My brother, Gbenga, has been on my nerve since I announced I was picking up a job in Lagos and now my mum is sitting on my bed, face drawn, as I fold my clothes into a big box.
It is the eve of my departure to Lagos and what I really want is to be alone to think on the new life ahead of me.
‘Where do you say you are going to again?’
I glanced at my brother and It took so much restraint not to push him out of my room.
‘Are you deaf? I said I got a job on the island.’
‘Island? Where’s that?’
I turned to my mother who shrugged and picked a piece of bitter kola from a bowl in front of her. ‘Mummy, Is Gbenga really my brother? Did we come from the same womb?’
‘Don’t insult me o. I cannot ask question again?’ My sixteen-year old brother hissed and left the room, slamming the door after him.
‘You should have answered his question.’
‘It’s only Akure sense he has. Read books he will not. I already told him I got a job in Lagos and he is still asking me useless questions.’
My box was already too full to take any more clothes but there were still two corporate gowns I wanted to take along. With my palms spread on the heap, I pressed the clothes down and tucked the gowns at the side before pulling the belts to lock down the clothes properly.
‘We are going to miss you around here.’
‘I’ll miss you too Mum. You know I’d love to take you with me.’
‘Who will manage the pure water factory. I still cannot walk properly.’
I knew it would get to this. Mum had tried to convince me not to take the job but my mind had been made up.
‘Subero has worked with us for years. He can manage the factory. Besides, Yetunde will be done with service in about four to five months and she’ll be back to help at least for a while.’
‘But it can’t be like when you are in charge. Just look at the way you handled the factory workers after you returned from Kaduna. They know you are a no-nonsense person. Our sales tripled, Tinuke. You are the only one they listen to.’
I pushed my box aside and settled beside my mother. ‘I can’t be here forever. Mum, you have to get used to not having me around. I promise I’ll send money to you and make sure I call Subero every week to find out how things are going at the factory.’
‘Your wedding is supposed to be this year.’
‘Mummy! Wedding will come.’ I tickled her, hoping she’d smile but instead she pushed my hand away and picked the last piece of bitter kola from the bowl.
The door opened. Gbenga informed me that my fiancé was outside waiting for me. Kunle was the last person I wanted to see. Reluctantly, I stood up from the bed and left the room
He was sitting on a bench outside, holding a big bible. I noticed he was wearing the same white shirt he wore the previous day. The collar was dirty and his shoes seemed to have gathered all the dust of Akure. I knew he had travelled to Okitipupa for an all night ministration but couldn’t he have taken an extra shirt to change into after the vigil?
He didn’t look at me when I approached the bench. I knew Kunle well enough to know that trying to force words out of his mouth was a waste of time. I sat down and waited.
Finally, he raised his head but his gaze was still fixed on the bible now resting on his knees. ‘Get me water to drink.’
I wanted to object. I wanted to tell him to speak politely to me but I restrained myself. This was my last day with him. I’d endure his bossy attitude. I stood up quietly to get a sachet of water from the fridge.
He hesitated before collecting it. ‘You have not gone yet and already you are disrespecting me. Just look at the way you gave me the water. No tray? What kind of wife are you going to become? A mother in Israel who cannot be like Sarah and refer to her husband as Lord.’
I turned my face away, once again relieved that in a few hours, a bird would be released from its cage.
When I first met Kunle back at Owo Polytechnic, he was everything to me. He was that vibrant fellowship co-ordinator known all over the campus. He organized crusades and programs and it was not uncommon to find him at the back of the fellowship venue groaning in prayers. I was elated when he proposed. The very thought of becoming Bro Kunle’s wife brought so much joy.
Every time I walked into the sisters meeting, I was noticed and treated specially. Some of the sisters rolled their eyes at me, some others stared at me. It was obvious they wanted so badly to be in my shoes.
