Monday, 13 January 2014

Finders, Keepers Chapter Two: Who Are You, Really?

The alarm blared shrilly; cutting through the dawn silence of the house and making Meg abruptly jump up in bed. ‘Whoa, this thing sure is loud!’ She sat up and pressed her palm to her chest, trying to get her erratic heart to calm down.
 ‘What the hell was that?’ Ok, good, Chioma was up. And pissed. ‘It’s my alarm,’ she called back, grabbing her phone to check for messages. There were a bunch from some old friends. She decided to read them later.

 Chioma wasn't placated. ‘By 5.30? Who is awake at 5.30 in the middle of the night?’ Meg rolled her eyes,  ‘Chioma, its morning. I have to be at work before 8am.’ ‘Well, that’s your problem, lady, keep it down!’
Meg came into her room. ‘You should wake up early too, don’t you have work?’ The other girl peered out warily at her from half-closed lids. ‘What are you doing?’ ‘The heater is in your bathroom and I want a hot shower.’ ‘Put it on and go away.’ She did and came out, then, ‘you have to get up too, I was hoping you’d drive me to work in that fancy car of yours.’ Chioma took a pillow and put it over her head, but Meg laughed. ‘Please, I have a special skill in torment, I can make you hate that bed.’ ‘Wild horses are not dragging me out of this bed before 7.30.’ ‘We’ll see about that,’ she said before she left the room.
Thirty minutes later, Meg was bathed. With a housecoat wrapped around her, she came back to Chioma's room and put on the lights. ‘Rise and shine, Princess!’ Chioma sat up, enraged. ‘For the love of..!’ ‘It's just easier for you to give in.’ ‘Just...fuck off, ok? I wake up whenever I want and go to work whenever I want to.’ ‘I'm sure you did.’ She pointed at her emphatically. ‘Hey, you are not my mother! If I wanted someone to tell me what to do I would have stayed in my father’s house, but I didn’t because this is my life, and my rules.’

Meg shrugged. ‘fine, suit yourself.’

Ten minutes later, the aroma of freshly made coffee, toast and eggs dragged Chioma out of bed. She came into the kitchen with bleary eyes and made a beeline for the coffee pot. ‘I hate you. Using food to bait me out of bed? Well played, lady, well played.’ Meg smiled smugly and passed her a plate. ‘What’s this?’ ‘Toast and omelet. The omelet is a special one I make with mushrooms and tomatoes and other stuff...just try it, it’s really good. My younger ones love it.’

Chioma took a fork from the cutlery container-which Meg had designated and labelled: she’d organised the kitchen into a beautiful, homely place and Chioma had to admit she liked it. She took a bit of the eggs and her eyes widened. ‘Wow, this is good. This is really good.’ ‘Yeah, well, some girls get all the attention, I am a good cook.’ ‘Come on, don’t say that. you’re beautiful!’ ‘More like I'the girl next door.’ ‘Meg, you are beautiful. Take it from me.’ ‘Well, if you said it then of course it has to be true.’Chioma laughed at her sarcastic tone.
Halfway into her breakfast, she gave Meg a sulky look. ‘By this time last week I was in bed, sleeping.’ Meg smiled and poured a cup of coffee for herself and sat opposite her at the kitchen table. ‘Get with the program, things are going to change around here. And talking of things changing, we have to have a house allowance, like an amount of money we both contribute for upkeep and provisions and stuff: maybe weekly, maybe monthly but weekly will be more prudent. From the look of things I'll be mostly the one doing the house chores around here, but I don’t want that. I find that things are...less tense if a roster of chores are made and we abide by that. I don’t want to feel used.’

Chioma gaped at her in incredulous horror. ‘Oh my God, what have I done?' 'What o you mean?' 'I think I’ve let my mother move in with me.’ ‘Don’t be a grump, you’ll see that my way is always better.’ ‘I have let my mother move in with me,’ she moaned, aghast, her head in her hands. 
The other girl rolled her eyes. ‘Ok, when the theatrics are over, you might want to take a shower and get ready for work.’ She started her breakfast while Chioma watched her like she’d just told her she was adopted. ‘you are the most...anal person I’ve ever met! Don’t you just let things...hang sometimes? Go with the flow?’ She gestured with her fork, ‘sOf course I do, but that’s only when I know what the flow is and I'm prepared for it.’ ‘So, no.’ ‘I just told you I do.’ ‘But you’re prepared for it, so you actually don’t.’ ‘This deposition is making my head hurt, is there a purpose to it?’ 
Chioma shook her head, ‘you’re hopeless, girl, you need to loosen up,’ then left the kitchen.

