Ifeoma did not know what she felt after hearing Nonso’s words. She wanted to lunge at him and tear him to pieces but she was too weak. He was responsible for her loss and he was not sorry. She wanted to kill him if she could but all she could do was break down and sob uncontrollably at her helplessness. As she cried, she felt her whole strength sap out of her and the room began to swirl before her eyes before she fainted into the lady’s waiting arms.
She struggled to put Ify on the bed and did not bother to ask for Nonso’s help because she was scared of what he would do to her in the process. She had seen how pleased he was when they found out she had miscarried her baby.
He walked past her to the balcony and looked down at the not-so-busy road lost in thought.
“Hey” he heard Sandra’s voice beside him and turned to her. “You really have to –”
“I don’t want to hear it again” he warned as she gave a sigh of resignation. She wanted him to call a doctor to attend to Ifeoma.
“You should go to bed, Sandy” he said and walked inside.
“Onyinyechi” Mrs. Nwodo shouted but received no reply. She called two more times before entering Onyi’s room to see her kneeling down. “Onyinyechi Nwodo, I am very sure that you are not praying” she said but Onyi remained on her knees.
With a knowing look, her mother shuffled her feet and closed the door to Onyi’s room. Onyi immediately jumped up with a smile thinking her mum was out and turned to see her mother staring at her with arms akimbo.
“Err…mama, I just finished praying”
“Really? Tell me, what did you pray for?”
“Good sales” that was all that ever came to her mind.
“I was calling you, did you hear me when I called?” her mother asked as Onyi frowned.
“Mama, I don’t want to go there. He returned last week and I don’t want to go near that house until he leaves. Please mama, you know he spends only three weeks before leaving; I’ll go there in two weeks or if it’s really urgent, I can help you call Odinaka; he’ll gladly go”
While she spoke, her mother just folded her hands and gaped at her lips that moved non-stop. “Doesn’t your mouth ever hurt you? You are such a chatter box. I only asked if you heard me when I called and you’re talking about…” she paused to think and opened her hands in confusion. “What were you even talking about?”
“Err…I…you want me to get pumpkin leaves from Mr. Okeke’s farm” she grudgingly said.
“And you want to do that in the next two weeks? You are so smart my daughter. Now take that basket from the store and get the leaves as well as some oranges and tangerines; and for the umpteenth time, that is not Mr. Okeke’s farm. It’s our own but there’s no fence to demarcate the two”
“Mama, please I read somewhere that when a lady is on, she should not be involved in strenuous activities”
“You are the laziest girl in the whole Awkunanaw; go now.”
“Bye” she said and left the house taking the basket as well as the wheel barrow from the shed.
She hated going there when he was around and she really hoped he would not see her when she would be busy at the farm. Not that she was shy, but he always taunted her. The last time she had seen him, she had slapped him in front of his family and friends because he commented on how she served the food with the garri on the left and soup on the right. That had been a year ago and he always came home every four months.
She arrived at the farm soon enough. It was just a stone throw from their house and she hoped she would get everything on time before any of the Okekes would see her. The moment she bent down, she heard “Onyi” and almost winced.
“Dimma, how are you?” She asked as she stood up to greet her.
“If your mother had not sent you to get vegetables, you wouldn’t care to know I am around, would you?”
“It’s not like that” she paused. “You know how things are; you should have come to my house since you know how I avoid your house like a plague every three weeks in four months” she said defensively as her friend laughed and hugged her.
“Onyi, you’ll never change” she said.
The rivalry had existed between Onyi and her cousin, who had lived with them ever since he lost his parents in a car accident, for years. Dimma thought it was when they set eyes on each other; she was just five and he was ten but they were on each other’s necks and it had continued until they grew. The two families had learnt to ignore the both of them when their usual arguments and quarrels began.
“Anyway, what are you getting today; I’ll help you”
“Oranges, tangerines and ugu leaves” she replied. “I need to take them to the market tomorrow”
“Well, I’ll help you with the leaves, you go ahead with your tree climbing” she offered as Onyi smiled.
“As if I will climb the tree”
“Don’t tell me you plan on hitting the oranges”
“Okay. I won’t tell you” she said with a smile and ran off with the basket in her hand.
