My story changed when I met Uche. ‘Sister achorom izuta ihe orii, azu na ndi ozo na efrata oha ofe, someone said to me. I looked up when I heard the voice. I was reading Dan brown’s Angels and Demons.

I dropped my book SO as to attend to the man. A middle-aged man with salt and pepper hair stood in front of me. I first wondered why a man of his age would want to buy ingredients for soup then I figured he might be buying it for his wife. As a matter of fact that was not even my business. I attended to him and sold all he needed to him then he left for his car.

He was almost there when he came back to ask me how to prepare the soup. I laughed mockingly at him. ‘Why would you want to buy ingredients for what you cannot cook? Can’t your wife do it? Did I hear you say wife? I’m not married that’s why.’ Hmm, Igbo men and their style of marrying late. Igbo people and their style of cutting off a man’s head with bride price and wedding cost, he replied.

‘After all you are also an Igbo man,’ I replied, laughing at his joke. And I think I might not get married to an lgbo girl because the truth is I’m really getting old and getting tired of eating out. Maybe I will marry one of these ‘ngbati ngbati’ girls for cheap or free, and then teach her how to cook proper Igbo meals.

That’s all” ‘And she will feed you with Amala and Ewedu instead. That’s all!” We both laughed at our jokes. But jokes apart, can you give me your number so I can call and ask for instructions on how to cook my soup? It won’t be nice to ruin everything. I wouldn’t bother myself with this if I could find a place to eat a proper Igbo meal but this Ibadan is full of Amala joints’ I gave him my number because he meant no harm and seemed very friendly.

He didn’t just call as I expected. His call was for virtually as long as the meal remained on fire and I gave him instructions on how to cook his soup as best as I could. He kept calling back every other minute to ask for one thing or another. I was so glad when the calls stopped coming.

He later called back at night to thank me. Uche became my regular customer and we became close friends in little time. I found out he was an auto dealer who just moved to Ibadan because there were too many auto dealers in Lagos, and as he claimed, he was not making much profit in Lagos.

He lived alone in a well-furnished two bedroom flat at Iyanganku and invited me over a couple of times but I always turned down his offers. I knew where he was driving at and decided to keep him at bay. I intended that our friendship remained a platonic one. I told him all about Jamal and Beauty, pointing out that I was not ready to make another mistake.

Mum on her part saw nothing wrong in my dating and getting married to Uche. She felt it was an opportunity to find myself a man, and a father for Beauty before she grew older. Mum kept pushing hard until I started considering giving it a trial. I’d not seen or heard from Jamal in over three years. Beauty would be three years old in a few months and she needed someone to call daddy.

As predicted by Uche, his business was doing fine in Ibadan, far better than it did in Lagos. I knew I could settle down with him if not for his other side. Though Uche was a nice and lovely man, very friendly to be with, he was short-fused and easily angered. I was glad I didn’t give in finally else I would be in a situation I wouldn’t have liked. Beauty and I paid Uche a visit on a weekend as we usually do. I had planned on going to bed with him on that weekend because he had been pestering me for sex, but I wanted to take my time before going to bed with him.

Though the urge to go to bed with him was strong, I held on tight. On that Saturday afternoon, Beauty was playing with the DSTV remote control. She didn’t particularly like Uche and had not stopped throwing her tantrums much.

I was told her xenophobic traits would wear off as she grew up but it actually didn’t. Uche on his part disliked how Beauty cried all the time. He usually told me not to bring Beauty along anytime I was coming to his house but I told him if he really wanted to marry me, he should be prepared to accept me with my child. That day, Beauty kept up her crying. Unexpectedly, Uche burst out of the room where he was receiving a phone call.

Apparently Beauty was disturbing him. With no indication of what he was going to do, he raised his hand and hit beauty very hard on her back with the intention of sending her into the room. He hit Beauty so hard that the poor girl helped and ran out of the apartment instead. I was so scared that I quickly left what I was doing in the kitchen and ran after my little girl.

When I got outside, Beauty was sitting on the floor by the gate hugging herself, and crying at the top of her voice. If Beauty’s voice sounded like a megaphone when she was just three months old, now her voice was as loud as amplified speakers used in concerts.

