WHAT IF?

It was a Sunday and I was visiting Wale. Sly, Scar, and Phantom (I just realized how like a band of pirates we must seem) were there too. I was slugging it out with Wale on FIFA 17 and he had me against the ropes – I was two goals down with less than thirty minutes to play. I didn’t want to relinquish my controller, and with it my title of champion, so I had to focus and figure out a way to counter his quick dribbling and long-range shots. “Guess who I ran into the other day?” Sly asked.

“Who?” Wale responded, and that gave me a break to counter. It was lightning quick with Ronaldo putting a side-footed effort past his goalkeeper.

Yes! 2-1.

“Ehen, so that’s your plan ehn? Distract me while Bobo scores,” Wale said. “Who was it, anyway?”

“You guys remember Siji?”

“Where did you see him? Dude has been M.I.A since he got married what, five years ago?” I asked.

“Ah,” Sly said with a look of surprise, “you didn’t hear that they’re no longer together?”

‘Wait, Siji that likes forming fitfam? The one with the beautiful wife and yellow daughter?” I asked, incredulous.

“The same one,” Sly confirmed. “It’s not news nau.”

I looked around to see the others bobbing their heads. “How did I not know this? You people have been hoarding gist, abi?”

“Shebi you moved to PH and freed your guys?” Scar said.

“Abeg shut up. Sly what happened?”

“Apparently she cheated on him…”

“So?” I asked.

“What do you mean ‘so’?”

“I mean I don’t get how it is almost expected for a guy to cheat, but a woman couldn’t. Like, the guys cheating who do they cheat with?”

“Well,” Scar said, “that’s the world we live in. Though in this case, maybe there was more.” We turned to Sly.

‘The way I heard it, dude didn’t even mind. How did he find out? She was in the bathroom and her phone rang a couple of times. My guy was taking her phone to her, that kain “your phone dey disturb my sleep’, and a message came in. You know all these iPhone things. He couldn’t believe his eyes. He sha asked her what was going on and he was willing to discuss it and see if they could work things out, but babe provoke. Cussed him out and mehn, it just got nasty. Long story short, they’ve been separated about two years now.”

“Oh wow,” I said. “This life is just one kain. What about their daughter?”

“She’s with the mom.”

“I don’t even know what to say.”

“Bobo,” Phantom said, “If you found out Cynthia was cheating on you what would you do?”

“You know what? I have never given this much thought, not because I kid myself that she loves me too much to cheat –though I hope that’s the case – but, because I understand that we’re human and people do stuff for reasons that make sense to them at the time.”

“Nah men, If Ronke cheats on me, she best have a damn good reason,” Sly said with feeling.

“What qualifies as a “damn good reason’?” Scar “And should she expect you to have same if you cheated on her?”

“Say ‘when’, not ‘if’.” Phantom joked.

“Guys, we’ve had this conversation before and I told her if she started feeling like things would go that way, she should talk with me about it. I am open to suggestions on how to spice things up, maybe even try a threesome…”

“Let me guess, another lady?” Phantom said.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” he replied.

“Ode.”

“I haven’t had this discussion with Cynthia, and maybe I should, but how though?” I wondered.

“Shebi you guys have an easy friendship? Slip it in one day.” Scar suggested.

“Hmmm, slip it in? I hear you.” I said with a wink and a nod.

“What is wrong with you? So spoilt. Gosh!”

“On the real though,” I said, “I would rather she was discreet and kept her secret. If, however, I found out, then we’ll have that conversation about what went wrong and how to fix it. If it’s a one-off or something that she needs on occasion so I know what I am dealing with.”

“I reckon if it’s purely physical, you can deal better. If she’s emotionally invested, guy just kiss the marriage goodbye – or you can have an open marriage type arrangement sha.” Scar said.

“And when are women not emotionally invested? Ordinary to off bra you will hear what are we doing?” Phantom said.

“Off bra? You’ve gone far sef. Just check up on her a couple times and then make the mistake of asking “you don chop?” and you’re in a relationship.”

“Oh well,” Wale sighed. “That’s life sha. I hope Siji’s doing okay?”

“Yea, he was actually looking well and he had a babe on his arm. I told him I’ll let him know the next time we’re having a BBQ.” Sly said.

“That’s cool.” Wale said, picking up his controller where he’d left it. “Ready to take what I have to give, babe?”

“Ugh! You’re the worst.”

PS: I drew the game in the 92nd minute, and won the game 2-4 after extra time #Champ.

