Rotshang by Bizuum Yadok

A lie begets a lie, and even half-truths do not endure the test of time. Nonetheless,some lies are so cosy that you would never want to spare a quarter of an ear to entertain alternative versions of them. If love marries a lie, their union would produce anything but peace. But I had peace.

I raised my head to take a swift break from the game I was playing on my Nokia 3310. According to Dr Jot’s jokes, I may just be the last born of the manufacturers of Nokia 3310.

“I could use this phone to stone down a ripe mango from a tree and the phone would touch down in one piece just like the mango,” he would start.

“Hia khia ha ha ha!” the staff of the small hospital would burst out laughing in a charade.

If their goal was to please Dr Jot, they always succeeded; but if it was to piss me off, then they were yet to penetrate the first layer of my thick skin.

In the very moment when I raised my head, my eyes became locked with Lydia’s eyes; and I caught the liquid in her bulgy crystalline eyes, which glittered although it spoke of worry – the kind of worry that cannot be mistaken by laboratory technicians. Before my eyes let go of hers, they swallowed her visage; semi-pointed nose, smooth face, dark lips that contrasted her fair complexion, and black hair neatly combed and collected into a short ponytail.

She was dressed in a white polka-dotted sleeveless gown, which fitted nicely on her torso. It was pleated at her waist and the gown released itself as it came down to her knees, swaying with grace and giving a hint of her supple thighs as she took each frightful step behind her mother. When she opened her mouth – to say something I suppose – the words froze in her breath, and I quickly assessed her moderate dazzling teeth before they were concealed. I did not realise that my phone had reached the cemented floor and been dismembered of its back cover and battery until Mr Jugu urged me to pick it up and assemble its pieces. Meanwhile, Lydia’s mother displayed conspicuous gloom on her face. She tucked her hands into the second layer of the wrapper around her stomach, and her headgear, which was of the same material with the wrapper, was loosely tied around her head in an Ngozi-Okonjo-Iweala style, the wahala style – this too was a statement of problem.

Fear and worry spoke before Lydia and her mother chorused, “Good morning”.

Mr Jugu responded on our behalf.

I thanked him in my heart because I was too stunned to speak. He motioned them to sit, removed the thin rubber gloves from his hands, and dumped them into the waste bin. Then, he stretched out his right hand towards Lydia’s mother and she handed him the lab form. His brows creased and his lips folded upwards as if to touch the edge of his nose as he studied the form while he drummed on the Formica for a few seconds.

“Hmm, it is well.” He said, before forwarding the form to me. “Run the test for them.”

He politely excused himself to go take stock of reagents and lab equipment in the store in order to make a request for another supply, and for the very first time since I started working with New Dawn Hospital, two months ago, I was given the authority to run a test from start to finish without a superior saying, “No, no, no you are not doing it right,” or “It is not perfect,” – as if anything ever is.

I studied the form that was filled in Dr Jot’s ugly handwriting. Lydia Bulus was to be examined for mp, widal, and pt. In other words, she was to be tested for malaria, typhoid, and pregnancy. Obviously, the pregnancy test was the cause for alarm. It informed the anxiety that enshrouded them.

“What is the problem?” I faced her mother, afraid that if I directed the question at Lydia, her charm would disarm me.

“The problem again? Ah! That is why we are here now.” The woman blurted, sharing a bewildered gaze will Lydia and me as she spoke.

I realised it was a stupid question I had asked. That was of course the result of being haunted by one’s crush. Lydia’s eyes were fixed on me when I stole a glance at her; so, I abashedly looked away, tore a syringe from a polythene pack, which bore other syringes, and asked her to sit on our “hot seat”. She was still staring at me, but I felt transparent, like she was looking through me, beyond me, far into the galaxy of some distant thought.

She rose robotically and sat on the seat I ushered her to before she stretched her arm for me to draw her blood. I tied a tourniquet on her left arm, put a pen in her palm, and asked her to tighten her grip around it so her arteries would show. Touching Lydia, even in the oddest circumstance – like this one – was a dream-come-true for me. I inhaled the pleasant aroma of her perfume, which was combined with the scent of her body cream as I fixed the needle on the syringe. Then, I soaked a small chunk of cotton wool into methylated spirit, cleaned a portion of her arm, and plunged the needle into her most prominent artery. It hurt to watch her writhe in response.