I topped my class in the first year and maintained the position the following year. Some of my lecturers advised I switched to the university for my B.Sc instead of continuing with my HND. They were ready to give me any support I’d need. The moment that thought was planted in my head, I ran with it. I battled between picking University of Ilorin or Obafemi Awolowo University and finally settled for University of Ilorin. Every night before I hit the sack, I imagined competing with the brains in the Economics Department. The thought of a challenge was thrilling. I would do whatever it took to get a first class and afterwards proceed for my Masters degree.
I told Kunle about my plans to pick the direct entry form. School was on break and he had come to see me at home.
He flew into a rage. ‘You will do no such thing!’
I went down on my knees and begged him to give me a chance. He refused.
I tried to convince him to see the opportunities opened to me if I got a degree. I’d work so hard to get a first class and then try to do everything possible to obtain a scholarship for my Masters overseas. When I settled over there, I’d make sure he cross over. Kunle said he was not interested in travelling out of the country. The Lord needed him in Akure. We argued back and forth until he stormed out of my house.
Mum had been eavesdropping on our conversation. Immediately he left, she rushed into the sitting room, frowning.
‘Tinuke, I didn’t train you to be a disrespectful woman. You shouldn’t raise your voice at your husband. You are not even married to him and you are already behaving like this.’
My eyes grew moist. ‘Mum, I really want to go to the university.’
‘But he doesn’t want that for you and you should respect his decision.’
She sat on the sofa. ‘I forgot to tell you, last week, Kunle and his mother came to see me after you left for Aunty Toyin’s place.
‘ They did? Why didn’t Kunle tell me? What did she come to do.’
‘Tinuke, they are ready to pay your bride price. I told her I wanted you to be through with school first. This man is responsible and you have to learn to respect him. At least he is not like your father.’
There we go again. Will my mother ever forget what my father did to her?
She reclined on the sofa and sighed. ‘Your father hurt me so badly. After giving him three children, he walked out of our lives without looking back. I did everything for him.I cooked his meals, washed his clothes, popped out babies. I submitted my meagre teacher salary to him every month. Yet he dumped me for Chief Odeyemi’s daughter. As if that was not bad enough, I found out he got her pregnant two years before you were born. How is that kind of man not evil?’
‘You mean I have a step sister?’
Mum either didn’t hear me or she decided to ignore my question. ‘I became a laughing stock. All the years I lived with him, I kept asking when he’d pay my bride price but all I got were empty promises. Tinuke, four men were ready to pay my bride price but I stuck with the idiot because I loved him. I will never forgive him as long as I live.’ She wiped her tears with the edge of her wrapper.
‘Where is dad now?’ I asked, curious.
She rolled her eyes at me. ‘I don’t care where he is and I don’t want you looking for him. Whatever Kunle tells you to do, please obey him. He comes from a responsible family and he fears God. That’s the kind of man I’ve been praying to God to give you. If Kunle says he doesn’t want you to go to the university, I’ll have no choice but to support him.’
That night, I cried. All my dreams came crashing down. I dropped the idea and continued with my HND.
Kunle’s demands drained me out. I saw a man who was inconsiderate and selfish, only seeking to please himself. On the tenth day of a 14 days fast, I had fallen ill with malaria. We were to meet at the back of the fellowship venue to break our fast and I was so weak that my legs couldn’t hold me anymore. I sat on the floor. Kunle was furious.
‘Stand up! Don’t be lazy.’ He pulled me to my feet and held my hands, his sweat splashing over my face. When he took my hands and shook them violently, I wasn’t sure I was going to survive the prayer session. My chest was on fire and my head was drumming hard. When we finished, he gave me a stern glare.
‘What is wrong with you? If you are going to be my wife, you have to stop this lackadaisical attitude. When did you become so lukewarm like this.’
I stood there annoyed and close to tears. We’ve had countless prayer and fasting programs and never for once had I acted this way. At the last vigil, I had shouted until I lost my voice and when we finished, his face beamed with pride. Why couldn’t he just understand this time.
‘But I told you I’m not feeling fine.’
‘Tinuke, ordinary malaria. Shake it off woman. You have to be strong! Be strong!’