FINDING HELP

“Hello babe, sleep okay?”

“My heart,” and as always this made me smile, “I am good. You nko?” Cynthia asked.

“I did too. How is Bobo doing?”

“He’s here beside me, sleeping. Mumsi thinks I should wake him up to bathe, but I am happy to let him wake up by himself. Meanwhile, you are now proud abi?”

“What did I do this time?” I asked.

“You didn’t let me know when you got to work. Is that the new one now?”

“Go jor,” I said. “I didn’t want to disturb you ni.”

“Ehn, you could have sent me a message.” She wasn’t going to let me off so easily.

“Oya don’t cry, I will not do like that again. You said we need help, kilode?”

“I woke up in a bit of a panic,” she said, “and thought of how time is going. Small time now I will be returning to work and we can’t keep mumsi here indefinitely. We should get someone soon so that they can learn what needs to be done and the transition will be seamless when mumsi leaves.”

“Oh that?” I finally relaxed.

“Yes, what did you think it was?”

“I dunno, just…” I pinched the bridge of my nose, something I did lately to help me gather my thoughts. “We’ve talked about this help situation nau, I’m game. Do you know anyone we can ask?”

“I’ve spoken with a few people and the stories I have heard both frighten and amuse me.”

She told me about a friend of hers who recently let her help go. The girl asked for a stove, set of pots and extra money because she didn’t eat pasta and some other food they cooked, plus they didn’t cook with iru the way she liked it so she felt her request was in order.

“Wait,” I said when I was done laughing. “Stove to put where? In the same kitchen, or to cook in her room?”

“She’s crazy ni. They just told her okay, and helped her pack her things the next day.”

“So harsh.”

“Na you know. I’ll get the number for the agent sha and give her a call.”

“Okay then babe…”

“Your son is up. Let me take him to mumsi. Talk with you later babe. Love you.”

“I love you too.”

The next week Cynthia called to say she was meeting with someone the agent brought.

“Okay hun,” I said. “Let me know how it goes, okay?”

One hour later I checked my phone to see messages from Cynthia. The interview went well and they were on their way to a primary health center to run some tests. She’d keep me posted.

The next time we spoke she told me the lady was a 23yr-old from Jos with basic education, enough to work with and develop if she felt inclined to do so. She was expected to resume by the next week.

Resumption date came and went and there was no sign of the lady. She didn’t call to say she wasn’t coming or anything like that. Cynthia gave her two days before calling the agent who apologized and promised to bring somebody else. The girl finally called two days later – four days after she was due to resume – with some story. Cynthia was over her.

Three days later she called me and was really excited. She had just interviewed a new girl, 21yrs and from the east. She had just completed her SSCE but her family couldn’t afford university so she wanted to work and earn some money to eventually pay for university. She checked all the boxes and Cynthia. Was. Excited. They were at the health center awaiting her test results.

When my phone rang again and I picked it, I could hear the dejection and disappointment with the first words she said. “Babe, we’re just leaving the hospital and I am just tired.”

“What happened?” I didn’t realise how much I had bought into her excitement until the emptiness hit my stomach.

“Wo, she’s pregnant jare.”

“No.”

“I’m just imagining how mumsi will feel when she hears. She was already acting like the girl was her second daughter. Let me call you when I get home.”

“Okay babe, drive safe. I love you.”

 

HELP ME

I woke up with a start and lay for a moment wondering why. I lay in the pre-dawn darkness blinking the spots away, waiting for my breathing to slow and for my heart to stop racing. I raised my wrist to my face and the glow from my smartwatch made me close my eyes. 05:16.

A cold draft washed over me and I felt my skin prickle; what was odd was that the windows were shut. I reached for the blanket which I had kicked off in my sleep and bunched it over my chest where cold fingers seemed intent on clawing their way through to my heart. Fear.

Shit.

I said I quick prayer before rolling out of bed, sleep forgotten. I played music from my phone, loud, and set about getting ready for work.

***

When I got to work I went about my ritual of brewing some coffee. I held the mug of warm dark delight to my nose and inhaled. I could feel it working its wonders before I took the first sip.

I walked through the lounge inspecting the set up before customers came in. Rosemary was not at her desk and I felt a slight irritation.

We’re going to have a talk about this.

I pushed the restroom door open, meaning to peek in and carry on, but I heard what sounded like a sob and I stood there listening for it.

Silence.

I decided it was in my head and was turning away when I heard it again.

“Rosemary, is that you?”

