The days have been drowned in a long bout of relentless downpour. It had rained all of Sunday evening and that rain had escorted them home from Osita’s place in Idemili.
The after-effect of the rain had given Ndubuisi a poor case of catarrh that had lasted until Tuesday. The catarrh was gone today but the showers of rain persisted. The school was half empty of children because many had obviously been kept back at home by their parents and guardians.
“Utter laziness and lack of dedication.” Headmaster had grunted when she’d gone to run an errand for him. “Will they keep them back from the farms and markets too?”
Ndubuisi did not know. But the rain had never stopped her step-mother from sending her out of the house on one pretext or the other. Whether it rained or the sun was centred on the skies, she did what she had to do and nobody cared if she caught a sneeze or if her nostrils ran unrestrained with mucus. She hasn’t seen Magnus in the last two days. The rain had meant assembly sessions were conducted within individual classrooms and it had meant break time kept them all inside and her away from her pear tree.
She’d been fortunate enough to see him arriving school on Monday under the cover of a large umbrella. She had sent him a wave in greeting since she’d been too far away for a verbal salutation. But he hadn’t responded, probably because he’d had his attention diverted by Miss Lovett who’d been sharing same umbrella–although she usually had one in the handbag she brought to school.
She would poke her head into his classroom and if he was there, she would simply offer a greeting, Ndubuisi thought as she walked down the corridor of the senior classes’ building. She would not linger, or interrupt him if he was working.
She hesitated briefly by his door, wondering if she should retreat as he might be busy. Then reminding herself that it was break time and she only wanted to greet him, she peered in through the door. He was at his desk. A stack of notebooks was in front of him and he was working on one of them with his red pen in his hand. There were children in the room, no more than twelve and talking in groups of two or three.
“Good day, Magnus.” He raised his head and turned it.
“Oh Ndubuisi, how are you? Come inside.”
Happy at the invitation, she came forward to stand by his desk. He had on a light blue shirt and a pair of trousers that was a dark shade of grey and then that usual scent that enveloped him. “I was passing by and thought I should stop and greet you. The rain has been a menace, hasn’t it?”
“Worse than a menace.” He returned her smile with a quick one of his own. “But it is the season for it. Although I am suffering because of it.”
“Not an ailment per se. It is a case of being incapacitated. I am hopelessly lazy when it comes to domestic chores.” His grimace was a half smile. “I was born in the midst of many females and so never needed to learn. And while in College, I had this kind girl who used to help me out. Unfortunately, now I am alone here and know no one. So, I am fast running out of clean clothes and the rains are not letting up, even if I can muster the bravery to do some laundry.”
“Oh.” Wasn’t that just like a man? Ndubuisi thought. “I can come on Saturday and help you wash. It’s no hardship at all.”
“You will do this for me, Ndubuisi?” Gratitude lit up his eyes. “You’re a generous soul, aren’t you? Isioma, the girl who used to help me in school, was just like that–willing to help without one having to ask first. Thank you so much, Ndubuisi.”
“Like I said, it’s no hardship at all. I can even help you with other chores you need help with, like mopping your rooms.” Whoever this Isioma was, she wanted to out do her. She wanted him to think her the best and no one else.
“You will do that too?” He looked at her in wonder. “You know, I sensed in my heart I had met a rare creature that day I ran into you.”
“Rare? No, I’m nothing rare oh.” But his words pleased her. “But I think that you are, Ndubuisi. You are a woman with a rare generous heart.” Magnus argued, smiling. “And I am grateful for your generosity.”
There heard sounds of approaching footsteps on the corridor and they both turned to the door and saw Miss Lovett step in between its threshold, close her umbrella and then tilted it against the doorframe. She was wearing a soft multi-coloured blouse which she had tucked into a black skirt that stopped just a few inches below her knees. Since she was a woman with a body that held womanly curves in the right proportions, her dressing suited her very well.
And made Ndubuisi feel plain in her second-hand cotton dress.
