FLASHBACK: FEBRUARY 10 2012
A younger Joel stood next to a water pump as he tried to attach the end of a hose-pipe to it. The more he made efforts, the more futile they became, because the tip of the hose has widened to the extent that the tip of the pump slides in and out easily.
I need a rope to tighten this thing. He thought as he made to leave the garden.
“Joel, where are you going?” A younger Natasha asked from the kitchen window.
“The store to get rope. The hose is bigger than the pump.” He replied.
“The hose has outlived its purpose. You should get a new one instead.” She advised. “Wait for me.”
A minute later, a young dark skinned beauty was approaching the garden. At twenty, Natasha has grown into a beauty that every man wants to have. In the neighborhood, in church, in school.
“Stop staring at me that way. It makes me uncomfortable.” She said shyly.
Joel smiled. “I’m sorry. But we are not supposed to be seen together.” He said, more like a reminder.
“Uncle is not around and Aunty is sleeping inside.” Natasha replied.
“Yeh! Madam dey house? When did she return?”
“Calm down. Aunty Angela has not stepped out of this house today. And you have nothing to be scared about.” Natasha said reassuringly.
Joel took a deep breath as he reached out for her hands. “How I wish….” His voice trailed off.
“Wish what, what else, you do, do t? She asked.” Don’t start being emotional right now. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or not, the most important thing is the love we have for each other. “
” But we both know I am disadvantaged right now. You are responsible for my feeding, shelter and everything. I owe everything I have to your family. “
Natasha who was on the verge of bursting into tears dragged Joel into one of the shades inside the garden.” Listen, this is not my family. My parents are average. But my sister married a rich man and still this is directly not my family. “She explained.” And remember what I always tell you, a lot of people will succeed through a million means. Some will hit it once, others will serve to get to the top. Joel, you are serving to reach the top and nothing is going to stop you. “
Joel stared deeply into her eyes as they became misty and overwhelmed with emotion. He wouldn’t want anything less than giving her a hug.
“I love you.” He said.
“I love you more.” She replied.
The atmosphere was getting tensed and it is only in a matter of time before either of them closed in on the gap between them and they’ll kiss. In a secluded setting, Joel would have let things take their course, but out here in the garden, directly being overlooked by the kitchen, they are at risk of being seen by someone. Even if Tasha’s sister is asleep, the maid is very much in the house.
“Let me go and get the hose from the store.” He pulled back.
There was a bit of disappointment on Tasha’s face, as she made a weak attempt at covering it.
“You want to leave me here?” She asked.
“I’ll be back in a minute.” Joel replied.
“I’ll come to your room this evening.” She said to his retreating figure.
Having lived in Lagos as an apprentice to a building material trader, he left his apprenticeship to make money, even though on a temporary basis. He came to the Ayeni’s household nine months ago and even though he is not sure where he stands with Doctor Ayeni who pays little or no attention to his existence except to criticize his gardening skills, he is a bit in the balance with his wife who is sometimes like a mother to him and other times hostile like a barren witch. Hence, he always tried to stay out of trouble. So far he has succeeded in staying away from trouble with nothing to fear, but since Natasha miraculously fell in love with him, he is always scared of something; the unknown. He knew it is a case of a ticking time bomb, and it is only in a matter of time before he is caught and the result will be a loss of job.
“Joel.” He froze as he stared at his madam who was looking at him suspiciously.
If only he waited for another thirty seconds, she would have met him with her younger sister. He heaved a sigh of relief.
“Where have you been? I’ve searched for you everywhere.”
“Sorry ma, I was working in the garden.” He replied.
Mrs Ayeni stared at him for a while before stretching her hand with a white envelope to him. She urged him to collect the envelope which he did, but the look on his face said it all. It’s still the beginning of the month, so this couldn’t be my salary. Could it be a sack letter? Why would they write a letter to sack me when they can just say it.
He opened the envelope to see a card with the inscription; Joint Admission and Matriculation Examination.
“That’s jamb e-registration scratch card.” She said.
“I don’t understand ma…”
“You are furthering your education. You cannot waste your brilliance cutting grass and flowers here.” Mrs Ayeni replied. “My husband and I have decided to send you to the University.”
Joel went down flat. “Thank you very much ma. I really appreciate it and nothing will make me forget this day and gesture.” He showered. “Your children will find favors wherever they are.” He continued.
“Amen, come on get back on your feet.”
He stood up all smiles as he admired the scratch card. I pray this shouldn’t be a dream. He thought.
“But what about my job?” He asked.
“We will get a new gardener, but your basic salary will still be paid every month as your allowance in school. And every time you are home on holidays, you will be the Chief gardner.” Mrs Ayeni explained. “Have you seen Tasha? Go and change your clothes, so she will take you to a registration center.”
“No ma, I’ve not seen her.” The response came as a reflex.
Later in evening, the Ayenis sat at the dining table with Doctor Ayeni himself occupying the single chair to the north of the table, his wife sat on his right to the east and Natasha sat to on his left. The two other chairs on each side of Natasha and her sister were left empty as their occupants are away at school.
“The water should be hot by now, Tasha get the water from the kitchen.” Angela said to her kid sister who stood up immediately.
“Easy Tasha.” Doctor Ayeni cautioned. Once the young lady has gone into the kitchen he faced his wife. “Why did you have to send her?”
“I don’t understand, send who?” Angela replied.
“Why did you send Tasha to the kitchen when someone has been employed to do errands like this.”
“She is my sister and her being here is a training….” She stopped talking immediately Tasha came back.