@@@
‘First year interns, this way please,’ a pleasant-looking girl wearing a smart, charcoal-gray pants suit called. Her tone brockered no argument and Meg surmised that she’d been here a long time and had to be a valuable member of staff to garner that kind of confidence. She got up and straightened her black pencil skirt nervously, checking to see that her blue shirt was properly tucked in. She and some other people who she assumed were also interns like her had been sitting in the expansive waiting room of the laboratory complex, and they got up and gathered in front of the girl. She did a quick head count and came up with thirty-ish. Thirty interns? Wow, that was a slim margin.
 ‘My name is Vera, I am the secretary to the Chief Medical Laboratory Scientist and I will be your guide today. You are very fortunate to be here, interns. This is the best medical laboratory facility in the country and beyond-this building alone is evidence of that. As you have already seen, there are five floors: administration, haematology and immunology , microbiology, clinical chemistry and histopathology-according to their levels. Suffice it to say, this is the ground floor, thus it’s the administrative floor. This is where all the non-medical paper-pushing is done, leaving our scientists to focus on research and diagnosis. Don’t be deceived, though, every intern does an admin rotation. We believe in producing scientists who are well rounded in all aspects of the field-clerical included.
'Today, we will be getting familiar with the workings of this place. You have been assigned rotations which will last ten weeks in each division. Your supervisors in each division have also been assigned. At the end of the day you can check your postings at the notice board.’ She paused and swept a look over them, then smiled. ‘Don’t look so nervous, you’ll love it here! So far as you know what you’re doing-or are willing to learn if you don’t-and don’t become a liability to your supervisor, you will fit here like Fischer's enzyme lock in it's substrate key.' They were a few nervous laughs at that. 
She continued, with an indulgent smile. 'So let’s start with introductions. You say your name, the school you graduated from and your major. Let’s start with you,’ she gestured to a rail-thin bespectacled girl wearing over-sized pants and shirt. She looked rather frazzled, fussing with the notepad and pen she held. ‘Er...ok. I'm Efe Elogho. I'm a clinical chemistry major from Lars University.’
The introductions went round. There were two people from Lars, about ten from Legon University of Science and Technology, she and four other girls were from National University while the rest were from private universities all over the country.
The next three hours were spent learning dress codes, rules, guidelines, names of top scientists, general procedures and what not. It was utterly exhausting.

Vera let them take a thirty-minute lunch break in the canteen-which was on the ground floor. She noticed as she bought a meat-pie & coke that friendships were already been formed among the new interns; particularly the ones that came from the same school. She was a loner by nature, so while she and the other girls from her school knew each other by sight, they weren’t particularly friendly. They sat together at another table while she took one alone.
She noticed Efe looking around for where to sit and motioned her over. She came, looking gratefully relieved. ‘Hi, thanks for letting me sit with you.’ ‘o biggie. I'm...’ ‘Margaret Umeh, from NU. Yeah, I heard during the...introductions.’ Meg raised a brow. ‘Ok...well. how are you finding Legon?’ ‘It’s ok. I have a brother here, he works in a bank so I’ve been staying with him. Checked your postings yet?’ ‘I'm dreading that, actually. I was never very good with chemical pathology so if I get that first...it won’t be a hurrah moment for me. It’ll mean marathon reading up sessions and all nighters.’ ‘I'm sure you’re better at it than you think,’ Efe bit into her coleslaw, ‘you look like you come out on top of every situation.’ Meg smiled, ‘that’s very kind of you.’ ‘Well, I'm in haematology first. You should check yours, really, before lunch is over.’
They talked till the lunch hour ran out and they gathered at the ground floor reception once again to resume the tour. That didn’t last long, though, because, soon they had to go and meet their supervisors. Which meant checking her rotation.
It was in microbiology. She smiled; not a bad place to begin.

She and four other interns: two males and two females-took the elevator to the third floor. Vera wasn’t with them, but they’d been on that floor earlier that morning so Meg made a beeline for the reception. An older woman was behind the desk. ‘First office on the left, the plate on the door says Dr. Okah,’ she said without looking up. Meg nodded, ‘thank you,’ then headed for the office. She turned around to see that the others were following her. They’d made her their leader by proxy. She shrugged mentally and knocked on the door. She heard a muffled ‘come in’ and opened the door.

The man in the extensive, comfortable looking office was not behind his desk. To the left end of his office there was a work area and a table with slides and microscopes, and he was behind one. They piled in nervously, no one wanting to be in the front. Meg rolled her eyes, ‘bunch of babies,’ she muttered to herself and took the lead. It wasn't like she wasn’t nervous, she just believed in getting things over with. The man motioned forward with a hand. ‘come here, you in front.’ She did, steeling herself against the sudden onslaught of panic. He made way for her to take his place at the microscope. ‘look at this. Tell me what you see.’ She peered into the microscope, adjusting it’s focus slightly. Phew, thank God, this was one she knew. ‘there are motile Plasmodium organisms in the blood film-I'll say about 3 plus.’ When she looked up, he was smiling and she got to really look at him. He was...
Young.
She’d expected a man with at least greying temples-this man was not even into his forties yet. As she gaped at him in shock, he turned to the others. ‘the lady is right, it is malaria-a very heavy infestation too. I'm Dr. Obinna Okah-and just so you guys don’t spend the next two months speculating and manufacturing gossip-yes, I am a doctor. Yes, I am also a microbiologist. Yes, I was a doctor before I went to do microbiology. Any other questions about my personal life you might have, you can sit on.
'We’re here to work, people, but there’s no reason we can’t have fun doing it. Medicine is a very interesting course-it’s been said that in no other way is man closer to gods than in being able to heal...and...' he sighed self-deprecatingly, 'ok, I don’t remember exactly what that saying is so let’s just coast past it and forget I tried to impress you guys.’ 
They all chuckled nervously and he nodded. ‘I believe in making this the best experience for you, but don’t think for one second that it means slacking will be tolerated. Do not,’ he swept them with a suddenly cutting gaze, ‘underestimate me. I will address any insubordination, laziness or any other misdemeanour with swift and decisive action-in plain English, I can have you kicked off the program in a heartbeat.
'I can also make sure your career after this year progresses with supernova-like success. We have many programs that give our best and brightest the chance to get permanent positions in laboratories and research facilities both in this country and out of it, so I urge you to maximise this opportunity. Believe me when I say that you will not find any other like it.
'That being said, you are welcome. Let’s get to work, people. Pick up your standard operating procedure files from Maxine at the reception and go through them thoroughly. Tomorrow, you begin-and I expect you to be prepared. Your different bench rotations are on our notice board. Good afternoon.’

