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TRIANGULAR (10)

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SUNDAY, JULY 13TH 2014

2.15pm

George was restless. As restless as a hungry lion. What happened this morning had set his body on a fire that would not quench. When he saw the way his wife’s body had peeled from the hot water and how she had writhed in pain, something within him snapped and a secret he had thought was buried had come haunting him. When Pauline had declared how much she hated him, her words had seared his heart, leaving a big hole that would never be filled. Truth was it was he that should have borne the scar. It was he that should have suffered all the years. It was he that should be asking for forgiveness. It was he that…

Dim, abeg come help me rub my back. You know say this belle no easy.” Nneka sat beside him on the double-couch.

George did not move an inch, his eyes staring into the empty space.

Nneka noticed his still expression. “Dim, you still dey angry with me? No be your fight I fight? That ogbanje no wan leave, so I use force push am out.” She moved closer to him, rubbing his chest. “Okay, no vex. But you suppose know say na my love for you and our pickin make me do am.”

George cast two cold eyes on her. “Our pickin?”

“Yes, our pickin. Abi you no want am again?” Nneka studied his expression and did not like what she saw.

George took her hands off him and stood up from the couch. “Don’t follow me.” He ordered as he walked to his bedroom.

Nneka was confused and wondered what it was she did wrong. She was trying to protect him from that foolish Pauline and now he looked like he was actually angry at what she did. Truth was when she came back and met them talking, she had been very scared and had acted out of fright. What would become of her if the man and his wife reconciled? She did not want to go back to the village and be called all sorts of names. And what about the baby? It was his, after all, wasn’t it? A little guilt sneered at her. You dey sure? You don forget your different escapades with Azuka and Obi?  She shook her head. No, this baby was George’s. She had it while with him, under his roof, and no matter what it would cost, she had every right to stay in this home. Her place was beside George now and if she had to repeat what she did this morning, she would do it with joy. No ogbanje would take her place.

George locked the door quietly behind him and headed straight for his cellphone on the bed. He needed to make a very important call, one he had been avoiding for a while now. He dialed the number and waited for the call to be picked.

“Hi, George. What’s up? Been a while.”

“There is trouble, Femi.” George was in no mood for nitty-gritty.

The person on the line took the cue. “What is it?”

“It’s Pauline.”

“What! Does she know?”

George released a frustrated sigh. “No. I haven’t told her.”

“Then what is the problem?”

“It’s the silence, Femi. I thought I had gone past this, but it has come back to haunt me.”

“You know I told you to tell her from the beginning, but you refused.”

“Well, it was better to keep quiet about it and save my marriage than speak up and destroy it.”

Femi could feel his friend’s disappointment across the phone. “Well, so what do you want me to do? Tell her for you? You know it isn’t my responsibility to do that. I am your doctor, not your mouth-piece.”

“You are making feel more terrible, Femi.”

“You should be. You better go and tell her now before it is completely late.”

“It is late already. Pauline moved out of the house. Actually, I sent her out of the house. Another woman lives with me now and she is pregnant.”

“What!” Femi sounded stunned. “You know that isn’t your baby, right?”

There was some silence on both ends. George staggered backwards and fell on the bed. The way Femi had plunged the truth at him had left him dazed.

“George, are you there?”

“Yes, I am.”

“I am sorry your marriage had come to this, but if you had listened to me and had told Pauline before now, perhaps, she would have been understanding. That woman loved you, George, but it is clear you took her love for granted. You are my friend and I must tell you the truth.”

“Oh God!” George felt like crying.

“That baby you think is yours isn’t. You have got to send that woman packing and bring your wife back.”

“That would not be easy.”

“Well, you should have thought about that before you sent Pauline out.” Femi sounded very serious. “God gave you an egg to protect, but you threw it on the floor that it broke and you know how hard it is to get spilled egg together, but it isn’t impossible. You can have a second chance.”

“Thank you, Femi. I’ve got to go and get my wife back.”

“Good. Guess my work is done.” Femi concluded before he cut the call.

George jumped off the bed and picked his car keys on the drawer. Then he dashed out of the room.

“Where you dey go?” Nneka came out of the kitchen with a cup of water in her hands.

“I am going to bring my wife back and before I return, make sure there is no trace of you in this house. If I return and find you around, ten buckets of hot water is the least you will suffer from.” He walked out the door and down the stairs hastily as fast as his legs could carry him. Femi had mentioned a second chance. Maybe he still had a shot at it. Maybe his wife would still forgive him if she still had a soft spot for him. He brought out his phone and dialed her number. He would gather what was left of the egg and make the best use of it. Give me a second chance, Jesus. Make my wife love me again.

********************************************

2.35pm

“Ola!” The name tore out of Pauline’s lips before she could realize it. “You are here!” She fought with all her willpower not to get out of the chair and jump into his arms.

Ola dropped the full paper bag in his arms, shocked at the bandaged arm. “I thought you said it was only a minor accident.” He moved closer to her, his face etched with worry. “What happened to you?” Then he noticed the tensed atmosphere in the hospital, the uniformed police officers who carried a man who looked half-dead and covered with blood out of the building. “What also happened here? There is a little crowd in front of the hospital too.”

Pauline stood up. “You won’t believe any of it, if I told you. Please let’s go inside.” She led him out of the reception to the room where she had been admitted. “I am just glad no life was lost. That man they carried out came into this place to kill a young girl just next door.”

“What! For what reason?”

“I don’t know the exact details, but what I picked up was that it involved drug business. I think the girl messed up the plan and the man was sent to kill her before she could expose the people involved.”

“What a mess!”

“Yes.” Pauline sat on the bed. “But it’s okay and I’m glad you are here.” Her eyes flew to the bag in his hands. “And you got something for me.”

Ola smiled. “Well, it was not really what I wanted to get, but it was the best I could lay my hands on.” He placed the bag on the bedside drawer and emptied the content.

“Beverages and drinks.” Pauline tried to hide her disappointment. What else did she expect? That was what a friend would bring his sick pal.

“Well, and I got this too.” Ola brought out the last item. It was a yellow rose inside a beautifully-designed get-well-soon card. “Just to make your day more cheery.”

Pauline collected the item with trembling hands. He got her a rose? That communicated something deeper than what she thought, even if it was just a yellow rose. “Thank… Thank you so much. I… I really appreciate this.” Her eyes caught his and they held for a minute, before she became uncomfortable and averted hers. “Thank you for your care, Ola.”

Ola closed his eyes for some seconds, trying to gain control of himself. Did he just feel some current pass between them? Did he just notice how her eyes went all soft and inviting as if she was communicating something to him? She had appreciated him for his kind gesture, but deep within himself he knew he wanted to do more, to be more. But Pauline had built a hard shell around herself, as if she did not want anyone close to her at all. Starting from when they met at the University, when he had been her fellowship’s pastor, to the time of the rape incident and especially after that, Pauline had made it clear by her actions she did not trust anyone anymore. And when he had tried to be close and develop a relationship with her, he had always met with a brick wall. So he had recoiled and always acted out the part of the fellowship pastor, and nothing more, though sometimes he had wished he could be more. But her cold attitude had driven him away, and the fear that she may not want to be more than he wanted her to be had kept him apart from her all these years, coupled with a conscious effort to forget about her and carry on with his new life. When he stumbled upon her picture on Facebook, he could not resist the urge to reach out to her again and the business trip was just perfect timing. So he had made the call he did not want to make and here he was. When he eventually met her again last Friday, the feelings he thought he had overcome had come flooding back. But as much as he tried to reach out, she still tried to hold back from him, as if she was protecting herself from him. She should, because his feelings for her was dangerous, not only to both of them, but also to their families. She had a happy family with two beautiful girls and an adoring husband and he… well, he had his own family too, though he hardly saw his kids after the divorce, no thanks to his wife having custody of them. He needed to get out of here before he said something silly.

“Where is your husband?” He found himself asking as he regained control. “I thought you mentioned he was around.”

