A genuinely concerned Mum goes all out to ‘get ‘ a breakthrough for her seemingly disadvantaged daughter.
Ori bibe ko’logun ori fifo – Yoruba proverb.
He stepped out of the room, making the sign of the cross. He raised his fists high above his head and muttered, ‘glory to God.’
When he tried to dress up, he missed one of the legs of his trousers and almost fell down. He wore his white sutana that swept the floor in front of and behind him.
Someone knocked on the door.
‘Who is that?’
The voice sounded distant. ‘It’s Kukoyi sir.’
‘Kukoyi, what happened?’
‘Sir, they are here.’
‘Tell them I’m coming.’
He removed the huge cap that covered his head and let his dada flow down. He picked his wooden cross and bell and rang it thrice and walked into the hall, singing:
E-li-jah E-li-jah o Eli-jah Elijah
Ede to oso aye ko gbo o
Ede ti aje aye ko gbo o
E-li-jah jah jah
He turned round and round and wriggled and acted as though he wanted to vomit.
Huuuun! Emi gbe mi wo!
The two women went on their knees. ‘Good afternoon Alagba.’
He made the sign of the cross, sat opposite them and looked into their expectant faces. ‘You may rise. Your victory is sure.’
‘Amen!’ they both chorused.
‘Alagba, please help us,’ Mama Remi said.
‘No,’ he replied, ‘I’m not the one to help. Only look up to the hills, your help cometh from the Lord who made heaven and earth.’ He raised the cross and Mama Remi’s eyes followed it. ‘Let us pray.’
The women knelt down.
He stood up and rang the bell twice. ‘In Jesus name, mimo, in the mighty name of Jesus, mimo, answer your daughters as they have come to your presence today, in Jesus name.’
‘Amen, amen, amen, in Jesus name!’ the women chorused.
‘Let’s shout three Alleluyah to God and the host of angels.’
‘Alleluyah! Alleluyah! Allelu-yah!’
They sat down.
Mama Remi cleared her throat. ‘Alagba, this is Mama Dunke, my friend.’ She pointed to the other woman.
Mama Dunke knelt down. ‘Good afternoon sir.’
Her Yoruba had an extravagant Ibadan accent.
‘Good afternoon my daughter,’ he said, even though he knew that if they were not age mates, she would be older than him.
Mama Dunke sat down and Mama Remi prodded Mama Dunke’s knees.
‘Alagba, it’s my daughter Dunke,’ Mama Dunke began and tried hard to prevent tears from running out. She loosened one edge of her threadbare wrapper from its rotund tuck and cleaned her face. Mama Remi whispered something into her ear.
‘Don’t cry,’ Alagba said. He pointed at one end of the hall. ‘See.’ The women looked back and saw the banner that read in Yoruba, Solution Centre. By fire by thunder. ‘Your solution is right in this place. You tell me everything that happened.’
Mama Dunke continued. ‘She’s thirty. She does not have a husband. She does not have a job. Yet, I suffered over this child. My enemies don’t want me to eat the fruit of my labour. I need a breakthrough for my daughter. Alagba, please help me. Don’t let my enemies laugh at me.’ She cried again.
‘Is your daughter here?’ Alagba asked.
‘Yes,’ Mama Remi cut in, ‘she’s outside.’
‘Good. Call her.’
Mama Remi tapped Mama Dunke who went out and came back immediately with a girl Alagba could have sworn was twenty two. Her small stature and low cut gave her a much younger look. But he did not like the look on Dunke’s face. It carried grudge, hatred of the surroundings and everyone associated with it. Little wonder she chose to stay outside.
‘You have come to the right place Dunke,’ he said after the women forced Dunke to sit down. ‘Mama Dunke, you would leave Dunke under cover with us, for ten weeks for special spiritual cleansing and prayers. By the time she leaves here, all her life’s troubles would have been cast into the sea.’
Dunke sprang up. ‘I’m not going to stay in this stupid smelly place with this agbaya.’ She looked round the building and eyed Alagba.
Mama Remi’s palms flew to her open mouth. ‘Haaa!’
‘Dunke!’ her mother said, ‘how dare you insult Alagba?’
‘Mama Dunke, leave her. She’s still a child. At the end of ten weeks, she would apologize to me when she sees how God would cause a turnaround in her life.’ He waved his cross in the air dismissively. ‘Mama Dunke, the church would give you a list of things to buy.’
