Emeka’s timing was always perfect and cleanly executed. There was a metal container which had been converted to a call center which stood majestically just before the bend that led to the untarred street. The rectangular shaped metal box perfectly obstructed the view of anyone who tried to monitor his movement as he entered into the street. The untarred street had three sub streets in close proximity; two on the left and one on the right side. The first two streets stood directly opposite each other while the other stood alone.
The moment he calculated that the metal container obstructed the view of Mama Nkechi, he broke into a fast run and disappeared into the third sub street that had the name “Adegoke Street” on its metal name stand that glinted at the reflection of the early morning sunlight. He was dressed in a white shirt with a black polka doted tie, black trousers, black shoes and had a black rectangular satchel slung across his shoulder and would have, to a stranger, looked an odd figure running like he was being pursued. By the time he got to where he usually hid, a nondescript shop made of aluminum roofing sheets, he was surprised to be feeling no sign of shortness of breath. In fact, he could tell his body had adjusted perfectly to this almost daily routine of dodging Mama Nkechi. He smiled at the thought. However, he knew that very soon, his luck would run out. But when, he knew not.
He straightened his tie, shirt and combed his neatly kept afro. He wondered why he was handling this matter with so much levity. He had to admit that the idea that he was a wanted man even though for a wrong reason appealed to him in a weird sort of way. He had no form of excitement in his life that would top this. A little hide-and-seek from a woman labouring under the illusion that he had impregnated her beautiful daughter. The thought amused him. Even Obinna wouldn’t believe he had nothing to do with the beautiful teenager. There was no doubt that he liked Nkechi a lot. Who wouldn’t? She was the most beautiful girl he had ever laid eyes on but he never let their relationship go beyond the platonic level. He treated her as a little sister, one he felt obliged to protect. However, she didn’t see him that way. For one so young, she was definitely a go-getter.
His mind went back to the day she came over to the house for the first time. He had been her after-school tutor for over four months but always under the watchful eyes of her mother at the shop. That day, without warning of any sort, she had arrived at his place by 3pm bearing a cooler filled with jollof rice and fried beef; a meal she knew he loved. What she didn’t know was that meal was his first real one in nearly two days. If she did, she would be worried sick as she often chided his feeding habits. She never really knew how much of a struggle it was to survive. But he kept himself nicely “packaged” so no one ever actually knew the extent of the difficult life of want he lived. It was a jungle life in the one room apartment he shared with his cousin Obinna. Obinna was a junior level staffer at a manufacturing company despite possessing a university degree. His take-home pay was barely enough to take him home but it was just enough to pay the bills. Luckily, Obinna was a beneficiary of an extreme and rare display of kindness as the apartment they lived was rent free. There were good days and bad days. When the going was good, they ate heavily. When it was rough, his bare stomach kissed the cold terrazzo to quiet the stomach rumblings.
This act of kindness confirmed his suspicion that the beautiful young girl was infatuated with him. He actually was amused by the thought. He had nothing to offer her, or so he thought and he was quite aware of how her beauty was the subject on the lips of everyone. He had began to notice something extra, something different about the student-tutor relationship he had with her; the way she always stared into his eyes while he tutored her, how she would never let any stolen opportunity pass without touching him, or even giving him small gifts every now and then. He enjoyed the attention she gave him, much to the chagrin of her numerous wooers.
She watched him as he split the jollof rice into two unequal halves and began to eat the bigger half. There was a softness in her eyes, the way she looked at him that made him feel uncomfortable. She was just a teenager even though quite matured for her age but yet what he saw in eyes were, well, quite adult. Emeka was no novice to women. In fact, he was quite the opposite; an expert who was forced by condition to mend his ways. He’d managed to discipline himself and he certainly was not going to ruin the profitable relationship he had with Mrs Adiele over an avoidable moral indiscretion. As he glanced at Nkechi, her fair cheeks flushed as she looked away shyly and he couldn’t help but smile. He brought up a discussion to take her mind off whatever she was thinking and they talked long into the night. He escorted her home afterwards not failing to notice the slight crease on her forehead. She was troubled but a peck on her forehead brought back her radiant smile. He knew she understood.
Mallam Yaya’s sudden presence brought him back to the present.
“Oga e dey hide from Mama Nkechi.” He said, pronouncing Nkechi as “in-ke-chi”.
“Nor be small thing o.” Emeka replied laughing. He shifted his position to make space for Yaya as he went about opening his kiosk of aluminum roofing sheets and wood.
“How ya mata?” Yaya asked, referring to Nkechi.
“Nkechi nor be my mata o.” Emeka replied laughing.
“Why oga e no like In-ke-chi?” He asked persistently.
“I like Nkechi well well but na my friend.” Emeka replied patiently.
Mallam Yaya couldn’t comprehend Emeka’s reasoning so he just muttered under his breath. The date palm falls for those who don’t know how to eat it, he thought.
“Ehen, give me biro.” Emeka said. “My money na #120 now kwo?” He asked.
Yaya nodded as he handed Emeka a biro from the now opened shop. Emeka took one last peep. Satisfied that Mama Nkechi wasn’t coming after him today, he went on his merry way. He couldn’t help but wonder what her reaction would be when she finally learned the truth of her daughter’s pregnancy. It was a closely guarded secret. A secret known by only three persons; Nkechi, himself and an unknown third party. Nkechi hadn’t the courage to face her mother with the truth and she explained her fears to him. He tried to reason with her on the best course but she wouldn’t listen. Now he was the bad guy. He sighed. Well, at least she knew the truth was going to come out soon enough. He was going to get cornered eventually and when he was, he would spill the beans.
He made a mirror of an abandoned car nearby and when he was convinced that he looked ok, he set off. He looked at his watch. It was 7: 52am. The little backyard real estate agency partnership he had with Segun was a bit far off. He saw it as a negligible distance, walkable within 40 minutes if he used the various short-cuts he had made use of over the past few months. Another day, another hustle.
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