As a child I always wondered where Abu’s wife and children were. Endurance must have been the same age as my Auntie Angela but she didn’t spend half the day preening herself in front of the mirror. Bisi, didn’t she have siblings or parents? Why did my mother make her wash my clothes? All these thoughts tormented my innocent mind.
We were shielded from the hustle and bustle of the city, so much so that we hardly had encounters with poverty. There was the world outside and then there was our world, which started from the big high gates of our house that was manned by Abu.
I was marveled by his swiftness, all my mother had to say was “Abu! Open the gate!” and this man would leave whatever he was doing and spring up to obey his Madam’s command. Our gates were his department, and he took the work of opening and closing them with delight, when visitors came, he would peep through the opening and interrogate unknown faces with pride, he took his job seriously and wanted to prove that he was protecting us in his own little way.
Abu was very fond of napping, he would have his mini-radio on and nap on the bench in front of his 4 x 4 metre room. Looking back now, I don’t blame him for slothing most of the time. He was a lonely man. Abu must have been well over 40 years and I had never seen or heard him talk about his wife or his children. Sunday was our driver, he was always swamped with my mother’s never-ending errands across town, in his less busy hours he was Abu’s companion. If Sunday wasn’t in, and Abu was too tired of napping, he would sing. None of the songs he crooned were familiar to us and the tunes irritated my father. On the days my father was in town, Abu knew very well not to make Oga angry with his ‘aboki highlife‘ as my father called it.
Our compound was beautified with red ixora hedges around the fences, and the grass was always neat and trim. It was the perfect compound to showcase the eight cars my parents owned. When driving into our compound from the gates, visitors always admired the Ogoja man’s gardening skills. Yes! His name was ‘the Ogoja man‘ and it amused me too. The Ogoja man had worked for us for many years. No one my mother employed was as hardworking or had an eye for landscaping like the Ogoja man. The Ogoja man had promised to come on the last Saturday of the month to trim the ixora hedges, but he didn’t show up and we heard no word from him, neither had Abu sighted him on the streets.
One Sunday afternoon, while returning from church, Abu opened the gates, we noticed his face looked cheerless and sullen. Obscured by the tinted window of our Benz he could not see our reactions, but my mother was concerned about the look on his face. If it was the death of a relative, this would mean she had to give Abu some days off to go to the North, leaving us gate-man-less.
“Abeg, Sunday, ask am wetin happen” my mother muttered as she loosened her headtie. Although she wasn’t able to muster a fine amount of humility to ask Abu directly, you could tell she was worried and wanted to know what was going on. This was the only time my mother appeared human to the workers.
“Abu, sannu! how far now?”Abu didn’t reply. Sunday drove in and parked beside my mother’s Toyota Hiace. Abu walked towards the car, with his head downcast. “In all my life, I’ve never seen Abu looking sad like this” That was true, my mother was abroad when Abu’s lost his brother and had to go to his village, so this indeed was her first time seeing Abu in this state. “I hope say nothing bad O” my mother was still talking. Sunday came out of the car “Abu, wetin happen? Why you dey act as if person die?”
“Be like say, the Ogoja man don run back to him village” my mother attempted to distract us from eavesdropping on Sunday and Abu. The most obvious subject to bring up was our overgrown and unkempt ixora hedges. “Anyway, I’ll ask Alhaja, I know dem get one man like this wey do their compound not too long ago” I wished she would stop talking, didn’t she realize that none of her children were paying attention to what she was saying, whatever was causing Abu’s unhappiness was our prime concern not the state of our compound.
“This morning, after ona go church, I see Ekaette, I ask am about Vincent, she tell me Vincent die three weeks ago, kai! Allah! ” he murmured some more words in Hausa. My siblings and I looked at each other in wonderment, who could this Vincent be? It was unlikely for Abu to have a close relative with a name like Vincent, we thought. Abu was a soft man who could get emotional about the slightest incident. He got teary-eyed when he heard that one of my mother’s shops, a shop he had never seen, got burnt. So, this Vincent person could be someone he knew very well or someone he had never even seen.
“Madam, nah Vincent” Sunday let out a deep sigh. He relayed what Abu had been saying to us, as if we weren’t listening or Abu’s thick northern accent was a pain to understand. “Ah, ah, nah who be Vincent?” my poor mother inquired, as she dabbed her neck with her handkerchief.