I never knew I would ever be this close to Lydia, my secret idol. Before our first meeting at the hospital, I always saw her in church, every Sunday; for close to three years, I admired her from afar. I practically knew all her Sunday wears and all the moods she wore. A few times I tried to get close to her and say “Hello,” after service, but my mouth always betrayed me, or rather, the words always chose to remain in my stomach.

Mr Bulus always chauffeured his children to church and back, and never allowed them make salutations beyond a few seconds. No soul, worse of a boy, could go close to his daughters. Once, I gathered courage and penned down my feelings for her in a note. On that Sunday, I had inched up to her and tried to shove the note into her fingers in a stealthy manner, but she had puerilely resisted.

“What is it?” She had raged.

The paper had risen to a metre upwards and floated lazily through the mild breeze before landing on her father’s bonnet. Already, a dozen people had turned towards me, including Mr Bulus, who had promptly taken possession of the note as Lydia increased her pace to the car.

“Catch him!” Mr Bulus had said with a mean look on his face.

I heard him say only that because my toes had activated cheetah mode before he opened his mouth. Only two boys made a feeble effort to block me, but I ran – faster than, I think, Usain Bolt, on that fateful day. For the next three Sundays, I had avoided church, and on the fourth Sunday, neither Lydia nor her father recognised me when I sat close to them in church. So, I came to the hurried conclusion that Lydia was not just naïve, she was also a virgin, maybe all three of her sisters too. Our meeting at the hospital however prodded a rethink.

Judging from her appearance and family, no one would think that Lydia had the capacity to accommodate a phallic thrust. From my preliminary hypothesis, I could tell that Lydia test positive to the pregnancy test. Her laboured breathing and loud heartbeat said it all, but the test was necessary.

Who could the father be?

I pondered about what was not my business, and vigorously shook my head as if to get the thought out of it. Then, I fetched a good quantity of her blood to enable me to run the three tests and placed another chunk of cotton wool on the point where I extracted the needle. She pressed it down as she went to sit with her mother, while, I poured a sample into an EDTA bottle with anticoagulant and written Lydia’s number on it. Next, I labelled it pt, poured some into a plain bottle for the widal test, dropped a few drops on the slide for mp test, and discarded the syringe.

In my most professional mien, I asked them to leave the lab and return in the next two hours for their results. Lydia was quick to thank me. She sprang from her seat and led the way out.

“Are you sure you didn’t do anything with anybody? If you have done anything, this result will show it o!” Mrs Bulus said as they stepped outside.

“Mummy, I don’t like this o! I told you that I didn’t do anything.” Lydia protested, mumbling some words, maybe curses, as she walked away.

Another young girl came in, and I performed the procedure for extracting her blood sample without looking at her face. On a second thought, I called her back and fetched another generous sample. She did not even ask why, so I got away with it.

For personal reasons, I was curious about Lydia’s pregnancy test result. I wanted to know who the hell had the effrontery to violate the white angel of my dreams. Did she give her consent? How many times did they do it? Did she enjoy it? How old was he? An insurmountable anger inflated my being, and I pictured myself holding a revolver to the imaginary enemy’s head and wanting to dig a clean hole from his forehead to the back of his head.

I went back to her samples, took out the bottle labelled pt., and looked out for the HCG hormone by pouring a few drops of her serum into the sample well of the cassette. There! The double lines were so glaring, they exceeded the control bar. I figured the foetus might be a month old.

Chai! Wahala dey o!

I allowed my mind wander about the senseless guy who got her pregnant, the mumu who lacked the decency to at least use a condom. Where was Lydia when her legs were flung apart? Dammit! I allowed my adrenaline overflow and emptied all her samples into the sink. Then, I washed the bottles clean and replaced them with the second sample from the unknown girl, hoping she was not pregnant too. Much to my delight, Mr Jugu did not return on time. Today, I am grateful for his loquaciousness – even if he had finished his stock-taking on time, he must have gone around the wards to elaborately greet every patient and crack some of his stale jokes.

After another thirty-five minutes, my plan was neatly hatched. Mr Jugu came, inspected the results, reviewed my procedure, and nodded in the affirmative. He excused himself to go pick his children from school, and once again I was in charge of the lab, more so at the opportune moment when Mrs Bulus and Lydia came back for the result.

