Friday, 21 September 2018

The Precious Figure (Episode Three)




I laughed unusually but what came out were breaths of air. “Oh…that. Someone dropped Raqibah and me off from school.” I replied silently, noting the expression on mom’s face.
                            
She scrunched up her face in skepticism. “The red car that was parked outside a few minutes ago?”

I felt a shudder of nervousness. “Yes,…he’s a really nice man.”

Mom raked her roughly-packed hair and clacked the spoon in the mug. “I never knew you were in the car.”

“I was…and he’s a nice person,” I sang sweetly, swinging my arms and reaching for her hair. “Let me pack this neatly. Have you taken your bath? You’ve taken your medication?”

Mom’s eyes gleamed in happiness. She loved it when I take care of her like a child. “I haven’t taken my bath…I’m too tired. I’ll take my drugs after eating lunch,” she smiled slightly and I was glad that the topic of discussion had been changed.

Mom was a thin and frail-looking woman that was very fair in complexion, but her yellow-coloured skin had begun to fade due to old age. She was average-height with small squinty eyes and bold lips. Mom was a quiet woman; she hardly talked except it was really necessary.

She also wore an Ankara blouse and wrapper, or a long gown. She had a large collection of Ankara outfits and she travelled often to Kano state, to buy new fabrics. Mom had once wished to own a fabric store but it didn’t work out. She was so passionate about her business.

She owned a stall where she sold bags of rice and beans. Mom had several employees that worked for her. Her selfless dedication towards the success of her business had made her home-sick. Mom had several responsibilities; to manage the house and ensure that I get the best out of life.

“What will you eat? Rice or amala?” I asked, walking towards the kitchen door. On the table was ‘Enjoy Your Life’ book, opened at its centre. Mom would read until her eyes turned red and swollen, and she would never visit the eye clinic.

“Let us have amala and okro soup. The dried fish stew should be very peppery oo. I don’t want to eat ‘pepeye’ food that will make me woozy.” Mom laughed and I joined.

I was just about to enter the kitchen when I turned to her. “Mom?”

She looked absent-mindedly. “Yes, my daughter?”

“Do I look beautiful? If you were a man, would you see me and like what you see?”

Mom stared at me with arched brows. “What are you saying? What has gotten into you?”

“I’m sorry, let me make this food on time,” I replied brusquely, dashing into the kitchen.

Mom had no reason to feel awkward about what I said. I’ve always been the best of daughters; avoiding illicit acts and obeying her at all times. At 23, I don’t think that there should be a crime in liking someone.

I placed a pot on fire; picturing the look on Najib’s face…his bright captivating his eyes, the movement of his lips when he talked and the shiny-white teeth that were always evident. I felt like the luckiest woman in the world to have such kind of man drop her off at home and compliment her looks. Raqibah was with me and Najib didn’t pay attention to her? What is so special about me?

“Fareedah, the sauce is burning na. Have you added the fish?” Mom called from the living room.

I drifted from the Najib’s world to the house; in the kitchen; with the strong smell of a burnt stew wafting the air. What is really wrong with me?

“I’m sorry mom. I’ll add more water and boil the fish.” I scratched my head and held the hot pot with my bare hands.

It hurt my palm so much that I thrust it into the sink. Mom hurried to the kitchen to witness what was ensuing. “Are you okay? You’ve been acting weird since you got back.” She eyed me suspiciously.

“I’m fine…I guess there’s just a lot on my head right now,” I stuttered, facing the sink and dipping my scarred palm into a bowl of water.

“You just have to take it easy, Fareedah. I know Medicine isn’t easy and you have a goal in mind. You still have to make sure that you’re fine.” She held my hand.

“Thank you, mom,” I replied, starting to feel guilty.

Mom had a somewhat cracked-low-pitch voice that could calm the loudest of wind.

“It’s okay…I understand. You still had to hurry from school to make lunch for me. You know what? Let’s have rice and stew for lunch. We can have amala for dinner,” Mom said, reaching to the shelf, where the food items were stocked.

I bit my lips guiltily. “No mom, let’s have amala since it’s that’s what you want.”

“And I want rice now.” She gave me the stern look that showed the finalisation of her decision.

I nodded and washed two cups of rice in the sink.

“Have a cold shower and change to a simpler clothing after you’ve placed the rice on fire.” She said, leaving the kitchen.

I sighed deeply and hastily place the rice on fire. I was eager to return to my room and check my phone. I wanted to know if Najib had called…

Some minutes later, I was in my room, pulling off my thick veil and feeling the rush of breeze from the swiveling fan. I hastily opened my bag and reached for my phone.

