“Twenty five thousand four hundred,” Nneoma said softly as she added the last figure from the list of sales. “Chai!” she exclaimed. Nneoma was greatly pleased as the total figure she had gotten matched Margaret’s.
“Nne, kedu?” Nneoma heard as she gathered her financial records. It seemed to her like, for a moment, her heart had skipped a beat. As always, Izuchukwu’s smile was infectious, and she smiled in return. Nneoma always looked forward to Izuchukwu’s occasional visits, though she would never fail to remind herself that she must hide her joy.
Her throat felt so dry that she had to cough. Then she managed to say, “Izu, welcome.”
“Thank you.” Izuchukwu said, a concerned look had quickly replaced his smile. “I jikwa ahụ—are you well?”
“Okay.” he said, and his smile returned. “And how are the children?” he asked, same time helping himself on the bench Nneoma sat. Nneoma moved to the other end of the bench, creating too much space between them. Izuchukwu was not pleased, but he tried not to show it.
“They are fine. The two younger ones have gone to school.”
The pair sat silently for a while. When Nneoma coughed again, Izuchukwu maximized the opportunity. “It seems you have cough.” he said.
“My throat just feels so dry. And when I cough I feel pain in my chest.”
“Ndo—sorry.” he said, moving closer to Nneoma. She did not move this time. “Have you taken any medicine?”
“Yes, I have.”
“Sorry. You will be fine soon.”
“Thank you.” Nneoma said. Then she cleared her throat before she called out to Margaret who had previously been attending to a customer. “Maggie, please come and buy malt for my visitor.”
“Don’t raise your voice, you have cough.” Izuchukwu said. His hand had a brief stay on Nneoma’s shoulder, but he quickly removed it as he sensed her discomfort. He quickly searched his pocket, and brought out a five hundred naira note. Turning to Margaret, he said, “Take this money and buy two malt, one for your madam and one for me.”
“Maka gịnị kwanu—for what reason?” Nneoma protested. “Why?”
“Rapu ihe ahụ—leave that matter. Is it because of malt that your are complaining?” Izuchukwu asked. He knew Nneoma would have no answer so he turned to Margaret again. “And buy one for yourself too.”
“Thank you sir.” Margaret said, and she quickly excused herself before Izuchukwu might change his mind.
“Chineke!” Nneoma exclaimed. “Izu, you worry yourself too much.” Nneoma said. “You are my visitor oh!”
“Nneoma, I wish I could do more.” At his words Nneoma turned her head away, knowing the direction the conversation was about to follow. And she was not wrong. “Allow me do more, my love, biko.”
Nneoma remained silent, though her thought did not remain still. She recalled a similar visit about two months ago. On that particular visit Izuchukwu had made his intention of marrying her known. Nneoma had been taken aback by Izuchukwu’s proposal, and she had told him she would think about it. But two months after, she had no answer to give.
“Nneoma, why not give me a chance,” Izuchukwu begged. “I—” he paused as soon as he recognized Margaret’s presence.
“Brother, na canned malt I buy, dem say the other one don finish.”
“No problem. Oya take your own.”
“Thank you sir.” Turning to Nneoma, she said, “Aunty, Mama Osita say make I tell you say she dey wait.”
“Ewoh!” Nneoma exclaimed. “I forgot I made a promise to settle her this morning.” she said, more to Izuchukwu than to Margaret. Tuning to Margaret, she asked, “Hope say she no dey vex?”
“No aunty, she no vex.”
“Let me hurry.”
“I have to take my leave now.” Izuchukwu said, grabbing one of the malt drink.
“Why?” Nneoma asked. “Mama Osita’s shop is just some shops away.”
“No,” he said. “I will come some other time.”
“Okay. Imela, thank you.”
Izuchukwu gave her a final look before he made an exit. A look that revealed his plea to Nneoma; his desire for an answer, a—yes.
Evans was one among the last persons to enter the classroom after the bell had been rung to signal the end of the break period. He walked to his seat and settled in. His smile widened as he recalled the events of that morning, events that followed after his exit from Mr. Hassan’s office:
With one swift pull, Evans had lowered the zip of his trouser immediately he got to the entrance of the boys’ toilet. As he eased his full bladder, Evans had remembered Jacinta and the ice-cream he had promised her. He had become worried, but only for a while, as he had quickly thought of a way around the situation, and had also assured himself that Walter would understand. Immediately the bell was rung for the start of the break period, Evans had left the class, running to Walter’s classroom. Walter had been standing at the door when he got there.
