“He’s all right,” Andrew replied distractedly. He thought of the kind of trouble his mother was in right now. He wondered if she was in a cell, or at the police counter. How could she do this on the day he was coming back? He groaned to himself. How could she do it at all? “Abuja is quiet and very boring. I am happy I am back.”
“So when you go finally travel to Ukraine?” Ayo asked. He turned another left, and went straight, past the junction that led to the house.
“Where are we going?” Andrew asked tiredly, glancing back at the road they’d missed. “You just missed the street junction.” After a moment, he recognized the road they were taking. He looked to Ayo suspiciously. “Are we going to the police station?”
“Of course now,” Ayo replied incredulously, as if he’d expected Andrew to know they would. “Or you want to leave your mama for there?”
“Oh, okay; I didn’t know.” He got more agitated as they got nearer to the police station, wondering what she was being subjected to.
Mrs. Ugabi wasn’t one to come quietly; he was certain she had refused to go and had struggled with the police officers, who, lacking a lot of courtesy and manners, would have bundled her by any means possible. He imagined the smirks on the police officers’ faces when they had succeeded in subduing her and made her docile. Then finally he imagined the look of shame on Mrs. Ugabi’s face, not for the crime she had committed, but for the fact that she had actually been subdued by men.
Ayo parked by the roadside, a few walks away from the station, and Andrew prepared for the worst humiliation ever.
The station was an old building, filled with cracks and worn out paint on every inch of the wall, except for the police logo, which was an elephant walking on grass with two sticks crossed behind it with an eagle perched between the two sticks. There was no indication that it was a police station, unless one counted the shabbily dressed officials that were going in and out of the door-less building, bringing in and removing people, who were either crying, or confessing to something they had not done to avoid getting flogged with canes.
Andrew stepped out of the car after Ayo had and they walked into the police station.
The inside was much worse than the outside, with cracks and potholes scattered all over the floor. They walked past the first room where two policewomen were interrogating two young girls dressed very skimpily, and then passed another room where a tattered-looking young boy was doing frog-jumps while two policemen watched. They came to another, and the door to this room was closed, but they could hear a man shouting from inside.
“No be me, do am oh! I did not do it!” the voice yelled desperately. “Oh! Call the girl! Make she confess the person responsible!”
Andrew shook his head, hoping that Mrs. Ugabi wasn’t being subjected to any of these punishments, but then he heard familiar laughter as they approached the last room and his hopes lifted a little.
“I think he is mad.” More laughter. “Seriously.”
Andrew screwed his face into a scowl preparing to look very angry at Mrs. Ugabi as he approached the office, intending to give her a piece of his mind. He would not do it in the office, of course; he would wait till they were in the car. They entered the semi-circled office to see Mrs. Ugabi was sitting on a chair in front of a table, away from another man in plain clothes. He had some tribal marks on his face and his head was bald.
“Good afternoon, sir,” Ayo said, prostrating.
“Good afternoon, sir,” Andrew said, bowing down a little so as not to look disrespectful, since Ayo had prostrated. He did not greet Mrs. Ugabi.
“A-hah! District Police Officer,” Mrs. Ugabi cried, standing up. “This is my son Andrew, the one I was telling you about.” She stood up and rounded the table to drag him forward. “He just came back from Abuja – went to get his Visa,” she added importantly. “He’ll be traveling abroad to study medicine. Andrew, this is Officer Hassan.”
The D.P.O smiled.
Andrew managed a smile, and greeted the man again.
“Young man Andrew, good afternoon,” the officer replied in a friendly manner. His accent, a Hausa one, was very thick. “Where were you when Mr. Debo was harassing your mother?”
Andrew smiled, but did not answer. Mrs. Ugabi, on the other hand, laughed.
“You should be very careful of that man,” Officer Hassan continued. “Very dangerous, he is, I tell you. Madam it was lovely meeting you. If you have any problem, just call me, okay? And, Andrew,” he added, looking at him.