“We are back, again,” Mrs Bulus announced, dragging her feet on the floor of our lab, with Lydia following melancholically behind.

Lydia looked famished, and I guess she would have slumped if I had given them the real results. She did not understand that I was doing this for love and that I could not stand to watch her being hurt.

“Doctor, what does the result say?” Mrs Bulus calmly demanded.

“Ma, I am not a doctor.”

“Ah! Shebi all of una dey wear white coat na?”

“Well, yes, but I am a lab technician.”

“Oh, I see.”

“And which of the tests are you referring to, ma’am?”

“The main one na!” The woman replied with a you-should-have-known-by-now look.

Lydia fired an angry look at her mother, and for the first time I admitted that she could be cold-hearted if she chose to be though she softened her countenance whenever she looked at me.

“Ok, she tested negative for malaria and has a negligible presence of salmonella species in her blood”

“What is solomonella?”

“Mummy, it is salmonella, the bacteria that causes typhoid fever,” Lydia corrected without changing the mean on her face.

“But that is not my main concern na.” She shifted her face from mine to Lydia’s intermittently for a few seconds. “My concern is, what is the—”

“It is negative Ma!” I answered before she finished asking.

I might as well have electrocuted them for a minute. The numbness of their expression said it all.

“Negative!” They uttered, together, with a slow-fade feminine voice.

“Yes!” I reaffirmed.

I caught a glimpse of Lydia’s spellbinding teeth, and it warmed my heart.

“Doctor are you sure?”

“I am not a doctor and yes, I am sure. Here is the result” I produced the result from a drawer.

That I got Lydia to smile was giant victory for me; so, I swept the contemplation of any unethicalness under the carpet. Nothing was worth spoiling this progress in the battle for the heart of my angel for. The perk was the wink Lydia gave me as she went out with her mum. She was not so naïve after all.

                                                            ***

“Mummy suspected that I was pregnant, but I vehemently denied it. It took our going to the hospital to make a confirmation.”

“And?”

“I tested negative.”

“My God, that’s some good news.”

“Not yet. I still think the lab technician tried to prevent what could have been an embarrassment for me, and only God knows for what reason he did that. This is the second month in which I have missed my period—” She paused.

He stayed silent to wrestle with many different ideas and questions at the same time.

“So, you think you are still pregnant?” He finally brought himself to ask.

Lydia tried to nod her head, but it felt heavier than a bag of cement. She released two rivulets from her eyes instead.

He held her by the shoulder.

“Listen, Lydia. You cannot keep this child. It is going to ruin so many things for us; your school, my career—”

“You should have thought of all that when you lured me into this.”

“Does your father know about it?”

“He disagrees with Mum ‘cause he still thinks I am intact.”

“Look, I am sorry, but the point is you are not keeping this child.” His words were reinforced with a wad of twenty thousand naira forced into her hands. He began to walk away but came back as though he forgot something. “No one must know about this.”

He was the man; he had the final say. Lydia was meant to obey.

                                                            ***

After my last encounter with Lydia at the hospital, I counted minutes to see her again – in church – hoping she would remember me. I had only three good outfits and all of them were faded or torn in some places. When my colleagues at work or friends wished to draw my ire, they usually make jest of my clothes, phone, or shoes, but I had grown past feeling bad in such situations. I just keep telling myself that I was neither my hair nor my clothes and the best way to complement a poor dressing was to always possess a radiant attitude.

In church, I sat on a pew adjacent to hers, and when I stole a look at her, and she winked at me almost immediately. Then, she opened her Bible and started scribbling something, which I thought were highlights of the sermon. The wink was enough to blur my sight and block my ears throughout the service despite how the pastor charged and shouted into the microphone.

The last “Amen!” after the benediction was more important to me than the entire service. As the congregation flowed out of church, we marked our positions but moved with the crowd until we were out of the church building. She tucked a note into my pocket and surreptitiously waved her hands as she rushed off to join her family in the car.

I refused to open the note despite all the anxiety it awoke in me.

Chai! Na me be dis? I could not believe myself. Do not wake me up if this is a dream.

Nana, my only family, came out of the smoke-filled round hut, which doubled as the kitchen to welcome me. It was one of the Sundays she chose to stay back at home because her spirit did not permit her to go out – whatever that meant. Me, I think it was just a recurrent flimsy excuse. Her spirit could prevent her from attending any social function but never for once her farm.

