– the funloving, but hardworking single parent
By Treena Kwenta
Hi readers! You can imagine the excitement with which I waited for Nkem to come join us in Lome from her base in Cotonou. How would she look like, I wondered. If Rachael was concerned about a visit from her husbandâ€™s ex-wife, she concealed it well.
â€œBut I can still take both ladies shopping before she arrives, canâ€™t I?â€ she asked Hyacinth when he announced that Nkem was coming.
â€œSure, but make it snappy, my dear. Nkem will have so much to discuss with her friend that the earlier they start, the better. Ha! Ha! Treena, you donâ€™t mind if I leave now, do you?â€
â€œOf course not. Rachael is quite capable of taking good care of us, judging by how well she looked after Ify yesterday; to the extent that I can see that sheâ€™s put on some pounds.â€
â€œI hope not!â€ retorted Ify swiftly. â€œI didnâ€™t eat much last night, did I, Rachael?â€
â€œOf course not,â€ responded Hyacinth. â€œWe were urging you to eat and you refused, saying that you were watching your weight. To me, youâ€™re the perfect size, but itâ€™s hard convincing any lady that her size is right. I like my lady with flesh on her. Ha! Ha!â€
â€œHey, thatâ€™s not saying that Iâ€™m too thin to be admired, is it?â€ I asked in jest.
â€œTreena, my dear, youâ€™re in a class of your own. Your frame suits you very much and it shouldnâ€™t be tampered with for any reason.â€
See how diplomatic the guy is? He didnâ€™t want to say that Iâ€™m too thin to be attractive. But thin is fashionable right now, isnâ€™t it? Sure!
â€œAh, youâ€™d fail woefully if you try to tamper with Treenaâ€™s frame. Sheâ€™s so thin at any given time that youâ€™d be afraid that she would break,â€ added Ify. â€œI envy my sister-in-lawâ€™s figure o! I wonâ€™t lie. She can eat without worrying about piling on the weight. I wish I were more like her.â€
Hyacinth grunted, his mind clearly elsewhere. He came round dutifully to hug and kiss us one after the other and then took his leave. Rachael drove us down to her shop. It was big and impressive. Name any type of jewelry and it was there: gold, assorted types of beads, diamond, costume jewelry, etc.
Then the gift items; mostly Vuitton and Christofle. There were tough-looking security guards around, whose eyes missed nothing. Rachael added that she had another shop in another part of town for textiles.
I sneaked a glance at Ify. Was that envy I could see on her face? She smiled and glanced at me too; probably wondering how I felt. She came to whisper to me that it wouldnâ€™t be decent of us to look round the shop without purchasing anything. â€œLetâ€™s buy something, no matter how small. Thatâ€™s the tradition.â€
â€œCount me out of that, Ify dear,â€ I told her querulously. â€œI donâ€™t believe in making the rich richer in any way. I think itâ€™s gross for people to be unashamedly rich like this. Do you know how much this shop here is worth? More than a billion naira. Then she said she has another shop elsewhere. Itâ€™s disgraceful. Out there, you have people starving!â€
Ify looked at me with some concern. â€œAre you alright, Treena dear? You normally like the good things of life. Now youâ€™re talking like a Communist. Are you hungry or something?â€
â€œNow that you mention it; I am hungry. Look at the time. Itâ€™s almost three oâ€™clock. I canâ€™t remember when food last went into my mouth. I think Iâ€™ll nip across to that little restaurant I see over there and fill my tummy. Please make my excuses to Rachael. Sheâ€™s attending to customers, so, she wonâ€™t miss me.â€
â€œHm! Treena, sometimes youâ€™re too much. You know itâ€™s rude when youâ€™re a guest to say youâ€™re going to buy yourself food. Iâ€™m sure itâ€™s on her agenda to take us somewhere for lunch. We can then offer to pay for ourselves. To pointedly go off while in her company to buy food is not nice. Hyacinth would be annoyed with her if he gets to know.â€
â€œI know all that, Ify dear. And, you know what? I donâ€™t care about etiquette right now. I am hungry. Get that. Look, Iâ€™ll solve the problem, myself.â€
With that, I walked over to where Rachael was talking to a customer, put my arm around her shoulder, asked for pardon from the customer to interrupt their conversation, and then sweetly told her that I wanted to have a look at the bookshop across the road.
She glanced at me, clearly alarmed because there was no bookshop in sight.