With a long stick in her hand, she began hitting the ripe oranges. She was sure she had hit up to twenty oranges when she heard a clap. She did not need a soothsayer to tell her who it was.
“A round of applause for the most hardworking girl in Nigeria” he said as she turned to him and scoffed. “Are you going to hit me with a stick this time?” he asked with arms akimbo as she took in a deep breath and began to pick the oranges on the floor.
He gasped knowingly. “Is this real, a miracle? The chatterbox of Awkunanaw has nothing to say; awesome!”
“Brother” as Dimma fondly called him. “Please, leave her alone. Isn’t it enough that she avoids the house whenever you are around?” at that moment, Onyi picked up the stick and started hitting the oranges again.
“That’s because I’m the only one who tells her the truth” he remarked as she stopped what she was doing and stood still. A smile of victory appeared at the corner of his mouth.
“You know what?” She began angrily. “People pray for officers to be safe but I pray…no offence Dimma, but I always pray that you –”
“Stop it, don’t say such things” Dimma corrected immediately as her cousin smiled.
“She’s probably too lazy to remember that such things are not meant to be said” he turned to her “at least I’m always in your prayers” he remarked with a chuckle.
“Have I ever told you I hate you?” she asked angrily as he laughed harder and turned to his 20-year old cousin who was frowning at him.
“Yes, you have” he paused “…and don’t ever forget that the feeling is mutual” he added and turned back to Dimma. “I’m going for a stroll, I’ll be back in the evening” he told her and left turning back to wink at Onyi.
“Argh!” she exclaimed and threw the stick on the floor. “I hate your cousin”
“I know” Dimma said with a knowing look.
As Onyi was dividing the pumpkin leaves and preparing them for sales, her mother came in and stared at her. “Onyi, how do you feel doing this every day?”
“Mama, it’s so tiring. Whenever I come back, either my head or waist or one other part of my body always hurts. And all those people that like shouting at customers to come and buy things, I always have to shout louder than them so that I can sell and I always end up having a headache and a cracked voice. Also, sometimes that our faulty wheelbarrow keeps making me bump into stones and sometimes when the oranges or whatever is left falls out, I have to pick them all up and that adds to my waist pain. Sometimes, I also feel like having siesta but I can’t if not, they’ll steal some thing and I also –”
“Ah ah, you asked me how I feel”
“Yes…not what you go through everyday” she corrected as Onyi made a face. “Besides, all I meant to ask was how you feel going to the market to sell when you see your fellow students and classmates buying from you” she explained as Onyi’s facial expression changed but her face lit up immediately.
“Mama, it’s nobody’s fault that I’m here. Don’t worry. When there is enough for us, then we’ll be able to squeeze out money for school. As for now, I don’t really feel bad when I see them…I mean, they have to study very hard to get to my own IQ level” she said as her mother nodded dryly. She knew her daughter would soon start gibbering again. “You know I’m very intelligent…more than most of my classmates so I’m happy for them. When they get to their second year then maybe, their brain would be as advanced as mine” she concluded her speech that seemed never-ending to her mother.
“Okay” she replied quickly and continued. “I’ll do anything I can to make you go to school and be successful” she said with so much passion as Onyi nodded with a smile and her mother left.
A week later, Dimma invited Onyi to the house and Onyi only agreed when she found out that Nonso would be out of the house for an hour.
Onyi arrived and met the house empty; with that she knew Dimma had been called to the supermarket by her mother. She sat down and opened her clutch bag to get out a little book on which she wrote down her daily cash in-flow and out-flow and began to calculate.
“Oh great” she heard and turned immediately to see her nightmare standing at the door.
God! Dimma had told me he wouldn’t be home for an hour “What is it?” she asked as if it was her house.
“In my house, I’m being asked that question” he said with a laugh and closed the door. “So what errand exactly are you avoiding; farming, cooking, going to the market, doing the dishes, which one?” he asked as she glared at him. “Oh, I forgot one major option” he paused “did your mother tell you to read for the forthcoming JAMB and you refused? Is that what sent you out of the house?” he asked mockingly as she started to speak but took in a deep breath and left the house.
He scoffed as she left. She was just too lazy for his liking. He would have ended his taunting at house chores but she was also lazy academically. She would always tell his cousin that she was wasting her time in school when she could actually stay at home and enjoy whatever money came her way instead of spending on books and other endless school miscellaneous. He knew she always came first in secondary school (because Dimma always said it) but he always wondered how dumb her classmates must have been. The only thing Onyinyechi was good at was talking.
