I still cannot say what exactly the attraction was, the way she batted her eyelids rapidly as she responded to my questions or the way she smiled with all her teeth showing,you know the kind that tends to almost reach the ear, which on another person would look absolutely ridiculous. Yes, that one!
“Saheed is not a very troublesome child, he only cries when he’s hungry or if you take away his toys. Keep the television on cartoon network, that’s the way he likes it, and when he sleeps, you can watch Telemundo or something. It’s not a school day so you won’t have much to do, just stay home and watch over him. Oh, and my husband gets off at four O’clock but before you leave, warm up some of the soup in the fridge, he doesn’t like white garri, and don’t make it too soft. When i come back, I’ll call you. Keep the doors locked,I’m not expecting visitors, so don’t open for anyone ”
She nodded stiffly in concentration and i hoped to high heavens that she would remember all i just said. You know, a thing with Nigerian maids, they would even lick your feet in your presence but once you turned your back, do the exact opposite of your command. The agency promised a 50% refund anyway, so, no worries for me this morning.
Traffic, strangely was very forgiving this morning, as i got to work in record time, despite being an hour late already.
Tiwa gave me the eye as i walked into our office section, i ignored her and headed to my table, knowing it would spark her curiosity. Lilian was looking at me purposefully, reprimanding me silently with her eyes for coming late to work and getting away with it- the perks of having an Infant child who could take the blame for every act of tardiness. I gave her my darkest scowl to remind her that i still hadn’t forgiven her for starting the rumor that the bags i brought to work were fake Chanel and that my Igbo husband had enlisted his brothers in alaba market to custom-make them at a very cheap price. This chick is as Jealous and spiteful as they come- thirty-seven and single, i didn’t want her getting the idea we were friends now,especially since i had to stop buying Chanel altogether, definitely not!
Now, the eye that Tiwa gave me could mean anything from ‘you’ve landed into trouble with the people upstairs’ to ‘a customer has reported you again’, it was our secret signal of communication in a crowded office legendarily known for gossip. I didn’t have to wait long, Tiwa was hot on my heels, her court shoes causing disapproving looks from the people on her side of the office room. I booted my computer as quickly as i could and turned on my desk-phone.
“Oya, jist me jare, this girl. You can’t avoid me for long. Tell me all about her,the new maid, what she looks like? I hope she can cook oo… ”
I smiled. Tiwa loved knowing things, everything.
” Well, she’s okay, everything the agency promised, plus she’s friendly too, an added bonus because i don’t like housemaid drama cha cha, at all, at all”
I typed rapidly into my computer as i spoke, there was so much to catch up with in so little time.
“Has Obinna met her yet? I hope he doesn’t find her attractive o, you know men and housemaids… ”
Tiwa would never give it up.
” I trust my husband, he’s not the type. He left for work before she even came sef, today’s her first day, you see? They’ll probably meet when he comes back, but i have totally no fears… ”
“All dis wan na talk jareh! Leave matter for Matthias. How is my godson, by the way? It’s been long o, i should drop by this weekend, the kids miss him alot, imagine they’ve not seen him since that weekend we went to ozone, remember how… ”
She clapped her hands in mock surprise, and i smiled at the thought of my son. We named him Saheed because he brought us luck,my in-laws almost had my head for that; how dare the bush woman from the forgotten cities of sokoto give their first born son a Muslim name? I didn’t care about them this time; it had taken us seven years of trying and enough mother-in-law drama to have him, at least i had earned the right to name my son how i wanted . Or, so i thought.
I still remember the doctors telling us we were incapable of having children of our own,the pressure mounted on Obinna to take a second wife or at least try another woman outside, yet despite everything, we now have a four year old, bouncing around the house. God has definitely been good to us so far.
Tiwa was trying to draw me in into another discussion and i hurriedly shushed her up and sent her off to her desk, it wouldn’t be funny if the both of us were sacked on the same day,at least,she’s the one with four hungry children to feed. We had to keep up our work ethic if we wanted to afford designer bags and shun the critics.
“Good morning, thanks for choosing MTN. My name is Aisha, how may i help you? ”
” So you people have finally decided to pick my calls abi?… ”
” Sorry for the inconvenience sir, how may i be of service? ”
” Thieves! All of you, thieves! My credit. What did you people do with it? Answer me! Imagine, after i loaded two hundred naira just now now and you’re telling me insufficient balance … ”
I smiled into the phone, in appreciation of the work that had slowly become my life.
Iya Teju was at the gate where she had always been for the past ten years i have lived in this apartment block, quietly selling her fried bean cakes. It was evening, rush hour and there was quite a crowd around her multi-colored umbrella that advertised three different network providers at the same time. From the energetic manner she waved her flabby arms, i could tell that the crowd was there for more than just locally made bean-cakes. Something was up!