Nana sought to know the cause of my effervescence, but I did not answer her. Instead, I went straight to my room in the three-roomed L-shaped house, shut the door, fell on my tired mattress, and opened the folded paper, my Pandora’s box.

Dear Friend,

     Sorry, I don’t even know your name. I just can’t say how grateful I am to you for what you did, last Tuesday. We will talk about it later. My Dad acts like a warder, and my house feels like some prison although I have never been to any, but I feel mine won’t be any better. Can we meet under the tree near the MTN mast behind our house at GRA by four o’ clock, this evening? It’s the only mast in GRA. My parents would be attending a meeting by then, and I hope to see you then.

Warm wishes.

Lee

I read the note over ten times over before I hugged it and drifted into sleep, forgetting the food that Nana had served me and every other thing that was supposed to matter.

I woke up at a quarter to four, pushed mouthfuls of Nana’s stony local rice through my throat, and reached the mast at exactly a minute after four o’clock. She was already waiting for me.

For love

“I am sorry for coming late.” I apologised though I knew that going by our tacit tradition, I was by all standards very much on time. Well, Lydia was involved, so I would even apologise for arriving early if I had arrived earlier.

“No wahala. Didn’t even think you would make it.” She coyly replied, gauging my appearance from the corners of her eyes.

We stood under a thorny tree with needle-like leaves that was supposed to provide shade.

I almost felt like starting the conversation with the three words – I love you – but that might just earn me a red card, and it would be game over for me. I was at loss of what to say or how to say it.

“So, you … you wanted to, to see me ba?”

She combed the vicinity with her hazel eyes, beamed a smile, and sighed. Then, she faced the earth while her left hand anchored her right arm at her back and allowed her right leg to slowly move back and forth.

“Yes, I just want to thank …”

“Oh, you have said enough already. Don’t mention it again. I did it for—”

“And I want to ask you for one more favour.” She did not wait for me to finish my sentence before she tendered her request.

“What could that be?”

“I need to get rid of this pregnancy, and I want you to help me do it in the safest way that would guarantee my safety.”

“Is that all?” I asked, without thinking twice.

Although I had worked as an intern at the College of Health and now had two months working experience, I had never witnessed an abortion of any kind; and whenever the girls in my class then or colleagues at work spoke about it, they always talked in silent whispers. I had never been curious to learn because I did not think I would ever need to.

How can I face my goddess and admit that I do not know how to do anything of that sort?

“Don’t worry, I will handle it.”

Her eyes widened and she wrapped her arms around me. I could feel the softness of her chest on mine, though I stood stiffly. She released me from the tenderness of her embrace – from a foretaste of heaven – while my eyes were still shut.

“Seriously?”

“Yes, of course” I shrugged like it was a normal thing.

How do I even start?

“Here!” She offered, handing me fifteen thousand naira in cash. “You can start with this,” she said.

She is giving me the amount of my salary for a service that I did not know how to deliver? “But you don’t have to do that—”

“Are you doing it or not?” she subtly threatened, judging by the tone of her voice.

Her hands came closer to my chest.

“Okay, okay, I will do it.” I said, snatching the money from her hands. “But I am not doing it for the money o!” I quickly pocketed the cash. “I am doing it for—”

“Just do it!” She ordered mildly, before turning and walking away. “I will meet you here, next Sunday, same time,” she added without turning back.

“Okay, bye.” I uttered, while she merely threw up a hand to wave me goodbye.

I knew then that she had come to the sudden realisation that she was the magnet and I was the metal. That was what must have stuffed such guts in her.

                                                            ***

It took a whole year for “next Sunday” to arrive – for me. We avoided eye contact in church, much to her credit though. I had spent the entire week in a solo debate about whether to refer her to Nurse Sarah, the clandestine abortionist in our hospital known only to a few which definitely did not include me, or to – in good conscience – tell her that I would not terminate the life of an innocent child.

On Friday, I asked Nurse Blessing if there were abortion pills, and she replied curtly, “Yes, but we don’t have any here.”

For balance I had asked if there were pills that could invigorate foetuses.

“Folic acid.” she answered immediately, while taking notes on a pad. Suddenly, she paused, put the tail of her pen into her mouth, and eyed me curiously. “Beduna, I hope you have not been eating any forbidden fruit?” In response, I shook my head in the negative, and she added, “Better, because he who swallows a whole tuber of yam must also consider the size of his anus.”

