* Flash back*
I sat down in the dingy little room used as reception. The room was stuffy as the little opening meant to let in air has been covered with rags and cartons. The year was 1996, i blew my phlegm stuffed nose into the hankie in my hand. I could hear the loud rumble and clap of thunder as it started to rain. The pitter_patter sound of the rain on the roof was like music to my ears. Despite the many nights i slept outside with just my skin for cover i loved it when it rained. It reminds me of the earlier years of fun at the orphanage. It reminds me of Mother’ s care when i sneak out to play in the rain with the other kids, she would stand at the threshold of the orphanage hollering at us at the top of her lungs. She would swat each child on the butt with her bare hand as they made to rush past her but me, she would gather my cold wet body into her arms. She would fret over me and heat up warm water for me.
” Why are you crying?” A pot bellied man in tatters, sitting beside me on the wooden bench in the reception room asked. He was fat and ugly, his voice sounded like he was talking through his nose but his eyes were kind.
” I think something got into my eyes” i lied.
He nodded and looked away. But not before i saw the tears welling in his eyes. He had brought his pregnant wife to the little place known as Mercy hospital. She was still in the labour room when a little girl ran in to tell him that his old mother had fallen sick. He had gone with the little girl and returned not long after with a stoic expression on his face.
” How’s your mother now?” i asked.
” She’s fine” he snapped. Then he looked at me and his expression softened.” Sorry. I didn’t mean it to come out that way”.
I nodded and focused my gaze on my thighs. I felt a big drop of water land on my thigh, at first i thought it was my tear but i saw the man hurriedly scooting further away from me. There was a leak in the roof. I stood up, we moved the bench to another corner and sat down in silence. It was such an irony that i was scooting away from just little droplets of water. After leaving the orphanage, i ran out of the meager money i took with me. Cold hard ground under bridges become a rare comfort because it wasn’t all the time that i was lucky to find one accommodating.
On the street, i made friends and became a part of a family of street urchins. Some of my family members were touts and pick pockets, some of them sold their bodies to survive while some choose to hawk and at the end of the day we all find our way back to our various mosquito nets under the bridge. My family kept me safe, just for a little while until Garo, our head of the family took an interest in me. He was a tout. He had lost almost all his upper tooth in one fight or the other. He promised to protect me and take good care of me and i told him to get an apartment and i would become his.
A week later we moved into a bedsit in a dilapidated old building. He never laid a finger on me or me caused me a minute’ s grief and neither was i in love with him. I only laid down my body to have a roof over my head and regular meals. Few months later i missed my period, although i was just seventeen at the time i knew that i was pregnant. I told Garo who was overjoyed to become a father. He invited over his friends and our families, there was merriment for all little did i know that, that thing which caused him joy will be the same thing that will take him out of life.
I looked up at the sound of my name. The elderly nurse was sweating profusely, her armpit area was dampen and it had taken a yellowish form. She was fanning herself with the white sheet in her hand as i approached her. She trust the sheet into my trembling hands.
” That is your pregnancy result. I am sure that you can read.You are four weeks gone already, is your husband here with you?” She asked. ” Are you even married? You look too young. Too young.” She shook her head.
” I am nineteen ” i said, my voice was shaky.
” That is none of my business.I have other patients to attend to.” She turned to the man on the bench.” Oga your wife is not cooperating o, you better come talk to her”. The man jumped up worriedly and ran to her.
I walked out into the rainy evening. Out there in the rain, i let the tears flow out of my eyes freely. I felt so alone, i waved down a taxi and got into it. I paid the fare and alighted in front of the Nwosu’ s house. Jennifer Nwosu, had taken me in after Garo died. I started hawking after his death to make ends meet, one day, due to fortune or ill luck i was knocked down by a car. The driver behind the wheels was Jennifer Nwosu. She had taken me to the hospital, she paid a visit to me each day and she was there when i was told by the doctor that i lost the baby. She held my hand and comforted me.
I was relieved to hear i lost the baby.She mistook my tears of relief and joy for pain and misery. She had taken me into her arms, patted me on the back and she had promised to help me. When i was declared fit to go home she had taken me into her home and her life.
I pushed open the gate and entered into the compound. Little Linda ran to me, a doll in hand. She hugged my legs, i squatted and pulled her into my arms. She was such a sweet little child, so free and full of life.
” Let go of my child!” A harsh feminine voice said, She walked up to us and tore the child away from my arms. She pulled the little girl with her into the house and i followed silently. She sent the child to her room and faced me. ” Where are you coming from?”.
” Jen…..jenny you asked me to go do a pregnancy test”.
” Yes? What was the outcome?”.
I handed her the sheet, she glanced at it and looked up fiercely.
” I won’t have it! You hear me? i won’t sit back and watch you destroy my Friend’s home.”
I felt a tear stream down my face. ” Jenny remember you asked me to, remember you asked me to get pregnant so i could get him to marry me. You pushed me into it and now you want to leave me to my fate”.
