Guinea Pig

Periwinkles:

“You are now a big boy.” Auntie Diana said as she drove you to her Ikeja residence. “The last time I set eyes on you was a long time, you were a baby then. Now you’re handsome and even have a moustache! My God, your mother is too much, abeg, she finish work for your body, see your skin.” she eyed you through the rare-view. You smiled as she spoke and scrutinised you. “You would love my place; I have three dogs, and do you like dogs? I have three dogs, one Shepard, one Rottweiler and a Shih Tzu. You’d love them. You can’t be bored, there is electricity and if there isn’t you can put on the generator.”
“Auntie Do you have children?”
“Two kids, Damian and Adriana. But they are little, Damian is four and Adriana two. Don’t worry they won’t get in your space, I have someone who looks after them.”
“I can’t wait to meet them,” you said.
“I’m sure you would love them! Those girls on my street would die when they see you.” she winked at you through the rear-view.

You were to stay with her for a week. No thanks to Jamb for putting your centre in Lagos despite the fact that you registered in Owerri. Auntie Diana’s house was closest to the centre and your mother suggested a visit.
“She is a good friend.” Your mother broke Oha leaves into a bowl in the kitchen, “She would treat you well and she’s funny, she carried you when you were a baby, besides its better than a hotel.”
Your mother picked her phone and called Auntie Diana. They exchanged pleasantries, and then your mother told her you were to visit Lagos.
“Guess what?” Your mother asked. She dropped the phone, she was exhilarated, “She wants you over, her husband is a teacher and he would take you along for jamb coaching, you’re lucky!”

Auntie Diana brought the car to an abrupt stop in front of a black gate and then she blew the horn. You heard a door slam inside the compound and then footsteps until the gate creaked open. It was a boy.
“That’s Damian,” she waved at him.
Her dogs gambolled and wagged their tails when the car stopped, a Brown Rottweiler, a Black Shepard, and White Shih-Tzu.
“My babies!” she squealed. They jumped at her and she rubbed their furry bodies. “I know you missed mommy, mommy missed you too.” she took a half-eaten gala from the dashboard, broke it and threw it over them, and they rushed at it. She signalled for you to go inside while she distracted them and you made a run for the door with your bag.
Inside a bald light-skinned man sat crossed legs on the couch.

Auntie Diana came inside.
“George, this is Ebuka, Ebuka this is George, my husband.”

“How far?” he then turned to his wife, “where have you been I don dey hungry.”
“You no fit cook?”
He grimaced. “Me, enter the kitchen, cook food chop?” And then he turned back to the television. “I and your pikin dem never chop since you leave us comot so…”
“Ebuka let me show you to your room,” she walked into a room just beside the sitting room and you followed in her wake.
You settled and removed the clothes you came with and arranged them in the wardrobe, after that you changed and went outside.

Auntie Diana was in the kitchen. She was making Afang and you offered to help the eba.
“So you can make eba, I thought because you’re an only child you would be spoiled.”
You shook your head. “I help my mother, I like it.”
“Okay, you would prove yourself by making it.”
As she spoke you noticed a figure at the mouth of the door, when Auntie Diana noticed she stopped everything she did.
“Mommy,” Auntie Diana crouched and cupped the girls face in leather palms. “Ebuka this is Adrianna, mommy that is uncle Ebuka.”
Adrianna looked at you with eyes fresh from sleep and blinked twice, you waved at her and then she buried her face in her mother’s breasts.
“She’s shy!” Auntie Diana tickled her, “and she’s still learning to speak.”
She spoke to Adrianna in hushed tones and you busied yourself by putting water in the electric kettle for the eba. You opened the lower cupboards and took out a bowl and rinsed it.
“You know what you’re doing,” she said and chuckled.