“You came quite fast.”
“Yes,” Evans had managed to say as he was yet to steady his breathing. “I’m sorry, can we start tomorrow?” Walter’s expression had clearly showed his disappointment, and Evans for a moment had considered dropping the plan.
“I just remembered that I am to assist a friend with an assignment.” Evans had lied.
“Okay. At least you promised your friend first.”
“Thanks. And I promise, I will make it up to you.” Evans had said, and his right hand had touched Walter’s nose. Then his middle finger had made a slow trail down Walter’s nose. Still it had happened so fast that Evans only realised his action after his finger had finished the trail.
Walter smiled. “Okay.”
As Evans turned to leave, Walter had called him back. “Can I wait for you after school, so we could go home together?” Walter had asked. “I’ve not made friends yet.”
Evans immediately had resisted the urge to look down at the crotch point of his trousers, he was sure his inner short was doing a good job concealing his erection. “Yes, please do.”
Evans had left Walter’s presence with a smile, and he carried it along as he ran up the stairs to meet Jacinta. And it had lingered till the end of the break period.
Evans heard a bang on a desk, and he was released from the tight grip of his thoughts. The bang was the usual call to alert the class that a teacher just walked in. He quickly stood. As the class greeted, Evans’ eyes met Emeka’s, and Evans smiled. Emeka did not. Unknown to Evans, Emeka’s eyes had been on him immediately he walked into the classroom. Evans was also unaware that Emeka had been watching from a reasonable distance when he touched Walter’s nose.
Nneoma and her two younger children sat in the living room watching a local movie. Jerry had been in the boys’ room most of the evening, pacing from one end of the room to the other. To Evans, Jerry would easily pass for a frustrated actor who had been given a role that was too big for him, and as expected, was having a difficult time getting into character.
Evans, among the lot, was the only one who recognised Jerry’s presence when he joined them in the living room. Jerry did not take a seat, like the others, making it so obvious that he did not join the trio just to watch the movie.
“Mummy, a friend of mine invited me to a vigil in his church.” Jerry said.
“A vigil?” Nneoma asked, taking her eyes from the television screen. Evans’ interest quickly moved from the movie to the conversation that just began, though he did well not to make his interest obvious. Ruth was the only one who followed the movie faithfully. “A vigil on a Thursday?”
“Yes. A youth vigil.” Jerry answered. Evans had his eyes on the screen, still he noticed when Jerry handed their mother a flyer.” Evans wondered where Jerry had gotten the flyer, as he was sure his brother had no intention of going to any church. He had overheard part of Jerry’s conversation with a friend when he got home from school—with Walter, as Walter had been adamant on knowing where he lived. Jerry’s friend had mentioned a party.
Nneoma heaved. She was sure a row was coming, if she did not handle the issue properly. She was about to ask for the friend’s phone number when Jerry continued, “You can ask Evans, he knows about it.” Evans turned in shock, and he met Jerry’s gaze. Jerry had a funny smile, and Evans felt he could read Jerry’s expression—I’m not the only one who has a secret.
Evans wondered what Jerry thought of Walter’s visit that afternoon, as Walter had been all over him. And Jerry seemed anxious to reveal what he thought.
“I know about it.” Evans heard himself say. Then he knew he had to continue, “I was here when his friend came with the flyer.”
Evans lay on his stomach, supporting both elbows on a pillow, while his hands held up the novel he had been reading. Having read all ink-marked paragraphs in the four hundred and two page novel, Evans knew the pages that offered a more detailed obscene adult content. His hands quickly made the search each time he thought of a relevant erotic content. Evans favoured the paragraphs where Amy, the main character, had sex with Jôse.
Evans smiled as he remembered a particular episode. “Page one-nine-five,” he muttered softly, and in few seconds he had opened the page. Evans frowned, realising it was not the page he had in mind. Still he started with the words of the first paragraph marked with red ink: Jôse gently slid his hardness into her wet, inviting core. She endured few deep thrusts before he pulled out most of his erect cock, leaving only his cone-shaped glans to caress the walls of her cunt. Amy laid on her back, both arms thrown apart. Her eyes shut. The only activity she allowed were the repeated circles her right toes made on the sheets and the moan that occasionally escaped her heavily painted lips. Jôse . . .
Evans heard the very-familiar squeak, and he turned his head, in shock, towards the door. As Nneoma walked into the room, Evans quickly slid the novel under the pillow. His biology textbook which he had left untouched in the last hour he pulled close.
