THE STRANGE MAN
Ndifreke remained outside long after everyone had left to go to bed. For once, his lieutenants were sensible enough to not bother him.
Who was the man with Maya. Why did she avoid him so openly?
Ndifreke tried all evening to shrug the thoughts away. The way things stood, he was desperate to believe what he told others that he did not still have feelings for Maya. It was clear the day she left that things had become too complicated between them for a relationship to work. It was as if the moment Jonjo tore them out of each other’s arms and carried her on his shoulder away that he had taken with him what was left of their connection. Their love had become a thing of mockery, a caricature anyone with an appetite for farce could conjure for public entertainment. What man accepted such a situation?
Yet, he was finding that he could not see a world without her in it.
Maya had promised to come back for him. That was her last proclamation before she stepped out to confront the intruder that fateful day. But she hadn’t. She did not even offer a word since. What happened when she got back to her flat? Did it have anything to do with the stranger she came back with?
Josephine believed they belonged to each other. What would he not give to speak with the nurse as things stood.
No. He would not do that. He did not want Maya anymore.
Or did he?
Who in God’s name was the dude with her?
“Guy, you see wetin I see. Maya return with husband,” Castro said to Irikefe.
“See as bros Freke just weak. I dey sorry for am.”
“ Bros nor dey hear word. I tell am say Maya don become bad product e no wan hear. If you ask am now hin go say ‘I don’t have anything with her’. But e comot from upstairs wey people dey die for go back downstairs because of the babe. Since morning e never chop. Mkpo don vex waka and he did nothing about it also because of the babe. Wetin hin come get in return? Strange man!”
“Chai. But what if de guy na Maya broda?”
“Which kind broda? No be dis compound dem born me? E get any of their relation wey I no know ? You no see the guy chest? E resemble person wey dey nack person babe.”
Irikefe thought for a while and said: “Let’s help Ndifreke.”
“Make we investigate the guy.”
“I be caretaker. If person enter dis compound I need to know who him be. So I go go upstairs when dem don settle down go ask Maya.”
“Just like dat?”
“Yes. Whatever he is, we need to know. The guy looks pompous. He hardly looked at anyone’s face. He needs to know who is boss around here. Also, for the wellbeing of the boss we should do it, man. If she is Maya’s man, the earlier we know the better for all of us. So that bros go fit face hin business. Remember we work with him now. We need him to focus.”
“But that will not be tonight. Na tomorrow.”
“Oya go sleep. Ewu Gambia!”
“You know, I really dey respect you my guy. You be real boss. Alhaji no make mistake. You dey do dis work well.”
“Abeg no whine me. Good night.”
When everyone had gone to sleep, Eyonyam sneaked out of the room and went to the backyard.
She had seen how fixated on her Chisco and the criminal boy were. That was not a problem because men always ogled her. But she felt a tug in her heart that told her that something was not right. Chisco had failed in his bid to remove her from his bother’s house. That would not be his only attempt. She did not know what Chisco might do to her, but she knew what she needed to do to him.
Once at the backyard, she took off all her clothes and tied fresh raffia leaves she brought with her around her waist and placed the handkerchief with Chisco’s semen on the floor and squatted in front of it. She spat, uttered a few words and set the piece of cloth on fire. She continued to speak as the handkerchief burnt. When it had become ashes, she hopped over it, collected her clothes where she hung them, and went back into the house.
The following morning, compound member were out in the frontage early. No one seemed to be interested in a gathering even though it was the weekend. But they were in clusters whispering. Maya had returned late the previous day with a man and Ndifreke had been clearly distraught. They all wanted to know more. It was not time to talk about Nigeria’s problems.
Irikefe asked Castro to accompany him upstairs to Maya’s room.
The door was open and the curtain moving in and out of the parlour in obedience to the morning breeze.
“Who is that?” a man’s voice said.
“It’s the caretaker. I want to speak with Maya.”
“Wait,” the man said.
Irikefe and Castro eyed each other. Irikefe began to tap his feet. Castro leaned on the wall beside the door.
“Yes?” Maya said as she stood in front of them rubbing her eyes. He pregnancy was full-blown now. It did not diminish her beauty Irikefe noted with unease.
“Won’t you invite us inside?” Irikefe said.
“When did that one start?”Maya said.
