Kunle Gbadebo adjusted in his seat as he struggled with the gear in his dull red colored Honda Accord. He glanced at the analog clock on the dashboard anxiously and returned his gaze to the black G-Wagon in front of him. The traffic disgusted him. It was always like this every morning with every Lagosian trying to get to their various destinations on time.
The radio coughed like a dry tap saying nothing in particular and he dabbed at the sweat on his forehead with a dirty handkerchief. A public bus tried to maneuver its way into the space between him and the G-Wagon and Kunle fought for his space. He exchanged angry words with the conductor and other people in their various vehicles stared on. You see, this was quite a normal occurrence on Ikorodu road in Lagos. The sight of impatient office workers in their private cars struggling with the loud yellow bus drivers and their conductors.
The bus driver gave up and resorted to remaining in his lane. His conductor jeered at Kunle and called him a fool.
“You are mad!” Kunle reteriorated. “All of you are mad!” His voice attracted the attention of the remaining people that weren’t watching in the first place.
“Baba, E dake jor.” The conductor said. His blood red eyes peering down on Kunle. He sneered when he realised his insults had the effect he hoped it would when Kunle turned red at the ears. His light almost albino like skin flared like it had spent hours unprotected at the beach. He fidgeted in his haste to think of a suitable reply and slammed the horn. He heard a crashing sound and turned to see where it came from. The conductor laughed and he saw the driver of the Jeep in front get down and realised what had happened. He had slammed the pedal in anger as he slammed the horn and had crashed into the Jeep. It left a shattered taillight and a nasty dent on the Jeep.
Kunle clasped his head in his hands and the conductor poked his tongue in his direction and the bus gathered speed as the traffic had cleared. He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to the face of a young man in a blue uniform. He heaved in relief when he realised it was just a private driver and sighed almost immediately when a small man in a smart suit got down from the ‘Owner’s Corner’ of the Jeep. The look of contempt in the man’s eyes beneath his recommended glasses confirmed his fears.
“It was a mistake.” He muttered to no one in particular.
Kunle slammed the door of his car short and dragged his briefcase along as he strolled to his rented apartment in a four flat two storey building. He ignored the greetings of the security man that had just shut through gate and fixed his gaze on a red head lizard on the poorly painted orange wall of through building. He entered the entrance foyer, yawned and stabbed at the door bell with his briefcase. He heard his daughter’s high pitched petite voice ask who was at the door and said nothing. He heard a slight thud on the door and knew she had just hit the door with her knee in a bid to tiptoe and look through the peep hole. Her short frame not tall enough to reach it yet. He wiped the thought from his mind and licked his lower lip absentmindedly as the locks on the door snapped open.
Good afternoon Daddy. She said and proceeded to take his briefcase from his grip as he stepped in. He let her and collapsed on a nearby settee in the living room with his head propped backwards. The living room had a modern outlook to it. The 41″ LCD TV screen on the wall, the green couches arranged in a semi circular with it as the focal point. An artificial bouquet of flowers in a violet vase with flowery patterns stood on a wooden center table placed centrally on a worn out rug. Some yellow colored curtains which somewhat complemented the green colour of the couches covered the windows and their feather light material let in some light from the orange sun that was setting in the distance.
Kunle hissed when he noticed the slight crack in the ceiling that wasn’t there the night before. He devised it would have being as a result of his son’s soccer playing antics. On a normal day, his son would be screaming himself hoarse as stroke after stroke from one of his canes rained on his eleven years old buttocks. Today, he wasn’t in the mood. He was fifty six thousand naira poorer. Even the wails of his son couldn’t erase that from his mind.
“Oko mi.” A woman said emerging from one of the three doors leading to the other parts of the house. One led to the kitchen, the other the guest restroom and the one she came out from led to the corridor that connected the room in their three bedroom apartment.
She had a damp face, a result of just washing it and deep set eyes that were perfectly distanced from a mouth by a long thin nose. Her upper lip pursed over the lower one as she spoke and she wore a blouse made from a brown Ankara with bright yellow patterns and a fitting wrapper made of the same material.
“How was your day, Oko mi.” She stressed the second O in Oko letting her tongue linger against the base of her mouth. He didn’t reply and she squinted like she was trying to read his mind to know what was bothering him.
“Bisola!” She called out and the young girl that opened the door to let him in initially sprinted out from the same door she came through.
“Yes mum.” The girl replied in her high pitched voice. Her small face hovered innocently behind her mum. She was of medium height and her breasts perked out gently. Her lips pursed like her mums’ and she bounced impatiently on her feet waiting for her mum’s next order.
“Get your dad a glass of water jor. Can’t you see he is tired?” Mrs. Gbadebo barked.
“Yes mum.” The girl said and scampered into the kitchen. She returned with a clear glass of water in her hand and the woman set it on a side stool at the reach of the man’s hand. He grabbed the glass cup and gulped the water while both females watched. He finished it, gestured for more and the girl collected the cup from him and hurried to refill it. When she came back, her mum was seated on the arm of the couch and slowly massaged his shoulders. She handed him the cup and this time he drank it slowly and didn’t finish the contents of the cup. She took it from him, entered the kitchen and came out to enter the door she came out from the first time and halted when her mum called her.
“Where are you going? You want to go and continue that stupid Chinese nonsense you’re watching abi? I’ll soon break the CD you’ll see.” She paused to catch her breath. “Come on, go and set up the dining table for dinner and call Junior to help. That one that thinks he won’t get punished for breaking the ceiling because he’s cleaning the toilet. Like it is not his chore normally.” The obviously shaken girl hurried through the door and came back almost immediately with her slightly shorter brother, both sulking as they entered the kitchen.