@@@
She was walking to the taxi bay, her lab-coat draped over an arm and her battle bag heavier from all the files she had to read up on before the next day. She was exhausted, but exhilarated at the same time-she couldn’t wait to start. In as much as change scared her, when she did come to terms with it, it was exciting.

‘Miss Umeh?’

She faltered and looked around, then saw Dr. Okah waving to her from his car. She was puzzled but walked towards him. ‘Good afternoon, sir, sorry I didn’t see you there.’ He smiled, a surprisingly open and warm smile. He was good-looking-with clean, honest features but that smile transformed him to a strikingly handsome man. She couldn’t help but smile back. ‘So, how did you find today?’ ‘It was illuminating, I certainly learnt a lot. Can’t wait to start tomorrow, sir.’ ‘First of all-you can just call me Obinna.’ 
She shook her head, ‘no, I couldn’t...you’re my boss.’ he nodded, ‘I thought you’d say that. How about Dr. Okah then? No more of the ‘sir’ stuff, it makes me feel 60.’ ‘Only if you call me Margaret.’ ‘That’s a beautiful name,’ he put his hands in the pockets of his brown slacks and rocked slightly on his heels.

Meg’s brow furrowed. At that moment, he looked nothing like the man who could make or mar her life. He looked like a nervous guy talking to an attractive girl.
She was the attractive girl.
She was suddenly overcome with...shyness.
He shrugged one shoulder. ‘So...er...if you’re free for an early dinner, there’s this really good place I know off-campus.’ She looked at her watch, ‘I don’t think so, it’s almost seven pm.’ ‘I'll drop you off at home, after, consider it a personal favour. I really don't like eating alone,’ he pressed on. 

With another look at him, she gave in. He was nice to offer and there was no harm in accepting.
‘Well, when you put it like that what can I say. I am hungry.’ ‘Dinner it is, then!,’ he opened the passenger seat of his car for her with a flourish, ‘you know, you’re the first person to sit in this car apart from me. I just bought it about a week ago.’ ‘Wow, that’s cool! In that case, congratulations are in order, how about I buy you a drink at dinner today?’ ‘It’s the least you can do.’ They chuckled, getting more comfortable with each other.

When she came home, Chioma came out of her room to meet her in the living room. ‘Thank God you’re back! Where on God's green earth have you been, Meg? It’s past nine.’ ‘Really? I didn’t notice.’ ‘Your phone was off, you weren’t replying my chats...you’re new to this town, I was worried! This is Legon, you don’t just wander off however you want or it will eat you alive.’ ‘Quit the drama, I was just having dinner.’ ‘Dinner? As in a date? Already? Girl, you work fast! With whom?’ 
She pulled off her shoes and rubbed one aching foot. ‘It wasn’t a date, my supervisor just wanted to welcome me and took me to this nice, family-owned place...’ ‘You mean some old doctor or something is after you? And you’re encouraging him? That’s sexual harassment, Maggie.’ She sighed, ‘again with the drama! He was just trying to be nice.’ 
Chioma finally relented. She sank into a couch and grabbed the remote, ‘uh huh. He wants to be a lot of things, I'm sure, nice ain’t one of ‘em. He likes you.’ ‘he’s my boss,’ Meg shook her head and bent to retrieve her shoes.
‘...and here I was, the concerned roommate, thinking you’d been mugged, or killed. Or worse.’ Meg’s brows rose. ‘There’s something worse than being killed?’ ‘Shut up, smartass, this is not Coal City. In Legon, you snooze, you lose. This is the most populated, busiest city in this country, it’s not a place for slackers.’
The other girl, who was on her way to her room paused and smiled in amused irony. ‘Actually, Ibadan is the most populated city in the country...’ Chioma turned to her with a menacing look and she shrugged with a chuckle. ‘Sorry.’ ‘Stop interrupting me when I'm trying to be concerned for you! Did he...make any moves? You know?’ ‘No!! He wouldn’t dare, he was a gentleman throughout. And like I said before, he’s...’ ‘Your boss, yeah. Like that has ever stopped anyone before. What’s his name?’ ‘Dr. Obinna Okah.’ ‘Look, honey, if he ever begins to lech, tell me and I'll fix him.’ She faced the television, tuning to a horror movie. 
Meg made her way to her room, muttering, ‘I'm afraid to ask what that means.’
After she showered and wore her pyjamas, she came back to the parlour with a steaming mug of cereal and sat with Chioma. ‘Do I have to watch this? I’ve missed more episodes of Royal Pains than I'm comfortable with.’ ‘On the plus side, Supernatural is up in five minutes.’ She perked up. ‘Oh goody, I want to know what happened with Castiel!’
That earned her a surprised look. ‘You, a Supernatural fan? I would have agreed if you had said Vampire Diaries or Gossip Girl, But Supernatural?' 'For your information, I am not a fan of either of those shows. The drama is just too much.' 'Nice! You know, being around me is bound to earn you some cool points, I'm already rubbing off on you.’ Meg raised a brow and spoke in a deadpan voice, ‘gee, thanks Chioma, that’s very benevolent of you. What would have become of me if we hadn’t met?’ 
Oblivious to the sarcasm, the other girl gave her a solicitous smile, ‘you’re welcome, sweetie. It’s the duty of us cool people to help out your kind.’ 
Meg shook her head. Unbelievable!

