Violet scrunched her nose as she scooped a handful of roasted groundnuts from the black nylon sitting between her and Nene. She had stopped asking why Nene preferred buying the nuts still in their dried peels. She copied Nene in her meticulous actions, rubbing the nuts between her palms, muttering at the nuts that dared leave the safety of her hand to fall on the ground. A small dog had rushed to the fallen nuts and was gobbling them already. She blew at her palm, revealing brown nuts. The process was not over. She had to handpick some stray peels to get clean nuts. When she was satisfied, she reached for a banana from the bunch beside the nylon.
“So what did you say?” Violet asked, when Nene finished narrating her experience at school when she went to pick her children.
“What else can I say? You see this children eh, if you tell them to do A, they will do Z. Tell them not to do A, they will do A to Z. I’m tired, honestly.”
Violet nodded. “I understand. Even though Sochi and Chike are quite well-behaved, but Nma gives me headache. She just took all the stubbornness, and didn’t even leave any for her brother.”
Nene laughed. “You truly are lucky o. The one boy you have is not giving you headache. Those three boys under my roof, they are just cat and dogs. Even my husband has given up on them.”
“Don’t worry. How old are they now? They will soon start secondary school, is that not it? By that time, you will rest a bit.”
“My dear.” Nene reached for the bottle of water. “Chike,” she called out.
Chike ran out of the shop. “Yes aunty.”
Nene peeled a banana and gave it to him. “Has your sister finished plaiting her hair?” She cleaned some groundnuts and put them in his small hand.
“No. But they will soon finish.” His hands were still held out. He looked at his mother, and when he got a nod from her, he went to sit on one of the small chairs in front of the saloon, eating the combo carefully.
Nene’s eyes were still on him. “Look at how he is so quiet? If one of my boys can be like this, I will be happy.”
“No o. My husband doesn’t like it at all. He says Chike is too quiet for someone of his age and too wise. That the one boy we have is behaving like a girl.” Anytime Violet recalled the conversation she and her husband had when the twins clocked three, she would get angry. He had stopped making those insinuations after they started school and the teachers kept praising his character.
“Quiet is good. If he was quiet and dull, it is a problem, but he is quiet and smart. Just look at the way he greets people, you trained him well.” Nene gave her friend a well-done pat on her back.
When Chike finished the banana, he stood up and went to throw the peel into the dustbin behind the door. “Thank you ma,” he said when the peel had been disposed. Then he returned inside the saloon, where his sisters and two other children were watching a cartoon.
“So, your husband? How is it with the both of you? Is he still seeing that girl?” A period of silence before Nene posed the question. She slapped her hands together to get rid of stray dried peels.
Violet sighed helplessly and shook her head. “I think he went to see her yesterday. He came back late. But he still touched me, so I don’t know.”
Nene pressed her lips together. “After everything you did, the man is still chasing that girl? Did you confront him?”
“Confront? Do you know how many times I asked him about her? He will say I’m just paranoid. I don’t know what to do again. I am tired, honestly.”
“Don’t kill yourself over the matter, ehn?” A comforting hand landed on her shoulders. “At least, you did something good fro yourself. See how you’re glowing. Nobody will see your picture after you gave birth to the twins and believe that it is still you.”
Violet smiled, then adjusted her blouse, her hand rested shortly on her stomach. “I will not believe it if it was me o. I’m just happy I took the step. Imagine if I didn’t have a job and I will just stay at home and be dealing with my husband.” She shook her head. “That is even more scary.”
“Abi.” Nene clucked her tongue. “I thank God everyday for my husband. I don’t have the courage like you to be jogging and dieting, eat this, don’t eat this. But at least, he still comes home straight from work. The man is too busy with work that he won’t have time for any extra work.”
While she sounded relieved, Violet could still hear the tinge of complaint laced in the words. Of course, no man was perfect, but she would rather deal with a busy husband than a cheating husband. She didn’t say it. She suspected her friend would not appreciate the notion.
“Mama Sochi, Nene,” the voice was accompanied by the sound of a gate being shut and locked.
Nene and Violet cleared their throat self-consciously and shuffled their legs. “Nelo, this one you’re just coming out by this time?” Violet asked.
Chinelo trudged towards them. She stopped to fling a warning at the child that was walking behind her, a tiny hand clutching the end of her gown. The child had a thumb in his mouth with wronged expression on his face. Dried streaks of tears decorated his cheeks and dried snot clustered on his nostrils. Despite her warning, he didn’t let go of her cloth. When she neared them, she turned and lifted the boy into her arms. Muttering, she used the bottom of his shirt to wipe his nose and his face.
