‘Ozukwalu, hope it is enough for you?’ Chinelo said.
‘Mama, yes,’ Amaka said. She leaned forward to wash her hands in the brown plastic bowl on the table.
The old woman came to stand beside her son. ‘Nnaa, did you like the soup?’
Phillip nodded as he threw another ball of fufu into his mouth. ‘Can I have more soup?’
‘Do you dare to ask?’ Chinelo carried the soup bowl at once.
With her gone, Amaka bent toward her husband and said: ‘Nwokem, I ga eridebekwa ya ebe afu—you have eaten enough.’
‘Is it your food?’ Phillip asked her.
‘It is my fellow woman’s food.’
‘A fellow woman who is my mother.’
‘And then? Did you not know—’
Chinelo appeared with the soup, silencing Amaka. ‘What are you two saying?’ she asked.
‘Nothing, Mama,’ Amaka said. She picked a toothpick from the tiny case on the table and relaxed back into the chair.
Finally, Phillip threw one last lump of fish into his mouth. He hummed as he chewed, winking at his wife from time to time.
Amaka hissed and threw her face away.
Phillip’s hum became louder, more provoking.
Chinelo laughed. ‘Mangala,’ she said.
‘Mama, mangala nkea bu ya!’ Phillip echoed. ‘This fish is sweet.’
Amaka wanted to carry the tray of empty plates away.
‘Leave it,’ Chinelo said. The old woman carried the tray instead.
Phillip took off his shirt, picked an old exercise book from beneath the table and started fanning himself.
Amaka rubbed his chest. ‘See how big your chest has gotten! Thank God we are now here—I will now know where you will see gym again to use.’
‘Ayi!’ Phillip whimpered. ‘Stop twitching my nipple!’
‘Gbafuo! Which nipple do you have?’
Phillip pulled a teasing smirk. ‘Do you want to suck?’
‘Taa!’ Amaka let go of the nipple.
He lowered his voice further. ‘Suck it, or give me yours to suck.’
‘Shut up!’ Amaka crossed her arms on her chest. ‘Suck yours while I suck mine.’
‘What kind of arrangement is that?’
Amaka turned away, saying nothing.
‘Because you know I don’t have much, abi?’ Phillip said, staring at his wife.
Amaka started to laugh.
Phillip extended the fan in his hand to her. ‘Take this and fan me.’
Amaka collected the book from him. But instead of fanning him, she opened the exercise book and started reading. ‘This is my Chemistry note.’
‘You used 40 leaves for a note?’ Phillip said.
‘Bring yours let’s see.’
‘All my notes are 80 leaves,’ Phillip said. ‘White and thick back.’
‘Owia! When do you have time to copy note sef? Is it the same time you jump the window to disappear into the cashew bush while your mates were in class?’
Mama Chibuzo entered the room then.
Phillip turned to his mother. ‘Mama, did you hear the nonsense she just said? Warn her for me.’
Chinelo was smiling. She looked happy. Very happy.
Amaka slapped Phillip’s face with the book. ‘Shut up! Stop making noise.’
Chinelo came to sit with them. She cleared her throat and the playing couple turned serious.
‘You have finished eating and Nnanna has fallen asleep, now can I hear the long story?’
Phillip leaned out of the chair, but it took moments before he said anything.
‘Mama,’ he finally began, ‘I will tell you only the truth.’
Chinelo nodded. ‘Dalu nnaa, tell me.’
But Chibuzo was still wasting time. He joined his hands, fingers wriggling.
Amaka leaned out of the chair and flung out: ‘Mama, they threw us out!’
‘What?’ Chinelo’s eyes ran to her.
‘Mama, the brother to the woman returned from overseas and asked us to leave,’ Phillip added.
‘But didn’t the good woman leave you in charge of everything?’ Chinelo asked.
‘Mama she did—’—Amaka now—‘—she did. But the evil brother is greedier than a pig.’
‘What reason did he give?’ Chinelo asked.
‘Reason kwa? What reason does he have? He is just after the late woman’s money, that’s all.’
‘And what was my good woman’s wish before her death? Did she not make provisions for him?’
‘Mama—’—Chibuzo now—‘—the funny thing is that we never knew about this Canada brother till Aunty Theresa died.’
‘Hmm,’ Chinelo hummed. She took her eyes slightly up and then back down. ‘Leave them.’
