Skepticism had started to grow among Nigerians over the COVID-19 within her shores. The hashtag #StopCovidScam trended on Twitter with various anecdotes of mind-boggling tales associated with the pandemic in Nigeria. Many pointed to pictures and videos of sufferers in other countries, even their dead, clearly shown in the news. But all Nigerians saw was a midnightly infographic with contentious figures. The only pictures and videos seen of patients were either of overfed ones in wild gyration in some isolation centres or of others complaining about not having enough food in other centers. The virus seemed too kind to Nigerians to be real. Some said the real COVID-19 only came and killed Abba Kyari and a few others who brought it from abroad. After that, hapless people were rounded up and housed so that funding could be diverted. Hospitals were said to be in collusion with the authorities to report even cases of choking as COVID-19 to ramp up the figures.
Someone shared on WhatsApp that going by the statistics released, “if about 40,000 people have been tested so far with results we have in Nigeria already: 7016 total infections, 1907 discharged and 211 deaths and they said the virus easily jumps from person to person, why are our hospitals not yet overwhelmed/filled up, or our streets littered with dead bodies as some people predicted?”
“You have forgotten the fifteen Chinese doctors who we heard were not doctors after all,” Josiah at 225 Katakata Street added to the question. “The health minister said he did not know their whereabouts. Another source said they had finished their mission and are stuck in Nigeria due to the lockdown. Meanwhile the lockdown was in place when they came, and we still do not know what they came to do.”
“Anyway, whatever the case, we seem to be doing fine as far as the pandemic is concerned. We were always greater than the virus. It did not take this long after it reached Italy and Ecuador to kill thousands. We have passed the worst.”
“President Trump wants religious houses to open in America. You will see that Buhari will copy him and say the same thing here next week.”
The new caretaker of number 225 Katakata Street however was only anxious that his new girlfriend was about to be taken from him.
“You are not listening to me at all!”
“I don’t want you to be a model.”
“It will end in tears.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look at Ndifreke and Maya. The moment she became a model, it ended for them.”
“What has that got to do with me?”
“What about you?”
“If you become a model, it is over for us.”
“Come on Irikefe. We have only just become friends.”
“I want to be more than friends with you.”
“That will be difficult Irikefe.”
“Why? You said you liked me. I even love you. So what will be difficult?”
“You barely know me. Yes I like you but that does not mean we become involved straight away.”
“Is it because I haven’t been to university?”
“No. I barely know you. You have qualities that I like admittedly but, come on!”
“Come on what?”
“You can’t make demands of me, Irikefe.”
“I want to prevent you from making the same mistake Maya made. Forget about this thing and be my girlfriend. I have money if that is the problem.”
Funbi scoffed and said “Yes I know. The landlord is paying you ten thousand naira monthly.”
“I have an asset my father left me. I will sell it for millions. I will give you whatever you want.”
“My father left me land in Delta. He says it is worth eight million. If Papa Efe thought it’s worth eight million, I know I can get more for it.”
Funbi thought for a moment and then said “Okay. Let me think about it.”
“Alright. Can I get a hug?”
Funbi kissed him lightly on the lips instead and stood up.
“I’ll see you later,” she said.
Irikefe ran upstairs to go and find Ndifreke.
“My new no-nonsense caretaker!” Ndifreke enthused as soon as Irikefe stepped into the room.
Irikefe took a seat, nodded, and maintained a straight face.
“Ah ahn? What is it? Abi you have come to give me quit notice?”
Irikefe was still unsmiling. Ndifreke set aside his phone and held his friend’s hand.
“I was going to tell you this and I hope you take it well. I understand how you feel about things in this compound. But you have to understand that as tenants, and mostly people of little means there is not much most of us can do. Remember that there was a time when everybody here minded their business or pretended to. It was the death of Akunna’s wife and children that made the men decide to set up and council and try to bring some order here. Berating them like that can drive them back into their shells and you will be left alone to take care of this house. You need them on your side. So I will advise that you thread carefully. You have made your point. But I’ll say at the next meeting, you tone it down a bit otherwise you will lose the only support you have and will need.”
