“Madam, are you okay?”
Nneka opened her eyes to see the doctor’s concerned face peering into hers. She hadn’t heard him come in. Nneka took her seat as the doctor went around to his side of the table and sat down.
“Doctor, how is my daughter?” Nneka asked, her voice hoarse with anxiety.
“Not very good, I’m afraid,” the doctor said, shaking his head.
“But you are treating her?”
“No, madam, I was coming to that. You have to pay a deposit of eighty thousand naira before we can start anything on her.”
“Ah-ah! But what of the five thousand I paid before?” Nneka screamed.
“Madam, that was only to get her registered as a patient. That was not for her treatment,” the doctor said.
“But doctor, what is wrong with her? She just collapsed when she came back from school. What is wrong with my child? She has never been sick before!”
“We don’t know yet, madam. We haven’t done a proper diagnosis yet. We need your deposit before we can do anything more. But whatever it is, it looks serious. I suspect there’s a problem with her heart.”
“Jesus Christ! Heart problem?” Nneka screamed as she shot up from the chair.
“Calm down, madam.”
Ignoring the doctor, Nneka paced the office, deep in thought. She could think of only one way to get the money fast enough. She steeled herself and made up her mind.
“Doctor, I promise, I will bring the money today. Just give me a few hours, but please, start treating my daughter. I beg you in the name of God.”
She dashed out of the office without waiting for the doctor’s reply.
Nneka could barely conceal her disgust as she watched Otunba greedily devour the mountain of food before him.
“Ineka, Ineka, so you have finally come to Otunba. Yes, I knew you would come one day, and I have been waiting patiently for you.”
He laughed, and Nneka forced a smile as she watched him stuff a huge ball of pounded yam into the black hole that was his mouth. Nneka looked away so he would not see the nauseated look on her face. He ate like a pig. She looked around Otunba’s richly furnished dining room. She had come through the living room to get here, and the only other room she’d been in that could compare with Otunba’s living room was that of Daniel’s parents. And now, like then, Ginika was at the centre of it all. The thought brought tears of regret to Nneka’s eyes.
“Ah-ah! Ineka, wa je now! Come and eat with me. This is Iyan and Efo. I know you Omo Ibos don’t like Amala, but this is Iyan, pounded yam. you people eat that one.”
He smiled, showing the pieces of vegetable that clung to his yellow teeth.
“Thank you, sir. But I’m not hungry.”
“My dear,, what is all this 'sir' business? Cheer up,” he said, reaching over to pat her shoulder with his clean hand. “We have made our arrangement. I will give you the money. One hundred and fifty thousand for you to be at my service for three months, abi?”
“Ehem, so cheer up. But Ineka, let me warn you now o; I intend to make you work for every kobo…you know what I mean.”
He winked, and then grinned lecherously, pointing in the general area of her crotch. Nneka looked away.
“So Ineka, let me tell you of how I managed to steal this my new cook from those people at the Hilton. He is very good o.”
Nneka started at Otunba as he droned on about his cook. She shuddered with repulsion. This would not be easy at all. But then she remembered Ginika, and that gave her the strength to suppress her own feelings. Otunba was huge in a bear-like way, and his skin was black as midnight. He had fat hands, with short, stubby fingers and blunt nails. His face was unattractive; he had red, beady eyes, a large, bulbous nose, and a big, black hole for a mouth. His lips were black from years and years of tobacco smoking. Rumour had it that he’d been an agbero at the Mile II park years ago, and had used his wife and four children for money making rituals.
Nneka sighed. She knew very little about this man; only that he was rich, and very persistent. After that first time she’d sold boli to him at her shed on Coker Street, he’d kept coming back. She had assumed that he liked her boli so much, until he’d told her he was interested in her.
“Just let Otunba into your life, and you will see how good he can be. You won’t regret it o! You are a very beautiful woman you know. You need a correct man that can take care of you. I’m thinking of buying you from your hushand,” he’d said to her on many occasions.
Nneka did not think of herself as beautiful. Maybe she had, at one time. But now she was too busy taking care of Ginika to think of herself. She was oblivious to the look of quiet longing in the eyes of the men around her; of her aloof, unreachable aura that attracted and maddened them at the same time. Ginika was all she cared about.
Nneka often smiled at Otunba’s assumption that she had a husband. For her, there had been no man after Daniel. His betrayal had left her with an intense fear of, and aversion to men. Her experience with Daniel had robbed her of her one chance to get into the university. When Nneka’s mother had died five years after Ginika’s birth of high blood pressure, Nneka had moved to Coker Street, Orile, to continue her life. She’d decided that Ginika would have the life that she had missed due to her own foolishness. Ginika was in J.S.S. 2, and she was an excellent student. She’d taken after her mother.
“Oya, mo ti je tan. I have finished eating. It is now time to satisfy another type of hunger. Let us go inside,” Otunba said, rising.
Nneka felt a sudden surge of courage. Her daughter’s life would not be cut short, no matter what. She would save Ginika, and in doing so, she would save herself.