‘NIMI PETERS BY GRACE OCHIGBO
Fiyin trudged into the sitting room and threw her handbag away as though she was mad at it. She removed the lid from the large bucket they use to preserve drinking water and drew out from it into a cup. The water gave some revival to her bones while she drank. She fetched another and gulped down every bit of it. She didn’t know why she was feeling this horrible and terrible. She barely managed to carry on with her work at the cafeteria up till this evening before they were eventually released to go home. It felt like time moved slower than usual as she really wanted to cry at any given instance the thought of what Zainab said came across her mind.
She opened the door to the bedroom. The house is a one bedroom flat, which means the only rooms therein were the place serving as sitting room and this bedroom. Her parents use the bedroom while she and her brother sleep in the sitting room. Their apartment is on the second floor of a storey building situated at almost the outskirts of Gwagwalada. Every room in the storey building was built exactly like theirs and there was, in addition to it, a general kitchen and toilet towards the extreme left and right of each floor respectively. Their own room being the first from the right is too far from the kitchen, so they’ve resorted to cooking in the narrow corridor in front of the room, the few times they used stove – when its emergency. Otherwise, they normally cook food at their bukateria in town, alongside the one for sale.
“Maami!” she called out to be sure the woman was not asleep. Her mother laid weakly on the spring bed, standing to the left of the square-shaped room. The other side of the room bore a T-shaped wooden structure serving as wardrobe, and it’s nailed to the wall. That’s usually where they hang clothes ironed with their charcoal iron, so as not to get it squeezed or rumpled. Aside that, metallic boxes scattered everywhere in the room, one belonging to each member of the house. The room appeared so unkempt and untidy, but who could she blame? She has become extremely busy ever since her mother’s illness – working at the company’s cafeteria and also managing their own buka – which should normally be done by her mother, save for these health challenges.
“Bawoni, omomi?” Her mother’s tired voice came up.
Fiyin wasn’t really happy with the way things were turning up for her family and she wished there was something she could do. Deji had to drop from school because they couldn’t afford his school fees. Thankfully, the school also had gone on strike. He claimed to have deferred a session; they all know that, unless a miracle happen, he may not resume back to that school again.
“Why are you back home this early? You should be at the shop. Didn’t…”
“Maami, I am tired. Do you understand? I am tired. I’m a young girl, I have my own life to live too. I’m overworking myself and it’s getting to my throat. I’m tired, maami!” She screamed all these and then started crying afterwards.
Her mother stretched forth her hands towards her. The older woman couldn’t lift her weak body from the bed at all. Fiyin moved closer to her mother ,and held her hand.
“I’m sorry, omomi. I know how you feel. I didn’t bargain for all of this. We all never planned for misfortunes. Please, my precious daughter, just hang in there for me a little while longer. Your father is working hard too. He took up a night watchman’s job at one of the banks in Maitama. He is trying to raise enough money for us. If I get well, you won’t have to be working your air out anymore. I’m sorry again, omomi!” A lone tear dropped down her tired wrinkled face.
Fiyin felt her heart break seeing a tear down her mother’s face. She felt sorry for the poor woman, and blamed herself for it. She shouldn’t have burst out like that; she shouldn’t have screamed like that. She shouldn’t have complained about the little she was doing to help her own family. She was wrong, but she knew she couldn’t help it.
Zainab’s announcement has utterly spoilt her day; has ruined everything in her head. She was beginning to have a puppy dog’s crush on Nimi, for crying out loud.
“Maami, I’m sorry too. I’m just going through a lot lately. Don’t worry yourself, you will be fine. We will make sure of that, maami. Please stay strong for us.” Tears poured freely from Fiyin’s eyes now as she said those words. Her mother cried as well and they held each unto other’s hands like a lifeline for several minutes.
“Maami, let me go to the shop. Deji must be tired and bothered by now.”
Fiyin pulled herself together and got up. She wiped the tears in her eyes and dragged up her jean; she had lost considerable pounds of weight in these past weeks, so much so that her trouser was falling off her waist whenever she bends. She took a deep breath and made to leave when she felt her mother’s hand not letting go.
“In case I don’t make it through this, you know I am counting on you to take care of your father and younger brother.”
