Sunday, 3 March 2019

Love Thy Neighbour

Ben hesitated at the door, hand frozen mid-air in the knocking posture.

What if she embarrasses me, creates a scene and makes me feel even less of a human than I already do?

He was standing at front of the room belonging to his neighbour, a nurse named Oma, his hesitation driven by the fact that he was not sure how she would react to him begging her for money.

He found it shameful that he had to resort to doing it, but was at the end of his tether. He was starving, and a starving man has no business being shameful.

His life, already humble as it had been, had taken a very steep decline about two weeks before when he lost his job at the soap factory. He had been certain that he would find another very easily, after all, there were many other soap manufacturers in Lagos, but he hadn't. He went from one day to another, frittering away his little savings on transportation, only to be told again and again to check back.

Here he was today, his last buck used up the day before on another futile job search, the meagre meal of roast plantain he had over twenty-four hours before the last thing ate. The time was 2.30pm now and he was starving. 

He had no choice but to act as he was doing now – seek someone to beg for a quick buck to get himself the next meal. And the only neighbour in at that time of the day in their face-me-I-look-you building, was Oma.

His hand completed its journey, knocking twice before there was a responding ‘who is that?’ from the depths of the room. The door opened 20 seconds later, and Oma stood there, peering at him enquiringly. She was a not too tall, not too dark or light lady, with average looks and stature, and seemed somewhere around her mid-twenties. Her job as a nurse meant she ran shifts, which was why she was at home at that time of the day.

“Good afternoon,” he greeted her.

“Good afternoon,” she responded, and continued to stare, wordlessly inquiring what he wanted.

“Sister, please borrow me 500 Naira. I will give you back before next week. I have not eaten anything since yesterday. Help me, so I can arrange something to eat and use the rest for transport to find work.”

She took in his wretched state and her expression softened. One day of hunger had had a strong impact on him; his features which, usually, were more attractive than the average guy, were already gaunt, his eyes slightly sunken, and his trim body slack as he stood there weakly.

“I don’t really have much, but… Come inside, let me see what I can give you.” She opened the door wider and beckoned him in.

Her room was just the same size as his, but way better kept and prettily furnished in a pink and yellow theme. It consisted of a single bed, a cushioned chair that sat opposite a small deck holding a flat-screen TV, a DVD player and a GOTV decoder, a portable closet, a bedside refrigerator and an area that was cordoned off as the cooking area. Another difference to his room was the fact that hers was self-contained, that was, she had her toilet and bathroom en-suite and did not have to use the general toilet and bathroom along with the tenants whose rooms were not self-con.

“Sit down,” she pointed at the chair, then went into the closet, coming back after a few minutes with three 200 Naira notes. “I wish I have more, but this is all I can spare for now.”

Ben’s eyes lit up. It was 100 Naira more than he had asked for. Why was she apologizing? He took the money and thanked her emphatically. “It’s more than enough…”

“No, it’s not enough. You can’t cook a decent meal with this, and you mentioned you need t-fare to look for work. Let me give you small food stuff, so you can use the money for transportation.”

Then she went off into the cooking area.

Ben’s eyes roved all over the room again, noticing the many marked differences to his and he felt a small pang of envy. Oma was certainly not rich, but it was clear she was comfortable by her own right. He wondered when he could ever hope to attain the same level of comfort. Even when he had his factory job and wages were coming in steady, he could never dream of owning half of the things she had.

Oma returned and handed him a bulging, white polythene bag filled with some items. He rifled through it to see it contained garri, rice, beans, palm oil, groundnut oil, seasoning cubes, granulated, sugar, all packed neatly in smaller transparent polythene bags. He was shocked and touched.

“You can be cooking them and use the money for your transportation,” she said.

“Thank you, sister, thank you very much.” He continued thanking her as she led him out of her room. He was very glad that he had taken the risk to come seek her help. Before now, they hardly spoke beyond greeting each other, hence he had not been sure what her reception would be and had been worried she might even insult him. Yet she turned out to be a very good person with a heart of pure gold!

Back in his own room, the first thing he did was to make himself a quick fix of garri and sugar which he guzzled down eagerly. Never had garri tasted so good to him. He felt the life seep back into his veins and fell back on his mattress once done. He planned to prepare beans next, and eat it with some more garri. That would hold him through the night and even in the morning when he would go out again in search of work.

But as he laid there, staring at the damp patterns on his ceiling from the last rainy season, an unsettling thought slinked into his mind. What if he still got no job tomorrow? All the money, or most of it would be gone. Most of the food would also be gone before the end of the day, and he would return again to hunger. Would he go back again to Oma to beg? Would she still be willing to help? Won’t she get irritated and wonder how long he would keep begging her?

He looked at the things she had given him, the foodstuff and the three 200 Naira notes, then remembered well stocked room; the crate of eggs on her fridge, the cooking area which looked like it held a lot more foodstuff, the closet she had taken the few Naira notes from which must hold several more. He wanted more… needed more than she had given; more than she would be willing to give him.

The thought continued to grow in his head, till it birthed a new one, one that shocked him at first. But the more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that he had no choice than to do it; the more he was convinced he could get away with it.

He got up, picked up a small knife from his cupboard, slipped it into his back pocket and went knocking at Oma’s door again.

The Story Continues>>> Click Here for Part 2


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