Bola Makinde 38 years old Married for five years Unemployed for three of them. This is his story…`
I married a good woman.
A wonderfully beautiful woman who works very hard for a living. Works very hard to pay the rent, to pay the bills, to pay the fees for our two beautiful children. So I understood that she had to work long hours. Eight to five. Eight to six. Eight to eight. She drives out first thing in the morning, wheeling her company car, a brand new Honda accord through the tight parking space of our building, trying her best not scrape any of our neighbors’ cars. She’d refused a driver, insisting she needed more flexibility and the company didn’t need the added expense. Co-workers probably whispered about the transport allowance (which was peanuts) and the perks of driving a new car (it had a leathery smell that made her ill).
If they’d guessed her wanting to be in control, they would have been right.
As our three year old screeched behind me, I wheeled round just in time to see her drop to her knees on the carpet and pulled at one of the tight, twisted threads that curved down to her small shoulder. I took a deep breath and walked toward her. Tears spilled down her cheeks, her hands balled into fists. This was how she got when Nene left. I sighed and she screamed even louder, her lips twisted just like Mama’s did when she got mad.
I remembered when Mama said something about Nene getting a job which didn’t involve her leaving the house before her own children. That was not how things were supposed to be. I’d told Mama things weren’t always the way they were supposed to be, I wasn’t able to take care of my own family. Mama had hissed and said something about Nene giving me something to eat, chaining me to the house while she did the job of a man. That was three months ago. I hadn’t talked to Mama since then.
I scooped our daughter into our arms and pulled her toward me. She stilled a little, her little heart beating against my chest. I whispered into her ear and noticed the red bumps along her hairline. What was it Nene said yesterday, something about the cream, I should get it this morning. That chemist just around the corner….
I felt a tug on my trousers. I looked down and there was my son, pulling at his lavender shorts, something white and frothy across his forehead while his lower lip trembled. I scanned the room, past the mess of our living room with its pushed back sofas, upturned poufs and the breakfast plates that both my children had left lying dangerously near the end of our main table. I looked up at the clock, a circle with a gold rim, SEIKO plastered on its white inner surface behind the glass. Seven-forty-five.a.m. Nene would kill me if they were late for school again.
We left the flat thirty minutes later, my daughter clasped to my chest, and my son’s hands linked in mine. I locked the door to our flat, and flipped the list in my mind as we made our way down the narrow stairwell. First school, then chemist, then market, then school again…
Soon we’re in the car, my little girl strapped in the baby seat. My little boy belted tight beside her, and then we were off through the gates. I mumbled a greeting at our skeletal maiguard as he opened the gates and let us out. Finally.
The same winding road, widening and tapering as I swung past other cars, wound my way through loud motorbikes, avoiding the teeming mass that flooded the city streets at this time of morning. Going to work, pissed about it, eking a living out of this hell where both ends of the roads sweep into gutters, into buildings and raised culverts. I could feel the heat buildup, not quite the midday sauna that was promised on the radio this morning, but I felt the heat through my sleeves. I glanced at the rear view mirror. There was a sheen of sweat on my kids’ faces, the three new bumps along the outer surface of my daughter’s ear, standing out red and angry. Too late for the chemist now, I’d have to tell the school nurse about it. I fiddled with the air-conditioning. It needed gas. I told Nene I would fix it last week. I had to take this in today. I didn’t want to see that look in Nene’s eyes. She needed to know I’d done something right for once.
In no time at all, I was at their school parking lot, maneuvering the car into a tiny space, hunting for space with all the other parents. I found a space and watched my son unbuckle his little sister from the seat-belt, watched him hold her hand and pull her with him from the car. I held my breath as the both of them walk into the school. She responded to him, like he was the only sure thing in her world, her pink bag with the butterscotch flowers embossed on its surface. Her little blue dress, her little red socks, her little black shoes. Amanda said to make sure she wore her sneakers today. The ones with blue laces.
There are a series of honking noises behind me. I swallowed hard and grabbed the wheel tighter than I should have and yanked my way out of there and headed straight for the supermarket. Amanda said I should go to the market. It would be cheaper, she said. I tried it once. I remember the women standing around the fish seller, their eyes narrowed as two wrinkled yams fell out of my bag into the gutter. I remembered their cackling laughter.
The parking space in front of the supermarket was small, but thankfully empty. I eased into the space, unlocked my door and squinted at the supermarket’s frontage. It was a one-story building, its frontage encased in steel-framed windows-the type that had hinges at the top and opened out. Three wide steps led to its entrance which was a narrow opening. I hurried out of the car and again thanked God that I came here early in the morning when not so many people were around.At least I wouldn’t be hustling for space with the hundred other people trying to get through that door. Gone were the days when people stepped back and allowed other people to go forward before they did.
Just last week some man had shoved me down those same cement steps, cursing me while I’d stared at him in a daze from the ground. The security guard had grunted an apology in my direction while I brushed the dust off my clothes. Typical.