Irikefe nodded and then said “Why didn’t you tell me you were setting up a modeling agency?”
Ndifreke shook his head clear and said “What did you say?”
“You know what I am saying. Funbi. You want her right? And you think the way to go about it is by promising to make her a model!”
“What’s going on man?”
“She told me she does not want you because you have a girlfriend and also Madam Elizabeth. So back off bro. I have asked her to be my girlfriend now and she will accept because she says she likes me.”
“Hey, chill man!”
“If you were setting up a modeling agency you would have told me!”
“Alright. Now listen. I am setting up a modeling agency. I discussed taking Agbonyibo’s shop with your dad. The night Maya came was when I would have told you but you know how that night was. Since then there have been shootings, ghosts, rape, and everything as always happens in this compound and I forgot to mention it. So you just calm the hell down okay?”
“Are you telling the truth?”
“I cross my heart” Ndifreke said and made the sign on his chest.
“I talk am! I surprise say my guy wan do me dat kind thing.”
“So na why your face come dey swell like agege bread wey fall inside well.”
“Bros I’m in love.”
“I no dey lie. Funbi. I wan marry am.”
“You don start?”
“I swear to God.”
“Mr. Cosmas better not hear you saying that.”
“The girl use her leg waka come meet me.”
“Na you I been wan hook up with am o! but na me she come like.”
“Happy for you my man.”
“But I beg you bros. No carry am go that modeling thing.”
“I think she will do well.”
“Dem go spoil am. See Maya na!”
Ndifreke became quiet.
“Wait o. Bros, which kind behaviour be dis?”
“Nothing man,” he said and struggled to look his friend in the eye.
“You still love her?”
Ndifreke did not say anything. His face was difficult to read.
“I did not say anything.”
“You don’t need to say anything bro.”
“We are talking about Funbi now,” Ndifreke said.
Irikefe forgot about Maya.
“I go marry am. Abeg tell am say that modeling thing na play you been dey play. Do this for me my man.”
“I am a businessman now. I will grab every opportunity. It is left for you to convince your girl to give it up.”
“I’m afraid so man.”
“Alright. You are not getting the shop.”
“You heard me. Go and look for another place for your modeling business.”
Jide Falomo’s wife, Kemi, thought about everything that was happening. She heard the story from the meeting of the elders’ council that a ghost raped the policeman. She knew that there was no such ghost. She shared a bed with the rapist. He was by her side moments before the incident and returned to the room after the act smelling of the evil he had done. Jide with this had reached a new low for her.
She had had a hard life. She was an only child who later became an orphan. She lived with an uncle who was Jide’s parent’s driver. When rumour became rife that a Falomo son was homosexual, the family to cover it up decided to find a wife for him. Marrying him off to someone of equal social standing should not have been difficult. But the family knew that with his sexual preference it was not going to work. A girl from another prominent family would attract undue attention to the family. The scandal would be more pronounced.
Her uncle heard a conversation between the parents while he drove them one day and afterward approached his boss and told him he had a solution to their problem. He had a beautiful niece whom their son could marry.
Kemi had just finished secondary school and gained admission into Yabatech for an Ordinary National Diploma in Leisure and Tourism Management. Her uncle did not have the money to fund the studies. She was contemplating going to learn hairdressing when the Jide’s mother visited their one-room apartment and told her of their plan for her life.
“Marry my son and stay married to him and you will complete your schooling and we will build a house for your uncle.”
The two years of her studies were the best years of her life. She had everything she wanted until Jide was caught in his ways and they were thrown out of the family mansion. Leaving him was not an option for her. He had never had sex with her and had encouraged her to see other men. Kemi only continued to see her teenage heartthrob Dele, whom Jide even encouraged her to bring to their home.
