"I am very sorry for the way I spoke to you. It was just..." Danumego's voice trailed off, his embrassment merging with mortification as he attempted to profer his apologies. Mojere was not about to make it easy for him. She just stared, waiting for him to finish his sentence. Amazed at how little he felt, even though he towered at least a foot and a half over her, he cleared his throat and forged ahead.
"Mrs. Sulaiman, I am sorry for my behaviour. If you can find it in your heart to excuse it and forgive. It was...it was not a good day and then you brought him in and...I am sorry."
Mojere gave him five full seconds of silence before sheer exhaustion won and she sighed.
"One, it is Ms Sulaiman. Secondly, I will suggest that you always ask before you jump to conclusions. I would never do that to a child...to any human being."
He nodded, his bald head shining under the flourescent light.
"Please forgive. I am not that ill mannered an individual."
Mojere raised an eyebrow,
"So you are somewhat ill mannered?"
He shrugged and gave her a full smile, one that she had noticed all the females doing sommersaults over. It did not affect her...that much.
He sobered and reached up to rub his eyes. She noticed that he was wearing the same shirt as he had been the day before and that his eyes, though cheerful were extremely tired.
"He is ready for discharge. Do you know what you are going to do?"
Mojere shook her head wearily,
"No, but he is coming home with me. His parents are dead, that much I know and I don't know about his relatives because when I tried to ask him, he went into fits. Whether that was because he was sick or because he was panicked, I don't know. He will come home with me. I can't go back on him now."
Danumego regarded the tiny woman before him and wondered how he could have been so mistaken in his initial appraisal of her. When he had been called on the intercom to come down to emergency, he had burst through the door to be greeted by two bloodied women and a child, the latter of which lay unmoving on the bed. The stench of gasoline had been almost unbearable.
"Market...little boy...I carried him...my car..." the shorter and more worried of the two women babbled out to him incoherently.
He assumed that she had hit him with a car. When he reached the boy, he realised that it was not a car that had done the boy in. He had been beaten and judging by the garrish scars on his back and legs, it was not the first time. In fact, the last time he had seen skin so marred with keloids had been on a poorly treated burn victim.
He had noticed when he sighted the women that underneath the blood and petrol, they were attired in clothing that was not cheap. The ring on the finger of the one who had spoken gleamed. He guessed that he knew who they were. Wealthy women who most likely in a fit of rage had beaten up their male servant.
"Is he going to be okay?" The shorter woman asked. Danumego was disgusted.
"Get out!" he spat.
'Excuse me?..." she began, stunned.
"I said get out." he continued, without looking up. "Let me see if I can save this boy for you to kill another day. Or would you like to finish him up right now and save us some time?"
That had been a wrong assumption to make. He did not find out the details until later when they had miraculously found blood and intravenous medicine to keep the boy hanging on by a thread for his life. By evening, an infection had set in and Danumego was not sure he would make it to the next morning, but he did. And the next one and the next.
Three days later, when the boy was stable, Danumego found himself in the director's office. There in the presence if his boss, Mojere Sulaiman stripped him naked verbally and walked out.
"What were you thinking?" Director Nnamani asked. "Do you not know who she is?"
Danumego did not. He had not been in the country long. He knew almost no one.
"Be careful, There are some people we do not need to be worried about."
"Yes dad." he replied before he left.
He had been trying to apologise for the past six weeks.
Till he conered her in the parking lot.
"It cannot be easy for you. You have tried alot. I have not seen your friend for a while." he continued referring to Labake who had accompanied her in the beginning when Oliver was first brought in to the hospital.
Mojere avoided his eyes. She did not know how to tell him that as she was standing there before him , the grey skies threatening a heavy july rain moving swiftly past above their heads, that she was alone in the world. Alone with her decisions considering Oliver. She and Labake had not spoken since the day of their heated and bitter exchange over her involvement with Oliver.
Oliver needed clothes. When she brought him in to the hospital, all she had had to cover his small frame had been Labake's scarf that she had snatched off her friend's shoulders and the jacket of her suit. It had been a week and a half, Oliver seemed destined to beat death a second time and was hanging on pathetically to his existence. There were no men's clothing for her to borrow for him at the house.
Thus, she dragged her ever available friend and companion shopping. Oliver needed clothes and she was going to buy some for the boy. Labake was no longer amused by the play that Mojere was enacting starring the vagrant street child.
"Mojere, what on earth do you think you are doing?" Mojere winced. Labake's voice, cutting above the hum of the store's air conditioning and background Celine Dion music was loud and grating on her nerves.
