“Look Nene, it is taking too long to get a job here in Lagos. Your mother and I have discussed this. Go to Asaba and stay with your uncle, Arinze. He has connections there and might be able to get you a job. At least, you won’t be among strangers. I know you don’t want to leave Lagos because of your friends, but you can–“
“Papa, I’ll go to Asaba. When can I leave?”
“Ah, I’m surprised o. I thought you didn’t want to leave Lagos.”
“There is nothing left for me in Lagos, Papa. I’m ready to leave.”
“Okay then, you can go tomorrow.”
That was how Nene left for Asaba on the day Boluke was having her bridal shower.
Nene’s uncle, Chief Arinze Alozie, was a kind-hearted person, with a face that matched his heart. He believed that life was to be enjoyed in the company of others. So, he surrounded himself with people, and was well-connected and well-known in Asaba. He had worked at the Delta State Ministry of Works and Housing for almost ten years, rising through the ranks.
But his ambition outgrew the civil service, and he left to devote himself full-time to the business he had dabbled in part-time: importing and exporting Italian furniture. His wife, Chidubem, was a former beauty queen, having won the Miss Delta State title at one time. Although the title was in the past, that youthful beauty was barely touched by time, and she looked just as radiant as she did back then.
Her uncle had told Nene’s father that Auntie Dubem would meet Nene at the motor park. So, Nene had taken an early bus, leaving Lagos at around 7 am, and arrived in Asaba just a few minutes shy of 3 p.m. The journey had taken almost 8 hours.
As soon as the bus arrived in Asaba and after Nene had secured the single travelling bag she brought with her, she went in search of a light snack. There was a woman selling bobozi close to where the luxury buses were parked. Nene approached her and asked how much she sold her bobozi. The woman looked at her like she had just uttered a curse word, and Nene quickly corrected herself.
“Madam, how much is your cassava and coconut?”
That did the trick. She paid 50 naira and sat on a bench beside the cassava seller, munching away. She had just put another slice of cassava in her mouth when a newspaper vendor walked past her carrying stale news. Maybe it was the bright red t-shirt the vendor was carrying or just the need to fix her gaze on something other than the typical motor park regulars. Whatever it was, Nene caught sight of the newspaper headlines, which read:
ABA RAPIST BELIEVED TO BE IN ASABA
“You must be kidding me,” Nene thought to herself. “Of all the times for a rapist to be in town, it had to be when I was visiting.”
Turning to the woman who sold the cassava to her, she proceeded to pump her for more information. The woman did not seem in the least bit interested in chatting about criminals, and made her reluctance obvious. Nene gave up after two failed attempts, and decided that she would buy a copy of the paper herself. No sooner had she decided on this, than she heard a familiar voice shouting her name:
It was Auntie Dubem who had spotted her and was briskly making her way to Nene. At this point, she knew her short stay at the motor park was over. She gathered her belongings, got up and was about to leave. Suddenly, seized with an inexplicable boldness, she turned to the cassava seller, said in a low tone:
“De coconut no sweet sef! Mscheww!”
Without turning back to watch the woman’s reaction, she quickly ran towards her Auntie. Something about this city was invigorating.
Auntie Dubem was the first person to meet Nene at the motor park when she arrived in Asaba. After exchanging pleasantries and greeting her warmly, they entered the green Toyota Land cruiser that had conveyed Auntie Dubem to the motor park, and left to go home. Auntie was chatting excitedly, telling Nene about the many antics of her two youngest daughters, who were still in secondary school, and lived at home.
“Can you imagine? We caught Amaka jumping the fence, the other day! Your cousin, Amaka now sneaks off to parties at night. Her sister, Chikodi … Ahn ahn! Nene, why are you crying?” Auntie Dubem asked in alarm.
“It’s nothing, Auntie,” Nene lied. Just mentioning the word ‘party’ triggered off a boat-load of memories of the ones she and Paul attended together. They were almost inseparable. And now …
“Come on, Nene. It’s me now. You know you can tell me anything,” Auntie Dubem cooed. Nene was not sure about that. If her cousins felt like they could not approach their mother to ask for permission to go to a party, then what on earth made the same woman approachable on the issue of relationships? Nene dried her tears and kept quiet.
“You don’t want to tell me, abi? Or are you shy because of Godwin? He’s just the driver. What can he do? Shebi it’s between you and me?” Auntie Dubem continued. Nene knew her aunt very well. She would not drop the matter, but would persist till she got the answers she wanted. So, she finally gave in.
“Paul broke up with me. He left me for Boluke. She was my best friend, and … and … they’re getting married!” Nene broke down crying again. Her aunt pulled her close and comforted her.
“It’s okay, my dear,” Auntie said. “It might seem like it’s the end of the world, but it isn’t. If he left you for another person, he wasn’t really yours in the first place.”
Nene kept crying, and Auntie continued her counseling.
“But he left you for your best friend? That is wickedness. In fact, both of them are wicked. Oya stop crying now, stop crying. Another man will come–“
“No, Auntie. I don’t want another man. I want Paul!” Nene whimpered, in between her tears. This was the first time she had allowed herself to grieve openly since Paul left her. She had put up a front for so long. But now, it felt good to just let it all out and cry.
Nene cried for a few more minutes, during which time Auntie Dubem promised her that things would work out for her good. Maybe coming to Asaba was a setup for a new chapter in her life, Auntie reasoned. By the time they reached the house, Nene had started to believe her.
– to be continued –