Celebrating East African Writing!
Written by Mike Ekunno
Back and once free from the welcome party, I opened the windows and collapsed in a heap on my mattress. The neighbourhood was powered. I could tell that from the Nollywood movie noises coming from two rooms away. I got up again and put on the fan. Then I reached for the fridge for water. As I opened the fridge door, the whiff of fermentation assaulted my nostrils. Its small freezer compartment only had a separate flap that closed but did not shut and I had the egusi soup I made before my trip inside there. I finished drinking water from the white 2-litre plastic can and bent to examine the content of the freezer. Removing the plastic bowl which had the soup, I confirmed the source of the odour. The soup was still frozen but apparently fermentation had set in before that. I stood and remembered what a rich soup it had been and rued having to dispose of it. I couldn’t bring myself to wash it away for the waste – gratuitous waste. I called for any child nearby. It was Olu that came. I flung the bowl at him: “Carry this away and help me wash it off.”
“Yes. It has gone bad.”
“Thank you, Auntie.” He had dashed off with the frozen cargo before I turned to know why he thanked me. I closed the fridge and lay spreadeagled on the mattress in tiredness. I must have dozed slightly when some movement by my door curtains roused me.
“Thank ma.” It was Isaac and two others with the washed bowl. The two others also chorused their gratitude.
“Why are you thanking me, Isaac?”
“For the soup.”
“We made eba for it,” added the others.
“But the soup had gone bad. I gave it Olu to wash away,” I protested.
They only giggled gleefully. “Auntie, with added salt and hot eba you won’t notice any sour taste.”
I mumbled something and went back to my nap.
Saturday was another month-end Saturday and general sanitation day all over the city as well as the yard’s general meeting. I had just finished my morning devotion at dawn ready to go back to bed for weekend extra nap when I heard a knock on the door. I leaned on the window overlooking the entrance and enquired who it was.
“It’s me, Pastor.”
I unlatched the door staples up and down and he came in. We greeted and I led him to the table and pulled out the chair for him to sit. My Bible was still open on the table and the bush lamp with which I did my devotion still burned. I closed the open Bible and went to sit on the bed with my back straight against the wall clutching the pillow to my chest.
“It’s like you’ve been away,” he started.
“Yes.” My curt reply would have signaled him to cut to the chase.
“Well, I’ve only come to let you know what is on ground before this morning’s meeting.”
“You know they’re going to demolish our compound.”
“These Municipal Council people.”
“Yeee! Tell me it’s not true.”
“Haven’t you noticed the ‘X’ on the wall?” He drew the alphabet in the air.
I had seen the ‘X’ in red since I moved into the yard but it seemed like the common graffiti of Karmo as most of the houses had it on their walls. I told my dawn visitor as much.
“Yes,” he agreed, “but now the story has gone beyond the marking. They have served us demolition notice with 90 days’ grace period.”
“Why?” I found myself half lamenting and half asking.
For answers, Pastor informed me that we are not the only ones as the entire neighbourhood was to be razed. Cold comfort! The knowledge that our coming misery was to be shared by thousands of others did nothing to ease my private pain at the news. I bent double over the pillow and squeezed hard on the foam.
“Why I’ve come is to let you know that we must resist any attempt by the caretaker to collect rent quarterly now. It has to be monthly now and after next month, everybody should be paying weekly. You understand what I’m saying?”
None of Pastor’s micro-management prowess was making any sense to me.
“You don’t seem to get me, Onari. Anything the matter?”
I told him nothing was the matter only that fire had consumed the priest and he was busy asking whether his beards survived the inferno.
“How is that?” he asked.
“My rent was paid for 12 months in advance and I’ve just done 3 months.”
“So you should demand your balance. Your own is even better because they won’t be asking rent from you again.”
Pastor was almost dismissive in the way he treated news of my predicament. He would have reckoned that it made me an automatic convert to the proposed opposition he was mobilising. I could see the conflation of our interests but my worry now was beyond a mere refund. The demolition exercise was to cover the entire Karmo, going by government’s pronouncements. Without Karmo, where would one get affordable accommodation. Pastor spoke some more on the need for us to put up a common front when the matter would come up at the meeting in few hours’ time. Then he rose to go.
I stood on cue in my night gown to usher him to the door, the pillow dropped on the mattress. At the exit I held the door open for him but he went on about how I should make sure I didn’t lose my refund. “Your balance can not be lost, you understand?”
“Nobody should talk about circumstances beyond control in this case, you un’stand?”
“I even have a lawyer I can connect for you. But as an estate agent, I can even help you.”
“Thank you my brother.”
“Don’t let them play you because you’re a gal, you un’stand?”
“It’s okay. I ‘ill see you later to guide me.”
“It’s better-o. I’ill see you then,” he said still standing by the curtain his eyes boring through me.
“Bye then,” I offered finally turning away from the open door short of shutting him out before he left. Rid of him, I turned to look at the mirror. The second button on my night gown was open and the swollen nipples of my breast jacked the flimsy dress like the two ends of a sachet water pack. I buttoned up and sat down on the chair all sleep gone with Pastor’s visit and bombshell.
From outside, I could hear the wake-up sounds of the yard. Rooms were being swept out to the strip of veranda in front where the dirt will be packed. A metal bucket was clanging on the way to and from the dug out well – the yard’s major source of water supply. Suddenly, a woman’s railing broke this languid atmosphere. The voice was alone initially before it was met in adversarial companionship by another. I made out the first voice as Mama Olu’s. The second one that picked the gauntlet was Mama el-Rufai’s. The two women’s quarrel jarred the tranquility of dawn. I strained my ears to try to piece together what the matter was. Mama Olu was saying something about the poor toilet habits of el-Rufai and his siblings. Soon I started hearing my name in the railing and the noisome duo advanced towards my room. I tied a wrapper to my chest and went to meet them outside. My presence seemed to give the quarrel a fillip.
“There she is! There she is!!” It was Mama el-Rufai. “Na only bad food you see to give my children? Sebi your own pikin de come so. When you born, make you de give am rotten food, you hear? No finish my children for me-oo, you this Abuja senior girl. I take God beg you!”
I looked around the compound and slimy yellow excreta dotted the grounds like little golden lakes. Apparently, Mama Olu’s wrapper had dragged into one of the mini – lakes.
“I heard my name, ma,” I said trying to reconstruct what was amiss.
“Yes, they say na you give el-Rufai the rotten food wey give am running stomach like this,” offered Mama Olu swaying her outstretched hands through 180 degrees.
I explained that the soured bowl of soup I gave Olu was to be washed away only for the children to choose to reverse the chemical reaction. A small crowd of co-tenants had assembled and I told how I learnt of the prank only after the children had had their feast and that it was not only el-Rufai that ate. “Or did your children complain of any stomach upset?” I asked Mama Olu.
“No-o! Nothing like that,” she shrugged.
At that point I noticed the children had abandoned their sweeping chores to listen to the commotion. The victim-culprit himself sauntered into the semi-circle to be held by his mother between her legs. I cast a glance at him. His distended bare stomach looked gan-gan drum- taut and ready to carpet the remaining parts of the compound with more golden lakes.
“Sorry, el-Rufai,” I volunteered. “How’re you now?”
For an answer, he merely rolled his big eyeballs upwards at me and nodded like the agama. END