There is always drama of some sort going on in this compound of ours. Last month, Mr Enemuo and his wife had a huge fight over his inability to provide money for her to buy new wrappers and other things she will need for this year’s August meeting at the village. Personally, I don’t really care if they eventually come to fisticuffs. The thing that annoys me is that they never hide their fights from their kids. I am worried about the adverse effect this will have on them. Just last week, Chidera, their six year old son, almost beat his three year old sister Somto, into a pulp, for daring to take a piece of meat from the soup before him. He kept yelling that she was a woman and had no right to do so.
While Mama Azuka and her friend laughed at the fact that he was referring to little Somto as a woman, I ran to where they stood and separated them. I was itching to smack Chidera for what he did, but I knew I would be wrong. Who can blame the poor child for merely exhibiting learned behaviour? I had to settle for a stern lecture on how he should treat his sister. I hope that his crestfallen face and teary “sorry” mean he will not repeat the act again.
Just when I thought that I had seen it all, Susanna and her aunt got into it today. They live in Flat 2 upstairs. Zana, as she insists everyone should call her, lives with her aunt, whom we all call sister Ama; though she isn’t a reverend sister or anything of the sort. She is in her early thirties I think; a banker, single, although she has a steady boyfriend called Jude. She’s been living in the compound before I came and I heard that since she is quite comfortable, she invited Zana to come and stay with her while she waited for her JAMB results to be released.
Lest I delve into ancient history, let me recount what happened today. Everyone in the compound is aware that Susan began dating her aunt’s boyfriend a couple of months ago. However, nobody has had the courage to tell sister Ama, for two reasons; she is so nice that no one wants to be the bearer of such bad news. Secondly, people generally mind their business in this compound, with a few gossips here and there. So it was left to her to find out by herself, and this she did today. Though this is Saturday, she had to go in to the bank to do some work because auditors had come to go through the bank’s books. As the Fates usually arrange things to amuse them, she had to return home for a file which she had forgotten. At this point, I have to say that the Fates are so unoriginal. This is such a cliché- coming home to get a forgotten file. Husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, fathers and mothers, always seem to catch a cheating partner or erring child whenever they return to pick up a forgotten item. Can’t some other set of circumstances lead to the discovery? Not that that is important. The point is, someone eventually gets caught. Maybe for the Fates, the end justifies the means.
Back to what I was saying. I was inside, boiling water for garri when Ti-abasi, the only daughter of the Basseys’ who also lives downstairs, ran into my room almost ripping apart the curtain that I’d pulled over the doorway. Startled, I’d turned and asked her where the fire was burning.
“Come outside quickly!” she said, her hands fluttering in excitement, her eyes as wide as the smile on her face.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, a bit annoyed when I realised that it was no emergency that made her rush in so. I opened that fridge and began to pry the container of vegetable soup from the freezer compartment.
“Sister Ama just returned from the office and Zana is inside with that idiot boyfriend of theirs,” she said, giggling excitedly.
The container which I’d just succeeded in removing from the freezer fell from my hand in shock. I reached down and picked it up, absently noting the crack at the bottom. Tossing it into the basin of warm water to thaw, I hurriedly wiped my hands on my skirt, hoping the water stain wouldn’t be visible on the denim. Ti-abasi dragged my arm, pulling me out of the room, to the quadrangle outside. Already, we could hear raised voices coming from the flat above; sister Ama’s voice, loud and cloaked with shock and anger, Susan’s pleading shrill tones which battled to subdue her aunt’s and underscoring both, was the deep and steady baritone of Jude.
“Susan, I am asking you again. What is the meaning of this?” sister Ama yelled, her voice rising higher as the enormity of her niece’s betrayal dawned on her.
“Auntie, please wait! I can explain.” Susan replied, moving her hands up and down, as if by doing so, she calm her aunt’s ire. Yes, I thought; there’s always an explanation. From my vantage point in front of Ti-abasi’s apartment, I watched as a sort of dance began inside the flat upstairs. Sister Ama was slowly circling the small table in the living room, going after Zana, who was circling to avoid her aunt reaching her. The amusing thing was seeing Jude circling the table right behind sister Ama. Beside me, Tia-abasi dissolved into giggles, clutching her tummy while the other neighbours who had come out to witness the show chortled, the sounds of their mirth varying in degree.
“If you don’t give me an explanation before the count of ten, I will…” Sister Ama left her sentence hanging as she bent down and pulled off the shoe on her left leg. Susan’s eyes widened as Susan’s eyes widened as she saw her aunt’s shoe sail through the air, making a beeline for her face. She ducked, but she wasn’t quick enough. The heel made contact with her forehead, causing her to stumble backwards.
“She’s lucky Ama is wearing those low-heeled work shoes,” Mama Ebuka who was standing beside me muttered. I chuckled, my eyes rounding in amazement as I watched Jude rush to Susan’s aid. Is this guy suicidal? I thought. Did he realise that a woman scorned is capable of anything? I’d barely completed thought when I saw sister Ama pull off her second shoe. The fury stamped on her visage was as foreign as it was disconcerting. I mean, I’ve lived in this compound for three years and in all that time, I’ve never heard her raise her voice at anyone. And now that I had, it didn’t look nice at all.
“So you’re running to the little whore aid, abi? I will teach you both a lesson you will never forget,” she shouted as she advanced towards Jude. Intent on reviving the slightly dazed Susan, Jude flicked his eyes briefly at sister Ama and then back to Susan. A split second later, the realisation sank in; sister Ama was coming at him with a shoe in her hand. He turned to ward her off, his hands raised to hold hers. There was a collective gasp among the onlookers as sister jumped on him, clasping her thighs around his waist. I heard the rending sound as her skirt tore. Then she wrapped one arm round his neck and began to pound his head with the heel of the shoe, punctuating each blow with an abusive sentence.
“Bastard!…..blow…..”Good-for-nothing”…..blow….”son of a”……blow…. “wretched heritage”……blow….”
Jude tried to fight her off, but her grip was too strong. One by one, the spell of shock began to fade, the amusement drying on the lips of those around me. Mama Ebuka began to recite the rosary, pausing in between to ask God’s forgiveness on their sinful souls.
Realising the danger, the men made a sudden dash for the stairs, realising that the fight needed to be ended. I looked around, searching for Ti-abasi. My eyes found her leaning on the wall, her eyes and lips no longer smiling. Serves her right, I thought. Perhaps this will cure her of her ameboism. A part of me wanted to stay and watch, but the rumble in my belly reminded me that I’d been preparing lunch when Ti-abasi interrupted me.
I turned round and made for the corridor, the sounds already muted by the walls. I was almost at my door when a scream rent the air. In that instance, everything in me went still. My heart which had stopped, resumed its beating a couple of seconds later. I turned and ran back towards the courtyard, rubbing at the goose bumps on my arm as I went, wondering if it wouldn’t be wise to move out of this compound before I suffer a heart attack.