When the water boiled, She brought down the bucket of garri and you made the eba as she watched. She applauded when you were through. “I can’t believe my small Ebuka of yesterday is now a man, and he can cook! No woman would do shakara for you in this life; my husband can’t even boil water,” she said.
You said nothing.
“I cooked this soup for you, there is periwinkle, and you know Urhobo people can’t do without periwinkle?”
You shook your head.
“Ah we can’t do without it, stew, soup, pepper soup, I even put it in my jollof rice, and also sliced ponmo and plenty fish and gizzard, don’t worry you would be fatter than me before you leave my house.” she turned the thick pot of soup, mirth all over her face.
You told her you would be in the sitting room watching television while she finished with the soup and she agreed.

There was a man in the sitting room talking to Mr. George; he was scruffy and equally bald. You sat and listened to the vague chatter of Mr. George and this man. Their language was Igbo with a twang. You didn’t hear much of what was said but you heard when the man said he was going home. Mr. George stopped him. “She’s cooking, wait and eat the food.” they both sniggered.

“Ebuka your food is on the dining table,” Auntie Diana said as she lowered the tray of food in front of her husband.

“Bring more soup and more eba, abeg, my brother go chop!” Mr. George said.
The man beside him smiled and said something in their dialect and they both laughed.
After eating you almost couldn’t stand to clear your plates to the kitchen. You managed after hyperventilating for half an hour.
“Don’t sleep without bathing and washing off the journey from your body?” Auntie Diana said as you thanked her and her husband for the meal. She ate alone while her husband ate with his brother.

Deja Vu:

The Shih Tzu woke you the next day with licks all over your face. You jerked and it barked and scampered off. You saw a trail of pee on the floor and were careful not to step on it but as you put your foot on the other side of the bed it sank into a poodle.
“Shit!” you looked around for a rag. You found none and so you hopped into the bathroom to wash off the coffee brown stain.
When you came out the urine and poodle were gone. You scrutinized the floor. Auntie Diana said the Shih Tzu and Shepard weren’t violent just the Rott, and she chained it at the back of the house for your safety.
“If you feed it twice or thrice it would like you, the Shih Tzu poops in the guest room, but I’ve wiped It.”

You were in the kitchen with her as she put food in food flasks. She wore the glorious white. “My husband would take you out today to the tutorial classes, he is still asleep. I’m going to work now to beat the morning traffic; I would see you when I get home in the evening. Please eat something.”

Auntie Diana was a Navy lieutenant and her base was at Ikoyi. Her father who married three wives and had twenty-five children was a Navy officer too before he died. They were all Navy officers in her family.

You took her handbag and walked her to the car.

It was early and the sky was cocktail-blue with no traces of the sun on the horizon. You had tea on the dining and settled in front of the Television.
“It’s Pinkie and the brain!” Damian ran to the parlour and stood naked with a toothbrush in his mouth.
“Damian, come back here!” a voice thundered. You figured it was the boy Auntie Diana said watched over her kids. He came out and dragged Damian back inside, you greeted and he responded. When next you saw Damian he was in his school uniform with his water bottle dangling from his neck like a dog chain. Adrianna walked behind him, her thumb in her mouth and traces of tears still visible on her face. She cried while being bathed. You beckoned to her and she shrugged and went towards Damian.
There was a horn outside the gate.  The boy you had seen earlier came out again.

“Oya make una take una food flask una Okada man don come,” he said, and then ushered them out of the house.
You watched TV until the sky brightened and the sun took its place in the sky. There was a knock on the gate and you went to answer it.
It was a girl in her late twenties, she carried a sack.

“Is Mr. George around?” the girl asked.
You nodded and she entered the compound and went into the house without waiting for directions. You got in and found her seated in the parlour with her
two legs wide apart. The sack was in front of her. You sat adjacent to her and continued with television.
Mr. George came out later and sat down beside her, you greeted him and he responded.

“Oya wetin you get for me today?”
“Mr. George you know you haven’t paid for the ones you bought.”
“Month go end tomorrow and my wife go pay you no worry.”
“Ehen, okay…” she ransacked.
“I need perfumes, singlet, and boxers, you get those ones? I liked that last perfume.”
She brought out wares and displayed them for Mr. George, and he carried them one after the other to inspect.
“Oya, pack am for nylon.” Then he turned to where you sat. “Ebuka have you had your bath? My wife asked me to take you to my tutorials, I would be ready soon.” He got up and left you and the girl in the room.
“Fine boy, won’t you buy anything?”

