Anya knew things packed up and died, that was the way of life, and often she took it in stride and moved on. But she refused to do so that morning.
“It can’t be dead, Osisi. You have to bring it back to life. I can’t afford a new one now.”
The man she called Osisi, a kitchen appliances repairman for a decade and half, with a known expertise in gas cookers and ovens, pulled his head from under the 2-deck gas oven. “There’s no bringing it back to life this time. You have a leakage, the gas control is completely gone, and a replacement won’t last. Let’s not even talk about the rusts and grime. It’s run it’s course, Anya.”
“It can’t have.” Anya stared desperately at the oven she’d bought second hand, and which had served her close to eight years. “Can’t you fix it one more time while I try to save for a new one?”
“I probably can do something, but I won’t. The cost of repair is going to be nearly half the price of a new one.” Osisi stepped back from the oven to send home the message that he wasn’t touching it again. “What I can do for you, is arrange for a new one. A second hand one. It wouldn’t cost that much.”
“I can’t afford anything that will cost any bigger than thirty. I just paid my rent and replaced the deep freezer, because that too chose to pack up.” Frustrated, Anya let out a groan. “When it rains, it pours. Fine, I’m not going to over think this. It’s gone, and I will think of an alternative.”
“I might be able to arrange an instalment payment for the new one,” Osisi said, clearly sympathetic.
She preferred to pay for things upfront. “Let me think about it. But are you sure…”
“I am sure,” Osisi cut in. “You know if I thought there was a way you could manage this, I would have had it done. There’s no way. Recall I’ve been advising that you change it for the last two repairs?”
“Hmm,” Anya muttered, glared at the object of her worry that morning and sighed. “Oh well, get it out of here then. No need taking up space when it won’t be doing anything for me.”
“I will send Azubuike and Ogom to come hurl it out,” Osisi promised. “Let me know your decision on the new one.”
“I will. Thank you, Osisi.”
And there, unexpected expenses when she had the usual to deal with. Anya exhaled again, refused to give the unfaithful appliance one last look, and stalked out of her kitchen.
“It’s packed up, Nke,” she informed her assistant baker and saleswoman, slipping on her gloves to arrange the coconut cakes she’d got out of the still faithful, and functioning oven.
“I knew this day was coming,” Nkechi said, tone matter of fact as usual. “But I wish it waited another month before enforcing its retirement.”
“It didn’t retire. It quit. And another month wouldn’t have been enough. Osisi said he can arrange another one–second hand. But what I want is a completely brand new oven. It’s what I want, not what I can afford,” she added in a mutter. “I can’t even afford the second hand.”
“You can if you make a withdrawal from your savings at Union Bank.”
“I can’t do that. You know that money is for the home.”
“I know. But…”
“No but. I will think of a workable solution. For now, I’ve got to go make my deliveries. This oven issue has put me behind schedule.” She tugged off the gloves and her apron. “Nwamaka is coming for her cake this morning. It’s balance first before pick up. Tell her I said so.”
“I don’t have to tell her. Seeing myself alone will let her know I won’t have her nonsense this time.”
Anya laughed at the no-nonsense expression. “I’m sure it will. I’ll see you later.”
She took the ghana-must-go bag and walked outside to her motorcycle. The sun was already rising up in the sky, and it told her it was going to be a sunny day, which meant she needed to hurry up with her morning duties.
The bag secure at the back of her bike, she climbed on, and then paused at kicking it when she noticed the half-running boy.
“Hey, Okey, are you just going to school?”
“Yes.” Okey stopped only long enough to greet her and answer her question. “I had clothes to wash this morning. I will see you during break.”
“See you then,” Anya called after him. Then flicked a glance at her wristwatch before she started the bike and pulled into the newly tared street.
9:23 a.m. and the boy was just going to school. He would be scolded by his teacher, and likely caned, and all because someone thought he should be washing clothes that morning. Clothes definitely not his.
It was unfair. Unfair, and not right. She would have to face Okwudili again. It wasn’t something she ever looked forward to doing, but what was a few stings from a venomous tongue if a boy of nine would get some respite?
She heard the noise of disagreement, and Anya laughed as she put the matter of Okey on a part of her mind where she would attend to it later.
Both women, one in her mid-thirties and the other somewhere close to eighty, argued with each other hotly over having a bath. It wasn’t that the old woman objected to cleaning up herself. It was that she didn’t want the other woman doing the cleaning for her.
“Morning, Ejima.” They called her that because she was a twin. The twin lived in Calabar though.
“Well, your Anya is here,” Ejima said as she gave up trying to take the cloth off the old woman. “I don’t want to say it, but it’s a relief to see you. She’s difficult this morning.”
“I can see. It’s one of those days, I guess. Sorry,” she added in sympathy, because she understood the strain of helping an unwilling neighbour. “I will take care of her. I brought her food.”
“She’s lucky to have you. They all are. And only God will bless you for the good you do.”
Anya shrugged off the praise. “We all do what we can.”
“You do more. Anyway, I want to get to the farm. I have a mind to root cassava today. We are running low on garri.”