She quickly shushed her mother with her first finger. “You will make it, maami. You are going to be fine. You are going to be strong. You are going to be up and doing again. In no time, trust me. I’ll do whatever it takes to see my mother up and going again.”
Her mother smiled.
“I have to run, maami, I’ll see you later.” She kissed her mother’s hair and hurried out of the room.
Ojonugwa rolled on the rugged floor as he laughed loudly. He was sure to hold onto his phone at least.
“What do you expect? I’ve turned cook and houseboy for Bro Nimi na. When school would be on strike for the better part of a year.” He hissed dryly and heard laughter on the other side of the phone. “Your stingy elder brother cannot take me abroad to school. Naija schools don tire me, I swear. Them and thunder sef, I no know who strike pass.” He expressed his frustration in pidgin English.
“Not only abroad. You are the only person he has to take care of nau, yeye pikin.” Ojonukpe was being sarcastic.
“Ehhheenn!! You sef should go and marry. Ha! Marry o, so your husband can probably take me abroad, since Bro Nimi is still busy sorting his life out.”
Ojonukpe chuckled. “Your bad mouth, Nugwa! If he hears you, I’m not there o.”
Ojonugwa smiled. “But it’s true. Right now, I don’t know what is between him and Miss Joelyn. Your brother is a professional actor o. Just yesterday, the poor girl came to cook very delicious meal for him… for us, as the case may be…” he tittered lightly, “…but guess what your elder brother did?” he squeezed his forehead like she could see him.
“He isn’t your own elder brother, huh?” Ojonukpe queried, trying to stop laughing. “Anyway, what did he do? Sent you away from the house?”
“That would have even made more reportable sense…” Ojonugwa cut in, laughing out. “…instead, he slid out of his own house without anyone noticing. Did you get? Like, Bro Nimi sneaked out of this house without any of the cars, neither did he carry his phone.” Ojonugwa lowered his voice while saying these.
He jerked up from the floor as a car’s horn came loudly.
“You know I have to go now, Nukpe. Get married soon. Don’t leave your PPA without a boo o, I’ve told you. Bye bye.” He said these hurriedly, giving no break in-between.
“I thought you were just defaming Bro Nimi some minutes ago? Why are you sounding all in a hurry, all of a sudden? Bye bye my bush kid brother.”
He heard her laugh for a long time before ending the call. She was burning her own airtime, so he had no cause to worry. He quickly drew up his sagging trouser and grabbed his T-shirt from the handle of one of the chairs. He knew his brother very well. He then hurriedly picked up the chair pillow he had put on the floor earlier, and returned the TV’s remote to its position before walking out. Nimi Peters was the real definition of ‘prim and proper’.
“What are you going to do now, bro?” Edward asked with the most serious tone he could mutter at the moment. He blew the horn one more time in front of Nimi’s gate and the latter turned questioning face to him.
“Would you drive in if they open the gate?”
Edward smiled, he knew where Nimi was heading to. He shouldn’t have blared the horn in the first place, since he was only dropping Nimi over at the house.
“So what?” Nimi interrupted him with a voice too not calm to be his. “I’ll think about it and get back to Mr Johnson. This is a proposal to head Crestac company we are talking about here.” Nimi sounded firm.
“Why do something tell me you have lost your mind?” Edward demanded. If his eyes carried guns, Nimi would be dead by one more stare from him.
“But seriously, what do you expect me to do. Not as though I have anything to lose. The lady seems to even love me already.” Nimi shrugged his shoulders carelessly while saying this.
“I expect you not to agree. I expect you not to get married to someone you don’t love.” Edward retorted and Nimi burst into an annoying laughter.
“Very funny!” Edward voiced out in anger and Nimi knew he had to tread with caution now. Edward is one not to get angry so easily; this must mean a lot to him.
“Who says love is important in marriage, anymore? Money makes it all fine. You just need to start, live, be happy and enjoy your money and time together. Even if it takes more of tolerating one another.”
Edward shook his head from side to side “Nimi, you are so pathetic right now. I can’t believe you are saying this. Can you listen to yourself?”
