He came to the store because he needed the comfort of getting out of the house and going to work. But he’d asked Lucy and Ekezie not to resume work until he was certain what he wanted to do.
It occurred to him that while he was making plans to sell off the business, he was putting their means of livelihood in jeopardy. Ifeanyi had let him know that they still drew a paycheck even with the store closed down. It troubled him that he was going to take that away from them, but there wasn’t anything he could do.
Rolling off that daunting thought, he got up to stroll around the store, grateful the morning session of electrical power kept the place bright as he had one side of the double doors closed. Eyes sweeping over the materials hanging on shelves, wall clips and the floor, he thought of the days when the store was half its present size.
He had loved working in the store with his father. It was respite from the house and a chance to enjoy his attention without her coming between them.
He would keep him close as he did his job, showing him how to make a sale, how to record the sales and how to determine the right profit margins. He knew every item in the store and their quantity, and made sure Saz did too.
His name for him had been Ifechukwu. No one else but him called him that. When they had those meagre moments alone, he was kind and thoughtful and playful. He was his father in those moments. And though he wasn’t the only or even the most loved, he had felt like his son.
Because he hated to remember, Saz put aside the memories, retraced his steps to the desk, and focused on the report in front of him. The information on it was that the store’s business account held only six hundred and thirty-four thousand naira and change.
Lack of sales and lease renewal had dipped woefully into the business’s capital. Of course the materials in stock was part of the store’s holding. So, if he sold off the business and its present stock, he would likely have enough to share with his half-sisters and be able to reopen his own business.
He needed to find a buyer, and couldn’t do that without help. For a minute he pondered how to go about it, and decided to enlist Eze’s help. He was a builder himself and Saz knew he had a lot of dealings with building materials dealers and business owners around the state.
Outside of the state too, he thought, his hope bolstering as he took his mobile phone, locked the report in a drawer and made for the doors.
A call to Eze told him he was at home, which was at the quarters right before the polytechnic extended campus. Eze had done so well for himself that he owned two hostel buildings along the area. He’d talked about helping Saz acquire a plot of land for same while he’d been there for the funeral ceremonies.
Perhaps he would consider it if he had some change after reopening his business, Saz thought, pulling up the van beside Eze’s rugged Toyota van. There was a family car, he knew, but the wife handled it.
“Come right in. I’ve got the gen on as I can’t abide the heat,” Eze called from inside the well-crafted bungalow house.
Saz followed the direction of the voice and stepped into a boldly furnished living room. It mildly surprised him, the quiet opulence of the room. You didn’t think of style and taste when you looked at the simple-looking man on a broad-arm two-seater sofa.
But he recalled meeting his pretty wife three months ago and thinking she was one stylish lady.
“Hey, man.” Saz shook the hand that was extended and plonked on the opposite two-seater sofa. “Relaxing big time, I see.”
Eze moved his singlet covered shoulders. “What can a man do? The light situation is unbearable. Just two hours forty minutes this morning. How is it in Benin?”
“Good enough in my area and some other areas of the city, but just as depressing in certain areas.” He sat back and allowed the plush rug to soothe his feet.
The move reminded him of his own plush rug and deep-cushioned sofas. He needed to get back home.
“It’s sad how this country has come to this,” Eze was saying. “Do you recall the days when we had power near twenty-four hours a day in this town? The days when we got water from the water board and the town would bustle with life?”
“The town looks like it still bustles with life,” Saz said mildly, unwilling to go back to his memories of the old days.
“Not in the way it used to. The polytechnic campus has brought back life to it, but with it came a disturbing drop in security.”
“One of the by-products of having a higher institution in your town.”
“I guess,” Eze murmured. Then he flashed a smile and asked, “What should I get you? I’ve got beer, juice and soft drinks.”
“Coke will be fine, if it’s available.”
“Give me a minute,” Eze said, and pushed to his feet to stride into the house.
In less than a minute, he returned with a tray holding a bottle of coke and a glass. There was also a plate of chin chin on the tray.
“Tochukwu makes them. She likes to bake during the weekend.”
