As if to be sure her online message hadn’t been discarded as fluff, Vanessa was around on Sunday.
Richard was away at a meeting in Ikoyi.
Mma was with Stella in the kitchen making ofe-akwu. She’d convinced Madam earlier that morning that ofe-akwu was very good for pregnant women, better than red stew that could “turn one’s baby into an albino.”
Cynthia told her it might be difficult to find where to buy the palm nuts in Gbagada.
“Hia, I seeing one woman having akwu when we passing that small market yesterday na.”
Finally Cynthia agreed and asked Stella to escort her to the market.
Stella, on her face, was clearly unhappy with the decision, but she said nothing. Since her failed attempt to join the list of Richard’s aspiring baby mothers, she’d been keeping more to herself. There was a popular adage that said a witch does not tell well of the story of her own defeat.
Now inside the kitchen, Mma said to her, “No touching anything o. Just standing there and I telling you what to do.”
She stood aside watching, her empty eyes almost suggesting obedience.
Mma would not take any chances though. When she looked at her and found the straight look on her face quite unreadable, she quietly picked the sharp knife on the nearby surface and threw it into the drawer.
Cynthia was with her visitor in the sitting room. At first they talked and laughed loud about common things; a pair of ugly shoes that costs 250k, a male stalker on Twitter, a new employee who came to work with clog-looking sandals.
Then Vanessa sipped her wine and asked about the girl who was pregnant for Richard.
Their voices went low.
“Did you mention all the conditions?”
“Good. And he agreed, right?”
“All except that he is not finding another apartment for her.”
Cynthia shrugged. “He said she will stay here.”
“Listen, Babe, you can’t allow that to happen. You can’t be staying under the same roof with a girl who is carrying your husband’s child.”
“Well if he agreed to the other conditions then I’m not too wrong, am I?”
Cynthia took a slow breath. “He said he can’t send her away.”
“Then do it yourself!”
“Yes. It’s high time you stood up to men and their outrageous thirst for control. For goodness’s sake he owe you big time.”
“Babe, tell me which woman will condone this. Tell me. As long I’m concerned you are the new Mother Mary.”
Cynthia smiled, a dry feeble smile.
“Yes na. Imagine if Alex tries this kind of rubbish with me. I will roast his dick.”
“You’ve forgotten Richard has been quite forgiving too.”
“Forget that. You were drunk that day. It was understandable. What Richard did was shaming. Gosh! A dirty, smelling village girl. What these creatures called men can do!”
Cynthia snorted. “Wish you can say that to his face. He feels just too normal about the whole thing, like it was some sort of norm in their place. Maybe because he is Ibo.”
“Forget tribe. The inexplicable nature of men goes beyond tribe, race even.”
“So your advice is?”
“Send the village girl away ASAP. Do it now before it is too late.”
Cynthia relaxed back into the seat, her eyes glazed over with thinking. “Actually the girl has been nothing but nice. She is funny and quite respectful. You need to see how willingly she agreed to go through the abortion because of Richard and me.”
“Babe, what are you saying?! Don’t tell me you are falling for some dirty girl’s scheme. These smelling village girls are level-ten schemers. They come as maids, cooks, baby-sitters and the next thing you know, they become madam. If she is truly nice, why sleep with your man in the first place?”
“According to her, she did not know Richard was engaged. She said—.”
Vanessa laughed, cutting Cynthia short. “Story for the gods! My dear, leave that thing!”
Inside the kitchen, Mma told Stella to stop pounding. “Stop pounding, letting me to hear what that girl is telling Madam.”
Stella pretended not to hear. She actually might not have heard. She continued to hammer the pestle on the oily mush in the mortar. Sweat poured off her face.
Mma picked a piece from the plate of onion slices in her front and squeezed onion juice into Stella’s eyes. “Foolishing girl. You not hearing what I saying abi.”
Stella screamed and dropped the pestle. Her fingers fluttered frantically in the air as she made incoherent sounds of pain. Prickly pain.
Mma stared at her.
She pushed a cup of water into her hand. “Taking and washing your face jor. You not cooking with onions before?”
