Mama Ola knew something strange was going on when she saw her husband’s blue Jincheng motorcycle in the compound. It was three o’ clock in the afternoon, so it was too early for him to be home. For two months, he had been coming in the evenings because he was doing some plumbing for a new set of apartments. Eyes squinted; she watched the motorcycle as if waiting for it to give her the answers she sought.
Tugging Ola, her three year old son, she moved faster along, stretching her wiry legs further despite the fact that her shoes were digging into the muddy ground. It had rained the whole morning and it looked like it would still rain again that day.
“Mama Ola, are you back already?” Mama Grace, her portly neighbour asked. “So early?” she continued. “Hope all is well?” She was squeezing a red cloth from a bucket of red coloured water.
“Yes, I just closed the shop,” she replied. “I’ll be going back. Ola has been crying, so I just want to give him something to eat,” she said and she kept walking on.
“Hmm. . . You’re spoiling this boy o. Is it every time he is hungry that he will eat? Ehen, did something happen?”
When she saw that Mama Ola kept on walking, obviously ignoring her, she continued, raising her voice “Ah, me, I thought something happened naw. I saw your husband carrying one heavy carton like that and this one that he’s coming early today, ehn?” She flapped her clothes and spread them on a thin wire, her nose scrunched upwards. Her nose was always this way, like she was ridiculing everyone in the world.
Mama Ola knew that she was curious because she liked to gossip and spread false tales. Was she not the one going about telling people that she was barren when Ola had not yet come? Not bothering to answer, she continued on home and opened the door. Then she saw Baba Ola holding some cables and at the corner of the small sitting room, she spotted a brand new generator. “Baba Ola, what is that?” she asked, pointing at the gen with her index finger as if it had done something wrong.
“Oh, you’re back.” He turned with a smile. “As you can see, I bought a new gen.”
“Generator, Hmm, with which money?” she asked going to touch it to ascertain if it was real.
Ola was touching it, too, and jumping. He looked very happy.
“I have finished the work for those houses, so I was paid today. You know the World cup qualifiers have started, so I just decided to buy this generator.”
“Instead of you to tell me first. What is wrong with you, ehn? Are there no other things to use the money for? Now you’ll still spend money on fuel. That was how the other day, you bought the Jincheng. You did not even tell me. Now, this one again. What is it, Baba Ola? What is wrong with you? Ehn, What?!” The sound of her voice increasing with each word.
As she droned on, Baba Ola tuned her out. He kept on connecting wires round the sitting room. He didn’t know what her problem was. Was she not the one that complained every night for the past three months? “This stupid NEPA, why can’t they ever bring light? What is their problem? One won’t even know what is going on,” she always said. And she didn’t like to listen to the radio. So, he had decided to buy it. Now, she could watch the news. But, she wasn’t happy. He sighed. Women and their problems.
“What of servicing? You know we are managing.” Mama Ola’s voice drew him from his musings and he wondered for how long she had been talking.
“It’s okay. You’ve not even greeted me well and you’re already attacking me. Don’t worry, God will see us through. Besides, things are looking up” he said smiling and then he hugged her.
Grinning, she pushed him away. “You, ehn,” she said wagging her finger.
Just then, a knock was heard on the door. It was Mama Grace. She extended a small blue bowl to him. “Where Mama Ola dey? I wan borrow salt,” she said, then shoved him out of the way and entered the parlour. “Ehen,” she said, dragging the last syllable, her mouth pushed forward.
“Generator, hmm, this is good news o. It’s like God has decided to bless this house o.” There was a tone of insincerity in her voice as she re-tied her wrapper. “But it’s a small one now. Me too, my husband will soon buy a generator, but that big one.” Then she put a finger to her chin, tapped it lightly as if she was pondering a difficult situation.
Papa Ola watched his wife. Their eyes locked and they smiled. Mama Grace would never change.
“Ehen, Mama Ola, is it not the type of generator that used to make noise? You know, this small-small ones, them dey shout. I hope we can sleep this night o. Hmm.” She smiled, and clutching her wrapper and bowl, she said, “Let me be going o. My Oga dey wait for me.” She rushed out not bothering to shut the door.
Baba Ola wondered what had happened to the salt she said she needed.
“Ola, come let’s go and eat,” Mama Ola said.
“No, mummy. I want to play with the generator.”
“After crying in the shop saying you’re hungry, you don’t want to eat, abi? Come here, jor,” she said dragging him along.
Papa Ola watched them both as they left, his wife’s buttocks swaying from side to side. Although she was very slim and tall, she had big buttocks. Then smiling, he thought of his son. It had taken eight years for God to bless them with a child but he thanked God every day that Ola was here. He was so bright and strong. Baba Ola knew his son would make him proud, that was why he named him ‘Olamide’, meaning ‘My wealth has come’ because Ola was their wealth. Whistling, he continued fixing the gen and making all the necessary connections. He wanted to watch the match Nigeria was playing that evening and he did not want to go to the viewing center to do so. He wanted to be with his family.