One day she decided that she had had enough of the charade and wanted out of the marriage. Jide then presented her with tapes of her having sex with Dele in their bed and threatened to splash it all over social media if she left him. She had at various times contemplated killing him with poison but she could not bring herself to do it.
With the development she had now seen her chance. She was not going to go to him first. He was too intelligent for her and could find a way to turn the table on her and continue to keep her caged. So she devised a plan.
She had already gleaned that the men of the compound were weak. If she went to them, they could cover him up and she would lose again. So she decided to talk to the new caretaker. The boy had the right spirit.
Irikefe listened to Jide’s wife’s revelation. She was really about the same age as Funbi and pretty as well, only that she had sad eyes and looked like she did not know how to smile. Now he understood why the man was interested in knowing what he knew about the rape of the policeman. Now he understood why he had fainted after Irikefe told him. It was his guilty conscience! Irikefe wanted to storm Jide’s toom and beat him to pulp and throw him out of the compound head first. But he had just made a pact with his wife.
“He is a lawyer and smart. If you handle this badly I will not get what I want. Please be careful whatever you want to do. I want my freedom. I know that if you handle this well he will have no choice but to let me go.”
Irikefe was sorry for the girl and wanted to help her. So he held his temper. He remembered Ndifreke’s words from earlier that day. He needed to be calm. He thought about what Ndifreke would have done in the circumstance.
He would most likely opt to look for an older and wiser person to talk to.
At number 225 Katakata Street, there was none wiser than Mr. Cosmas.
Eyonyam tucked the baby into the cot bed and straightened up and met her daughter staring at her. She knew something bothered Evae and she could guess what it was. Since they were alone in the room, she could speak with her as an equal.
“The hawk did it,” Eyonyam said.
“What a man.”
“He became like a father to me.”
“I see that.”
“Please let us not make him die in vain.”
“He did not die in vain. Your son is living proof.”
“You know what I mean mama.”
“You owe him that. I owe him nothing.”
“Life is okay like this. Are you not happy?”
“Life is okay for you like this.”
“What else do you want?”
“I married your father as a child. I had you as a child myself. We grew up together. I have not lived my life. Your father used me as he used you to further his cause. Now he is gone and I am free. I will not be caged.”
“So what do you really want?”
“A life. A man for a start will not be a bad thing. Chisco has awakened something in me.”
“So you have slept with him.”
“We came close. Your baby stopped us. I am glad for it because I was only going to do it to protect us. We don’t want him making Achike squeal. Now that your baby is here and your feet are firmer on the ground. I think I can shake him off.”
“Will he let go if you came so close as you said?”
“I will hold him off. Or don’t you know who I am?”
“He doesn’t look like he will give up.”
“Of course he will. Especially when he finds out I am interested in someone else.”
Evae cocked her head to one side and said “Are you interested in someone else ma?”
I think someone else is interested in me. And he is my type.
They were the only two people in the backyard. She was washing the baby’s clothes and he was washing his girlfriend’s. A loyal and queer man. His hairy chest glistened with sweat under the afternoon sun. Built like a bear. When he stood he towered high like the Zangbeto masquerade of her tribe. He was humming a tune to himself. Nothing excited Eyonyam like an attractive man tuned in to himself and singing. Perhaps she could make him sing his song to her. She daydreamed as they faced their respective tasks. Then when he finished and moved to the airer, she went with him and put a wrapper on the line in front of the one he chose. The wrapper served to shield them from anyone coming from the compound. Then she went to her basin and brought her wet clothes and went to dry them by his side.
He looked at her and looked away at first. Then she dropped a piece of cloth and bent to pick it up and pushed her backside against his thigh. She turned and watched him struggle with an instant bulge. Then she chuckled swung away from the backyard.
When she went away Mr. Kingsley wiped the sweat from his brow as the words of Oscar Wilde rang in his ear – “I can resist anything except temptation.”
Then he looked around and said out loud:
“There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable – Mark Twain.”
TO BE CONTINUED