy, not like Nnanna’s when he’d given it to her to look at. “Ha, NK, this your phone heaving o, it using Tiger battery?”
Nkechi hissed and told her in Igbo that “her money has started counting.”
“Don’t worry, I having money,” she replied her in English. “I –” A male voice came from the phone, taking away her attention.
“Yes. Halo to you too.”
“Is me, Nwa-amulu-na-mma.”
“Yes, Mma, yes.”
Her voice was loud and Nkechi stared at her with the amused face people used to watch village people displaying.
Mma”s face dulled. “I having serious thing to tell you now o. Reallys very serious o.”
She turned her eyes and saw Nkechi staring. She waved. “Go and sweeping your shop now! Abi you wanting to entering inside the phone?”
Back to the phone, “No, no minding her. Is one village girl doing call in Ebe-ato. I using her phone to calling you.”
Her already high voice went even higher. “Ehe, shebi you saying you buying me phone and I not having seen the phone o.”
A small pause and a large smile popped out of her face. “Oh, reallys? You buying me the phone next week?”
She looked at Nkechi, now bent over with a broom, to be sure she’d heard. It appeared she did but pretending she hadn’t with her absolute concentration in the sweeping.
Another small pause and a sudden seriousness came over Mma’s face again. She moved further aside and when she talked again, her voice went significantly lower. “Yes. Very serious problem o.”
“Mama—” She looked at Nkechi. She was humming as she gathered the rubbish of leaves and used recharge cards together.
Mma moved further away, closer to the mango tree near the edge of the road. “Mama chasing me out of the house o. I even sleeping in the bush last night.”
“Ha! I telling you the truth o.”
“I thinking I’m pregnant.”
A long pause.
“Nnanna, you hearing me?”
She appeared surprised at herself with the smoothness with which she called him by his first name. Things have changed. She was now carrying his child. Might be.
“I not very sure yet but everything looking it. Everything.”
“No. Very far, I not sleeping in the bush till next week. Telling me your address and I will coming myself.”
“Ha, see you! You not knowing I have going to Onitsha before to looking for Okechukwu?”
“Lagos and Onitsha, which is big pass?”
“Is lie. Aunty Rosa saying Onitsha is biggest city in African.”
She ended the call with “Ok. I leaving first thing tomorrow morning.”
Nkechi told her her call was 5 minutes.
She handed her a crisp N500 note. “Giving me my change fast fast.”
Copyright © Daniel Nkado 2014. All rights reserved.
Consented personally by the author to be used on Alifediary only.
Daniel Nkado is a Nigerian writer and journalist, author of bestselling Ola – The Tale of a Young Moon Maiden and founder of DNBStories.com.
Interact with him on www.dnbstories.com or @danielnkd on Twitter.