As Abal ran, she wished her body would push itself so much her lungs filled up with red dust and her chest expanded till it burst open and she would die, frozen on the spot with one leg up ready to overtake the other one. Or maybe she would just fall face first, without permission from her mind, flat on the muddy ground. It would be fitting she thought, dying without her consent or any kind of warning, like her impending marriage to Tejuosho.
Tejuosho. What kind of rich man is named after a market? she wondered, as she slowed into a trek towards the blurry white mansion ahead of her. His business associates loved it. “How authentic” they would coo in their runny accents, punctuating their rambling with quick sips of liquor. They swallowed quickly too, resuming their words as soon as the glass left their lips. She’d been taught to sip like them; Tejuosho made sure. It happened when he saw her demolish a bottle of coke. “Stop gulping like that ehn. You need to act like a classy woman. Sips are easier to swallow. There’s less chance of the liquid running over your mouth. And stop running the drink over your teeth, it’s disgusting.” he told her. She always obeyed. What did she know of heavy glassware and affluence, of anything really? Madam Anisah had raised her the way the government official who came every month paid her to; efficiently. She taught Abal how to clean lakka bool (like a bull), the way madam pronounced it.
“You have ta clean well yanno. No man marries a woman who can’t take care of herself or of him. No use for these” she gesticulated at the newspapers Abal collected every evening when the guests had left and the bukka had been cleaned.
“You hafta cook well too yanno. Your strength lies in the comfort you are able to provide him. You make life easy for a man, and he make life easy for you love.”
She taught Abal, how to make Efo and Egusi and Abula and Gbegiri, how to give Luru the right amount of kick (pepper), how frequently to turn the semovita or Amala, and how to know when it was soft enough to remove and serve (enough to smack and leave a fine print). Many things madam taught her.
She stopped to knock on the ugly black gate. The gateman didn’t reply so she pushed it going past the cars, and poorly maintained flowers to the kitchen entrance. She was never allowed to take the main entrance. It was reserved for guests and the master of the house. She had tried once when she first moved in, but found that there was no door handle, just a voice that said “password” in that runny accent. She had jumped in fear and run into the rosebush. When her fiancée came home, she lied that she fell. He bathed her in his tub, dried her with his own towel and rubbed the scratch marks with something sweet smelling that stung. She winced and after, he massaged her scalp. He could be charming, her husband to be, she thought smiling as she pushed open the heavy kitchen door.
The day she met him was not the day he met her. He’d never stood out, he was the same as the other customers addicted to madam’s cooking. They loved her soups and her swallows were the fluffiest they had ever tasted. They ate, red hands and faces shinning with contentment. Abal served, taking the order with one side of her brain while the other wondered if they would enjoy the food if they knew madam’s secret ingredient was not the love and attention she told them she poured into her cooking. She noticed Tejuosho when he started to come late. He would arrive when they were getting ready to clean up, in his expensive looking ankara and still sharp gators. He greeted madam and she cleared a space for him. He liked Iyan and Efo elgusi with Nkannu. And cold water, “not the rubbish cold. The one that lets my teeth shake.” he always said. He came like that, every evening till one day he asked her to join his meal. She opened her mouth to politely decline when Madam Anisah called her.
“Say yes. Whatevah im asks. Say yes” she said
She had returned, taking the seat opposite him. She didn’t like iyan so he ordered mix jollof and fried rice for her with fried chicken and Fanta. They ate silently. He told her he’d seen her around, whenever she was at the bus stop, on her way to market.
“You look like a decent girl, you dress well, not like all those city girls with their ungodly piercings and tattoos” he said.
She wanted to reply that she liked looking at girls who had those piercings he hated and carried the hope that she could pierce her nose one day, if Madam didn’t mind. Tattoos she hated. Too permanent. He returned to his meal saying nothing that evening. The following days went the same way. They ate, both saying little. She with her eyes bowed to her plate, his eyes fixed on her. He told her his name, Tejuosho Kolawole and she told him her name. Sometimes he talked about his day, the people who stressed him at work because they were trying to steal from him, his hard earned money. “Punishment will find them” he said.
One night, he stopped his meal, banging the table loudly with his hand, she looked up.
He sighed, washed his hands and reached for hers.
“I like you. Do you like me?” he said
“Sir. I don’t know you”
“Abal. Mo ni fe re. I want to make you happy”
“Teju. Call me Teju. I spoke to your madam. She said you don’t have a man in your life. So I thought…”
“Because you bought rice and Fanta for me?”
He laughed “No. I was hoping you could come and stay with me, help me around my house. It is too big, it needs a woman’s touch”
“You don’t have to stay if you don’t like it. Just try it, come and stay for some time. I will take care of you, I promise” he said, reaching for his beer.
She turned towards Madam who waited for Teju to take a drink before nodding at her
He got up and thanked Madam for the meal with a thick brown envelope and Madam smiled widely. When he left and they were inside, madam called Abal.
“Make we pray. Kneel down” she said
Madam Anisah thanked God for bringing Tejuosho into their lives. She prayed that Abal’s new journey would be filled with every satisfaction. Then she sent her to sleep with a glass filled with red liquid and brown particles.
“It’s to clean your body of the rubbish inside, so you can go into Mr Tejuoshso’s house pure.” Madam said. She drank immediately, it tasted like tree bark and she squeezed her face.
“Good girl. Nah go an sleep”
She fell asleep the second she lay down. That night, when it was too dark to see Teju visited her room. She knew it was him, the moment he sat on her bed. He ran his hands over her face and hair. She sat up, feeling lightheaded and looking at him properly for the first time. Her eyes on most of their dates had been fixed on the plate in front of her, on the cold water, on her Fanta, on anywhere but him. His eyes twinkled, brown with bits of green maybe. They suited his round face and pig snout nose over pink lined brown lips. He wasn’t very healthy. His belly pulled at his white tee shirt and short hairy legs folded over themselves.