Soon I was plunged into the familiar world of shoulder-high aisles crammed with popular products and the stench of insecticide. Some of the staff were walking up and down the length of the store, carrying crates, bored expressions on their faces. I stepped back so that some of them could pass, and then continued on, past the household products, the canned foods, past the spaghetti packs, the shelves of bread…
I spun round too quickly.
It was Miss P.
I stood there, my chest tightening.
Miss P stood there for a few seconds, her smile dipping a little. Then she waved at me. “You don’t recognize me.”
I would recognize Miss P in a room full of people, I would recognize her voice if she whispered in a crowd. I would recognize her if she’d covered herself from top to toe in thick black cloth. The strange thing was that even though she’d been living in the flat directly under us for the past year and a half, we had never had much of an exchange apart from the occasional chirpy greeting directed at me and Nene and other people who lived in our building. She kept to herself and that was that.
Now she stood in front of me, holding on tightly to her pink purse, her hair bright and golden and swept back from her forehead. She wore an off-shoulder dress that hung sinfully tight against her curves. Her smile was much too wide like she was nervous or something which I found odd. Women that looked like Miss P never had to be nervous with people like me. With men like me.
I cleared my throat and looked back at the slanted displays. “I just came here to get some things. Better to do it now than later.” I rubbed my wrists, cleared my throat again. I was talking too much.
“How about Mrs. Makinde? Is she here?”
My face burned. “No. She’s at work.”
“Of course.” She smiled again, a perfectly lacquered nail running along the chain-link handle of her bag. “So you’re here alone.”
“Yes. Yes, I am.” I cleared my throat. Again. “Why do you ask?”
”Purely selfish reasons.” She giggled, then stopped suddenly.
I looked around me, like I was expecting Nene to jump out from behind one of the aisles, an accusing look in her eyes.
“Can I tell you a secret?”
I looked back at Miss P. “I’m sorry?”
“More like a confession.”
I shrugged not too convincingly. What was I supposed to say? No. Don’t tell me anything. This conversation was bordering on inappropriate. But that would be rude.
She took a deep breath. “I’m supposed to be at work right now. But I called in and told them I was ill and needed the day off. And they gave it to me.”
I didn’t even know Miss P worked. Most times when I came back from dropping the kids in the morning, I would see her in her fluffy pink robe with pink rollers in her hair, her eyes still glazed over with sleep while she stood in our narrow stairwell. “Oh.”
“ I’ve been bad,” she said, her voice getting giggly again. Then she paused and glanced at her watch, a big gold Rolex with little stones glittering purple around its circumference. I suddenly had glimpses of her little red, sports car, its smooth body that flashed in the sun, the roof of black canvas that was perpetually rolled back.
“So what do you think?”
I looked at her and suddenly realized that I hadn’t been listening and she might have just said something important. “I’m sorry. I-“
“Are you doing anything right now?” she said breathlessly.
“Because I have the rest of the afternoon free and I can’t go back home because …well…I just don’t want to spend the only free time I’ve had in months at home. I want to do something different.”
“Um…like what?” I asked, my chest tightening.
She looked down, the gleam in her eyes dimming. Then she scratched her cheek and looked back at me. “There’s a movie showing at the theater and I haven’t been to the theater in so long. Would you go with me?”
“Go with you?”
“If I have to go back to that flat I’ll just go to sleep and I would have wasted an entire afternoon and that would be a total waste. I really don’t want to spend the whole time by myself so I –“
“Okay.” I can’t believe i just said that.
Her mouth hung open, her eyes wider than they were a few moments ago. Then her lips spread into a beautiful smile. I on the other hand was too shocked to move.
“Thank you,” she said finally. “I know you have to pick up your kids from school.”
“That’s at two-thirty,” I said quickly. “There’s plenty of time.” I completely understood. Staying at home all day in that flat, staring at wall after wall after wall could make you go completely insane. There was hardly any light these days and you had to save fuel for the generator when the children came back from school and for humid evenings. Unless you wanted to spend more money on petrol which Nene couldn’t afford to do right now. Tariffs were high enough already.
And anyway Miss P was a neighbor. We were supposed to help neighbors.
Miss P turned away, her hair floating after her, her purse pressed tightly under her arm. I realized how good she looked in her dress of white and grey wavy lines that accentuated the curves of her high waist, the slope of her shoulders, the way she moved-
Something buzzed in my pocket, startling me. I fumbled in my pocket, slipped out my phone and stared at the screen. Nene had found a way to check on me, without even being here. I thumbed the silent button, stopping the ringer before it went off in short, annoying bursts.
I looked up and Miss P was waving at me in that coy way of hers. I felt like my throat was being crushed.
What should Bola do?
1. Does he take his wife’s phone call?
2. Does he ignore it and follow Miss. P?