Mama Dunke nodded and rubbed her palms as though in supplication to God.
Alagba turned. ‘Kukoyi!’
Kukoyi stepped out of the prayer room. ‘Sir!’
‘Carry her inside,’ Alagba said, and pointed at Dunke ‘and bring a list of what her mother would buy.’
Dunke screamed and struggled as Kukoyi swooped in on her in one fluid movement and carried her into the prayer room. Mama Dunke looked on as if she wanted to tell him to leave her daughter.
Mama Remi tapped her. ‘Don’t worry, it would be fine. They take care of people here well. Ko sewu. If they don’t carry her off like that, Dunke would not go. You know how stubborn she is.’
Mama Dunke shrugged but her eyes did not leave the room Kukoyi disappeared into. She made to go after her daughter but Alagba stopped her.
‘Mama Dunke relax. There’s no problem at all. There are other girls like her inside there.’
‘I only want to check on her.’
Alagba laughed. ‘Is she a baby?’
When Kukoyi came out with a paper in his hands, Alagba saw relief written in bold letters over Mama Dunke’s face.
Kukoyi handed the list to Mama Dunke. ‘Everything should be bought within one week.’
Mama Dunke nodded and stared blankly at the paper.
Mama Remi went on her knees. ‘Alagba, adupe sir. We can’t be grateful enough.’ Mama Dunke joined her in thanking Alagba profusely.
‘Stand up, women. Thank God.’
‘We would come back before this week runs out,’ Mama Remi said.
Alagba nodded. ‘It’s ok.’
They walked out, but Mama Dunke looked over her shoulder intermittently, some longing to catch a glimpse of her daughter etched on her face.
‘I’m leaving, Maami,’ Bolaji said, holding his bag over his left shoulder. ‘I need some money.’
Mama Dunke sat down. ‘Bolaji, please sit down.’
Bolaji hesitated with a frown on his face. There was something in his eyes that told her he already knew what she wanted to say. She knew him too well; it was in this one-room they had lived all these while. Having a conversation with him was like conversing with herself.
‘Oko mi, I don’t have money now. The money I have is for your sister’s prayers. If you can’t manage without money today, stay at home. Tomorrow you would go.’
Bolaji pressed his fingers one after the other till they made a snap sound. He dropped his bag. ‘Money? Prayers ke? I thought you said she’s in a church.’
‘Yes, she’s in a church.’
Bolaji’s shot his mother a cold look. ‘They sell prayers in that church?’
Mama Dunke did not answer. Rather, she opened her bag and gave the list to him.
Bolaji looked at the list and sighed. ‘Ten thousand naira. Five bowls of rice. Two live chickens (broilers). One keg of palm oil.’ He sat on the dirty cemented floor.
She knew he never appreciated the sensitivity of Dunke’s issues because he lacked the insight to give them weight. He always dismissed them with a wave of hand. She would get married at the right time, he would always say. But what appropriate time was it for a thirty-year-old? When Dunke reached menopause?
He looked at the paper again. ‘One keg of Sunshine oil. Ten tubers of Yam. One black female goat.’
Mama Dunke pursed her lips.
‘I don’t understand.’
Mama Dunke did not say anything.
Bolaji’s face had a serious look. ‘I don’t have money to pay for GCE extramural classes, let alone the exam itself, so, where would you get these from?’
Tears stung Mama Dunke’s eyes. ‘Bolaji, it’s for your sister’s good ni. I would look for it. I would get. God would answer our prayers. We would move out of this place. Are you happy the way she is? Are you happy the way we are? Don’t you want to see her progress in life?’
He spoke slowly. ‘You did not answer my question. Where would you get it from?’
Something formed a deep hollow in Mama Dunke’s chest as she cried. Bolaji looked frustrated as he dropped the paper and walked away.
Long after he had gone, Mama Dunke looked at the door as if she expected him to turn back. She laid her weary body on the bed. What else would a good mother do that she had not done for Dunke and Bolaji? Her second hand clothing business packed up after their father ran away with his boss – that stupid bleaching woman –whose bed he warmed as much as he drove her round town. Life had been a miserable place after then. Dunke finished secondary school and enrolled in a fashion school where she did not do so well and was asked to leave. She was later employed as a sales girl in Tayo and Sons – one of the biggest supermarkets in Ondo town, yet she was dismissed, because money got missing on one of the days she was on duty.
