Abowu District Episode 25
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“So, how much do you need?” Doyin said to Toye as he sat in his chair the next morning.
“Don’t worry about it,” Toye replied, his eyes on the file before him.
“So you would rather borrow money from a total stranger than borrow from me?”
“At least, a total stranger would not talk to me as if I am his servant.”
Doyin laughed. “You’re too temperamental, how did you even get this job?”
Toye looked at him, thinking that he just sounded as condescending as Uche Okafor sounded. “So you also think that I’m not fit for this job.”
“This is exactly what I just said! You’re too temperamental. You take things to heart much more than you should. Are you not a man?”
Toye didn’t reply, he closed the file in front of him and opened another one.
“So you don’t want to ask me for money?”
“I said don’t worry, I’ll sort myself out.”
“Alright, do as you wish.”
The hours passed and Doyin got up from his chair.
“I’m going to lunch.”
“Alright,” Toye nodded and rubbed his eyes, wishing that he could go out to lunch too but knowing that he couldn’t afford to. Even though Becky and the child were in Igba, Toye realized that he was still spending as much as he was when Becky was with him. Annabelle loved to cook and experiment with different recipes, and good food cost a substantial amount of money. If she wasn’t asking for money for food, she was asking for money for her cosmetics or money to pay for something at her shop. He was always spending and Toye realized that the problem of lack would not go away expect he dealt with it. He needed money, and a lot of it. Annabelle didn’t like excuses and he hated feeling inadequate.
He got up and headed towards the toilet where he found Bala, urinating, closing his eyes and wincing. He stood close to the door, trying to give his boss as much privacy as possible, yet realizing that this was the opportunity he had been looking for.
He cleared his throat and approached the urinal, feeling Bala’s eyes on him. The big man zipped up his trousers and tightened his belt around his heavy stomach. He hesitated for a moment and then turned away from Toye.
“I can help you sir, if you don’t mind.”
Bala stopped, just as he was about to open the door.
“I know someone who sells good herbs for your … for it.” Toye said, zipping up his trouser. “Just say the word and I will get you what you need.”
“Are you sure it will work?” Bala asked, still facing the door.
Toye opened his mouth to answer when the door flung open, hitting Bala in the face.
“Sorry sir! I’m sorry sir!” one of the corporals said, saluting and bowing at the same time, all the while holding his buttocks.
“Why are you running into the toilet, are you a child? Or have your private parts been set on fire?”
“Sorry sir, I ate something that doesn’t agree with my stomach.”
“Get out of my sight before you defecate at my feet.”
Toye stifled a smile as the corporal burst into one of the toilets. When he looked up, Bala was gone.
Toye couldn’t concentrate. It seemed that he had found a temporary solution to the demotion hanging over his head. Bala now knew that he needed him, still he wondered if he could rely on his desperation and what he hoped would be his gratitude after he had helped. He realized that this was the opportunity he needed to get Bala’s attention and he hoped that it would work out as he desired. If Bala agreed to the plan, then his problems would be solved and he would have a legitimate reason for meeting with Bala if he encountered Doyin again.
He cleared his throat and sat up. Doyin was dozing off opposite him, after having eaten at Mama Willy’s restaurant.
“Doyin… what’s the name of that woman again? The one who sells those herbs.”
“Rebecca…” He sat up slowly. “Don’t tell me that you’ve caught another disease…”
“No, it’s not for me. It’s for someone.”
“Are you sure?”
“Annabelle will never forgive you.”
“I said it’s not for me.”
A corporal came into their office and handed Toye a note. It was from Bala.
Meet me at the restaurant beside the Ministry of Finance. Seven pm sharp, don’t keep me waiting.
Toye smiled inwardly, Bala had taken the bait and Doyin would eventually know who needed the herbs.
Sewa stood in front of the white shop along Thompson Road with Babatunde. On the same road was the Abowu textile factory, Abowu Cooperative Bank and three publishing companies. On the next road was the Officer’s Mess and the Agricultural Research Institute. The shop was empty but could take about ten tables, there was a small but suitable space for the kitchen and a toilet by the side of the shop. Some of the louvres were missing and the terrazzo floor needed a lot of scrubbing to make it presentable, there was soot stains marking several spots on the floor. Black and brown smudges sullied the lower parts of the white walls, requiring a good painting.
“Where are we going to get the money to make this place presentable?” Sewa cried.
