The Queen's Business Series
FREETOWN (EPISODE 1)

FREETOWN (EPISODE 1)

“Ishi-gba wa koi, ” Nnenda cursed at the man in the black jeep that sped past her almost soiling her outfit. She straightened her flared gown made by Izibesome and resumed scouting for a cab. She stopped a blue Mazda that approached her intently but the driver suddenly sped past with the arrogance of a taxi driver on chatter. “Stupid man with your excuse of a car.” She signaled another and hopped in. “Asia Town””One five.””Seven.””Haba madam as you fine so.””One thousand.””One two last, madam.”She hissed, tapped on the door and attempted to alight.”Make we go,” he said. She settled in and notified Aleruchi she was on her way. She took another look at her makeover done at Gabys Concept and her weaves and both were just perfect. The purple jewellery purchased from Yols and J’s store also blended perfectly with the peach dress she had on. 
She had put in so much effort to look good because she felt if all her acts fell in place, nothing would be compared to the abundance awaiting her when she would evolve from being an average final year student at the University of Port Harcourt to being the wife of an Azubike, one of the big names in the city. She walked into the restaurant and spotted the man with a closer semblance to the screenshots she had saved. He had recognized her flat nose and curvy stature he had seen in her mobile uploads time and again. She smiled at him as she gradually absorbed the fact that he looked shorter in person than his pictures portrayed. 

He kept making catcalls at a waiter in between meals. He finally requested for an extra bottle of water. Perhaps it’s just some of those things that tell we can’t have it all, Nnenda thought. Some etiquette classes would remedy this, she thought to herself. She would downplay her humble background as long as she was connected to this source that would change her life forever. They made for the car park after the meal and short-lived conversations which were fueled by the abundance of incompatibility. While Nnenda walked towards the array of flashy cars, he seemed to be intently moving towards the see through gate that locked in the gigantic Chinese Restaurant. She had not realized he was looking out for a taxi. “Aren’t you going to drop me off?”He didn’t hear her. Perplexed yet she hopped into the cab and dragged the hem of her gown which had gotten stuck when she shut the door. She opened the door, pulled it and slammed the door shot again. “Madam, your party quick close?” She looked ahead and it’s coincidentally the same man who had dropped her off. She sighed. “Your father is one of the richest men in this state and you hop in cabs?” she asked Azubike.”My father?””Engr. James Azubike,” she howls, staring at him with an unhidden iota of disdain. “Oh! That’s my uncle. That man, he has too much but we don’t get to see anything.” “Wait, you are not James Azubike’s…?” she sighed. She seemed more disgusted by the fact that he felt entitled to his uncle’s wealth. Hypocrite!

The poor manners and tacky outfit all began to come together. He raised his right hand over her shoulders oblivious of her disappointment, which she refused to conceal as she smacked them off. The driver increased the volume of his radio as the conversations go faint. Nnenda looked out of the window at a handful of hawkers chasing after an outstretched hand.  “What a waste,” she sighed.

The streets were hardly dry until November, when the rains minimally subsided. When it rained, it filled drainages, flooded streets, interrupted daily routine and complicated Sola’s work at the warehouse. Whenever it rained, the sandy floors usually became slippery and the truck dug the ground too deep leaving gigantic shallow prints as it approached the warehouse with each bottle hitting against another as the truck wobbled in the bad road. Sola’s work included stacking crates of soft drinks. A boy threw them vigorously from the well-arranged stacks on the truck while he caught them and hurled them to a waiting boy who piled them in the warehouse. The crates were wet and he had to catch them with more dexterity because his stout oga who owned the warehouse was watching and would not round up his pay if he noticed any broken bottle of soft drink. 