“I am the caretaker now.”
“And so? Since your father’s time, if he had anything to say he said it here on the corridor.”
“You know Ndifreke made a sacrifice by leaving this place for you.”
“Didn’t you remember to tell him I said thank you?”
“Just like that?”
“What more should I do? And is that why you came here this early morning?”
Irikefe and Castro looked at each other again.
“Okay. First things first. I have to inform you that we now have a prepaid meter and we contribute N500 each to buy at least 600 kilowatts every month. We watch what everybody is using in their rooms so that nobody is overusing the light. No boiling ring or electric kettle or hot plate is allowed. Iron only when necessary. Only your fridge can be on all the time. If I see any bulb on that you are not using I will come and put it off for you myself. LAWMA bill per room is now N200. The roster for washing the toilet and bathroom changes every two weeks now.”
“Okay, I have heard,” Maya said.
“Secondly, for security reasons, you have to declare the identity of people living with you and your relationship with them.”
“So, who is that uncle you came back with?”
Maya stared at Irikefe for a full minute before she said, “he is my boyfriend.”
“Blood of Zebrudiah!” Castro exclaimed. Boy-gini?”
“And his name is Joseph. Can I go now?” Maya said.
Irikefe and Castro looked at each other for the umpteenth time while Maya turned like a laden truck and went back into the room.
Two minutes later they were all in Ndifreke’s room.
“I don’t believe her,” Ndifreke said.
“Meaning what?” Irikefe said.
“He can’t be her boyfriend. My intuition tells me otherwise,” Ndifreke said.
“Oooh bros! Na wetin I no like about you be this.”
“I’ve told you what I think. But it doesn’t matter. She’s nothing to me.”
“Bros, stop saying that okay? I don’t like Maya very much now I can’t lie but I feel differently about you. I won’t dislike you for still loving her. Na you know wetin you see for her kpekus. This thing is clearly killing you. At least be honest with yourself so you can deal with it. ”
Ndifreke let his head drop.
“Oya go bang Aunty Lizzy. At least that will be something.”
“We broke up.”
“Surely you didn’t think we were in love or something.”
“How the one wey you love epp you?”
“Well, things didn’t work out.”
“You left her to make way for Maya’s return. Now she returned with a lover. Bros we suppose use your story act film.”
“Leave me alone both of you.”
“Alright. Ewu Gambia, make we waka.”
Mr Kingsley lay in bed thinking long after Sister Esther had woken up and gone about her daily routine. He wanted to be with Eyonyam again and he did not know how he was going to do it. Since the public spectacle Sister Esther pulled, eyes in the compound followed him everywhere he went. As soon as he stepped out of his room and turned, there was always someone lurking to see if he was headed for a tryst with the woman. Imagine giving an already nosy breed solid information to work with! They knew to now narrow their pastime to following his and Eyonyam’s activities looking out for the point where they would collide. And so before he would even wink at her there was always someone closeby scrutinizing his eyeballs. He had become frustrated because fewer things on the earth held the appeal that her bottom did.
That morning however, an idea popped up in his head. The more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea. Convinced it would work, Mr Kingsley waited for Sister Esther to re-enter the room then he began to shiver. When she came close, he pulled the bedsheet over his head.
“What is wrong with you?” Sister Esther said.
“Sickness, insanity and death were the angels that surrounded my cradle and they have followed me throughout my life – Edvard Munch.”
“Biko Kingsley this is not the time for this. What is happening to you?”
“My relationship with my body has changed. I used to consider it as a servant who should obey, function, give pleasure. In sickness, you realise that you are not the boss. It is the other way around – Federico Fellini,” he said and began to cough like his lungs were about to come out of his mouth.
“Look, I am your woman. I know you are brilliant. I’m impressed by your wonderful mind. It is why I fell or you. But right now, I need you to talk in your own voice and tell me what is wrong so that I can help you.” Sister Esther said.
Mr Kingsley coughed harder and then said “Alright. I have cough as you can see. I am cold. I cannot smell anything and since yesterday I haven’t been able to taste my food.”
“Blood of Jesus!”
“You know what that means don’t you?”
“It cannot be! My Father in heaven cannot lie to me. He said to me that none of these diseases shall afflict me or members of my household! The devil is a liar!”