He turned to go inside when he noticed a small notebook on the sofa.
Dimma was so furious at her cousin for taunting Onyi that when she got home, she did not care to knock on his door. She barged in and queried him even though she knew it would not change anything.
“I’m sorry Dimma. If it is okay, I’ll also apologize to her” he said as Dimma could not hide her surprise.
“What?” Where was this coming from?
“I said I’ll apologize to her” he repeated himself as she thought of what to say but no words came to her.
She just walked out of his room.
Onyi pushed the wheelbarrow into the shed by the house. She had gone back to the market after the encounter with Chinonso that afternoon and it was already 6:35pm. She opened the door and saw her mother laughing with Chinonso Okeke.
“Good evening mama” she greeted and made for her room when her mother called her back.
“Am I the only one you saw here?” she asked as Onyi looked away from her mother to a corner of the living room.
“No…there is a little boy sitting in front of you” she replied as Nonso’s eyes widened. She always called him that when he extremely annoyed her –and that was often.
“Little?” her mother asked.
“Mum, it’s okay” he said and rose to his feet and walked up to Onyi. “Good evening” he greeted as she looked at him surprised but ignored him. “May I talk to you outside?” he asked as she looked at him once more in surprise but in a split second, she pretended to be unmoved.
She tried to sound nice in her mother’s presence. “Please, I’m tired and I have to –”
“I know, just two minutes” he told her as she rolled her eyes and walked outside with him.
She did not want her mother to force her to do it; she preferred doing things on her own.
When they were quite a distance from the house, Nonso turned to her angry face that was clearly not turning towards him. “Onyi, I’m very sorry for what I said this morning. I did not mean half of it…okay, I did but I’m really sorry for saying that”
Suspicion and bemusement filled her face as she stared at him. “Did you drink?” she asked as he smiled.
“No Onyi, I didn’t”
He never even called her Onyi.
“Am I forgiven?” he asked her but all he got from her was her looking him up and down. “I’m never going to do it again” he promised.
“Good for you” she said as if she was in charge but he only smiled and that added to the bemused look on her face.
“So, I’ll see you tomorrow” he said as she squeezed her face.
“For what?” She asked immediately.
“I don’t know” he replied and put out a hand to shake her but she did not return it. “Good night Onyi and see you tomorrow” he said and left as she looked on wondering what Dimma must have told him.
She hurried back into the house and met her mother’s questioning gaze. “Mama, what is it?” she asked as her mother sighed and gave her a notebook.
“He said Dimma told him to give this to you” she said and gave her the book as Onyi stared at it.
That explained his attitude; her diary must have fallen out of her clutch bag when she had brought out her sales book.
Nonso lay in bed with his arms under his head and his eyes gazing at the ceiling. He had been thinking about Onyinyechi Nwodo all day –the real Onyinyechi Nwodo.
He had always known her as a careless, lazy, arrogant girl. She had always claimed that school was for those whose brains and IQ were not well developed and those who could not be smart without listening to a teacher’s voice but the truth was that her mother was terribly ill and all the money they had saved up for her education, she had spent them on her mother and lied to her that she had failed JAMB.
Her mother’s condition required continuous medication and she knew they would not cope if she was in school and that was why she always pretended that school meant nothing to her but inside, she was dying to be in school.
She was not actually lazy –at first. She had used it as a means to keep her mother active and alive. She never wanted her to focus on her ill health and get depressed but to realize that she still had to live for both of them.
In order to meet up, she read Dimma’s notes and studied her textbook. If not that examinations had to be written, Onyi was as good as a second year Mass Communication student in the University.
He was thrilled to know that she was actually caring, loving, and really intelligent and was able to pretend that she was the exact opposite.
The next day, he checked her at home but she was not around. He went to her stall but she had told him to get lost and not wanting her to feel embarrassed, he dropped the diary on the table and left. He waited for her and in the evening as she pushed the wheel barrow with the leftovers from the day’s sales, he heard her sigh with fatigue and felt for her all the more. She had so much responsibilities on her shoulders.
“Don’t worry; you’ll make better sales tomorrow” he consoled as he joined her on the path and she had turned to him in surprise.
