Uncle Mmadueke’s house was located at the remote part of the big Ekun town. It was that part where people lived in ‘akpako’, a zinc house, whose first motif was to be a shop. People turned it into homes when the prices of houses skyrocketed. People who lived their called their selves ‘Ajekpako’.
Sh had never been able to figure out what language that was. Amidst countless
ranging thoughts, she surmised that it meant: ‘dwellers of akpako’. That was her
conclusion and she’d lived with that knowledge for a very long time now.
This area paid for every single thing. Taking her time to list them—water, food, church, school, refuse, errands and other things anyone would count as nothing. They paid for them. Aunty was always happy
whenever she visited during those long vacation in secondary school.
“At least, now, I don’t have to pay for water again,” she would say with all smiles at her. Then she would smile back courteously. She knew what awaited her.
“Mo Mo,” she fondly called Maureen, “let me show you the containers.” She would lead her to the all-black kitchen where their two big containers were placed permanently. “Try and fill them, the Hausa man I pay always fills both.” She pointed. Maureen would nod, mouthing a noiseless okay. She would leave while Maureen would keep staring at the well-rounded deep black containers she was supposed to fill up. She would swallow hard before finally leaving the spacious kitchen filled with multiple utensils not orderly placed. She would look up at the charcoal-dealt roof lined by playing spider’s cobwebs, and she would sigh at the awful sight, then leave, counting the number of rounds she would make. Her uncle’s house was located in a market place. The whole of the street was always crowded, busy day after day.
Aunty Becky always left house as early as 7am. The twins were kept in the care of her mother and Maureen. Her mother was old, and unhealthy so in way, it was she who was taking care of the twins, the old woman and the chores. All her stay there left her counting days off the days till her departure.
The lousy street was filled with children from different families, sometimes you wouldn’t know one group were actually siblings and not friends. Maureen always took care not to mingle, she wasn’t even happy with what she was seeing. So it
was very hard for her to mingle when she dị fit.
Chinonye was fair, a bit taller than Maureen. They lived directly opposite her Uncle’s house. They bumped into each other on two occasions. The third time they met in church. Despite Maureen’s on protests, she followed her home. That was when their friendship started. From then, they fetched water together, disposed the refuse and ran small errands together too. Unlike Maureen, she lived with her parents, so while Maureen had relief from her chores, Chinonye didn’t.
“I hope you’ll visit again,” she told Maureen a day before she would leave.
“Who knows?” she shrugged. Maureen know she wasn’t coming back, but she didn’t want to hear any preaching about how good it was to change environment, get to meet new people and whatever else she had to say.
“It was really nice having you around.” She looked hard at me. “You know, right?”
I nodded. And took off again. The sun was too much and we were just completing the last round of fetching water for that day.
“I will come again,” Chinonye said again while they were on their way, trying to catch her breath and at the same trying to sound normal.
Maureen stopped to look at her. “Why?”
“I can’t give back the jerry can I collected without water inside. You know, I have to pay for the favour.”
“I see,” Maureen replied, not seeing anything at all. Or maybe seeing a community that didn’t believe in charity; a community that saw people’s misfortune as golden opportunities; a community that had more churches than compassion; a community that went to church more than they prayed; a group of people that believed more in miracles than in faith; that loved money more than God. Is God not love? Is love not the basis of the gospel? Why then do people go to church if not hear and do the will of God? Perhaps to hear the melodious songs from those sets of people with beautiful voices. Or to see the massive drama of the pastor or the sweet-packaged lies he told about prosperity and riches, which of course, he would back with numerous quotes from a revised edition of the bible. What was that parable about the good Samaritan again? Was the chapter torn off from the Bible? Or did they choose to omit reading passages like that?
The rate of theft in ‘akpako’ was hilariously on the increase. Nothing was too small or too big for them to steal. It was a norm, people no longer complained, according to her aunt.
“You have to accept that they remembered you that day and keep living,” she had told Maureen.
She wondered if those same people she saw every day in church were the culprits. How did they do it? Do they ever consider it a crime or a way of life or a means of survival and a struggle for the fittest?
“I’ll come with you,” Maureen offered, trying to sooth the stressed lines that just appeared on Chinonye’s forehead at the mere thought of going down and coming up the hill again.
“Really?” She was surprised and happy.
I smiled. “Yes.”
