* * *
The surrounding was as calm as always and it didn’t cease to give her the creeps. She’d been to this place many times, yet she could not get over the feeling. The fact that it stood alone in seclusion gave it all the horror movie feel that was needed to cause a chill to run down her spine. A gust of wind swayed the trees to the left, a small pine tree bent so low that the tip almost touched the grass.
It would break, snap like dry bones, bones of the dead, your sister’s bones… and bone dust would escape into the air and things would come back to life, dead things and a bird would cry out, a black crow and…
A bird cawed, it was a crow. It flew away from the cover of a tree and circled the air. The pine tree slowly straightened back into position and finally back in position, it made a snap like a mouse trap. She jumped and hurriedly slipped in through the gate, breaking away from the spell of her ugly thoughts.
She almost bumped into another lady on entering the gate, a soft scream escaped her. The other lady was on a flowing night robe and her hair was in a mess, she was plump but beautiful and the swollen face and bloodshot eyes confirmed that indeed the lady was in a mess, either physically or emotionally… mentally too – for where would one be hurrying off to at such time of the day, dressed in nothing but a night robe?
Chances were she would return.
She shook off the thought of the other lady returning, muttered an apology with a quick greeting to the other lady whom she had almost bumped into but she either did not notice her or chose to practically ignore her. From her look, one was certain that there was nothing good about the morning and probably it might be a souvenir of the previous night…
She stood and watched the lady walk out the gate without giving the compound its befitting leaving glance. She’d never left the compound without giving it that final back glance of admiration and she could bet her life that every other person who have ever walked in through that gate had never walked out without giving the house a final glance, it was like the second display of the name of an artiste and its accompanying information of a music video on T.V, it was just indispensable.
She felt like grabbing a handful of the lady’s hair and dragging her back to observe her rites before leaving, but she let the thought pass the same way she had let other thoughts go. Nothing was more important to her today than what she came to do in Ochuko’s house but she was troubled already and the feeling was brought by the lady that just left. She hated being troubled.
Was he seeing a woman already? That Lady with red eyes, was she beaten, if so, what could she have done to provoke him to beating a lady?
It was painful that she was not the woman he’s seeing, He hardly notices her. She’d done so much for him already, enough to win some of his affections but the best he’d do was a half conscious thank you. She would try every means possible to insert herself into the big picture but the more she tried, the more her presence became unnoticed. Today, if her plan worked out fine, she would become noticed, become known and inevitable from the big picture. The little girl was her biggest hindrance, she’d have to be taken out of the way and undoubtedly that would be done…
The house was too quiet for a Saturday morning. She thought of going back the way she had come but declined. Just then, she remembered that there was a high possibility of the other lady returning and that would imply her being caught. She rushed back to the gate and quietly bolted it, she wouldn’t want to be interrupted by an outsider. There was a plan and the plan incorporated the insiders but made no provision for outsiders. She was not on a discreet mission, though the outcome would have to be discreet, be kept as a secret in fact. She walked back into the house and headed straight to the little girl’s room with the most charming smile she could produce. Little children loved getting surprises by people they love, she would give the little girl her fair share of the surprise and YES, she was well loved here.
The door was wide open and a doll in a flowery pink gown with blond hair plaited in a single braid lay at the centre of the entranceway, it had one leg missing but looked happy nonetheless.
She picked it up along with the missing leg which she found some distance away from the doll and fixed it. She walked all the way into the room, wondering what an untidy kid the little girl was. They had both tidied up this room upon their arrival just the evening of the previous day; a space of hours and the room had taken back its shape.
A rumpled bed sheet sat at a corner in the mattress but not the little girl. She wondered where she had gone to at such time of the morning and not just any kind of morning, a Saturday morning. She was a spoilt brat but there were certain favours reasonable parents wouldn’t grant their kids no matter how much money they had and the girl’s dad was no unreasonable man. Definitely she would be with her dad then. Why hadn’t she thought of this earlier?
She made to leave the room but her eyes caught a paper pinned down to the table by a pen and she walked over to the little girl’s study desk and peered down at the paper and her smile broadened. Three matchstick figures were drawn on the paper, two out of the three were female characters, distinguished by the spikes that made for their hair and the triangle that held two parallel lines in place. The triangle denoted the skirt and the lines were the legs. All three figures were wearing a smile on their faces and their hands were linked. One of the female character was small and stood at the centre, separating the other two figures that were roughly the same height and below them was the caption:
HER + ME + DADDY = A HAPPY FAMILY
She picked up the pen and thought of running a line over the “+ ME” but decided against it. She replaced the pen and her smile broadened some more. It fascinated her how quickly children learn and how they mostly never fail to put what they’ve learnt into practice. Just Yesterday, she had talked the little girl into calling her “HER” and today, it seems she has freely and easily adopted it.
