My daughter is in the sitting room, crying. After much prodding from her mother, she says Baba Rolake touched her buttocks in the neighbourhood market.
Anyone entering the house at this moment would think it’s the mother herself who got touched. She’s shouting, bleating like a nanny goat whose kid has been kidnapped.
“Ah, I have suffered in this life. That stupid man thinks he can molest my daughter and go scot-free abi? God will punish him and his family. Daddy Tobi, you must do something.”
Me? Do something? I want to tell her about the many times I’ve warned the stupid girl to stop squeezing the big backside she inherited from her mother into stupid yoga pants. I want to tell her the reason she, the mother, gets away with it is because she is a certified lunatic, and nobody touches a crazy woman. But a teenage girl with a curvy behind who puts on stupid yoga pants? Anything can be done to her. I once tried to pump sense into the mother’s head about this yoga-pants business, but that did not end well for me. So, I keep quiet, pretend I do not hear her shouting, increase the volume of the television and focus my eyes on the screen.
The noise in the house continues. My daughter is now sobbing like a girl who misplaced proceeds from hawking all day. Her mother runs into the bedroom, exits the bedroom, slams the door and enters the kitchen. The jingling of cutlery fills the house as she pulls drawers and bangs cupboard doors.
She races back into the sitting room and stands before me. She is blocking my view of the television with her body that is spilling out of the iro that hangs limply on her breasts and parts below to reveal thighs wrapped in black tights.
“What is it? What is happening?”
“You did not hear what your child said abi?”
“What do you want me to do about it?”
She brings out a knife and points it at me.
“You will go to that stupid man’s house and warn him that if he tries this rubbish with my daughter again, I will cut off his john thomas.”
I know the woman. She can do that. If I’m not even careful, she might test it on me.
“Don’t you think it is better if you go and threaten him yourself?”
“What is wrong with you? Yeye man.” She draws out a long hiss. “See, if I go there myself, I will just cut it off. So you better go there now and warn him for me.”
She stands with arms akimbo, tapping her right foot on the ground.
“Okay, let me put something on.”
I enter the bedroom, grab a T-shirt and return to the sitting room. Mother and daughter are now standing by the door, waiting for the man of the house. Why do they only remember that I’m the man of the house when there is trouble?
“What is she doing? She is not going with me.”
“Is she not the one you are going to defend? Why will she not go with you?” She turns to the girl and slaps her on the back of the head. “You too, put on your slippers and follow your father.”
We step into the dark stairway. The last time the bulb was changed was over a year ago when the bachelor’s date tripped over the staircase. He had moved into the adjoining flat after its occupants couldn’t afford to pay the new increase the landlord required. He repainted, replaced doors, worked on plumbing, but stopped all his good work at the threshold of his flat. All that hard work made sense when he started to show up every night with a different woman, changing them like underwear. The one who tripped was a short dark-skinned girl who, in her tipsy state, rested on the shaky banister. Her scream brought everyone to the stairwell with lamps, not to help them per-se, but to view the bachelor’s new specimen. The following morning, he came out with a bulb. As he screwed it in, he muttered, “You people will kuku not touch anything in this wretched house. I don’t know why I have decided to live with such paupers.” That morning, my wife laughed so much she forgot we had been fighting the previous night and hugged me in the process.
I’ve been in this house since our marriage, so I know every part of the uneven steps. This is not a thing of joy. If I had known that things would change so fast for me and my wife, I wouldn’t have spent so much money on our wedding. I wouldn’t have served ofada rice, normal rice, amala, pounded yam, coke, juice, red wine, and beer at the reception. The five-years worth of savings I spent on that wedding was enough to fund a good business. Even the landlord served just buns and water at his grandfather’s burial. My foolish in-laws who fought over souvenirs and take-away food at my wedding are the same ones who now scoff at me. It is not their fault. It is unfortunate that a man cannot live twice, otherwise, I would have come back to serve buns and water at my wedding too. Anyone who doesn’t like it should go and die.
It’s past eight and families are sitting down on tables, or rugs, to eat rice or beans or yam or okele. Many of them are watching Mexican novellas dubbed into English as I know my wife would, once she stops boiling.
We walk past Mama T’s joint. There are a few loafers left on her benches, but I know she’ll soon chase them into the gutters or the hands of their unfortunate wives to allow her pack her chairs and tables. Then she’ll lock the door and wait for her taxi-driver husband. I quicken my steps as we pass the front of her shop. I haven’t paid for the beer I bought for the boys after Chelsea won the Champions League last week. I hope she’ll be gone by the time we return.
I can see the light from my friend Jamiu’s house. When drunk, Jamiu brags about how he beats his wife. He says women have to be taught the home training they do not learn from their parent’s houses. I pity the man’s wife. She is shy, beautiful and does not join the other women on the street to gossip during environmental sanitation on Saturdays. I want to dash my wife to Jamiu for a few days so he can understand that beating women does not always end well. He would be lucky to remain with his thirty-two teeth after a night, because nobody beats my wife without getting some injury in return.
An albino rat jumps out of a dump and skips ahead of us, trying to find an entry into the gutter. The poor thing must be thinking: what kind of fools walk in the night like this and disturb my dinner. Our street is in an old part of town filled with houses built by men who made money in the early nineties and lined the road with blocks of flats that look alike, and newer houses built by new rich men who tear down old houses to build fenced mansions. Some of these rich men are politicians who have no office, executives of companies, and others whose source of income we don’t know. The man who harassed my daughter falls in the ‘we-don’t-know’ category.
