‘Please who are you’ I stared at the August visitor.
‘A family friend…’ she yawned, ‘are you Nnenna?’
‘Yes, and you?’
‘I’m Boma…’ she paused, yawning again.
‘Your parents would tell you more about me…but right now, I want to catch more sleep,’ she dismissed me with a wave of the hand.
A family friend? I mused. How come nothing was said about her visit earlier?
‘You see…actually…’ papa stammered as my expression confronted him in the sitting room.
‘My dear, Nnenna,’ Mr Bassey took over from him, ‘that lady there, is the wife of my nephew; her name is Boma. She would be staying briefly here until her husband sorts out their accommodation challenge. I’m sorry for the inconvenience…’
‘Inconvenience?’ papa thundered as he faced his friend, ‘why are you apologising to her? Is Nnnena the head of the family?’
I was the least person in our family that cared less about papa’s usual, tantrums yet that evening, his tongue released a missile which fired straight into my heart and etching nothing but sizzling hatred for him.
‘Now will you move to the kitchen and tell your mother to hurry up?’ he bruised my aching heart further, with a command.
The aroma of the fried rice emanating from the kitchen made my tongue dribble. Who else could be oppressing us if not Julie? I thought, but ironically, as I moved closer, there was mama and my siblings alone in the kitchen. My attention suddenly settled on the fried chicken in a big bowl!
‘What’s the celebration all about?’ I was already immersed in an overdose of surprises that evening.
‘Manna from heaven!’ Chioma divulged, ‘that woman in our house brought so many things for us…’ she paused and swiftly cupped her arm over her mouth as mama’s gaze met hers.
‘Good evening ma…’ I muttered, still astonished at the mouth-watery dish before me.
‘Welcome my dear, how was sales today?’
‘First of all, I need someone to explain what’s happening here?’
‘Angel Gabriel visited us,’ Kelechi added.
‘So, our August visitor brought all these for us?’ I turned towards mama, ‘you knew about this whole arrangement and never bothered to hint me about her coming?’
‘Nnenna, I was as shocked as you were when she arrived this morning,’ she explained with a tinge of bitterness, ‘but I kept calm all because of Mr Bassey. The man was even angry at your father for not informing me beforehand.’
A thousand and one thoughts ran through my mind as she spoke. Papa no doubt has no iota of regard for his family.
‘For how long would she be staying?’
‘I don’t think it would exceed two weeks maximum…’
‘Two weeks, struggling to feed?’
‘That won’t be a problem,’ she quickly dismissed my fears, ‘Bassey has promised to augment our feeding on her behalf…but the only challenge I see is our sleeping arrangement.’
‘Mama, I’m not too comfortable with this whole idea…Mr Bassey should have accommodated her instead…’
‘No, he can’t!’ the man lives alone in a single room?’
‘I smell trouble, mama…this won’t work!’
‘We would try and make it work,’ she insisted, ‘I can never forget Bassey’s kindness in a hurry. He played a significant role when I gave birth to Chioma… he was the one that settled the hospital bill when your father refused, on the account that I had a baby girl.’
My eyes widened at the shocking revelation!
‘Well, that’s a story for another day…’
Our home came alive that evening as Boma effortlessly made everyone laugh, and before I realised it, my erstwhile reservations about her vanished into thin air as she sat on the mat with mama and helped her with the beadwork. Another astonishing fact about her was that, contrary to her large frame, she was just twenty-three!
‘You never ceased to amuse me by the way you addressed your parents as papa and mama, rather than daddy and mummy,’ she observed.
‘Don’t mind my old school children,’ mama sighed, ‘they’ve all grown so used to it that change at this time is just like someone trying to fetch water with a basket.
‘The 21st-century children I know…’ Boma paused the moment Papa limped into the room, her attention intently on him.
‘Daddy, are you really sure you’re fit to resume work next week with the way you’re limping?’
‘Never mind, Boma,’ he smiled, ‘my recovery process is gradual; I can’t possibly wait until I can fully walk normally.’
The undaunted lady turned sharply towards mama.
‘Mummy, do you have ori in the house?
‘Yes, any problem?’
‘Daddy’s legs require a serious massage; I can help him do that if he really intends to walk normally very soon.’
‘I doubt if he would allow you,’ mama stressed, ‘my husband is such a fearful being; even taking injections is a big issue for him.’
‘Don’t worry about that,’ she smiled, ‘I would do it in such a way that he won’t even feel the pain that much. I learnt the skill from my grandmother at Port Harcourt.’
‘Livinus, why not give it a try?’ mama urged.
‘Okay, but gently, Boma, gently.’
The young lady collected a jar of ori and commenced with her massage routine.
‘Ah! Boma, please gently…’he squirmed.