Returning Lydia’s money was out of the question. I had already used part of it to buy myself a few decent second-hand clothes and a dress for Nana, and the oblivious Nana had praised Dr Jot for the bonus. I was already neck-deep in a potential scandal, but like my people would say, one’s ability to swim is determined by his ability to keep his head above the water.

I stood under our thorny tree.

She appeared a few minutes after four o’clock, marinated in suspicious indifference towards me, but I could not bring myself to ask if something was wrong. Of course, everything was wrong. Lydia was about to drag into the mud, the honour her family had earned, and I was very much able to prevent that from happening. At one time, when her father was given the opportunity to deliver a sermon, he had boasted about how he would never allow any of his daughters mingle with “useless boys on the street”; and while he was on the pulpit, a woman in the congregation had remarked: “Let your children to grow first.”

“Good evening, Beduna. Have you made any arrangements?”

Clearly, she did not wish for our rendezvous to prolong more than necessary.

“Yes. Good evening, Lee,” I said, hoping to break the iciness she arrived with. “Take,” I offered her the drugs. “You are to take one tablet every day for four weeks.”

“Is it safe?” She inquired with a pleading voice.

“Very safe” I assured. “But you must never let anyone know about this drug, not even the father.”

Whoever the hell he is.

Her eyes moistened. “Are you sure this will work?” She became softer than waterleaf in the presence of intense heat.

“Haba. Trust me. It will kill slowly, but surely, provided you stick to the rules.”

“Thanks a lot. I must go now. I’ll see you here after four weeks to give you a proper appreciation,” she briskly walked away.

I stared at her behind until she disappeared.

                                                ***

In the early hours of the Sunday when I was supposed to meet with Lydia, the Sunday when I was supposed to receive “proper appreciation”, I decided to take an awkward step.

I stood at Mr Bulus’s front door and contemplated for a while before tightening my knuckles and knocked on the door. When my knuckles knocked on the door a third time, I heard Lydia’s voice.

“Yes, who’s it?”

I did not answer, but I could hear her footsteps reaching the door. I heard a click sound and assumed she had seen me through the peephole.

“Jizoz!” She exclaimed as she opened the door. “What? What are you doing here?”

I took in her dishevelled hair and pretty face. Lydia looked more beautiful since the last time I saw her. I examined the tiny bump.

“I am here to—”

“No! Please go away from here. Please, just go!” She declared in a loud whisper. “Do you want to kill me?”

“No, I just want to—”

“Just go, please.”

“Lili who is there?” I heard her mother ask. I guess her mother was about five metres away from the door.

“Nobody Mummy.” She answered, gesturing and urging that I leave with her other hand.

From the shape of her lips I deduced that she was saying, “Go! Go now,” but I stood there like a statue while she made to close the door. Then, I heard her mother’s voice again.

“How can you say ‘nobody’ when I am seeing the shape of a human being out there? Hey young man, come inside.” Her mother said.

Lydia flung the door wide open, and I could tell that she was melting inside.

“Good morning, Ma.”

“Good morning young man. Don’t I know you?”

“Yes, Ma, the lab technician at New Dawn Hospital.”

“Ah! Yes. So, what brings you here?” I detected a shift in her mood from her tone.

Mr Bulus appeared with a towel around his waist; he scrutinised me from head to toe with a despicable look on his face.

“What is going on here!” He thundered, and his eyes flashed lightning.

I covered my head with my hands.

Lydia was already crying.

“Sir, I … I think Lydia is pregnant!” I announced, fearfully pointing at Lydia.

“Wait a minute” her mother said, “Weren’t you the very person who reported that she was not pregnant?”

I trembled and nodded gently and slowly. “Yes Ma, but it was a lie.”

“Is it true?” Mr Bulus turned to face Lydia whose face was already wet with tears and sweat. Lydia only sobbed.

Tas! He slammed his right hand on her cheek, and she went down along with two chairs around the dining table; a china followed to the hard floor and shattered.

“Who is the father?” he took slow menacing steps towards her, while she dragged herself backwards until she was halted by a wall.

“Answer me or I kill you.” He ordered, closing in on her. “I said, who is the father?” He raised his right hand into the air, but it froze when I spoke.