“Sir?”

“Everything okay?” I asked.

“Yes sir,” she said. I wasn’t convinced.

“Is it alright if I came in?” I asked her while telling myself it was a bad idea.

“I’m okay sir,” she said.

Turn around and go, she says she’s okay. I walked in, past the male toilets and knocked on the door of the female toilet.

“Come in sir,” her voice was small.

I opened the door and I almost dropped my coffee. She was wearing sunglasses but I could tell she had been crying. Her hair was all over the place. I set my mug down on the sink and walked up to her.

“What happened? Talk to me.”

She broke down and started crying. “I don’t want anymore sir, I am tired.” She said between sobs that shook her whole body.

“Hey…” I reached out and touched her shoulder and she collapsed into my arms, head on my chest. I held her there while she cried. For maybe five minutes we stood like that, and as I was beginning to think the crying wouldn’t stop, she stopped crying enough to tell me what happened.

The previous day she had received a message from a number she didn’t know, it was a picture of her boyfriend’s penis. There were also messages begging her to rein her man in. Apparently, it was something he did often, sending her pictures so there were other dick pics. He was asking her to have his baby.

Meanwhile, Rosemary had gotten pregnant two months before and he beat it out of her. She miscarried and was still recovering.

When she got home that evening and showed him the picture and messages from the lady, he beat her again. “I can’t seem to do anything right,” she wailed. “Everything I say or do earns me a beating. This morning I told him I was through with him and he followed me out of the house shouting at me on the road and beating me. It was so bad, the security people had to get involved…”

“Wait, he beat you till you got to work? Our security people stopped him? Did they detain him?” I was breathing hard.

“No sir,” she said. “They begged him to leave me, that he should wait for me to get home and resolve whatever it was.”

“You’re kidding! Please tell me you’re joking. Do you know their names?” She held onto my shirt because I was ready to go out and give them a piece of my mind.”

“Sir, please just stay.”

I gently unlocked her fingers from my shirt and I felt her tense. “I promise, I am not going to them now.” I tried to reassure her. “Do you want to go home?” She shook her head. “Do you think you will be able to work today?”

“Yes sir, I just need a few minutes and make up.” She smiled. “Look what I have done to your shirt now.”

My shirt front was wrinkled, and the area around my chest had some brown on it. “It’s not a big deal,” I said and walked away.

‘Sir,” I turned and she was holding my mug out to me. “Thank you for everything sir.”

“No worries…” her fingers brushed against mine as she handed me the mug and I looked up to see her looking at me. She felt the jolt of electricity.

I walked into my office with my mug of tepid coffee, wondering what had happened and what it said about me that I was affected that way by someone who was just crying in my arms.

I picked my phone up and scrolled through my messages. There was one from Cynthia that made the hairs on my hand rise.

Babe, we need to get help

 

BOBO 2.0

I was not always Bobo Nkiti. Maybe I was, but that wasn’t my government name.

I was born the fourth of five children: sister, sister, brother, me, sister.

I was argumentative as a child and was always getting into it with my brother, and that earned me the nickname ‘Zik’ after Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. Thinking about it now, that wasn’t such a bad thing being likened to one of our founding fathers who fought for Nigeria’s independence, but back then it made me see red.

My brother saying something like “Zik how now?” or “You dey follow Zik argue?” would send me into a rage that I could never express for fear of the beating that would follow from mama. I’d just be there swelling.

When I turned thirteen, or fourteen, while my brother and our friends played football and took care with how they looked – mostly because of girls, I was more likely to be found with my nose buried in a book, without a care if my hair grew wild.

My brother took to calling me Bobo Nkiti. I never understood why he started calling me that, but it stung worse than being called Zik. I guess it was because of its ironic connotation that I was bourgeois when I was bohemian if anything at all. The neighbourhood children joined in and the name stuck. As I got older I embraced it until I owned it and it stopped hurting.

***

When the time came to choose a name for our son, even before he came, Cynthia and I went through a lot of names and their meanings before deciding on what to name him. I checked online for “English” names that I liked and discussed them with Cynthia. Her only contribution was that his native name would be his first name. I thought this was ironic as she rarely used her Yoruba name. When we settled on the names, we took care that the initials spelled out another name which we planned would be his nickname. Cute, I know.

We asked his grandparents for names as well, and my mother was reluctant. “When I gave birth to you I named you,” she said, “and the name has served you well. Name your child. I will join you in praying for him.”

I insisted and she relented and named him after her father.