In the evening, as they settled down to eat dinner, Baba Ola switched on the gen and Ola screamed, “NEPA!!!” Mama Ola ate her dinner quietly and watched as the gen vibrated at the corner by the window. She watched as her husband turned on the television and increased the volume because, as Mama Grace had said, the gen was noisy. But she knew that soon, they would not even take note of the noise. In days to come, the noise would fade away.
She watched as her husband cursed the players and blamed the referee and as he jumped when a Nigerian striker scored the only goal of the match at the last two minutes. She watched as her only son did everything his father did. He adored his father and so did she. Baba Ola may not have been a handsome man but his face was arresting. He had a big nose and very full lips and his eyes always had a hint of humor, so that when he looked at you for long, it was like he was mocking you. But she knew that was not so, it was hope that she knew lay in his eyes. It was like he was laughing at the world and the despair that came with life. He was gloating, telling the world that no matter what happened, he knew he would always win. She thought of how he was there for her when no baby had come, how he had held her in the night when the tears had chased away any sleep and told her not to worry. He told her no woman would take her place. He told her he had strong loins and a child would come soon. It was like he was gloating then and there were times when she had hated his enthusiasm. But most times, she also admired his strength and his faith. When his mother called them both in her provision shop and told her son to marry a woman who was not empty, he stood up sharply and told his mother his wife was not empty and he left, tugging her along. He was her crutch and she would always love him for that.
There was a knock at the door and she wondered who it was. It was Mama Grace again. She was holding phones and chargers. “Mama Ola,” she called. “Help me charge my phone. I go collect am tomorrow.” She handed the phones, turned back and then hurried along.
“Stay and watch TV small now,” Mama Ola had proposed.
“No, you know say rain go soon start,” she declined with reason and left.
Mama Ola collected the phones, plugged them to charge, and then closed the windows. She did not want the rain to enter the house.
Ola was already asleep, so she carried him to the room. The weather was chilly. She covered him with a wrapper and watched him for a few moments. He had a big nose, just like his father. She smiled and closed the window to prevent the draft from coming in. Leaving the door slightly ajar, she went over to sit with her husband. The news was on and the presenter was talking about how the President had promised that in the next two years, there would be an increase in the wattage of power, therefore, putting an end to the electricity failure in the country. She sighed and hoped he would keep to his promise.
“At least, now we can watch the news. This NEPA self,” and leaning her head on his shoulder, she closed her eyes.
Baba Ola held her hands. He knew that now, she was no longer upset with him. Next week, he would buy her a blender so she would stop using a grinding stone. He didn’t want her hands to be too rough. He wanted them soft. As soft as it had been when he first met her. She was a very beautiful woman and she was so slim. He remembered how all the guys used to call her a model. Her skin glowed. She had come from a privileged life. But fate snatched the joy from her when her father died in a car accident. Her only uncle swooped in and took everything they owned. Along with her mother, they moved to his neighborhood. That was when he met her. He was in his mum’s shop, helping out when she had come to buy soap. She looked so innocent and out of place, so unsure. She looked lost and he decided to help her find herself and help her fit in. At first, her mum was skeptical, but she later came to accept him. They became friends and somehow, love crept in. During the course of their friendship, men pursued her and wooed her but she rejected them all. He wanted her to marry someone rich, so she could go to the university and be someone great. But she insisted. She wanted to be with him. His chest swelled from joy and he told himself, he would always try all he could to take care of her. During the course of their marriage, times had been tough financially but she never complained. She didn’t request for jewelries and she didn’t like it when he spent money on things for her. But things were already looking up. The man who gave him the plumbing contract had been so impressed with his work, he promised to recommend him to his other landlord friends. She just didn’t understand. Next, he would buy her creams and clothes so she would always look good. She deserved every good thing she got. He knew she would complain but later, she would be okay with it. He did not know when he slept off, holding his wife’s hand.
It was Mama Grace that discovered them the next morning. She had come to collect the phones. When she knocked several times and no one came to open the door, when she shouted their names severally and there was no reply, she went to get her husband who broke down the door. That was when they discovered that the family of three was no more. Later, Mama Grace told everyone who listened that the doctor had said the gas from the new gen killed them. If they had not closed the windows or used the gen indoors, maybe they would have still been alive or if they had not bought the new gen, maybe they would have been here today and then sobbing, she would say, “Maybe Mama Ola know say that day go be her last day, because when I go her place go charge my phone, she invite me in. Una know sey she been no like me.” Then shaking her head, she would say, “Very strange, Very Strange indeed.”