“Hello, Magnus.” Miss Lovett approached them with a smile that was aimed only in Magnus’s direction. “I thought I should come chase away boredom by spending break time with you. The rains make everything so dull.” She looked at Ndubuisi and her eyes turned haughty. “What are you doing here, Ndubuisi? Running an errand for Magnus?”
“No, I am not running an errand for him.” Magnus had bent his head over the notebook he’d earlier been working on. “I only came to greet him.”
“Greet him?” Miss Lovett seemed surprised. She looked at Magnus who still kept his head down and his hand busy. “I see. Well, since you are doing nothing, I have an errand for you to run.”
She didn’t want to run an errand for her. Not in front of Magnus.
“What do you want me to do for you, Miss Lovett?” Her tone was a little insolent and the faint frown in Miss Lovett’s face indicated that she’d noticed and did not like it.
“I want you to go buy us snacks and drinks, what else? You can’t mark my children’s notebooks for me, can you?” The words were intended to belittle and Ndubuisi felt small and inconsequential. “I want fish pie and a bottle of coca cola. Magnus?” Her smile came on as she turned her gaze. “Would you like same?”
“Hmm?” Magnus raised his head. But stared only at Miss Lovett. “You mean fish pie and coca cola?”
“Yes, I am sending Ndubuisi to go buy us some.”
“That’s all right then. Hold on, I’ll do the honours.” He stood up and brought out his wallet from his pocket, drew out a five hundred naira note. “Here. Two bottles of coca cola and four fish pies. Two is fine for you, is it not, Lovett?”
Miss Lovett nodded. “Two is just my limit.” “And mine too. So, two bottles of coca cola and four fish pies, Ndubuisi.”
Ndubuisi took the money from him, swallowing her disappointment that he’d barely glanced at her and hadn’t included her in his purchases. “I will go now.”
“Hurry up, will you?” Miss Lovett ordered.
She said nothing and left.
When she returned, Miss Lovett has taken over Magnus’s chair and he was perched on his desk. They were both laughing over something.
“Thank you, Ndubuisi.” Magnus took the polythene bag and his change from her. “Here you are, Lovett. I think I have a cork opener in my drawer. Help us with it, please.”
“In this drawer?” Miss Lovett pulled open the top left drawer of the desk, then laughed. “Indeed it’s here. You’re a very efficient man, aren’t you, Magnus?”
“I try my best to be, Lovett.”
Feeling dismissed and useless, Ndubuisi withdrew and returned to Mrs Obi’s class where the kind woman had allowed her a place to sit on one of her pupil’s chairs.
Though the rain persisted the next day, Friday was mercifully dry and many of the children trooped back to school.
During break, Ndubuisi returned to her pear tree and since she’d become buoyant because of Osita’s generosity, she bought herself some puff-puff and a bottle of Fanta.
“Hello, Ndubuisi. I see you are back at your favourite spot.”
Ndubuisi did not turn at Magnus’s greeting. They had not seen or spoken to each other since Miss Lovett interrupted their conversation on Wednesday.
“Finally the rain is allowing us some rest.” He came to stand beside her. “It is wonderful to see the sun even though it’s shine is wobbly and uncertain.”
“Yes, it is.” She said nothing more.
“Won’t you offer me some of your puff-puff?” His voice was teasing but Ndubuisi did not smile, only raised the polythene bag. “Here.” He took two out of the four round puffs. “I am wondering if I can still count on your generosity for laundry services tomorrow?”
“Have you not found someone else to do it for you then?” By someone else she meant Miss Lovett.
“Not many people are as generous as you, Ndubuisi. I am still without a helper.”
So, Miss Lovett wasn’t going to his house and he didn’t think her generous. Pleased by the thought, Ndubuisi finally gave him a smile. “I said I will do it, so I will come tomorrow and help you wash your clothes.”
“Oh, thank you, Ndubuisi. You can’t imagine how relieved I feel.” He returned her smile with a wide one of his own. “I’ll leave you now to finish enjoying your puff-puff and drink. I have a lesson plan to complete myself. See you tomorrow, Ndubuisi.”
“See you, Magnus.”