“What’s going on here?” Cynthia asked.
She was at the doorway. Vanessa’s face poked out from behind her.
“Nothing, ma. Onions entering her eyes.”
Stella stood there, mouth open and her now watery eyes blanker than they had earlier been.
The days that followed Vanessa’s visit were not so good for Mma.
Cynthia turned wary. Very wary.
Stella bounced back to action, scheme restructured.
That afternoon when Mma came back with Richard carrying two shopping bags, each filled with clothing and similar items, Cynthia did not respond to Mma’s vigorous offering of thanks.
Richard had offered to buy her new clothes earlier in the day when she wore a hand-made skirt out in the sitting room.
The skirt looked normal enough with a good hem finishing and a well-done central zipper, but the seams did not seal up well and the black thread used in the sewing showed, visibly contrasting with the yellow colour of the fabric. Richard and Cynthia were impressed at the fact that she’d made the skirt herself using just scissors, thread and needle.
“It using to fine well but it growing old now,” Mma told them.
“I see,” Richard said, having that kind amused yet curious face he always used to listen to her tales. “Don’t worry I’ll enrol you in a fashion school, but right now go in and put on something else let me go and buy you some clothes.”
Mma did not hide her excitement. She half screamed, half danced before she sank to her knees to thank Oga and Madam.
As they were leaving, Cynthia stared at them under beetled brows.
Vanessa had told her to look out for the signs, confirmatory signs. She’d been seeing them well enough now; Mma being asked to join them at the table or sit on the couch to watch TV or carry his personal files downstairs to his car. And now the shopping.
The former two Mma had refused blatantly because she hated to be watched when eating and because there was only one seat in their sitting room in the village, the one her father sat on which her mother had now inherited after he died, she”d grown up watching TV from the floor.
That night, arguing voices woke Mma. She opened the door and tiptoed across the brightly-lit hallway, her shadow, a short, black, big-headed version of herself following her along.
The voices were coming from the sitting room. She pressed herself to the wall and listened.
“Richard, you must!”
“Oh no, Cynthia, I won’t oblige you this time.”
“God, Richard, can you hear yourself? So you brought her here as your mistress really?”
“Think whatever you want. I can’t send her away.”
“Who is asking you to send away. Send her back to where she came from. Or did you go to the homeless to pick her. God, Richard, if you were so horny, couldn’t you have used a prostitute instead?”
Richard’s features twisted in disbelief. “Just hear yourself, Cynthia, just hear yourself!”
“Can you tell me why she must live here with us? Can you?”
Mma felt the urge to cry. She wished it was possible to disappear then and find herself in the village, on her spring bed, her sweet-smelling wrapper covering all but her face.
Richard sat down and held his face on two hands.
Cynthia stood there vibrating. “If she can’t leave, maybe I should get myself out.”
Richard’s eyes ran up to her. “What are you saying?”
“If she won’t leave, I will.” She burst off to their room.
Richard inhaled deeply, heart aching. He hated trouble, hated stress. He had to quit his banking job because of it, only four months after he was made branch manager. His real estate business, Richardson Developers, has been doing quite well since he started three years ago, as well as his other smaller businesses.
Mma quietly walked away into her room.
Inside their room, Cynthia picked her phone and dialled Vanessa.
Vanessa was furious. “What? Leave the house? Babe, don’t even try it! You want to concede defeat to the dirty girl already? No!”
Cynthia told her that she did not know what to do, that she was confused, very confused and that she hated the way she was feeling, hated being so angry.
“You have all the reason to be angry, my dear. Believe me, if I happen to be in your shoes, I’ll burn. But don’t throw away purpose in fury. She is leaving not you! Babe, don’t dare try it. Calm yourself and be in control. I know you. Babe, you can do this.”
Later Richard came to the door, but Cynthia had bolted it from inside. He knocked gently. “Baby, come and open the door.”
He knocked and turned the door knob again. “Baby, please.”
He walked away when it became obvious she wasn’t going to open the door.
He went back to the sitting room and straightened out on the couch. But he couldn’t sleep. He rose to a sitting position, chin on one hand.