Pauline didn’t know how to respond. “He… He…”

The door opened and Ezinne walked in with a phone in her hands. She handed the phone over to Pauline. “It’s your husband. He wants to speak to you. He is on his way.”

Ola stepped back, trying to hide the disillusionment raging his body. “I should leave.” He said with a forced smile.

“Wait!” Pauline raised her hand. “Just hold on a bit for me, please.”

The way she pleaded made Ola’s heart melt, but he knew waiting was not a good decision. “Okay, I will be outside.” He concluded before walking out the door.

Pauline placed the phone against her ear. “Yes.” She sounded as cold as ice.

“Pauline, I am so sorry.” George sounded very broken over the phone. “There is something I need to tell you urgently and I am on the way to the hospital. In fact, I am almost there. Please forgive me for what happened this morning.”

“There is no reason for you to come, George. And there is nothing you want to say that will change anything. Our marriage is over. You got what you have always wanted with another woman. Please I beg you, don’t come and create more trouble for me. Go back to your new wife.”

“It is not what you think. Pauline! It is…” The line cut, leaving George more frustrated. He increased the pace of the car. He needed to get to his wife before it was too late. She sounded like it was too late.

Pauline felt an overwhelming sense of satisfaction when she cut the call. Who did George think she was? That she would forgive him and forget the agonizing years in he made her life hell over a fake phone call? He must be kidding!

“That was the man you told me about, right?” Ezinne asked, pointing at the door. “He looks really cute, but we both know nothing can happen between you two.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you just spoke with your husband and I think he is coming to beg you. He sounded very sorry over the phone. I think you should give him a listening ear.”

“He never gave me a listening ear all these years. He doesn’t deserve mine.” Pauline disagreed. “You of all people knew what I went through. It is because of him I am in the hospital. I cannot believe you are taking his side, Ezinne.”

“I am not taking his side. I am just trying to find a solution.”

“Well, keep the solution to yourself.” Pauline walked towards the door. “I played the gullible wife for years. Today, I have outgrown that.”

“You are making a mistake, Pauline.” Ezinne advised. “That man out there has his own family too. You are emotionally distraught right now and are prone to take some actions you may regret later.”

“When you are married, Ezinne, or if you ever will, and you go through what I have gone through and survive, then you can have all the right in the world to advise me on how to solve my problems, okay?” Pauline opened the door and stormed out angrily.

Who was Ezinne to judge or advise her? Pauline thought furiously. Ezinne was her friend, not her counselor. It was she who wore the shoe that would know where it pinched. It was she who bore the scar of humiliation on her body. Funny how everyone usually had an opinion on other people’s matters, without minding theirs. Ezinne should get married first, before she was qualified to air her views on marriage matters. Pauline walked straight to the reception where Ola was waiting for her, as he should be. But what she saw when she arrived the room stopped her on her track.

Ola was chatting happily with the elderly woman as if they had known each other before. When he turned and saw her, he stretched his arms at her. “Come here, please Pauline. Let me introduce you to this wonderful woman here.”

Pauline walked slowly to them, her eyes never leaving the woman’s.

“Mrs. Williams, please meet Pauline, my good friend.” Ola introduced before he turned to Pauline. “Pauline, meet Mrs. Williams, my elementary school teacher over thirty years ago. Isn’t that amazing? She did not change much at all.”

Lola appeared calm as she stretched her hand for a handshake. When she felt the hands of the younger woman, she sensed some stiffness. “Nice to meet you again.”

Pauline muttered a rigid response, her eyes still on Mrs. Williams, and still wondering how this could have come to be. She never would have thought, in her wildest dreams, that Ola would know this woman, this woman who liked poking her nose in other people’s affairs. When she first saw the woman and her ‘goddaughter’ thief-girl, she knew they were trouble and had tried as much as possible not to cross their path. She had failed, falling into her arms like a pack of stick.

“I need to leave now, Mrs. Williams. It’s so good to run into you again.” Ola gave Lola a big hug.

“Good to know God has made you great, Ola. Don’t ever forget to serve Him more.” Lola patted his back.

Ola turned his attention to Pauline and was short of words for a second. He pulled her into a deep embrace, whispering aloud. “Take care of yourself, Pauline.”

Pauline relaxed into those strong, protective arms as if she belonged there. She had never felt safer, more loved at that moment. It was as if she should remain there, as if that was where she was meant to be. Her arms tightened around him and she could feel a tear trying to slip from her eyes.

“WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?”

The trio looked at the entrance and saw a big man standing there, looking very angry as if he just witnessed something he hated to see.

“George!” Pauline drew out of the embrace.

“You better start explaining to me what is going on here before I lose my temper permanently.” George walked into the reception, looking every bit like an irritated animal. He turned to face Ola, who looked very confused. “What were you doing holding my wife in your arms like that?”

“You are her husband?” Ola pulled back.

“It isn’t what you think, George.” Pauline tried to defend them.

George looked like he just got a blow to his heart. “I cannot believe what I just saw. I thought I was coming here to get another chance with you. I didn’t know I was coming here to get a broken heart, to see you in the arms of another man.” He spat at Pauline. “I was right all along. You are guilty of adultery, you love another man.” He shook his head pitifully. “No wonder you were eager to make me not to come here. You could not wait to be with your boyfriend.”

“You know that is not true, George.” Pauline retorted at the top of her voice. “You sent me out of our matrimonial home, remember? You felt I was barren and got another woman who is now pregnant for you, remember? Your new wife poured hot water on me that got me into this hospital, remember?” Pauline pointed a finger at him. “You have no right to come here and accuse me of adultery when you yourself are guilty of same.”

“It’s okay!” That came from the elderly woman. Lola could not believe how things were turning out. “We can settle this elsewhere, not in an hospital.”

“But you told me you had kids. Mary and Martha you called them.” Ola asked Pauline. “You were lying to me?”

Pauline didn’t know what to say. She shook her head, words escaping her mind. Tears gathered in her eyes. “It is now what you think, Ola. Please let me explain.”

“No, there is no need.” Ola stepped away from her. “I don’t want to be part of this charade. He looked from one person to the other. “Excuse me, please.” He walked towards the exit and when he passed by George, he stopped. “And I am not her lover. Never has, never will.” He walked out of the hospital without a backward glance.”

“Don’t even think of coming back home.” George told Pauline. “We were a mistake from the start.” He turned his back and walked away.

Pauline broke down on the floor, very flustered and confused. Soon, the tears starting falling like a flood. She had lost everything. EVERYTHING.

Lola watched the younger woman weep away and her heart broke. She wished she could help, but the poor woman had always snubbed her. She dipped her hands into her purse and brought out a card. She knelt beside the young woman. “If you need to talk, please call me on this number. I will be glad to help you.” She stood up and walked back into the room where her ‘goddaughter’ was being prepared to leave.

Pauline stared at the paper on the floor. She didn’t want anybody poking into her life. She didn’t want any advice from anybody. She just wanted to be alone. Calling the woman was the last thing she would do, even if it was her last breath. She picked up the card and squeezed it as hard as she could. Her life was over.

 

***********************************

2.40p.m.

Bola sat rigid against the black leather seat of the car with her bandaged left leg and arm carefully tucked in comfortable positions. She was very tired and had just gone through the most horrifying moment of her life. In the last few hours, she had been forcefully involved in a drug deal, had nearly lost her life in a motor accident and had almost been murdered in cold blood by the man she thought was her way into a better life. Her life had been a roller coaster, going round and round and always ending up where she started, without a purpose. Stagnant.

She took a quick peek at the woman sitting at the other edge of the seat. The way her hands were placed calmly on her laps showed she was someone who had everything under control. She had come to Bola’s rescue before, when Bola had almost been put behind bars after her theft incident in the Mall, and here she was again, helping her out of a precarious situation. As much as she tried to deny it, Bola knew she owed the woman her life. If not for her, she wondered who she could have turned to. When the woman had stepped into the room after Bosco had been disarmed, Bola had jumped off the bed into her arms. Suddenly, the person she had once turned her back against suddenly became her only hope of safety and salvation. And for the first time in her life, she was grateful. Someone had shown great kindness to her and had not asked for something in return.

