The smell of curry permeated the small room. Electricity was low; the creaky ceiling fan whirring lazily did little to dispel the smell. Its creaking as it struggled to circulate air caused Abidemi more discomfort. She got up from the old metal bed where she was lying, careful not to wake up Olayemi, their two year old daughter. She walked to a side of the room and undid the two bare wires that were the fan’s regulator and it came to a stop. She opted to brave the mosquitoes and opened the windows for some fresh air. She wiped the thin film of sweat that had collected on her face and her exposed shoulders with a side of her wrapper. She silently savoured the cool gust of air that now blew into the room, like it was some sweet wine.
Olayinka was eating with relish on the bare floor, opposite her. He smacked his lips in a loud, annoying manner, talking as he ate. He rolled the eba into big round morsels and made an indent in the middle. He scooped up vegetable soup with the morsel and swallowed it in one go.
Abidemi had always wondered how he could swallow such huge balls. His neck looked lean and unnaturally long. Now, she was wondering what he found delicious in the vegetable soup that was four days old and had gone stale. She had added one cube of seasoning and some curry to the soup when she was warming it in an attempt to improve the taste. She had only been able to eat a few morsels and had drunk lots of water to get a feeling of satiation.
‘You know, a man has to build his defences and strengthen his fortresses….’ he began to talk. His mouth was filled with food and his lips were shiny from the palm oil of the vegetable soup. He had been inundating her with stories of his recent affiliation with a group, the Oodua People’s Congress. He was saying how they had been give free amulets and charms that would protect them against harm and all bodily injuries, even bullets.
‘This man shut up and let me hear word’ she interjected, cutting short his monologue. ‘Have they also given you charms that will prevent your motorcycle from breaking down all the time, or more money to take care of your family? Look at how we are living.’ She made a sweeping gesture with her hands, as if showing the room and its sparseness to a third person that wasn’t there.
‘I have told you countless times woman, everything depends on God. Working like a slave doesn’t mean anything; it is God that elevates a man.’ His face lost its brightness and there was a resigned tone to his voice.
‘Please, save me your philosophy this evening. If it is God that elevates a man, then you better tell this new group of yours to teach you the secrets of talking to Him so He’ll elevate you quickly, instead of peddling charms about.’ She was sitting at the edge of the bed now, a little taller than his figure sitting on the floor. She was filled with resentment as she looked at his bald, shiny head and felt like giving him a couple of knocks.
‘But this group has benefits…’ He began to explain again but she cut him short.
‘If you have ayeta that protects you against bullets, and okigbe that protects you from a machete attack, what if someone deals a blow to your head with a cudgel, have they also given you okikumo?’ The derisiveness in her voice was so thick you could cut it with a knife.
‘You are a woman, there’s only much to what you can know about these things…’
Just then, distant sounds of gunshots pierced the silence of the evening.
‘These young boys sef, it is not Christmas yet and they are shooting firecrackers.’ He said.
‘These are louder that firecrackers, I think they are gunshots.’ She said.
‘Gunshots ke?’ He said. His voice was shaky and there was fear written all over his face.
The gunshot sounds got closer, they could hear it clearly now. Then night watchmen began blowing their whistles and shouts of ‘thief, thief’ filled everywhere.
A night watchman tapped on the window and told them to switch off the light. Olayinka dashed headlong under the bed as soon as he heard the sound. His head hit the soup pot and some of the soup got into his eyes, stinging it. Bits of green vegetable stuck to his head.
‘Thieves are here, they are here.’ He muttered under his breath.
Abidemi laughed long and silently. ‘Oya, come outside and face the thieves now, where is your ayeta and okigbe,did you forget them at your meeting place?’ She said.
‘Please Bidemi, keep your voice down, and don’t let them see where I’m hiding.’
Bidemi hardly heard him. She pulled at his legs, taunting him to come out from his hiding. He held on the bed post firmly, like his life depended on it. The bed post moved a little and made a ‘kraa kraa’ sound on the bare floor.
Olayemi shifted on the bed to a more comfortable position and continued to sleep, snoring softly.