“Yes, I am saying it. Oh! You think I’m stupid? You think I’m cold? The last person I was in love with, am I now married to her? Atim jilted me for crying out loud. After whooping three years and it was time to settle that she remembered she is from Akwa Ibom. That was when she suddenly realised that she’s Oron and that I’m Igala. I mean, this is Nigeria for Christ sake.” Nimi rattled on. His eyes flashing, his teeth grinding hard against each other. His natural calm demeanour has been thrown into cascades of unsettled heated composure, as hot searing words spilled out of his mouth like a volcano eruption.
“I’m sorry, Nimi. I didn’t mean to remind you of Atim.” Edward’s voice came very calmly.
“Well, you just did. You just fuckin’ did! You know how much I was in love with Atim. Please save me this ‘love’ sermon.” Nimi yelled and pushed the car door open.
“You know deep within you that you can’t heed the CEO’s offer. You don’t and have never loved Jo.”
“It may start now, who knows? Love takes time. Love grows. Love only need more time. There is no one you cannot fall in love with, so far the willingness is there. That’s all.” Nimi retorted and Edward smiled.
“What about ‘the voice’?”
Nimi felt like his skin had been stripped off all the bones underneath it. The voice. Yeah. The girl is a serious part of him he needed to deal with before she ends up opening up the part Atim closed and threw the key away… probably into a deep sea.
“You wanna come to the club with the boys tonight? Having some little fun would relieve you of the pressure and make you think better, Nimi.” Edward suggested.
Nimi was about to concede to his suggestion. He checked his wrist watch, the night was still young. He could still go out. In fact, it’s safer for him to go out than to go into his bedroom right now. He would be left brooding over the things he long wanted to forget. He turned and opened his mouth to respond to Edward’s proposal, and as though something struck him all of a sudden, he shook his head.
“I think I know where to go cool off.” He said, letting a roguish smile form around his lips.
“And where would that be?” Edward was as eager to know this more than anything else at the moment.
Joelyn took in deep calming breaths as she approached the door to her father’s home office. She had been to his bedroom a while ago and he wasn’t there. She initially thought he took a stroll but something told her to check this place. He rarely come here on Fridays like this, as his normal routine would be to hang out with Chief Ogbonna at one of the most expensive lounges in town. She had nothing to lose climbing the several fleets of stairs that would lead her to the topmost floor of the ‘Johnson’s mansion’ where the study is situated. She heard her father cough as she approached and that instead of relieving her that he was around, aggravated the fear that was building up on her insides.
She stopped again after raising up her hand to tap on the door in futility for the third time. Was this worth it? Perhaps she should just go to her bed and sleep unnoticed, instead of aggravating problems for herself.
First was that she didn’t sleep in the house last night and she’s still wondering how her father managed to find out. Well, she always get caught whenever she least expected; especially when Mrs K, as she always call the elderly house keeper, was having an overnight duty. The woman can like to care for her as though she was still a child and even when Joelyn had tried to pinpoint to her a lot of times that she was now an adult whose steps shouldn’t be monitored up and down, the older woman wasn’t ready to cooperate.
“Are you sure you are doing the right thing?” Joelyn asked herself again, but she didn’t give much thought to it before pushing the door knob down.
There was her father, typing away on his computer. He raised his head immediately the door opened and his expressionless face, just a second ago, suddenly contorted into a frown.
“It’s so good of you to be back home finally!” He said sarcastically, and returned his face to the computer.
Joelyn sighed. She didn’t know how to respond to that statement her father just made. She’s been thrown off balance right now. She had expected him to scream, you know, rant on and on about why she would go spend the night at the place of a man who hasn’t paid her bride price. She expected him to also demand a convincing explanation that would include where she had been all day, with whom, and all what not, but he just for the very first time disappointed her. The frown on his face has disappeared now and he kept an indifferent expression.
“Father, you see, I am sorry about last night…”
“OK!” Mr Johnson cut in, not even raising his head up a little bit.
Joelyn haven’t felt this uncomfortable before her father in recent times. She was used to receiving grievances straight up, then the case mellows down later on. Right now, her father was acting unusually calm… rather too strange for her comprehension. Or was there something else that went wrong after last night? She couldn’t really place her mind on any of the possible reasons why her father would be interrupting her only to give one word answers. That wasn’t important anyway; she promised Tolu she would get him money this afternoon and since she had almost drained her personal account because of him, she has to swallow her pride, just come and ask her father for money, knowing fully well what his reactions might turn out to be.
