Life with Treena Kwenta

June 15, 2009

Contented rivals!

– 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 husband’s ex-wife, she concealed it well.

“But I can still take both ladies shopping before she arrives, can’t I?” she asked Hyacinth when he announced that Nkem was coming.

“Sure, 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 don’t mind if I leave now, do you?”

“Of 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 she’s put on some pounds.”

“I hope not!” retorted Ify swiftly. “I didn’t eat much last night, did I, Rachael?”

“Of course not,” responded Hyacinth. “We were urging you to eat and you refused, saying that you were watching your weight. To me, you’re the perfect size, but it’s hard convincing any lady that her size is right. I like my lady with flesh on her. Ha! Ha!”

“Hey, that’s not saying that I’m too thin to be admired, is it?” I asked in jest.

“Treena, my dear, you’re in a class of your own. Your frame suits you very much and it shouldn’t be tampered with for any reason.”

See how diplomatic the guy is? He didn’t want to say that I’m too thin to be attractive. But thin is fashionable right now, isn’t it? Sure!

“Ah, you’d fail woefully if you try to tamper with Treena’s frame. She’s so thin at any given time that you’d be afraid that she would break,” added Ify. “I envy my sister-in-law’s figure o! I won’t lie. She can eat without worrying about piling on the weight. I wish I were more like her.”

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 wouldn’t be decent of us to look round the shop without purchasing anything. “Let’s buy something, no matter how small. That’s the tradition.”

“Count me out of that, Ify dear,” I told her querulously. “I don’t believe in making the rich richer in any way. I think it’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. It’s disgraceful. Out there, you have people starving!”

Ify looked at me with some concern. “Are you alright, Treena dear? You normally like the good things of life. Now you’re talking like a Communist. Are you hungry or something?”

“Now that you mention it; I am hungry. Look at the time. It’s almost three o’clock. I can’t remember when food last went into my mouth. I think I’ll nip across to that little restaurant I see over there and fill my tummy. Please make my excuses to Rachael. She’s attending to customers, so, she won’t miss me.”

“Hm! Treena, sometimes you’re too much. You know it’s rude when you’re a guest to say you’re going to buy yourself food. I’m sure it’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.”

“I know all that, Ify dear. And, you know what? I don’t care about etiquette right now. I am hungry. Get that. Look, I’ll solve the problem, myself.”

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.

“Oh, sister, please bear with me. I’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 you’ll like it. I know you’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.”

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!

“This woman is lucky o!” began Ify. “Her 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!”

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 Rachael’s office, and she could be hearing what she was saying.

Ify groaned on reading it and rolled her eyes to show that she didn’t believe me, but she desisted from further discussion of the couple’s wealth.

“Sorry, were you trying to talk to me?” asked Rachael, hurrying into her office. “Your voice was a bit muffled, so, I couldn’t hear what you were saying. We need to service the system. It’s no longer clear.”

“Oh, you mean your intercom?” I asked carelessly. “It isn’t working properly?”

“No. 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 I’m having with a visitor.”

“In spite of the guards? That’s very wise of you.”

“Thank you, my sister. Even though the crime rate here is low, one can still be attacked here without one’s staff knowing. For private and secret conversation with a known person, I switch off the system. How’s the food? I hope they didn’t put too much garlic, and the wine is good.”

“Everything is perfect,” chorused Ify and I. “Thank you.”

Rachael opened her own pack of food and began to eat. Customers began to stream in.

“Rachael,” said Ify, “shouldn’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, don’t you? If you can knock off some good discounts, I can buy the bulk of what I need here. I don’t mean to eat up your profit, but…”

“Sister, don’t worry. I can give you at very good prices which won’t ruin me. Some of my suppliers have just returned from hajj, so, I’m a bit overloaded. I also have stuff for low income workers. Aha, sister, if you don’t mind, I’ll package some bits and pieces for the welfare department of our church in Lagos to distribute to the disadvantaged.”

“Ah, God bless you, Rachael. They’ll really appreciate some surprise gifts. I’ll give you names and you’ll address the packages. I don’t mind taking them along at all.”

“They may be quite some weight, as I’m sending some ankara materials for distribution too.”

“Don’t worry. Nkem will take them to Cotonou and I’ll collect on our way back from Accra.”

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 didn’t know her that well.

“I can tell Madam Nkem to help us out with that,” offered Rachael. “She’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.”

While I leafed through some magazines in Rachael’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 she’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 shouldn’t go dwell in another country; not necessarily for wealth, but for peace. Nigeria seems to have that in very short supply at present.