You smiled and shook your head. “I have some already.”
She nodded and pushed the sack to the side. “Do you use a blackberry? Please, can I borrow your charger?” she said.
You stood and walked into the guest room. Shortly after you came back with your charger and gave it to her. She got up and grabbed it.
“I need to get a charger; I am tired of desktops.”
“It kills your battery over time,” you said,
“Abi… it’s charging!” she was hysterical. “My name is Awele,”
“Ebuka.”
“You’re Igbo? Are you related to Mr. George or his wife?”
“The wife, she’s good friends with my mom.”
“So you would be here for a long time or you’re visiting?”
“I’m visiting; actually, I came for Jamb, my centre is somewhere around here.”
“That is true jamb is this Saturday, Where is your centre?”
“Lagos state University.”

“I school there! Is that where you’re coming to?”
“No,” you chuckled. “I hate Lagos, I registered Abuja and Imsu.”
She nodded, and then got up to check on her blackberry. “It’s almost full, it’s been long I saw my phone charge like this. How many chargers do you have?”
“Just one, but I could get one for you on my way out today.”

When you got back that evening from tutorials and gave Awele the charger she was overjoyed. She hugged you. From that day you were friends. She introduced you to her girlfriends in the area, Mistura, and another Igbo girl called Nkechi.
“See my new friend Ebuka, he’s Diana boy,”
“Houseboy?” Mistura said.
“No, house boy ke, he’s here for Jamb,”
“Oh my god, are you also writing jamb this Saturday? That makes the two of us.” Nkechi said.

“I for fear say this fine boy naa house boy for that house,” Mistura adjusted her buttocks on the pavement were they sat. You stood.
“That Mr. George sef… Tell your uncle when you get home to stop chasing me,  this man saw me at the bus stop tried to carry me with his wife’s car. I no want trouble abeg before person go bust my eyes.” Mistura hissed.
“Ahn-ahn, the boy came some days ago, leave him.” Awele chided.
“I just dey talk my own, you know how my mouth is, babe,” Mistura turned to you, “every time he makes a comment about my ass when he sees me, I’m tired,” she said.
You giggled but it was a nervous giggle, and gooseflesh covered your body. You were embarrassed but not for yourself.
“Wetin make the boy do?” Awele asked.
“He would tell his Auntie,”
All the while Nkechi punched on her blackberry keypads and smiled at herself. She finally spoke. “The man’s wife knows all these things, she fit done even tire to hear sef. No, be only you George dey try trick for the area, even small Idevo wey her Auntie just bring come from Benin to run their beer parlour, the girl tell me,”
“See person pap, person husband, I tire for that man gist, no be today.”

“We don dey go.” Awele stood and locked your hand in hers.
You waved at the girls and said it was nice to meet them.

You and Awele walked round the estate. Awele knew almost everybody and their gist. She told you about Nkechi’s older sister who won a beauty contest and refused to return home because they were Catholics and her father disapproved of her showing her body off on television, and how even though Mistura was twenty-five years old her father flogged her round the house at twelve A.M when she got back from lectures.

You got back from your stroll just in time when Auntie Diana drove into the compound. You said goodbye to Awele and jogged to the gate.

“I can see you have helped yourself to the women in the estate.” Auntie Diana raised her eyebrow in a way that made you laugh.
“That’s Awele.”
“I know Awele, she is a nice girl. She also has a fiancé so don’t put asunder.”
You chuckled.

“I went grocery shopping, help me take some of the things out of the boot and arrange them in the kitchen.”
You took the car keys and began to offload. After that, you carried the bags into the house. It was left with a sack of rice, and then you went to get help.
You knocked on Auntie Diana’s room door and she asked you to come in. There you explained that you couldn’t carry the sack all by yourself.