“Loreth, please bring two cream crackers for me and one sweet,” she called out to the owner of the saloon as she took the bench opposite that of Violet and Nene, setting the child on her legs.
“Nne, hope all is well?” Nene asked as one of the children rushed out of the saloon with what Nelo had asked for.
Nelo opened one of the biscuits and handed one to the child. He collected it excitedly and put it in his mouth. “Everything is fine o. It’s just these children, you know how they can get.” She turned to Violet with a look of surprise. “Ah, Vio-vio, this one you say you will show face today, what happened? We don’t use to see you here again o.”
Violet gave her a small smile. “You know I’m working now. I just brought the children to come and make their hair.”
“Ehen? How is the work kwanu? Its teaching, eh?”
Violet nodded, hating the sardonic tone the question was asked with. “I’m teaching at St. Andrews.”
“Wow, that’s good. What of your children? How are you taking care of them?”
Violet shrugged. “The same way you are taking care of yours.” She immediately regretted the words and hurried to cover the sarcasm. “I still have time to take care of them. My school closes almost the same time as theirs.”
“Ehn? Well done o.” She placed the child on the ground. “Oya, go inside and watch cartoon.” The child was happy to oblige.
“What of Nneka and Rosequin? They have not come out?”
The owner of the saloon came out to dispose of empty packs of hair extensions. “They were here in the morning. When NEPA brought light they went back inside.” She said before adding, “Aunty, good afternoon.”
“Have you finished?” Violet asked her.
“Yes.” She went into the saloon and came out with a plastic chair. “Aunty Nelo, Esther will not make her hair this week? I’m not making anybody’s hair now, she can come now.”
Nelo waved her hand. “No, not this week. The one on her head now is still neat.”
The disappointment was evident in her tone as she said, “Okay.” She turned to Violet. “Aunty Violet, let me make one wig for you. Twist braids. Or you just like weave-ons?”
The girl wouldn’t stop haunting her until she gave in. This was like the hundredth time she was asking to make a wig for her. “When will you finish it? This one you’re always busy-”
“Don’t worry. I will make your own a priority. You want long one eh? Which colour?” She stood up and was already sifting through the packets of attachments that were hanging on nails on the door.
“Don’t use black,” Nene advised. “Let me see that one, the dark brown.”
Loreth handed it to her. “Do you want me to make for you as well?”
Nene shook her head. “This one looks okay. It will fit you.” She examined the packet then handed it to Violet.
“Use this one.” Violet handed the attachment to Nelo who had stretched her hand out for it.
“Okay. We will use five for it.” Loreth rearranged the packets on the door.
“Jesus! Which one is five again?” Nelo screamed. “Are you building house with it?” She gave the attachment to Loreth.
Loreth took the attachment. “Aunty Violet, you said you want long one, right? I’m going to use cut-two. We will need plenty attachment so that it will have volume.”
“Make it cut-three then,” Nelo said before Violet could say anything.
“Aunty,” Loreth ignored her.
“Five is too much. How much is one? Can’t you use three? The last time I made braids, I used three. It should be enough.”
Loreth pouted, giving Nelo an annoyed look. “Okay. I will manage the three.”
The sound of a gate opening reached the saloon. The women looked to see another woman coming out of the house. Violet took it as a cue to stand up.
“Sochi, Nma, come let’s go home.” She picked up her head-tie that had fallen off.
Sochi came out followed by Chike. “Yes mummy?”
“Where is Nma? Nma!” she called out. The woman was nearing the saloon. “Sochi, go inside and bring your sister.”
Sochi came out a few minutes with a frowning Nma. The woman had reached the saloon. She had to bend to enter the saloon. She exchanged greetings with the other women. Violet returned the greeting with a mumble.
“Let me go and prepare lunch for the children.” She took Nma’s hand and bade the women bye.
She walked away the saloon, self-conscious of the watchful gaze of the other women. She was very much aware that the conversation would be centered on her for the next few minutes.
“Carry me,” Nma raised her hands in the air, distracting her from the women. With a chuckle, she lifted her to her waist. She took Chike’s small hand in her empty one.
“What do you want to eat this afternoon?” she asked the children, readying herself for the argument that was about to ensue.