Twenty minutes into the episode, she noticed that her roommate was silent, which was grossly unusual. She turned to her, ‘how was work, by the way? Everything ok?’ ‘Yeah, yeah, work is great.’ ‘So why the glum?’
Chioma shrugged, her silky kimono-housecoat slipping slightly off her shoulder in the process. ‘Nothing serious. A guy I was seeing broke up with me today. He says and I quote- ‘Chioma, you are too cold’-what on earth does that even mean?’ 
Meg didn't know how to react to this new level of intimacy. She felt bad for her, though. ‘Oh no. I'm so sorry. I didn’t even know you had a boyfriend.’ 'Its not like we were all serious and in love or anything. He was a lot of fun, he had a lot of money to spend...I’m not beat up about the whole thing. It’s just,’ she sat up and looked at her, ‘I'm twenty-four years old and I’ve never had anything real. I feel like I'm ready for something that lasts, you know. The thing is-where is he?’
Her roommate shrugged. ‘Don’t ask me, I'm the wrong person to ask for philosophical help. My social and emotional life was almost non-existent when I was in school. I had a particular group of friends, I’m not really comfortable with new people...I’ve had only one serious boyfriend and we only dated for seven months so...’ she put down her mug on a coaster on the centre table, ‘I can tell you though that the things we want are usually not what we need. Maybe you don’t need a man right now. Maybe what you need is to...get to know yourself better, grow, you know. Don’t worry, Chi. You’ll find what you’re looking for, sooner or later.’
She smiled at her gratefully, then glance back at the television.
‘Oh my God, we were too busy mooning over our lives to notice that this episode is almost over!’ she was horrified. Meg smiled and picked up the remote. ‘don’t fret, I TIVOed it.’
Again, the surprised look. Then Chioma pouted. ‘you were supposed to be comforting me, not TIVOing Supernatural episodes!’ ‘girl, I'm sympathetic, not brain-dead! Who misses an episode of Supernatural? On purpose?
Their laughter rang through the house.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Just Musing...



I am a writer.
Am I? I mean, I think I am-I am taking this class to get better. You can’t get better at something you don’t already do, right? Ok, this is not a good start to an introductory essay, but understandably, I am nervous. I’ve never had to take stock of myself as a writer, I’ve always thought I lacked...technique- that thing that makes people like Buchi Emechata churn out great stories. I just write where my heart leads me.
I started writing when I was eight. My earliest memory of writing a story was one about four teenage friends: one Igbo boy, two Hausa siblings: a boy and a girl and one Yoruba girl who got lost fetching firewood in a huge forest and had to make a living by themselves. They intermarried and the Hausa girl found a Hausa Prince who was also missing...it was a wreck, but I loved it!
When I was younger, I used to get terrible headaches whenever a story came to me. I would be unable to concentrate for days until my dad got me a sheaf of computer sheets to write with-bar that, I would convert one of my schoolbooks. Those were the days when there were no deadlines, no exams or assessments to worry about...writing was a passion and a past time and I could take all the time I wanted with it.
As I grew and got into secondary school, my writing grew and changed with me. I no longer subscribed to the fantastical writing of my primary school days. Some things did not change, though-I still loathed the ending of any story (so I wrote sequels) and I never, ever killed a major character-not even in the sequels. I still haven’t till date.
University presented bigger challenges: more realistic, workable stories but little time to finish them with the vigorous schedule of medical school. It was here that I began to consider writing as a career choice, sort of like a safety net if the whole laboratory scientist thing didn’t pan out. I also realised that I can never give it up. Yes, I don’t get idea headaches anymore and my characters don’t have perfect lives, but I love writing. I love books. I love literature.
If love, passion and willingness to learn and improve don’t make me a writer, I don’t know what does.
I AM a writer.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Finders, Keepers Chapter One: Flatmates!



                                                                
The agent’s office smelled like the street outside and the musty rug inside. Margaret Umeh tried very hard not to crinkle her nose at the man who was going to give her a house. Jennifer was nice, but she really needed her own place before she started her internship.
Internship. Such a small, harmless word for the most terrifying thing she’d ever done in her life. One wrong move and someone paid for it-maybe a patient, maybe a doctor…maybe her. As her mind wandered to all the worst-case scenarios, she ignored the man sitting across from her who was droning about prices and apartment spaces…
‘Hey! Hey!’ he snapped his fingers in front of her face, interrupting her runaway train of thoughts. She glared at him. ‘I’m listening, Mr. Awo.’ Fitting name. He did look like a toad. ‘The house have 2 rooms, self contain. Big space. Kitchen and parlour. Very good house.’ ‘Right, I got that. I have a problem with the price though, two-fifty thousand is too much.’ It’s the price, Missy.’ ‘I’ll give you two hundred thousand and that’s how far I’m willing to go.’
The agent gave her a stony look imbued with all the words he probably couldn’t put voice to. She kept hers blank. Finally, he sighed. ‘Ok, Missy. Two hundred.’ She nodded, somewhat angry because she felt she was being ripped off-for a house in Freedom Town. She just really needed a place and this house sounded too good to be true. As she signed the cheque, she seethed with righteous anger borne from losing money. She was living off her parents till she got her first paycheck-they were happy to help, but she still felt guilty asking them for help. They’d been always there for her and would still be in the future but in this brief window when she could provide for herself, she wanted to. Badly.
‘This house had better be good-better than good,’ she handed him the cheque which he inspected with the precision of the half-literate, then recorded it in his notebook and stamped it-all very precise, very controlled movements-which took up to thirty minutes to complete. Frankly, she just wanted this to be over.
Finally, he handed her a bunch of keys tied together with a string and showed her where to sign on the reciept.
She took it and stood, taking her worn ‘battle’ bag: it was her go-to bag, easy to carry and roomy. ‘This apartment had better have locks that work. And good electrical connections. And a toilet that flushes without drowning the bathroom…the works, or you’ll not hear the last of it.
‘Bye, Missy,’ the agent said in his bored, toady voice. ‘Uh huh.’ She made sure to bang his office door.