A little nudge on her left made her turn to see her little brother, sitting in the middle, smiling up at her. He looked so happy that Bola could not resist returning the smile. He had been a brave hero, her knight in shining armour, without whom everything would have gone sour. He had been the one who had made the call that would save her life. She ruffled in hair and tried to kiss him on the forehead.

“You should be careful not to stress yourself at all.” A woman, dressed in a nurse’s attire and sitting in the front seat, advised. “Today has been a long day for you.”

“For all of us, actually.” Lola replied. “Once we get home, we need all the rest we can get. It’s been an eventful day.”

Lola turned her head to the young girl. “What happened today is a miracle you should thank God for. That He brought us together again is astonishing, isn’t it? And at the point where you needed urgent help. I should get in touch with your parents and tell them where I am taking you.”

“No!” Bola yelped. Then she calmed down. “I mean you cannot tell anyone where I am.”

“Why?” Lola could not understand why the young girl would want to keep her location secret from her parents.

“I don’t have a family. It is just my brother and I.”

Lola faced her fully. “You mean you don’t have a family? What happened to them?”

“Nothing.” Bola was getting nervous. Couldn’t this woman not just stop bothering her with questions?

“Baba sent us out of the house.” Tomiwa cut in, much to his sister’s annoyance.

“And your mother?” Lola asked, a bit flustered by the response she was getting.

As Tomiwa was about to answer, Lola placed a hand above his mouth.  “Our mother died when she gave birth to Tomiwa.” She lied. “And since then we have been living with our father until he sent us packing.” If only the woman could stop asking these irritating questions.

“Why did he send you packing?”

Bola was fed up and this time, she shouted. “He didn’t want to have anything to do with us anymore! Please stop asking questions and if we will be a liability to you too, please stop the car and let us get out.”

The silence in the car was deafening and all eyes were on Bola. Bola clasped a hand over her mouth, too ashamed of the foolish words that just fell out her mouth. Now, everyone would see how ungrateful and disrespectful she was.

“It’s okay.” Lola’s words were gentle and calm. “You have gone through a lot of stress today and are going through a lot of trauma right now. It is my fault. This isn’t the right time to bug you with questions.”

Bola stared at the woman’s eyes and tears filled hers. How could the woman still be kind to her after what she just did? “I… I am sorry. I did not mean to be rude.”

Lola smiled sweetly, patting the girl’s head. “It’s okay, dear. You were only acting out of strain. I am sure when we get to know each other better in the coming days, you will find I am just trying to help. And just to get this out between us, I do not see you or your brother as liabilities, okay?”

Bola could hardly respond and she fought to hold back the tears. She turned her head, facing the window before they could spill. Right now, she was very confused at the turn of events in her life. And as much as she tried to appreciate the kindness being shown to her, it seemed the bad side of her would always show up, that side that had grown to be selfish, suspicious and scared of any benevolence directed at her, as if there was a darkness within her, holding her from reaching out to the light that shone her way. Would she ever overcome that part of her?

Lola relaxed into the seat, her eyes closed. She had been slightly shaken when the girl had shouted back at her. Everyone had. She had enough problems of her own already, and now she had to take on another person’s problems? And the person happened to be a girl who would have none of her and did not appreciate her kind gesture. This would be worse than she thought. Obviously a very bad decision on her part.

I cannot do this, Lord. I just cannot. This is more than I can handle.

Why don’t you leave that to me and do your part.

Lola opened her eyes wide as she recognized that familiar Voice. What part is mine, Lord?

It’s so simple. Simply trust Me. Is anything too hard for Me?

Nothing is, Lord. Nothing is. Lola smiled within herself as she adjusted herself into a more cozy position as her breathing became more even and sleep she had been fighting finally took over.

 

TRIANGULAR (8)

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SUNDAY, 13TH JULY 2014

9.20am – The Grace Cathedral, Ikeja

Pauline tapped her feet impatiently. She had been waiting, actually hiding in-between the cars for close to thirty minutes now and still had no sight of her husband… or his car. She knew he did not like missing church neither did he like arriving late. So something must be wrong. Church had started some twenty minutes ago and there was no sign of him. She resisted the urge to dial his number with her phone. It would make her look like she was begging and trying to get back into his life, and that was the least thing on her agenda. There was only one thing she desired – to have her revenge on the man who had taken away her joy. Quietly, she walked down to a call centre at the end of the street. She would dial his number from there so he would not be able to trace the caller. If he picked the call, then he was not in church. George always switched off his phone while in church.

“I want to make a call.” She spoke to the young girl who sat under the umbrella, waiting for customers.

The girl brightened up and quickly handed over the phone in her hand. “Good morning, ma.” She greeted with a smile.

Pauline was not in any cheerful mood, so she simply acknowledged the greeting with a nod, collected the phone and took some steps away from the girl.

She closed her eyes tightly. Should she do this? Wasn’t she harming herself more? What did she hope to gain? Wasn’t this foolishness? Maybe she should return the phone and apologise to the poor girl. On the other hand, she could be bold and dial the number and see if George picks. If he does picks, what would happen? Her thoughts were jumbled and disjointed. Maybe this was a mistake.

Her phone rang unexpectedly and she nearly dropped it out of fright. It was probably Ezinne, who had woken up and found out her distraught friend had left the house, but she was shocked when she saw the caller. It was George. She started shaking with indecision. Should she pick or not pick? Perhaps she should hold on and let this fail and then see if he would call again.

“Aunty, no be your phone dey ring so?” The call centre girl asked. “You no wan pick am?”

Pauline’s hand hovered around the green button and when the call was about to come to an end, she pressed the key.

“Hello.” She tried to make her voice as dispassionate as possible. There was no way she would make him think she was an emotional wreck.

“Pauline, where are you?” George sounded very annoyed. “Do you want to disgrace me? Why didn’t you tell me your mother was coming over for a visit?”

“My… my mother?” Pauline could not believe what he just said. She had not invited her mother over, so what was she doing in the house? “You mean my mother is there in the house?”

“Stop asking me stupid questions. Get yourself down here immediately. She has started asking some silly questions, asking after you and why another woman opened the door for her. I cannot take anymore nonsense from your family. Leave wherever you are right now and get down here immediately, you hear me?” He cut the call.

Pauline was confused. Why would her mother make an unexpected visit without first informing her? What was going on? Quickly, she handed the girl’s phone over to her, whispering incoherent apologies and ran to the nearest bus stop where she could get a bike.

“Church Street, Salvation Road in Opebi… do you know the place?” She asked a young chap wearing dark-rimmed glasses.

The boy who looked like a teenager nodded. “But that place too far o! E go cost you. You fit pay?” He asked, taking in her odd appearance.

“How much?”

The boy scratched his head. “N500.”

“Oya, let’s go.” Without waiting, Pauline jumped on the bike behind the boy. “Please go as fast as you can.”

“Alright, madam.” The boy brought the machine to life and zoomed off.

Pauline rubbed her eyes to be sure she was not dreaming, but the pounding in her veins told her she wasn’t. This was real. Her phone rang again and this time it was Ezinne, but instead of picking, Pauline decided to cut the call. Right now, she did not need her friend to stop her from doing what she wanted to do. She switched off her phone to prevent further calls.

Fifteen minutes later, she stood in front of her home and took the stairs up slowly and alert to any sudden movement. When she got to her doorstep, she raised her hand to knock but couldn’t. The fear of what laid behind the door crippled her. Maybe she should just turn back and leave, call her mother and get her out of the place, make…

The door opened without warning and Nneka was at the entrance. She had a basket in her hand as if she was going to the market. Shock played on her face when she saw Pauline, but she quickly recovered.

“I go soon come back, Uncle.” She shouted back into the house. “Madam don come.”

Almost immediately, George appeared behind her and closed the door after him. He turned his full fury on Pauline. “You and your mother are toying with me, right? You think I am a fool and don’t know what you are planning. You called your mother to come in here to beg me to take you back. But you are mistaken. Your stay in this house is over, you hear me?” He faced Nneka. “Go and find a place to stay for some hours. I will call you to let you know when to return.”

