‘Mama, who was it on the phone?’ we were all curious to know.
‘It’s one of these unsolicited adverts,’ she hissed and smiled at the same time.
‘Have you tried calling papa’s friend,’ I suggested as I handed back the phone to her.
‘I don’t have his number,’ she stared blankly with her two arms crossed against her chest.
‘Livinus!’ she cried out, ‘if this is your plan to abandon me with these children…then you must be a…’ the rest of the sentence froze within her lips.
Our room became as quiet like a graveyard, and after what seems like an eternity, a familiar sound drummed on our door. And like a pack of flies, we all rushed towards the door, but to our dismay, it was papa’s friend.
‘Good evening all,’ Mr Bassey extended his greetings as he gazed at us, unprepared to face a battalion of nervous women that night.
‘Good evening sir.’
‘It’s very unusual for you to visit at this time of the day,’ mama’s voice quaked, ‘Mr. Bassey, please do you have any news about my husband? Where…’
‘Calm down Cynthia, you just have to calm down.’
‘Oh for goodness sake!’ mama grew more agitated, ‘please tell me just the way it is…’
‘I got a call from him about an hour ago…he’s been admitted to the General hospital at Ajeromi Ifelodun…’
Mama suddenly slumped onto a chair, with her right arm supporting her chin. The rest of us crowded around about her, puzzled.
‘I can see you’re already worked up even before the news; there’s nothing to worry about; at least Livinus is still alive…’
‘My husband in the hospital?’ she broke down in tears, ‘who have I offended? Who…’
‘Cynthia, please this is no time for lamentations, get prepared and let’s go and see him.’ As much as Mr Bassey could be jovial, he was also very firm.
And as they were about to leave, mama turned to me.
‘Nnenna, please ensure that the landlord doesn’t lock the gate before I returned.’
‘Don’t you think it’s better to inform him of your whereabouts first?’ Mr Bassey’s suggested.
‘No, let’s go; I’m not prepared to listen to any of his tales tonight. That old man talks too much.’
As soon as the duo left, my siblings perched on me like butterflies on flowers.
‘Papa is a strong man; he would recover very fast,’ I assured the troubled girls, while on the other hand, my heart melted in fear.
‘You girls would have to excuse me while I go see the landlord before he locks the gate.’
The septuagenarian was relaxing on a sofa in the balcony when I saw him that night.
‘Good evening sir,’ I greeted.
‘Good evening Nnenna, how are you?’
‘I hope there is no problem that you’re coming to me at this time of the night?’
‘I just want to inform you not to lock the gate yet; my mother has gone to see my father at the hospital…’
‘Hospital? Was it not the same man I saw yesterday, full of life?’
‘Yes, papa was hale and hearty this morning, before he left for work…’
‘For work?’ the old man removed his thick-rimmed spectacles. ‘Are you saying that Livinus now has a job?’
‘Yes sir,’ I swallowed hard. The expression on his face revealed he was hearing the news first-hand from me.
‘Livinus, now has a job and I don’t know about it?’ he shook his head.
‘Each time there is a bill to pay, your mother would always complain…Oga landlord please…give me some time…my husband is out of job… and now that the tide has changed, no one remembers Oga landlord…’
‘Actually…sir…’I stammered, ‘it was just yesterday, they recalled him…I’m sure he has the intention of informing you, sir…’
‘Okay, no problem; I believe you. I pray he recovers soonest.’
‘And by the way,’ he continued, ‘have I told you that I have this soft spot for the Ibos?’ he veered to one of his story-telling routines.
‘My biography is incomplete without mentioning that the first tangible gift I got was from an Ibo man…Mr Okoro bought me a brand new Suzuki Motorcycle.’
I became disconnected. I was not ready for another Tales by moonlight.
‘Please sir, I want to check on my sisters…’
‘Oh, no problem…that shows you can play the role of a mother very well…there are some ladies these days…’
I was already on my feet!
‘Oh, you’re set to go? Okay, just let me know when she comes back.’
Mama returned an hour later, looking stressed out. Papa was admitted to the hospital following the injuries he sustained from a motor accident. Prior to that incident, he had worked for an additional two hours and that made him miss going with the staff bus.
‘Tomorrow is the deadline for the sale of JAMB forms,’ Chioma reminded me as she prepared for school.
‘Don’t you think Papa’s health comes first?’ Kelechi lent her voice as she dragged her younger sibling along with her.
Mama hurried off to the hospital a few minutes after the girls had left for school, and handed over to me the responsibility of managing her shop.
Sales activities that day were skeletal as the majority of the patrons came for window shopping.
Glancing at the past questions and answers pamphlet on the table, my heart skipped as the deadline for the sale of the exams forms dawned on me.
‘Nnenna the sales girl!’ a familiar voice intruded into my thoughts.
I looked up and there was Julie, my neighbour hand-in-hand with an elderly man. Looking at the duo, it evoked the image of Walt Disney’s, Beauty and the Beast.
‘I’ve passed this area several times without realising your mother’s shop is somewhere around the corner.’
‘Good morning my dear,’ the elderly man replied as he assessed the shop.
‘Nice stuff you have here,’ he remarked.
‘But they’re all fairly used clothes,’ Julie emphasised with an air of superiority.
‘Even at that,’ the man persisted, ‘they’re still lovely.’
‘And by the way,’ he continued, ‘is there anything wrong if they’re fairly used? Do you think that those dresses I usually buy for you from the UK are brand new?’
Julie’s countenance fell.
‘Oh my baby girl,’ he flung his arm around her shoulders, ‘but that is the bitter truth…’
‘It’s okay; but the fact still remains that UK’s fairly used, is the equivalent of brand new ones here in Nigeria…’
The man’s attention shifted to the pamphlet on the table.
‘How do you read in this noisy environment?’
‘Chief, don’t mind that bookworm,’ Julie came alive; ‘she can read anywhere, even in the restroom. Let me amuse you with this one…there was a day she bought Akara and after consuming it, she began reading the content of the wrapper!’ she laughed disdainfully but was disappointed at the contradictory reaction from her companion.
‘Chief, please let’s leave this place,’ she frowned, dragging him along, ‘there’s nothing appealing here.’
The moment they left, I heaved a sigh of relief. Then I took some time to ponder awhile. So Julie could be so desperate to the point of dating a man old enough to be her father? The answer was not farfetched, that man was definitely her latest ‘meal ticket.’
An hour later, the elderly man sauntered into the shop as though he left something behind.
‘Sir, is there any problem?’
‘No. I’ve come to talk to you…’