As the young lady approached the table, she missed her steps and tripped over, turning the bowl of water over the table, including everything on it.
“Silly girl. Common bowl of water you cannot successfully bring from the kitchen. Tell me, what exactly are you good for?” Angela who was already on her feet ready to pounce.
“Take it easy Angel. Please, take it easy.” Doctor Ayeni pleaded.
“I’m sorry.” Tasha who was already on her knees cried. “I missed my steps.”
“Why won’t you miss your step…? Angela wanted to continue, but her husband cut her short.
” Tasha, go into your room please. You can go back into the kitchen to fix another meal for yourself or just prepare cereals. “He faced his sister in law.
” No, you must not touch my foodstuffs or anything. And who will clean up this place? Angela asked.
” We have a maid, remember? “
” No, Ekaette was not feeling too well, so I let her take the rest of the evening off. ” Angela replied.
“Don’t worry, I will do it.”
Angela stared at her husband for a while, probably thinking of what to make of the situation and how to handle it, seeing that she felt nothing but rage, she stood up. “Goodnight.” And walked out of the dining area.
Four days later; Valentines day
Joel took a much bigger risk when he left home early in the morning of valentine’s day and took a trip to the University of Lagos where Tasha is a student. When he left home, everybody thought he was going to the UTME tutorial after all, it is less than a month to the exam. But here he was stepping in through the first gate of the institution.
The risk is not in coming to see Tasha in school, but being seen with her and the chanced of that is very high. He was told and he confirmed that a lot of their church members work in the school and they all knew him as the gardener. Seeing him with her will raise eyebrows. Even though he an always lie his way out of it, but the biggest risk yet is the fact that Doctor Ayeni is a staff of the Teaching hospital.
He stopped a cab heading towards the Faculty of Social sciences, department of Economics where Tasha is a student.
Five minutes later, the cab stopped in front of the department. I pray she is in class today. He thought.
“Joel!” He heaved a sigh of relief at the sound of her voice.
Clad in a red sleaveless gown which stopped at her knees and a white jacket coupled with a red and white handbags. In the spirit of valentine.
“What are you doing here?” She asked.
“Celebrating valentine’s day with you.” He replied.
“You look good.” Tasha complimented.
“You look hot.” He replied.
Tasha led him under a shed outside the lecture rooms and they got talking.
“Tashy baby, time is running.” A voice called from inside the class.
“I’m sorry Tara, something came up, I won’t be coming with you anymore. Maybe I will come for the evening party.” She replied.
“Evening party?” Joel asked. “Don’t you think it is risky?” He asked.
“Do you want me to go or not?”
“It is necessary to have fun every once in a while.” He replied. “Go have fun.”
The love birds continued chatting away happily.
Suddenly, Tasha was horror-struck. “Joel, run.” She said.
“Why?” A surprised Joel asked.
“Doctor Ayeni is here.” She replied.
“Oga is here? What is he doing here?”
Joel took a moment to look back and immediate saw his boss Toyota Camry, he stood up at once and bolted, taking another route.
He finally stopped after running and walking for five minutes. But what is Oga doing here? Shebi he traveled yesterday. He thought.
Valentines day gone bad. He concluded.
Two months later
UTME has come and gone. With a aggregate score of 248, Joel is qualified to proceed with obtaining the post UTME form of any tertiary institution of his choice. By passing the pass benchmark of 200, he is able to apply for any University, but not every course. But with 245, he is able to apply for most of the courses with an exception to exceptional courses like Medicine and surgery, Engineering, Law to mention a few.
Just last week, UNILAG, LASU, OAU released their post UTME forms and having picked UNILAG as first choice and LASU as second choice, he is set to obtain the two forms to give him options of plans A and B.
“Jo Jo.” A feminine voice called.
He need no soothsayer to tell him who was calling him because it is only Ekaette, the house help who calls him ‘Jo Jo. “
” Ekaette how far? “He asked once the young lady stepped into the light under the shed.
“I dey, Oga dey call you. ” She replied.
Why would Oga be calling me by this time of the night? 10pm!
“Are you done inside for the night?” Joel asked.
“Yes o! I’m done and my three weeks break starts tomorrow. I dey go my village.” The young lady said excitedly.
“I’ll be back soon.” With this Joel left the shed,walking on the pathway in between lawns of flowers.
“Joel!” He couldn’t remember last time she called him by his name.
He turned to face Ekaette. “What they have for you inside is not good. Please don’t go.” She advised.
“What do you mean?” Joel asked, confusion writing all over his face.
“I can’t tell you, but please don’t go.”
“As if I have gotten a better paying job at Chevron.” He joked. “This is my source of livelihood.”
“Then leave.” Ekaette replied bluntly.
“Leave to where?” Joel asked, still confused.
“Pack your things and leave.”
Joel ignored her and went inside the house to meet his employers who sat in the living room, none of them smiling. And the worst part of the mood inside the living room was Natasha whose face was soaked with tears as she knelt down.
“You stupid boy.” Mrs Angela Ayeni stood up, grabbed a small flower vase which stood on the side stool and flung it at Joel who saw it late. The vase hit him on the head. He lost his balance as he fell on the tiled floor.
“Oh my God!” Natasha sprang up from where she was and tried to catch him, but she was slow.
“Useless girl, you still have the time to care for him. After he destroyed your life.” Angela asked, this time directing the question at Natasha. She advanced towards the two of them and without warning, dragged Tasha with her hair away from a near unconscious Joel. She dragged the young lady all over the living room.
Doctor Ayeni sat unmoved as he battled with his thoughts.