I woke up with a start the next morning in my clothes, in a strange bed. It took me some minutes to remember the events that had landed me there and I had to rush to brush my teeth and hurry to the kitchen in search of a broom. I found something I could use to sweep the glittering tiles and thankfully, I did not need to wake Madam up for that. I finished cleaning and she still had not come downstairs so I returned to my perch on the stool where I had fallen asleep the previous night and I finally allowed my mind to wander. I was lucky to have escaped those evil people and even more to be offered a ride by a kind Samaritan. But how was I sure that his wife was not crazy because she acted strange the night before?
That thought was bouncing around in my head when she came downstairs into the kitchen. She looked delicate and normal in a nightdress that did not cover much. I could see the outline of her body and I lowered my eyes because it was embarrassing.
“Good morning Madam”, I said.
“How are you, my dear?” she asked absent-mindedly. Her eyes were darting from one object to another as if she was searching for something.
I stood to one side watching. She touched one shiny equipment and before long, she put two steaming cups of coffee in a tray that looked like polished wood. I spoke up as she placed two tins of milk on the tray and a green and white tiny container. It looked like nothing I had seen before.
“Madam, what will I cook for you?” I asked.
“We usually eat a light breakfast but don’t worry; I’ll come down shortly to make Oats so that you can watch what I’m doing. I will take this upstairs so go and take your bath; I will call you when I’m ready.”
“Yes ma”, I said and curtsied. She went upstairs and I tried not to watch as she left since she was wearing almost nothing. I went to the bathroom but all the fittings looked strange. The bathroom I shared with my father and many other tenants did not have a tap much less a sink/ wash basin. One tap had a blue knob, the other was red. I did not understand what the fittings were all for especially the ones in the bath. The bath itself was like a glass enclosure with nozzles and knobs and all the fancy fittings but there was no bucket. That was strange. What bathroom had no bucket! Well I was used to fetching water from a public tap for everything except when it rained and the rainwater was clean.
I turned one on the taps and the water came out at a funny angle, like needles. It
was unlike the showers I usually see in home videos. I took a small tablet of soap from my bag and put a small size of toothpaste on my toothbrush. I took my bath in a rush because I did not want her to come into the bathroom while I was inside. I was looking for something presentable to wear, still in my now damp wrapper when Madam bumped in and dumped some clothes on the bed.
“They should be your size. Get dressed and join me in the kitchen, the driver is taking us out.” She left me and I moved closer to inspect the clothes. The clothes looked like works of art, the craftsmanship was detailed and the clothes could be worn inside out since they looked so neat but for the labels. I wore the first one I picked and smoothed it down with both hands. It felt kind of good and it was my size. I felt… but then I had never worn anything new new except when I sewed clothes which was rare. Could she have know I was coming somehow? I worried.
She showed me how to soak the oats and cook it at the right consistency. She warmed some moin-moin in the microwave and I watched which knobs she pressed as the interior lighted up. The plate was turning and it fascinated me, she laughed.
“That is how it works young lady. When it is ready, it makes a noise so you will know when to remove it. Don’t forget to wear this”, she handed me a padded hand glove.
She served Oga and me. I peeled some oranges for her and sliced the apples she gave me and arranged grapefruit on a plate for herself.
“When the driver comes back, he’s taking us to the hospital. Eat”, she carried the tray and refused to allow me take it.
“We are going to the hospital to examine you.” She left me alone to think about what she had said.
I sat eating the Oats that was sticky like okro even after I had added milk. I swallowed each spoon without tasting it and worried that I was not sick so I wondered why she was accompanying me to the hospital. I finished eating and washed my plates and then I went back to my seat by the kitchen balcony where she found me.
“Let’s go”, she said as she dumped the plates and trays.
I had to speak up. “Madam, I am not sick.”
“Who said you were sick, let’s go jare!”
“Then let me wash the plates before we go ma.” I needed any excuse so that I could have a little more time. Maybe she would shelf it or forget it.
“You can wash it when we return.”
She led the outside where the driver was waiting. I murmured my greetings and sat in the front with the driver. We got to the hospital and she went in with me to the doctor’s office. She was all smiles as we sat. She did the introductions.
“This is Doctor Oludare”, she told me. “Doctor, this is my cousin’s step-daughter, her name is Tokunbo. She will be staying with us for now.”
“How are you Tokunbo? Its good to meet you.”
Turning to madam, the doctor asked, “So what brings you here?”
“She needs an examination. I promised my cousin that I would look after her. So I want to make sure she is healthy.” She did not even give me time to be shocked since we were not related in any way. I wondered if my drunkard father or my estranged mother, the one I had not even met was her cousin.
“Alright madam, you can wait for us n the waiting room”, he said as he gestured to the door. She stood up and he led me to the examining table that was in the corner, I moved to it with shaky legs and he held me up as I collapsed against it. “Easy”, he said with a smile. The table was cold as I gripped the sides and even his warm smile did nothing for the cold I suddenly felt.
“All I’m going to do is a routine examination, no fuss”, he explained. I just wanted it to be over and I was gripping the sides of the table for dear life. When he was through, he sent me to the laboratory and someone took my blood sample and I was asked to urinate in a bottle. I was relieved when it was time to go.
Madam took me shopping for more clothes and then we went out to eat. I wanted to ask her why she told the doctor we were related but I lacked the courage. She ordered a pack for the driver and we went to the supermarket afterwards. It was huge, the largest one I had ever been to. All the ones beside my house were small and most doubled as chemists. We filled two trolleys and we pushed them to the checkout counter. She was still yet to tell me why she had me examined and she only made small talk while we were shopping. We headed straight to the kitchen as we got back. She showed me how to skin chicken.
“Would you really still like to find your mother?”
Even though she could reject me yet again. “Yes, Madam.”
“In that case, we will do all we can to help you. If you have more information it would help. And stop addressing me as ‘Madam’.”
“Yes, Madam”, I replied.
She laughed. “Aunty sounds better”, she said. She didn’t look like anyone’s aunty. She looked like someone who was often in charge, I wondered if she had children.
“I don’t have any children”, she said as if reading my mind. She was telling me things about herself even though we were not close. It was either she was free or she was starved of company. I couldn’t tell which it was. Dinner was the same as the previous night and I cleaned up. She showed me how to lock the doors and I went into my room to check the things she bought me. I was so tired that I did not bother; I just left all the bags there on the floor. I lay on the bed after a quick shower and I was just dozing off when I heard the door open even though I had not heard Madam’s footsteps. She stood by the door for a second and shut it behind her. Only it was not madam and she had not left.
I felt the bed sink as he sat. He touched my back and I froze. “Are you asleep?”
I was afraid to breathe and he felt it. “You’re not asleep, I can feel it. But I don’t blame you, you set out for something different and you find yourself here with total strangers. But I’d tell you a little story, one that… Anyway, for the past sixteen years, we have been married but we don’t have any children. My wife and I desperately want children yet each time we think she is pregnant; it turns out to be false. She was pregnant only once and miscarried. She has fibroid and the doctor has told us that she cannot get pregnant at this stage. There is simply no excuse to be made for this but all I can say is that I am prepared to offer you whatever you want within reason. You know what we are asking… There is nothing else left to say. Good night.” He stood up and left.
I couldn’t not think about what he said even though I tried hard not to. I lay awake for most of the night.