When people asked his name and we told them, they would go “ah” with a knowing smile because his first name was Igbo. What they didn’t know was that Cynthia gave him that name, and insisted it be his first name, and I loved her more for that.

Weeks have turned into months, and for all the thought that went into selecting his names, the name he reacted to; the name he answers to, is Bobo.

MY BABY

Back home from the hospital, there was some adjusting to be made and I was not ready.

My mother-in-law moved in with us, even though I heard that culturally it was supposed to be my mother doing the moving in. We don’t roll like that where I come from, plus Cynthia and I agreed that it made more sense to have her mother with her after childbirth.

With someone else in the house, I had to make some lifestyle changes.

Cynthia and I used to dress down at home, like birthday suit dress down, but now I had to make conscious efforts to wear clothes around the house. A small price to pay for the help and support she brought.

They talked to each other almost like equals but with respect. Back when we were still dating, Cynthia’s mom would ring her and she would answer with “What’s up?” This fascinated me then, but I was on the outside looking in. Now, we lived in the same house and breathed the same air, I was always confused as to how to respond to her or what to call her.

Growing up, my mother was my mother and we had an adult-child relationship. We called her mma or mama, and replying with “ma” was the verbal measure of respect.

With my mother-in-law, I tried “mummy” like Cynthia, but that didn’t roll off my tongue smoothly. I considered “grandma” but that only worked if I pretended I was speaking for the baby or to the baby about her. I tried “what’s up” once and, even though it didn’t make it past the thought phase, I swear I felt my mother’s disapproving look all the way from her house.

While completing the setting up of the baby’s room, a few things became clear to me:

  1. We didn’t really need a baby’s room, except as a place to put his things in. We made a bigger bed that held a regular sized mattress for the adults and a smaller mattress on the side for the baby. From the first night home, I was bounced to the smaller mattress.
  2. More than half of the things we bought for the baby would not be used. Although we had the wisdom not to buy clothes in 0-3months and 3-6months sizes instead of new-born, we had booties, hats, socks and swaddling blankets that were instantly too small for him or too warm for Nigeria. We also had two baby carriers where only one would do, and even the one we used only once or twice. I recently packed up his cot which only served as a holding cell when he started crawling – but that’s in the future.
  3. Babies differ.

The nights were not as bad as I expected. I was promised sleepless nights and an endlessly crying infant, and while I slept less because we had to feed him every two hours, as soon as he was fed all he wanted to do was sleep till the next feeding time. His routine didn’t vary much during the day. Only two things made him cry: hunger and sleep. The first was easily resolved with a nipple in his mouth, for the second I found that my voice worked wonders.

I would rock him while singing Bez’s ‘My Baby’ and he would fall asleep. A little bit about my singing: I am tone-deaf and can’t hold a note, but my baby doesn’t mind. In fact, Cynthia once tried singing this song to get him to sleep and it made him cry harder.

I know one day he will realise how awful a singer I am and maybe ask me to stop singing, but until that happens, I will enjoy my audience of one.

 

HEY YOU

I took three weeks off work to be there for the baby’s birth, starting from the week before the EDD. I hoped to get at least a week or so for bonding before I had to return to work.

My first week was spent going on long evening walks with Cynthia around the neighbourhood. My mom called them our lovers’ walk. At the end of the week when we went to the hospital, the doctor said it didn’t look like the baby was ready to come out at all. To help hurry him along he gave Cynthia a membrane sweep.

I thought the hardest thing for me to bear would be the sight of another man putting his hand in my wife, but I wasn’t prepared for the blood-curdling scream that accompanied the action. I stood there and tried to be strong while she squeezed my hand and bit into my arm. Come to think of it, maybe the scream was from me. We were asked to return on another date and, if the baby was still sitting pretty, labour might be induced.

We returned to the hospital and the doctor said the baby didn’t seem like he was ready to come out. Who would blame him? Between the sun beating down on the earth, and the chaos that was Lagos, I wouldn’t want to be born just yet either. The doctor gave us an appointment for two days later.

On the drive home with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on Cynthia’s stomach, I had a conversation with the baby. “Hey bud, I know you know this is your daddy. I took three weeks leave to be here for your birth and two weeks have gone already. Where will this stubbornness take you? How about you come out tonight? I won’t mind driving at night, if that’s your concern. Co-operate nau, ehn?” I rubbed the belly and carried on driving.

“Babe see,” Cynthia said, looking at her stomach and it was distended. There was a bulge where my hand was. I rubbed the hardness there.

