Nike sat on the veranda. She needed to sit there to access fresh air. The heat in the sitting room had become unbearable. The neighbourhood had been in darkness for about two weeks since the transformer in the area developed a cold and went off shortly after a light downpour. Several efforts had been made by the landlords’ association at getting the light restored but with no success. At first, the landlords had called on the regular technicians but when they couldn’t fix it, they had to call on the NEPA officials as a final but painful resort.
The manager at the power station in charge of the area said all they would need to do was to fuel their van and settle her boys; she assured them that they need not worry about her as God was her provider. When asked how much the ‘fuelling and settling’ would cost, she said N50, 000 would do. The landlords didn’t know why it should cost that much. Was the vehicle running on some special form of imported fuel from Mars or were the boys to be settled more than the four young bachelors that made up the unit’s entire workforce? How could they be paying exorbitantly for something that should ordinarily be free? They had questions but were not men enough to air them. They were however grateful that God was her provider, what if He wasn’t? Maybe they would have needed to cough out N100, 000. The NEPA officials always capitalised on the people’s misfortunes especially where several streets were affected. The affected streets had begun contributing money to get the problem fixed but had to endure the darkness until they got the complete booty.
Sounds of generators could be heard from the other apartments in Nike’s compound, hers just ran out of fuel the day before and she didn’t have the money to buy at that moment. No one, except her household, felt the absence of her generator as there was still enough noise to go round. In her mind, she was replaying all that she had gone through during the day. Her mind wandered from the uncountable police posts that littered the roads to the recently uncovered financial misappropriation perpetrated by her ‘holy’ boss in the office, back to the market women who sold coloured ‘ogi’ as palm oil and then her discussion with her landlord that evening. The country had turned into some sort of jungle where everyone wanted to make it at the expense of the other; the word in town was ‘everyman for himself.’ Her landlord had told her that every tenant in his house would have to contribute two thousand naira towards the repairs of the faulty transformer. She was more than shocked to hear that.
‘If all the tenants in this building alone contribute N2, 000, won’t the other buildings in the street make contributions?’
‘The money those NEPA people asked for is plenty o. You know how corrupt our country has become.’
Nike didn’t need any further confirmation than this to know that the country was indeed corrupt. She was sure her landlord didn’t know she was aware of the total money demanded for.
‘I’ll see you later, baba,’ she said as her resentment against the man was beginning to build up.
She couldn’t imagine that the landlords would think of inflicting more pains on their tenants and making money out of the whole issue. And to think that her landlord was one of those ‘discerning few’ who knew exactly what was wrong with the country and how it could be fixed once and for all made the matter worse. She was in total agreement with Ayi-Kwei Armah that the country’s ‘beautyful’ ones were yet unborn.
Her cousin’s burst of anger jerked her back to life. She heard her cousin shout into the phone and knew who was at the other end. The only person Temisan could shout at was her own mother. Her shouts were not borne out of hatred or disrespect but her own way of sharing in the pains that her mother was going through. She seemed to feel the mother’s pains more than the mother. The heavy pain was too much for such a delicate young spirit to bear and was the reason Nike took her away from her parents.
‘Mum, you can’t do this to yourself, it’s not worth it,’ she said amidst sobs.
After some minutes of silence, she spoke softly into the phone again, ‘I will come home this weekend.’ And with that she ended the call.
Nike was now more experienced than to call Temisan immediately after such a call. She must give enough time to allow Temisan cry out her tender eyes, wipe them off, take a shower and resume the happy-go-girl show that she was very good at. No one could guess the amount of pain that little eighteen-year old was passing through. She was a good pretender. Nike knew the pretence would someday push her to the wall and make her do things she would regret if care was not taken. There is an extent to which the human mind can bear things; once that limit is reached it would erupt like a volcano. Nike wasn’t going to watch things turn bad before she acted. She literally kidnapped Temisan from her home so that she could avert the on-coming danger.