"What does it look like I am doing?" she bit back before turning to the sales girl, "do you not have something smaller? He is a very tiny boy." She turned back to her friend, lifting the shirt in her hand. "Or Labs, what do you think?"
Labake eyed both her friend and the grey and blue t-shirt. "What do I think? What do I think? Are you listening at all to what I think? I have been asking you what you think you are doing; do you intend to bring him to come and live with you? Where do you know that he is from? Why did he run away from home? Did you even bother to ask? Mojere...Mojere..."
Mojere had moved on to the next rack, completely ignoring her friend.
"Mojere I am talking to you." Labake's voice held a warning. Mojere was suddenly fed up.
"Labake, what do you want me to do?"
"What you should have done from the very beginning. His case belongs with the government. You should have handed over to the police from the very beginning." Labake was indignant, her nostrils flaring with the strength of her emotions. She had since ignored the fact that they were in public and was oblivious to the fact that not only the sales girl but the six other customers in the store were eavesdropping unabashedly on her conversation with Mojere. Infact, one man who had accompanied his girl friend had since discarded his look of misery at being dragged from store to store and was staring unflinchingly at the two women, his ears wide and receiving.
"Is it the same police that almost did not show up before Oliver was almost burnt alive?..."
"Oliver..."Labake hissed, "Oliver, you are calling him Oliver? Hey-ey, you are getting attached to that area boy."
Mojere was suddenly disgusted. Labake of all people was not someone who ought to say such things as her education had been paid for by her mother's trading at the bus park. And yet, just because she had become the mistress/third wife to a wealthy politician chief, all who did not exist in her economic circle where beneath her. Mojere fixed her friend with her legendary icy stare.
"Labake, I asked you here because you have twin boys and so you could help me figure out what a boy ought to have. If you don't want to help me out, you can go back to your shop and do whatever you were doing that area boys were not involved in. I have alot of things I need to get before I go to the hospital."
Labake shook her head as if something was very sad. "The boy is not your son. And he never will be."
The pain that sliced through Mojere was such that a gasp escaped her mouth without her knowledge. Infact, it was so heavy that she clutched at her side as if Labake's words had become a knife that had gone through her side. Labake sensing she had gone too far, opened her mouth to speak.
"If it had been anyone else but you Labake, I would have slapped them for what you just said. No,he is not my son. So, if I do not go and open my legs for the first potbellied randy goat that thows money at me and carry his seed, I do not know how to be a mother? Abi, iru osi oro wo lo n jade lenu e, ehn Labake? (What kind of nonsense are you saying?")
Labake was taken aback. "Excuse me...?"
Mojere sneered, "Excuse you? you are excused. Please leave me. Yes, I have found this area boy and until I can find someone else who can do a better job, I will take care of him so that I am not driving down one day and see that people like you have set fire to a little boy of eleven!"
'Mojere! Are you crazy? What has gotten into you?"
Mojere hissed, "I don't know o. I don't know. Maybe when he gets better, I will just carry him and dump him at the exact place I found him and pray that this time, the mango seller will not chase after him when he steals because he is hungry. You disgust me!"
Labake's eyes widened. "I disgust you? Hey-ey, Mojere, are you listening to yourself?"
"Not really," Mojere replied, "but I am sick and tired of pretentious superior attitude when we all know that if Chief was not busy with his cronies spending the country's wealth on you and all his other mistresses in the universities, maybe we would not have that many Olivers."
Mojere had hit home and hit home hard. The issue of Labake's standing as Chief Rotimi's wife/mistress was a really touchy one. She had only recently been allowed to refer to herself as Mrs. Rotimi even after producing twin boys for the man. And she knew after more than fifteen years of being with him starting when she was still a Jambite in the university, that she was only one of many women on his roll call. The latest softsell edition had pictures of Chief and his latest mistress at a social function. Like Labake, when she too had come into his life, the girl was just twenty two.
Her mouth parted and she too backed away much like Mojere had done a few minutes before. Without saying a word, she reached for her huge purse that lay at her feet, picked it up and walked out.
They had not spoken since then. And now the doctor was asking after her.
Mojere looked at the doctor, "She is fine. She has been busy." That at least was true. She knew Labake had been busy.
Danumego nodded. He did not press further. So, instead he said to her, "If you come with me, I will hurry up the paperwork and you can take him home."
She smiled. Slow and wide. Danumego tried not to stare.
"Home." she looked at the hospital building and nodded as if to herself, "Yes, he will come home today."