@@@
Her phone was ringing as she came out of the bathroom. She ignored it, wiping off her body quickly and dropping the towel where she stood. She had a date-a hot date-and couldn’t afford to pass it off. The way things were looking, she was going to be late already. The busy day at work had left her tired and irritable, but the bath and anticipating her date with Tom made up for all that. She was smiling as she grabbed underwear from the bag beside the dresser-which she’d not gotten around to unpacking- and dragged her favourite blue butterfly top from the wardrobe hanger. The gray shorts she was going to wear them with was…somewhere…somewhere…
She went on her knees and started searching-it’d probably be under the bed.
The phone started ringing again and she dived for it, banging her head on the headboard in the process. ‘Jesus-Christ-stupid-fucking-hell!!!!’ ‘Chioma Obiorah, what sort of language is that?!’ She sighed at her stepmother’s voice, and then sat back on her haunches. ‘Hey, stepmum. Sorry, I hit my head.’ ‘Are you looking for your clothes in unlikely places again? Because I keep telling you-there’s a reason it’s called a room, not a tornado spot.’ ‘I have a system, Aisha, and it works for me. When I need it, I’ll find it.’ ‘Yeah how’s that working out for you?’
She sat up and started putting the underwear on, holding the phone to her ear with her shoulder. ‘Not, very well, but you know…’ ‘You have to call your father, Chi.’ She paused in her actions. ‘…nope. Not happening.’ ‘Chi…’ ‘I am not talking to a man who thinks I’m a huge disappointment.’ ‘He loves you, sweetie. Just come for dinner, at least that.’ ‘Yeah, like those ever turn out well-they always become impromptu performance reports.’ ‘Give your old man a break, Chi. He works hard for everyone so he expects the best…’ The top came on. ‘Really? Because I think that graduating with a first class In fine and applied arts is hard work enough and would ma-say, a caring father-proud of me’, she finished, putting the phone on a tub of makeup remover on her dresser and picking up the hairbrush. On hind thought, she pressed the speaker button and commenced brushing her long, thick hair back.
Her stepmother was still on the warpath. ‘I just feel guilty about this rift you have with your father.’ ‘Oh no, Aisha, this has nothing to do with you! Some things are not meant to be. With you, he’s a different person though; he smiles, never raises his voice-I swear I heard him make a joke once when you two were in the living room! He loves you. But me? Nah. He’s just stuck with me ‘cos he’s my father.’ ‘Chioma…’ ‘It’s the truth! It’s like he’s making me pay for everything my mother did to him! Not that he didn’t deserve those things.’ The hairbrush came down, foundation was next. She applied it with the ease of long use. ‘He loves you, chi. He’s proud of you.’ ‘Oh, step-mum, it’s sweet of you, really. But it doesn’t change anything. Let’s talk about something else, though. How’re the twins?’ Aisha sighed. ‘Mike broke his leg and Gaby has a terrible cold. Get the picture?’ ‘Yeah, chaos. You should get back to them now, I’m sure they need you.’ ‘Promise me you’ll call your father.’ ‘Please, I have to…’ ‘Promise it, honey. It won’t hurt a bit. Come on!’ ‘Okay’, she gave in, sighing in defeat. ‘There! Was that difficult now?’ ‘Yes!’ the woman chuckled, ‘I’ll leave you now to get on with your date.’
Chioma paused.
 ‘How did you know I had a date?’ ‘I’ve known you for ten years, six months and two weeks, chioma,’ she said with a long-suffering sigh. Chi smiled. Sweet, sweet step-mum. ‘Alright. Tell the twins I sent a drone of mosquitoes to them'.’ ‘You bet I will. Have fun! Be careful!’ ‘Bye’
Aisha, the only mother she’d known. Hers was somewhere in America. She’d not heard from her in six months. Her parents thought that sending her all the money she needed would make up for their absence. The truth was it didn’t. It made the hurt worse. Not all the Prada bags in the world could make up for her parents. It helped, though. She took a deep, cleansing breath, ‘snap out of it, buster‼ You have a date.’
She grabbed her Prada handbag and left the house.
                                                   