She touched his face. “How are you here?” she asked
“You asked me to come”
“You called me, in your dreams. I was sleeping and you called me. You said you needed me”
He pulled her to him, resting her face on his chest and playing with her hair
“You are so beautiful Abal. Omoge You don’t know how happy you made me by calling”
She was silent, enjoying the ease of Teju’s fingers kneading her scalp and fluffing her hair”
“Your hands will be oily when you remove them”
“I don’t mind.” He lifted her face “Kiss me”
They kissed as if their mouths were used to each other presence, soft and then more intense, till Teju’s tongue became more insistent and Abal pushed him away.
“But you called me”
“Does it matter? Come here”
He pushed her back down keeping his weight on her and holding both her hands with one hand.
“You want this Abal. Look at me, look at me”
She did, and his face bore no difference. It looked the same way, smiling, without a trace of bad intentions. He took his tee shirt off with his free hand.
“Teju, Teju…” she called out weakly.
“Abal, Abal baby mi”
He tied her left hand to her bedpost with his tee shirt, taking off his belt and tying her right hand with it. He ran his hands over her nightdress.
“Oh my darling. Thank you thank you. You are so beautiful” he groaned.
Abal, stared at the familiar strange man who smelt like expensive perfume and thought no one would believe her because she wasn’t even ready to believe what was happening.
“No” she said.
“Baby mi. What did you say”
She put all of her will into her reply and spoke calmly “Teju, no!”
“You called me. O pe mi. From my sleep. There is no turning back”
He tore her underwear off, pressing her panties to his nose. Watching him, she felt a warm tickle travelling through her insides. Teju’s eyes widened as he stuck his fingers into her and smiled “See?” He said “you’re ready”
She begged him and he never stopped, until she asked him to blindfold her, to hide her shame from this perverse tickle she felt whenever he entered her. She bit her lips so she wouldn’t moan and when she came, she screamed before she allowed her tears to carry her into sleep.
The next morning, madam woke her for a special bath. Instead of water, the bucket contained the same potion she drank the night before. She rubbed her body down with special oil and dressed in her in a new abbaya. The gold color set off her brown skin perfectly. Madam, looked her over, sighed, smiled and said “we did well. Trapping a rich man.” Abal smiled because fake happiness seemed easier to express than the confusion she felt inside.
At noon, Tejuosho arrived in his big black car, prostrated at madam, gave her two fat brown envelopes and took Abal’s hand leading her into the cold backseat. “You don’t have to do anything until you’re ready” he said holding her hand as they driver drove them to his big white house. She looked at it and wondered how she could clean such a building every day. The gateman opened, they drove in and got out of the car where he led her to the kitchen entrance and explained that until they were married, she had to take the back entrance. He introduced her to the cook, the gateman and the driver. She forgot their names and faces seconds later.
Inside, he asked if she wanted to see the house, and she asked if she could lie down.
“Yes. We can look around later. Let me show you our room.”
She only saw the bed, big soft, without Teju in it. She lay down till the next morning when Teju woke her by tying her hands on the their bedpost
“I know you like it like this.” He said before entering her.
When he left for work, she walked around the house, in and out of all the rooms, into the garden, and past the gate before Teju called on her phone and told her to go back inside because she was not safe outside by herself as his new acquisition. He fired the gateman when he got home. He asked her how her day went and she replied “fine” because she remembered nothing about the house, just like she could never remember any of the staff names, or Teju’s face every time he disappeared from her sight.
She had been there for three months, doing nothing. She woke up every morning, knelt before Teju. They had breakfast together. She eased herself into the cook’s concoctions; poached apples, chicken and pork sausages infused with herbs that made her head spin, omelette du fromage, wheat bread, wheat toast, wheat nonsense. To keep her healthy, Teju said, not that she was fat.
“It’s for the baby. He has to come out healthy” he said one day when she asked for fried chicken during dinner. She excused herself and went to count the number of days it had been since her last period.
Every day, Teju would leave for work and she occupied herself with unopened books in his library where she learnt the difference between a sip and gulp among other things. She read stories of trapped women, of failed marriages, and historical conquests. Her wonder ran inexhaustible when she discovered the internet and the housekeeper taught her how to use Google and Wikipedia. She also read about pregnancy and babies, what things were good and bad for them. Stress was bad, she learnt. So she told Teju she wanted to walk in the mornings. When she left the house, she ran till she keeled over, everyday. After, she bought chocolates and fried treats from the kiosk near the house and stuffed her face, every day.
Just like she’d done today.
The kitchen door shifted and she entered, finding a bucket and filling it with ice cubes from the freezer, marvelling at her steady hands and body. They normally shook for fifteen minutes after her run. There was no nausea either. She went to the guest bathroom and filled the tub with ice, turning on the cold water to run. She went to her husband’s bedroom, took off her clothes and retrieved her henna powder from the dresser. Teju loved it when she drew henna patterns on her hands and the ones she had were fading. His white friends loved the “contrast of pure black on her dark skin.” she chuckled. She returned naked to the bathroom and turned off tap vomiting water into the full tub. The henna was about 3 spoonfuls she thought. She swallowed most of it, and got into the tub. She thought about the three cups of coffee she drank at the Mallam’s earlier and smiled. She looked, noticing for the first time the grey and white tiles, and grey carpets and grey taps. She thought about madam’s fireplace and whether the fat envelope had allowed her to afford an outside kitchen. Then she closed her eyes and buried her head under the freezing water.
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