As Marian dished lunch for her children she prayed it wouldn’t be their last meal. She prayed her husband would return with some good news, preferably with some cash for dinner.
How had things gotten this bad? She asked herself over and over again. A few months ago, her husband’s construction firm won a contract for the landscaping and beatification of a federal housing estate in Abuja.
They had celebrated; they were now playing in the major league, no more petty ‘bricklayer’ construction.
Just as he was about to be paid a mobilisation fee, the minister for works and housing had been redeployed. The minister of state for the ministry had urged the contractors to begin working, assuring them of 100% payment once he is confirmed as the full minister. Daniel; her husband had gone on to pour all his savings and even borrowed against his assets to finance the project.
Unfortunately, another person had been appointed minister. He had taken four months to ‘find his feet’, and just when he was about to approve payment he was accused of financial impropriety, which led to his sack, and once more they were in limbo. No new contracts were forthcoming for her husband, as things stood she wasn’t even sure they could execute a contract were they to get one. Now, a new minister had been appointed, her husband had flown to Abuja this morning to see the minister, Marian prayed for luck.
Ifeanyi, her six year old first son tapped her and brought her back to the present.
“Adaeze is crying.” He said.
It was then Marian heard the cry of her youngest. Oh Lord! She prayed silently; help me get through this, she had been so far into her thoughts she stopped listening for her children.
“I’m coming. Here, carry your food.” She gave him a plate of food, while she carried two plates and they both went into the dining table.
“Julian.” She called to her second son, who was so engrossed in the cartoon he was watching. “Come and eat.” She set the dishes down and lifted Adaeze, who had walked to her and wrapped herself around her legs.
“Hey you, why are you crying?” she jiggled her soothingly. “Were you missing mommy?” She planted kisses on Adaeze’s face. “You know you’re the prettiest girl in the whole world, my princess, daddy’s princess.” Adaeze had stopped crying by this time. “Mommy made jollof rice.” She sat at the table with Adaeze on her laps.
“Julian!” she called again. He hadn’t moved from the front of the television. ”Come and eat, now!”
Julian grudgingly got up, and walked backwards, his eyes glued to the screen. He moved his plate to another chair from which he could still watch tv while he ate. Meanwhile, his elder brother was half way through his meal.
Marian ate a spoon of rice to confirm it was cool enough for Adaeze; she scooped another and attempted to feed the child. Adaeze shook her head in refusal and refused to open her mouth.
“Sweetie, aren’t you hungry. You should be hungry. Eat some rice.” She tried again.
“It’s very sweet. Ifeanyi isn’t it?”
“It’s sweet.” Ifeanyi affirmed.
“Very sweet.” Julian added.
Adaeze was a picky eater, and her brothers were used to their mom’s tricks to get her to eat, and diligently played their part.
“Bread!” Adaeze said. This time using her hand to push her mother’s away.
Marian sighed, if only this child knew how bad things were.
“Eat rice now. Daddy will buy bread on his way home.” She cajoled.
“I can eat her food.” Julian offered. He had finished his.
“Hear that, princess. Eat your food so Julian doesn’t eat it.”
After much cajoling, Adaeze ate some of the food, still insisting on bread.
Her husband returned as she was washing up the lunch dishes, from his countenance she could tell he didn’t make much progress. She served him the little she’d saved for him and they went into the room to discuss.
Ever since, her oldest had innocently told his playmate their neighbour’s son that his daddy borrowed money from the bank, they had stopped discussing serious issues in the children’s presence.
“He promised to look into the matter!” Daniel said before she asked.
“That’s the new minister right?” Marian asked as she tidied the room.
“Yes. The honourable Danladi Usman.” Daniel reclined on the bed.
“Danladi Usman. I used to know someone by that name, back in school. We’ll keep praying.” She sighed and dropped some clothes in the laundry basket.
“It might be him, because this guy is youngish. You’re so hopeless with current affairs.” Daniel teased. “Other women would have researched the man their husband was going to see, what if it were one hot chic?” He picked his phone and googled ‘Danladi Usman’, he clicked on a page that opened on a picture of the man and passed the phone to Marian.
“That’s him!” she exclaimed. “That’s Danladi! He came to UNN for a course or something sha. Stayed for a year, during which he pursued me relentlessly.” She laughed and passed the phone back to him smiling. “You see, maybe if I had agreed, I would have been a minister’s wife now.”
She joked as she sat beside him.”
“Are you serious?”
She laughed. “He used to tease me that fate already knew I was to be his wife, that’s why my parents gave me a name that could be both Muslim and Christian.”
“So what happened?”
“He just packed up one day and left. He finished his course. He called a few times after, but since I didn’t want to encourage it…….. Anyways, the Danladi I knew was a good man, if he said he’ll look into it, he will.”
“Yes he did. I just had an idea, why don’t you call him?” Dan said.
“Call him for?” Marian asked puzzled, sitting beside him on the bed.
“Maybe he could speed up the payment for old times sake.”
“You can’t be serious. It’s been like ten years, what if he has forgotten me, what if he bears a grudge?”
“I doubt it, Hausa’s don’t bear grudges like that. Besides, I trust you to soothe away any grudge. You didn’t study Public Relations for nothing.”
“He’s Fulani. Besides, what has a PR got to do with anything, and, do you have his number?”
“You know how to handle people, and he gave me his card. Might not be a direct line, but you could introduce yourself with your maiden name.” Dan was getting more excited by the second. He was dialling already and switched the phone speaker on. It was answered as it almost rang out.
“Hello. This is the office of the Honourable minister for works and housing; Mallam Danladi Usman, my name is Saheed, how may I help you?” a cultured male voice spoke through the phone.
“Ehm, my name is Marian Okoro, I want to speak with the minister.”
“The minister is in a meeting, would you like to leave a message or schedule an appointment?”
She looked to Dan for the next move.
“Leave a message” he whispered.
“Please tell him, Marian Okoro from UNN called. I will call back, when can I call back?” She said.
“Is it official University matter?”
“No, no. it’s personal. When can I call and speak with him?”
“I do not know madam.” He replied with a note of finality.
“Ok. Tell him I called, Marian Okoro, UNN.”
She ended the call, her heart beating wildly.
“You see, that wasn’t so difficult. I predict, one or two more calls and you will speak with him.” Dan said, a call came in on his phone. “Are you there?” was all he said before ending the call.
“I need to see someone.” He got up and got dressed. “Let’s split the money I have.” He handed her A thousand Naira with the warning; “Stretch it far.”
Dan went out and Marian began to calculate how to stretch One thousand Naira.
Marian was in the middle of a ‘report fest’ the next morning when her phone rang. She was frazzled from having to prevent a battle between her boys. There was ‘no light’, so the boys had to play with themselves. One or both of them had made Adaeze cry, and they were trading blames, in the midst of which she had to calm a screaming Adaeze. She would have ignored the call but for the fact that she was waiting to hear from a friend whom she had asked for a loan.
“Both of you, kneel down, hands up and close your eyes.” She ordered the boys.
“Mommy its Ifeanyi.”
“No, its Julian.”
The boys traded blame.
“Now!” Marian screamed. The boys immediately obeyed. Even the crying Adaeze stopped her wailing. Marian picked her phone and glanced at the screen, her heart sank, not the call she was expecting, an unregistered number. She hesitantly picked the call.
“You know, I get many calls from people who claim to know me, but none thrilled my heart like the call from you.”
Marian recognised the voice instantly. “Danladi!”