Perched on a wooden stool in my provision store, I watched as a little black ant tried to carry a crumb of bread. I watched as the bread would drop, a huge weight for it to hold on to and as the ant would pick it back up. And after a few minutes, I watched as the ant crawled away with its crumb of bread. Lucky ant, I thought. I felt a sense of joy that the ant was able to make it. Turning on my stool, I searched elsewhere for another form of entertainment. No more ants. I wanted to watch more ants. I didn’t want to ponder my situation. I didn’t want to think of my wife and how swollen she had become. I get that pregnant women are big but did she have to be so big? She was big everywhere. Her face, her nose, her feet. Oh and her stomach. That was just too big.
‘Mr…, Mr…, Are you ready to sell or not?’ I heard. I was jolted back to reality to face a customer. Her hands were on her waist as she tapped her feet.
‘Hian, What nonsense. Does it look like I have time to waste? I can just go to another shop,” Miss Impatience carried on. Imagine o. Small girl. She was not even up to fifteen years. I just wanted to drag those tiny ears.
‘Sorry, ma. Abeg, no vex’, I said. What can I say? Customer is king… or queen in this case. I really needed money.
‘Wetin you want?’ I asked.
‘Give me soap’
‘Stop calling me ma,’ Miss Impatient said. ‘Do I look old enough to be a mother? Ehn?’
Okay, So Miss impatient was also Miss rude.
I bent down to pick the soap from the lowest aisle and cringed from the pain on my lower back. Ah, the back ache. I had been sleeping on the floor for about three weeks now because my wife complained that the bed was too small and she needed it for herself.
‘I need space to move,’ she had said.
‘But we have been managing the bed just fine’
‘Ehn, but you know the last month is always the hardest,’
So I moved to the floor and watched as she slept on the bed… alone. When I happened to complain about back ache, she told me that the pain I felt was in no way up to what she was feeling.
‘You’re even lucky sef. You won’t have to bear the labour pains’
Argh… She always talked of labour pain. For how long did I have to hear about it? Didn’t she know that like the ant, I was also carrying a heavy weight? Only I didn’t know if I was going to make it.
‘How much is it?’ Miss Rude and Impatient asked.
‘Hian, is it not sixty naira?’
‘Na seventy o. You know say price don go up’
‘It’s only sixty naira I have. You either take it or leave it’
‘Ok, bring am’
I collected the money and watched as Miss Rude and Impatient walked out, and then stuffed the money in my bag. I decided to count how much I had made for the week. Just five hundred naira. I knew this already. I just wanted to count it again. Maybe I was secretly hoping that somehow a miracle would happen and there would be more. No miracle. Oh well. Sighing, I went back to sit. I thought of where all my savings had headed. To the baby and my wife. She ate like she had a soccer squad in her stomach. She was always hungry. The baby’s clothes, shoes, blankets (second hand … of course) amidst other expenses were all ready. Because at any moment, that baby was going to pop out. There was no room for anything more. Imagine my wife wanting to go for scanning. With whose money? Women and their problems.
‘Let us be surprised. I like surprises’ I had said and she had let it go. Hmm, Thank God, immunization was free. At least the government was doing something right for once. Being a man was difficult. The baby had sucked me dry.
I checked the time, it was fifteen past twelve. Just one customer. Life was hard. ‘Hosana’ by Daddy Showkey filled the air as my china phone rang with a piercing loudness. Blasted China phones. Did they have to be so loud? Oh well.
It was my wife calling. What did she want this time? More food?
‘Hello,’ I muttered.
‘Come to the hospital now o. The baby is coming,’ my wife screeched into my ear.
‘Now? I thought it was till next week’
‘Is something wrong with you? I said I’m in labour and you’re asking if it’s now’ She hissed and hung up.
She was always hissing these days, cutting me short like what I had to say just didn’t make any sense to her. Like she just needed me to stop talking and do her bidding. Just like Miss Rude and Impatient. I sighed. I did that a lot these days too. I knew that once this baby came out, my real wife would be back. The woman I married was patient and caring. Not this person who hissed all the time. I took the five hundred naira. I closed my shop and then stopped a bike.
‘UBA,’ I said.
‘Hundred naira’ The bike man said.
‘No be eighty?’
‘No. Hold up dey for dat side wel wel. Na hundred naira I go collect’
‘Na eighty naira I get,’ I said and he zoomed off. Goodbye, Mr. Thief. Stopping another bike I said,
‘UBA, eighty naira’
‘Na one twenty oo,’ Mr. Bigger thief said.
‘Na eighty naira na’
‘Go slow dey plenty o. Oya bring hundred naira make we go’ Hissing, I climbed the bike.
Why did the baby have to come now? Why? I mused throughout the ride. Dropping at UBA, I went in and spent about two hours trying to withdraw some money. All these banks and their queues. I hauled a bus and headed for the hospital. The traffic was something else.
As I stepped into the hospital, I was bombarded with the smell and the sights. That hospital smell that fills your nose with antiseptic and despair. Walking into the labour ward of the general hospital, I saw women in pain. Some were crying. I saw men, tears in their eyes. Some looked like they wanted to just give up. I was a lucky man o. I thanked God. I really was lucky. I wasn’t going to complain again. At least not today. I should have been happy. I was having a baby. Many of these people were here for something depressing and I was here for something joyous. Life was good. For the first time that day, I smiled.
I saw Mama Joy, our neighbor retying her wrapper. She turned and spotted me.
‘Hmm. Have you heard the great news?’ she said.
‘So, she has put to bed already? Is she okay?’
‘Yes o. Ha. Your wife is strong o. She really tried. God has really blessed you people’
Smiling even more broadly, I nodded in agreement. ‘Yes. Thank God. Where is my wife?’
Pointing to a room she said ‘She is inside with the babies’
‘Ok,’ I said and hurried along, then froze. So did my smile. I turned. “What do you mean babies?” I asked with trepidation, praying it was a grammatical error on her part or a hearing disability on mine.
‘Oh, I did not tell you. God has blessed you with triplets,’ she said, raising her chubby hands in the air, her smile now wider.
And so, I did what every man in my situation would do.