She might have refrained from running that exterminating line with the pen but she would surely run the line over her life in the end with something more pointed than the tip of a pen. That was a promise.
There was one more room to visit before she’d leave the house, his room. As she approached the door, she heard the sound of music coming from the room opposite it and turned towards that one instead. She rapped her knuckles lightly on the wood and waited for a voice to call her in, none came. She repeated the action twice before turning the door handle. It yielded and she pushed it in. The somehow manly but really sweet and calm voice of Sade asking “IS IT A CRIME?” Ushered her into the room.
She walked into the room and just before she reached the bed, she saw her sister looking directly into her eyes from a frame that hung on the wardrobe.
She’d been trying to connect how she had known without even the slightest hesitation that it was Sade singing, and not some other female artiste, it clicked now and many memories came alive with it. Her sister was an ardent fan of Sade.
She remembered the night they had almost fought because of her Sade craze. She’d play the songs every night before going to bed, turning it into her lullaby. That night, she was really tired and needed some sleep but none was forth coming and it was because of the song, she couldn’t remember the title now but she remembered it then. It was too sorrowful and it invoked some kind of emotion she didn’t like. She had pleaded with her to turn off the music or use a headset but she refused to do any, not even did she move an inch or spare her a considering glance. She did the first thing to come to mind, she went straight to the phone producing the music and unplugged it from the auxiliary wire. It was all the invitation to fight her sister needed. This happened a few months before her sister disappeared from home only to come back with news that she was getting married soon.
It was painful how much she loved her and yet never got a reciprocation of that love. All her actions to bring them closer as sisters were futile. Until death, they lived as hostile strangers. She loved her still and she didn’t know why, there was just something about her that got everyone to like her no matter how mean she was…
A female perfume hung in the air, an unfamiliar one and she felt a twinge of jealousy stir up in her. It occurred to her then that she might not just be struggling to take out one person from the picture but two and maybe one more after that, many more, as many that would try to take her place in the big picture. There was nobody in the room. She sat down on the bed and listened for some different sound – the approach of feet, water running down the sink, showers – but none came except for the new track that came on. She walked over to the DVD player and hit the power button and as she turned to leave, feeling frustrated already, she saw a sheet of paper, neatly folded and sticking out of the seam that demarcated the small refrigerator from its door. She bent and snatched it away from the refrigerator, wishing while she opened the note that this would be a clue to where both he and the little girl had gone. Tightly scrawled words that ran down almost the whole length of the paper assaulted her view and she read the words aloud:
I know I might have come into your life at the wrongest time and with a somewhat blinding speed but I was held by the spell of your charm to care a thing. All I wanted was to fill you up again. The much I know of your past is very little, in fact it could be summed up in a sentence: you had a wife who is dead now.
The knowledge of this would keep me fighting till death because I know I have to fill in the space her permanent absence has created. I know how strange this sounds but I have to let you know that I’m the only woman who can love you best.
Things just happened fast, it would have taken some time for me to find out more about you. For instance, that you have a beautiful daughter whom I would have made happy with my whole life.
It’s so bad the way things turned out this morning. I never saw it coming and I’m deeply sorry that I let that full jug of hot water pour on her, I was scared to death. I’m heading straight to the church to pray that nothing happens to her, and I know nothing will happen to her.
I know you would not want to see me around anymore but we’re like opposite poles of the magnet, we attract, I noticed this from that moment I set my eyes on you.
I’d come back to you and together we would sort through your past and create a better future.
I LOVE YOU WITH ALL MY HEART.
She read the letter the second time and a third, trying to grasp every vital information she could. One single piece of information caught her attention most of all – I’M DEEPLY SORRY THAT I LET THAT FULL JUG OF HOT WATER POUR ON HER. It meant just one thing, that the little girl was already hurt. This angered her.
She was not comfortable at all with this, yet many voices tittered noisily in her mind, asking questions she could not provide answers to.
Who the hell is Chuks?
Could it be the lady who had walked out of the gate that wrote this letter?
What had really happened here this morning?
What exactly has been going on between these two and how long?
Did anything happen in this room last night between the two of them?
Where is the little girl now?
She didn’t want to bring herself to uncover the mystery behind the feminine perfume and soft music that she entered into the room to. She concentrated more on thoughts of the little girl. She would do the elimination herself and no one would help her with the task or even know about it when she is done. There was more work to deal with now, more work.