She watched him walk away and told herself she wasn’t being foolish for admiring the way he carried himself.
“Why can’t you come with me to the market? I told you Obiora said he and Osita will stop by. What will you be doing alone at home?”
“I want to rest…” Ndubuisi cut short the lie. It was Adaugo and she could not lie to her. “It’s that I have promised Magnus that I will go over to his house to help him wash his dirty clothes.”
“Help him wash his dirty clothes?” Adaugo’s mouth dropped open in momentary shock. “Why? What happened to his two hands and since when did you become his wife or house girl?”
“I am not his wife or his house girl, Adaugo.” She picked the plate they’d finished eating with and walked to Adaugo’s cupboard with it. “I only offered him my assistance. He complained that he was running out of clean clothes… you know how helpless men can be.”
“No, I don’t know.” Adaugo hissed. “You are going to help him wash his clothes, have you once offered to do same for Osita who brought you enough provisions to last a family of four more than two months?” She jerked a finger at her cupboard where they kept the provisions Osita had brought. “Have you once offered to pay him an ordinary visit even though it is clear he likes you and shows this by giving you money, twice and not once?”
“But I neither asked Osita to bring me provisions or to give me his money.” Ndubuisi sulked because Adaugo made her feel ungrateful, and stupid.
“No, you didn’t ask but he did it willingly and from his heart. What has this Teacher Magnus done for you, eh, tell me?”
“He hasn’t done anything for me and I am not asking him, or any man, to do anything for me.” Ndubuisi retorted, her mouth tightened in stubbornness.
Adaugo let out a long hiss. “You’re stupid, Ndubuisi. I can see you are a very stupid woman. You think you’re a little girl, is that not so?” She hissed again and rose off the bed. “If you like be wasting your time with a tight-fisted man because he speaks big grammar and is a teacher. Magnus indeed.” She sneered at the name, snatched up her bag and marched to her door.
Then turned to wag her a warning finger at her. “Look here, Ndu, that teacher is not for the likes of you and me. He will want a wife who finished school like him and who he will not be ashamed to present to his fellow book-book friends.”
“You don’t know that, Adaugo. You don’t know if he wants a wife like that.”
“I know that he’s not good for you. No man is good enough if he cannot take care of his woman.”
“But who said he cannot take care of his woman? We’ve not heard any bad tales about him, have we?”
“Who cares to hear anything about him?” Adaugo snapped. “What I hear from you is proof enough. He will not greet you when his colleagues are present. He has never offered to buy anything for you but takes whatever little you have in hand. Stingy, Ndubuisi, the man is stingy and a stingy man is the worst thing that can happen to any woman.”
She didn’t think Magnus was stingy. He had bought fish pies for Miss Lovett and a bottle of coca cola. But she could not tell Adaugo that, for she will pounce on it as more evidence of Magnus’s unsuitability.
“I like him, Adaugo.” She confessed instead. “I just like him.”
“Then you are a fool and your foolishness will bring you nothing but heartache.” She dragged open her door but looked at her again. Her face was angry. “Ndubuisi, Osita is a good man. A good man who cares for you and who will take care of you. Be wise and don’t waste your time on wishful thinking. That Magnus will never marry you.”
“We don’t know that, Adaugo.”
Adaugo stared at her. Then she stepped out the door and slammed it shut after her.
Ndubuisi winced, not at the force of the slam, but at her obvious anger and disappointment. Adaugo was not just her friend, she was the sister she never had. The family she lost when her mother died. She didn’t want her angry or disappointed in her. She didn’t want them having arguments and quarrels. She liked Osita. But she liked Magnus more. And he might not mind that she did finish secondary school.
He might not mind.
He probably hadn’t included her in his purchase that Wednesday because she had not said she wanted anything. Some people liked to be asked before they bought anything for you. It didn’t mean they were stingy. It just meant they were cautious how they spent their money.
Sighing, Ndubuisi collected the dirty dishes to go and wash. Magnus was expecting her, her not anyone else, and that was enough for her today.
Story will return as an eBook. Thanks