Going to Kaduna for my Youth Service changed my orientation about life completely. I met people who challenged me mentally and a strong desire to explore untapped grounds filled my heart.
I wanted to stay back in Kaduna after my p.o.p but mum was involved in a ghastly motor accident on her way home from work and I was forced to return to Akure to take care of her.
This job was an escape from a life I had come to detest. I knew there was more to life and whatever it took, I was going to enjoy it.
‘Get me more water.’ Kunle barked. I obeyed. When he finished, I took the empty sachet nylons and threw them into the refuse bin by the door.
‘What exactly are you looking for Tinuke? What business do you have in Lagos?’ He stared hard at me. ‘Answer me!’
I kept my gaze on the floor and remained quiet.
‘I have always told you that contentment is great gain. Learn from the apostle Paul. The blessing God has in store for you is here in Akure. If you leave, you lose your blessings. You do not have my permission to go to Lagos. We will stay here and get married and serve the Lord.’
I played dumb. What was I to say?
‘You are the manager of mummy’s pure water factory and my ministry is growing steadily. Very soon, I’ll become the G.O of my church and I’ll need you by my side. We have enough to make us comfortable. We will marry and give birth to children. We will serve the Lord here. You are not going to Lagos. Is that clear?’
‘I have heard you sir.’
He stood up and placed his bible under his armpit. ‘We have a crusade scheduled for next week Friday in Ondo town. I have already mobilized the brethren. Starting from tomorrow, we are commencing a fasting and prayer session for a week. We want all the demonic forces to scatter before we get there. Every blood sucking power will die. It is going to be powerful, my dear. So, tomorrow evening, get ready. We’ll be at the church for prayers.’ He slapped me playfully on my back and then he was gone.
Gbenga came out of the house and stood at the entrance. ‘Please don’t tell me you are changing your mind because of that riff-raff that calls himself a man of God.’
‘Don’t talk about him like that.’
‘Aunty Tinuke, please don’t marry that fool.’
I pulled out one of my slippers from my feet and flung it at him but he dodged and ran away, laughing.
It was almost 10p.m before I finished packing my bags. Mum was in the kitchen frying the fish I’d take along. When I entered the kitchen, I pleaded with her to go in and rest, but she refused, limping as she poured pieces of fish into the hot frying pan.
As I washed the dirty dishes, I tried to get mum to talk but she only responded in monotones. I knew she wasn’t happy I was leaving, but there was nothing I could do about it.
I made a mental note to remind Tola to pick me up at the park in Oshodi. Tola was my roommate during my service year. We had been so close and I remembered that after my p.o.p, we cried in each other’s arms, promising to keep in touch. When I called to inform her about my new job, she was excited and agreed I stay with her in Lekki until I got my own apartment.
While arranging the plates in the basket, I imagined the shock on Kunle’s face when he discovered I had disobeyed his instruction. I smiled. For once I was going to live my life the way I wanted without having it interrupted by one vigil or prayer meeting.
I arrived Lagos late in the afternoon. Tola called. She was stuck in traffic and pleaded with me to be patient. I waited at Oshodi for what seemed like eternity.
After an hour of standing, I heaved my heavy box down to the floor and sat on it. Then I placed my handbag on my Ghana-must-go bag and watched the crowd, men and women with exhausted faces, rushing into yellow danfo buses.
A man carrying a sack dumped it beside me. ‘Madam, abeg you go shift o. We won sell market.’
Before I could stand up, another man jumped right in front of me and began to open his sack. His buttocks was right in front of my mouth. Irritated more by the stench that oozed from his buttocks than the intrusion, I dragged my belongings away. Someone pushed me from behind and I would have fallen forward had I not gripped my box for support. I turned to find an elderly woman arranging dry fish on a tray. She hissed at me and continued with what she was doing.
What is wrong with Lagos people? Why were they all looking so unhappy? What exactly is their problem?
There was no space to put down my luggage, so I held it by my side and stood, watching out for Tola in every face that passed.
‘New new open here. Your top here. Your top here. Two two hundred naira. First grade here.’
