Block 244 – Flat Three

2001

When Deinde Ajisafe bought and moved into his three-bedroom flat in Abesan Estate, Iyana Ipaja, he threw a housewarming party. He invited his friends, his business partners, and his elder brother Tomori. Tomori declined the invitation citing a sickness in his wife’s family. In truth,  Tomori found the idea of a house-warming party for a flat obnoxious; it was not even a detached flat talk less of being a house house deserving of a party. He was sure it was another way for Deinde to show off his wealth.

Deinde sent other invites, but Tomori declined them all, until now. Today, he was going to visit his brother and ask a favor.

“Are you sure he will agree to this?” His wife Emili asked as they prepared to leave their one-bedroom face-me-I-face you flat.

“Yes of course. After everything I did for him, he cannot say no. Wọ̀ ọ́ bi da.”

Emili was wearing one of her nicer dresses as her husband had instructed. Their son, Michael, was also sharply dressed in a white shirt and brown khaki shorts. Tomori himself was dressed in one of the kaftans he typically wore for special thanksgiving Sundays.

Emili smoothed the ruffles on her dress and said without looking at her husband: “I don’t want anybody looking down at us and pitying us.”

“This woman don’t stress me! Get your son and let us go. And make sure he has packed all the things he needs before you and him will be doing like dọ̀dọ̀yọ̀.”

Twelve minutes later, the family of three trooped to the bus stop to catch a bus to Oshodi and onwards to Iyana Ipaja. They arrived at the entrance to Abesan Estate and took an okada to Block 244.

Block 244, like the other buildings around it, was cream and brown with six flats. There was a cement pavement in front of the building where several children were playing sùwé drawn in colorful chalks. An elderly woman – someone’s grandmother perhaps – sat on a low stool, keeping an eye on the playing children and deshelling melon into a yellow plastic bowl.

“His letter said flat three,” Tomori said looking up at the cream and brown building contemplatively. One of the playing children detached from the group and walked towards them, “Who are you finding?”

“Mr. Ajisafe in flat three. You know him?”

“Yes sah. Flat three is on the second story. The staircase is on the other side,” the child said pointing. He looked at them expectantly for a few seconds expecting a tip. When he saw that none was forthcoming, he ambled back to his friends.

The flat was as the boy described. Tomori rapped the door smartly and it swung open to reveal Deinde smiling at them.

“Brother mi!” Deinde was a taller version of his brother with a less lined and less weathered face. “Come in, come in. Chidera and I have been waiting for you.”

It was as Tomori feared: the flat was beautifully and tastefully decorated. The sofa and dining chairs looked to be made of the same black leather material; the center table and the side tables were glass with gold leaf trimmings. There were several  decorative pieces around the living/dining room – a potted plant here, a wood statue there – and sleek electronics. Tomori recognized the latest Sony 5-disc changer DVD and the powerful speakers in front of the room. There was even a wine bar built into the right filled with different bottles:  Bacchus, Eva, Campari, Baileys. This was not a home where you ran out to buy drinks for your visitors. No, this was the type of house that always had drinks no matter what time you came to visit.

Deinde led them to the living room area. “Brother TTTTTTTT!” He hailed. “When last did I see you people? Michael! See how big you are now.” He initiated a complicated handshake with the boy and patted his head. He called to his wife again, “Chidera! They are here.”

Chidera came out of what looked to be the kitchen wiping her hands on a dish towel. She smiled brightly as Emili stood to hug her. “Good afternoon, Brother Tomori. It’s so nice to see all of you.”

“I was telling them we have not seen in a while. Was it not three years ago when we were still at Egbeda? Around the time you opened your second shop in Balogun?”

“Yes, I think so. Auntie Emili, how are you?”

“I am fine, we thank God. Hope the lace ban that they lifted has not affected you too much?”

“Not at all,” Chidera answered. Deinde laughed contently: “the lifting was a blessing! She has even opened another shop in Retail market. You know the Retail market abi?”

“Nitooto?! Congratulations!” Emili hugged her again. “God is really blessing you left, right and center.” She held Chidera’s hands affectionately, “By this time next year, he will answer the biggest prayer and we will come and celebrate with you.” Chidera gently pulled her hands free, “Thank you.  I have some material I have been meaning to give to you for a while now. Please remind me before you go.” She turned to Michael who was still looking around the flat in awe. “What will you eat? There is jollof rice, fried rice, plantain, coleslaw…”

“Ah ah! All that because we came to visit?” Tomori asked laughing.

“Of course! I even have pounded yam and egusi for you Brother T.” Tomori laughed some more and called her ọmọ Ibo in a half teasing, half affectionate manner.