“Chinonso, why won’t you leave me alone?” there was a kind of pleading in her voice.
“I want to talk with you”
“Okay. Tell me what you have to say. I’m very sure you read the notebook” he tried to say something but she stopped him. “Don’t even try to deny it Mr. Okeke”
“I’m not going to deny it…I did read it” he confessed as she looked down but back at him with a look that told him that he could definitely not bring her down.
“You had no right to do that? You have no shame”
“Why would you bring it to my house anyway?” he had said defensively.
“It’s always in my clutch bag. I never wanted my mother to come across it and then of all people that had to see it, it had to be you” it was obvious she was trying to control her feelings that were almost getting out of control. His eyes were fixed on her; as though she was so transparent he could see through her.
Then she thought of something. “Look, everything written in there are lies. I didn’t even write it… a customer forgot it at the stall a long time ago and I’ve been holding it since then” she lied.
“How is mum doing?”
“She’s fine” she replied with a frown and began to push the wheelbarrow.
“Onyi, you can’t handle this on your own”
“Oh” she said with a laugh. “I need the rich boy’s help now. I’m poor and I can’t afford it but you’re big and rich. You just have to click your fingers and my mama will be well” she paused. “Well guess what? I don’t need your help. I’ve been doing it on my own and I’ll love to leave it that way”
“At the expense of your education?” he sounded angry but she swallowed hard and looked away. “Onyi, you don’t have to feel embarrassed” he said as she scoffed.
“So how long exactly do you plan to make fun of me?” he started to speak when she spoke up again. “That’s why you read it…so that you could make fun of me” she had not sounded like she was asking but rather making a point; stating a fact.
“To be honest with you Onyinye, that was the reason” he had admitted as she bit her lips. She was still trying to pretend that none of it got to her. “But when I read it, I regretted it immediately and at the same time I realized that you’re loving, caring…you sacrificed your life for your mother; sacrificed your happiness –”
“I’m happy” she corrected and immediately looked down at the wheelbarrow that had clearly stopped moving.
“Onyi, I know you want to be…and you will be. You’re a wonderful girl…you’re a good girl and I…” he had paused “I really like that”. Onyi’s eyes were on the ground now. He then took in a deep breath and braced himself for the next action. “Onyinye, I could help you if you want” he added politely but she just shook her head with her eyes still on the ground.
He tilted her face upwards and saw how red her eyes had become. She shoved his hands away and scoffed. “Insult me as much as you want, Chinonso”
“Onyi, it’s not an insult” he was getting angry. “I can help you”
“No, I do not need your help” she had yelled as he kept his eyes fixed on her and then walked away.
Four days had passed since he had seen Onyi but the day before, he had purchased drugs for her mother and given her five thousand naira for her upkeep while Onyi was at the market because he knew she would outrightly reject it. He was surprised she had not come the night before since she always claimed she did not need anyone’s help.
As he went through his phone lying on the bed, he scanned the news.
“Chinonso Okeke” she shouted and barged into his room.
He was wearing only a pair of trousers that was unzipped but she did not seem to care.
“I thought I made it clear that I did not need your help” she shouted but received no reply. He just sat on the bed staring at her in surprise. “Bloody show-off, answer me. Did I beg you to help my mother? I’ve been taking care of her on my own for two years now and I’ve been doing just fine. I never asked for your help” she shouted angrily but still received no reply.
When she finally stopped speaking, he rose to his feet and walked up to her. “If your blood is so hot, why aren’t you with the drugs and the money?”
“Mama refused to give them to me” she replied and sighed. “How much did you spend on the drugs? I’m very sure the prices escalated. They always do”
“It’s none of your business. I’m not telling you”
“Just tell me so I can pay you back …maybe in installments. I can take care of my mother on my own”
He could only stare at her. What was worse than her situation was the fact that she would not accept she needed help. He decided to ignore her and he sat back on the bed with his eyes fixed on her waiting for her next move.
Few minutes later, she bit her lips and said, “Please, just tell me how much you spent, I’ll try to pay up as soon as possible” her voice became calm, as if he was forcing her to pay back.
When she did not get any reply from him, she felt her eyes get wet but he was no longer looking at her anymore.
He finally turned to see her unbuttoning her shirt.
Watch Out for Chapter 4…