I started consoling her to stop crying, trying my best to cajole her to come back into the apartment but she refused. I decided to apply force so I smacked her for being naughty and dragged her in. “Maybe we shall eat beauty when you burn the whole food in the house,’ Uche said to me when we entered. I was unaware that I’d spent a lot of time outside with Beauty and the meat I was cooking was already burning.

I ignored Uche and ran into the kitchen. On getting there, the meat was badly burnt and no longer edible. I couldn’t help wondering why he would be in the sitting room, must have perceived the smell of burning meat, but did not get up to take a look at it or call my attention to it. Uche I will have to go to the market to get another meat because the one on fire is burnt,’ I said to him. I wasn’t expecting him to flare up, but he did.

He didn’t just flare up; he went into a rage threatening to beat me up if I didn’t produce soup with the meat he bought with his money at that moment. The fact was I couldn’t use the burnt meat to cook, but he would not listen. He went to the door and locked it up.

Though he had fomented troubles and got mad at me, it was not as intense as that day. So as to avoid his trouble, I got the spare key he gave me, picked up a few of my things and called Beauty. Uche was engrossed in watching the TV believing I was still in the room but when he saw me leaving with Beauty, he pounced on me without notice, pulling me back in.

I struggled with him and would have fought on but a smack to the back and a stinging slap from behind stopped me by the doorstep. ‘Get back in! Do you think I’m joking with you?” he roared. At that point I knew things might really get out of hand.

I simply went back into the second room with my daughter, locked myself in and called mum. I told her to quickly report the matter at Iyanganku police station. I just wanted to take precautions in case Uche did the unexpected. Expectedly, he did the unexpected.

He came to the door and started banging hard. I was lucky that the door had a key lock and a bolt. Uche was hitting the door with an object, trying to break it down and threatening to beat the hell out of me if I didn’t open the door. Beauty didn’t help matters because she was crying and screaming at the top of her voice.

The noise and tension were dríving me crazy. I had started crying uncontrollably by the time the police arrived with my mum. I was glad when I was saved from the lion’s den. After that it was history with Uche, or any other man. I’m glad that I was yet to go to bed with him before he did what he did. Uche was bailed from the police cell by his friend Anuforo, a lawyer based in Lagos.

After his bail, Anuforo came to me on many occasions to apologise on his behalf. He wanted me to accept him back into my life but I declined. Anuforo eventually gave up hope of getting me to forgive his friend, and decided to return to Lagos the next day, Sunday. I had an interview in Lagos on Tuesday morning so I asked Anuforo if I could follow him in order to cut the cost of transportation and travel comfortably.

I knew beauty was going to give mum a hell of a hard time but I really needed the job so I left with Anuforo on Sunday evening. I wouldn’t have agreed to follow Anuforo if he hadn’t promised me a safe place to stay in Lagos. On getting there, Anuforo’s apartment was a room and parlour in Okota. I told him that I would not pass the night there because it was not right. However, he assured me that he would sleep in the sitting room while I slept in his bedroom.

Trusting him, I accepted. That night while watching News on TV, Anuforo took my curriculum vitae and sent it to a friend of his who had told him there was a job opening at Super Saddle, a fast growing manufacturing company. He said I should make sureI went there the next Wednesday for an interview.

I had to call mum to update her about the new development and tell her that I wouldn’t be able to make it back to Ibadan on Tuesday. The job interview on Tuesday went smoothly, at least according to me. There were over one hundred candidates who sat for the interview and we were asked to leave and expect a call from the company after the interview.

By the time I left Victoria Island for Okota that evening, I was very tired. To cap it all, there was a heavy traffic on the road and I was getting really late. ‘I pray there won’t be traffic again tomorrow o!’ I said, unaware thatI actually spoke out my thought.

The passenger beside me started laughing, Auntie, e be like say you be JJC. Na everyday go-slow dey catch for here o. So make you no pray because your prayer no go answer’. To  and behold, traffic was worse the next day.

