Friendship Matters 2
Okay so back to Chinwe.
Later in the evening when I thought she must have arrived in her house and settled in, I called just to make sure. Her mum picked up the phone and I asked to speak with Chinwe. 'Chinwe is in school, now', she replied. I was shocked and a bit scared, ' she told me she was going home', I managed to utter. Of course any mother would be thrown into panic, and Chinwe's mother wasn't different. I tried to calm her down and promised to call her when I arrived home (I told her I hadn't been home yet) and tell her if Chinwe was there. After that call I was perplexed, worried and scared. What if something had happened to Chinwe? What if Chinwe had gone somewhere else? What was I supposed to do? Then there were no GSM phones, so you either called from the house of a friend, a business centre - usually few and far between, and bloody expensive- or you didn't call at all. So that was what I did- I didn't call at all, hoping that by the next day, things would have been made clearer.
The next day, my aunt's kids came to call me to receive a call in their house. It was Chinwe, she was in a panic wanting to know what I had told her mother. To cut a really long story short, she had made a detour to her boyfriend's house in Lagos with the intention of staying there for about two days before going home. Of course her parents never knew (or even suspected) she had a boyfriend, so they would never have thought she was there. Why she did not tell me was , and still is a mystery to me. Anyway, she called her house that morning and was told that her mother, not hearing anything from me or her the evening before, had travelled to Benin to look for her. Whatever we decided during that phone call remains hazy to me, but what I remember is me calling her mother - who by now had gone back to Lagos, because she had no idea where I was living, and had received a phone call from Chinwe telling her whatever - and telling her that I had made a mistake and that Chinwe was in Benin. Her mother was understandably angry with me and she told me things like how at my age I should know the implication of making such calls,etc., and hung up on me. I was angry about being put in that situation but my mum , who I tell everything, told me that that was what friends do for friends. It didn't matter anymore to me, until I noticed that if she phoned me from her house she would use another name if her mother was in earshot and would advice me not to call because her mum was around. Apparently I had become a persona-non-grata in her house because of that incident, and she did nothing to change that.
If that incident did not show her up for the kind of person she was, then another one clearly did. I had a lecturer in school who was my mentor, he wasn't in my department or faculty and never taught me anything but I was close to him and his family and he used to send me on personal errands like locking up his office or bringing something to him at home from there, etc. At night, when I would go to read in the classroom, as all students did, I would check to see if he was coming to do some work or if he needed something done, just so I could sit in his office and turn on the AC. at other times, during a free period I would go to him to try and get lunch money. LOL. He was my school father. But like it is in every such situation, there were rumours. Actually, I had no idea that there were rumours until the story I am about to tell you.
I went to see Chinwe in her room one day, and just as I stood at the door she began with a barrage of questions, all about the guys in my life. Of those guys I was not dating anyone, but they were hangers-on, men who wanted a chance, 'toasters'. How is A? She asked, What of G? What of H?, have you heard from...? Did B bring the .. he promised you?, etc. I was wondering why she asked these questions especially as she had a guest and she was painting me like some sort of slut? I frowned at her and waited until the guest left before I asked her why the hell she was 'putting my business outside'. She said the girl ,her guest had asked her what I was doing with the aforesaid lecturer, that she had always seen me going to his office or coming out of it during the day. Her answer to the girl was 'do you know how many boyfriends Chili has?'. And she proceeded to name all these guys who she asked me of at the door. I asked her if it was better to paint me as a slut -or an aristo, as it is referred to in these parts - than to just tell the girl off for not minding her business, or to just tell her the truth, and she said she did not know what to say, and the question embarrassed her.
We still remained friends, right through her surgery for ovarian cyst, and her break-up with her boyfriend. Then, when she was caught cheating during exams and suspended, pending a hearing by the disciplinary panel, it was I who was left to carry the pieces. I had to dispose of (sell) her stuff such as furniture and the like that she had left in school too embarrassed to come back, get some of her papers from her department since she was considering a transfer, and, always concerned about her image keep close guard on what information was going round about her. Like one time, when a guy came several times to search for her from God-knows-where, on his way to Lagos. He definitely could not visit her at home so he kept making trips to her school, but she would never allow me tell him what had happened so I told him she wasn't around, and avoided him. Her other classmate finally told him the truth after his fourth(?) visit, and she, of course, was irate.