Sister Esther jumped on her feet.
“You demon of sickness! You spirit of covid or whatever they call you! You have come to the wrong place! You have knocked on the wrong door! Kingsley! I command you in the name of the most high to be healed! You evil covid symptom, depart from him! I say depart from him right now in the mighty name of Jesus!”
This was not what Mr Kingskey expected but he was not surprised. When Sister Esther finished praying he said: “I should call the NCDC to come and take me away.”
“No way! Do you know what it will mean? The stigma, in this face-me-I-face-you! We are finished.”
“Alright. But I do not want to put you or the baby at risk.”
“I am covered by the blood of the lamb!”
“Aunty you have been covering this house with this blood since and the thing has entered and caught me.”
“The devil is a liar!”
“So I don’t want it to catch you or the baby since it has already entered.”
“What do we do?”
“I agree that calling NCDC will be a bad idea. I will buy Zithromax and chloroquine and zinc like that American doctor woman said and take. But I need to be in isolation. I already know how to avoid neighbors and they avoid me too. My only problem is you. You should go somewhere so I don’t infect you.”
“I have to self isolate. You need to go somewhere or I call NCDC and go to the isolation centre.”
Mr Kingsley resumed coughing again and Sister Esther stood up and covered her mouth and nose with her palm.
“Please, go away.”
“Where will I go to? You know I have no one!”
“How about that your aunty at Ilasa?”
“We don’t really talk!”
“Tell her it is because of the pregnancy. You need someone with experience to look at you for two weeks. First, buy me those medicines and then leave. At once.”
“How will you feed and take care of yourself?”
“Don’t worry about that. I will be alright.”
Mr Kingsley then resumed coughing. He coughed and coughed till his eyes turned red.
Sister Esther did not like the look of it. But she said nothing more and proceeded to pack a bag.
Wasiu and Chisco took up their space again at the soakaway and watched the compound. People continued to come and go as they always did. Then Wasiu said “Cisco, how we go do this thing na? This woman no dey too comot. How we go take nab am now?
“No worry. You wey be criminal suppose know say no be hurry dem dey take do dis kind tin. You fit even watch am reach one month. One day, you go understand the pattern so you go know how to do wetin you wan do. Na hin dey go market. Na hin dey cook. Na hin dey do everything. Just dey watch make you understand how de woman dey waka.”
Wasiu knew Chisco was right. But his impatience was more because he did not think he could wait another month before he had the woman. He wanted her now.”
“Oboy I wan fuck aswear. E don tey.”
“Get patience. I no wan make you make nonsense mistake. If you wait one year, you fit wait one month, and e fit no even reach one month.”
“I hear you.”
Just then Josephine returned from work. She had been on afternoon duty. Time stood still as it always did when she was about. She eyed the two men and swung into the compound. Wasiu grabbed his crotch and whistled.
“Omo, you still dey nack that girl?”
Chisco ignored him and continued to watch the compound. His mind was racing. He had been thinking of talking to Josephine. Things had not been well between them since she figured out he wanted Eyonyam. But having had Eyonyam and knowing what he now knew, he needed to make peace with Josephine.
“Make I go try my luck with the nurse. I no fit wait,” Wasiu said.
“If you try am, make you go find where you go sleep when you finish.”
“I don give you the Togo woman. Leave this one. If e too hook you, go Apapa for night.”
Wasiu knew when not to pursue a cause. He knew how some men were when it came to women. This was one man that had put his life on the line in the past for one, the same one they were talking about now. Wasiu knew he stood to lose more if he got on the wrong side of Chisco. Not even the sexy nurse was worth that. So he took his mind off it and continued to watch the compound for Eyonyam’s emergence.
Chisco knew Josephine’s routine. He knew she would leave her room door open and get back downstairs to buy food from Mama Cowbell before retiring for the day. So as soon as he saw her come out of the compound, he tapped Wasiu’s shoulder and made for the backyard through the side of the building from where he entered the compound from the back and stole upstairs to her room and waited.
She found him standing in the middle of the room.
“What are you doing here? Get out! Get out now before I shout!”
“Aunty nurse abeg no shout!”
“Why should I not shout? Get out!”
“That woman na winch.”
“I don’t care. Get lost!”
“Abeg hear my word.”
“I don’t want to hear anything.”
