Abeokuta is an ancient town. It’s people live by ancient ways. This means they adhere to ways of life indoctrinated by their forebears; including food and drink. I used to think its status as a State capital, and location between Lagos and Oyo States would have influenced it someway. You know, introduced the love of junk food and luxury beverages. I was wrong. And the discovery of only 2 standard shawarma spots should told me so. But it didn’t.
Time was 8:45 a.m yesterday, and I was at a residential training. I had strolled to the breakfast table was heavy feet and eyes; the effect of catching sleep in brief glimpses of shut eyes and quiet mind. My words slurred when I greeted “good morning”; heavy, thick, and seductive, with some unintended bedroom huskiness. A hand paused midair. Oil gathered at the base of the scooping spoon.
The sound of oil dropping on stew in the warmer sounded like the tick of my wristwatch.
It is loud. Too loud. Louder than it should be.
The words seeped slowly through my subconscious; cautious, as if not to jar me. The tiptoe of the hungover. Light dimmed, my eyes squinted to focus on the face of the person holding the scooping spoon. It was my colleague. Mouth agape, adam’s apple bobbing like one repeatedly swallowing spittle or strugglng for words; he looked lost. Something nudged at my consciousness; a persistent knock seeking attention. There had been a subliminal message in the initial thought.
If the drop of oil sounded too loud, then the room was too quiet.
The room hadn’t been quiet when I walked in; brief seconds ago. Curious, I looked round the room. There were colleagues with forks halfway to their lips, and some with hands idly twirling spoons in mugs. They were all watching me. Puzzled, I lifted a brow; a low shift of my face to ask a question. That seemed to break the jinx. Laughter, hushed comments…
“Did someone keep you awake all night?”
A voice, filled with laughter and teasing. I shook my head, jesting acknowledgement of the thought that raised the question.
“Your voice is strange this morning. Like you’re still asleep. And coffee’s been exhausted.”
That was all I heard. While my head questioned how coffee could finish, my feet led the way to my room. Once there, I fetched my wallet. It was not the kind of day to broach without coffee.
Fifteen minutes and eight shops -5 of which were still locked- later, I was still without coffee.
Who doesn’t stock coffee?
How does someone sell these chocolate beverages but not coffee?
Do people in this area live coffee-less?
Why are some shops locked?
Who knows if the locked shops have coffee in them? Can I check?
Is breaking-and-entering still a crime?
Unanswered questions racing through my mind; disbelieving my coffeelessness. How could neighbourhood shops be locked at almost 9 a.m? Why would anyone have a beverage shop and not stock coffee?
Desperation awoke my basic survival instinct. I recalled the back-up sachet coffee lying peacefully in my purse; untouched for almost 6 months. Feet lighter, I strode purposefully back to the hotel. Splinters of memory replayed in my mind. The attendants in the 3 shops which had been open. Two of them had gone blank, asking what coffee was. The third had raised eyebrows, examined me up and down like one who’d just discovered an alien, and asked:
T’anin mu Nescaafu?
Translated: “Who drinks coffee?”
*Dupe looks at wristwatch. Thinks:* I should maybe sleep. But there’s power. And internet. And music. Sleep… *Ponders the attractions of sleep. Thinks:* There’s no reason to sleep
*laptop beeps, a message from a contact.*
Contact: “When exactly do you sleep?”
Dupe: “When the spirit requests”
*Thinks:* Dang! Time’s really gone. I should sleep.
*Phone beeps, messages from Sir Beau*
Sir Beau: “I know you’re not awake.”
“You know you’re not awake. ”
“I’ve slept and woken. We both know you better not be awake”
Dupe: “Maybe I’ve slept too”
Sir Beau: “You posted on fb 2 hours ago. And Twitter says you’ve been serial tweeting. So when exactly did your ‘sleep’ happen?”
Dupe: “*jaw drop smiley* I said ‘maybe’ na”
Sir Beau: “Why the hell are you still up?”
Dupe: “Maybe I’m too cold to sleep. And maybe that’s your fault for leaving a girl sans cuddles in this cold weather”
Sir Beau: “And that’s how someone can’t take you vacationing in winter. Cuddle Kong*”
“Seriously tho’, go to bed Girl. Now.”
*switches off phone’s mobile data, and disconnects wingle from laptop. Mumbles to self*
“There are haters in this life. Stalking lover haters.”
*Eyes start start to ache. Dupe yawns, glances at Kong*
Dupe: “We can sleep now. What say you? Ready for bed?”
*Lifts Kong for some scary dance he doesn’t seem to favour much. Switches off lights, shuts down laptop, cuddles Kong, and lays head on pillow*
*Ring Ring. Ring Ring. Ring Ring*
*Dupe picks phone. Screen says ‘6:00 a.m Get up Lazy’. *
Dupe: “Y’an joking.”
*Shuts off alarm. Puts head back to pillow, cuddles Kong closer. Then, from just outside the window:*
*Opens eyes. Thinks:* But won’t this cock die? Who did I offend, enh? I just want to rest eyes small. Abi what’s all this?”
“Kukuruuku! Kukuruuku!! Kukur…”
*Dupe gets out of bed; tears clogging her throat as she looks at the barely creased sheets. Goes to make coffee*
Kong* is Dupe’s amiable teddy.
Phone: *Beep beep*
“message at this hour of the day tho”
*picks phone lazily, reads new text*
“Aaah… salary y’av come. I’ll finally be able to do that money spending analysis thing. Let’s even know how we really spend our money by the end of the month. Good Mister Finance Officer ”
*Dupe starts mail correspondences *
*browsing books after following Goodreads e-mail link*
Dupe: *whispering to self; trans-like*
On-screen tab: “you do not have sufficient funds to complete this transaction”
Dupe: *Jaw drops. Lone tear rolls down cheek. Blinks unbelieving at teller response*
“Salary y’av finish? God! Hunger. Hunger is coming.”