@@@
‘Jennifer, thank you so much, you’ve been a gracious hostess and you put up with me-that’s an accomplishment.’ The short, rounded girl laughed and waved off her thanks, the diamond solitaire ring on her left hand winking in the light. ‘Its okay, Meg, you’re actually fun to stay with. Just call me if you have any problems, ok?’ ‘Alright.’ ‘Remember, if you need anything, just call me,’ she looked around, ‘maybe I should help you unpack, this place looks like a terrible mess.’ ‘I heard you the first hundred times you offered, Jen, and my answer is still thanks again but no. go on, you’re supposed to be at lunch with Ugo’s family!’ Jenny waved and left.
Meg looked around the living room. It was small and cosy. Small, cosy and messy. The former tenants must have been less, less than organized. There was a table, an armchair, and a couch. They were all littered with popcorn and there was a half-drunk bottle of wine on the table. She frowned and ran a finger on the table. Wait-no dust. Surely, it meant her predecessors had left that day…
Or hadn’t left yet, she surmised when she looked into the room with its door open. There were two rooms. One was open, dusty and empty. The other was open, not dusty and definitely not empty. It looked like hurricane Katrina missed her target and hit that room. And it looked like the occupants were very much around. How could Mr. Toad rent her an occupied house?!
Fuming, she moved her luggage to her room-the empty room. That done, she went downstairs and enlisted the help of the security man to carry her small table and two seats into the room. Her mattress went on the floor-for now, till she got a bed frame. Then came time for her to unpack the foodstuff. She marched to the kitchen.
And screamed. Piles of unwashed plates, the stove was crusty with stuff she couldn’t identify, and there was no cupboard. There was food debris all over the place. ‘What’s this rubbish?!Who’s this ghost occupant in my house?’
Chioma had just entered the house. She heard the enraged voice and detoured towards to see a petite girl-in black leggings and a purple bogus top, her hair in a short ponytail standing in her kitchen. A mugging-gone wrong, maybe? Already? Uh uh, nobody robbed her and got away with it. Not in her town. ‘Excuse me, who are you?’
The intruder jumped and turned to the voice, her heart pounding.
‘How’d you get in here?’ ‘With my key, of course. I should be asking you what you’re doing in here, in my house.’ ‘This is my house!’ ‘Look, I don’t like games. I paid the rent on this apartment, signed the receipt and was given the keys today.’ ‘Are you kidding me?’ ‘No way will I be kidding by past 7pm. I’m hungry and tired and need to sleep, so jokes are out.’ ‘There’s a problem here,’ she folded her arms over her expensive looking blue top, keys dangling from one crooked finger, ‘ I moved into this house-my house-two weeks ago. You’re in the wrong place, girl.’ ‘My name’s not ‘girl’, meg retorted acidly, getting more irritated by the minute, ‘it’s Margaret. M-a-r-g-a-r-e-t!’ ‘Hey, there’s no need for you to get all prickly here. It’s you who’s crowding my space.’ She took a deep breath, schooling her temper. ‘We need to sort this out.’ ‘Yes, we do’, Chioma said, cool as ever, ‘but you’re hungry and tired and need to sleep so I’ll let you stay the night. In the morning, you can go see the landlord’s agent and sort things out.’
Meg felt ashamed of her earlier outburst. She always got like that whenever she was in a threatened position. This girl was very nice, for sure. ‘I’m sorry I bitched you earlier.’ ‘It’s ok. Believe me I’ve seen bitchy. I work with models-this was a slow Tuesday’s equivalent of a hissy fit at my job.’ Meg smiled. ‘My name’s Margaret Umeh.’ ‘I got that. Chioma Obiorah.’ ‘Thanks for not kicking my ass out of here.’ ‘You’re welcome.’
Chioma turned to go but the other girl interrupted her again, ‘um, excuse me? If I'm going to stay here tonight, it’s gotta be clean.’ ‘Really? Who died and made you my mother?’ ‘It’s not that, it’s just...I’m a tad OCD. I can’t function in a place this messy, I'll get hives and end up cleaning it anyway and you’ll not like the sounds of me scrubbing in the middle of the night when you’re sleeping.’ Chioma gaped at her. ‘Are you serious right now?’ ‘Like a heart attack. You have to wash up all these,’ she gestured with her hands at the dirty dishes, ‘and your room too.’ Chioma rolled her eyes, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me! I’ve been doing fine in this house for the past two weeks, and I have a system...’ ‘Does that involve the health department declaring this place uninhabitable? Because that’s where you’re headed. I give you a month, tops.’
Chioma folded her arms in obstinate defeat. ‘Margaret, I don’t like you.’ ‘Oh good, most people don’t. Now I don’t have to worry about impressing you,’ she retorted with a bright smile, ‘don’t worry, I'll help you out.’ ‘Fine!!’ ‘Fine.’
Two hours later, they were in Chioma’s room. The rest of the house was shiny clean-the girl cleaned like a drill sergeant. They’d not done much talking, with Margaret being ill at ease around her. Chioma suspected it was her crack about not liking her that was the problem. In spite of her pretence of a thick skin, this girl was very sensitive.
‘I'm sorry.’ She looked up from the waste bin where she was trying to make all the candy and cookie wrappers that came out from under the bed fit. It was a losing battle. ‘Why? I'm the one who didn’t get my facts straight before I invaded your space,’ she pressed the wrappers harder into the bin. Chioma suspected that this was a girl that didn’t accept defeat easily. ‘Not that,’ she put a restraining hand on her shoulder, making her stop her frantic actions and look at her, ‘I'm sorry I said I didn’t like you. That was a very insensitive thing to say, given the circumstances.’ ‘You’re not under any obligations to like me, I'll be gone tomorrow.’ ‘You don’t have to...I mean, till the agent has this straightened out.’
Meg looked at her intensely for a moment, and then shrugged. ‘Ok, thanks.’ ‘So...clean slate?’ ‘Ok,’ she managed to smile a little, and then went back to attacking the waste bin. ‘What do you do?’ ‘oh...I’m a student-actually, I just graduated, I'm still not used to that-I'm attached at Legon University Teaching Hospital for my internship. Medical lab science.’ ‘A scientist, wow. How...intellectual.’ ‘xI love it,’ she gave up on the bin and found a paper bag instead. It worked, to Chioma’s relief-she was starting to sweat just looking at the girl fight with the bin. The dresser was next.
‘What of you?’ ‘I'm a graphic designer with Life magazine.’ ‘Get out! You’re an artist? With Life? That’s the biggest magazine in this country! A job that glamorous...’ ‘Whoa, let’s not get carried away,’ she laughed, carrying a pile of clothes to the wash basket and dumping them in there. ‘When did you graduate?’ ‘Two years ago. My step-mother had some contacts and got me my dream job.’ ‘Step mother?’ ‘Don’t look so aghast, she’s a sweetheart.’ Meg straightened the last of the cosmetics on the dresser and looked around the room, noticing some pencil sketches propped against one wall. They were pretty good. ‘You’re actually good with a brush.’ ‘Thanks.’ ‘I liked to draw too, when I was younger. Could never get my bodily proportions to line up, though. Now I just stick with writing. And reading-love those.’ ‘...thus the proper, Queen’s English you speak.  And the marked British pronunciations.’ ‘Oh, come on.’ She blushed.
‘When do you start work?’ ‘Monday.’ ‘Wow, you have barely three days.’ ‘Yeah, I looked for an apartment for the longest time. I grew up in Enugu but when I got this appointment, I came here-about a month ago. I just didn’t think it’d be this difficult to find a place to live. I like having things sorted out, you know...settled in, or I can’t function maximally.’ ‘I’ve noticed. Look, you don’t have to figure everything out right now.’ ‘I kind of think I do.’
They finished the rest of the cleaning in quiet contemplation.

