The hot burning sun had already made its grand exit, disappearing behind the clouds when Amara drove into her compound. This had to be the first time she would get home before dark; but then, this particular date always came with its own anomalies. She should never have stepped out of the house if not for the great importance of the clients at the office but looking at her performance throughout the long day, Amara could reckon that her workers would have been better without her. Amara had been close to tears uncountable times during the day, her usual bossiness and sharp retorts had been totally absent and once again, she had been the Amara that she used to be – the one who was ruled by her emotions. It was a relief to be home again, where she could pass over this day on her own.
Every time March 23 arrived, she was always reminded of how close she had come to being a mother. It had slipped away from her fingers the same way every other thing in her life had slipped out of her grasp. And even though her child had been an abomination, Amara somehow felt that her child would have given her a good reason to live; a reason to smile over her past. But now, she had nothing to live for other than this unending bitterness and strive to prove everybody wrong.
Amara finally got out of the car with her handbag in hand. She pulled out the hairband holding her hair together, letting the long strands flow past her slim shoulders. She ran her left hand through the dark silky hair, allowing the other hand to do the job of closing the door of the car. She walked to her apartment after locking the car but her eyes caught something when she got to the landing. She turned and saw the form sitting at the entrance of the next apartment.
The small girl seated at the entrance of the apartment was her neighbor’s daughter. The girl – probably five to six years old – was the cutest thing Amara had ever seen. Though Amara had been indifferent and uncaring to almost everyone, she hadn’t been able to transfer her hostility towards children also; instead, she discovered that she had developed a soft spot for them. They always reached her heart unhindered and where she knew virtually none of the names of her neighbors’, she knew the names of all the children. Nadia looked like a partial Hausa girl, with her long dark hair parked in two ponytails above her head, reminding Amara of a cute little doll. As the little girl sat sleeping, with her head resting on the school bag on her laps, Amara was moved, walking towards the girl as fast as she could.
Amara got to the sleeping girl and crouched, bringing herself level with the girl. She touched the girl’s cheek softly until Nadia opened her small innocent eyes which swam a bit before finally resting on Amara. Nadia seemed to notice where she was because she instantly sat up. Amara smiled softly, feeling her heart pound. “Hey sweetheart, sorry I woke you” she whispered gently.
“Good afternoon aunty Ara” she said in her tiny musical voice.
“Why are you seated here sweetie? Where is mummy?”
A sad confused look flashed through the girl’s lovely face. “Mummy is not back from work, she arrives late”
Amara felt the girl’s pain and wondered if she might have to have a word with her neighbor for the first time. It looked like the girl was already used to sitting outside, waiting for her mother. Amara put a smile on her face. “You know what sweetie, why don’t you come with me; I would get you something really delicious to eat while you wait for mummy. Would you like that?”
Amara watched as a brief panic crossed the child’s face and quickly added. “I am sure mummy would not mind Nadia”
She smiled and jumped to her feet. “Thank you aunty Ara” she said, placing her tiny hand in Amara’s. Amara could not explain her feeling of joy at Nadia’s trust; a million butterflies ran around in her stomach as she walked with the excited Nadia to her apartment. As they entered, for the first time, Amara really wished she had painted her living room in a more homely fashion in order to make Nadia feel welcome. The little girl did not seem to notice that anything was wrong though, she bounced up and down, obviously glad to be out of the cold with the promise of a meal. Amara smiled happily. “Alright darling, sit down. What would you like to eat?” she asked as she turned on the television.
Nadia grinned. “Indomie” she said, blushing shyly.
Amara laughed. “I should have known. Ok sweetie, your wish is my command” she changed the channel to ‘cartoon network’ and Nadia squealed, not for once behaving like a stranger. She bounced on the chair, folding her tiny legs beneath her as she gave the television her full attention. Amara grinned and walked happily to the kitchen, delighting in the feel of having a child with her. As she listened to the girl cooing and talking to the casts on TV, she knew just how happy a mother would be just from having her child around. It was the greatest feeling.
