This story is by JANE NANNONO and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
PLAYING ALONG WITH BATA
At 6:00AM, Naba was seated on a small locally made wooden kitchen stool by the door. She was dressed in an Italian pink T-shirt over blue jeans which she covered with a sarong. She wore blue flip-flops on her feet and her long hair was woven in neat cornrows. Her eyes were red from irritation by the smoke from the charcoal stove she had just set up outside this single room that she had called home for the last eight months. She was bent kneading the dough for chappatis and samosasas snacks in a light saucepan. With dogged determination, she had been hawking these snacks in the neighborhood for two weeks.
From time to time she asked herself whether moving in here had been the right thing for her. It had seemed so when she first met Bata at a drinking joint in the township. She paused to peep at him sprawled soundly asleep in a doubled bed pushed towards the wall. At this early hour, she was moving as stealthily as possible not to wake him up. He was more than twenty years older than her and this in itself complicated their conversations. In that nearby local bar, a number of men and a few women watched football over local brews like gin. Bata had impressed her for knowing almost all there was to know about European football, the players and the coaches. He could give his own running commentary. He also told interesting stories from faraway places that forced her to want to work and get herself o Word count: 1,482
ut of the misery of this country she called home. She had gone out of her way to visit the joint more often to find out who he was. She was happy to learn that he was a returnee with double citizenship.
“Hmm, that’s a good catch! Who knows? He could be my ticket to a better future. I could even go back to school,’’ she had told herself. After living with three different men and mothering five children between them, she needed to settle down. She was forty two years old and her first daughter was already nursing her first child!
“It’s painful to accept that my daughter was following in my footsteps probably out of having nothing better to look up to. I created my own life by dropping out of high school. How I wish I had listened to my mother! By then she was my sworn enemy but here I am now cooking chappatis and samosas at this early hour! Surprisingly, no one seems to be taking me seriously; they take my snacks promising to pay me later but never pay up. I’ve not even recovered the money I used to buy the flour and cooking oil last week.” She laughed to herself, “It’s far much better than coming back with the snacks.
Our ancestors were right to believe that it was hardest to get rich while selling tomatoes and clay pots.
Eight months ago, I had great expectations of Bata but here I am stuck in these servants’ quarters. Believe it or not, I would say that the single room is much better than staying at home with my nagging mother. Given a chance, I could turn it into a warm and welcoming den for the two of us.”
She paused and looked around the room. It was spacious; a thick cotton curtain now pulled to one side divided the room into two. The front part contained a small couch while a double bed filled up the rear one. Bata had his corner next to the bed. There was a rack where he kept his shirts and trousers. Two pairs of trainers and one pair of good leather shoes were spread out near the clothing rack. There was a heap of local newspapers in the farthest corner. She dared not touch them for her peace. It was the same with the papers and books on that small table where Bata worked often on his computer. Due to the frequent break-ins in the neighbourhood, Bata stored the computer, his important documents and valuables in his mother’s house which Naba could even see from where she was seated. She had her own corner by the window; a rack for her T- shirts, jeans, a small cupboard for her makeup kit and perfumes. An assortment of size four Chinese flat shoes were neatly lined up on the floor.
“I’ll need a long mirror,” she thought to herself.
She spread out her long tapering fingers coated with the flour, “My long hair and hands have always been among my best assets. Even Bata told me so. My mother always told me that I looked much like her mother; big brown eyes, long face, thick full lips and a smile that would melt many men’s hearts.
She took another closer look at the room. The white walls were bare except for the official portrait of their king and a newspaper pull-out of the famous Liverpool football team. There was an orange, blue and white locally woven mat on the floor and an African woven cot with a warm blanket for Kuku, Bata’s cat. Kuku had slipped through the door when Naba had opened the door that morning. Naba could be required to do a lot of explaining about Kuku’s absence when the owner woke up!
Bata stirred in his sleep and finally sat up. He looked ten years younger with his hair freshly dyed and the facial wrinkles less pronounced. Quickly, he noticed that Kuku was not in her cot. He rolled his big eyes, “Where’s Kuku? I told you never to let her out of the room until you’re sure that the big dog has been locked up in its cage,” he said in a husky voice. His breath had the telltale signs of someone who had had more than one for the road the night before.
“I ‘m sorry but it’s difficult to keep her here if she wants to go out. I think she’s safe; I haven’t heard any screams for help. I’ll look for her as soon as I finish with this.”
“You better,’’ he said as he pulled the blankets over his head and went back to sleep.
“You know what! You’re so indifferent. You ask about the cat before you even enquire about me! You can’t even ask how my small business is getting on!
“I told you from the beginning that your business was your business, it has nothing to do with me.”
Naba felt something tightening up in her stomach. She wanted to push things further but restrained herself. It was so early in the morning.
Bata could not go back to sleep, he was thinking to himself, “Did I make the right move to allow Naba to move in with me? The problem with me is that I’ve never recovered from that nasty divorce of ten years ago. I keep telling myself that I should move on and yet it never happens. I wonder whether I am capable of love anymore. In Naba, I was looking for company and nothing more. I’ve three big children from my previous marriage. Could I be giving her false expectations? Initially I was living with my old mother in the main house but I was inconveniencing her with my erratic coming in and going out. I needed the freedom to come and go as I wanted.”
“The choices we make in life have consequences. Man up and live your life,’’ he heard his father say.
It became absolutely clear to him that he had to make the tough decision. “ I could go back to what I now call my first home and enjoy all the privileges that it offers me or keep one leg here and another there or stay here and build new life altogether. I know very well that it’s not how you start but how you end that counts and secondly that it ‘s never too late to start afresh.”
He was jostled back into reality by Naba, “Have you forgotten about your appointment with the surveyor today at 11:00AM?”
“Thank you for reminding me. I don’t know why I thought it was at 2:00PM.’’
Naba wondered why at one time she thought that the room was their castle and yet at other moments she felt she was still an outsider!
“Oh. It’s his mixed signals,” she nodded hard. “I’m giving myself one full month to decide whether to move out completely or stay and make it a home for the two of us. The wandering has to stop.”
She smiled, “I only hope that the good catch wouldn’t turn into another nightmare. As for now, let me make the most of this packed room. After all they say that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”