‘Daddy, sorry…now, Daddy, I want you to try as much as possible to shift your attention from the momentary pains to the healing process…’
While the drama was going on, Kelechi sauntered into the room and pulled me into the sitting room.
‘Bayo ask me to say hello to you…he wasn’t looking happy the way he used to be…’
‘So what’s my business with that?’
‘I…I just…think maybe, he wants to talk to you…’ she shot me an expectant gaze.
‘Enough! I’m not in the mood to talk to him, period!’ I stressed, trying as much as possible to conceal every iota of emotion.
‘Please, go and bring me any dirty clothes you can lay your hands on, and a bar of soap, quickly.’
‘This is strange. Don’t tell me you’re washing this night.’
‘Change is the only constant thing in life, and besides that, when I wash this night, it saves me the trouble of scrambling for space with the other tenants the next morning…what do you think?’
‘You’re right, Sis.’
The girl dashed into the bedroom and resurfaced with a plastic bag full of dirty clothes, including hers! I could have thrown the plastic bag back at her in anger but I managed to control my emotions. She must never detect my motive for the emergency laundry.
Fortunately for me, Bayo was by the side of the Well when I came out. Every wall of anger towards him suddenly crumbled the moment our eyes met.
‘Nnenna, please forgive me wherever I’ve offended you,’ he acknowledged, boldly.
‘Oh… no…’I stammered, ‘I should be the one asking for forgiveness; I was too self-centred.’
And then I narrated the whole episode to him.
‘I still share a part of the blame,’ he insisted, ‘if I had not bothered you with the stories, perhaps, your father’s creditor wouldn’t have met you.’
As he spoke, I felt sorry for him; his level of humility was so legendary!
‘…anyway, there is no need to be worried,’ he continued, ‘I learnt the deadline for the purchase of the forms had been extended and you can…’
‘What are two doing there?’ a husky voice interjected from behind.
I turned immediately and there was the gangling figure of Segun walking towards us like a robot. The tone of his voice that night was entirely strange and as he came nearer, a strong alcoholic odour wafted into the air.
‘Nena, my dear, how are you?’ he held me by the shoulder.
‘Fine,’ I grimaced, covering my nose with the back of my palm.
‘Ah! I can understand,’ he laughed, ‘It’s one of those things,’ ‘a real man has got to be high to be in full charge…’ he paused and diverted his attention towards Bayo.
‘Young man, I’ve been watching your different moves these days. Stop trespassing into my territory.’
‘Twale, Baba!’ Bayo gave him a mock military salute, ‘who am I to trespass into the territory of the authentic heir of Pa Akinwale Coker dynasty?’
‘Come on, stop that flattery! You know what I’m referring to…Nena is my girl and I don’t want you around her…Unilag is so big for you to pick any girl of your choice. Don’t mess with my Nena.’
The tone of his voice suggested his level of seriousness. And as he blabbered, I quickly devised a means to divert his fury.
‘Bro Segun, is it true that your candidate, Subair has been disqualified from the political race?’
The question stirred up a spark in him and within splints seconds, I saw a completely different personality before me.
‘Those bastards are joking,’ he thundered, ‘ Kosi Subair, kosi bo!’ there is no election without Subair. We’ve already given the electoral committee three days ultimatum to refute their false charges against him, otherwise, I swear, the whole of Lagos state would boil!’
‘Segzy, darling!’ a beautiful lady clad in bum shorts over a sleeveless top strode into our midst, ‘Segzy, why did you abandon me?’
‘Oh I’m sorry, my fair lady,’ he swapped his position, ‘a bird in hand is worth thousands in the bush,’ he declared as he followed her sheepishly into his room.
‘What a man!’ Bayo heaved a sigh of relief the moment he was gone.
‘But why does he still hover around you if you don’t have any business with him?’
‘I don’t know, sincerely, I blame myself for not confronting him all this while.’
‘Let’s leave that for now and back to our conversation…I learnt the deadline had been extended; there’s still hope for you…’
‘No, there isn’t!’ I lamented, ‘even if I pass the exams, mama says, there’s no hope of sponsorship…’
‘Don’t worry, just keep doing what you know how to do best, continue with your writing…you never can tell; something positive might just crop up.’
‘Thanks. Good night. Let me join the rest of my family.’
And shortly after we parted, I bumped into Kelechi at the door, carrying a bucket full of dirty clothes.
‘Are you done?’
‘Yes, we’ve finally settled on a friendly note…’
‘Oh…’ I cupped my arm over my mouth.
And suddenly, I realised I had left the clothes behind and still unwashed.
‘So, you actually came to see Bayo,’ she chuckled mischievously, ‘anyway, mama said you should add this to your collection of laundry. I wish you a happy laundry!’
I had never washed that magnitude of clothes at once, in my entire life. Indeed, I got more than I bargained for that night.’