****

The cold wind caressed his body and caused him to sleep longer after the day’s task.“Boy!” He heard a voice and staggered off the brown cartons he had slept on beneath an overhead bridge at Mile One Motor Park. “Common answer,” another boy interrupted. He seemed gutless from his gaze but Sola could tell he grew his audacity on the strength of association with the other hard-looking boys. There were ugly looking boys dressed in disorganized clothes. One of them thrust a stick of cigarette through his cracked lips.“This na our territory,” the first guy said, then he stretched out his hands in a bid to indicate the territory he’s referring to.“I have nothing on me,” Sola said, seeing they wanted some payment for having slept under the overhead bridge – their territory. “Hans up,” another boy dressed in a faded green shirt and black shorts ordered. The boy had tilted his face cap to the side. He ran his hands desperately through Sola’s clothes and was disappointed when he found out that all the reserves were empty. “Gerrat here and don’t come back,” he ordered. Sola hurriedly adjusted his clothes and tried to lift the brown cartons on which he had slept but the boy angrily smashed Sola’s fingers with the sole of a chopped brown shoe. Sola had not expected the boy to further express his dissatisfaction. At that, the boy ran the sides of his right palm close to his neck, indicating that Sola would be dead if he yelled. Sola ran off immediately until they were out of sight.
****It was a month to Christmas. The hustle propelled impatience and there was usually a high accident rates at this time. The markets were congested, filled with desperate buyers hurrying to purchase cheap goods before the outrageous prices that came with the festive season. At such time, every mishap was caused by an envious relative back home who did not want the city people to return home happily and outshine them having not made it to the city. At other times, when they let them return peacefully, they bade them farewells with grave illnesses, which would consume their wealth in the New Year. Sometimes, they transferred all this evil by a casual handshake and at other times by the concoctions of a dibia. This had been the fate of Sola’s Uncle, his last surviving benefactor. 

He was in bed that morning when the vast wind slammed the wooden door shut and lifted the curtains, arranging sunrays on his face with the exact demarcation of the brown painted protectors. Then it gradually began to drizzle. He enjoyed the light drizzles stealing in through the net, caressing his honey-brown face as he lay on his back waiting for the white fluorescent light to disappear from the bulb and the fan to stop whirling from power failure caused by rain which would leave them in Iwo without electricity for hours and probably days depending on a factor he did not know that altered the frequency of their power supply and radio stations after the slightest downpour. The shut the glass window as the drizzles became more intense and power supply surprisingly uninterrupted. He could barely make out what his cousin had said when he called. At this time, the downpours were intense until his phone beeped and he was informed of his uncle’s passing during a community clash.

This was Oyinkansola’s life. He had pulled through, bagged a first degree and resumed as an assistant manager at Omugwo.com, a care-giving agency. He always wanted more out of life and so he had liaised with the accountants and they falsified figures in a bid to defraud the company. Sadly, his ambition at quick illegal fortunes had stripped him of his job and rendered him penniless!
****She had seen him at lunch break sitting next to a few persons lined-up in the hallway. She couldn’t have noticed his ebony dark skin, since he wore a brown shirt, if he hadn’t stared too long. She had come across him again when she headed out on an official assignment. He gulped down a bottle of water desperately. It was sunny so she didn’t judge him for drinking like his existence depended on it. “I should have been more careful,” he said, having thrown the bottle carelessly towards her car. “Your sleeves.” He took a look at himself and turned to stare at her. She wasn’t watching him but was busy unlocking her car doors and had thrown her bags on the seat when she heard him speak again.“What?”“You don’t show up for an interview with your sleeves rolled up.”“Oh that!” he sighed seeming less concerned.She had offered to drop him off but he declined on the first instance and grabbed the second opportunity the minute she insisted. He had measured his pride by the only currency left in his pocket to bring him back to Alfa Prime the next day. The interviewer had made excuses of being worn out and had grouped them in batches for subsequent days.“Oyinkansola Believe, Tuesday.”  He hated the arrogance with which the lady called his name; he wouldn’t take such disrespect if he weren’t an applicant. He was not shortlisted and he decided to end that bitterness on three rounds of alcohol. He had given up on trying and had asked Soye out on a date. After all, she had come at him first; if she had the nerves to talk about his sleeves then he could as well ask her out for lunch. She had offered to pay for lunch after his interview but he had turned it down. It was his way of showing off after the embarrassment, when she had passed him her iPhone to punch in his contacts. It had been the most embarrassing five minutes of his life. She had figured he was confused and passed a complimentary card instead. 

The lunch bill had wiped clean every naira he had in his pockets, a piece from Beardman Clothing; just another evidence of the life he desired. It was the mene collection, one of the best outfits he had as a 38 year-old bachelor. The plain attempt at being the man had cost him a-two miles walk that evening. He would not let her know his locale; it was too countryside for her urban aura, he thought. He couldn’t wear the camouflage any more. A few more dates had caused an exchange of life events. He told her all there was but could never bring himself to mention the fact that his employment was terminated on grounds of fraud. He had hoped she could find a way to get him an edge over the applicants but he could never bring himself to ask. 