Amara turned on the gas, whistling happily to herself while keeping an ear glued to the child in the sitting room to be sure she was still having fun. Suddenly, Amara wanted the Indomie to be the sweetest she had ever cooked. She took out some pieces of chicken from the freezer and put it in the microwave to heat up as she watched the water on the cooker steam up. While waiting for the water to boil, she stood at the kitchen entrance, looking at the small girl who had her eyes glued to the TV. How happy would she have been if she had her own child? She thought. She wouldn’t have to seek happiness everyday but her child would fill her with all the happiness she ever desired. But she was not even certain of that; her child might not have brought happiness to her because of what he represented. Amara sighed. Now is not the time to think about this! She moved to the boiling water and put in enough Indomie to serve them both. She included some vegetables to add colour and within minutes, she was carrying steaming plates of Indomie and chicken to the dinning. Immediately the meal arrived, Nadia totally lost interest in the cartoon and she bounced to the dinning.
Amara grinned. “Come with me, you need to wash your hands.” She said and Nadia hastily bounced after her into the kitchen, washed her hands with Amara’s help and walked hurriedly back to the dinning. She sat on the chair hastily and before Amara knew what was happening, the girl put her hands together, closed her eyes and started singing”
“Some have food but cannot eat
Some can eat but have no food
We have food and we can eat
Glory be to thee oh Lord
Bless this food oh Lord for Christ sake amen
Jesus come and eat
Aunty Ara come and eat
Satan go away
In Jesus name…”
“Amen” Amara echoed with her, blinking several times to drive away the tears that threatened to drop.
“Thank you Aunty Ara” she said again and attached her food instantly.
“You are welcome Nadia” she said and with great difficulty, took her eyes away from the girl to her beckoning food. No food had ever tasted so sweet. What used to be the saddest day of every year had been brightened up by Nadia.
Kelvin stepped onto the veranda as the gateman opened the gate to let in his cousin. It had been a while since he saw his one and only cousin and he was looking forward to their time together. Even though they had their differences, Kelvin knew that his closeness with his cousin couldn’t be compared with any other person. They had a way of looking past their differences in order to help one another. This closeness had been the reason why they embarked on business projects together and trusted each other to keep their own ends of the bargain.
Kelvin stepped away from the veranda as the small black jeep pulled to a halt in the compound. He grinned to himself as he stared at the brand of car, knowing that his cousin had enough money and never hesitated to spend it. The tinted glass, coupled with the darkness which had enveloped the area prevented him from seeing inside the car, but as he turned towards the owner’s side, his cousin alighted from the driver’s seat. He raised his brow in surprise but had a big smile for his cousin.
“Here’s my man” Kelvin bellowed pulling his cousin into a brotherly hug.
“Good to see you too brother” Maxwell said grinning.
Lisa rolled on her stomach on the mattress, dialing a number on her apple phone. She placed her phone against her ear, listening as the ‘beep beep’ sound echoed against her ear drums. She tapped her fingers gently on the soft bed as she waited. She had spent the past few days enjoying Lagos and shopping her heart out, despite her resolve to focus solely on Alex. She had enjoyed the night clubs and the attention she had received from men, telling her that she was still on her game where her physical appeal was concerned. She had met men who made her think divorcing Alex was a good idea but she had destroyed that thought at the last minute. Those men might be wealthy but they did not have Alex’s kind of social status and recognition.
“Hello madam” she heard from the other end.
“Yes, hello Simon. How is the house keeping up?” she asked their driver – the one who took Alex to the airport.
“The house is fine madam, there is no problem at all” Simon said.
“Good. I need a favor from you” she said authoritatively.
“Erm… madam…” he stammered hesitantly.
“I need the name of the hotel my husband is lodging in Lagos” she said.
“B… but madam, I don’t know-”
“Don’t think I am a fool” Lisa cut in sharply. “You always know almost everything about my husband. It is in your interest to tell me Simon. I would add 50, 000 to your salary this month if you tell me, but if not, you might just find yourself fired. Which is it?” she ranted impatiently.
There was a brief silence on the other end, then Simon said. “Pristique Hotel” he breathed quietly. “I heard him make a reservation on the phone. Please don’t tell him I told you madam”
Lisa smiled. “You don’t have to worry, thank you. You would be rewarded” she said and hung up. She tapped the phone playfully with her index finger. I would definitely turn this situation to my advantage.