“20 MISSED CALLS?!” I widened my eyes in shock.

Is he that desperate? It means that he is really into me! 

Unlocking my phone and to my utter disappointment, I saw that Raqibah’s name filled everywhere, with a picture that she had taken the last session.

Raqibah hardly slept that semester; she added more weight (she says that stress makes her add a lot of weight) and lumps of pimples filled her face. Rumours had spread wide that she was pregnant but it was not long that people discovered that she had starved herself of sleep- Raqibah was the best student in the whole of Medical Sciences that year.

I laid on the bed and stared at the phone, wishing that the contact name would change from ‘Raqibah’ to ‘Najib.’

I was just about to dial her number when a call came in. it was Raqibah again. “Did you branch a hotel with Najib that you’ll be ignoring my calls?’

Aha- there she goes. Raqibah could be very saucy and this is one of those moments. “Are you okay? Why will I accompany a total stranger to a hotel?”

“Well, you could. Only if you could see how you were clearly flirting with him.” I could picture Raqibah rolling her eyes and I scoffed in return.

“What do you even think of your best friend? That she would easily fall for a man because he is rich and handsome?”

“You never can tell.” She replied.

“Now I know that you’re truly not okay, Raqibah.”

“I’m sorry if I sounded rude but you really need to be careful, Fareedah.”

I chewed my lower lips and stared at the pink-flowery poster on my room wall. “Something tells me that you’re jealous.”

“Jealous?” Raqibah gave a silly laugh and I didn’t reply. She sighed loudly and said, “Okay, I may be a bit jealous but you still need to be careful. Imagine, the lyrics of that Bruno Mars’s song have been playing in my mind since I got down from the car…instead of Professor Audu’s note.”

I giggled. “What happened to the saying- “’Do not judge someone.’ Let’s watch and see if he is truly what you think. And by the way, no one is perfect and anyone can change at any point, before taking the final breath.”

“You’re right, Fareedah.” She whispered.

“Yes- and this guy hasn’t even proposed any relationship. We’ve barely met him for more than a day and you’re saying all these. Let’s see if he wants something more than dropping us off.” I remarked, hardly believing myself. I knew for sure that Najib wanted more than that. Gosh! He would have said more if mom hadn’t called that minute.

“You never can…”

“Okay Raqibah, I’ve got to go. Need to check the rice.” I hung up instantly and threw my phone.
Why was my best friend such a headache? She should mind her business and face her Professor’s Audu’s note…

Speaking of Professor Audu, I haven’t even revised his note? Well, I just got back and I started cooking. I’ll do so after having a shower, and eating and praying. I thought.

I changed into a towel and examined myself in the mirror… dark skin, small eyes, long nose, long silky hair, a slender body…I wasn’t that bad.

***
“Mama Ola’s daughter is getting married next month. She stopped by to drop the aso ebi we’ll be wearing to the ceremony,” Mom said as she stirred the stew around the rice closest to her on the plate.

We always ate together. It was a way of deepening our love for each other.

I remembered Ola, who I grew up with. We attended the same primary and secondary school, and we were of the same age. Ola was admitted to Obafemi Awolowo University some few months after graduation while I had to remain at home for a year, seeking admission to the tertiary institution.

Mom didn’t want me to leave the spheres of Kwara state and so my choices were limited to fewer universities. Olamide studied Mass Communication, graduated four years later and secured employment in Lagos state. Her life looked just perfect to me…now more perfect with the news that she is getting married.

“Wow, that’s cool. I wish her success in her married life,” I said, looking away as if I didn’t notice Mom’s fixed gaze on me.

“You haven’t found anyone?” Mom asked, putting a chunk of fish into her mouth.

I placed a huge spoonful of rice into my mouth and ate slowly.

“Fareedah…I’m just asking…not that…”

“Studies remain the priority. Let’s not talk while eating Mom,” I said, suddenly remembering the table manners.

Mom didn’t say another word and we ate in silence.

Within minutes, we completed our meal and I took the empty plate to the kitchen for washing. I gave mom her drugs and returned to my room, eagerly expecting a call from Najib.

Entering my room, the first thing I did was to grab my phone from the bed. There was still no ‘missed call’ symbol. There was, however, an unread message.

I hurriedly unlocked the phone and clicked on the message symbol.

Hi. How are you Chocolate? This is Najib.

My hands froze…

 to be continued...

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