“Yes, my love.” She stood on her toes and planted a kiss on his cheek. Then she cast Pauline a contemptuous look, rubbing her belly and communicating a silent, but lethal message.

Pauline willed all her strength to restrain herself from reacting. This was not the moment to cause a scene. She had hoped that the next time she would see George, she would have the upper hand, but things had turned out the other way and against her. She waited for Nneka to get out of the audible range before she turned her full attention to George.

“Point of correction.” She started in clear, icy tones. “I did not get my mother here to beg you. I will never do that because I have no interest in spending more miserable years with you. I am as surprised as you are by her visit and had no prior knowledge. She did not even call me. So don’t blame me if you cannot handle a situation you caused yourself.”

“I don’t care what you think and it doesn’t matter whether you knew or not.” George’s eyes blazed with fire. “Point is, your mother is here and I will need you to act as if everything is fine between us. You will tell her you just took a walk down the street and are just returning. You will not, in any way, make her feel there is something wrong or that you no longer live here. I am sure you do not want her leaving here with heartache.”

“I know I have to act like the good wife and you the adoring husband, though we both know it’s all a façade. You play your part and let me play mine. This pretence is only for a short while. Soon, the whole world will know what you are trying desperately to hide. Then I will see how much pride you will have left.” Pauline walked past George into the house. She had no intention of waiting for his reply.

As she stepped into the living room, her mother walked out of the visitor’s rest room.

“Mama!” Pauline flung herself into her mother’s arms. “Mama, I have missed you.”

Mrs. Adesuwa, a women in her sixties, but who looked younger and graceful, tightened her grasp on her daughter. “Pauline, it is so good to see you.”

“You don’t know how happy I am that you are here, though you did not inform me you were coming and on a Sunday morning. What if we had gone to church early? Was it supposed to be a surprise visit? What of Papa?”

The older woman released her child. “One question at a time. Well, I am sorry. You are right. I should have informed you and your husband before coming, but you know how terrible the network is at our end sometimes, so I decided to try my luck. And here I am! Unfortunately, I shall not be staying too long as I have to return to your father today. You know how much he likes having me around.” She noticed the withdrawn look on Pauline’s face. “Are you okay? You look tired. Too much work?”

Pauline forced a smile on her lips as she studied her mother. Mama had always been the perceptive one, always sensing when something was wrong or right and always ready to proffer solutions. But this problem was one she would never be able to solve, because she would never know about it.

“I’m fine, Mama. A lot has been happening lately, but you have trained me well to be a survivor. All I need is rest and I shall be fine in no time.”

Mama drew closer to her ear. “You know this wahala you are doing could be one of the reasons of the delay. You should take some leave off work and maybe come and spend some days with me in Abeokuta. I met a man who specializes in helping barren women. I hear he is very good. You should meet him.”

George walked towards them with a tray filled with eggplants and groundnut. “Here is for the most wonderful mother-in-law in the world.”

“Oh!” Mama picked one eggplant . “How did you know this is my favourite fruit?” She smiled at George. “You know, when my daughter brought you home as the man she wanted to marry, I felt a lot of hesitation, considering you were Igbo and we were Yoruba, but I must confess you have impressed me so much. Despite the apparent delay, which we are hoping will come to an end soon, you have stuck at my daughter’s side against all odds. I am very happy she made the right decision.”

George and Pauline exchanged nervous glances.

“Well, I am the lucky man here. Marrying your lovely daughter is the best thing that happened to me.” George replied, pulling Pauline close to him and kissing her forehead. “Don’t worry, Mama. I assure you that soon, you shall carry your grandchildren. You just have a little more patience with us. We are praying about this and believe God will answer us soon.”

“Well, I believe that too.” Mama sat on one of the chairs. “I should be leaving soon. So, if there is anything you want to feed me with or send to your father-in-law, go and get them ready.”

George kissed Pauline on the forehead again. “Go and cook something delicious for Mama, honey. Let me go inside and see what we have in the house and gather for her.”

“Yes… Yes, Love.” Pauline replied rigidly as she dashed straight to the kitchen. While there, she took some seconds to do a recall of the drama that just happened. George was a very good actor… and liar. And while she desperately wanted to call his bluff, she knew she had to play along as well to fool her mother. After Mama left, she would give George a piece of her mind.

“Are you sure everything is okay between you and your husband?”

Pauline nearly jumped out of her skin at that voice. She turned and saw Mama standing at the entrance of the kitchen. “You always know how to sneak up on someone. Everything is okay… fine.”

Mama rubbed her chin. “I must have perceived wrongly. The way you stood in his arms as if you did not want him to touch you must have deceived me.”

Pauline quickly turned her face away so Mama could not see the truth in her eyes as more lies flowed out of her mouth. “I am just tired, nothing more. He is my husband and I… I love him.”

“You should consider what I told you about that Baba in Abeokuta. I told him about you and he said he can help. We can give him a try. Promise me you will come.”

“That’s the reason you came, right? To come and convince me about this man.”

“Well… yes. I needed to tell you face-to-face because I know I can never convince you over the phone. I spoke to your father about it and he is in agreement too. Your husband does not need to know if you do not want to tell him. You only tell him you are coming to visit us.”

Pauline picked an onion ball and began to slice it, a lot going through her mind. Her mother had proffered a solution she would never have considered. Going to see a native doctor was not something she wanted to do, but she knew her mother would not rest unless she gave a positive answer. “Okay, Mama. I will take some time off work and come to Abeokuta,”

“Good. That is what I want to hear. I promise you this will work.” Mama walked back to the living room with satisfaction on her face. She had achieved her goal.

An hour later, Mama was ready to leave and both husband and wife wished her a safe journey, with George accompanying her to the closest bus stop. When he returned to the house five minutes afterward, Pauline was seated on the sofa, waiting for him. She looked like a mad woman about to go on the loose and George smirked, wondering what she had on the back of her mind. He had lived with her for eight years and knew what she could do and what she could not do. He knew she did not have the guts to stand up to him. Never had, never will.

“What are you waiting for?” He asked her. “The act is over. You can go back to wherever it is you came from.”

“I am not going anywhere.” Pauline sat more comfortably into the sofa, lines of stubbornness etching her brow. “This is my home as much as it is yours.”

George was confused. “I don’t get it. An hour ago, you stated clearly how you didn’t want to spend more miserable years with me and now you are saying what? That you want to stay?”

Pauline stood up and walked towards the window, her back against him. She had felt really bad tricking her mother and when Mama had praised George and said Pauline had made the right decision to marry him, Pauline wished she had spoken out and told Mama the truth. But the way Mama looked so proud and happy had made her keep quiet and play along instead. Mama had expressed hope for her marriage and guilt had eaten her up, making her regret why she gave up so easily. Perhaps, she could have fought more for her position in the house, could have not agreed to the deceitful plan of having another woman take her place or have her mother-in-law dictate the way her family ran. Perhaps, if she had stood up and faced the situation instead of crying and feeling sorry for herself, things would not have gone this bad.

“I did not like the way we deceived my mother.” She spoke calmly. “And I feel really guilty about it.” She turned to face George. “When you said I was the best thing that happened to you, did you really mean it or were you just acting?”

George rolled his eyes, completely ignoring her question. “I am sorry I made you deceive your mother, but we had no choice. We both know our marriage has crumbled, though we try to keep it away from the world. I have tried, Pauline, haven’t I? I am growing older by the day and cannot wait for you anymore. And if God has given me a child through another woman, do you expect me to reject His blessing?”

Pauline stared hard at the floor. How could she tell him to deny the greatest miracle that ever happened to him? A miracle she had not been able to give him. “Oh, George!” She crumbled to the floor. “There is something you should know.”

“And what is that?”

“I don come back.” Nneka walked through the door to join them. She faced George, pointing at Pauline and dropping the basket in her hand. “She never go?”

“I am not going anywhere.” Pauline replied curtly.

“You have to.” George over-rided. “I cannot allow you to stay in this house and be a threat to my baby and his mother.”

“But George…”

“Please, Pauline. Don’t get over-emotional on this. That is what I want and that is what you will do.”

Pauline stood up, her eyes firm like a stone. “Then you would have to carry my dead body out of here. This is my home and nothing can make me leave.”

“You no wan leave?” Nneka pointed an angry finger at Pauline. “Wait, I dey come.” She headed for the kitchen and returned with a water flask. She sat on one of the sofa and opened the flask, pouring some very hot water into the cup as if she wanted to drink it. Without warning, she poured the content on Pauline. “You still dey here?”

Pauline screamed from the hot pain that sliced through her skin. Nneka didn’t wait as she poured more hot water on her rival. George kicked the flask out of Nneka’s hands and pushed her away from Pauline.

“Pauline!” He shouted as he grabbed her collapsing frame. “My God!” He barked at Nneka. “What have you done?”

“Now we go see if she still get mouth.” She directed her fury at Pauline. “You wan come back come use your witch kill my baby, abi? God no go allow you. Onye ochi

Pauline could hardly say a word. Terrible sting throbbed through her right arm, which had suffered most of the attack. She pushed away from George, rushing towards the exit.

George raised his hands to help her.

“DON’T TOUCH ME!” Pauline yelled at him, her throat clogged with tears. “You have always wanted a divorce. Now you’ve got one! I hate you, George, I hate you so much and curse the day I met you.” She placed her arm on the knob of the door. “You will never hear from me again.”

“Wait!” George reached out to her, but Nneka pulled him back.

“Make she carry her ogbanje go.” Nneka placed a hand on his chest. “Now you are free.” She turned his face to meet hers. “We get family to raise.’

Pauline knew when the battle was completely lost. She shook her head, amidst tears and ran all the way down. All her life had come to this. She was condemned. A complete failure. She wished she had never been born. She brought out her phone to dial Ezinne to pick her up. She saw it was shut down and wondered how hard her friend would have been trying to reach her. Immediately she put it on, another call from Ezinne came through.

Ezinne didn’t wait for Pauline to speak up. “Pauline, where are you? I’ve been to the church but no one has seen you. Are you okay? Where are you?”

“Come to Opebi and pick me up to the hospital.”

“Hospital? What did you go to do in your house, Pauline? Did he hit you?”

“It’s a long story. Just come as quickly as you can. I barely escaped with my life. It could have been worse.”

“I swear, if he has hurt you, I will strangle him myself.”

“Ezinne!”

“I’m on my way. Just stay calm, okay?”

‘Stay calm’ was not how Pauline felt now. She cut the call and moved back to the stairways, sitting on the first flight of steps. She stared at her peeled skin. It would definitely leave a scar, a reminder of how she came, she saw, and lost.

 

**********************************

11.00am

“Should I go over the instructions again just for it to sink properly into your thick skull?” Bosco spoke in native language as he drove Bola to the place where she was to drop a package.

Bola stared out of the car, trying to keep calm while her insides were screaming in terror. She looked at the small black backpack lying on her laps and shook at the thought of what laid inside. Bosco had wrapped 30 packs of cocaine into that bag and Bola was to deliver it to a stranger who will, in turn, hand over to her another bag fill with money. Her hands quaked with apprehension and sweat filled her palms. She had been given no choice but to do the job or risk losing her brother. Earlier in the day, Bosco had threatened to kill Tomiwa if she failed to do this assignment after she made another attempt to appeal to his emotions to allow them leave. He had even made the threat pointing a gun at the poor boy’s head and that had broken her heart. Tomiwa had looked as if he had seen a ghost and the horror in his eyes was one that would forever haunt her.

She took a deep breath. “I got it clearly. I am to stand at Allen Roundabout and try to act as natural as possible. A man with a red fez cap and a black suitcase would come over and stand by my side and when he says he is thirsty and needs a bottle of coke, I will know he is the one I’m waiting for. I should cautiously hand over this bag and wait for him to check the content. If he is satisfied, he will hand over the suitcase to me. I am then to walk down back to the car where you will be waiting to take me back home.”

“Great. Make sure you do not make any silly mistake.” Bosco glanced briefly at her. “You know what will happen if you do.”

Bola’s hands tightened into a fist. “I am well aware and will do this right. Just keep my brother safe.”

“Well, that depends on you.” Bosco made the turn into Awolowo Way and took a quick look at his wristwatch. “We are almost there. The appointment is at 11.30.”

They passed through the front of the Ikeja City Mall and a memory rose up on Bola’s mind. She remembered the old woman who had tried to help her, give meaning to her life, but she had been despicable. She wondered what could have happened if she had allowed help into her life. Instead, she had been an ingrate and had blocked, perhaps, her only chance at a good life. She would not be in a drug business neither would she have her life and that of her brother hanging on a balance. She regretted turning her back against the ‘angel’ that waltzed into her life. She deserved everything happening to her now.

Five minutes later, Bosco parked the car at Allen Bus Stop and asked her to alight. “Cross over to the other side. Can you see where people are waiting for bus?”

Bola nodded.

“Just stay with them and wait for the man, okay?”

Bola nodded again.

“Remember, act natural.” Bosco drove out of the Bus Stop. “And don’t get caught.”

“Caught?” Bola raised her head and saw two policemen standing at the middle of the road, waiting to catch any traffic offenders. “You did not tell me policemen would be here. What if I am caught?”

Bosco replied in an irritated voice. “Then try not to get caught. Remember your brother’s life is in your hands if you ever want to see him again.”

Bola banged the door angrily and as Bosco drove away, she looked around the area. It was a busy place with a bit of traffic as vehicles waited for instructions from the traffic lights. She cast a glance at the policemen but they had their attention on opposite direction. Bola wore the bag on her back and started crossing the two-lane road. When she got to the other side, she went towards a corner and stood there, waiting and hoping that the exchange would be done over with as soon as possible and she could get out of there.

“Hey, school girl! Why are you on school uniform? Isn’t today Sunday?” A tall, sweet-looking lady asked Bola with a broad smile pasted on her face.

Bola looked down at her well-ironed uniform and fought for the right lie to give. “Ermmm… I… I am going back to school. I am a boarder.”

“Oh nice! My son is in the boarding house too. He schools in Federal Government College, Ijaniki.”

Why won’t this woman leave me alone? Bola thought distastefully. She is really distracting me. I need to find a man with a red cap.

“So what’s the name of your school?” The woman asked as two buses parked to pick up people, but she did not enter any.

Bola went stiff. She had never thought of finding out the name of the school she was representing, was not even sure it was the uniform of a real school. So she said the first thing that came to her mind. “Girls Model College.”

“I have never heard of that school before and I thought I knew Lagos very well. Where is the school located?”

Bola wanted to zip up the mouth of this woman. From the corner of her eyes, she picked up a man wearing what looked like a red cap coming towards them. “It’s in Surulere.” She looked at the approaching man. Yes, she was right. He was wearing a red cap and carrying a black suitcase.

“I should check it out. So what class are you?”

The man with the cap was tall and of very intimidating stature. Bola felt like an ant when he stood few steps away from her. He wore a casual T-shirt over a faded pair of jeans. He looked like every normal man. No one would suspect a thing.

“SS3.” Bola began to sweat profusely. All she wanted to do now was to do the exchange and not to have little, unnecessary chitchat.

“Wow! My son is in the same class as yours. What a coincidence!” The woman’s eyes sparkled with delight at the realization. “I hope you read your books well.”

“I feel very thirsty and need a bottle of coke. Where are these boys that sell coke today?” The man’s voice was deep and guttural like thunder and he cast a glance at Bola, telling her with his eyes to end the conversation with the woman.

Bola moved away from the woman and closer to the man, removing the bag from her back as if she wanted to take something from it. She looked left, right and left again and when she saw no one was watching her, not even the woman whom had been taking much of her time, she quickly stretched the bag towards the man, whispering as low as she could. “Here is it, sir.”

The man grabbed the bag from her hands and as he was about to give her the suitcase, the woman turned, holding a pistol in her hands and pointing it at them. “Hold it right there!”

In split seconds, when the man found out they had been discovered, he started running and the woman shot at his right knee. He fell on the ground, writhing in pain.

Bola was shocked beyond her imagination. Who was that woman? She did not wait to find out. The operation had been compromised. As the woman turned towards her direction to grab her, Bola took to her heels.

“Wait! Don’t go! I’m here to help you.” The woman shouted at the top of her voice.

But Bola would not be stopped. Without waiting to check the traffic, she jumped into the road and the last thing she saw was a car coming at full speed towards her. She felt a sharp pain rock her body and felt herself falling down. Little by little, darkness took over her and the last face she saw was the face of Tomiwa, crying for help that would never come.

 

*****************************

12.13pm – Bosco’s House, Surulere

“You are a fool, Bosco! How can you make such a stupid mistake?”

“I didn’t know it would turn out this way.” Bosco barked into his phone as he paced back and forth in his living room. “I had everything under control. I don’t know how this happened.”

“You should know. I trusted you with this and you disappointed me as usual. Can’t you just handle a simple operation?” The voice sounded extremely irritated. “Now you have got us into deeper shit.”

Bosco rubbed his hand through his head in frustration. “What do you want me to do? I promise I will not get it wrong this time.”

“How can I trust you enough to handle a bigger problem when you could not handle a simple job? The girl did not die, Bosco. She is just unconscious, and do you know what this means for us? She will expose us all when she awakes. We are doomed!”

Bosco marched angrily without direction. “So what do we do?”

“You know what to do.”

“I have her brother with me.”

“What a dummy you are! I’m not talking about the inconsequential, little rat. We have to kill the girl before she wakes up and talk to the police.”

“Kill her?” Bosco stopped dead on his feet. “How are we going to do that? She was taken to the hospital immediately and the policewoman went with her. We cannot just walk into the hospital with a pistol and kill her.”

“We? There is no ‘we’ here, Bosco. You alone will do this job. You caused this problem. You must solve it alone. Where is this hospital?”

“Duro-Soleye Hospital in Ikeja. I followed them secretly to be sure.”

“At least, you did one sensible thing. Find your way there now and make sure that girl does not wake up at all. If you mess this up again, I promise you that your life is not the only thing that will go for it.”

“Please don’t touch my mother. I promise I will kill the girl and bring you proof.”

“You better.”

“One last thing… What should I do with the boy?”

“I don’t care. He’s your business.”

The line cut and Bosco fell flat into the closest chair. Today had gone awry for him. He had never been in this kind of situation before since he started this business and right now, he wished he had not met Bola. He wished he had been more careful in picking the new girl to replace the one who was killed. He was a total loser and needed to regain his reputation and save his face, which was why he needed to make sure this next operation was a success. And as for the boy, he would deal with the rat when he returned from the hospital. First things first. He stood up and headed straight to the kitchen to grab a bottle of beer. He needed all the courage he could muster for this job.

Some steps away, two little eyes watched Bosco secretly, too shocked at the revelation that just floated into his ears. Uncle Bosco was going to kill his sister? What had happened to her? Why was she not back with him? Tomiwa knew his sister was in big trouble and that he needed to find some help before she was killed. His hands went to his pocket and he brought out a paper, the card her sister had thrown away. While she forgot about it, he had picked it up and kept it always with him. He was glad he did that now. He looked through the card and saw the number he would dial for help. He quickly ran back into the room and closed the door. Then he went for one of the pillows, where he had kept his sister’s phone, which she had left for him in case something like this happened. Aunty Bola had always been there for him. Now it was time for him to her hero.

 

 

************************************

12.35pm

Emeka peeked at the rear-view mirror and saw his Madam’s long, sad face as he drove her home. She had been very quiet since she came out of the hospital, as if she had some heavy problems on her mind. He knew she was having health issues, but yesterday completely destabilized him when he was called to carry her to the hospital, almost half-dead. The way she was limp had made him freak out and wonder at how delicate life was. This moment one was alive and bubbling and the next, one was just a step away from death. Man was like the wind that came and went like it never happened and that realization got Emeka scared. What would happen to him if he died today?

“Can you please go a bit faster, Emeka?” Lola requested politely from the owner’s seat.  From the moment she stepped out of the hospital, all she wanted was to get into the comfort of her home where she could have time alone to think without any interference. More than ruminate on her predicament, she wanted time alone to pray. God had to find a way out of this for her and though He had been quiet for a while, she was sure He would never leave her.

“Yes, Madam.” Emeka replied, changing gear immediately.

“Hope you do not feel any pains, Mrs. Williams?” Nurse Titi, whom Dr. Aluko had assigned to take care of Lola, asked from the passenger’s seat beside the driver.

Lola gave one of her brightest smiles. “Not at all, Nurse. Thank you.”

“Just let me know if you need anything.” Nurse Titi nodded approvingly before refocusing her attention on the magazine in her hand.

Lola nodded, staring out of the window. Nurse Titi could not give her everything she wanted. The nurse could not bring Charles home neither could she bring Tobi back from the dead. She would do her best, no doubt, but no matter how hard she tried, she still would not be able to take away the kidney disease. Lola sighed with sorrow. This matter was between her and God, which was why she needed to get home on time.

One of her phones rang and she saw an unfamiliar number. Normally she was careful of which calls she picked, but anyone trying to reach her on this particular channel would be someone close to her. She usually did not give her out this phone number or the card which has this number to just anyone. She knew she had to pick the call, but why did she feel the resistance to? Right now, what she needed was not a relative calling to ask for money or her secretary calling to brief her about business affairs. She cut the call and was about to place it into her bag when it rang again.

“Hello!” She almost shouted into the phone.

“Help my sister. They want to kill her.” The voice was barely a whisper, as if the caller was trying hard not to be caught making the call.

“Who is this?” Lola became alert, especially as she deciphered the voice to be a young child’s. “Where did you get my number?”

“She is in Soleye Hospital in Ikeja. Please save my sister before they kill her.”

“Who is your sister and what is her name?”

“Bola…” The voice trailed away.

Lola heard another voice, this time an adult male, holler at the caller and the last thing she heard was the little boy’s scream before the line was cut. She stared at her phone and was confused about what just happened. Was that a prank call? It couldn’t have been. The scream of horror was too real. The boy could not have had access to her phone number unless… “Change of plan, Emeka. We are going to Ikeja now!”

Emeka and Nurse Titi turned to query this new decision.

“Why, Madam?” Emeka asked. “I think say you wan get home on time.”

“You need rest, Mrs. Williams.” Nurse Titi added with concern in her eyes.

“Just drive there and don’t ask me any questions. We are going to Soleye Hospital.” Lola turned to the Nurse. “Do you know the Hospital, Nurse?”

“Yes, I do. A friend of mine works there. Is there a problem?” Nurse Titi asked, a bit worried about her Patient’s sudden panic.

“Good. We go there now. Someone needs our help and if we do not hurry, what we shall meet shall be her corpse.”

“What!” Emeka did a quick u-turn, changing routes.

“Do you know who this person is?” Nurse Titi asked Lola.

Lola stared at the nurse with her mouth wide open. What was she doing, she chided herself, going to save someone who was in grave danger and endangering her own life and those of others alongside? What if it involved very bad people? But the boy had sounded so desperate, like he depended on her, trusted her to save his sister.

“What’s her name, Mrs. Williams? The person we are going to rescue?” Nurse Titi asked again.

“I… I have no idea.” Lola replied, staring out of the car.

TRIANGULAR (2)

Please read previous episode here. Don’t forget to share with as many as you can. Cheers!

 

Saturday, 5th July 2014

3.30pm

Bola stood in front of the face-me-I-face-you house she had lived all her life in the Olosha area of Mushin, a lower-class area of Lagos known for its hostile and notorious lifestyle. Everyone lived for himself, whether old or young, male or female. It was like a battle ground where the fittest could only survive and the losers get trodden. This was where she had been lived all the seventeen years of her life trying to make sense of why she existed. Tomorrow, she would be eighteen and she still was yet to find the answer she craved. She sighed sadly as a familiar feeling overwhelmed her.