She folded back the paper and made it disappear into the back pocket of her jean trousers, unhooked the frame of her sister from the wardrobe and marched out of the room.
* * *
Bobo still could not get over with the events of last night. He had been at arm’s length with death and worse still was the knowledge that trying to persist in his quest to win over Sandy’s heart meant his death. The atmosphere around her was ominous enough to cause a guy in his right senses to steer clear but he was in love already and love never worked fine with rationality. Moreover, he was not the kind of guy to chicken out on what was his because of some imminent threat, he is a street guy and it is very characteristic of them to be tough, especially on matters of this sort.
He had not shown this toughness last night when he fled but it was the only sane thing to do when fright had almost made him immobile. At least he had fought something, fought standing to watch his death. In his lifetime, he has contended with drunks, contended with lovers but drunk lovers?
No, that kind was a different make-up that should be feared. Every street guy can testify to that.
“Operator you no dey finish for there? I don tire for you oh.” One of the boys on the line called.
Bobo had been staring into a neon display on the big soap stamping machine for some time without really seeing anything, he’d been buried in his thoughts. He threw a cursory glance where the boys stood waiting for soaps to start sliding out, noticed that it was the same small brat of yesterday that had spoken up and directed his gaze back to the display screen.
“The guy no dey even touch anything for the machine, na em dey vex me pass sef. No dey dull work na. OP-MAN.”
Bobo dug his hand into his pocket, drew out his pack of cigarette and straightened up. There used to be a NO SMOKING sticker plastered on the machine but it was no more, Bobo had removed it the day his supervisor had caught him smoking while operating the machine. The Baba had simply pointed a finger to the sticker and Bobo got the message – you don’t smoke here because the sticker says so, but you’re free to smoke when the sticker is no more. Two sticks of cigarettes were left in the pack. They would be best taken after meal this morning, he thought as he closed back the pack and replaced it in his pocket.
Anger was already simmering away in his system but he didn’t want it to be visible, so instead he left his place in front of the machine after the cigarette pack had been well disposed in his pocket and wiped off grease from his hands with a grease stained towel, it didn’t do any good. He could not understand why this particular small boy would choose not to show him respect. He was very sure that there was a large lag between their ages and the height and build difference also should have spoken some sense into the boy but since he had shut his ears to their warning, it would be best to knock some sense out of the teenager. He looked at him again as he approached and was uncertain whether he had even attained teen age.
“Na me you just call guy?” Bobo asked, bending slightly to come face to face with him.
“Better leave am oh Operator. Better leave am.” Another of the boys said.
Bobo turned sharply to his side to look who it was that had spoken but glum faces met his. One quickly looked at his feet and he knew he was the one who just warned, he looked scared to death. He dismissed him and turned back to his bird in hand, the sacrificial lamb. He hoped that when he was done dealing with the boy, others would take caution.
“Why you just wan dull our work this morning?” The boy asked, he looked unflurried by Bobo’s intimidating size.
“Because I choose to delay. would you like to do anything about it?” Bobo said, bringing his voice to a low tone.
“All that one wey you dey yan na grammar. If I show you weere*, you no go fit stand am oh.” The boy beat his chest, took a step backward and spread out his legs.
“You dey mad, you dey mad.” Bobo knocked him hard on the head at the pronunciation of each word, totaling six knocks. Six hard and resounding knocks.
The boy didn’t waste time rubbing his head, he charged Bobo with his head bent low like a bull, headbutting him on the lips. The pain was instantaneous, and out of reflex, Bobo grabbed the boy’s legs and uprooted them from the ground. The boy hit the ground hard and yelped out of surprise and pain. Bobo touched his swollen lips to check for traces of blood, there was none yet but his lips didn’t feel like they belonged to him anymore. At the thought that the injury had been inflicted on him by a boy, he picked him up from the ground and raised his clenched fist to deal him some blows but they were restrained.
After struggling for a while to free his hand from the firm grip it was in, he turned to look at who the intervener was. It was Baba Agba, his supervisor. A flood of embarrassment and shame quickly filled him, he let go of the boy and put on a straight face.
Baba took him by the hand to his office and made him sit down on a chair that faced him.
“I’m very disappointed in you Bobo. What has gone wrong with you?” He asked. “Since yesterday, you’ve been acting like one who has lost his senses.”
“I’m sorry Baba.”
“Sorry that you were beating a boy small enough to be your younger brother or that you’re running mad?”
“I’m not running mad. I know everything I was doing, I had to beat respect into that boy.”