“I am the one, sir.”

He turned and faced me, while her mother simply allowed her lower jaw to hang low. Behind the curtain, I could see shapes of small humans. Her sisters were eavesdropping, and Lydia was equally shocked. She momentarily stopped crying and gawked at me, like I was some alien from space.

Mr Bulus’s right hand was still hanging in the air, but his fingers coalesced, leaving out the index finger to point an accusation at me.

“You … riffraff! Good-for-nothing piece of pig!” The terror on his face had depreciated a bit, maybe because it clashed with the guts I exuded, but he dashed inside, returned with a box and a Ghana-must-go bag, and hurled them at Lydia. “Get up and follow this idiot of a man to wherever he is staying. Now! Get out! Leave my house this very minute.”

“Haba, Baba Lili! It has not come to that now,” her mother pleaded with a soft voice.

“Woman, if you open your mouth to talk again, I will send you to your father’s house.” He warned as if she were also his child. “How can I be sure that you aren’t part of this evil scheme?” He fumed. “Now, this should serve as a warning to you. Any girl who decides to get pregnant under this roof has declared herself a woman. Therefore, she must leave.” He spoke as though to the translucent curtain, but the girls behind it heard him clearly.

Lydia sobbed all the way to my house, and when we finally reached there and she saw the squalor that decorated it, she let out a ceaseless wail. I left Nana to do the comforting.

                                                            ***

After ten months, it became clear that Mr. Bulus had forsaken his daughter for good. Lydia’s mother occasionally threw in secret visits, but she never told us that her husband’s health was failing. I suppose he did not want us to know.

Contrary to my expectations, Dr Jot on learning that I had got some girl pregnant gave me a raise, compelled Lydia to receive free antenatal services at New Dawn Hospital and took care of the expenses when she gave birth. The hospital staff too, now showed me more respect; and I soon got used to being called “Mister” before my name or surname.

Nana had female company and a grandchild too – so she thought. She had been left with my mother, her only child, when her husband died, and at sixteen, my mother had had me and dropped out of school to begin working in different towns and cities. The last time I saw her, I was still a child. She had returned from Abuja with plenty gifts for Nana and me, but on the same night, I had heard them shouting at each other at the top of their voices. My mother left, the next morning and we never heard from her again. I once inquired about my father from Nana, but she said that all the men my mother nominated as possible fathers all denied the pregnancy. I feared asking further, just in case my real father turned out to be a vagabond. I was okay with Nana serving the tripartite role of father, mother, and grandmother.

For an odd reason, Nana insisted that we named the child Rotshang, meaning, “Love is sweet.”

I named him Lucky. Even though everyone I knew who was named Lucky always turned out to be headache personified, he had brought me luck. Nana took to bathing and tying him on her back, except when Rotshang desired breast milk.

Lydia had asked to be left alone in her room and because she was pregnant then, I had understood and endured some more for the next three months after her birth. However, on a cold night, I sneaked into her room – my former room – to ease off the tormenting cold, and she slapped me very hard when she felt the presence of my hardness on her buttocks. We never spoke about it again, just as much as we never spoke about the real father of the child.

I was doing it all for love.

By the time Rotshang was weaned, so many things had happened. Mr. Bulus’s health had declined until he passed on, and Lydia had become a vampire. Well, not in the real sense of it but she had sapped my blood and Nana’s through her recalcitrance. Her drinking and nagging had become uncontrollable, she had abandoned her son to our care, and she now moved in and out of the house at will. Sometimes, she would return late at night and other times, she would choose to stay out of the house for as long as a whole week.

I transferred the bulk of love, which I had for her, to my agent of luck. Rotshang attracted all my and Nana’s attention. I dared not return from work without bringing an edible saraba, for my boy. Each time he heard my motorcycle, he would toddle towards me with both hands in the air saying, “Ba, ba,” with a pause between the syllables until I hoisted him up to my bosom.

On the day Lydia finally left the house, I returned from work on an ostensible break – actually, it was to check on Lucky and dash back to work. Before I parked my motorcycle under the mango shade behind the house, Rotshang ran to meet me for our ritual, chanting his welcome mantra, “Ba ba, Ba ba” and toddling towards me. He tripped and almost hit his face to the ground, but I yanked him to my chest where he nestled comfortably. Then, I gave him his saraba, a small transparent polythene bag containing chin-chin, and he had held it with the left hand and pointed towards the door with his right. My first guess was that Nana had left him with Lydia and gone go to the farm.