“My man,” I said in my best Denzel voice and smiled, “glad we’re on the same page.”

We were not.

Two days later, at 5:30am with bags packed and my mother-in-law in tow, we bundled into the car and headed to the hospital.

We were led upstairs by a nurse to a hall that was partitioned into sections by curtains. Behind the curtains were pregnant women in different stages of labour. Cynthia settled into her section, changed into hospital garb and was posing for pictures feeling cool until a nurse prepared a castor oil milkshake for her. I’d never seen her rush so fast for the toilet. If it wasn’t because of the seriousness of why we were there, I would have found it funny.

We were there from about 6am till about 3pm without Cynthia dilating seriously. When the doctor suggested caesarian section, we only took a minute to decide yes.

I watched as the nurses prepped her for surgery. We were in this together, I told her. When she was wheeled into the theatre though, I couldn’t trust myself so I stayed out and paced the corridor with my mother-in-law the only spectator. Even as I asked any nurse coming out of the theatre about my wife, I judged myself. Surely they’d tell me once they had any news. It didn’t stop me asking.

I thought I heard a baby wail, but I wasn’t sure. I looked at my mother-in-law and she wasn’t sure either. A few minutes later a nurse came out of the theatre and headed in our direction. At first I couldn’t read her face behind the mask, and then she slid the mask off and said “congratulations…” I didn’t hear anything else she said.

“What about my wife?” I asked as soon as I could get a word in.

“She is fine, would you like to see your son?”

Try and stop me.

The first thing I saw was Cynthia on a gurney, I think, with people around her finishing up.

“Hey you,” I took one hand in mine and she squeezed. And then I looked at the bundle in the cot to the right.  The ruddy cheeks and light skin didn’t fool me; all I did was look at his ear to know he would be dark like me.

I leaned over him and whispered “Hey bud,” and he squirmed. If my heart could, it would have exploded then.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

I have always hated hospitals.

As a child, a pending visit to the hospital conjured up images of an overly eager nurse wielding a syringe prepared for my buttocks – why do they push the plunger so you see the drug squirt? Scarier than the prick of the needle breaking my skin was the thought of paralysis my mother assured me would happen if I stiffened my buttocks too hard and the needle broke.

These days the thought of all the questions the doctor would ask was enough to make me put off my hospital visits until they became absolutely necessary.

Today’s visit was absolutely necessary.

After her card was pulled up, Cynthia had her vitals taken before joining me on one of the cold metal benches to wait to see a doctor. When her name was called, it took me a second to realise it was her because her maiden name was used – she was registered at this hospital on her company’s HMO and she hadn’t formally changed her name.

We went in to see the doctor who asked her a few routine questions before assuring us that she was progressing well, and then sent us to see the radiologist. He was a young bespectacled man with a pleasant manner. I took an immediate liking to him. He talked as he worked, explaining what he was doing.

“That’s your baby’s head,” he pointed to a part of the mostly grey image on the monitor.

He moved the device he held on Cynthia’s abdomen and the image seemed to dissolve and reform. This time I could see the baby in profile.

“Big head,” I chuckled.

Cynthia looked from the image to me and back to the image again. “I wonder where he got it from,” She said.

“She,” I corrected her.

“Would you like to know your baby’s sex?” The radiologist asked.

We looked at each other, Cynthia and I, and then I said “yes, please.”

He moved his hand and the image changed again, “You’re having a boy,” he announced beaming at me. You have beaten her.”

Cynthia gave a whoop.

“No,” I said, “She has beaten me. But is there a chance that you can be wrong and it’s a girl?” I asked.

”These are his hands,” he pointed them out, “and see here, his feet are crossed. See here?” He pointed zoomed in on what looked like more white grains on the monitor, “that’s his scrotum. I try not to discuss gender with parents until the foetus is older, but I can assure you 85% that you have a son. Your next scan will be more conclusive.”

“I’ll wait till then,” I said.

“He’s happy o,” he told Cynthia. “Men are all the same, they will say they want a daughter even though they really want a son. It is to help cushion whatever disappointment they may feel if it eventually turns out to be a girl.”

“Not this man,” Cynthia said. She took my hand and said, ‘babe, don’t worry I’ll give you a girl next time.”

***

“Babe,” Cynthia said on the drive home, “When last did you speak with Maxine?”

“It’s been a few weeks at least, why?

“I want her to hook me up with someone she knows who works at a newspaper, I want to do my change of name.”