“I want jollof rice,” Michael replied shooting a quick glance at his father. Tomori had warned the boy before they left home not to behave like ‘a hungry cow that has not seen food before.’ Chidera smiled at the boy and led him to the kitchen.

“Let me go and help Sister Chidera,” Emili said, excusing herself. The brothers exchanged further pleasantries and reveled in the glow of seeing each other after a long while. Despite himself, Tomori realized he had missed his brother and suddenly regretted not visiting him or inviting him to visit more often. Five years ago, something indescribable had shifted between the brothers when Deinde moved into his two-bedroom flat in Egbeda and bought his first car.

Tomori leaned towards his brother and spoke in Yoruba, “I have something important to discuss with you.”

“Hope nothing?” Deinde had hoped to use the visit as an opportunity to discuss a long overdue trip to Ẹdẹ to visit their parents.

“Everything is fine. I have been thinking and it will make me so happy if Michael can come and live with you.”

“Live with me?”

“To go to school and you know, generally help you out.” He looked to make sure the women were still in the kitchen. “Things are hard Deinde. The video rental shop is not doing well at all at all. There’s no money there. I can’t afford to send him to a good private school.”

“If money for school is the issue Brother mi, I am very happy to help with his fees and other expenses. I don’t see why he has to live with me for that.”

Tomori shook his head as Deinde was speaking, “It’s not just his fees. It’s his general upkeep. Plus, the neighborhood is no longer safe. I don’t want him running around with those ọmọ ìta and I don’t have the money to move us to a better neighborhood.” He said the second part casually as though of no import but hoped his brother would take the hint.

“This is very sudden Brother mi,” Deinde said broodingly, his erstwhile jovial mood punctured by his brother’s request. He wanted to say no. He did not want his nephew living with him; and more importantly he did not want his brother having that kind of unfettered access to his life. He hated that Tomori even thought to ask. And yet, he feared that if he said no outright, their already strained relationship could break. “I will have to talk to Chidera to see if we can accommodate him.”

“You have to discuss with your wife to know if you can help me?”

“Yes.”

“Did you not see the boy’s bag? We did not plan on going back home with him because I thought you would agree immediately.” Tomori scoffed mockingly, “This is for your wife’s good as well. Abi don’t you know that it is a child’s head that will call another child into a home?”

“I have to talk to Chidera first,” Deinde replied firmly. “And even then, there is no guarantee the answer will be yes.”

“I see,” Tomori said leaning back into the soft sofa, his tone filled with bitter disappointment.

“It is not like that Brother mi.”

“It is okay. Talk to your wife and let me know.”

*********************************

Eleven years ago

Emili was putting Michael to bed when her husband informed her that his brother was coming to live with them.

“When is he coming?”

“The day after tomorrow.”

She looked up and frowned, “This Sunday? And you are just mentioning it?”

“Mábìnú. It completely escaped my mind.” It had not escaped his mind but he saw no need to trouble himself with the objections she would have thrown up.

“How long is he staying?”

“Just a few months until he can find something doing.”

Emili huffed to herself in annoyance wondering where they were going to put a grown man. She, Tomori and Michael slept in the only bedroom in the flat – Michael had a foam in a corner of the room. The living room was cramped with a two-seater couch, a shelf that held old books, picture albums, a black and white TV, and a small radio. One corner of the room was dedicated to kitchen and cooking items: a small polythene bag filled with pouches of salt, maggi, locust beans, palm oil and other condiments, a cupboard where Emili stored cooked food, a small blackened – formerly green – stove and a bottle half-filled with precious kerosene.

“He cannot sleep on the two-seater,” Emili said coldly after a few minutes. “He will use a mat. Let nobody come and use us to live a life they were not living before.”

“Is this how you will behave when he gets here?”

“I’m just saying my own. He must not sleep on that chair.”

Deinde arrived on Sunday afternoon with three big polythene bags. “Brother mi!”

“Deinde! Ọmọ ẹ́kùn! See how tall you are now! Maami nko ati daddy? How is everyone?”

“Everybody is fine. They all send their greetings. Maami sent plenty things for you,” Deinde replied. He shook one of the bags suggestively and Tomori smiled at the thought of the bushmeat and wàrà he knew his mother must have sent.

The brothers chatted long into the night, exchanging stories and memories from their childhood in Ẹdẹ.  When Emili went to bed, they were laughing over a story of a failed attempt to trap a bush rat for dinner. The next morning, she saw with deep satisfaction that Deinde was sleeping on a mat in the center of the living room.

He settled in quickly.