To make matters worse, I was more tired than the previous day. I was told to wait for one of the supervisors who demanded to see me after the interview. He was in a meeting when I finished the interview and I had to wait for another five hours. After waiting till 7:30 pm, I left with the hope of returning early the next day. I believed I’d tried my best waiting for the supervisor whom I assumed to be Mr. Anuforo’s friend. It was 9:45 when I got to Anuforo’s home.

He had slept off on his couch with the TV on, obviously waiting for the News to start on TV. I woke him up but he just answered sleepily so I left him and went straight to bhave a bath. I couldn’t even eat nor do anything else. I just dropped on the bed like a log of wood, and slept off. Normally I’m a light sleeper and would wake up if disturbed by a little noise, but it was not so that night or morning rather because it was 4:15 AM. At that moment, I noticed a gentle touch on me.

I stirred, and opened my eyes. The figure was already on me, and my nightgown had been peeled off. I wore no bra but slept with my pants because I was expecting my menstrual period.

Normally I don’t sleep with my pants or bra on. To my dismay Anuforo was trying to rape me. Screamed and pushed him off. He tried to pin me down, telling me to calm down. Apparently he had taken me for a weakling, I relaxed a bit, giving him a little edge as he groped my breast with one hand and reached for my pants with the other then I shoved him off with all my strength.

He fell off on his back. Instantly I sprang up and ran out of the room straight to his kitchen to grab a knife. He came after me but he was too late. By the time he got there, his kitchen knife and an empty bottle of coca cola were waiting as weapons to be used on him.

 Realising what was at stake; he let me be and left the kitchen. I quickly locked the door behind him and remained there till daylight. Though Anuforo came more than once to knock on the kitchen door to apologise for his uncouth and barbaric behaviour, I waited till it was 9:00 am when I was sure he would have left for work before venturing out. To me, his friend was better than him. Despite having a bad temper, Uche was a nice and caring man.

I quickly had my bath and prepared to return to Ibadan. I’d missed my daughter so much and was sure she must have given mum a torrid time but then again mum remained one of the only persons Beauty could still tolerate.

I locked Anuforo’s door, and hid his key under the foot mat at the doorstep knowing he would find it there when he returned from work. I had already boarded a bus to Ibadan at the Oshodi under bridge garage when I remembered that I had not seen the supervisor who asked me to see him at Super Saddle.

Deciding whether to alight from the bus, which was not yet full, to see the supervisor or to stay put and return home was a tough decision for me. I suspected Anuforoo must have called his friend and told him to block my chances of getting a job. As the last passenger entered the bus, I made up my mind and alighted.

The bus conductor was about to start collecting the fare. He frowned and asked, ‘Aunty why you dey come down wen the bus don full na?” I ignored him knowing there was no point in explaining. Visibly annoyed, the conductor kept talking and started raining abuses on me. ‘See am, olosi, oni sokoto penpe.

The chief wey you wan go meet for Ibadan don go Abuja. You no get transport money make you come make I carry you free.’ I iignored him and kept walking lest his fellow conductors and drivers joined him in abusing me. ‘Oluyole, Ibadan! ojoo ewole ewole! One yansh! Ibadan Ibadan!’ The conductor’s voice resounded from the distance.

He’d resumed his duty after satisfying himself with abusing me. I took a bus to Agidingbi, Ikeja, Super Saddle’s head office. The supervisor was waiting for me when I got to his office. I was ushered into his office immediately I got there. His office was just a little more than a cubicle and I wondered why it was called an office.

It may be because he wanted privacy. He was a bald, stout man with a moustache and he had a giant spectacle on which gave him a fogey look. ‘Sit down! Sit down! My name is Mr. Ajisafe and Anuforo told me all about you. I sat down looking straight into his be spectacled eyes, which seemed to be probing my body. You see my lady, the job is already yours.

My face lit up when I heard what he said and my thoughts quickly left his face and concentrated on what he had to say. You see, a young girl like you understands that nothing goes for nothing and this thing won’t take much of our time. We can just use my office here and not bother ourselves by going to a guesthouse.

I promise you the salary is attractive and I shall recommend you for promotion faster than you can imagine.’ His words were just bouncing off my ears as I fixed my gaze at him. He was licking his lips and rubbings his….. To be continued

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