A few more dates, empty words, misplaced emotional priorities and Soye had married him, broke and all! She had spent most of her life here at Agudama. Agudama used to be one of the bourgeoisie residences here in Port Harcourt, until development began to rapidly eat into other parts of the city. It was the neighbourhood her parent’s civil servants earnings could secure . They were a typical average family.Soye did almost anything to appease Sola’s ego. She was the perfect housewife and a submissive breadwinner. Anything short of this was unacceptable. The days went by fast. She had helped him start up a business line, but he had squandered it all in an online money-doubling scheme. She was livid yet she had said it was okay. Love is stupid.She depicted on her media platforms perfect couple pictures showing that she was also capable of love and a smooth family life she knew didn’t exist. She couldn’t complain. She loved him; he was a fine man and was willing to love her.  She had accommodated his loose lifestyle, playing ignorant to put it all together but he didn’t seem to be getting any better with fidelity. As the days went by, the ugliness of his recklessness infuriated her. She lost faith in him the day she had found Zircon jewelry in his pocket. She had spoken to her mother the last time she visited home. “Unpolished nails, such nonchalance.”“I have been busy.”“Where do I keep it?” a short muscular man wearing the back of his shorts and a tired white shirt glued to his sweaty skin and sweating on all sides asked, with the pressure of two bags of rice on his head. He had been packing foodstuffs since she arrived.

Soye’s mum pointed her lilac coated nails to a corner in between a pile of yam tubers and a few drinks. She was wearing a long perfectly tailored floral gown that accentuated her figure.Soye felt grateful for the distraction. She could tell her dissatisfaction with the way the man had placed the bags. Her mother muttered some incoherent words as she tried to lift the bags of rice after the man had left the kitchen to set them properly. It was their tradition to stock the house before Christmas. She returned to her seat next to Soye, still using her hand fan made by St-Alexandrias craft. She had gotten them during her wedding with matching fascinators. Soye wasn’t surprised they were still intact after almost three years. She nodded, pouted and in these three expressions she had the nerve to tell her Sola’s attitude was not totally out of place.  “Or do you want to join your sisters here; you have to build your home. We all did and it was not always rosy,” she concluded fanning herself vigorously.Her mother’s eyes had a taint of helplessness but there seemed to be a trace of hope that she never wanted to explore. She pulled through one day at a time and had raised three kids as a civil servant with her father who was also the General Overseer of a Pentecostal church down town.
**** It was his incessant loud snoring that woke her up. It filled the dark room, in fact the only thing that spoke of life within. The clock ticked and she strained to catch a glimpse. The security lights from the neighboring flats stole into the bedroom through the blinds and rested on half of the white painted walls. Outside, there was silence except for dogs barking from a distance which interrupted sounds of large trucks speeding past coupled with faint voices from the neighbouring flats. He snored again, louder this time, and then turned and dragged the yellow wax print over his naked thighs. He turned facing her, yet still asleep. He looked totally helpless lying there, bereft of all the hideous acts he displays while he is awake.“I hate this man,” she sighed heavily.  She got out of bed, knots her robe and made for the kitchen. She would serve yesterday’s leftovers; it’s the low life Sola’s recklessness had brought them. She was tired, having cried her eyes out, even though she had felt relief afterwards. She sorted the kids for school, served him breakfast and left him listening to Ace the Wrapper, Tope Oki and Mercy Chinwo,. It was all he did. His music choices contrasted perfectly with his lifestyle. He used to be a pianist, the kind who had good ears for music, even though it was more of an income path than intentional glorious edification.“Chizaram, I would so smack you. Get out of that seat now!” Soye yelled, hitting the table; she didn’t care as every item it held jerked and the hot water from the teacup spilled on her labs. She stared at her son with fire in her eyes as he stopped in his tracks and found a place next to his brother who sat still eating his breakfast slowly. Her aggression was targeted at Sola who had just hit her right in front of the children for not knowing where she had kept his brown tie. The argument had grown ugly from futile guesses of where she had kept them to wandering in search. He was hurrying to an unknown place he had not spoken of. He smacked her so hard her jewelry fell off her ears. She was mad. She needed to share her pain in a way that would affect him without being directed at him. He had seen this before. He knew the rage was his but she would never dare raise her voice at him even in the presence of what looked like the right atmosphere. He slid his wristwatch on and wore his designer spray from Ravishing scents and walked out of the door. Soye finished up and left the house as well. She dropped the kids off at school and headed for Alfa Prime. 
****To be continued… 
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