Uploaded by Jibril Lawal on August 23, 2013
For the past twelve years, you have always felt that thing; that thing that seemed like a big bone stuck in your throat; that thing that had you tongue-tied and brought tears to your eyes. You felt it now as you stood before the door, while your insides churned with tension. You swallowed hard and adjusted your collar.
As if to prevent the tears in your eyes from falling, you threw back your head, balled your fist, and let out a deep breath. Then you knocked on the door, once, then twice.
You could hear a click in the keyhole.
The door opened and a man came into view. He was wearing a long-sleeved shirt yellowed at the armpits.
“Yes?” He raised his brows.
“Good day, I…em…Sorry, my name is Ben, Ben Edafe,” you said.
The man stared at you with an expressionless face. You felt he was looking through you – as if he was thinking of something.
“I don’t think we have met.”
“Yes. I…em…I’m a friend of Rose.”
The man’s wrinkled face cracked into a smile. “Really?”
“Yes sir.” You gave back a wry smile.
“Please, come in,” he said. “Anyone who was a friend of my daughter is also my friend.”
“Thank you, sir,” you said, as you entered the sitting room.
The man shut the door behind him and gestured to a sofa. “Please make yourself comfortable. I will be back.”
“Thank you, sir.” You sat and glanced around.
An ashtray containing used cigarettes lay on a long table in the centre of the room; the ceiling fan directly above you was coated with dust, and portraits adorned the walls. You sniffed the air; a whiff of egusi soup sailed into your nostrils.
The man came back into the room; his hands were full with a bottle of brandy and two glasses.
“You shouldn’t have bothered, sir,” you said.
“Oh, nonsense.” He placed the drink and glasses on the table. “It would be unwise of me not to entertain you.”
He sank into another sofa opposite you. “So you say you were a friend of Rose?”
“Yes.” A lump rose in your throat. “A very…good friend.”
The man shook his head. “Well, you are welcome,” he said and poured himself a drink.
“Thank you, sir.” You exhaled and dabbed your eyebrows with a handkerchief.
“Please bear with us,” the man said. “There has been no power for a week.”
“No problem,” you said, folding the handkerchief and tucking it into your breast pocket.
The man raised his glass to his lips. You noticed he was staring at you. “What do you do for a living?” he asked.
“I am a banker.”
“Really? That’s great,” he said and gulped his drink. His Adam’s apple bobbled in his sagging throat and his face contorted in a slight frown.
“Good drink, eh? You haven’t touched yours.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” You reached for your glass.
The man cleared his throat and called out. “Gold!”
“Sah!” A female voice answered. “I don dey come, sah.”
“Be quick, will you.”
A young woman clad in an apron hurried out from the kitchen. She glanced at the table, and immediately, a disapproving look stuck to her face.
“Is the soup ready?”
“Small, sah. But sah…”
“Em…oga, if you drink too much, you no go fit chop well.”
“Says who?” He glared at her. “Mind your business.”
“Yes sah.” Gold nodded.
The man turned to you, smiling. “Hope you wouldn’t mind joining me for lunch, Mr. Banker?”
“Not at all, sir,” you said. “It would be my pleasure.”
He turned to Gold. “Please, make it quick.”
“Yes sah.” She hurried back to the kitchen.
The man held the bottle over his glass. “So my friend, what was Rose really to you?”
The lump clogged your throat. “Em…a colleague…During our service year.”
The smile on the man’s face fizzled out as he poured into his glass. “You do know she is dead, don’t you?”
You nodded. “I’m sorry, sir.”
He shrugged. “It’s nothing,” he said and drank. The slight frown again.
Gold hurried out from the kitchen.
“Oga, food don ready,” she said, as she straightened the ends of her apron.
“Ah, excellent.” The man stood up. “Let’s go to the dining table, Mr. Edafe.”
As you followed closely behind the man, your eyes fell on a portrait of Rose. Her life-like gaze bored guilt-holes through you. You looked away.
Gold came up to you as you pulled out a chair and sat.
“Which one you want, sah?” she asked. “Water or juice?”
“Water will do, thank you.”
“Gold, get me the bottle of brandy,” the man said.
“Sah?” The disapproving look resurfaced.
“Are you deaf? Bring me the brandy!”
“Yes sah.” Gold fumed and left.
“You like it?” The man turned his attention to you.
“I mean the food.”
“Yes, yes,” you said, as you swallowed a morsel of pounded yam.
Gold shuffled her way to the dining room and dumped the bottles of water and brandy on the table. You followed her with your eyes as she disappeared into the kitchen.
“I miss my daughter,” the man said, startling you. “You know what happened to her, don’t you?”
“That bastard gave her abortion pills,” he said, pretending not to have heard you. “It’s so painful…very painful. Anyway you don’t understand the way I feel, do you?”
You kept quiet. The ball of pounded yam was beginning to stick to your palm.
“You are a good man, you know.”
“I said you are a good man. I mean for remembering your friend, after all this time.”
“We thank God, sir,” you managed to say.
The man took a sip from his glass of brandy. “Let’s finish up our meal,” he said, “there is something I’d like to show you.”
The man lit a stick of Benson & Hedges, puffed on it, and stuck it between his fingers. Smoke billowed from his mouth.
“You see that?” he asked, pointing at a mahogany-framed portrait of a woman.
“That’s Rose’s mother.”
“Oh!” You nodded and gazed at the portrait.
Rose’s mother had a fine face, hazel eyes, and strands of hair under her chin.
“Sweet woman. She died out of depression, no thanks to that bastard.” He turned to face you. “Do you have any idea if Rose had a boyfriend?”
“She…No…no, I don’t.”
The man shrugged and took another drag on his cigarette. “Well, I’m getting married again.”
“Yes.” He leaned toward you, a mischievous smile on his face. “You know we men can’t do without a woman. Especially here.” He pointed to his groin.
You laughed, and for the first time, you felt better.
“Who is she?” Your eyes scanned the walls.
Aren’t you too old for her, you wanted to ask. But instead you said,
“Does she know about this?”
“Who, Gold? No, she doesn’t. But I plan to tell her,” he said, a glint of excitement in his eyes.
You felt the lump rise again. Now is the time, you thought.
“Sir,” you called, nervously running your hand across your stubble.
“I…I…” You cleared your throat. “I have something to tell you.”
“What is it about?”
“It’s about Rose.” Your voice was low.
“My Rose? What about her?”
“Sir…I…About the pills and Rose’s death. I was responsible.”
“What…” The man’s voice trailed off as he choked at his cigarette and entered a fit of coughing.
From nowhere, Gold rushed to his side and began to pat his back. “Sorry, oga.”
Your heart thumped as you ran to the door. The man’s loud cursing could be heard from over the fence, and his Alsatian dog gave chase. You ran fast; past a billboard, past an open drain. You gasped for air. You continued to run. You took a bend. And into the oncoming car.