@@@
‘The house is already occupied, Mr. Agent,’ Meg said by way of greeting the next day as she stepped into Mr. Awo’s office. Was it the lighting, or was he getting fatter around the middle? Definitely the lighting considering she’d just met him a week ago. ‘What you want, a private suite?’ ‘I want what I paid for! Don’t tell me you knew that house was already occupied?’ ‘Yes, missy. I rent you one room.’ ‘No way, I paid for two self-contained rooms! My brother is coming to school here soon, where will he stay?’ ‘you single, only one person. You no need two rooms.’ ‘Don’t tell me what I need, Mr. Toady...em, Awo. I paid for two rooms-I want two rooms.’ ‘Sorry,’ he said flatly, losing interest in her tirade and going back to the book he was writing in.
‘So what happens now?’ ‘You have flatmate, Missy. I have many client, so go.’ ‘You have to find me another place.’ ‘Only empty in three month.’ ‘Three months? You’re kidding me!’ ‘No. Go now.’ She glared at him for a long moment, and then left in a huff.
I’ve been cheated! Can you imagine that? I hate being cheated.’ Jennifer raised her brows at her friend who was pacing her sitting room-cum-bedroom. ‘How?’ ‘The agent gave me an occupied house. One room is already occupied.’ Jennifer was a former course-mate. She’d accommodated her till she got her own house-if she’d gotten her own house. ‘What’s the big deal, just go with it. Occupy the other room; the house has a lot of space from what I saw. You won’t be in each other’s way.’ ‘He told me it was two rooms!’ ‘Which it was, technically. That’s ok if you ask me, considering that I thought that rent way too cheap for a two bedroom flat. How’s the other girl?’ ‘She’s ok, I guess. She’s kind-if a bit scattered-she’s friendly. And hot. Why do I always get the hot roommates that make me look like a hobbit in comparison?’
Jen laughed. ‘So she’s one of those girls that look like they just stepped out of a magazine?’ ‘Ironically, she works in one too.  Life.’ ‘Hmmm, nice.’ ‘Yep. Classy, has that whole ‘diva’ attitude...so Jen, you’re saying I should stay?’ ‘Yes, so far as it’s ok with the other girl. I mean, she was there first. Technically, though, you shouldn’t have to ask her since you both paid for the apartment.’ ‘Great.’ ‘If it doesn’t work out, you can always come stay here.’ ‘Thanks Jenny, you’re the best.’