Amara stared at the sleeping girl on her couch and played with her hair gently, careful not to wake her. She wondered where Nadia’s mother could be. How could she leave the poor girl all alone like that, just because of work. Amara could not even begin to think of what might have happened if she hadn’t come early. Nadia had obviously been so hungry and tired, she had fallen asleep barely minutes after eating. But remembering the fact that Nadia said her mother always comes late, Amara thought bitterly that this would not be the first time such a thing was happening. The mother probably relied on the neighbors to take care of the girl till she arrived, unfortunately, the third family in the compound seemed to be absent today. She hadn’t heard the voices of any of them. However, Amara couldn’t be so sorry because she would love to have this time with Nadia all over again if she could. Actually, Amara knew that time with any child at all would always lift her spirit. She bent and placed a small kiss on the head of the sleeping child.
She stood up to go in to get a blanket for the sleeping child but the sound of a car stopped her in her tracks. She registered, with huge disappointment that the car definitely belonged to Nadia’s mother since the other family had no car yet. She fought back the tears of disappointment at the thought of being alone again. She swallowed hard and tried to gain composure and instead of going to the room, she walked to the door. She watched as Nadia’s mother flung the door of her car open looking terribly worried as she rushed off to her apartment, seeing no sign of her daughter.
“She is with me” Amara said without preamble, not bothering to greet her. Relief washed over the worried mother.
“Oh, I am so grateful. I almost fainted when Mrs. Banjo told me that they had all gone out to attend a function” she ranted, referring to the other tenant and Amara tried to take note of the name. “I was so worried, I rushed off but that terrible traffic held me up and I kept wondering what was going on with my baby since I knew you always come in late and-”
“It is fine” Amara cut in, tired of listening to the woman. “I got home about more than an hour ago and met her sleeping there. I took her in and fed her. She is asleep now. You should take better care of her; she is too small to be that exposed” Amara said angrily.
“I am so sorry” the woman apologized. “Thanks a lot”
She followed Amara inside and lifted the small girl into her arms. Nadia stirred and went back to sleep again with a soft sleepy smile on her face. “Thanks so much” her mother said again and left. Amara closed the door behind them with a heavy heart, returning inside to sleep in her cold lifeless apartment all alone.
Kelvin walked behind Maxwell back into his sitting room as they chatted on, just like old times. “So what on earth made you drive yourself here? Did all your drivers contact Ebola?” he said smiling. This was definitely the first time he was seeing Max without a driver. He did not even want to think of what inspired the jeans and Tee shirt Max was also wearing. He had never seen Maxwell dress so simple.
Maxwell laughed. “Life is all about change Kelvin Thompson Babs” he said. “Don’t be so sarcastic.”
“Hmmm… now you are talking about change!” Kelvin said grinning. “Something is really at work in your life. Are you born again now?”
Maxwell grinned as he sat down. “I have always been”
Kelvin nodded as he pulled out a bottle of wine, filling two glasses. “Then, since it is not salvation, it must be something else” he smiled with a knowing look on his face as he passed Maxwell a glass, sitting down on another chair.
Maxwell smiled sheepishly. “Well……” Max cooed. He never had been able to hide a thing from his cousin. “There is this woman…”
Kelvin laughed. “I knew a woman had to be involved. So, a woman has you so ensnared that you decide to change? That is a first! She must be really special to hook a playboy like you uhn…” he said grinning widely. This is definitely something you don’t see every day!
Maxwell nodded, his face bringing on a slightly sober look. “Yes! She is really special. She is not impressed by what I own, she snubbed me and called me… egotistic”
Kelvin raised his brow for some seconds then burst out laughing. “Oh, now I see the reasons for the change. I like her already” he teased.
Maxwell glared softly at Kelvin, then smiled, deciding to turn the table. “You have been in Lagos for one straight week also; that is pretty high”
Kelvin swallowed the wine in his throat gently as his smile waned. He hadn’t spoken or seen Amara for days now and it had been intentional. But she had constantly stuck to his mind, driving him crazy. “I just have some things to sort out here before I return to Abuja” he said.
Maxwell grinned. “I don’t doubt that; I just wonder what exactly you want to ‘sort out’” he said.
Kelvin sighed. He had never mentioned Amara to Maxwell, because frankly, he did not even know what to ‘tell’ about her. “The only thing I can tell you for now is that I found what I have been searching for for six years” he said, with a thoughtful faraway look in his face.
“Halleluiah!” Maxwell exclaimed. “It so happens that I am not the only Babs who is being manipulated by a woman” he said and raised his flute in salute. “Cheers to them” he said and drank deeply.
…to be continued