Thirty minutes had passed and Nike, with the help of experience, believed it was a safe time to go through the usual act of feigning ignorance at what had just happened.
‘Temisan,’ she called out.
‘Aunty, hope you are fine?’
Nike almost burst into laughter on hearing that. It seemed like a case of the antelope pursuing the hunter. Who between the two needed to be asked that question?
‘I’m fine, can we talk?’
‘I will join you soon.’
Nike felt bad. That answer only showed that she had not given Temisan enough time to do her cover-up job.
‘I’m here, ma,’ Temisan said as she emerged from the living room.
She was a beauty to behold. At eighteen, with the curves and hips already in shape, she was a queen to be cherished.
‘Men are blind ooo. How can a man have a daughter like this and wail like God has not been good to him,’ Nike thought to herself.
Temisan was the first of four daughters. The father and the mother had been at war for the woman’s inability to get another child, and not just any child but a son. The father had abandoned all his daughters in his mad quest for an heir.
‘Aunty, something is going wrong downstairs,’ Temisan said and brought Nike back from her thoughts.
From the veranda, one could see a crowd forming in front of the building.
‘It must be another thief; Mama Rose will give us the full gist tomorrow.’
‘Who were you speaking with on the phone?’ Nike asked to steer the discussion back on track.
‘What’s the matter again?’
‘It’s their usual arguments; dad wants her to try assisted reproduction.’
‘Are they still on this issue, at that age?’
‘That’s what I told mum, that she is too old for that she should allow dad marry a second wife but she said no, that it was her duty to give him a child, that it is for better, for worse; that I can’t understand it.’
Nike allowed several minutes to pass and then spoke, ‘Temisan, maybe your mum is right.’
‘Mum is definitely not right. She doesn’t know what she is doing to herself.’
‘My dear, maybe you are the one who doesn’t know what you are doing to yourself. I have watched you for several months and I can tell that what you are doing to yourself is bad. It’s beyond your age.’
‘Aunty, I don’t understand you.’
‘Maybe you are taking paracetamol for another person’s headache. I don’t even think your mum feels the pains as much as you do.’
Temisan just sat there like one who just returned from the world beyond and was trying to remember where she was.
‘Worries, my dear, will only put you into more problems. I learnt that the hard way, it’s the reason why I try to be happy at all costs these days. ’ She paused and seemed to ponder on what next to say. ‘Did your mum ever tell you what I went through?’
‘No, but she told me you have gone through enough to last more than a lifetime. She always found a way to avoid the details.’
Nike sighed and like a fisherman, launched into the depth of her soul.
When I was in the university, I had many guys coming around me, asking to date me. I never had a stable relationship because after two weeks the guys would have made known their real intention which was to discover my nakedness. I had made up my mind from a tender age that I wanted to marry as a virgin and any guy that couldn’t wait till that blessed night could hit the streets for all I care. Guys kept smarming around me like bees but they all wanted the same thing – sex!
So, I left the university without having any stable relationship. Even when I had started working, they still kept coming and desiring the same thing. It seemed like the world had totally gone bereft of the virtues my mother spoke about. It was hard to find someone who shared my views on chastity. I was a lone ranger and was beginning to think I was the one with a problem. At a point in time, people started telling me that I wasn’t getting younger and that it was almost impossible to get a husband who will wait till the wedding night before ‘knowing’ me. Just at the nick of time when all hope seemed lost and I was almost caving in Bayo came along. He was everything a woman could wish for in a man. He had good looks, was well read, had a good job and was God fearing. All he wanted was a virtuous wife!
A year after we got married, I was still unable to conceive. His family members started calling me names, saying I was one of those useless prostitutes who slept with all the boys on campus and became veterans in abortions. When Bayo told them he was the one who made me a woman on our wedding night, they said that could only mean that I was an ogbanje! They said I must have deposited my womb in the spirit world as a commitment to my peers that I wouldn’t stay long on earth. They spoke with such confidence you would think they were there when the commitment was made in the spirit world.
We kept hoping that the delay would end and our enemies would be mocked. But when we couldn’t bear it any more, I consulted a gynaecologist and it was after one of the medical tests that I was told I had Mullerian agenesis, simply put, I had no womb and there was no way I could have my own baby. Bayo’s family members took that as a confirmation of what they had earlier said about me being an ogbanje. Poor Bayo, I don’t know whether he believed his people or not, but he did their bidding. I returned home one day to find he had left and dropped a note containing a divorce petition. The shock was too much for me. The whole divorce process made matters worse. I did crazy things afterward and ended up in a rehabilitation home. I was discharged from the home after six months. There and then, I made up my mind to let go of the past and be strong for the future.
So, you see, I was at the verge of having a perfect home and a perfect life and then everything took a nosedive. I lost it all just because of something I had no control over. Who was I to blame? What became of my chastity? I had friends on campus that slept with almost all the lecturers they came across and yet are enjoying their home today. What pained me most wasn’t the loss of Bayo but the loss of my virginity. If only I was as lucky as some other people with my condition who knew earlier it would have been better. I would have abstained from marriage and would have kept my virginity till death. The only thing is that I wouldn’t have loved to end with a terrorist in the afterlife.
Nike’s last statement almost made Temisan burst out in laughter but the seriousness of the matter restrained her. Nike knew how to make a joke out of bizarre things.
‘Aunty Nike would have made a wonderful mum,’ Temisan thought. She couldn’t believe her amiable and strong aunt had gone through all these. She almost found it hard to believe because Nike carried on with life like she was the most fortunate woman in the world.
Telling the tale weighed Nike down, she wouldn’t have ventured into it but she had to. The two ladies were worn out and retired for the night.
A knock on the door woke Nike up from her sleep the next morning. It was Mama Rose, her informant. She was the same one who told her that the entire money needed to restore the light was N50, 000. Only God could tell where she got her stories from, but she was always right.
‘Aunty, e be like say you don sleep when one show happen yesterday.’
‘Good morning mama Rose,’ Nike said.
‘Sorry, aunty, I don dey do like Iya Ayo that amebo woman wey dey wake people up with gossips. Good morning. How miss Nigeria?’ Miss Nigeria was what most people in the compound called Temisan.
‘She is fine. What happened yesterday,’ she quickly put in so that she wouldn’t lose the vital information that was about being shared. Temisan’s sleep was also interrupted by the knock and she also came out from her room to join the two women.
‘Miss Nigeria, na you I just dey ask of now now.’
‘Good morning, Mama Rose.’
Mama Rose turned to Nike and continued with her story, ‘Ehenhen, na Jane, that girl wey dey sell market for the next street.’
‘What about her?’
‘They catch her wey she wan throw the baby wey she born into the latrine. This world wicked no be small o.’
‘I didn’t even know she was pregnant.’
‘Ah, she pregnant well well, you know say you no de dey house for afternoon, she pregnant.’
‘So, who is responsible?’
‘How she wan take know, na everybody wey buy market for her dey climb her na, how many teeth person go count for Adepele mouth.’
‘So, was the child a boy or a girl?’
‘Girl ke, all the one wey she dey born na boys o. This one sef na boy. Boys plenty for her body well well.’
Nike and Temisan’s eyes met. They must have shared the same thought at that moment. Weird world it was, Nike lost her perfect husband because she had no womb, Temisan’s mother was almost losing her home because her womb could not bear a male child and here was a street girl with a womb and one that at every touch, as Mama Rose wanted us to believe, was producing male children she didn’t need. The one with a head has no cap, while the one with a cap is headless. Nike fought hard to keep back the tears welling up in her eyes. Something was trying to remind her of things she thought she had gone over completely. ‘Life sure has different strokes for different folks. While the child is praying for teeth to fill his mouth, the mother is asking for lips to cover hers,’ Nike mused.
Nike and Temisan both turned back and went inside the house without remembering to thank the talebearer for the news. Mama Rose left bewildered, not knowing what part of her story turned the women off.