“She be winch. As I see say she be winch I try pursue am comot for my broda house. Wetin I wan do with woman wey dey fly for night?”
“Then why were you avoiding me?”
“Na because to pursue winch no be small thing. When you dey pursue winch, you no go dey play with ordinary people.”
“Didn’t you fuck her?”
“You no hear the day wey I pursue am? Na my mumu broda save am.”
It gave Josephine some comfort. She indeed had heard the noises the day Chisco tried to evict Eyonyam. She really did not care because he had already betrayed her so whatever happened to them thereafter was of no concern to her.
“True nurse. Now wey I don make everybody know wetin she be, my work don finish. I fit talk to you again.”
“Listen Chisco or whatever you call yourself. I am not a piece of rag you can discard and come back and pick up whenever you want. Whatever it is you are doing with your brother’s family is your business. I am done with you. I am going into the room and by the time I come back I don’t want to see you here. If I do, I will shout.”
Chisco knew Josephine. He could hear it in her voice that she believed him and had forgiven him. He knew she still had to do her shakara, but in leaving him to go to the room, their feud was over.
As she passed him to get to the bedroom he pulled her to himself and put his hands through her famous large tshirt and began to knead her breasts.
The bastard knew her too well! Josephine sighed. She liked her breasts to be fondled. From the moment Chisco discovered that he employed it to disarm her time and again. It had been so long since she was last taken. There was no need to resist, no time to waste. She removed her bum short and threw her tshirt off her back like they were on fire and pulled him by the wrist towards the bed.
“Don’t waste time please. Fuck me.”
She lay on her back and threw her legs in the air. Chisco removed his clothes but could feel that something was not right. He had never touched a woman’s bare breast and not have an erection before. He had fondled the nurse’s for minutes and watched her take off her clothes yet his penis was limp like he just pulled it from the freezer.
“My champion! What are you waiting for?”
Chisco touched himself. Nothing. He tried to stroke it, but it was so shrunken and small he could not even hold it in his hand.
“What is happening?” Josephine said and knelt on the bed and pulled him to herself by his waist.
“Nurse I no know,” Chisco said as sweat broke on his forehead.
“Oh, Willy is still asleep. Don’t worry. It happens sometimes. Come here,” she said and took his penis in her mouth. She sucked on it but it felt like cold eba in her mouth. When she came up for air it fell out and stayed dead.
Chisco was twenty-six years old and all his life he had never lost an erection or failed to have one when he needed it. He had never even woken up without one for as long as he could remember, even when he was sick. He knew that something had gone wrong.
“Nurse bad thing don happen.”
“Nothing bad has happened my champion. Every man experiences this from time to time. Don’t worry you will be fine.”
“E never do me before.”
“There is always a first time. You will be alright.”
“Nurse I wan go.”
“No. Stay here for a while till you calm down. It may even come up when you are relaxed. Come. Let me hold you.
Chisco crawled into bed with Josephine and waited. Nothing. After thirty minutes she stood up and took tissue paper and cleaned her wetness and put on her clothes.
“Maybe today is not our day. Come let’s eat. We will do it tomorrow.”
Chisco put on his clothes. He refused the food Josephine offered but sat and watched her eat. When she stood up to go and get drinking water from the fridge Chisco sneaked out of the room and went straight to his place. He kept checking himself. He did not feel any life in his penis still.
He refused to talk to Wasiu that evening. He slept uneasily. He woke up the following morning and found that he still did not have an erection.
“Chai! Ogbu Agu! kedu ihe i mere onwe gi!” he cried.
Ndifreke sat outside in front of the shops by his office, still deep in thought. He did not notice a person creep up behind him and cover his eyes with their palms. He was in no mood for games but still went ahead to guess who it was.
“Irikefe! Chisco! Castro! Wasiu! Mkpoikanna!”
He then touched the hands and noticed that they were soft. It was a girl’s.
She didn’t want him to guess right so she removed her hands and swung in front of him.
“Bro Ndi!” she cried and he stood and scooped her in an embrace and spun once and placed her back on her feet.
“I saw you from afar yesterday and I couldn’t believe my eyes. You are a big girl now!”
“Yes I am. I am in boarding school in Otta.”
“Wow! What is it about boarding schools that as soon as children get there they begin to grow like agric fowl! It is not as if they give them good food!”