We are almost at his house and I’ve not come up with a plan. I need to rehearse how I will approach this issue. Here’s what I can do:
- Enter his house like a commando, start to shout at everybody and slash the air with my knife until someone begs me: What is the problem? I will say “Look, look. Look what he did to my daughter”. I will tell them everything. I will expect the disobedient girl to start crying at this point. A crowd would have gathered and they’ll be punctuating my speech with Ah, Ah, Ehen?
There’s a problem with that plan though: the man’s house has a very tall fence. Nobody will hear my noise, and that means nobody would be there to say Ah Ah to my story. It also means the man can decide to unleash his dog, assuming he has one. Or
- I can puff up my chest as I walk into the house, order the gateman to call out his boss and start to speak in a deep baritone. I can throw threats around: If you ever try that rubbish again, I will call my boys and they will deal with you. They will make you suffer, wish you were never born, and you will regret ever crossing paths with me. Then I’ll bring out the knife and play with it like I’ve been using it for years, and watch his face melt in fear of what I can do to him.
But there’s another problem with this idea: when I try to talk in anger, I stammer. It’s a problem I’ve had since primary school. The day I was fired at the bank, I wanted to shout like Chidinma who received her letter of dismissal the same moment I did mine. She flew at the manager, screaming and thrashing, and had to be dragged out by one of the security guards who had before that day treated her like a queen. I knew my weakness and did not want to look like a big fool. I just packed my bags, took down the photographs of my wife and daughter in my booth, left the ‘winners never quit and quitters never win’ poster for the next unfortunate teller, and left the bank premises without uttering a word. I hear Chidinma has a job at a consulting firm now. Maybe shouting when you are mad is how people know you’re competent.
I need a better plan.
We are now at the man’s gate. I know his gateman. He’s one of the abokis who don’t attend the Security Men and Vigilantes Association meeting. They say it is for Yorubas and company gatemen like me. Well, that is their problem. I push the girl to the back and knock the gate twice. He slides open the peephole and squints his eyes.
“Oga, na you? Wetin dey happen this night?”
“No problem o. Na your Oga I wan see. He dey house?”
“Yes he dey.”
He opens the gate and lets us in. I motion for my daughter to stay at the gatehouse. There are two cars in the compound: a jeep and a black Toyota Camry—the one boys call muscle.
I knock on the glass door and he comes to open it. What kind of big man opens his door himself?
He is wearing singlet and ankara trousers, and for a moment, all I can stare at is his big chest that is about four times the size of mine. The man does not do any manual labour so he must have a gym hidden somewhere in his house.
“Ehen? Who are you and what do you want?”
Now that I’ve seen his chest and arms, I know for sure that my plans will not work. I introduce myself and start to explain the situation to him in the mellow voice I use for my wife when she starts to go crazy. I tell him that I understand the temptation to touch something that is carelessly displayed. I’m a man too. I know how it feels. I don’t want any trouble. I just want him to say sorry to the girl.
The man starts to shout.
“What do you mean? What are you accusing me of? Do you think I’m an animal like you? Who is your daughter? What does she have that I don’t have in my own house? In fact let me show you something.”
He leans into the house and bellows.
“Romoke. Romoke. Call your daughter and both of you come here now.”
The wife and the daughter come to the doorway and he asks them to turn their backs so I can see. They turn without questioning him. Where do men find women like this?
I see what the man is trying to show me. His wife’s buttock is two times my wife’s, and that one can already block our 21 inch colour television just by standing in front of it. The same thing goes for the daughter.
He sends the woman and her daughter back inside and I try to plead with him one more time.
“Please do this for me. My wife is waiting to receive word that you’ve apologised to her daughter and I don’t know what to tell her. I promise we won’t trouble you again. Just tell her sorry anyhow you like and you can go back inside to your wife and children; I can walk home with my daughter; she can have a story to tell her mother, and we can all be happy.”
He steps back and looks through me like he’s considering my proposition.
“Where is this daughter of yours sef?”
“Tobi. Toooooobi. Come here.”
She walks towards the door, arms akimbo like her mother, chest pushed out and her face with its square jaw—also straight from mother to child—set firm.
“So it is you who said I touched you ehn? You. Just look at her. What will I touch here?”
He moves towards her, and holds his hand out in front of him, waving it this way and that way. The girl does not move back. She pushes her chest and its budding breasts forward.
“What will I touch in this one?” As he says the words, he smacks my daughter on the chest like a man playing ping pong. He is very nonchalant in the way he does it, like he’s been practising the move for years.
I am now mad. Very mad. Madder than I’ve ever been in my entire life. I draw out the knife, and stab him in the arm. Twice. He grabs his arm and shouts, no, he screams loudly like a baby.
“Run.” I shout to my daughter and we take off. We shuffle past the gateman who is on his way to investigate what has happened to his master.
The girl is carrying herself better than I could have ever imagined. We run out of the gate, into the street, and past Jamiu’s house. We disturb the albino rat again, but this time it just stands still. We run past Mama T who is still waiting for her husband. She shouts as we breeze past her: Baba Tobi, where is my money?
We return home and the girl spends about half an hour relating the story to her mother, who listens and grins stupidly like her daughter just bagged first position at school. While the daughter recounts the drama, I sit on the couch, pull off my shirt and start to shake.
Related country: Nigeria