“Does she sell?” Saz inquired, chewing on some of the thinly cut chin chin and deciding she was good.
“Oh, no. Just a hobby she likes to indulge in.”
“A hobby she’s good at.”
Eze’s grin flashed with pride. “I know.”
For a brief moment, Saz envied him that quick pride in one’s wife. But he shoved off the unwelcome feeling, and said, “Is she still at the General Hospital at Ibusa, or did she get that transfer back here?”
“She got it. Three months ago. It’s made things a lot easier for us, her working close home.”
“Good for you.”
A moment passed when they both sat in companionable silence. Then Eze asked, “What did you mean yesterday when you said you were not back here for good?”
“Just that, I’m not back here. I only came to handle some business and get back to Benin.” Saz met his friend’s frowning gaze. “I’m here to sell off the business, Eze.”
“Sell off? What do you mean?”
He tossed a cube shaped chin chin, chewed on it as he explained. “I want to find someone who can buy over the business–store, stock and all.”
“Are you serious?”
“Whoa.” Eze whooshed out a breath. “I thought with your shop gone, you finally decided to come home and take charge of your business here.”
“The business here was my father’s, and I have every intention of restocking my shop. As for coming back home…” He gave his head a shake. “You and I know I was never made to feel at home here.”
“Yeah, I know your step-mother made things hard for you, but all that is in the past. You are your father’s only living son and that business is yours.”
“Well, what I want to do with what is mine is sell it off.”
Eze stared at him. He sought for the boy he’d grown up with and who had been his closest friend. He found him, and found the man he had become. He couldn’t help but wish that things had been different for the boy.
“All right, it’s your call.” He gave a nod. “But I have to point out that it’s not going to be easy getting someone who’d be willing, and able, to buy out a business, stock and all. This is not Lagos, or Abuja, or even Port Harcourt where you will find wealthy business men who can such investments without a blink.”
“I know it’s not. But surely there must be such able business men, or women, at Asaba. Or even at Onitsha. There has to be at least a dozen of them at Onitsha, come on.”
Eze thought about it and grinned. “I guess there are. But how are you going to find one that’s interested enough to buy out a business located in Ogwashi-Uku?”
“I’ve not the faintest idea.” Saz shrugged. “It’s why I’m here. You know people. You’ve got contacts, I’m sure. Help me. You can swing as my agent and get a percentage.”
“Oh please, you know darn well I won’t do that.” Eze waved off the offer. “I’ll make some calls. As a matter of fact, I know exactly who to call–this guy at Asaba. He knows people, and knows people who know people. I’m sure he can link us up.”
“Great.” Saz beamed a smile. “You call him and let’s get this thing started.”
“Yeah. But I will counsel that you restock and begin sales to bring in money. Profit will bring in its own money, and it’s money you’re after.”
“I don’t want to go to all that trouble. Just money from the sale of the business is enough.”
“It might be, but we are not going to find a buyer that easy. I know it.” Eze gave a sage nod. “Even with the guy at Asaba, it’s going to take a couple of weeks. Maybe even a month. Why idle away the time when you can profit from it, and even have more stock to sell off?”
Saz considered the point he was raising. It was a good one, and a wise business man’s move. “I’ll take the advice. But let your guy know we are hasty about this.”
With the matter settled, Saz picked up his bottle of coke and took a long sip. “So, what does a man do for fun in Ogwashi these days?”
Eze shot him a grin. “A number of things. He can hang with friends, visit bars–we have a couple of them–or, he can get a woman to keep him company.”
Saz grinned. “Not bad for a small town. Any suggestions on a woman?”
Eze laughed and shook his head. “I’m a married man these days, and for my own peace of mind and well being, the only woman I know is Tochukwu. But you’re a man who I’m sure who knows his way around, I trust you to find one without stress.”
“I guess I can,” he murmured and grinned again.
Just Deserts is 25% off on Okadabooks and the Tenth Magic Press e-bookstore.
N450 and not N̶6̶0̶0̶ until May 4 2020.