That night, Aunty Becky surprised Maureen. She had bought lots of clothes for her. She couldn’t believe it as she never expected it. The next day was a multiple joy for her. Of course she showed Chinonye everything. She was happy for her.
“Your aunty is very good, I wish I had somewhere to go,” she lamented. Maureen didn’t want her to ruin her moment, so she chipped in immediately.
“Tell your mum, she might allow you go visit her sisters.”
She shook her head, those lines reappearing on her forehead.
“What about your paternal relatives?” Maureen asked again, trying to get her off the mood. She shook her head sideways again more slowly.
“Take this dress, it will suit your complexion.”
She didn’t know why or what made her do that. She stretched out her arm to Chinonye, offering her one of the best pieces in the whole. Her eyes widened, releasing a stream of fresh tears.
“You’re giving me that?” she asked, blinking simultaneously freeing those non-viscous liquid from her eyes.
“Yes, take it.” Maureen’s arms were still forward, with the peach short dress dangling freely. Chinonye reached out slowly, took it and folded it to a small piece, gathering it closer to her nose. She inhaled it.
“Thank you so much… so, so, so much. I’ll tell my mum. Thank you.” Then she left. Maureen became sad. That was too quick. Chinonye never left, she stayed back. Even when Maureen wanted to go, she’d always want to stick around. Was it the magic of happiness? Maybe she was sticking around to get things. Maureen was annoyed, she didn’t get to ask her what happened to both her maternal and paternal relatives.
There was this sad look on her face when Maureen mentioned them. She was gone before she could find the right words.
The journey back to Amava wasn’t as tiresome as staying there for a month. Maureen was glad she was finally going home and the thought of the new clothing added to her excitement. She couldn’t wait to tell Ify, Nk and Neche tales of her holiday.
She made sure she was sitting by the window side, as she wanted to get the last view of Ekun.
Soon we were at the city, the beautiful road told her so, till she caught sight of a billboard advertisement saying so. She marvelled at the sight, wishing Uncle was residing there with his family instead of the other city. But she knew that she couldn’t do anything to change it.
Throughout her stay, Uncle was
staying at home. He left the house mainly towards evening to meet other men at the general pub just a stone throw from their house. Though she’d wondered if he ever got himself a drink, or whether he depended on the other men to pay for him. As far as Maureen was concerned, Uncle was miserable, but he never showed it. He was her mum’s elder brother.
She was brought back to reality when the bus suddenly stopped.
“What’s going on?” she asked the fair lady sitting beside her. She was sitting between an older man and her. She gave her a bad look. Maureen wasn’t offended. Although she was older, Maureen thought she was offended because of reasons she couldn’t tell.
She tapped the person in front of her. “Please, excuse me, what’s going on?”
The stranger turned around to look at her, he was a young man. “I think someone wants to ease himself,” he said looking at her. She didn’t blink.
“Oh, thank you,” she told him. At the mention of ‘ease’, her bladder reacted. “I think I got to go too,” Maureen said, more to herself.
“What?” the beautiful fair lady asked staring at Maureen, her beautiful human artificial eyelashes nicely placed on top her natural ones. Maureen noticed her full made up face. The nude lipstick on her lips were tempting and dripping with gloss. Her eyebrows were curved and drawn with utmost care, the lovely contour brought out her cheek bones and her side blushes made her look a bit like Nicki.
Maureen looked at her sideways but didn’t reply. She wasn’t talking to her. She went down the bus. More than one person was down too. Maureen smiled, went down a bit farther to the mini bush, safe out of sight.
She pulled down the jean trousers she wore that morning at Uncle’s place. She pulled her underwear down too. With her gluteal maximus successfully out, she squatted on
the air, very careful about infections and the likes and let out the disturbing liquid out of my bladder.
Maureen struggled to wear her undies and the jean, and headed back to the bus, although few people were still outside. Maureen went in unnoticed, and drama girl was trying to pull a hair strand out of her face. That instant she noticed her long nails.
That was the kind Nk would call ‘bamboo,’ her favourite word that meant ‘hot/lovely.’
Drama queen painted her long nails yellow, the type that I would later come to love.
“Cool,” I breathed.
The rest of the journey was silent and a bit boring. Maureen was so happy and she kept herself busy by looking out through the window. At least she got to see an old woman riding the popular ‘long john’. She had heard stories of some remote villages who still rode things like that. But that day Maureen saw the reality. She was so excited that she had gathered a lot to tell. She couldn’t wait to share everything.
To be continued…