“By beating him like he was your mate? What if you killed him?”
“A little beating would not kill, it would just teach him some lesson.”
“Can you just listen to yourself?”
Baba placed his hands on his desk and linked his fingers together, he searched Bobo’s face and felt him grow uncomfortable under his scrutiny. Bobo was his longest serving worker, he was very effective and careful with the machine, always knowing when it needed to be serviced and how to service it. It would be hard to find his replacement if he outrightly dismissed him from working in the factory.
“Your brother Benji was one of the best workers that have ever worked here and when he introduced you to me to take up this work after him, I was left with no option but to do him this favour. After all, he was of good behaviour and it was just safe to assume that since you both were brothers, you would behave the same way, somehow. It wasn’t a bad assumption at first when you started work until the day I realized you’ve taken out the NO SMOKING sticker.”
“But Baba why all these background gist na?” He grew more uncomfortable.
Baba continued. “Then, I felt you would know to be careful enough when you smoked around the machine, you’re a big boy and moreover, your work was still satisfactory. It has remained that way up on till yesterday. Bobo is there something wrong, something we can look into before it becomes too late, before it escalates?”
Bobo kept silent and stared at the newspaper on the huge desk. His eyes could make out the caption: THE ALMIGHTY ATLANTIC TRANSPORT GROUP OF COMPANIES FINALLY BOUGHT OVER.
“Fine then. Go home.” Baba commanded.
“Just like that? For trying to correct a disrespectful boy?”
“Maybe you need me to give you the book of the rules and regulations of working in this company, which I gave you to look at the day you were accepted here. Probably, you had failed to go through it then out of excitement.”
“That means…. work has ended for today.”
“No. Work would go on. This is an on-going concern, remember?”
“But I’m the only operator to that machine. You have to really think about suspending me. Maybe –”
“I once operated that machine and can still operate it.” Baba folded the arms of his shirt and got off his seat. “Just go home and don’t come back until you get my call. Understood?”
He sat down there and watched Baba leave the office to attend to the machine, watched the boys cheer Baba, some throwing bad soaps into the air. One screamed at the top of his lungs; “BABA AGBA, FAST THE MACHINE!!!”
Bobo searched for the boy he had dealt with this morning, but not without some pain, and could not find him anywhere.
He strolled out of the office lazily, hardly lifting his feet from the ground and headed for the cloak room.
The morning sun had already taken its place high in the sky, it emitted a kind of heat that could be likened to the furnace of a bakery and the voice of his primary school teacher saying; “EARLY MORNING SUN IS GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH,” spoke up in his head and he sighed.
“This sun is hell!” He said, getting out his pack of cigarette as he crossed the gutter in front of the gate and into the street.
The street was quite quiet. There were less residential buildings here as well as stores, factories lined each side of the road, many of which were warehouses. He lit one of the sticks of cigarette and the moment he put it to his lips, all that had happened this morning became distant. That would have been comforting enough if the thoughts of last night hadn’t crept in his mind just then. He remembered how he had made her smile with his words, thought of the way her eyes glistened when she smiled, thought of how beautiful and how smooth the skin around her thigh looked.
Had he looked up to that extent?
He shook his head, smiled and puffed out smoke into the air. The cigarette just tasted so good this morning. Nice thoughts makes the cigar taste good, he thought and walked on. But then, his eyes traveled all the way into a mama-put – the second and last one in the street – and rested on the small boy he had tussled with minutes ago.
The boy tapped the thigh of a shiny-headed man sitting next to him and pointed his direction. The shiny-headed man gulped down the remaining brown liquid in his shot and turned to other bad looking guys who seemed to be deep in an interesting conversation, he spoke something to them as well and they all looked his way… they were not guys, they were all men. They also gulped down the content of their shots and got out of their seats. One with a homemade smoke sticking out of his lips went to talk to the fat woman that owned the place, made her laugh and slapped her ample breast before walking out of the shop.
Trouble has its agent and they are patriotic set of beings who proudly wore the words TROUBLE on their face. The men that walked towards Bobo were one batch of trouble’s agents, he needed not be oriented. Bobo dipped his hand into his pocket, got out his phone (which did not ring), picked up the call (that never came) and turned back sharply to the direction he was just coming from.
At first he hastened up his steps, then he broke into a trot when his sixth sense told him that trouble’s agents had also hastened up their steps. And finally, he fled like the wind when that same instinct, the animal instinct, told him that the real bad guys were now trotting along. He replaced the phone in his pocket, all thoughts lost for the moment except for the one that spoke monotonously: ESCAPE! ESCAPE!!
* Weere – madness