“Erhm! Erhm!” she clears her throat loudly, hoping her father would pause to ask her what the problem was, but the man continued as though there wasn’t an extra person in the room. She swallowed.
“Erhm! Father!” she waited for response and got none. “Well, father I need some money!” she finally let the cat out. She regained her composure and stared at her father. The man didn’t look like he could hear her. “You see father, I need about five hundred thousand naira. There is this ehm… there is this new… new ehm… new photography gadget in vogue now and I need to get it for my studio, father. It’s important and urgent, sir. ” She lied. “And… and… I … I think I’m losing customers, father… because… ehm… and I…”
“When you lose everyone, you can fall back to become a cook in this house, because even the cooks here are living a more decent and responsible life than the daughter of the owner of the house.” Her father rattled on after interrupting her.
“What? Father!” She exclaimed before she could stop herself.
“Don’t father me. Can you take a look at yourself? At twenty-two, you are still gambling with your life. You are not making conscious plans for your future yet you are busy frustrating all the ones I’m making for you. You keep proving to me every day how much of my daughter you are not.” Mr Johnson hissed dryly.
As though alarm rang on Joelyn’s head, fury ran through her blood stream.
“How much of your daughter I am not? What do you mean by that?” She yelled, and cried at the same time.
“I’m sure you know something from the different schools I’ve spent millions to send you to. And I also hope you know what economic recession is, Amaka? I hope you know that. Even if you are too dumb to know, people around you must have told you something about it.” He said coldly.
One peculiar thing with Mr Johnson’s statements was that it came with a calm tone, yet the words therein were heart-breaking.
“Seriously father… I need the money!” Joelyn pressed her luck further, ignoring the insults and as though that statement made her father lose all the cool there was in him, he flared up.
“You need money, get money. Go and work; become a cleaner, labourer or housekeeper, I don’t care. Get out of my sight, Amaka.” He swayed his hand careless and Joelyn involuntarily jerked backwards. He hissed dryly again. “Now I don’t know if I was right to have taken custody of you… or not. Get out of my sight and go meet your mother?”
Joelyn couldn’t believe what she just heard.
“Father! Mother is far away.” She let tears flow down freely now.
Her father let out a sarcastic laughter.
“It’s even good that you know where she lives. No matter how far, most important thing is that she’s still on this planet. Get out of this place now, Amaka, before you let me use my hands on you.” His voice was getting louder and louder and sincerely Joelyn was getting more and more scared at all instances.
“Get the hell out!!!!” He yelled so loudly that it was as though his voice threw Joelyn out through the door and closed it back. Well, she actually ran out by herself.
“Very stupid, good for nothing girl!”
Fiyin hurried out of the taxi and into the shop. She needed to collect money from Deji to pay the taxi driver. She hurried and ran fast; the taxi driver was hurling abusive words at her already, that’s alongside the other passengers. There was nothing else she could do.
“If you are too angry, why won’t you just leave the money for me? Stingy old man.” She muttered with frustration underneath her breath as she handed over the money she just got to the taxi driver. The former hissed loudly and zoomed off in such a way that blew some dust over her. She looked at the taxi till it disappeared from her sight. She wanted to cry again but she held her peace. It’s just a phase and it would pass, she advised herself.
Putting her hands into the back pocket of her jean, she walked back slowly into the bukateria. She wasn’t interested in looking at the customers who seemed to be enjoying themselves. What would she have done if not for Deji – a young man that cooks deliciously, so delicious one may want to chew the plates alongside.
She stood in front of the counter.
“How has it been going, Deji?” she asked, dragging one of the tall chairs to sit on it.
“Very well, sister! Why did you come late today?”
Fiyin exhaled hot air and rubbed her palm over her hair. She didn’t know whether to truly narrate from what happened at the café earlier and the aftermath at home a while ago or if she should just cover up.
“Nothing much, dear. I just dropped by home before coming, that’s all.” She managed a smile, but it wasn’t convincing enough.
“Anyway, he has been waiting for you for the past one hour. At a point, I thought you weren’t coming again.” Deji said, pointing her direction backwards.
“Who?” she asked, turning as she said that.
“Hi… Hi Nimi Peters” she stammered, really shocked to her bones.