Mama Dunke resulted to roasting plantain in front of their Yaba home and was called Mama Dunke oni boole in the vicinity. She never saw any boy with Dunke because Dunke always stayed at home. Even when she encouraged Dunke to go out and mix with people of her age, Dunke stayed indoors to do house chores. And when one day, Mama Dunke asked after Dunke’s boyfriend, her daughter pulled her eyebrows together and gazed and shook her head, as if asking her mother what business she had with those creatures. And it made foggy sadness wrap itself round Mama Dunke. Thereafter, she devoted a certain amount of her meagre income to buying sexy clothes for her daughter.
When she asked Dunke to attend Baba Landlord’s son birthday party because so many young men with big cars came, Dunke went reluctantly and came back in less than thirty minutes. She was dancing and the young man who asked her for a dance secured her hips with his hands as if her hips were some things one needed to hold so that they would not fall. She got pissed and left. Mama Dunke looked at her daughter and thought she looked stubborn and childish and cute. He held her hips, so what? Even if it was her breasts, so but what? Did she not want to marry a rich husband? Dunke removed her party clothes, jumped on the bed and in no time, was asleep.
Mama Dunke met Mama Remi, a fellow plantain dealer who said her daughter had the same problem but everything took a new turn after she took her to Alagba’s church somewhere in Surulere.
Mama Dunke did not mind slaving to get the items Alagba requested for; as long as Dunke married a rich husband who would embark on the poverty-emancipation programme.
She thought about it till she fell asleep. When she woke up, it was with an ache that felt like her neighbour’s children were throwing and catching their old leather ball inside her head. And the thought that Dunke would soon liberate her brought her copious hope.
The tap rushed out with a hissing sound and at first, Dr Deji let the hot water flow away. When he lowered his hands again beneath the rushing water, it was cool. He rubbed his hands together for a very long time, thinking about how he would tell her.
His subordinates had handed over this tedious job to him because he was the most senior Medical Officer around. He turned off the tap and pulled the curtains behind the wash basin. The fierce sun had made the tap water so hot.
He sat down and tapped his consulting table. The last time she came, she had been so hysterical. Only God knew what she would do this time. He fixed his eyes on the faded sticker on his table. The O part of Ondo was gone, leaving NDO CITY HOSPITAL, ONDO.
The door swung open and Dr Made entered, holding some case notes.
‘Made, please call me a security man.’
Made laughed. ‘Chief, is it because of that woman?’ He dropped the case notes on the table.
‘Yes o. I don’t want trouble. Flash me when the security man is at the door.’
Made laughed again and went out.
Dr Deji waited till his phone beeped before he said NEXT!
When Mama Dunke walked in, he knew there was something fragile about her, something that made it look like she would break at any time.
She barely sat down before she said, ‘Doctor, what’s the result of the tests?’
Dr Deji cleared his throat. ‘You see, Madam, where did you take her to gan an ni?’
Her voice had tears at its base. ‘I took her to a prayer house. They told me to buy so many things I could not afford. When I could not get up to one quarter of the items, I went back to beg Alagba.’ She paused to regain composure. ‘I went with my son because my friend, who took me there, has relocated to Lagos. Alagba did not want me to see my daughter but I insisted. When I finally saw her, she was vomiting and her eyes were very red. I had to whisk her away. After a while, she exhibited some strange behaviour and that was why I brought her here.’
‘She was under cover?’ Dr Deji asked.
‘Madam, who is your daughter’s boyfriend?’
‘She does not have. That’s one of the reasons I took her to that prayer house.’
‘How was her behaviour before you took her there?’
‘Very quiet. She did not have friends. She always stayed at home.’
Dr Deji fixed his gaze on her. ‘Have you ever heard of gonorrhea?’
‘Yes,’ Mama Dunke said, ‘what happened to it?’
‘She is pregnant and has gonorrheal infection.’
Mama Dunke gently slid from the chair to the floor, making the chair scratch the hard floor as her back pushed the chair.
Dr Deji stood up. ‘Our test also revealed that she was smoking Igbo. That’s why she has been behaving abnormally. She has what we call, withdrawal symptoms.’
Mama Dunke howled. It was the head-holding variety.