Why would Lydia leave him outside, alone?

I heard a distant moan, so I hushed Rotshang and tiptoed to the door.

The voices within became more audible.

“Harder!”

The bed was squeaking loudly.

“Yeah! I know you like this.”

“Oh! Fire! Pepper!”

The bed was squeaking louder still.

Grunts.

“Uuu … ooo!”

A feminine voice? Lydia’s!

I could not recognise the man’s voice, but it became why Rotshang was kicked out. I burned inside, not only because I was jealous, but also because I slaved for her and had never secured even a kiss. Yet, some rascal was giving her a treat inside. For Lucky’s sake, I refused to explode. Instead, I rallied the pieces of my senses and settled under the mango tree outside with a dam of salty water in my eyes. Rotshang responded with brimmed eyes, and I held him to my chest and allowed my tears to flow behind his sight.

I became further incensed the moment I caught sight of the rascal who engineered the noise in my room. With enormous effort, I managed to suppress the rage under my feet. Fix, the self-styled area father of our neighbourhood, was buttoning his shirt upwards as he walked out. Rays of the sun bounced off on his gold-chain, while his Mohawk stood like the crown of a cock, maybe like the crown of his cork. He shook out the shame that embraced him when our eyes met.

Lydia was spent. She stayed back heaving on the bed in partial sleep. I walked in and slowly, calmly, but loudly said, “You must leave this house today.”

It worked.

She left, and I never saw her again until a year later.

                                                            ***

Lydia wore a brighter complexion when she appeared one Saturday while I was washing my clothes. Nana had gone to her farm, and Rotshang was playing about with empty plastic containers. Rotshang did not recognise her and did not care to welcome her, but she was equally apathetic. I paused for a minute while the bubbles of the lather on my hands died softly. We stared at each other throughout that minute.

“What do you want?” I huffed.

“My mother wants to see you and Rotshang,” she blurted.

“When?”

“Today, now now!”

“Okay, I will see her in the house after I finish washing, just go.”

“Now now o!” She swung her enlarged hips as she went away.

Rotshang did not care to raise his head in the brief period.

I would have ignored the call if it were not her mother – Mrs Bulus kept in touch with her grandchild. I got us prepared to see Lydia’s mother.

In the sitting room of the Buluses, I found Mrs Bulus sobbing. Opposite her seat at the other end was her late husband’s bosom friend, a former Chairman of the Local Government Council who recently became an Honourable Member of the House of Representatives. The man had lost his only son the previous year in a motor accident, and two elderly men were seated beside him. The man tried to grab Rotshang’s arm, but Rotshang impulsively resisted and held tight to my thigh. I might have concluded that Lydia had lost another family member, but everyone I knew was present.

Lydia sat somewhere between her mother and the Chairman. We still called him that, even after he became Honourable. I greeted them all and found myself a seat at the edge of the three-seater sofa on which Mrs Bulus sat. Rotshang promptly found a spot on my lap.

“They have come for their child” Mrs Bulus said, facing me while she motioned at Chairman and his cohorts.

“What do you mean by ‘they’? Which child?” I felt my blood pressure surge toward its maximum.

Lydia replied coldly and calmly. “The Chairman, Rotshang is his son”

Rotshang wrenched his lips like burning plastic. I could tell he was about to cry.

Did he hear us?

I searched their faces – Mrs Bulus’s, Lydia’s, the girls’, and Rotshang’s for a longer while. Then, I looked at Lydia.

“Why?” I asked.

Bizuum Yadok is a teacher, a poet, and a novelist. He holds both BA and MA degrees in Literature from the University of Jos as well as a Professional Diploma in Education from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. He is the co-founder of Plateau Writers’ Society (PLAWS), formerly known as Plateau Authors Group (PLAG), and he is also a member of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) as well as Northern Nigeria Writers’ Summit (NNWS). Yadok is the author of King of the Jungle (a novel) and Echoes of the Plateau (a collection of poems). He curated an anthology, JOSTICE, which was released on the 1st of June 2018. He has several academic articles, poems, and short stories published in reputable magazines and journals across and beyond Nigeria. You would find him playing table-tennis when he is not reading or writing.