You are a failure, Bola. You have always been from the moment you were born.

No! I can make it through this.

Really? And how do you intend to do that? You can barely feed yourself and your brother. You had to resort to stealing. You are a complete embarrassment. Just look at how you disgraced yourself today. Now, the whole world knows you as a thief.

Shut up! Shut up! I will survive this.

Really? After seventeen years? You better do what you need to do. Your mother did it too. After all, that was how you came into the world. Laying on your back for some few minutes every day won’t hurt. You got to do what you got to do. Plus, it isn’t like it will be your first time any way.

SHUT UP!

“Aunty Bola. Are you okay? You look sick.” Seven year old Tomiwa held his half-sister’s hands, looking very bothered. He asked in fluent Yoruba. “Is it the headache again?”

Bola had not noticed her seven year old half-brother walk up to welcome her. She stroked his head. “I am fine, Tomiwa. Just need some rest.” She replied in the native tongue.

Tomiwa’s face lightened up and he grabbed the nylon in his sister’s hand. “Is that food? Where did you get it?” He placed the heavy bag on the floor and rummaged through its contents. “Yeeee! What is this?” He raised a bar of chocolate. “Is it sweet?”

Bola choked back the tears in her eyes. If life had smiled on them from the start, her little brother would not be so much in awe of a simply candy as he was now. He looked like he had seen something so magical. “Let’s go inside. We will share it together.” Then she hesitated. “Is Baba around?”

“No. He went out since morning and has not returned. I am hungry, Aunty. Baba did not give me money for food.”

“Don’t worry. I brought enough food for us. We just have to hide it away from Baba, so it will be enough for us for days, okay?”

Tomiwa nodded in agreement. At such a young age, he already knew life was not fair and was ready to make sure he survived as well, even if it meant hiding food away from his uncaring father. The siblings walked into their one room apartment that could boast of nothing except a tattered mattress on the floor and some plates and pots carefully arranged in a corner. The colourless wall was marked with cracks here and there and the only window to the room was covered with a net that had large holes.

“So where did you get this plenty food?” Tomiwa asked as he settled on the mattress with his sister, his eyes bulging with excitement.

“Well… I um… a kind woman bought them for me.”Bola replied, forcing a smile on her face. She had only been able to pick some candy she had stuffed underneath her cloth, but when her ‘godmother’ had come to her rescue, she had ended up leaving the mall with a full bag instead. The woman had added a lot of things to the stolen items and had paid for everything. That kind act had shaken Bola to the depth of her soul and had got her scared too. No one had ever been generous to her before and she had not known how to react. Instead of showing gratitude, her first instinct had been to be unthankful and to run away as fast as she could. Come to think of it, why would anyone want to show her kindness? In this life, she had learnt not to trust anyone. If someone did you good, be assured that it was because the person wanted something in return. Her father, whom they called ‘Baba’, had proven that over and over again. There was not a single day in that house that he did not mention how kind he was by giving her and her brother a roof over their heads. If not for him, they would be on the street, prostituting and penniless like their mothers. Instead, he had been an ‘honourable’ man and had taken custody of his children from ‘the ashewos’ from the moment they were born. But that was where it stopped. What they would eat was none of his business. So, Bola became responsible for bringing food into the house and feeding them, Baba inclusive. He had provided the house. She was to provide the food. From childhood, she had resorted to begging and doing petty jobs for people to make ends meet. When Tomiwa was brought into the house seven years ago when Bola was just ten, she knew she was not a child anymore. She was now a mother. Taking care of a baby was not something she had bargained for, but with help from older women around, she had succeeded in raising a strong boy. Anytime she looked at him, she felt the pride of a mother, but something still tugged at her heart. She needed to get him out of this violent neighbourhood if he ever could make meaning out of his life. She had been working on that that for seven years and yet, she had not succeeded. Was there something she was doing amiss?

“God bless her so much.” Tomiwa said, taking in a large chunk of the chocolate. “Did you remember to say ‘thank you’?

Deep guilt filled Bola’s heart. “I will when next I see her.” If I see her again.

“Okay. Please tell her I also said ‘thank you’, okay?”

“Eat your food, Tomiwa.” Bola cut him off gently before his next words would pierce her heart even more. The way he rushed the candy made her want to cry. “Eat as much as you can.” I don’t know when next we shall eat food as good as this.

When she had woken up that morning and discovered there was no food to eat in the house and no means of getting money for the weekend, she had resorted to doing one thing she had vowed she would never do again. Stealing. So, she had stood up before 6 am and pocketed the last N100 she had left before embarking on the journey to the Mall, which she had heard so much about. With the N100, she had hoped to get cheap transport that would take her half-way and she would walk the rest. A lot of petty thieves in the area had mentioned how lucrative ‘business’ was in the mall. Perhaps, if she was careful and smart enough, she would be lucky to steal as many things a poly bag could carry. By the time she completed the first lapse of the journey, she was totally exhausted and knew within her that she would not leave that place without getting what she had come for. Unfortunately, luck did not shine on her. She had faced the greatest embarrassment of her life. Thankfully, a kind-hearted woman had come to her rescue. When she walked through the door, Bola thought she had seen an angel, only that she didn’t have wings and when she had declared her a relative, Bola didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. When the guards had asked for her name, she had given a fake name. Tosin Ayoola. How the name jumped out of her lips still puzzled her. One thing she knew, she had been able to cover her tracks well. Anyone looking for a ‘Tosin Ayoola’ would never trace her to a ‘Bola Shotimiu’. One thing, though. She was grateful the woman had come just at the nick of time. Too bad she had not found the grace to say a simple ‘thank you’. Instead, she had been an ingrate. No doubt, the biggest ingrate that ever lived.

“What is this?” Tomiwa delved deeper into the nylon. He shouted excitedly. “See, it is money!” He waved the folded pieces in his hands. “Plenty money!”

Bola grabbed the money off his hands with trembling hands. Her eyes widened with shock as she counted one currency after the other. “N5000!” She jumped to her feet.

She had never held such big money all at once. The last time she held something close to that was when she had  lain under a man who had promised to pay her N4,000, but ended up tossing N2,500 at her, asking her to ‘manage’ it and to get the hell out of his room before his wife returned. She had never felt more miserable and as she shamefully picked up the money, she heard the man smirk at her. That was seven months ago when Tomiwa had fallen sick and desperately needed some drugs. Now, in her hands she held N5000? She could not believe the woman would further extend such kindness, after all Bola had put her through. “Maybe she forgot it in the nylon.”

“Maybe she just wanted to give you. And you did not say ‘thank you’ to her.” Tomiwa sounded very accusatory this time. He emptied all the content of the nylon and a paper flew out. He picked the paper and when he could not make out the content, he handed it over to his sister. “What is this?”

When Bola collected the paper and discovered what it was, the shock on her face turned into a frown. She was proven right again. No one in this world showed kindness without expecting something in return. She brought the business card closer to her face. On one side was a name and a phone number. Lola Williams. The name had a good ring to it, but Bola was not deceived. No doubt, the old woman wanted something in return; that was why she had left her card, so Bola could call her. If that was what she wanted, she would have to wait till eternity. Bola turned the paper and on the other side was a simple sentence. A question actually.

Have you got Jesus?

That question nearly made her laugh in disbelief. This rich woman was not only silly, she was also one of those Jesus freaks. No wonder she had been a little self-righteous. Bola flung the card across the room. She wanted nothing to do with people like that. She didn’t need their Jesus to take control of her life. After all, where was He all through the years of suffering? If there was anything she knew she needed to make it in this life, it would be perseverance, not some story about some Man who died thousands of years ago. She doubted if the story was real anyway, just a bunch of lies that were passed from one century to another. She brought out a packed plate of rice and ate hungrily. No, she didn’t need Jesus. What she needed was a regular plate of rice.