That’s how I wrote the past two episodes in my head and my notebook…. You forgive me; right? Please say you do.
Abeokuta is often confused for being geographically sizable because people clump its neighbouring towns with it. But it is actually a small town. A really very small town. If you’ve never lived in a small town, there are some things you probably take for granted:
- Everyone minds their business
- Everyone is in too much of a hurry to ‘small talk’
- The place is too big for people to know other people’s businesses
In small towns, such as Abeokuta, these rules don’t apply. Matter of fact, people make it their business to discuss other people’s businesses. You don’t believe me? Here’s how I found out; just last week.
I was at a residential training, multi-tasking listening and chatting. It was against the rules to use gadgets during classes, but my hands were under the table, serial tweeting. I had gotten really good at chatting while looking straight at the presenter and stealing glances at my phone- thank God for touchscreen phones and typewriting classes. I was particularly enjoying Trillary (Trump/Hillary) tweets when the man two seats away tapped my shoulder insistently. I looked at him, wondering if I had gotten too engrossed with my phone and missed something that required my attention at the training. Then:
Man: *excited* “This is an extension worker. He has the experience of speaking with farmers”
Me: *puzzled* “You tapped me?”
Man: *grins. leans closer* “His first wife left him because he did not have money. They say that even while they were married she was seeing a politician who was giving her all the money she was using to buy things in the house. When she got pregnant for the politician, she left him.”
*uses nose to point in the direction of the man making a presentation in front of the class*
“As we heard, the man could not take the shame. That was when he went to the village. He became the head of farmers there. During Gbenga Daniels’ tenure he was made an extension worker, because he is educated and other farmers trust whatever he says. We also heard that he is not really a man”
Me: *quirks head at the interesting possibility that the speaker is a cross dresser or of some other uncustomary sexual preference*
Man: *voice drops decibels lower. Eyes glisten as one revealing a scandalous detail* He cannot do! His ‘kini’ is scared of women! They said that’s how he knew his wife was adulterous. But that his wife enh… Women are evil! She got pregnant for someone when her husband could not even do! They said the woman now…
Me: *jaw drops as the tale of another person’s life becomes hydra-headed* They’ll fine us for side-talking Sir
So, if you ever visit Abeokuta -or any other small town for that matter- know to hide your business like gold. And, of course, tell me thank you for forewarning you.
P.S: ‘kini’ is euphemism for ‘penis’
Abeokuta literally means “under rock”; a referent to the refuge people found under its many rocks in 1825 while escaping slave hunters from Dahomey and Ibadan. That was 191 years ago, but the rocks remain in their majestic beauty; wowing visitors, and lending a picturesque quality to the scenery of the town in almost every direction. I suspect too, that some inhabitants of Abeokuta didn’t leave their refuge under the rocks those many years ago. Matter of fact, I suspect some of them -through perhaps an overdose of the many juju/jazz/ogun/magicks that were used at the time- were placed in some state that maintained their youth while putting them to sleep. It seems those people are only now waking; ignorant of the passage of time and ancient norms. Only that, you see, explains what I saw last week.
It was 10:34 a.m and two meetings after breakfast. I was running low on ‘human’, and in desperate need of some beany love-in-a-mug (that’s code for coffee, by the way). I trudged my way to the office kitchenette, and was washing teaspoon and mug when the shrubbery in the house opposite the street moved rather sensibly. It wasn’t the effortless bow or wave of wind-caused movement, but some haphazard shift that could only result from human or animal manipulation. My hands stopped mid-air, raising my mug for draining, and I tipped my glasses up my nose with my left hand; my concentration fully on the ‘moving bush’.
Tick.. tick.. tick…
I could hear the hands on my wristwatch pace, feel the soft breeze kiss my cheeks, see…
A naked arm rose from between the shrub, holding a blue bowl. The hand turned the bowl, and water poured down the middle of the shrubs.
I could smell dust; lots of it. I realised then that I had unconsciously moved forward, perhaps in the bid to see clearer, and my nose was now pressed against the window. I stepped back, even as I sneezed, then moved as close as I could without breathing in dust.
A head with a mop of undone hair emerged, then shoulders, swinging breasts, curved waist, flared hips, a miniature bush of hair at the juncture of athletic thighs…
My jaw slackened, my mouth hung open, and I couldn’t find the will to lock it back. A woman was in the shrubbery behind a house, sponging her body! And this, right in the middle of town, not some outskirt. I don’t know how many minutes I stayed there; mouth agape. I was jolted back to reality when she bent, head forward, and rose again, swinging a wrapper around her wet body. An iron bucket rose in her hand from somewhere in the shrubbery; and she was gone, through a door, beyond my vision.
I sat on the nearest chair then, wondering what I had just seen. And if maybe she had seen me… If she would be coming for me in my dreams one night. Because, who showers in a mere back-of-house shrubbery in this age? And at almost 11a.m, when the world is up and about? And in the middle of a busy area where storey buildings abound?
Who knows these things???
Power is restored. Dupe wants to pee but sits on rug, and lifts laptop instead. Says to self:
“Let’s work before power goes out”
Dupe gets thirsty. Drinks a 50cl sachet of water. Thinks: I really should go pee
Stomach begins to hurt. But Dupe is writing now. Coaxes self:
“Lemme complete this paragraph. We’ll pee in a tad”
*idly reaches for another 50cl sachet of water*
Stomach feels distended. Dupe drops laptop; tries to move a leg and yelps. Butt has cramped. Lifting legs through pins and needles with hurting stomach, while maintaining bladder control, becomes a struggle. Asks: