Let me start by apologizing for the break in this series. I’d planned to update the series at least three times weekly but I couldn’t keep up the pace due to the recent upheavals in my life. I haven’t gotten my groove back but I will not go AWOL that long again.
You can catch up on past installments HERE
“Boko Haram!” Chioma chanted when I walked into Optima
“You no wan answer me? Wetin dey worry you sef” she continued as I walked past her and went to the store room to keep my bag.
I felt soft arms grab me from behind and just before I swung my arm to dislocate the person’s jaw, I heard Ogechukwu’s soft breathing on my left ear.
“Rukayat called me, she told me what happened”
“Please don’t hug me, I don’t have the energy for crying” I managed to tell her.
“Baa wahala” she replied in that beautiful way she combines Hausa and Yoruba.
“How is Chukwumerije?” that question never failed to make us laugh, her boyfriend liked to act like an alpha Igbo ‘lord of all he surveyed’ and I liked to call him Chukwumerije after the late Igbo Senator who was once the director of propaganda in the defunct Biafra Republic.
Tears threatened to sting my eyes again, Baba was the one who had told me the stories of Biafra and their heroes. He had been sympathetic to their cause and even now he thought the conclusion of that war was a travesty and I had seen him rage about the insults to Igbos after the war when each man was offered twenty pounds in lieu of whatever they had in their bank accounts to rebuild their lives and how many of them lost their properties in Lagos, Port Harcourt and other cities just because.
“Shebi I talk am! Una be lesbians” Chioma’s acidic voice gritted my ears like sandpaper.
“Will you shut up that filthy mouth of yours” Oge’s voice vibrated with rage.
“Hian! Why will I shut up? What are two of you doing here so close to each other if you are not lesbians?”
“Her grandfather died yesterday” Oge pronounced each syllable calmly.
“When is the burial na? Hope there will be asoebi o, fine one for that matter.”
“He has been buried, he was buried yesterday”. Ogechi looked up when I answered Chioma in a tone she had never heard before.
“Buried already ke?”
“Hian! What kind of barbaric culture is that one sef” Chioma continued.
“Shut up!” Ogechi shouted
“Abegi leave that thing, Islam is a primitive religion jare”.
“Muslims are even mentally handicapped that is why they go about killing, bombing and raping, they even…” A stinging slap across her right cheek stalled her words.
Oge seemed to be transfixed by the imprint of my right palm on Chioma’s face, so I changed into my uniform and went to tidy my workstation leaving them in the store room looking like they were acting out a scene in a stage play.
“Can I help you with that load of towels, I’m on my way to the laundry room” Jennifer said when she saw me carrying the first pile of towels for the day.
I handed them to her without comment and she tried to squeeze my arm.
Other staff buzzed around me, allowing me to do just a little work but none of the heavy lifting; Chioma was kept far from me.
“Manager says you should come to his office when you’re done with this client” Jennifer said while I was working on my third customer for the day.
“You asked to see me” his office was colder than most cold rooms, he liked it that way.
He gestured to the seat across from his desk and I gingerly sat down.
“Chioma reported the incident that took place this morning. She didn’t even need to say anything, the imprint of your fingers on her face did all the talking”.
“She said you should be sacked” he continued and I burst into laughter.
“Oge and Chantelle told me what went down, they didn’t come in at the same time but their stories matched”.
“But Chantelle wasn’t…” my voice trailed off.
“You know Chantelle, she knows everything” he laughed.
“You need to take a break though, that’s why I am approving a paid one week leave for you starting from tomorrow but you can take the rest of the day off.”
“Sir I need to work, I would lose my mind if I had nothing to do”
A harsh rap on the door startled us and without waiting for him to ask her in, Chioma literally jumped into the room.
“See her Sir, she has to leave this place for us before she kills all of us o!”
“Chioma if you continue to press this issue, you might end up being suspended without pay”
“But it’s not fair Sir!” She shouted
“How will you insult another human and her religion so thoroughly? You heard that her grandfather died and you could still go ahead to vomit that kind of trash, have you no heart or molecule of sympathy?”
“Do you know that you can lose your job here if I take this matter up? If Madam Optima herself hears this kind of religiously intolerant crap, you know she would sack you on the spot.”
“Please forgive me Bilquis!” She was kneeling down and rubbing my right arm.
“What do you have to say in this matter Bilquis?” he asked.
I released the breath that I didn’t know I was holding and looked at her tear sodden face, this girl was wasting her talent at this spa. She should be plying her craft alongside Mercy Johnson and Queen Nwokoye, she would be winning many awards and rolling in dough even though I don’t understand how these guys get the money they flaunt. It definitely couldn’t be acting that gives them that level of financial liberty.
“Oga, I’ll take that leave” I muttered.
“Will you forgive her?” he persisted.
“There is nothing to forgive, she is just being herself. ” I stood up slowly, disentangling myself from her slobbering gestures and walked out of the office.
Because I couldn’t face Maami and her wahala, I boarded a bus to CMS and walked down the street that led to the NITEL building. Baba had taken me there several times when I was child, he took me there to see the Ben Enwonwu’s Sculpture of the Drummer Boy.
Baba had known the blind drummer who was immortalised in Cyprain Ekwensi’s Drummer Boy, he had even known Cyprain Ekwensi. My grandfather knew everyone! He told me how the blind drummer had played the sweetest music in the world and people often said that his parents had traded his sight for the awesome gift of music because his music could not have come by flesh alone. We’d walk down the road to Island Maternity where my father was born and Baba would recount how he nearly emptied his bowels on his trousers when my father was born.
“He was so tiny! I was so afraid of dropping him that I refused to carry him until the matron told me that he wouldn’t die if I touched him”
As he spoke, his eyes would reflect a light that had its source submerged in his aging body. My father might have turned out to be a crushing disappointment to him in the way he completely abdicated his responsibilities to his family and in the choice of his wife but he was still my grandfather’s pride and joy. He was still the one Baba loved most in this world.
The chorus of Eyan Mayweather jolted me out of my musings, I delved into my bag to get my phone to see Egbon mi on the display.
“Why would Rukayat call me with her Airtel number when she left her Airtel Phone in the house?” I muttered
“Sisi mi, Kilonshele?”
“Bilquis, please come and handle your mother. Walahi I will kill her if I have to deal with her nonsense this afternoon.” She was breathing so fast that I worried for her lungs.
“She was your mother first” I countered with a laugh so she would not break my head through the phone.
“Just come and talk to her before we bury another member of our family”
“I will…” my words dried up, she had already cut the call.
PS: I want to thank four special people without whom this post wouldn’t have been written.
Nedu who blogs at nedoux.com who gently reminded me about this series, I’d almost forgotten about it. Wordsmith extraordinaire, you always say the right things at the right time.
Fos who made me laugh so hard while I was writing today, Chukwu gozie gi.
Hero who is a living saint for being my friend and sounding board even at this time, you deserve all the iPhone 9s, Ipads and Macbook pros your heart desires when I finally hammer.
Zagira who goes above and beyond the call of duty for me always, for nearly nine years. My life would have been drab and flat without you in it.
PPS: Obianuju has finally concluded Boma and Ebube’s tender love story. I loved the gentle pace of the story and how deftly she took her characters and story where she wanted. Check out the grand finale HERE and thank me immediately.