“We are free from oppression that’s why!”
They both laughed. He had always been fond of little Clementina. But she was not little anymore. Ndifreke felt embarrassed as he looked at her closely.
“You’re a woman now Tina.”
“Bro Ndi. Only you call me Tina here and I love it. Yes, I am a big girl now!”
“Be careful as well. You know the boys here don’t use their eyes to see fine young girls.”
“These ones? They are too dirty for me!”
“Hahahaha.Good. Face your studies and if anyone disturbs you, just let me know.”
“Of course big bro.”
“How is school?”
“We are all home because of corona.”
“I know. But make sure you are studying. If you need help you let me know.”
“I will. How have you been bro Ndi?”
“I’m fine, thanks. I’ve started a modeling agency here. This is my office. We are closed today.”
“That’s good. Will you hire me?”
“Not yet. Finish secondary school first.”
“But there are young models. Even children!”
Ndifreke scratched his head and said “true.”
“Is it not acting a role play? There is something for everyone. Please hire me.
“Okay let me think about it.”
“Think ke? Am I not pretty?” When she said that, she stood and spun round for Ndifreke to see her body.
“Of course you are pretty. Everyone knows your mum gave birth to the prettiest girls in the world. I’ll have to talk to your sister about it.”
“Please do. I am not doing anything now. I can make money.”
They were silent for a while and then Clementina said “Bro Ndi is everything alright with you?”
“Yes. Why do you ask?”
Clementina sat on the bench and tapped the empty side of it for Ndifreke to sit too.
“You have been sitting here since morning and thinking. What is the problem?”
“You won’t understand Tina. But thanks for asking.”
“It is my sister right?”
Ndifreke could no longer maintain the stoicism. Perhaps it was the girl’s innocence or the sincerity he could sense in her. So he let it out without hesitation.
“Tell me the truth Tina, who is that man with you?”
“That’s his name I hear.”
“He is my cousin.”
“Your cousin? Maya’s cousin too?”
“Of course bro Ndi. My cousin is Sister Maya’s cousin too.”
“So why did she say she was her boyfriend?”
“Oh you spoke with bro Irikefe?”
Clementia chuckled and said “It is the way he asked her. You know my big sis does not have too much patience and bro Irikefe is a rascal.”
Ndifreke laughed and said “he better not hear you say that.”
“They have been calling him that in this compound since I was a baby.”
“Well yeah. Irikefe is a handful.”
“Bro Joseph was sent home from Spain. He arrived Nigeria last month and managed to trace us.”
“How come I never heard of him?”
“We all thought he was dead. He trekked to Spain when he was eighteen through the desert. It’s been fourteen years we last head from him.”
Ndifreke was so relieved a tear dropped from his eye. It was getting dark and Clementina’s phone was buzzing. She saw Ndifreke’s look and decided to tell him.
“Bro Ndi, I have to go back inside but I must tell you this. Bro Joe may be our cousin but I don’t like the way he looks at my sister.”
“How does he look at your sister?”
“The way you used to look at her.”
“You don’t know anything about that, Tina.”
“I’m fifteen. I know .”
“At fifteen, you are a child still. You will need to have things explained to you. You can’t know some things.”
Clementina deliberately straightened up on the bench and in doing so her already full breasts bounced in front of him. It was not a gesture you associated with children.
“I’ve only been back here twenty-four hours and you are the only man who thinks I’m still a child.”
Ndifreke’s mouth fell open.
“Last night, he came and joined us in the bed. He told us in the morning it was because the floor was not scrubbed and things were crawling on his skin. He slept close to my sister. It would have been easier for him to have lain beside me because I sleep on the outside of the bed but he went over me to the wall so he could be close to her.”
“Jesus. And she is pregnant!”
“I like him but I know that something is not right and my sister may be liking it.”
“No way. Please don’t say that.”
“That man, Mr Jonjo, damaged my sister. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.”
“I’ll come to your room.”
“No Tina. Come here. We will open tomorrow.”
“I’ll come to your room when you close.”
She said it with such finality that Ndifreke could not help but nod in acquiescence.
He shouldn’t have, but when she walked away he looked at her waist as she retreated.
It was the waist of a woman.
TO BE CONTINUED.