One of the women from the yard who was also doing her washing looked a bit concerned. “That child sounds hungry…. have you fed him?”
Chinwe’s mouth moved fast like a child’s with hot food, her eyes cold as she met the accusation in the other woman’s eyes. “I’ve already fed him…he is refusing food.”
The woman shook her head and sighed. “I have some small Bean cake and bread…maybe he might like that?”
Chinwe put her hands on her hips. “Are you trying to tell me I don’t know what to feed my child?”
The older woman looked at her and shrugged. “No, I was just trying to help.”
Chinwe lowered her glare and directed it at the large pile of washing in front of her; her neighbours soiled clothes; Mr Johnson’s Agbada and trousers and his wife’s blouse and skirt, Mama Ezinma’s caftan, some shirts from one of the bachelors in the yard and some trousers from the Landlord. She bent down to the washing and attacked one of the collars.
Baby started to cry again and she whispered to him. “Ay…ay…my child. It is going to be all right. Your Daddy will get a job today and we shall be ok again.”
Baby kept on crying and she stood up drying her hands on her faded wrapper, eyed her neighbour and crossed the yard to her room, took baby off her back gently laying him onto the most comfortable part of the bed where the springs wouldn’t dig into his soft skin. She felt a warm rush of wind force itself into the airless room. There was going to be a storm soon. The skies were heavy ready to shed their burden – impatient like just a mother with child.
Chinwe noted that her son had stopped crying and was watching her with dead eyes like the washing stones she used for her laundry. She picked up the covered bowl of Ogi- corn pottage and she added the last of the carnation milk into it and tried to spoon it into his mouth. He spat it out and twisted his head away from the spoon and she gave up. Where was the lively child she had given birth to – this one wanted to be carried all the time? Landlord’s wife said he should be walking by now and she should know – she had eight of them.
She looked outside at the indigo skies, heard the first burst of thunder and ran outside to scoop up the load of dirty laundry. He was cradling his son when she came back in, head bent under her load.
“Lanre….you are back.” Her lips parted into a smile as she greeted her husband, putting the bundle into a corner.
He nodded. “Unless it’s my spirit sitting here.” He laughed and it was like the laugh of her village masquerade during the Yam festival, harsh and bottomless.
She twisted her hands and took a step towards him. “How did it go?”
“I got to the office, did the interview – afterwards they shook my hand and thanked me for coming.”
“So you got the job?”
He laughed again and the thunder chose the same time to announce itself.” They are making me Managing Director on Monday- don’t you see how I am dancing with joy?” He closed his eyes. “I had so much hope that I would get this job. I answered their questions, did their exam. I have worked for years as a Government clerk and can do this job in my sleep. I don’t know anyone – all I have is my qualifications and six good years of experience and that’s not enough to get a job in Government nowadays. I know its bad out there but I never knew this unemployment was going to last this long.” He sighed, “What am I going to do to provide for you people?”
She moved to sit by him and touched his shoulder. “With God on our side…. He will help us. I’m going to prayers tonight and I have been fasting.”
His shoulders shook. “We have no money for food. That is no longer fasting, my friend. That is starvation by force.”
“We must have faith.”
“Faith in what?”
“In God and knowing that whatever we face….we love each other.”
He put Baby down, looked at her and laughed again. “I don’t believe in God anymore remember.” He caught her close. “I still believe in love though….so what do you say? Let’s make another baby right here…right now. Let’s create our own storm.” His eyes flashed with a wicked fire and her heart started to pound.
“Are you mad?” she asked.”
He nodded. “Isn’t that what our parents said when we said we wanted to get married.” He pushed her down onto the bed and laughed as she struggled. “What’s wrong – where is all that love you were talking about before?” The Baby started to cry again as they struggled wordlessly.
“Let me go to my child! Cant you hear him crying?” she pleaded as she stopped
struggling, realising that it only inflamed matters. Her silence spoke to him as she lay there hands over her breasts staring at the ceiling as Baby’s distress intensified.
“I am not your enemy you know.”
He stopped and got off the bed, went to the window and watched as the rain beat against the cold concrete floor of the yard. Ripples widening into pools, pools into little oceans. Like the tears of Giants. He couldn’t afford to let his fall.
He was a man. He had to be strong for Chinwe. Strong for his son.
“Your mother says that I will never amount to anything as if she thinks I am happy to let my wife wash the neighbour’s dirty clothes for money. I have gone for so many interviews and have found nothing…. It is like the spirits are working against us- just as your father said they would when we got married.”
Chinwe remembered how her parents had refused to give them their blessings and how they had got married at the registry with Lanre’s widowed mother and one of his uncles – the only witnesses.
“My parents were upset that I hadn’t completed my sewing apprenticeship. When I got pregnant they were disappointed.”
“Do they think that their daughter was the only one who had dreams of how life was supposed to be? They just didn’t want you to marry a common ‘Ngbati’ government clerk so don’t tell me about your apprenticeship. Besides you were quite happy to sneak into my room in those days and spend time in my bed when your parents were asleep when we shared the same yard. I never forced you. It didn’t matter then that I came from the other side of the Niger River.”
She stood up from the bed and picked up the child. “Don’t insult me Lanre. My family don’t want to know me anymore, yet I am still here with you trying to support you…..yes even taking in dirty clothes to wash and hearing all the gossips in the street laugh at me.”
He sighed. “I’ve heard their laughter too, Chinwe.” His voice gentled a bit then he was silent looking out of the window again. “Is there anything to eat?”
She looked at him seeing him as she had eighteen months ago as that bright star that had burst into her life – so handsome and clever with his smart pressed khaki trousers and big English. Broda Akowe they used to call him in a hushed tone of respect as he was one of the few people in the yard that could read and write English so well. He did have a job then and a big shiny motor bike that he used for Okada; transporting people around. He told her he was going to be a Big Man one day and she still believed him.
A Big Man one day.
That’s what he told her the first day they had met under the mango tree. They had both gone to fetch water at the street tap, got talking and she had forgotten the time and her parents had worried where she had got to.
She went over to him and looked into his eyes. “I have some Gari you can soak and some groundnuts.”
He shook his head and smiled. “E go better o. I will have some small Gari.” He held out his hands and took back his son. The storm had started to quieten now and Chinwe could hear her voice singing praise songs to her God as she poured the cassava into a plastic bowl and added water.
“Yes.” She turned round and saw the shadow of a smile on her husbands face as he bent over to play with his son. She served him the Gari.
“See Chinwe. Our son is now crawling.”
Baby was smiling and clapping his hands at his achievement.
So they sat and waited and Lanre talked about this job he had seen advertised on the school gates down the road – they urgently needed a janitor and he needed a job. “Maybe I should see that Headmaster tomorrow. It’s not a permanent thing…just to bring something in until I get a real job.”
“Of course.” She nodded and as she did so she saw Baby turn slowly and lift himself towards her.
“Did you see that?” Lanre clapped his hands and smiled at his son. ” He is moving forward.”
She felt like clapping too. ” It is a sign from above.”