Her husband was on there, she begged him to help.
“Diana please not now I stood all day in school my legs ache, I can’t carry any rice.”
She sighed and said nothing.

Awkwardness festered and you just stood at the mouth of the door cracking your knuckles. Mr. George mewled and climbed down from the bed.
“Make we dey go.” he walked out and you followed in his wake.
Auntie Diana was in the kitchen when you got back. You put the car keys on the table and sorted leaves as she per-boiled meat and fish in a big pot.
“My husband is mad because I asked him to stop driving my car.” she  sighed.
“Why?”
“Ebuka, this marriage that I’m in, it’s just God, You see the way I treat my children? Like gold. I bought them with money and if I don’t take care of them he won’t. They are my only hope in this marriage. I would have left this man long ago but they need their father.”
You wanted to ask how she bought her children but held back. You sighed. “Marriages are hard and people have it worse someplace somewhere.”

“I know marriages are hard but I could use a little support around here. Every day I bust my ass to Ikoyi, sit in traffic on my way back, struggle in the market and then come home to cook it for a man who doesn’t appreciate my efforts. He can’t massage my body when I get home from work. Now he is mad I asked him to stop driving my car, Imagine him driving girls, I can’t take that. Even food for the dog he has never bought, and how much is my salary? When you marry for love…” her voice trailed off. She tore nylon of periwinkles into a bowl, poured water inside and stirred with her fingers.
“Periwinkles!”
“I love periwinkles,” she said and picked out a few to eat.
“Your mother told me not to marry that teacher I found but what could I have done? I was turning thirty-five Ebuka. He had potential, I thought with my support he would achieve all and we would be happy but I was wrong. See him now, creating debt in my name and getting fairer than mammy-wota.” she pushed her bra-strap to the side. “See my strap painted a line on my shoulders, I can’t even take care of myself. Those children you saw cost me about a million plus naira, C-sections, both of them, pregnancy complications…but after searching for children for 10 years…”
You thought for a while and then said: “I like Adrianna, she’s beautiful, and she looks like you but she’d be prettier.”
She snickered, that did the trick. Just then Adrianna strolled into the kitchen mewling and stomping her feet on the ground. She saw you and stopped, and then she ran and buried her face in her mother’s leg. Aunty Diana stopped what she was doing and bent down to listen to her inaudible words. “Damian allow your baby sister play!” and then Adriana scurried off.
I excused myself and went to the sitting room, there I found Mr. George having a conversation with his brother.

Sardines:

You returned from tutorials one afternoon and the generator was on. The gate was locked but you used the spare key Auntie Diana gave you to get in. The television was on and tuned to MTV-base so you knew Mr. George was home. Your throat was parched and so you went to the kitchen for water.

The kitchen was a mess. There were empty cans of sardines and a half eaten loaf of bread littered on the counter. When you walked out of the kitchen you heard sounds emanating from the room Auntie Diana shared with her husband, it was a woman and a man. You paused and listened again to be sure.

It was a three bedroom flat. From the main entrance, the first room was the sitting room, and then beside it was the guest room where you stayed. Facing the sitting room was a hall demarcated with a curtain, also where the dining was. From the dining, there was a curve and the right-hand led to the kitchen and the left to a passage with two doors on each side, Auntie Diana’s room and her Children’s room. You walked into the passage and confirmed the sounds. Mr. George and a girl moaned in unison. You turned and went to your room and pretend like you heard nothing.

That night Auntie Diana came into your room and asked me if you ate all the sardines left in the house.
“Someone ate all the sardines; it was left with half carton.”
You shook my head and lied about not leaving the room since you returned from tutorials and she said it was fine.
“How is tutorial going?”
“Not bad, I’m trying my best.”
“That’s what your mother wants. Okay, let me leave you to rest,” she left.
You heaved and buried your face in a pillow. There was no way you could have said “Oh, I returned this afternoon and found a bunch of sardines and your half ate garlic bread on the kitchen counter. Who ate them? Your husband and the girl he mounted on your matrimonial bed.”