‘One one thousand. Your shoes here.’
A crowd gathered in front of the man selling clothes. The shoe seller, the man who had set his buttocks right in front of my mouth got annoyed that his space was being encroached by his neigbour’s customers who were selecting shirts and blouses from the sack and trying them on.
‘Abeg make una comot for my front.’ He gestured. When they didn’t move away, he shouted again and they stepped away from his sack.
A lady emerged from the back and pushed her way to the front, snaking between two women who were admiring a shirt one of them had picked. They almost lost their balance in the process and pounced on her ready to push her away. She apologized quickly but didn’t move away from the space she had created for herself right in front of the heap of fairly used clothes. Her hand went under the heap and she pulled out a beautiful flowery shirt.
The shoe seller was having a hard time attracting customers. A woman stopped in front of his sack, looked at the shoes briefly and continued walking. He called out to her but she kept going. Two ladies, giggling, bent down and began to check the shoes. One held up a pair of black heels.
‘How much you call am?’
‘1000 naira. We just dey open bail.’
She hissed. ‘This shoe for 1000 naira. You go sell.’ She dropped the shoe as they both moved away.
‘Come nah. How much you won pay.’
They didn’t respond and after a long look at his wares, he said, ‘Eight eight hundred. New new open here.’
My eyes drifted to a blue KIA pulling off in front of a bus that had a wooden slab inscribed ‘ife/ilesha’ on the roof of the bus. A lady, plump and fair skinned in a black gown and red high heels got down from the car. I was just wondering where a young beautiful lady could get the money to drive a car like that when her eyes found mine and she waved.
She squealed in excitement and ran to meet me. We hugged. Her skin was soft and tender and her face glowed. She helped me with my luggage. We dumped it into the boot and got into the car.
From where I sat in the front, I felt a pang of envy as she drove out of the corner into the express. Where did Tola get this car from? Her boyfriend must be rich to have borrowed her his car.
Tola glanced my way briefly before returning her attention to the road. ‘I’m so happy to see you.’
What would it look like to sit behind the wheels and cruise the streets of Lagos. ‘Tola, you look so beautiful.’
She smiled. ‘Na God o. He has been so faithful.’
The traffic was building up. A danfo bus swerved out of his lane into ours and when Tola slammed the brake, we were both jerked forward.
‘Jesus! What is wrong with this people. Can you imagine that nonsense? That’s why I hate coming to the mainland.’ She shook her head and I chuckled.
The traffic brought us to a complete standstill. Tola touched my cheeks. ‘Chei! I have missed you. We promised to stay in touch but see the way we lost communication. Thank God for this job you got o. I can’t wait to hear the gist of everything that has been happening in your life.’
I laughed. ‘Yeah. So many things to catch up on.’
She pointed to the back seat. ‘There is fried rice and chicken in the back seat. We can get ice-cream on the island. I’m sorry, no homemade meal tonight. I had a busy day.’
It was then I realized I was starving. I reached for the pack and opened it. The chicken took a larger size of the container and the rice was so small it could not satisfy my neighbour’s five year-old son
‘This car is really clean.’ I said, biting off a chunk of the chicken. ‘It’s portable too.’
‘Yeah. When my fiancé brought the car to my house, I was so excited. It has been serving me well.’
I stopped eating and stared at her, stunned. ‘This is your car?’
She rolled her eyes playfully. ‘Yes. Where did you think I got it from?’
‘’Wow! I thought you borrowed it to pick me up. This is really your car?’
Tola chuckled. ‘Yes girl, this is my baby.’
‘Your fiancé must be rich o. For him to have paid for this car.’
‘Wale didn’t buy this car for me. Every dime came from my pocket. He only helped me purchased it since I knew close to nothing about cars. It’s not like he didn’t want to help but I wanted to do this myself. You know, I wanted to pay with my own hard-earned money.’
‘What exactly do you do for a living?’
Tola opened her purse and brought out a card. It read, Bradnet Solutions. Tola’s full name was at the top corner of the card and under the name I saw, ‘Head. Business Developer.’ I wondered how such a job brought so much money.