I considered the idea of alighting, and joining the crowd in their evening gossip but crossed it off in my mind at second thoughts, i was a married woman who worked for a reputable company. My time was precious.
Few minutes later, i would regret that decision- but you didn’t know that.
Nothing prepared me for the sight that met my eyes when i drove into the parking space opposite my apartment. My husband,talking to the police? No way!
The Nigerian Sports commission or whoever organized the Olympics would seriously have considered me for women 200 metres, if they had seen the speed with which i sprinted to my doorstep, heels and all.
Obinna looked up,startled and the Police man followed his gaze. A hushed silence followed. The silence i would live in for the rest of my life.
“Baby, where did you say you met that your housemaid again? ”
The police man gave my husband a nervous look, as if to say it was not in his capacity to interfer with a police investigation. I swallowed hard.
” H-has anything happened? ”
My voice was beginning to fail me, in trepidation of the happening of my worst fears.
” Where’s my son? Where’s Saheed? Is he okay? Did anything happened to him? ”
Obinna eyed me derisively, the corners of his mouth turned up.
” That is what we are going to find out! Aisha abi Aishwarya, you will go in there, or out there, wherever, i don’t care, but you will find my son and bring him to me. Today, today! Shey you refused to quit your job and stay at home with the baby? … Ah, i swear, insha Allah, if you no find my son today, i will do to you what your people did to my people during the biafran war… ”
Suddenly, it all made sense to me. The crowd at the gate, the gesticulations, the dumb police man who sat mute at my doorstep, watching my husband run me down. It was as though someone had poured cold water on me, for i was in a daze as i tried the maid’s number- unreachable, as i dialed the agency that denied knowing anyone in their employ with such name. It was in a daze that i followed the policeman to the station to write my statement.
” Aisha wa? Turn jor! ”
It was the baby voice of my son first, then the mature voice of my friend, Tiwa. I turned from the window i had been staring out, and into the sun where she stood, unseeing.
” You have come to see me today? Did you bring my son? ”
My voice sounds weak and strained in my ears. Tiwa shakes her head slowly. I ignore her and look instead at my hands, yellow and wrinkled, i must be getting old fast.
” Aisha baby, fifteen years have passed, do you still remember? The police closed the case as unsolved. No witnesses, no suspect, no crime. You see, it’s still a mystery to all of us, if not for the shoe… ”
” What shoe? ”
I raise my head up quickly from the hands i had been staring at, hands that did not look like mine.
Tiwa shook her head again and did not answer, instead she led me back into the one room apartment i called my home now. As she sang me to sleep, it all came rushing back to me, that evening, the day Saheed went missing.
The Police had sent out their own version of an amber alert, media houses and popular bloggers had carried the news up, accompanied with photos taken at his fourth birthday party. Yet, nothing came up.
There were sightings, of course, but no son, no maid.
Nigerians were eager to help, both with information that were true and those that were false, mostly false leads, anyway. Inevitably, the rumors and conspiracy theories came, first that he’d been kidnapped and sold off by an illegal adoption ring, then, that he had been taken by people who did illegal organ harvesting for illegal black market organ transplants. There was no end to theories and online arguments as to the whereabouts of my son.
My Mother-in-law was only eager to join her son in chasing me from the house we lived in, in lagos, back to the backwoods of Sokoto.
As i give in to the welcoming embrace of sleep, i remember vividly, the six months i spent in a psychiatric facility in Ikeja, the six months it took me to lose my job. My doctor called it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, i told him to get another job.
In my mind’s eye, i see the spark of the sunshine on my window as i answer the doorbell, it is two days after my son’s kidnap and i get anxious at every ring of the door bell and run off to answer.
There is this small wooden box on the doorstep. I never did forget its color, plain brown and ugly, it lay there, forgotten by its owner.
The compound is empty at this hour, i cannot guess who left it or if it is for me, in the first place.
Curiosity takes over me, and i flip the box open. There, cusioned in swaddling clothes, probably a shawl or something, is the other half of an infant’s leg- the foot,still encased in the Bright blue shoe and matching socks i had bought on Lagos Island, a little after the naming ceremony, still dripping blood and soaking the cloth beneath it, the bone from which it was not properly severed, jutting out.
I am seated on the floor, silent, unmoving; staring, unseeing, into the box that holds the answers to all my questions.
Obinna closes from work at four o’clock. He ignores his food on the table – he doesn’t like his garri white,and he doesn’t like it too soft either. Instead, he calls the police who cordone off the area and take the box away.
I hear the mummur of Tiwa singing softly, amid the bustle coming from the streets outside. My mind’s eye is closing, i feel my brain shutting down, i am losing my memory again, but in the fleeting moments before i sleep, i recognize the conviction in my heart for what it is.
Saheed came back!