I was quiet for a bit. One of the things we didn’t talk about before getting married – or in the eleven months since – was whether she would take my surname or not.

“Oh, you’ve decided to change your name?”

“Yea,” she replied. “I’ve wanted to do it for some time, but you know me and procrastination.”

“Yea, I know,” I said. “Anyway, let me know how that goes.”

“You don’t seem so gingered,” she observed, “everything okay?”

“You know, my great-grandfather had five sons,” I said, “this was just around the time the missionaries came. He sent them to the mission school where they took on Christian names as their first names and their traditional names became their surnames, and their father did not die. Okay, he died but from old age, not because his kids didn’t take his name.” I chuckled. “I believe your name, and maybe your surname is your identity but it’s not the entirety of who you are; of what you are. If the kids grow up and decide to be identified by a different name, will they stop being our kids? That said, take my phone and call Max before you change your mind.” I winked at her.

Just then a text message came in. I read and said “Oh well.”

Cynthia took the phone from me, read the message and sighed.

It was from Rosemary.

Hello Sir, I got the job sir. Thank you very much sir.

BABY BRAIN

When my phone rang that morning it set my heart racing, no different from the last few times she had called me. Although we had made it past the first trimester, I still dreaded receiving a call saying Cynthia was rushed to the hospital.

I thought getting pregnant was the hardest part, but I was learning that each day came with its own fears and drama.

Just the other week she fell down the stairs. Well, she fell down the last two steps but it was still as scary to me as if she fell down the entire flight of stairs. She was leaving for work and there was no power so the stairwell was dark. The way she told it, she thought she was on the last step and stepped off onto the landing except she still had one step to go. She had let go of the handrail so when she stuck out foot hit emptiness it was too late to regain her balance and she fell. She scraped both hands and skinned a knee from trying to protect the baby.

She went to the hospital and was cleared to return to work, and then she called me. That shook me.

I picked the call with some trepidation, “Hey babe,” I tried to keep my voice normal.

“Hey yourself,” Cynthia replied, her tone light. “I think I forgot to lock the door when I left home this morning.”

I exhaled and leaned back in my seat, squeezing my eyes shut. “How did that happen?” I asked.

“I dunno jor. I got to the office and couldn’t find my keys so I went to check the car and they weren’t there. I don’t remember locking the door, so I am thinking I left the door unlocked. I sha hope the house wouldn’t be cleaned out when we get back.” She said.

I guffawed, “Pregnancy brain.”

“I won’t even argue with you on that one,” she said. “I used to think pregnancy brain was something people made up, but I’m beginning to think there may be some truth to it.” I knew she was thinking of the other times she had forgotten stuff.

“It’s not just the forgetfulness,” I thought.

***

I am an early riser, a morning person. Cynthia is not.

The last time I was home, just like other times before, I was up early doing chores and listening to music. With most of the chores done, I brewed some coffee and took a mug to Cynthia who was curled in a tight ball under the duvet, a pillow over her head – whether to block out the sun, or the music, or both, I couldn’t say.

I offered her the coffee which elicited a smile. We sat there and sipped the hot brew, arguing the benefits or not of coffee to the baby. She finally got out of bed to make breakfast; I went into the living room to catch up on the Green Lantern animated series.

I was just settling down when she called me from the kitchen. I took my time answering because I knew breakfast couldn’t be ready, and when I walked in she was at the sink washing tomatoes and peppers. She asked me to go put the laundry in the washing machine.

I was going to point out that doing the laundry and making breakfast were the only chores left and they were hers, but I thought better of it and didn’t say anything. As I backed away I asked how breakfast was coming along and she rounded on me, the light bouncing off the wet knife in her hand made me think of Snapped (women who kill). Like, in my head I heard the narrator’s voice say “and that’s when she snapped.”

“I have only two hands, two hands!” she held them out in case I didn’t know what she meant, the knife bouncing light everywhere. “I am making preparations for stew, how about you come and help me? Ehn?”

I backed away further till I was in the living room.

“Today is Saturday, stew is for Sunday lunch. How about we eat this morning before we think of tomorrow?” was what I really wanted to say.

“But babe, I just asked a simple question. Besides, you didn’t ask me for help.”

“So I should ask for help before you know I am overwhelmed?” She asked.

“But. I. Have. Done. ALL. Other. Chores.” I wanted to say. “How can making breakfast possibly be overwhelming in the scheme of things?”

“You know what babe, don’t worry. I’ll sort out the laundry and then come fix breakfast.”