@@@
Larry sauntered into Chioma’s cubicle, then dumped a sheaf of type-set pages on her desk. ‘I need you to proof read this for me.’ ‘Go to the proofreading people in the basement, I'm a graphic designer.’ ‘Come on, Sexy. Do it for me.’ She looked up from her computer. ‘Sure, just hand me the knife and I'll do you in,’ she snarled. He smirked. ‘Damn, girl. Turns me on when you do that.’ ‘Will you just leave?’ ‘Not if you were oxygen and I'm drowning.’ He just laughed harder, irritating her more.
‘Hey Larry!’ they turned to see the features editor, looking disagreeable as usual, ‘quit teasing miss Obiorah and come over here.’ He gave him the thumbs up sign and turned back to chioma. ‘So, drinks? After work?’ ‘no.’ ‘ok then, keep this up and you’re going to die an old maid. You do know I'm the only man who’ll have you right?’ ‘Get out, Larry.’ ‘Ok, ok. Just remember that when you’re fifty and dying.’ He left, tapping out a staccato rhythm on the side of her cubicle as he passed.
The editor turned back to her and snapped, ‘Miss Obiorah, get back to work! This magazine is not going to produce itself.’ She turned back to her computer.
‘I want to see whoever is in charge of printing pictures here,’ a trademark female voice insisted loudly, attracting the attention of everyone on the Creative floor. Larry left his cubicle and headed over to the model everyone knew as Cindy. ‘Hey, Cindy. How’ve you been?’ ‘Who printed this hideous picture of me?’ she shrieked, holding out a copy of the previous month’s issue of the magazine. ‘Err...not one person is responsible for the pictures. Some people take them, others approve them...’ ‘don’t talk to me like I'm stupid,’ she postured, one hand on a perfectly arched hip and the other holding the offending artwork, ‘I want a list of everyone involved in printing this...this...,’ she gave up after a pause and threw her hands up. ‘I'll sue you. Every one of you. How dare you print a picture of me in this dress?’
One of the photographers came and took the magazine from her, perusing the picture. It was one of her in a yellow Oscar dress with a bell-bottom. ‘What’s wrong with the dress?’ ‘I look so fat in it! See, see,’ she snatched the magazine from the photographer and shoved it in the face of everyone who was gathered around her in turn, ‘you bunch of complete idiots have cost me money, I lost a major job because my agency thinks I’ve added weight!’ ‘Anyone who thinks that needs major eye surgery,’ Larry muttered under his breath, eyeing her razor thin frame. She swung around to him, her raven dark, waist-length hair flying. ‘What?’ ‘Nothing.’ Chioma was finding it more and more difficult to keep a straight face.
Finally, all the racket attracted the attention of the Creative editor-in-Chief. She came out of her office. ‘What’s going on out here?’ ‘Oh, good, someone that can do something. I have a complaint, Chris.’ ‘You always have a complaint, girl,’ she gestured with a toss of her head, ‘come on, step into my office.’
‘I swear I'll resign from this job every year, never get around to doing it,’ the photographer who’d gone to see the picture said, shaking his head. Chioma rolled her chair to the door of her cubicle to see him better as he passed, ‘yeah, like you’ll pass up any opportunity to take pictures of barely clothed, anorexic girls who can’t spell past the fifth grade level. ‘And because I can’t bear being away from you, sexy,’ he said with a lecherous smile, bending down to give her a light kiss on her cheek. She batted him away, laughing.
Larry saw them and walked over, a possessive scowl on his face. ‘Hey! Move on, dude, show’s over. Back to work.’ ‘Sorry man, I was just playing,’ he left them alone. She glared at him. ‘Really? You’re all alpha male now?’ ‘He was...’ ‘He’s just my friend, and you have no right over me, ok? Go away, I have work to do.’ He left in anger.

@@@
Meg was sitting cross-legged on the floor of her room eating ice cream and crackers when chioma came back. She paused when she saw her and detoured to her room instead. ‘Hi, Maggie.’ ‘Hi. How was work?’ ‘Crazy, as usual.’ She tossed her handbag to the bed on the floor, pulled off her shoes and imitated Meg’s stance, then took the tub of ice cream from her. ‘Mmm...vanilla and coffee. This is delish.’ Meg took a deep breath and braced herself for the worst. When chioma still didn’t say anything-just smeared a cracker with ice-cream and bit into it with a rapturous moan-she spoke up. ‘Chioma...’ ‘Before you say anything, let me finish this little piece of heaven I'm holding in my hand right now.’ The other girl smiled and let her finish the cracker.
When she finished, she sighed in bliss and dusted off her hands. ‘Ok, now I can process words. I know what you were going to say, Maggie...’ ‘Even though you were unable to process words at the time?’ ‘Ha, ha, she has a sense of humour. Abeg let me finish, jor. It’ll be nice to have a roommate, someone to gist with and bitch with. You can organise stuff and I can...pimp you up. Put a little fizz in your life.’ ‘What does that mean?’ ‘You are much too demure, girl,’ she took another cracker and started smearing it with ice-cream.
Meg chuckled. ‘Honey, you just made the first error in judgement that people who meet me make. I'm not just this...quiet, homely girl who likes to cook and sew.’ ‘Uh huh.’ ‘I mean it! I have plenty of fizz.’ ‘Uh huh.’ They both laughed. ‘Thanks for letting me stay, though. This is going to be fun.’
Chioma stood and opened the box beside the bed that Meg had never unpacked, then started rummaging through it till she came upon a short, electric blue toga dress. ‘Wow! This is cute, Meg. Put it on, we’re going out.’ ‘Hmmm?’ the other girl raised a brow, spoon of ice cream suspended on its way to her mouth. ‘Yeah, it’s a Friday night! You cannot stay in on a Friday night in Legon, that’s a disaster. Girl, wear this.’ ‘I can’t, I’ve had that for more than two years but never got the courage to wear it-it’s way shorter than I'm comfortable with.’ ‘Oh, you are so wearing this, Maggie. Find a pair of heels to go with them and meet me in twenty, we’ll go with my car.’ ‘I’ve just never had the courage to...’ ‘You do now. Dress!’