“You’ve not slept yet?”
“No. I just finished studying. I have a biology test tomorrow morning.”
Nneoma nodded. “Did Jerry leave his phone at home?” she asked. “I’ve dialed his number repeatedly, but it goes off without any response.”
It was not uncommon for Evans to maintain an erect penis long after the source of his arousal had been taken away. Even the presence of his mother did not aid a quick transition to a flaccid state. And his shorts that aided his trousers in hiding his erection in school that morning would not attain such feat now, being the only item of clothing he had on. Evans knew this and he was careful as he turned on the bed, taking a sitting position. He was also quick to place the other pillow on his laps, while both hands laid on the pillow.
“I don’t know if Jerry left with his phone,” Evans said. He easily recognised the worried look his mother had. Then he added, “He only went to a vigil,” Evans said reassuringly, though the words did not come out easily. “after all, Jerry’s in God’s house. And he will be back in one piece in the morning.”
Nneoma nodded again. She heaved and turned towards the door. “Make sure you put the light off when you are done.”
“Do say a prayer.”
Evans felt his sins would triple if he failed to pray, as his first sin had been the lie he told to aid Jerry’s outing; and the second, the lie that he had just finished studying before his mother walked into the room. He knew the prayer was needful too, as he had barely studied for the test. And Mrs. Bassey’s tests were most times too difficult.
Evans fished the novel from under the pillow and gently he eased his frame from the bed. Immediately Evans approached the table where his school bag sat, he pulled back the zip, then he dropped the novel inside.
After which he collected the small, blue Gideons Bible on the table; deciding that a highly erotic book would not be the ideal last book to read just before prayer. As Evans closed his school bag, he wondered if Jerry had noticed that his steamy romance novel had been missing for some days—Evans sometimes wished the novel had illustrations.
Nneoma walked into her room feeling a bit relieved—after all, Jerry is in God’s house; Evans had reminded her.
She adjusted Ruth’s sleeping frame before she laid on the bed. After her husband’s death, the family had moved from a three bedroom flat to a smaller flat wit two bedrooms. Nneoma did not like the idea of sleeping alone, hence the move.
As Nneoma laid on the bed, Izuchukwu’s image and his visit that morning swirled into her thought. She remembered his parting words, ‘I will come some other time’. Nneoma knew she ought to give Izuchukwu an answer when next he visited.
Nneoma turned on the bed as she recalled the events that followed after her husband’s sudden demise:
‘She has finally achieved her aim.’
‘A child can only act as a child, while it is the elder’s responsibility to correct—and discipline.’
None of her husband’s relatives had said those words to her, still Nneoma knew that those words lurked somewhere behind the faces that looked at her in feigned pity. And their action after her husband was buried had affirmed her fear. Her husband’s elder brother had chaired the committee that shared all that her late husband owned, leaving almost nothing for her. Nneoma’s family had done the best they could to support her, her few friends too. Izuchukwu had been the only one who went the extra mile for her. Nneoma recalled how Izuchukwu had showed up, helping her with funds to make her business bigger. Izuchukwu had also suggested that she added a new line to her clothing business. Izuchukwu had also contacted a friend of his who supplied her with the first set of cloth materials on credit.
Nneoma heaved as she thought of her late husband’s family. Though they only visited once in a while, Nneoma was certain that they still had their eyes on her. Nneoma remained awake for a long time, thinking of the most suitable means to tell Izuchukwu her answer; a—NO.
Emeka flipped a page as his father rose from the chair he had been sitting; a long, thin cane in his hand. Emeka had been staring at the illustration of the female reproductive system in his biology textbook before his father stood up. Emeka carefully—so as not to be caught—checked the time on his wristwatch: 10.37pm.
“It’s past ten-thirty pm,” his father started. “you can go to bed now.”
“Ok, sir.” Emeka responded. Though he remained on the seat. Emeka knew that if he stood up immediately, his father would accuse him that he had not been reading, merely waiting for his release.
Ten-forty, he muttered as he rose from the chair. He had spent the last two hours twenty minutes staring at illustrations in his biology textbook, while containing his anger that his father had switched off the television and ordered him to read his book. Though a considerable part of that time he had spent thinking about Jacinta.
As Emeka gathered his books and pen, he also gathered the piece of paper on which he had boldly written the word—GAY. He had earlier promised himself that he would tear the paper, then throw its pieces into the waste bin. He knew the possibilities if someone else saw that piece of paper. Just beside the word, Emeka had drawn an illustration which he had labeled—Evans.