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A Promise Kept

by James Ogunjimi

It was 7:00 pm, and Aremu was just leaving work. The official closing hour in his contract read 4:00 pm, but he had closed by 4:00 pm just once: on his first day of work. Since then, he had been made to work late, sometimes as late as 9:00 pm.

He was angry. No, he was pissed. No, infuriated. He had missed the first leg of the Chelsea versus Bayern-Munich clash, where Bayern beat the living hell out of the pretend-champions he supported. He really hoped he would be able to watch the return leg, but he was stuck at work. When he factored in the Lagos traffic situation, he knew he’d barely have time to fling off his shoes before collapsing on the bed, let alone watch any match.

As he drove home that night, his hands were on the steering wheel, but his mind was a million miles away. He thought of work, thought of home, of his wife, dozed a bit, caught himself, sat up, and slapped his face a couple of times.

Suddenly an old woman burst into the main road. Caught in the brightness of the headlights, she stood rooted to the spot, staring back at him. He swore loudly as he hit the brakes, the suddenness causing him to jerk forward.

He stopped the car and stepped out, prepared to give the woman a piece of his mind. Other motorists behind him honked impatiently, but he didn’t have time for them.

“What the hell was that? Are you too old to watch the road before crossing?” he shouted at the woman.

The woman started to speak. “My son—”

He cut her short. “Don’t ‘my son’ me! You hear me? Don’t ‘my son’ me. That is what you people do, once you are caught doing something wrong, you’ll try to wriggle out of it by playing the ‘my son’ card. I am not your son. You hear me? I am not!

“But I waved before I crossed the road. See the other motorists beside you, they stopped because I waved.”

He looked back to see some cars honking, waiting. But he’d be damned if he would concede anything to this woman. He was angry, and somebody must suffer the effects of the anger. “So? When I didn’t stop, shouldn’t your brain tell you that I didn’t see you?”

The old woman, bent either from age or too much work, answered him. “I am old. I don’t see clearly anymore, and my voice is not loud enough. I would have shouted so you could hear me. I apologize sincerely.”

“Keep your apologies to yourself. You are blind, you are dumb. How’s that my business? Check yourself into a retirement home if you can afford it and, if you can’t, die already, just don’t do it on my watch.”

“I didn’t say I was blind!” the woman shouted back in her feeble voice. “I only said—”

“Whatever!” He replied. “Now will you please leave the road or do you want me to add ‘crippled’ to your list of problems?”

The old woman hissed, sauntered out of the road and snapped her fingers at him. He laughed, swerved the car dangerously in her direction, laughed some more as she nearly fell, spat phlegm at her, and drove off.

He heard her shout angrily after him, “The blind and dumb you called me, you’ll become exactly that, I promise.” It only made him laugh harder.

As he drove into the fenced house where he had lived for four years, he greeted the gateman, Frank, parked his car and went in. He sat on the couch in the living room and turned on the TV to watch the news.

He was starving. As he entered the kitchen, he saw an unfinished pot of ikokore. Ikokore was his favorite meal but, because he was always trying to appear cool, whenever he was asked by co-workers what his favorite food was, he told them fried rice and chicken, just like 50 million out of the 150 million Nigerians.

He carried the ikokore with the pot into the living room, salivating as he walked. There are so many delicacies in the world, but none came close to a three-day old ikokore that had been warmed over and over again. He delved into it, eating and grunting as he did.

He jerked awake. The TV was on. He was on the couch. He had fallen asleep. He switched off the TV. He remembered his dream and, out of curiosity, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Off came bits of ikokore. “What the hell!” His lips moved, but he didn’t hear his own voice.

“Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Riiiiiiiiiiiiiii! Koooooooo!” He screamed, but whatever he was shouting only stopped on his lips, his voice didn’t sound out.

“What’s wrong? You’ve been opening your mouth without saying anything.”

He looked beside him to see his wife sitting there, staring at him strangely. “I don’t know...” he began, but then reached for a biro, opened a notebook on the table and wrote: “I don’t know what’s wrong. I can’t talk.”

Concern flooded her face immediately. She dashed into the kitchen and reappeared with a jug of water. “Go quickly and wash your face with this,” she said as she handed him the jug.

“What does this have to do with my inability to speak? Shouldn’t you be giving me an injection now? I am probably reacting to something,” he wrote on the sheet of paper.

“Are you going to teach me what to do?” she snapped. “Just do what I asked, and do it fast.”

He shrugged and started towards the bathroom to wash his face. She was a doctor after all. She knew best.

He was halfway through washing his face with the water from the jug when he remembered that his wife had died two years ago while trying to give birth to her first child. Both mother and child had died.

The jug dropped from his hand, the water spilling all over the floor. He opened his eyes and stared back at the living room, trying to see the light he had left on. But all he saw was thick darkness.

Copyright © 2016 by James Ogunjimi

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