 

*****************************

5.30pm

Pauline walked up the stairs to their two bedroom flat located in Opebi area of Lagos. Her heart pumped heavily with fear. She had been out of the house since morning and was just returning over eight hours later. She knew her husband would be extremely angry and would not hesitate, in hard terms, to let her know that, but coming back to the house was the last thing on her mind after she left the Mall, so she had decided to stop by her friend’s place in Ojodu-Berger. Ezinne, the only person in the world who knew what she was going through, had provided the kind of comfort she needed, but still that was not enough. She needed a lasting solution. Tonight, in the stillness of their home, she would ask her husband for divorce. Finally, she would take the step that had been inevitable for months now.

But nothing prepared her for what she discovered when she got to the doorstep of her home. At the entrance were different pairs of shoes, indicating her husband was not alone. Happy chatters from inside floated into her ears and her heart quickened more as she recognized one of the voices. Her mother-in-law’s. What was she doing here, uninvited and without formally letting her know she was coming beforehand? New rage boiled within her. This was totally uncalled for. Even her own mother would not have such audacity. Shaking with anger, she placed her hand on knob and tried to open the door, but it was locked from the inside. This was what her life had been degraded to. She had been shut out from the comfort and happiness the home she built should provide and left without in the dark to languish in loneliness. Outsiders were now the lords of her lair and she could only watch from afar as they destroyed what she had nurtured for years. Enough was enough! She banged hard on the door and was rewarded with a sudden silence. Seconds later, the door was unlocked and a lady peeped from inside. She was young, light-skinned and beautiful. Pauline had never seen her before and she wondered who she could be.

The lady frowned at her. “Why did you bang on the door like that?” She had a heavy igbo accent and one could tell she was not well educated.

Pauline resisted the urge to slap her. How dared this ‘small thing’ talk to her like that, challenging her in her own house? She hissed and tried to pass through the door.

The lady blocked the entrance. “Who you be sef?” She looked back into the house. “Mama, please come here. I don’t know who this woman is.”

Pauline’s mother-in-law, a short but dominating plump woman marched towards the door and when she saw Pauline, her smile turned into a deep frown. She hissed loudly, made a sign of the cross, and spoke to the young lady. “Allow her in. It is the Ogbanje.”

“Oh!” The lady stepped back, creating some space for Pauline to walk in, while assessing her in a strange and belittling way.

Pauline ignored her and when she stepped inside, she saw her husband sitting in front of the television and eating food she obviously did not cook. She greeted him, loud enough for him to hear, but if he did hear, he chose to ignore her, focusing more intently on the football match on the screen. She sighed sadly and walked into the kitchen. When she got there, she found the sink filled with unwashed utensils and the floor was stained with dirty water. Puddles from the soup had stained the wall and the gas cooker was filled with milky water. Who could have done this? She thought irritatingly. She dropped the groceries on the cupboard and dashed to the living room where the women had joined her husband, but what shocked her was how the young lady had cuddled into him as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

“Ermmm… sorry, excuse me…” She didn’t know how to begin. “The kitchen… it’s a mess. What happened there?” She looked from one person to the other.

“If you had come home early enough to cook food for your husband, you will not be asking such stupid question.” Her mother-in-law chided her.

Pauline shut her eyes and tried to hold back the retaliatory words at the tip of her tongue. She was not ready for this, had not expected it, did not want this. She was already physically and emotionally exhausted and having people remind her of her failure was the least thing she needed right now. She caught the scornful look on the girl’s face and watched as her husband gently stroked the girl’s hair. She did not need a soothsayer to know what was going on here. She was being mocked and right at her face.

“Who are you?” Pauline turned to the girl.

“This is the beautiful girl I have brought from the village that will give me a grandson.” Mother-in-law chipped in again. “Since your witchcraft has tied your womb, I can no longer watch my son suffer at your hands anymore. In my family, in all our generations, we always have children upon children and that will not stop with my only son.”

“But, mama, do you know what you are doing?” Pauline challenged her. “You are trying to break up your son’s marriage.” She glanced at her husband, expecting him to say a word, but he kept watching the TV as if she was not even there.

The old woman jumped on her knees. “Which marriage, eh? The one I did not support from the start? I told my son to marry from our tribe, but you bewitched him and he disobeyed me and married you. Now, I am glad he has seen I was right all along.” She pointed a finger at Pauline. “Soon, shame will make you pack your load and leave this house when my girl starts giving me grandchildren; strong boys that will feed at my breasts.”

Pauline turned to her husband. “George, you knew this all along and you did not even inform me?”

George ignored his wife and instead, picked up the remote control and increased the volume of the television. A ball of fury consumed Pauline and she moved to the socket where the television was connected and switched it off. How dared he treat her this way and in front of these people?

George cast her a very annoyed look. “Why did you do that?” He asked in a calm but irritated voice. “Or rather, how dare you do that?”

“I asked you a question, George, and you pretended not to hear me.”

George stood on his feet, his posture very intimidating. At 37, he was a successful banker with a progressing career and one who believed in keeping a united home-front, which was why he always threatened divorce, but would never actually carry it out. He believed it would not only damage his reputation, but would also undermine his authority as a man. “I didn’t answer you because I consider it a foolish question and you decide to disrupt my football? Are you mad? By the way, you told me you were going to the Mall since morning and you are just returning. I guess you went to see your manfriend, right?”

“I don’t have any manfriend.”

“Then where did you go?” He walked slowly towards his wife.

Pauline took some steps backwards. Right now, she did not know what to expect from her husband. One thing, though, he had never laid his hands on her before but from the way he fumed, she doubted he would not do that. “I was at the Mall and when I was returning, there was heavy traffic on the road.” She lied.

“Liar!” Mama shouted. “There was no traffic when we entered Lagos o! Everywhere was free.” She faced the girl. “Abi, Nneka?”

“Yes, mama. You are right.” Nneka replied, sitting more comfortably in the chair.

“Are you lying to me?” George asked his wife.

“No! I am not.” She pleaded with her eyes. “You and I are the ones that live in Lagos and you know how Lagos roads are. Plus today is Saturday. People have weddings and ceremonies. I swear, it was traffic.”

George’s eyes narrowed into slits. “Keep cheating. The day I will catch you will be your last day in this house.”

“Cheat?” Patience was exasperated. How dared he accuse her of an act he himself was guilty of? On so many occasions, she had secretly read through his phone and had seen many incriminating messages, which she had not had the courage to challenge him, and now he was flirting with one right before her eyes and he had the nerve to warn her about cheating? “We both know who is the cheat here, George and it is obviously not me.”

“Well, you cannot blame a man who hardly enjoys sex with his wife not to have something by the side. But as a respectable man, I have tried to be discreet, which is why Nneka is here. She will be living with us and taking over some of your roles. To others, she is a maid who has come in to assist us with our busy life, but among us in this house, she will be more than that.”

“Are you doing this to spite me, George? All these because I am yet to give you a child?”

“Which other reason is there? I am growing older and cannot keep waiting for your womb to be active. I want sons of my own and you should be grateful I will still allow you to stay under this roof and bear my name. At least, with that, you can still retain your respect.”

Pauline’s eyes were filled with tears. In her whole life, she never would have imagined this would be happening to her. She had heard tales of people going through hell in their marriages and had prayed she would never have such experience, and here she was going through the very thing she had feared most. “You should have at least discussed this with me before taking the action, George.” She said amidst tears. “At least, courtesy demanded that.”

“Well, I wanted to discuss it with you this morning, but you were so desperate to go and meet your manfriend.”

I have no manfriend! She wanted to shout at him again, but decided against it. No matter how hard she tried to convince him, he would never believe her. He had made up his mind on this and there was no use fighting a lost battle. Her marriage had failed. Her life was in shambles. Life had finally become empty. There was no need to ask for a divorce anymore. It had already happened. All that remained was to sign across a piece of paper.

She started crying uncontrollably and when her husband tried to move towards her, his mother blocked him. “No. Let her get used to this. Trust me, she will get over it.”

Pauline ran to her room and bolted the door. She flung herself on the bed, wailing like a bereaved widow. Actually, she was bereaved. Bereaved of love, of life, of her humanity.

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