“I’ve spent all the money I have renting this place.”
“I can give you some money.”
“Babatunde where do you intend to get the money from?”
“I have the balance of the children’s school fees and the rent…”
“No, we can’t do that. What if this business doesn’t do well?”
“It will do well.”
“No, we can’t take that risk.”
“Maybe I can borrow some money from Mr Carlton.”
“Mr Carlton again? Must we go to him for all our problems?”
“But we need to get this money. I can make all the table and chairs you need but I still need money for the wood, and we need to get the walls painted. Not to talk of the other things we need to do to get this place looking good.” he sighed. “Alright, I won’t got to Mr. Carlton, but I will borrow from someone.”
Sewa sighed, “I don’t like this Babatunde.”
“Can any of your friends help?”
“I don’t think so, but let me ask Florence.”
Florence was picking beans when Sewa showed up at her house later that day.
“Sewa, you look troubled, is everything alright?”
Sewa told her about the landlord’s ultimatum and her need.
“So how much do you need?”
“I need about fifty naira…”
Florence laughed. “Me, Florence? Where do you think I’ll get such an amount from?”
“Florence this is not funny, I have worked too hard, and this business is all I have.”
“I’m sorry. I was just amused that you thought that I would have it.”
Sewa didn’t know what she was thinking too. “It’s alright, I will look elsewhere.”
Florence sat up as if she just remembered something. “I might not have the money, but I know someone who should.”
“Yes, come and see me tomorrow evening.”
“Alright. When last did you see Deborah?”
“It’s been a while, one never sees her these days except she’s just returned from the mountain with a prophecy of doom.”
Sewa laughed. “I don’t know why you don’t like her.”
“It’s not that I don’t like her, it’s her hypocrisy I don’t like. She never encourages but she is the first person to condemn.”
“Well, we can’t all be the same.”
“No we can’t. Come here tomorrow, I should have the money.”
“I will be grateful.”
“So you want to go undercover?” Bala said scratching his eye.
“Yes sir,” Toye replied distractedly, noting the redness in the other man’s eye.
They had met according to Bala’s instructions. Toye had come with a small green bottle with an herbal potion that was supposed to cure the other man’s infection. Bala had just finished a meal of rice and beef stew, a bottle of beer stood beside his empty plate.
“Hmm… are you sure you can handle yourself?”
“Yes sir, I can, I will be very discreet…”
“That’s not what I’m talking about. I once knew an officer who went undercover to infiltrate a smuggling gang, a year later he became the second-in-command. He died two years later, he killed himself on his first night in prison, after he was arrested and realized that he would be spending the rest of his life in prison. He couldn’t handle seeing so much money, his wife opened a big shop in the middle of the market five months after he went undercover, that’s how we knew that he was no longer on our side. So I ask you, can you handle yourself?”
“Yes sir, I can handle myself.”
“Hmm…” Bala replied, itching his eye again. “Alright, let me think about it.” He looked at the bottle on the table. “Are you sure that this thing will work?”
“Yes sir, I’ve used it before.”
“Where did you get it from?” Bala asked winking and taking a gulp from his beer.
“A girl that lived close to my house.” Toye replied shamefacedly, wondering why he had admitted to being infected before.
“Those ones are the worst.”
There was an awkward silence between them before Toye asked to leave.
“Alright, let us meet here again tomorrow. I would have made up my mind by then.”
Toye looked forward to seeing Annabelle on his way home from the rendezvous with Bala. He passed by the women who sat outside the house next to Annabelle’s and refused to acknowledge them. He knew that they didn’t approve of his relationship with her, and that they scorned her for living with a man she wasn’t married to. Annabelle had told him countless times not to worry about them and that she wasn’t moved by their opinions of her but he saw the look in her eyes when they passed by a married couple. Toye knew that he couldn’t presently afford another marriage, there was too much involved and he didn’t want to fail again.
He shoved thoughts of getting married soon out of his mind and knocked on her door. The door opened and he smiled at her, she didn’t smile back.
They said at the same time. He noticed that she looked troubled.
“What’s the problem?”
“Annabelle… who is there? Why don’t you let the person in?”
Annabelle bit her lower lip.
“Who is that?” Toye whispered.
The door opened wider and Toye saw an older woman standing behind Annabelle. Even before Annabelle spoke, he knew who she was.
“Toye, this is my mother.”