“Go well,” Anya bid her as she went in the direction of her house. Then she lifted the ghana-must-go bag from the motorcycle and walked to where Mama Ashie was still sulking. “Mama, good morning. How are you today?”
“I am fine if you young people will leave me alone. Why are you here?” She was eyeing Anya suspiciously. “What have you got in that bag?”
“Food.” Her loss of memory got worse every day. “But before you settle down with your food, you will have your bath, won’t you?”
“I have had my bath. This morning when I woke up.” The aged eyes flashed with defiance. “And I’m not hungry. I will eat only when Onyema finishes cooking.”
Onyema, her only daughter, hadn’t been home in nearly two years. She no longer picked Anya’s calls either.
“While she’s cooking, you will begin with what I brought.” Today, they would not argue about Onyema’s absence. “I made it especially with you in mind. A bath too will be nice. A second bath. I will wash your body, and with that sweet-smelling soap you like.”
“If I’ve had a bath, why do I need another?”
“Because it will give you the chance to use the sweet-smelling soap, and your favourite body lotion.” She checked the temperature of the water in the bucket by the bathroom door. “Your bathing water is still nicely warm. Just as you like it.”
“I like my water cold.”
No, she didn’t. “That is true. But there’s a chill in the air this morning.” She carried in the bucket of water, set the small stool in its place, and came out for the old woman. “After your bath, and you eat, you will lie down and rest. Nothing like a long bout of sleep on a cold morning.”
“I don’t want a bath, and I don’t want to sleep.” But she allowed Anya guide her into the bathroom. She always did. “But I do want to eat. I don’t think Onyema prepared anything this morning before leaving for school.”
“Which is why I brought you something. You will enjoy it too, for I made sure to add your favourite dry fish to the pottage. So, tell me about the dream you had last night.”
She argued she didn’t have a dream. Then recalled one she’d had at one time, and started telling it. In between arguments, she ate her breakfast, and after a long list of complaints, she agreed to lie down.
Anya left her sleeping calmly. She would be fine until she returned in the evening.
The rest of her deliveries didn’t take as much of her time, and she was back at the shop by midday. And just in time to stop Nkechi from throwing out Abua.
“Get on with you, lecherous old man. Your nonsense gives me headaches, and I’ve had enough of it today.”
“I’m not old. Ah, here comes Anya.” His usual flirtatious smile lighting his age-worn face, Abua turned to her. “Fifty-five is not old, is it?”
“Is that how old you are, Abua?” Amused, Anya took her apron from the clip and tied it on. “I thought you were sixty-two last month.”
“More like seventy,” Nkechi muttered.
“I get younger every day. And you grow more beautiful with each breaking dawn.” Nkechi snorted at the compliment, which seemed to delight Abua, for he beamed. “When are you going to put me out of my misery, Anya? My heart aches for you.”
“Your heart, or your body?” Anya teased, and earned herself a dark scowl from Nkechi.
“The two are inseparable, and both ache. Come out with me this evening. We will have ourselves a good time.”
“My answer is still no. I am off the market, Abua.”
“Bah! A young woman like yourself. What you need is a man. A strong man.”
“And that man is not you, Abua,” Nkechi told him with a glare.
“It is me. You doubt I can still do things at my age?” Abua wiggled his greying eyebrows. “You should have a taste, Anya, and then testify to this doubting Thomas.”
“I will take your word for it. Now, run along, Abua. I am sure there are other lucky women you wish to dazzle with your charm.”
“I only wish to dazzle you.”
“Unfortunately, I am off the market,” Anya stated again, and with an overdone mournful sigh. “Have you paid for that sausage roll you’re nibbling?”
“I have. Do you wish me to pay for one for you?”
“Paying for the one you have is enough.” Smiles were easy, and should be given freely, so Anya offered him one. And chuckled when he let out a heartfelt sigh. “Off with you, old man. I have a shop to run.”
“Because you always ask so nicely, I will go. But I will be back to convince you you’re meant to be mine.” Shooting her a wink, Abua swaggered off.
And he was swaggering, in his pair of top and bottom old jeans, and the canvas he acquired recently.
“You shouldn’t encourage him,” Nkechi reproved. “He’s a lecherous old fart, and old enough to be your father.”
“That he is,” Anya agreed amicably. “But it doesn’t hurt to give him a reason to live.”
“He will have a reason to live if he goes find his wife and children. A man messes up his life, and looks on others to repair it. Bah!”
“He’s not looking for others to repair it, Nke. He’s looking for a way to live the life he still has without drowning in despair.”
Nkechi said nothing for a full minute. Then she murmured, “You are not off the market, you know. He was right, you’re too young to be.”
“Life didn’t think I was too young when it served me its bitter pill.” But she didn’t allow herself dwell on sorrows, not any longer, so brightened her features with a smile. “We have a customer, two in fact. You take the man, I will handle Ekene. You know how she gets on your nerves.”
“She does whether I attend to her, or not,” Nkechi grumbled. Then she added, in a gentle tone. “That bitter pill is four years past, it is time to taste something sweet again.”
Anya chose to not respond. Instead she focused on Ekene, who already threw Nkechi a scowl before placing her order.
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