Amaka’s eyes popped. ‘Mama?’
‘It is only property he wants, leave for him. Allow him to take.’
Amaka appeared clearly unhappy with what her mother-in-law just said. ‘Mama we took some money and documents o,’ she said.
‘Shh,’ Chibuzo hushed her, but it was already late. Chinelo has heard already.
‘Money you say?’
‘Mama, just a small amount and some papers to two undeveloped plots,’ Phillip explained.
‘Won’t that cause any problem?’
‘Mama, let it cause,’ Amaka said. ‘We are ready for any problem it will cause. We can’t just allow him take everything just like that. Aunty Theresa handed everything to us before her death. And moreover where was Mr Canada when Aunty was very sick and vomiting all over the place. It was us that took care of her. If not for James, I would have stayed and fought!’
‘He looks dangerous and well connected, Mama,’ Chibuzo said, ‘that’s why I suggested we leave him and go.’
‘It is good that you came back,’ Chinelo said. ‘You did the right thing.’
‘Thank you, Mama.’
‘Mama, no!’ Amaka said. ‘We made a mistake by running away like that. Like thieves that we are not.’
‘So?’ Chinelo said. ‘Did you not hear that the man may be dangerous?’
‘It is a world full of dangerous people, Mama. We can’t all keep running.’
‘He who runs gets another chance.’
‘Not in this case, Mama. Except that he is related to Aunty, he has no right over her properties. He won’t even win against us in any court because everything is in our name. I will continue to say it, we made a big mistake by running.’
Chinelo gave a smile, though not from amusement. ‘What is life, my child, if not a string of mistakes all joined?’
Amaka stared at the old woman.
‘Yes,’ Chinelo went on. ‘It is not a new thing to make mistakes, my dear. Some you cry for, some you laugh over, while some will completely change your life.’
Phillip looked round the room. ‘We’ve been living without big cars, swimming pools and fancy clothes before,’ he said. ‘We will not now die without all these things.’
‘Yes, you won’t, my son,’ Chinelo quickly agreed.
‘We bought these things for you,’ Sammy said, extending the black and white striped poly bag in her hand to Uzoma.
Uzoma’s scowling eyes shuttled between the bag of gifts and the giver.
Finally she collected the bag and checked inside. ‘Thank you,’ she said. Though the expression on her face failed to match the words.
She reached into the bag and brought out a box of Cabin biscuits. She extended it back to Sammy. ‘Keep this one back. I am not a child that chew Cabin.’
Sammy was slow to collect the item. She looked at Ejike who only looked on.
Uzoma dropped the box of biscuits on the table in her front.
She stood to enter inside.
‘Mama?’ Ejike called.
Uzoma stopped, just before the faded, flower-patterned curtain, and turned back to them.
‘Papa said you prepared ede, can we have some?’
Uzoma’s eyes turned hooded. ‘Look at your wife beside you; tell her to cook for you.’
‘And yet your own husband starved while you ate?’ Ejike returned.
Uzoma stared at her son. ‘Concentrate on your own marriage, inu. Leave mine for me.’ She shifted the curtain and disappeared through the door.
Amaka came out into the night to meet her husband. Phillip relaxed on the low back chair, hands crossed behind his head, eyes fixed on the moon up above.
Amaka had stood at his back for quite some time before she came forward and said to him: ‘Okwa ibidokwa? You have started again.’
Phillip, appearing mildly startled, turned to his wife. ‘The moon is so dull tonight,’ he said.
Amaka clucked, the way women often did to show disapproval. ‘What is your business with how bright the moon is? I bu usu? Are you a bat? Stand up from there and let’s go inside.’
‘Or we can just stay here and see if the moon will turn brighter?’
Amaka hissed. ‘Gi na onye? Do I look to you like your fellow witch?’
Phillip took her hand and drew her to himself. ‘Sit on me,’ he said. He made her sit on him.
Amaka wanted to rise but relaxed back when she felt his hardness. Her developing act of protest melted into interest.
She reached between his thighs and touched the solidifying organ.
Phillip started releasing the buttons of her blouse.
Taking one round of her naked lady organs into his mouth, Amaka turned and gripped him tight.
The morning was dull and dewy.
Ejike pushed the gate slightly and entered the compound.
Chinelo, sitting on a stool at a corner of the compound, was picking palm nuts.