Andrew nodded slightly.
“Make sure you stay out of trouble.”
“Of course he will,” Mrs. Ugabi replied, laughing.
Andrew rolled his eyes as they left the building.
Mrs. Ugabi tried smiling at him but he did not return it, instead he scowled at her. An iota of him wished she had actually been humiliated at least a little. She decided not to say anything to him just yet, not till they got home. The last thing she wanted was to create another scene. One was enough for today, thank you very much.
There was silence in the car as they drove all the way home. Once or twice, Andrew looked at her and quickly glanced away when he felt she was about to turn to him. She remained silent till they had gotten safely into the compound, and then decided to speak.
“How was Abuja?” she asked as she took out the house key from her bag.
“Don’t worry, I’ll carry it myself,” Andrew told Ayo, collecting the box from him. He ignored Mrs. Ugabi, at the same time keeping his distance, in case she tried to hit him. They reached the house gate and she opened it.
They both went inside, and then Andrew locked the door behind him, and went straight into his room. Again, a part of him wished she had been taught a lesson, yet another side was quite happy she was okay, which meant that she was going to do something worse next time. He wanted to ask her what happened, but he decided not to. He removed his sneakers and lay on his bed, and then he heard her laughing again.
How could she be laughing? He wondered. Did she know how worried he was when he heard that she was in a police station? Did she know the things that were going through his head when Ayo told him what had happened? He got up from the bed, and marched into her room. The time had come for him to give her a piece of his mind.
He was first of all taken aback by the state of the room. The bed was wet, and so was the window netting. There was a hole at the low right corner of the window, and a stick was fixed through it. Everything suggested that Mrs. Ugabi had created a crime scene. It took a few seconds in which Andrew regretted introducing her to the Crime weekly TV show, before he started.
“When will you stop?” he started angrily. “What happened with you and Mr. Debo – you attacked him again, didn’t you? You promised you wouldn’t do anything stupid. I am getting sick and tired of everything.”
The color drained from Mrs. Ugabi’s face, and Andrew, realizing he had said too much, sauntered back to his room, hoping that if he stayed quiet, Mrs. Ugabi would forget everything that had just happened, but he was wrong. She walked into the room after him.
“Are you alright?” she asked him. She looked more concerned than angry.
“Yes, it’s just that –”
“Hey!” Mrs. Ugabi snapped, her mood changing instantly as she pointed a warning finger at him. “Mind the way you talk to me, okay? What happens with me doesn’t concern you.” With a huff she marched out of the room.
Then he heard her laughing again on the phone, and heard her saying. “He actually peed on his pants.”
Andrew swallowed every bit of his pride, and marched into the room, mouthing the words to Mrs. Ugabi, who was still on the phone. “What did you do to him?”
He sat down to wait for the full gist of what happened, and she, being an instantly forgiving mother and a woman who enjoyed gossiping with her second son, and occasionally the landlord, cut the phone conversation short and gave him her attention. She explained everything that had gone down. There was nothing like a good gist to bring mother and son together.
As he left the room, it crossed her mind to ask him about the accident but she felt it was unnecessary since Andrew himself had not brought it up. Considering what she felt were the mysterious circumstances of his survival she decided to keep the whole thing under wraps, and she was going to tell Mr. Ugabi to do the same.
Andrew had only five days to get ready for Ukraine. On Tuesday, the first day, he and Mrs. Ugabi went to the market to get some winter jackets. Andrew did not think they would find winter jackets in Nigeria, but Mrs. Ugabi assured him that they could get almost anything at the market she was taking him to, so he trusted her word. This time when they traveled they used a taxi because Ayo had the day off.
Tejuosho, the popular Yaba market, was usually crowded and full of different kinds of people — and other beings, if one paid close attention — making it very difficult for a visitor to find their way, but Mrs. Ugabi knew the place like the back of her palms; it was here she usually did her shopping for food items for the house.