The family of four sat at the wooden six-seater dining table to a meal of white rice and vegetable garnished with pieces of meat and fish. The parents sat at the ends of the table and the kids chose to sit beside each other and left a corner of the table empty. Asides from the clinking of their cutlery with their plates, the room was otherwise silent. Junior kept his head down throughout the dinner. His lips weren’t pursed like his mum or sister and slightly resembled his father’s fuller African lips. He kept his freckled face low except when he had to put his spoon in his mouth and drop it immediately the spoon was out of his mouth.
Kunle tossed the last piece of meat on his mouth and dropped his spoon on the table rather noisily. He saw Junior freeze and bend his head lower at an angle farther away from him. He looked at the boy and shook his head. He had no care for the boy’s fright or his daughter’s frequent glances at the TV in the adjacent living room.
“Dad?” Bisola said breaking the silence in the room. He fixed his gaze on her to show he was listening and saw her hesitate as she opened her mouth to speak.
“Yes?” He said urging her on without shifting his gaze.
“Gbenga, my classmate said deeper life members…” She paused and looked around the table. All ears were fixed on her, even Junior’s.
“… He said real deeper life members don’t watch Teli. Does that mean we are…” she paused again when he bent his head slightly in anticipation of her last word. She puffed her cheeks and just stared back. A smirk appeared at the edge of his mouth before he rested his back on the wooden chair.
“Fake?” He said and she gasped but nodded in affirmation.
Another silence ensued in this room this time without the sounds from the cutlery as everybody had finished eating. Mrs. Gbadebo ran glances between both of them and the boy had returned to keeping his head low. The wall clock struck eight and Mrs. Gbadebo pushed her chair backwards and stood.
“Oya, two of you.” She said pointing at both kids. “Pack the plates and go wash the dishes.”
“But Mum…” Bisola replied still waiting for an answer to her question. She turned to Kunle in a bid to get some acknowledgement but he said nothing and just stared at a spot directly above Mrs. Gbadebo shoulder. After several calls, she lowered her head in resignation and joined her brother in moving the plates to the kitchen. Mrs. Gbadebo after confirming they were not eavesdropping dragged one of the dining chairs to a spot beside Kunle. She settled beside him and took his hand in hers.
“What’s wrong, Kunle?” She asked in a voice so subtle, no other person could have heard what she said. He turned to look at her, tightened his grip and managed a faint smile.
“I was reckless on the road and I bashed someone’s G-Wagon. From the alarmed look on her face, she knew what a G-Wagon was.” He saw her shudder and felt her hand shiver in his.
“How much?” She managed to ask still speaking under her breath.
“Fifty six.” He said calmly. He saw tears well up in her eyes and squinted to prevent the same happening to him.
“Don’t worry.” He said wiping a tear about to race down her face. “We’ll be fine. I’m just very angry with this country and its menacing citizens. He had stood up and was pacing to and fro in the dining room. I really don’t understand why a sensible government would leave its eyes open and watch those bastard commuters on our roads. It’s outrageous!”
Mrs Gbadebo rose to meet him and tried to drag him but he shrugged her hand away.
“One of the buffoons called me a fool. Me? Olakunle Gbadebo!” His voice boomed in the house and the clinking of plates and cutlery from the kitchen stopped.
“Kunle, calm down.” She said and grabbed him again. He looked down at her as she was at least six inches shorter and smiled.
“I’m sorry.” He said and kissed he forehead. She wrapped her hands around him in return and he dragged her to a settee in the living room.
“You can leave me now.” He said still smiling at her.
“No, you would just go on shouting and scaring the kids.” Her voice was muffled as her face was buried in his shirt just below his outstretched arm.
“I won’t.” He said reassuringly.
“Promise?” She asked.
“Yes, I promise.”
She released him at this and wiped her eyes with the back of her palms.
“You’re just a baby.” He teased and tickled her around the ribs. She laughed and pulled back from his prying hands.
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are.” He grabbed her again and pulled her to himself as he collapsed on the three seater settee, the longest of the set. He rained kisses on her face and she giggled.
“Mary called today.” He said without warning. He felt her body get tense in his embrace and smiled.
“Does she always have to?” Mrs Gbadebo asked. The hate in her voice was just like he expected. His wife loathed Mary.
“Yes dear, she’s family remember?”
“What stupid family? She’s the product of an abomination, or is it the stupid heirloom you…”
“Don’t you dare…” He bawled. “Don’t you dare taint my family’s image.” He pushed her away from him gently and got off the settee. She did likewise and stood at a little distance from him.
“Don’t.” He put a finger to her face and switched to an adjacent settee. She watched him walk away and pursed her lip further. He ignored her gaze and she snatched at the TV remote irritated. She settled on the settee they had just played on and fiddled with the remote as she switched between channels. She finally settled on CNN where a report on the proceedings of the abducted Chibok girls was running.
“What did she want?” She asked without switching her attention from the TV.
“Her mother sent her two messages. Two letters actually.” Mrs. Gbadebo dropped the remote and turned to him.
“But..but…” She stammered. Her chest rose intermittently with an increased pace and she fought the urge to panic. “But her mum is dead.”
“I know.” He replied calmly.
That means he’s alive. No sound came out of her mouth but he knew that was what she was going to say.
“Maybe, but I hope not. He was different among us, took the family heirloom too seriously. I told her to call me tonight because I was busy haggling with the owner of the car I bashed when she called earlier.”
A heart wrenching scream from the kitchen rent the air and both of them froze. They jumped off their seats and ran into a hooded man at the entrance of the kitchen. The stranger raised his head to look at them and Mrs. Gbadebo fainted and collapsed in a heap. Kunle turned to look at his wife on the floor and back to the hooded figure and frowned.
“I’ve been expecting you.” He said.