‘Nne dalukwa,’ Ejike greeted.
Chinelo turned. ‘Oh, Nnaa, ibatalu? Did you come back?’
‘Onye be gi kwanu? How is your wife?’
‘She is fine. She came back with me.’
‘Oh, and where is she now? She did not come with you to see me?’
‘We will still come, Mama. I was going to the main road and decided to stop by.’
Amaka came out then. ‘Ejike good morning,’ she said.
‘Morning.’ Ejike looked slightly surprised to see her. ‘You are around?’
‘Yes. We came back yesterday.’
‘Yesterday?’ Ejike said. He looked at the car parked at a corner. ‘With Chibuzo?’
Phillip, peeping from the window inside, frowned at his wife.
‘Where is he?’ Ejike said.
Amaka waved. ‘He is inside.’
Ejike started toward the house.
Phillip opened the door and came out.
The two men shook hands. ‘I didn’t know you came back,’ Ejike said.
‘We did,’ Phillip replied.
‘How is Lagos?’
‘If I had known you were coming back I would have come to your place and we would have all travelled down together.’
‘That would have been nice,’ Phillip said.
‘How is Sammy?’ Amaka asked.
‘She is at home.’
‘Why did she not follow you?’
‘I meant our house here.’
Amaka’s features dilated in surprise. ‘She came with you?’
‘Yes, she did.’
Amaka ran off immediately, heading to Onyemaechi’s house.
Rita pushed the door and entered the room.
She glimpsed the piece of paper on the TV and reached for it.
She didn’t read the information on it till the end before she flung away her bag and Bible and ran out again.
She stopped the first person she met on the road and asked him, in very jittery voice, ‘Please did you see any girl possibly carrying a bag on this road?’
‘Girl?’ the man said.
‘Yes. My daughter. She should be about 20, tall and dark with very white eyes.’
‘White eyes?’ Ejike wondered what other colours of eyes there were.
‘Yes, yes, please did you?’
Ejike shook her head. ‘No.’
Rita left him and ran back off.
Sammy stood at a corner of the compound, brushing her teeth.
Behind her, Uzoma dropped a pile of palm frond brooms.
Sammy turned. ‘Oh. Good morning, Mama!’
‘Ezenwanyi morning,’ Uzoma replied. She then pointed. ‘Pick the broom and start sweeping.’
Sammy looked down at the brooms. She somewhat smiled. ‘I have swept my room, Mama.’
Uzoma’s face twisted in a grimace. ‘Which room? Who did you leave the compound for?’
Sammy looked round. ‘The compound is still quite neat, Mama.’
‘You are fool! Which compound is neat? Who has been keeping it neat?’
Sammy struggled to understand Uzoma’s Igbo-mixed English.
Uzoma pointed again. ‘Pick the broom and start sweeping.’ She waved in demonstration. ‘Start from there and then all the way to the road. When you get to the road, people will now see what time a full-grown woman gets up from sleep.’
‘Eh, load! Ama-load! That’s how I sweep it every morning.’
Sammy returned her toothbrush back in its case. ‘Mama, I know you can be a little mad but the truth is that you really don’t know me that well. I can equally be mad as well.’
Uzoma’s eyes came a little wider. She touched her chest. ‘Munwa, me mad?’
‘Of course you are.’
Uzoma touched her chest again. ‘Me mad? Me Callista Uzoma Nwozo mad?’
Sammy left her and started toward the house.
Uzoma held her and drew her back, Sammy’s right palm meeting Uzoma’s cheek with tremendous force the same instant.
Amaka opened the gate and entered.
Ejike had gotten the generator plug he came out to the major road to buy and was heading back home when he saw Rita again, now sitting on a log of fallen tree at the edge of the road.
The dull morning has evolved into a sun-boiled noontime.
Ejike hesitated, but finally came close and asked her: ‘Did you find her?’
Rita shook her head.
‘What happened exactly?’
Again, Rita shook her head—ever so absentmindedly.
Ejike felt a strange surge of pity for the woman. Like any woman her age living in his village, she wore a scarf and a loose, light-material blouse above a brown-patterned wrapper—but there was something else about her that gave her away as someone who shouldn’t be under a hot sun.
Perhaps a new teacher recently transferred to the Girl’s College?
Ejike took a deep breath and joined the middle-aged woman on the log.