Every Wednesday he picked Belema from the office and drove down to Mama B for lunch. Samuel had patronised the outdoor Bole and fish joint now for more than decade, and made no secret about his weakness for their spicy fish. On this day, however, despite what Belema called his gluttonous appetite for bole and fish, Samuel appeared uninspired by the plate before him. Belema broke her bole into half, dipped one part in spicy stew, and took a large bite, all the while watching Samuel as he toyed with a crumb, glaring at it suspiciously, before dropping it on his tongue with no more enthusiasm than if it were a pebble. She tore out a strip of fish dripping in stew and attempted to feed it to him, but Samuel leaned back and made a face. There was something infantile about his reaction and just then a look stole across Belema’s face, as if she’d had a vision of herself pulling his ears and force-feeding him. She pressed the fish in her open mouth.
He was her fifth serious boyfriend in five years. And third fiancé, after her first two were killed, one in a ghastly motor accident three years back, the other from complications arising from Sickle Cell Anaemia. On their first date she confided to him that she was bad luck. A part of her still believed this to be true. “What’s wrong?” she asked, chewing slowly, seemingly disinterested. “You didn’t finish the article?”
“Couldn’t,” he said, frowning, “but that’s not it.” He looked her in the eye. “It’s Rebecca.” Observing her blank expression, he added, “My maid.”
“Oh, okay,” Belema said, reaching for another piece fish. Samuel thought he saw her roll her eyes.
He had intended to give no more than a summary, but the moment he began Samuel found himself swept away, revealing to Belema everything, including the parts Rebecca had added later, much calmer and without tears. About Esther, an acquaintance from her church who had lived with the sisters as well, until she’d had to leave after getting pregnant under circumstances deemed peculiar, seeing as the girl herself had no idea who was responsible or when such a conception could even have occurred. Esther was an avowed celibate. A member of the prayer group, she was known widely as a seer of visions. Now that she was pregnant her visions were gone. Many turned against her, spat at her feet, called her vile names, and the few who remained by her side did so either out of love of gossip, or to avoid being called fickle friends. Even then Esther never changed her story. She could often be seen sitting outside the steps of her aunt’s house, weeping, out of shame, and fear, for no one could assure her that what was in her was a blessing and not a curse, a human not a beast.
Thumping her index finger against the table, Rebecca insisted that whatever happened to Esther was the same thing that happened to her. Uzor fathered that baby, she was sure of it, and when the time came – in a couple of weeks, as Esther was close to term – she would prove it. The declaration had brought a gleam to Rebecca’s eyes. Thereafter, a solitary tear ran down her cheek.
“You can’t be serious,” Belema said, both hands over her mouth, when Samuel had finished.
Samuel smiled gravely, and gave his head a solemn shake. “You hear things like this, and it just makes you wish you could relocate to another universe.”
Belema nodded, her eyes screwed, her lips pulled back in a grimace as though she had suddenly become aware of a strong odour. “Something about it doesn’t add up though, does it? It doesn’t make much sense.”
“What do you mean?”
Belema said nothing, her frown still in place.
“I saw her this morning, with own eyes, she was crushed, and I mean devastated, crying, trembling and everything. Totally distraught.”
Belema shook her head, and said not a word.
“Listen, I’m serious,” Samuel said. “I’m telling you, if we were at a hospital, I’d have considered having her sedated.”
At this point, Belema shifted to the edge of her seat. Her movement appeared the result of extreme calculation. She reached for the plate, staring at Samuel, with wide open eyes, so that an errie feeling came over him as though she were studying the shape and movement of his thoughts. “Are you eating this?” She pointed at the last piece of fish on his plate.
Samuel shook his head, and Belema immediately pounced on the fish tail, gripping it as though the fish were alive, squirming in her hands, capable of escape. She cracked the dorsal fins one by one, tossing them aside, and then split the fish, dispensing with the lateral bone, and feeding the soft flesh into her mouth, chewing slowly and with much satisfaction.
“I think that your maid Rebecca is up to something,” she said, licking her fingers. “If you ask me, she’s trying to take advantage of you. She’s worked for you a couple of months. She probably knows about you by now.”
“Knows what about me?” Hearing Rebecca referred to as his maid had irked him. It was redundant. And yet that wasn’t it. Something about Belema’s tone put him on edge, knowing how her attacks and rebuttals always came laced with logic.
This time he saw her clearly roll her eyes. “That you can be sentimental sometimes, you know. How do I put this? You like to save people.”
Samuel’s jaw tightened. “I don’t like to save people.”
“Oh yes, you do. You can’t help it. It’s the doctor in you, maybe even the writer in you. I mean it’s noble, don’t get me wrong, but it’s sort of your weakness. Personally, I feel there’s a healthy amount of distrust a person should have. Call me cynical, but it’s just reality. It keeps the wolves away. This girl, for instance, if she was molested, shouldn’t she know for sure? How old is she?”
“Nineteen, twenty maybe. What does that have to do with anything?”
“Well, for one, a twenty year old fingered without her knowledge, how believable is that? What kind of sleep are we talking? Maybe she was drugged?
“Well, she didn’t say anything about drugs.”
“You see, this is what I’m talking about. You’re doing it again!” Belema gave him the sort of look one reserves for sick animals, who can no more help their ailments than they can the urge to poo in the streets and lick said poo with relish. “You hurry to trust people who can only disappoint you. I won’t be surprised if she knew all along. Maybe she was enjoying it, who knows, maybe now she’s fallen out with whatever his name is, she’s running to you for …” She froze, her shoulders tensing, her head tilted up toward the ceiling. “Wait a second.” She snapped her fingers, a habit from childhood that accompanied only her most intense deliberations.
“What now, you think she raped him?”
Belema shot Samuel a look. Her lips were pursed, her eyes dark and piercing. From the earliest time, he had recognised in her a mind totally lacking in objectivity, a mind consumed with its own rightness, a wrecking ball. His weakness, she had said. His weakness. He could swear he heard walls crumbling right now, as she calculated, made deductions, arriving summarily at the most preposterous conclusions. It could only be one thing, she said: Rebecca needed a place to live, rent free, with a rich man to go with it. The ticket was him, Samuel, former doctor, now freelance columnist, the ticket was him.
Samuel broke into a gasping laughter. “You can’t be serious.” He supposed he ought to feel insulted – his sense of reasoning and judgement put to question – yet he couldn’t help feeling flattered somehow. “Let’s be logical for one second, okay, my maid is not after me. She’s…my maid!”
Belema stared at him long and hard, with eyes devoid of faith. “Knowing you, you’ve probably invited her to stay already. Have you?”