Now facing Mma’s door, he raised his hand to knock but hesitated. He lowered back his hand and turned to walk back to the sitting room.
Like magic, the door opened and he turned back.
Mma looked startled seeing him. “I sorry. I going to the bathroom.”
“How are you?”
“Good. I…I…” Richard was stuttering. “I mean do you…” This would be the first time speech would fail him.
Mma noticed and it saddened her. “Waiting here. I rushing and easing myself and coming back and answering you.”
He heard the sound of flushing and soon Mma came out of the bathroom.
“Can I come in?”
Mma”s confusion showed on her face. “You saying?”
“Can I come inside please?”
“Please coming inside,” Mma said quickly.
She could not believe the owner of the house could ask for permission to enter a room in his own house.
Inside the room, Richard sat on the bed and Mma took the chair.
She waited for Richard to say something. He said nothing.
“I hearing everything,” she said.
“Madam saying I should going. But she saying what I doing to her so that I begging her?”
“You did nothing, Mma.”
“Ok, because I making decision already.”
“Yes I leaving tomorrow morning.” She pointed. “I packing my bag already.”
She stood and walked to the corner of the bed where her Ghana-Must-Go sat with two other plastic bags.
She carried the two polyethylene bags that contained the items he”d bought for her and dropped them in his front.
“Thanking you but I not taking them to the village.”
Richard only stared, too confused to utter a word.
He grabbed her hand. “Mma, sit.”
He nodded reassuringly. “Sit down.”
She sat down on the tall bed, a sizable space between them.
“You are not going back to the village. Not now. When the time is right, I will take you. I need to speak with your mother personally.”
“Even if I wanting to stay, I fitting not. Madam saying—”
“Ssh.” He dropped his hand on her shoulder.
Mma did not shift any closer. He did.
Mma felt uneasy.
“Don’t worry about Madam. I will talk to her and she will come around.”
He smelt masculine, the stimulating scent you get when body scent mixes with applied scent on clean skin.
He wore grey shorts below a white shirt. Mma caught the sight of the sprinkling of curly hair on his thighs and looked away quickly.“But—”
He held her face, each hand to one cheek, so that their eyes met.
“You will stay, do you hear?”
The heavy seriousness in his eyes was stirring. Mma nodded.
“Good,” he said.
When he left the room, Mma cancelled her earlier decision to leave in the morning, but she did not unpack yet.
The Monday morning that followed was different. Everything about it was wrong, not morning-like. It did not come with the usual joy that mornings brought.
It was unusually dark, swollen dark-grey clouds filled the sky.
There were occasional wind gusts, the curtains billowing each time they came. Once it was strong enough and the cans and bottles of soap and related items on the window wall of the bathroom fell to the floor.
Richard was gone. He left quite earlier than usual. The new project they were working on belonged to a Lebanese and those people tend to get quite finicky…when they are rich.
Cynthia did not go to work or neither for her usual morning walk which she did on days she did not go to work.
Stella knocked on the door.
“Who is that?”
“Madam, it’s me.”
“Stella, what is it?”
Her voice was low, almost muffled, like one talking with piece of plastic bag over her mouth.
“Madam, I want to tell you something.”
“Not now. Come back later.”
“Madam, it’s serious o.”
There was a long pause. Stella stood there waiting. “Madam?”
Finally the door opened a notch and Cynthia’s face poked out. “What is it?”
Something was not right about her face. It wasn’t as smooth as it has always been. Her cheeks appeared swollen and her eyes seemed to have sank deeper into her face. There was a large pimple on the lower part of her left cheek near her lower lip.
“Madam, it’s about Oga.”
Cynthia left the door and Stella walked in.
“What about him.”
“He slept in Mma’s room the whole night.”
“Yes. I saw him enter and he did not come out.”
Cynthia’s face took a whole new transformation, this time nothing suggesting exhaustion. Only one word was close — frightening. It was like where one put fire to a lump of petrol-soaked foam material.
She banged on Mma”s door with what seemed to be all the energy she could bring together.
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.