“Don’t tell me not to worry. Don’t tell me not to worry.” She repeated.

I didn’t say another word, but went and got the laundry started.

I was seething because I couldn’t understand why she was lashing out, nor did I feel I was a fair target, “After all the things I’ve done just to make sure she got some extra sleep? And I even brought her coffee in bed. But what do I get? What do I get for all that? I don’t think she knows how lucky she is to be married to me because she could be married to someone who wouldn’t do half the things I did. After all, I wasn’t the cause of her problems.” And that made me smile a little because I realized, I was exactly the cause of her problems.

The baby she was carrying was mine. She chose me because of those same traits I was talking myself up over, and she came into the union with amazing qualities of her own. I thought how lucky I was to have her, and how lucky our baby was to have her, have us for parents. We made a good team, plus she wasn’t usually like this.

When I returned to the kitchen she was braced against the sink, her head bowed. I walked up behind her and held her arms. At first, she stiffened them, but she soon relaxed and allowed me turn her to face me.

“It’s okay babe, it’s okay.”

“I’m sorry,” she sobbed into my chest.

“Shhh… I am sorry too. I just didn’t like how you lashed out at me, especially because I didn’t know why – and I still don’t know why.”

“There’s so much happening inside me, and so many changes on the outside too. It’s all so overwhelming. I’m not a horrible person…”

“Of course you’re not,” I kissed the top of her head. “Know what would be fun?” I asked.

“What?”

“When the baby is out and grown and you can put your feet up and send her to bring the remote control…”

“Him,” she said. “It’s a boy.”

I held her back and searched her eyes, “Did you do anything behind my back?” I asked. “Like, find out the baby’s sex without me?”

“No o,” she shook her head. “Besides, we can’t know for another two weeks or so.

“Cool, so the next time I’m back and we check you’ll see how wrong you are. She’s a girl.”

***

As I climbed up the steps that evening, my mind was on the ante-natal appointment we had the next day. At the door, I was surprised to find my keys already in the lock without a memory of taking it out of my bag, and then I saw the key holder and realized it was Cynthia’s.

INSTINCTS

“Guys, you wouldn’t believe what happened to me at work last week.”

I was in the middle of a match with Phantom. We were at my place – Cynthia was having a girls’ day out with her friends. I told the boys about Rosemary and, in typical fashion, they dove in.

“I need to understand something first Bobo,” Wole had a hand raised. “What impression have you given to those people in Port Harcourt that somebody will bring meat for you to watch? My mother will say ‘what kind of play is a dog playing with a tiger?’”

“Fam, I’ve been wondering the same thing.” Phantom roared with laughter, setting everybody off.

“So, what exactly happened after?” Sly wanted to know.

“Well, she’s been out of school for a bit but has never worked. She got a job once with an Oil servicing company but, because it would take her out of town, her boyfriend told her not to take it.”

“Wait, she has a boyfriend?” Sly asked.

“That’s not the important thing here…”

“It is o.” Sly and Wole chorused.

“…The important question should be how a boyfriend who did not pay your school fees and hasn’t put a ring on it will ask you to pass up a job and you will do so.” I finished.

“There’s that,” Wole said. “What has the boyfriend done to help her land a job then? Or is the Ibinabo guy the boyfriend?”

“He’s not o… Oh crap!”

Phantom had scored.

“No more talking, for now, let me set this guy straight.” I leaned forward in my seat.

“You still haven’t told us if you gave her a job,” Sly said.

“Or if you got one yourself.” Scar laughed.

“You guys know I’m married ba?”

“Married shmarried.” Wole said. “A leopard doesn’t change his spots, I know this.”

“There’s actually an opening for a receptionist, and I think Ibinabo knew this. I’ve asked her to apply, and there’s an interview scheduled for her and five others next week.” I said.

“I hope she gets the job,” Scar said and they all burst into laughter again.

***

“I hope she doesn’t get the job.”

Cynthia and I were catching up on Scandal, the series. She was sitting on the couch, her feet propped up on a stool while I was lying on the floor with my head resting on a throw pillow. I told her about this girl a colleague brought in to see me at work, and how she passed up a fantastic job opportunity because of her boyfriend and now, five years later, she had zero work experience and was looking for work.

“What about the boyfriend?” She asked.

“He’s still there, not committing to anything but not letting her go.” I said.

“Did he put her through school?” She asked. “I mean, what does he have on her? Do they have a child together?”