” That was before i found out that your supposed ‘ Man’ was my best friend ‘s husband! Yes i advised you to do whatever it takes for him to marry you! I wanted to help you! So you can have your own home!” She clutched her heart and sat down, panting heavily. ” How could you not know that he was my friend’ s husband! ”
I closed my eyes. I wanted to block out all that was happening, i wished i could just fade into nothing and have some peace of mind. I remembered the day i met him, i was on my way to the supermarket. He stopped to give me a ride. He seemed different, or i thought he was. He had asked me to pick several items for myself which he paid for, afterwards, he gave me some wads of money. I couldn’t believe my eyes and my luck. Never in my young life had anyone given me such amount of money and all for nothing. He had simply said ” You are pretty ” . He asked me to come to his house later that week and i immediately agreed.
I showed Jenny the money when i got back and she was happy. She said i deserved a man who will shower me with love and affection. She said i should make sure i get him to marry me by all means. So i could join the circle of the ‘ rich’. I was so foolish, i desired things beyond my reach. I wanted to go on trips, drink red wine and go to the most expensive restaurant.
I never questioned why Johnson didn’t introduce me to his family, i never questioned why he didn’t even bother to ask me where i live. I didn’t question him why he only saw me on some certain days of the week. He gave me the keys to his apartment and on several occasions i noticed that the bedroom was always the way i left it the last time I was there. There was no single kitchen utensils in that apartment and yet i never for once thought otherwise. All i did persistently and constantly was to persuade him to marry me.until one day, when he snapped.
” Maggie are you not happy with the money i have been giving you so far?” He asked, trying to pull me onto his thighs but i pushed away his hands.
” Why won’t you marry me? we have been dating for three months now! All we ever do is to go out at night once a week! Afterwards you slap some money into my hands and cook up some stories which allows you to disappear for the whole week!” I shouted.
He rubbed his temple.” Maggie you are too young to be talking about marriage. You have your whole life ahead of you. Let’s have fun! is it the money? I will give you more if that is what you want”.
” Johnson Adediwura, i want to spend that ‘ whole life ahead’ with you. I don’t want to keep having fun! Why? Why? Why won’t you marry me? am i not pretty enough?”
He got up and picked up his trouser from the ground.
” Maggie you are beginning to get on my nerves! Is marriage all you care about?” He snapped. ” What do you know about me? I am tired of your constant nagging! I thought you would be different but sadly you are just like the rest of them!” He pulled on his trouser hastily. ” Do you want to know what you are to me? do you even care to know? why couldn’t you be satisfied with the way things are? Am i not taking good care of you as my mistress?”.
” Mis…..mistress?” I stuttered in shock. ” What do you mean?”.
“You are my mistress Maggie. That is what you are to me. I got this place because of you, i was even planning to hand you the keys so you can live here but as it is we are over! My wife does not give me as much trouble as you are giving me!”
I blinked back the tears welling in my eyes” Johnson you are married? You are married? ”
He fished out something from his pocket and held it up. It was a shiny gold band. He was truly married.
” See i liked you from the first day i set my eyes on you. I thought you were a young and innocent girl who will be my respite when i need to relax. I thought you were even a virgin with the way Jennifer talks about you when she comes to my house.”
I felt my jaw drop in surprise.” Wait, wait. You know Jennifer?”
” I got curious after hearing her sing your praises. She couldn’t believe a young girl from the slum could be as refined as you are. She couldn’t believe how smart you are considering the fact that you were a homeless orphan. I wanted to meet you, i felt a connection with you even though we hadn’t met. I felt you were different and you saw life the same way i view it based on your past. I grew up in the slum too, worked hard to become what i am today. I spied on the Nwosu’ s house just to catch a glimpse of you. I didn’t want to arouse any suspicion so i continued spying on the house with the hope that you would come out of the house. Several times i give my wife some money to give you when she was going to see Jennifer, her friend. She thought that i was just being kind and i also urged her to be nice to you considering what Jennifer has told us about your unpleasant past.”
I felt my knees get weak and i held onto the bed.
” How could you? You…..you said you loved me and i was the only woman for you. How could you! how do i face Jenny? Knowing that i have been sleeping with her friend’ s husband?”.
” Are you crazy? Jennifer must not know about this! do you want to destroy my home and all that i have laboured for? i will write you a check and that would be your settlement! you are no longer the ‘ comfort’ i thought you would be! i thought we would help each other forget our problems but you only seem to add more to it with your constant nagging!”
I felt someone tug on my hand and i opened my eyes. Jennifer’ s gaze was fastened on my face.She had jarred my riverie before i could undo the hand of time. I wish i could.
” You have become so silent. What is going through your mind? I hope you are not blaming me for your woes.” She said. ” By the way, have you told Johnson about the pregnancy? ”
” Good. Don’t tell him. I will come up with a plan” She reassured me.
I nodded.” I would like to collect the money i gave to you ”
She blinked her eyes in surprise. ” Which money? you mean the money Johnson Adediwura gave you?”.
” Sweetheart, that money doesn’t belong to either you or I. It is wrong for me to keep such money knowing that you got it from my best friend’ s husband after sleeping with him. I gave it away, i gave it all to charity. That is the best thing to do. Don’t worry, i will make sure you lack for nothing.” She said.
I felt a sob caught in my throat. She patted my hand softly and i closed my eyes again as i felt a wave of nausea wash over me. My money was gone. Over five million naire, which i had given her over the course of three months was gone.
To be continued..