Every occupant of Whinery Yard knew what happened in other homes. One person’s child was everyone else’s child. For them a whole village teamed up in training a child, sometimes with bad values. The Yard was home to every person who had fallen by the way side, those who wanted to recover from the shards their lives had become. There were layers of secrets thigh deep in the Yard and every passing day, another layer fell on the old one. Mekere had lived in the Yard for many years and had made some friends. Some of them judged her while others just accepted that it was her life to do with as she pleased. There were some she could cunt on if she needed moral support and there were others that only came close when there was plenty to eat and drink, in which case they didn’t care where the money came from so long as the food tasted good.
Madam Ufoma was a buxom woman whose husband had lost everything in the recession. Although she was one of the relatively new tenants at the Yard, Mekere had been drawn to her. She held no judgements for anyone and she was a bit withdrawn. She knew how to keep her mouth shut and she rarely spoke to anyone other than her children. Her hsband was bed ridden because of a stroke, the shock of the news that his company had gone under. She had once confided to Mekere that if not for the stroke, she suspected her husband might have killed himself and abandoned them all. She was not a widow but a single parent as she had t take care of three children who were always hungry.
When their mother limped in, the twins’ suggested that they would get Madam Ufoma. Mekere only grunted in reply, her throat was still sore. She only wanted the children to leave for school so that she could gather her thoughts and rest. While she stretched out on the floor to wait for Madam Ufoma, she thought about what she could do for her daughter. She did not want her to live in fear and she had no one she could turn to. The boys in the Yard had started taking an interest in her and her daughter never wanted to leave their room. She knew this wasn’t good for her especially since her brothers did not make it easier. She sighed heavily as her neighbour stepped into her poorly lit room.
“Mekere, your twins came to call me. What is wrong with you?”
“Good morning my neighbour, I hope I did not take you away from anything important.”
“The children have gone to school and my husband can manage. I just fed him. Talk to me, let me see your face.”
Mekere raised her face upwards towards the naked bulb. Its light was so weak that Madam Ufoma drew the curtain to one side of the doorway. She assessed the bruise of Mekere’s face and touched it gingerly.
“No lumps, you will be fine. Your leg, let me see.” Madam Ufoma had a manner of speaking usually starting the sentence with words she would have ended it with.
Mekere felt obliged to offer her some kind of explanation. “I tripped on my way back home. I fell really hard and my leg doesn’t feel right in my hip.”
“Hmmm,” madam Ufoma grunted as if she was a physician taking her job seriously. “Ice block will have worked to reduce the swelling but here, no light. This NEPA people are worse than an infected woman’s menstruation.”
“What a comparison!” they both laugh and suddenly become sober.
“I have some ointment; can you help me massage it? I don’t want the children to come back from school to meet me here.”
“Go and bring it, which work am I doing?” she sat on the floor as she waited for Mekere to limp back in. “Not that it is any of my business but I’ve seen your son hang out with those boys. Those boys don’t do any worthwhile thing and I have my reservations about what they really do. Your boy, you should talk to him.” Mekere came out of the room. She sighed deeply as she sat back down on the floor.
“I am not exactly a model parent for my children. Udeme hates me and I don’t know if talking to him would help anything. He never listens to me, he does as he likes and I can’t do anything as I am constantly busy… at work.”
“You don’t need to explain anything. I just thought I should let you know. Of all the others, I can’t eplain why I was most drawn to you.”
Madam Ufoma opens the ointment and puts a few drops on Mekere’s leg. The leg is swollen and Mekere is in a lot of pain but she doesn’t scream. She holds in the pain and Madam Ufoma looks at her at intervals. Either Mekere was used to the pain or she was really good at giving a massge. She was used to lightly massaging her husband’s aching bones to get some feeling bak into it. she could not afford to pay for a physical therapist an what little they ha was used to buy food for the children.
As Madam Ufoma massaged, tears dropped on Mekere’s leg. Hot against the menthol grinding against her skin, she pulled her leg away from her neighbour to look her in the eye.
“I’m sorry.” Mekere apologised. She had no idea what she was apologising for but that was the only thing that came to her mind.
“No,” Madam Ufoma protested as she loosened the hem of her wrapper to dry the corners of her eyes. “I’m the one who is sorry. Forgive me, I should be here giving you some hope but here I am crying against your wounded leg.”
“I’m here if you want to talk,” Mekere said in a quiet whisper.
They sat in companionable silence for a while each lost in her own thoughts, listening to the sounds of the Yard.
“Some days I just want to run away. We had everything and then in just one night, the stock market crashed and the recession came full force and we lost everything. I packed up all my clothes and the children’s clothes. Nobody wanted to help so I knew that my wrappers and jewellery where the only things we would fall back on. But I opened my box this morning an there are only a few good wrappers left. I don’t know what to do. I’m tired of taking care of that man who cared more about his family than the one he had with me and the boys. Sometimes, love is not enough and the days where I wish him dead, I feel guilty and almost immediately I remember that he had properties that I had no idea of. The boys, he didn’t think of them.”
The boisterous sounds of the Yard were in sharp contrast to the depressing scenario Madam Ufoma painted. Mekere just sat absorbed in her thoughts and the things her neighbour had said. She felt like that on some days without the husband and she felt she could relate. A light breeze blew the threadbare curtains that were torn in places. A stray goat strolled close to Mekere’s door and Madam Ufoma stood up to go.