Àbẹ̀ní

Alhaji Muhideen Teslim Tanko, philanthropist, town’s elder man, and owner of Tanko Motors, Tanko Rentals, Tanko Furnishings and Tanko Water celebrated his 75th birthday with improvidence. The party held on the grounds of Kamaldeen Secondary School which was the only venue big enough to house the hundreds of guests, patrons, employees, beneficiaries, friends, family, and well-wishers that came to celebrate with him.

Red and yellow canopies – from Tanko rentals – spread across the field, shielding the crowd from the bright sun but not the oppressive heat. Many guests converted handy items – the birthday program, serviettes, headscarves – into hand fans. Food and drinks flowed, dispatched unequally to guests by servers dressed in white and black. Several men – trusted family members and employees – manned the big blue drums filled with ice block, soft drinks and alcohol which were kept a safe distance from guests. There were enough drinks to drown the town two times over.

The Tanko family – six wives, fifteen children, several grandchildren and four great-grandchildren – were under the most decorated canopy. Most of them decked in the same gorgeous dark blue Asọ òkè. The celebrant himself was in a regal green and white Asọ òkè that denoted his stature but trapped the afternoon heat to his body; a standing fan was quickly set up beside his table to reduce his discomfort. Beside Tanko sat his newest wife, Àbẹ̀ní, wearing the same Asọ òkè material as his.

“Àbẹ̀ní you are not smiling,” he said, frowning. She caught his eye, looked away and smiled uncertainly. Still looking away, she placed her hand lightly on his, “Sorry Alhaji. The sun is very hot.”

He motioned to one of the boys milling around to adjust the fan, so it spanned more in her direction. “I don’t want to see a frown on your face today,” he ordered. She nodded, removed her hand from his and sipped from the bottle of Tandi in front of her. Her action drew Tanko’s attention to the bottles and plates on the table and his frown deepened.

“Razak!”

“Sir”

Tanko pointed to his table. “Bring me Tusk and Wilfort.”

“Yes sir”

“Bring some more fried meat. There must always be fried meat on this table.” The boy turned to execute his orders, but Tanko called him back. “Check if the Salawa group and my Railway people have arrived. They should be in Canopy B. I don’t want to see any other person in that canopy.”

“Yes sir.”

Demands dispensed, he looked over at the crowd, sitting, eating, dancing, and felt deep satisfaction. There was not one important person in Kájọlà, or even the whole city of Agbomuro that was not in attendance. The Oba of Kájọlà was in attendance – he had a canopy for himself and his retinue; the Commissioner of Agriculture was also in attendance.

He looked to Àbẹ̀ní again, congratulating himself for this young conquest so late in his life.

He sighted her a year ago at one of his dealerships where she had come to deliver a message to her elder sister who worked as a cashier. Her parents had been jubilant at his interest, encouraging it, and desperately pushing the girl to him.

On his first visit to their shabby house that smelled of old clothes and ògì, her parents fawned over him, offering him a dusty bottle of Maltina and a plate of oily àkàrà. “She is in form three but she is not very bright so she can leave school if you are in a hurry,” her mother said. He did not mention marriage and neither did they. He understood, from the plenty proverbs and verbiage her father used that they would have been fine if he took her as a mistress. A mistress of Tanko’s was a blessing to a poor family. To their delight, he did want to marry the girl and they agreed to a wedding after her current school term.

A tentative tap on his shoulder pulled Tanko back to the present. It was his first wife Memunat. “Alfa is here,” she said. Alfa Surajudeen was the foremost Muslim cleric in the town and so Tanko stood to go pay his respects. He knew those he was supposed to go to and those who were supposed to come to him.

When she saw that her husband was a far enough distance from the table, Memunat turned to Àbẹ̀ní and whispered: “Your sister is at the back of the classrooms where the alásè is.”

“Yes ma,” Àbẹ̀ní replied, her voice firm. “Thank you, ma.”

“Kotọ́pẹ́,” Memunat responded. She reached to her waist for the knot in her wrapper and brought out a roll of money. “Take this and take care of yourself. May God go with you.”

Àbẹ̀ní stood and walked quickly but cautiously to the block of classrooms where her sister was waiting just as Memunat reported. The two women hugged briefly, unnoticed in flurry of noise and activity from the cooking. They went into one of the classrooms and Àbẹ̀ní changed into a plain ìró and bùbá. She carried the two polythene bags she had stashed in the classroom the day before, checked to see nothing was amiss and stood for a moment. “Are you ready?” Pàrọ̀ asked.

“Yes. Let’s go.” Both women walked out of the classroom towards the gate, mixing with the crowd of well-wishers and partyers. They walked quickly to their destination: the bus park where they would board a vehicle to Lagos and a new life.

Comments

  • Ewere

    2 years agoReply

    She ran! Women helping women? Or maybe not.. Will the city bring a better life or expose her to even greater strife. We wait..

  • Esther

    2 years agoReply

    Now I’m curious to know what happened to Abeni in the city. Iyale well done, women supporting women 🙌

  • Opeyemi

    2 years agoReply

    You keep me posted for the next episode

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Welcome! I am a recovering writer learning the ropes again. It is a pleasure to have you on this journey with me. I hope you enjoy reading the stories I write, as much as I (hopefully) enjoy writing them.