STROKE OF LUCK - Original Fiction
They say seeing is believing but I really disagree, you would too if you have seen what I have. On Twitter, so many people say, “Nigeria is not a real place”, because of the bizarre nature of things we see daily, but the truth is that some of the ‘regular’ bizarre stories are discussed and talked about, some even make jokes about them, but then there are some things you witness that you can’t bring yourself to even believe what you have seen, talk more of telling it to others.
I still see her sometimes when I close my eyes to sleep, the black pantyhose she wore underneath her multi-coloured ruffled skirt as she took drag after drag from her cigarette. The way her big toe poked out of the tear in the pantyhose as she crossed her legs, and that maniacal laughter, who could forget? It was as if she was telling a funny story and couldn’t control her laughter to drop the punch line, except she wasn’t telling a joke and there was nothing to laugh about and there was no punch line and the woman’s husband was lying down there on the verandah, convulsing and about to lose his life.
Growing up, we had this weird family as our next-door neighbours. Weird doesn’t even scratch the surface in terms of description but let’s just roll with it at the moment. My earliest impression of them was how disturbing they were. They would always knock on our door to borrow one thing or the other. They would knock to borrow a bathing soap, or detergent, or water to drink.
The worst was those times that they would decide to cook and they would have nothing but the thought and motivation to cook. On these special occasions, they would employ a stylish borrowing style; their mother would come first and ask to see my mother. After a couple of minutes of discreet and indistinct conversation between the women, my mother would bring out one of our pots and add a few cups of whatever they wanted to cook that day, mostly rice or beans. When the mother leaves, the daughter comes and borrows onions and salt, followed by the son to borrow something else. Their only saving grace was that my mother had instructed me to always give them anything they asked for as long as we still had more. This borrowing habit always surprised me because of the way their father lived.
As the first child, I was heavily involved in the family’s finances. I was the family accountant way before the University of Nigeria Nsukka legitimized my practice when they gave me admission to study accountancy. Mr Eric Mbanefo, our neighbour, the father and chief patron to the borrowing family was always the first tenant to pay his rent or any other monetary levy. He drove a 2009 Toyota Corolla, he was quite generous and a big tipper. So how was Mr Eric living like a Nigerian senator and his family living like the poorest members of his constituency?
That was a question on my mind, the prince and the paupers were living under the same roof, and in the same apartment, it was seriously weird.
The Mbanefos never came to borrow anything when their dad was around; they never even came outside when he was around. Their children could be running around having fun in the compound and they would disappear immediately when they heard their father’s car horn outside the gate. They could be joking and laughing in their apartment and once Mr Mbanefo came back, it was crickets. It was clear that their father was an anti-fun advocate and enforcer.
When he was around, the only sounds loud enough to pierce the soundproof doors were the cries of the Mbanefo children when Mr Eric was not sparing the rod, sometimes it was his wife’s screams that were heard. My father was strong of the opinion that Mr Mbanefo was a good man, my mother had no opinion of him or she did not just care enough to have one, or maybe she didn’t just say it to anybody. She already had limited time with her husband; she would not spend any part of it discussing irrelevant things. My mother; being the first of three wives, these days only saw her husband once a week or two.
We once lived together until my father met Lucy when he attended my school’s PTA meeting. He married her six months later, and then married Lucy’s twin sister Lisa three months after that. The new wives never moved into our three-bedroom apartment, my mother threatened to run away with my younger brother if they even as much as visited our apartment. So my father moved out of his house and camped out with his new brides. And after eight months, he completed our family house he had been building for three years before and moved in with his new young family. A duplex that was designed by my mother, for the family, for our nuclear family; she had described the design as her magnum opus. She was extremely detailed about the design and had picked everything down to the colours of the tiles on the bathroom walls.
It was common knowledge that Lucy charmed my father into marrying her, everyone talked about it everywhere, it was the talk of the town, and the teachers were in on the gossip, some of my classmates even organized a secret three-day prayer conference for my family. They did not want me to bring my family curse into the class so they prayed against it. We were supposed to be preparing for JAMB at that time. It was just another case of misplaced priorities, a peculiar ailment in Nigeria.
In my neighbourhood and my compound, everyone believed Mr Mbanefo had charmed Mrs Mbanefo. Mrs Mbanefo was a sight for sore eyes and Mr Mbanefo was an eyesore. Simply put Mr Mbanefo is the ugliest person you would ever see, and if not for the metaphysical, there was no way he could have managed to marry a woman that won every single beauty competition she entered. How did a woman who ticked all the beauty standard boxes end up with a man that barely ticked any? You see this man, was incredibly tall, a very ugly man did not need the type of attention that came with that kind of height. Somehow, he manages to look worse when he smiles, however it seems that he doesn’t know this, and apparently nobody has bothered to tell him because this man never fails to smile. He would always stick out like a sore thumb. It would seem that once again, Beauty had found her way into the shackles of the Beast.
From time to time the violence in the Mbanefos’ flat would spill out; you would hear the customary scream and cry for help coming from the day’s victim. The first time we heard the cry from our sitting room, my mom ran over to their apartment and after knocking for a few minutes,
Mrs Mbanefo came to the door to assure her landlady that nothing was wrong and everything was copacetic. She actually used the word copacetic. And then it happened again, Mrs Mbanefo screamed, my mom knocked and she answered the door with signs of strangulation on her neck. She told my mother she was reacting to a new bathing soap her husband bought for her. And it happened again and again and again until my mother concluded that Mr Eric’s charm was quite potent. What else would this beautiful woman submit herself to become a wooden dummy to an amateur Wing Chun boxer? What else apart from witchcraft or in this case, wizardry.
On that fateful day though, we heard the customary scream, the victim of the day was none other than Mrs Mbanefo and then something unusual happened, we heard another scream, louder than the first but this was not Mrs Mbanefo’s voice, (everyone already knew what her scream sounded like) it was a man’s scream. I was curious, mom had given strict orders that nobody was allowed to leave the house to investigate any scream or cry for help from the Mbanefo’s flat. Nobody was going to disobey the iron lady over something like this, that would be a waste of disobedience, to be honest, but I still wanted to know what was going on.
TO BE CONTINUED...
TO BE CONTINUED...
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