by Victor Olusanya
“The thing is, Andrew, your madam died five years ago in Abuja before you saw her here in Lagos.”
My madam always smiled. Her smile brightened her beer parlour as she walked around it with her long thick black hair swinging around her neck. Madam Agnes’ beer parlour was the biggest beer parlour in Ketu, an urban area of Lagos. It came like rain in harmattan, and drenched all other beer joints to stupor. Every night, I would carry stainless trays filled with bottles of beer and hot plates of pepper soup and at other nights, I would settle quarrels between two drunken men fighting over nothing. Those smoking cigarette and marijuana had strong presence. They smelled of an old, dusty, worn-out dress. At Madam Agnes’ beer parlour, every night was a story. To her, every night mattered. Friday nights always mattered.
One Friday night, my madam did not smile. There was nobody at the beer parlour, everywhere was dry. I met her in front of the big black iron door of the beer parlour, locking it. I was stunned. I moved closer to her right side.
“Madam, good evening, ma.” I said. She was locking the final padlock. It seemed I was talking to myself. She did not answer. She was like a statue with mechanical hands. “Madam Agnes!” I called again. There was still no movement on her face. Her fair complexion complemented her brown Ankara dress.
“Andrew,” she said, staring at me, “there is no work tonight o. So, you would have to go home.” I could read nothing on her face. It was blank.
“But… But madam,” I stammered. “But madam, today is Friday and a good night to make profitable sales.”
“Just go home.” She said, “I’m travelling tonight, but I will call you when I come back.” She opened the small black purse in her hand, brought out a white envelope and gave it to me. What could this be? I thought. “Take it.” She said.
Anxious about what was sealed inside the brown envelope, I tore the opening, and inside were new Naira notes. My eyes bulged. I counted the money, it was seven thousand Naira. Madam had just added three thousand Naira to my salary. She was always like that. She was always generous. By the time I looked up, my madam had already gone. I looked on as the rough sound, smoke and bright light of her green Toyota Camry car bade me goodnight.
The following morning was like any other Saturday morning: hot and noisy. I was feeding the hens at the back of the house when mother told me I had some visitors waiting for me in front of the house. I went outside and I saw three people, two men and a lady, standing side by side. Who could these people be? I asked myself.
“A good morning to you.” The oldest among them said with a mild smile. He was dark with grey hair, and was bent at the back. “Are you Andrew?”
“Yes, sir. Hope no problem?”
“No problem. I am Mr. Jacobs, and these are my children, Tunde and Tobi.”
Tunde, who should be in his mid-thirties, stood tall in his black shirt and blue jeans. Tobi, who was much younger, stood beside Tunde in a red blouse and a black skirt. A big brown envelope was dangling in her hand.
“We heard you were working for a woman – Agnes.” Tunde said.
“Yes.” I nodded.
Mr. Jacobs came to my side and said, “Thank you, my son. We would appropriate it, Andrew, if you could take us to where she is.”
“And sir, why?” I said, still trying to figure out who they really were or if I had met them before. “You know in Nigeria of nowadays, one cannot give contacts anyhow”
“Erm…” There was a short pause. A deep sigh followed. “Your boss is my wife and the mother of these children.” I stood there, confused. Madam had never mentioned anything about her family before.
“But sir, she travelled yesterday, in the night.”
The old man seemed confused. I was confused, too. I was confused at the way those children resembled Madam Agnes. My mind suddenly became blurred by a lingering concern.
“Did she tell you where she was going?”
“No!” I said. “Please, what happened to my madam? How come she did not tell people around her about you, her family?”Questions thundered in my head.
The old man sighed. He bowed his head, his right hand on his right cheek. His children went to him and whispered something to him. It was as if they were consoling him for what he had lost. Perhaps, for what was about to be lost.
Tunde left his father. He approached me. “The thing is, Andrew, your madam died five years ago in Abuja before you saw her here in Lagos.”
“Holy Mary!” I screamed. My saliva ran dry. I swallowed my words.
Tobi opened the brown envelope in her hand, brought out a picture and gave it to me. It was the same Madam Agnes, wearing the same brown Ankara dress. She sat on a black leather chair, smiling. Her husband and children sat close to her.
“That was on her birthday,” Tobi said, “two days before she passed on.”
I stood there and I was shaking. My head rolled in thoughts; it was swirling. How odd could the world possibly get? I felt the concrete floor should open its mouth and swallow me.
Victor Olusanya, born and bred in Nigeria, is a final year Law student of Obafemi Awolowo University. He tweets from @lordhighway #AnyBodyCanWrite
30 Days, 30 Voices series is an opportunity for young Nigerians from across the world to share their stories and experiences – creating a meeting point where our common humanity is explored.
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