Emili had prepared to dislike her brother-in-law – in fact, she had anticipated it –  but,  she found very few reasons to do so. She had heard from friends with in-laws living with them how strained things could get and how in-laws always poke nosed into family affairs. Her neighbor and friend Nana cautioned her: “My own brother-in-law does not do anything to help in the house. His own is to eat, sleep and watch TV. He even leaves his clothes for me to wash, and my husband does not see anything wrong with it. My advice is that you nip any rubbish in the bud. Don’t allow him any space at all to do nonsense.”

Deinde proved himself a courteous guest. From the morning after he arrived, he took over the cleaning of the flat and the washing of the dishes and cooking utensils. He brought out whatever soup was in the cupboard and warmed it so it would not go bad before the end of the day. He even offered to take over the washing of clothes, but Emili would not hear of it. God knew she hated washing clothes more than anything in the world, but it would have would have been taking too much advantage and she knew that Tomori would not like it.

During the day, he assisted Tomori in the video rental shop. It was not surprising to Deinde that his brother was involved in the periphery of the movie industry. Their father, in his youth, worked briefly as a performer with a travelling theatre group and they grew up hearing stories of the theatre legend, Duro Ladipo and his plays. Whenever a performing group came through Ẹdẹ, their father made sure the entire family went to watch the performances.

The shop was not difficult to manage and Deinde quickly got the hang of it. Customers could borrow a cassette for three days for ₦20; If they kept the tape beyond the allotted days, they had to pay ₦10 per day. It was his job to keep track of who borrowed what so Tomori could hassle them if they did not return a movie on time. The more comfortable Deinde became handling the shop, the more Tomori left him in charge so he (Tomori) could chase his other business ventures.

The few months Tomori predicted for Deinde’s stay turned into one year, and yet, there were no signs that he would move out. When Deinde suggested taking preparatory weekend lessons for an OND application, Tomori explained that he had no money to spare.

“Give me three months and I will find the money for you.” Three months turned to six and still there was no money. Deinde suspected that it was not just a lack of funds that held his brother’s purse but a bit of selfishness as well. It had not gone unnoticed to him that his brother had all but turned him into his shop assistant without pay. Whenever he alluded to getting paid or leaving the shop to find a paying job, Tomori extolled the difficulties of finding good jobs in Lagos: “Do you think anybody will give you free housing and food like I have been doing?”

It was Emili who intervened. She was tired of having someone in the house – even if the person was as helpful as Deinde. There was something about having him in the flat that made her feel like her home was not completely hers. Sometimes, she caught herself acting an emotion that was far from what she was feeling so Deinde would not think poorly of her and go back to tell their family in Ẹdẹ about his brother’s unreasonable wife. It seemed an unreasonable fear but it was one that she had nonetheless.

“It is time for your brother to go. It has been almost two years Daddy Michael. Ótógẹ́. Don’t let the world give us a name that is not our own. Allow your brother to do what he wants to do.”

Deinde quickly found a paid position as an assistant in a fridge and AC repair shop. The stipend was miserly, but it was a start. Nine months after starting the job, he moved into a self-contain with three other people and started a part-time welding and fabrication program at a local polytechnic. Soon, he was able to afford a self-contain by himself.

In his sixth year in Lagos, life, luck, and opportunity smiled on his efforts. He got a contract position with an automobile plant and steadily went through the ranks. It was there he met Chidera.

*******************************************

Back to 2001

Tomori knew that life was unfair, but he had hoped that life would be equally unfair to those he knew. He was not a lazy or unambitious man but somehow, none of his business ventures ever panned out. He would have been fine with his lot in life (in fact, he had been fine with it), after all, he could afford the roof over his head and could care for his wife and son. However, when fate cruelly chose to bless his brother with the things it never blessed him with, he grew resentful.

As Deinde’s success grew, Tomori’s sense of being hard-done-by grew and he convinced himself that his brother owed him. If you thought about it well, it was because of him Deinde could now afford a nice flat and a six disc-changing stereo. Because of him he could open yet another lace store- lace! – for his Igbo wife. If he had not brought his brother from the village where he was wasting away, none of the good things he had now would have been possible. And yet, he could not do him a simple favor – the very same favor he, Tomori had done for him all those years ago.

*******************************************

Emili stepped into the living room and called to the men: “The egusi is ready.”

Both men stood up and went to the dining table to join Michael who was focused on his plate of jollof rice and chicken. The boy said a silent prayer that his Aunt Chidera could convince his uncle to let him stay with them.

 

Comments

  • Cynthia

    2 years agoReply

    Where is the conclusion, please? This took back home to my early years in Lagos. Nice story.

    • locallagosbabe

      2 years agoReply

      Thank you for reading! Other parts will be posted soon.

  • Renny

    2 years agoReply

    This was excellently written. Every single line had me hooked. Anticipating other parts

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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.