Shortly after my youth service the disciplinary panel sat and decided to let some people continue with their education if they met certain stiff conditions, which I do not remember now. She asked to stay in my house, while I came to Lagos to get a job. In return, I could stay in her place in Lagos. Staying in my house would not be be an issue, I knew, because once my parents approved, they would welcome her with open arms, we were always like that with guests. Chinwe settled in well, so well that once she got close to my family she proceeded to tell my last brother all about my love life, began to bring have numerous relationships with different guys (including a married man) who came to the house- my house- to pick her up or visit her, and she literally spent all her time in the newly-opened call centre opposite my house, waiting for phone calls. Even though my brothers gradually began to notice her inconsistencies, my parents did not. My father really doesn't pay attention to such things anymore, and my mother thought she was the best thing after Jesus. They even used to stay in her (my mother's) room talking. And to her credit, she it was who stood by as my mum had her surgery for cervical cancer. They decided not to tell me, maybe afraid that I would leave everything and come home. Looking back I wasn't upset about that, but now I am. And you'll see why.
When I moved to Lagos, I did not consider Chinwe's house a place I would live in. First of all it was too far from my office, and secondly, her house was too 'stiff'. This would be only the 2nd time I would be in Chinwe's house since I knew her. I had stayed there once before on a 2-day trip to Lagos to buy some clothes during my youth service, so suffice it to say I had little idea what to expect, but I knew it was nothing like mine. I remembered vividly that her mum still had a not-so-good impression of me, and her father was very strict. When we woke up in the morning we spoke in whispers because she did not want him to hear us talking 'first thing in the morning'. So after a while, I got a little flat near my office, staying with them only on weekends.
I was 'tres' uncomfortable in Chinwe's house. I remember when I came in one night after work and I tried to get something to eat from the fridge, her brother said I had to hurry up and eat before their father came home or he would be angry that we were eating so late. By 5.30pm the kids had put on their pyjamas, meaning it was late. I once tried to go out to buy toothpaste by 5 and Chinwe's mum said it was too late. They lived in the residential area reserved for top staff of the multinational where Chinwe's dad worked, so phone calls were free, but you had to avoid talking on the phone when he was around or he would be angry. I had a run-in with the man over that phone once, a friend of mine had called and we were talking for about 15 minutes. I had no idea that Chinwe's father was in the habit of checking on his family every once in a while. I mean, the man worked right across the street and came home for lunch and dinner during the day, so I never thought he would call in from his office as well. Anyway, when I hung up, one of Chinwe's brothers came downstairs and told me that their father said I should drop the phone, he was trying to call home. I had already done. When the man came back from work, I was the only one in the living room downstairs, I greeted him and he just ignored me and went upstairs, so I quietly switched off the tv and went to bed. I never touched the phone publicly, again, and was only too happy to have my GSM, when it came. Another time, I arrived at the gate of the house, but the guard on duty did not know me, so he had to call the house to ask if I could be let in. Just then, Chinwe's father pulled up at the gate, I greeted him and he acknowledged curtly. The guard, obviously new, and still on the phone, just beckoned on him to wait a bit and the man got mad. He came out of the car and screamed at the guard, in the loudest voice I had ever heard, about how they were stupid to lock him out of his house, what they thought they were doing etc. The panicking guard opened the gates for him and he sped in. I was in shock. I wished I had somewhere else to go because I did not want to go into that same house, afraid that he would accuse me of being responsible whatever he thought happened. I went in anyway, by the time they had received permission for me to enter he had settled to a meal. I greeted him again and apologised for what happened. He hissed and turned back to his food. I disappeared upstairs.
Another thing I felt from that house was a lack of warmth of welcome. Sometimes we would be upstairs watching TV, then the living room would become empty as everyone else went to their mum's room to gist. At other times, they would go there to pray, before bed. I was never allowed into any bedroom other than the one I slept in, I never went into any till I stopped staying in that house.
It was a very small incident that made me actually stop going there. That afternoon, I decided to go back home, to my flat near my office. I told one of Chinwe's brothers where I was going and left. In the evening I received a call from Chinwe in Benin, saying that her mother had called her to tell her that I left the house and did not tell anyone where I was going. I told her that her brother knew but she said he forgot and I should have told her mother. I told her her mum wasn't around and would not have been back till late. She said I should have called later. That her Mum kept saying that all she wanted was for me to be comfortable. she was calling me to kinda tell me to mind how I behave in her house, without saying so. I knew I had not acted in any way deserving of that report, I did not understand why her mother would call her to tell her, or what I had done wrong and for me this was the last straw. She was doing a lot of stuff in my house that she would never dare at home but she could not be bothered to ease the tension for me in her house. I decided not to go back there. But if I thought she had done things she couldn't try at home, I was in for a surprise.
TO BE CONTINUED