“I kuku asked these questions o. Nothing. She met him during her service year and he wooed her with big gestures. She loves him and I think he has convinced her she can’t do better than him.” I said. “I feel for her.”

My brain engaged only after that last part slipped out. I hoped Cynthia didn’t hear it, but the brief silence that followed convinced me she did.

“I told her to apply for that receptionist position that would become open at the end of the month, if only for the interview experience.”

Cynthia’s voice low, but not too low that I didn’t hear. She wanted me to hear it.

“Babe, everything okay?” I turned onto my stomach so I could look up to her.

“See Bobo, I know your heart is in the right place and your instinct is to do right…”

I hope you can’t read minds.

“…but you do this thing where you want to save everybody. You seem to look for, or attract the broken – I don’t know which. You will want to help them, fix them but you can’t be there for everybody. I have seen this need to help take its toll, seen people take advantage of your kindness. They will take and take till you have nothing to give, and they will take some more and then they will leave. And those are the nice ones. By the same token women are drawn to you and, you may not see but I see, in time they want more. More than you cannot give, and this is when you become the enemy. I can name at least three people that we both know who do not talk to you anymore.

“So while I would not wish that someone who qualifies for a job doesn’t get taken, I hope she doesn’t get the job.”

Wow.

“Oh wow. That’s quite a stretch, don’t you think?”

“I don’t like it when you do this,” she said with feeling.

“What?” I tried to feign ignorance.

“This thing you do where you take serious issues and make them either into a joke, or make it seem like I’m blowing things out of proportion.”

“I’m sorry,’ I said in a conciliatory tone. “I will not get involved with her interview or whatever, and I’ll watch myself where it concerns her.”

“You’re a good man, babe. I love you.”

I sure am glad you can’t read minds.

“I love you too,” I said and sat up to massage her feet.

TWISTED

On the day Rosemary entered my life, I was sitting in my office staring at the computer.

I had my earphones on and was listening to music, my swivel chair was reclined, my eyes shut and my cup of coffee cradled on my chest.

There was a knock and, before I could collect myself, the door opened and in walked Ibinabo with a lady in tow.

“Hey Bobo, how you dey?” He pulled out the extra seat in my office and offered it to her.

Ibinabo is a living ball of energy. He seems to always be in motion, caroming all over the place with little regard for personal space.

I rolled my eyes.

“Hey Ibinabo, what’s good?” I didn’t bother keeping the annoyance from my voice.

“Na my sister I say make I carry come greet you,” he gestured to the lady.

I looked at her and our eye met and I was jolted upright, surprising myself. The air seemed to have been sucked out of the room and my breathing quickened. My heart raced and I couldn’t fathom why. She lowered her eyes.

“See Bobo, she don tey for house no job. Anything you fit do for am I go appreciate,” and he turned to her. “This na Mr. Bobo, naim be the oga here…”

She wouldn’t look at me. Instead, she clenched her hands on her laps where they lay.

“Please relax,” I said to her. My voice was a croak. I swallowed and tried again. “The way you’re sitting like you’re ready to bolt at the slightest is making me uncomfortable, and this is my office.” I tried to make a joke, but my voice quavered.

“I’m sorry sir,” she said.

My pants were suddenly tighter.

What’s going on?

“Ibinabo, you know what’s up. We are all set here at the moment, but if there’s any opening I will let you know.”

“No wahala Bobo, I know say as e don reach your table it is settled.”

When they left I couldn’t get up like I normally would when a lady left me.

I thought about her and the visit for some time, and then forgot about it.

***

 

  • Hello, Bobo speaking. How may I help you?
  • Oga, this is security. There’s someone here to see you.

 

I wasn’t expecting anybody, but because of the job I did people came through regularly to make enquiries and such.

 

  • Please let the person in.

 

“Yes, do come in.” I said when I heard the knock.

A security man held the door open and showed the person behind him in.

She walked in and my reaction was the same as the day before.

“Thank you,” I said to the security man. To her I said “please sit,” pointing to the chair she sat on just a day ago.

“Good afternoon sir,” she said as she perched on the edge of the chair.

“Good afternoon, how are you?”

“I’m good sir. Mr. Ibinabo asked me to bring my CV to you, sir.” She pulled out a brown manila envelope from her handbag.

I pulled out the sheets of paper and flipped through, not seeing anything.

“May I offer you a drink?” My chest felt like I had run up a flight of steps.

“No thank you, sir.”

“So, tell me about yourself,” I said

This is a bad idea.