Guinea pig (Fifth year):

The date for the examination came. Auntie Diana drove you to the venue and promised to wait until you were through.

You walked from hall to hall, auditorium to auditorium. When you found your hall Auntie Diana left. You walked in and were searched like everybody else. Your seat was in the front row. You looked back and saw hundreds of students in the hall, invigilators with their bloodshot eyes looking for whose life to ruin for another year.
When it was the time the answer sheets were distributed and the rules and regulations announced. “Only HB pencil, no talking, no sudden movements, no sneaky behavior else you would be sent out.” The head invigilator roared as a lioness.
At exactly Ten A.M the exams were underway. The hall went dead.
In a hall of two hundred students, you were zero-zero-three. Zero-zero-one pulled out big guns, a sheet of paper from under his belt and shaded as fast as he could. Zero-zero-two shaded along. Zero-zero-four was a girl in her late twenties. After casing the hall she made her move. She dropped her pencil and pretended to pick it up but instead put her hand under her skirt and pulled a piece of paper. She picked up her pencil and began shading.
Suddenly the head invigilator appeared; your heart skipped eight beats. Without asking she took Zero-zero-one’s answer sheets and dusted it, and then gave it back to him. She did the same with Zero-zero-two and moved on to you. She skipped you and grabbed a hold of zero-zero-four sheets. Zero-zero-four refused to let go.
“Leave the paper now!” The invigilator’s voice reverberated.
“Please, ma,” Zero-zero-four said and almost started to cry.
“Just leave it!” the woman sounded impatient.
The invigilator dragged the sheet from zero-zero-four and dusted it in the air and a piece of paper flew out.
“This is the first idiot!” The woman said as she tore the sheets into shreds.

There were gasps in the hall. After she dusted off the shreds the invigilator tossed a malpractice form to zero-zero-four and stomped out.
“I’m finished!” cried zero-zero-four, she called after the invigilator. “Please ma, this is my fifth year don’t do this to me my father would kill me, please I don’t want to be a tailor,” she cried.
You pitied her, it could have been you.
She went quiet, sobbed and wiped snot off her face with the hem of her skirt. Suddenly sobs turned into wails. “I am not the only one cheating please ma.”
Nobody paid her any mind; they just went on like she wasn’t even there.
Zero-zero-four cried and then tried leaving but she was stopped, students were allowed to leave after the bell rang. She slumped in her seat like a tired old mule and stared into space.
The bell rang after two long hours and the invigilators yelled: “pen up!”

You found Auntie Diana where she said she would be, with the food vendors under a tree close to the hall.

On the way home you relayed the story to her and she was in stitches.
“You would think someone that hid a folded paper in her vagina would have sense.”
When you got home you packed for your journey back to Owerri. On your way back Auntie Diana complained of body pains, she said it was because she trekked round Unilag. You offered to help as payback for all her kindness, she was glad.
After you were done packing you went to her room and found her on the bed beside her husband. He was watched television.
“Ebuka is here to massage my back and legs.”
He scoffed. “You want to make this boy dey touch your body anyhow now Abi?”
“Would you do it for me? My baby, please message my body for me, daddy, my sweetheart.”
You tittered.
“Ebuka I’m toasting my husband so you don’t have to do it.” she poked him with her finger.
“I won’t, I’m not massaging anything, you wey your body thick like a guinea pig, see muscle, Ebuka no mind am, carry on.”
It was like someone poured cold water on Auntie Diana, she couldn’t even speak. The awkwardness that followed was too loud that you had to leave the room.

The next day as she drove you to the bus park she wasn’t her usual happy-go-lucky self. You felt sad for all she had to deal with because she wanted to keep a man in her life, for her children to have a father, “my husband this, my husband that” when she spoke to her neighbors. “My husband just went to bring my children,” “my husband washes the car,” “I miss my husband,” “my husband did this and that.” They knew that her husband was pedantic garbage who didn’t t love or respect for her.

When you got to Owerri and told my mother everything over dinner, all she said was “I warned her about that man.”

 

Art by Uthman Wahaab