The taxi stopped them at the market gate where there were many Hausa men selling yams, vegetables and fruits. Some of them greeted her warmly even before she got out of the taxi, brandishing their products at her.
“No, thank you, Musa,” she said to one before turning to another. “Ah! Danjuma, not today. I still have plenty from the ones I bought last week.” She turned to Andrew as she opened the door. “Put your phone in your pocket,” she snapped at him automatically as they got down from the taxi. Once out, she smiled back at the Hausa men, but added to Andrew, “And make sure you don’t have any money in them.”
She hugged her bag tightly to her chest, and they entered the market.
The sun shone brightly as they entered the market, but when they went further, the aisle-ways were darker because of the numerous raffia and nylon bags that had been used to form canopies that connected the sheds that shielded them from sun and rain.
It took everything Andrew could do not to lose Mrs. Ugabi, who was walking pretty fast, oblivious to the noise and chaos happening around them. People were shouting everywhere.
“Come and buy your soap, shampoo, deodorant!” one seller cried from their side as they walked past. “Imported and original!”
One seller even dragged at Andrew’s arm as they made their way through. “Tell your mother I have boy’s perfume,” he said before Andrew could free himself.
“Meat, cow leg, goat leg, even head,” rang out from another seller.
“Creams,” shouted another seller. “If you are black and want to be fair, we have bleaching creams! Is it pimples you want removed, or eczema? I get it! Boy tell your mother, and get rid of that acne you think is your nose.”
Just as he and Mrs. Ugabi would pass each seller, another man or a boy would pass with a wheelbarrow full of goods, shouting, “Yargo, yargo,” which meant ‘Get out of the way.’ Which they did.
Two sheds away a fat woman was tying her scarf around her waist as she challenged a very muscular man who was smirking at her. “You must kill me today,” she was saying bouncing a little on her feet as she spoke, her big breasts bobbing up and down. “Or you pay me the credit you owe me, useless man.”
Then she dragged him by the belt a few steps, and the man stopped smirking.
Mrs. Ugabi pulled Andrew close, laughing and muttering, “Very good. Teach the man a lesson.”
They reminded Andrew of her and Mr. Debo.
They made their way to the clothes section, and after searching for what seemed like ages, they found three jackets.
“You’ll wear all three of them together in the plane,” she told him, unimpressed at the quality of the jackets. They were very light, but were also the thickest of the lot.
“Madam, that one won’t be possible,” the salesman, an Ibo man, said. “This jacket,” he held the biggest one of the three, tightening his fist. “Is very thick one, cold no go enter am.”
“I have lived in the Europe for a couple of years,” Mrs. Ugabi told him importantly while Andrew rolled his eyes. “So I know better.” She chose a few pairs of knee length socks and paid the man.
They went home shortly after that, and Andrew resisted the urge to ask her why she had to announce that she had been to Europe before.
On Wednesday Andrew got himself some jeans, shirts and some shoes from a nearby boutique, and spent the rest of the day watching the television. That Thursday Mrs. Ugabi instructed him to tell every single person he knew that he was traveling to Europe very soon.
“Don not specify where, okay? Just Europe.”
“Do you want my traveling to get jinxed?” Andrew asked her that afternoon, the idea of telling everybody that he was traveling wasn’t something he wanted to do.
“I have always told you,” Mrs. Ugabi began, “don’t ever be ashamed of telling people what has been done for you; testifying only brings you more blessing.”
Andrew left her laughing crazily. That was the line she always used whenever she wanted to justify bragging.
Friday was uneventful, as all three remaining members of the family spent the whole day in the house together, watching the television.
And then Saturday came, and Mr. Ugabi gave Andrew some advice which made him very uncomfortable. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of,” he said to Andrew when they were alone. “Just be careful. Remember you’re in another country.”
He bade Andrew his final goodbye, and left that night for work.