It was almost 11p.m when we finally got to Tola’s apartment. My eyes widened when the gate opened to reveal a beautiful duplex.
‘Is this where you live?’ I pointed at the duplex
She grinned. ‘No. My apartment is behind.’
She pulled up in front of a small bungalow behind the duplex and turned off the engine. ‘Welcome to Lekki.’
‘How much do you pay for rent?’ I was already thinking of how to get my own apartment. This was the kind of life I wanted for myself. A posh car, an apartment and money to do whatever I wanted.
‘One million naira.’
My eyes widened. ‘What?’
‘How many bedrooms?’
She opened the door. ‘Babe, I’m tired jare. Let’s go in and you can see for yourself.’
Our house in Akure, I mean the one my mother built was thrice the size of Tola’s apartment. One bedroom, one kitchen, one living room, one toilet and bathroom, 1 million naira. This was ridiculous. Still I liked the house. The walls were painted green and the windows had thick colourful drapes. The sofa was soft. The floor was tiled. Clean toilet and bathroom. Water ran everywhere in the house.
When I settled in the living room, I picked the remote from the table and turned on the TV. I kept scrolling from one channel to the other unable to decide which program to stay with.
Oh God, this is what I want.
‘Tinuke, I’m going to bed.’ Tola joined me on the sofa wearing a short silky night gown. ‘I’ll be flying out of Lagos to Abuja with my boss tomorrow for a meeting with a client. I should be back home before midnight. Wale will be taking me to the airport tomorrow morning but we can drop you off at your new place of work. Where exactly is it located?’
‘Somewhere in Ajah.’
‘Oh. Can I have the address?’
I showed her the mail my boss had sent to me.
‘That’s cool. We will take you there before heading for the airport. I’d advise you turn off that TV and go to bed. You need to rest.’ She took the remote and turned the TV off. We walked together to the bedroom, giggling.
All I saw when I entered Tola’s room were shoes and bags and more shoes and a wardrobe full of clothes. We talked until after midnight and when Tola fell asleep, I returned to the living room and for a long time stood there. I was too excited to sleep.
The next morning I stepped out of the house to find a black jeep parked behind Tola’s car. A man opened the door and climbed out. I literally froze at the sight of him. It was like seeing OC Ukeje or Joseph Benjamin- my Nigerian actor crushes- step right out of a movie. Where did Tola get this fine guy from?
‘You must be Tinuke.’
His voice was like gentle crystal waters. He had a beautiful accent too. A mix of American and Nigerian. I slapped myself out of fantasy when I heard Tola’s voice behind me. I turned to see my friend grinning from ear to ear as he hugged her.
‘My beautiful princess.’ He said, staring into her eyes. He took the small box from her hand. She moved quickly to the car, twisting her waist while flapping her fingers.
Wale laughed. ‘Shakara woman.’ He faced me. ‘My name is Wale. Welcome to Lagos.’
My throat was dry. I nodded and smiled.
When we settled into his car and he drove out of the compound, Tola leaned towards him.
‘Have you met my friend?’
‘Of course I have.’ He glanced at me from the rear mirror.
‘I need to properly introduce her.’
Tola told him how we had met at the orientation camp and were posted to the state capital. We rented a room together and were hardly away from each other. The talk shifted to other things. Work. Their colleagues. Wale’s siblings. I was almost forgotten at the back seat.
I stared out the window admiring the tall buildings that lined the road and memorizing the names of cars that passed by. How can someone say money is evil? It was impossible to be sad when you live comfortably in one of the houses on Tola’s street and drove a car like that of Wale.
My phone rang. Kunle.
I hissed and rejected the call. Tola looked at me, puzzled. I forced a smile.
She returned her attention to her fiancé, who was explaining something to her and then she roared with laughter. That laughter irritated me. I got out my ear piece and with Lauren Diagle’s I will trust in you playing, I returned my attention to the window.
Episode 2 comes up next. Read Episode 2 here
Read: Straight from Honeymoon.