They stood side by side on the stairs leading to the first floor, deep in a conversation. They stood quite close, shoulder to shoulder, like a pair desperate to confirm their 2-inch height difference. When a group of students had emerged, in haste to use the stairs on which they stood, the duo had momentarily created a path, wide enough for just one student at a time.
“Miss Onuorah, ọbu chukwu zọputara anyị—it was God that saved us. My sister, it would have been a fatal accident oh!” Mrs. Ibekwe exclaimed. “If not for God’s mercy, it would have been a totally different story. A whole family of seven, consumed, just like that?!”
“Chukwu agaghị ekwe—God will not permit such.” Miss Onuorah, the English language teacher, said. “Our God protects His own.”
“I am a witness oh!”
A student showed up on the stairs, standing a reasonable distance away from the teachers. It took a little less of a minute before they recognised her presence.
“Ah, Imabong! Have you been standing there?” Mrs. Ibekwe asked. “Come my dear, there’s enough space for you.” Both teachers moved a bit, to opposite sides, to create room for Imabong. “Imabong,” Mrs. Ibekwe continued, “you are getting more fleshy these days. Eh, everywhere is just shaking.” Imabong smiled, while Miss Onuorah laughed. “What special food have you been eating?”
“No special food, ma.”
“Her mother must be taking good care of her.” Miss Onuorah offered. “You know these south-south people, they like their daughters to be plump, especially when a suitor is at hand.”
Imabong had a shy smile when she said, “Ma, there’s no suitor.”
“Don’t worry, God will bring one soon.” Mrs. Ibekwe said.
Imabong smiled and continued her descent on the stairs. The teachers maintained their positions, but their eyes proved to be faithful escorts. They resumed their conversation, though favouring a new line, after Imabong had gone a reasonable distance.
“Oh!” Mrs. Ibekwe exclaimed.
“What is it?”
“As if you don’t have eyes to see. Or will you say you have not noticed anything?”
“My sister, it beats me oh!”
“I wonder if Mrs. Bassey is the only one remaining who has not noticed that her daughter is pregnant.”
“Will she carry the pregnancy for Imabong?”
“Is her mother a novice?”
“She is a born-again, a deaconess too. She won’t do such.”
“Nsogbu adịghị. Mgbe ada ya nwanyi turu ime nke abụo, ọga ahọta—there is no problem. When her daughter gets pregnant a second time, then she will understand.”
Evans sat on a single seater sofa in the living room, holding the novel he had found in Jerry’s bag, the one marked severally with yellow ink. Evans had been in the same spot for a little above an hour: reading the paragraphs that highlighted the sexual escapades of Marcus, a rich Colombian drug dealer; and occasionally drifting in thought to the recent events his family had been plagued with, mainly, the revelations that were ushered in when Charles and his friend, Lanre, came to visit. Lanre had not measured up to the image Evans had painted of him, though he had not been too far from the mark.
Evans still held the novel, but his thoughts had drifted again.
“Ma, it was a surprise when I got Evans’ call,” Charles had said, shortly after a conversation had started between the visitors and his mother. “I was surprised because Jerry did not show up at the party.”
“Party?” Nneoma had said. She had turned towards Evans. Evans, who had kept his gaze on his mother, and occasionally on Lanre, had looked away.
Charles had continued, much to Evans’ delight. “Evans told me that Jerry had mentioned a vigil. There was no vigil. And I did not come with any flyer when I visited that afternoon.”
Lanre who had been quiet had spoken next. To Evans, Lanre’s voice sounded better in person. “Lately Jerry had repeatedly mentioned a name, one Mr. Ray, saying the man was willing to help him travel abroad. We did not take him seriously, because his claim seemed far-fetched. But, who knows, Jerry may have been serious about it. We just felt you should know.”
“We called last night, early this morning actually, to find out if anything had been discovered to be missing. Evans said nothing was missing.
Nneoma had nodded repeatedly.
“After the call ended, I noticed that one of his bag was missing.”
“And you did not tell me.” his mother had said softly. She had continued before Evans could respond. “Well, it all seem to fall in place now. My money, three hundred thousand naira is also missing.”
Evans heaved, flipping unto a new page in the novel he held, unwilling to continue with his thoughts. He began to read again, the first paragraph marked with yellow ink in the page he had just flipped open.
Evans heard a knock and he stirred from his sleep. He sprang to his feet, surprised he had drifted off to sleep while reading the novel. He heard the knock again, and he turned towards the clock on the wall—3:22 pm. He guessed it was a classmate who had bothered to check on him, as he had been absent from school. Evans had complained of a headache, and his mother had not raised any objection when he told her he wanted to stay at home. Evans walked towards the door. He pulled its bolts when he got to it, and the door opened. And in front of him stood Walter.
“You did not come to school today, what happened?” Walter had said, even before the door had fully opened.
Evans merely stood, unsure if he wanted Walter in the house or not. His thoughts immediately got free rein: I lied to aid Jerry’s exit, because of you; not long after I got close to you, I get a funny note in my locker; and, what if the same person who dropped the note shows up now, and finds me alone with you?
“Hello . . . ” Walter said, waving his hand before Evans’ eyes. He made an attempt to walk past Evans, into the living room. Evans surprised both himself and Walter when he stood in Walter’s way. He knew he had to say something convincing enough.
“My mother is at home. She’s sick,” Evans lied. “and—she’s sleeping.”
“Oh, sorry about that.”
“I hope you will be in school tomorrow?”
“Yes. Sure, I will.”
“Good. Because I don’t understand what Mr. Hassan taught today, not even a bit of it.”
Evans did not bother to ask him the topic, he only said, “Ok, till tomorrow.”
“Bye. See you in school.”
“And my regards to your mum.”
Even before he had closed the door, Evans had already started to think of an excuse he would give to avoid spending time with Walter in school the next day.
Jerry sat on the bed in the hotel room he had rented, remote control in hand, watching a foreign movie. The call he had made to Mr. Ray had ended on a bright note, with the assurance that his travel documents would be due in a few days, and he would be leaving for Canada a day or two later. He had prayed that all Mr. Ray had said would follow through, because the hotel bill was fast depleting the money he had left.
Jerry thought of his mother, and he sighed. He had promised himself that he would make her proud when he became rich in Canada.