â€œOh, sister, please bear with me. Iâ€™m sorry to have neglected you. Lunch is long overdue. I sent one of my workers to get us some French take-away. I hope youâ€™ll like it. I know youâ€™re used to eating something better, but please manage whatever she brings back. Oh, there she is already back. Please go ahead with sister Ify, while I conclude this sale.â€
What can you say to that? Her staff set up a table for us in a corner of her office and Ify and I took a pack of food each and began to eat. Delicious! I was instantly revived. Thank God!
â€œThis woman is lucky o!â€ began Ify. â€œHer husband is spoiling her rotten. Where did they get the money for a hefty set up like this? And this is not their main line of business. Hm!â€
I refused to respond; instead, I took out a biro and wrote on my paper napkin that there might be a microphone or tape hidden in Rachaelâ€™s office, and she could be hearing what she was saying.
Ify groaned on reading it and rolled her eyes to show that she didnâ€™t believe me, but she desisted from further discussion of the coupleâ€™s wealth.
â€œSorry, were you trying to talk to me?â€ asked Rachael, hurrying into her office. â€œYour voice was a bit muffled, so, I couldnâ€™t hear what you were saying. We need to service the system. Itâ€™s no longer clear.â€
â€œOh, you mean your intercom?â€ I asked carelessly. â€œIt isnâ€™t working properly?â€
â€œNo. Maybe we need a new set. We need it here. Every now and again, you might get some people with dubious business coming to see one. They could be robbers or worse, so, we have intercom which ensures that my staff can follow any conversation Iâ€™m having with a visitor.â€
â€œIn spite of the guards? Thatâ€™s very wise of you.â€
â€œThank you, my sister. Even though the crime rate here is low, one can still be attacked here without oneâ€™s staff knowing. For private and secret conversation with a known person, I switch off the system. Howâ€™s the food? I hope they didnâ€™t put too much garlic, and the wine is good.â€
â€œEverything is perfect,â€ chorused Ify and I. â€œThank you.â€
Rachael opened her own pack of food and began to eat. Customers began to stream in.
â€œRachael,â€ said Ify, â€œshouldnâ€™t I see what I can get from you here before you take me to other places. My shop in Dolphin Estate caters for the middle class; you know, bank and oil and gas workers, telecoms workers, etc. You have stuff for that class here, donâ€™t you? If you can knock off some good discounts, I can buy the bulk of what I need here. I donâ€™t mean to eat up your profit, but…â€
â€œSister, donâ€™t worry. I can give you at very good prices which wonâ€™t ruin me. Some of my suppliers have just returned from hajj, so, Iâ€™m a bit overloaded. I also have stuff for low income workers. Aha, sister, if you donâ€™t mind, Iâ€™ll package some bits and pieces for the welfare department of our church in Lagos to distribute to the disadvantaged.â€
â€œAh, God bless you, Rachael. Theyâ€™ll really appreciate some surprise gifts. Iâ€™ll give you names and youâ€™ll address the packages. I donâ€™t mind taking them along at all.â€
â€œThey may be quite some weight, as Iâ€™m sending some ankara materials for distribution too.â€
â€œDonâ€™t worry. Nkem will take them to Cotonou and Iâ€™ll collect on our way back from Accra.â€
There was silence. I thought that was indiscreet of Ify. She could give the materials to Nkem in our hotel without Rachael knowing. Showing that she was chummy with Nkem was tactless. She must have realized her gaff because she hastily added that I will have to ask Nkem since she didnâ€™t know her that well.
â€œI can tell Madam Nkem to help us out with that,â€ offered Rachael. â€œSheâ€™s very involved in her church in Cotonou. An Igbo church, actually. She helped to set it up and spends a lot of her money in keeping it going.â€
While I leafed through some magazines in Rachaelâ€™s office, she and Ify did business. Soon we left for her other shop. Well-stocked, but sales was sluggish. Nkem was already at our hotel when Rachael dropped us there. You should see how respectfully Rachael greeted her; almost kneeling down to her. Nkem responded warmly but in a patronizing way.
She and I hugged and kissed almost non-stop, creating a scene at Reception. She was looking fantastic with no signs of wrinkles even though sheâ€™s several years older than I and the gals. She had toned to a nice hue and her skin was velvety.
More importantly, she looked very happy and relaxed; that anxious look that she wore for many years, gone. For the first time in my life, I wondered if I shouldnâ€™t go dwell in another country; not necessarily for wealth, but for peace. Nigeria seems to have that in very short supply at present.