October 18, 2018

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You know nothing about your neighbour -Peju Akande

You know nothing about your neighbour -Peju Akande

The day Eleanor’s husband, Obatunde, moved out of their matrimonial home, virtually everyone in our estate knew and for almost one year after, Eleanor did not breathe a word about it, she kept mum, carried on as if all was well with her household and so we all pretended not to know what was going on.

What we knew though was that both of them had no business getting married in the first place yet they managed between them to have three very cute children; Nikky is a cute 9-year-old girl. Her full name is Adenike. She’s courteous, friendly and very pretty. 7 year Mikky or Michel is a gregarious little lad, like boys his age, he is always getting into one trouble or another and the baby, 21months old Timmy Bobo or Timothy is yet to have a character to truly define him but he is a delightful chubby baby.

Now, this family lived in the flat downstairs, they have been our neighbours for the past five years and though Eleanor appears to be friendly, I mean the ‘good morning, good afternoon’ greeting kind of woman, she is very aloof.

In fact, Eleanor is uppity. ‘I work for an Experiential Agency,’ she told me few days after they moved in.

‘What does that mean?’

‘Oh, we do marketing, sponsorships, help Brands get to consumers faster through first hand experiences…’ she went on for a few minutes but she had lost me at ‘experiences’.

I tried to be friendly with Eleanor but she always has this, I –am- a- very- busy- woman attitude. I recall the first day they moved in.  A huge moving vehicle stopped outside the gate tailed by a fancy silver coloured Pajero jeep and a navy blue Corolla chugging like a locomotive.

‘Please call me Eleanor,’ she insisted from day one. And so that is what we called her, the entire neighbourhood, not mama Nikky, that is more fitting for a mother to bear, no, it has to be Eleanor or madam for those who find it hard to call her by her first name.

Shio!

Anyway, back to when Obatunde moved out; things changed. We all heard different versions of the breakup; we all wondered how long Obatunde would stay away. We gossiped while pretending to pray for the estranged couple. Thanks to Margaret, the nanny, I got to know what was really going on in their home. Eleanor the queen bee as we call her behind her back did not realise where the boundary lines fall; she might be boss in the office but won’t even let Obatunde wear the trousers at home. Margaret informed me Eleanor decides what schools the children attend, what tutors and how many come to teach the kids simply because she pays the rent, the incredibly exorbitant school fees for the kids somewhere in Oregun and she pays the driver as well as Margaret’s salary and of course just about every other thing.

‘And so what?’ I found myself asking one day. So, because a woman pays all the bills she gets to be uppity and talk down on her husband? No wonder the poor man just decided not to even compete with her. No wonder he just gave up and did not bother to improve himself. Haba! You can only improve yourself if you have a supportive wife!

After Obatunde moved out, Nikky and Mikky, the once noisy kids that bounded about on their bicycles with other kids in the estate, suddenly began to keep indoors. The changes didn’t come in the first few weeks. But it was there. I saw it.

I only saw them, the kids, when they were being driven to school and when they returned. They became quiet kids, too quiet in fact. They would not go out to play with other kids even when the others called out to them to come downstairs for game; no, Nikky and Mikky would stay by the window and quickly hide when they noticed anyone watching.

They would shuffle to school and shuffle back.

‘What is wrong with the kids?’, I asked Margaret one day. As usual, she was running an errand.

‘Nothing, ma,’ Margaret said.

‘But I don’t see them outside anymore.’

‘Oh, that one? You know that Nikky and Mikky are embarrassed, they say other kids are making fun of them, saying they don’t have a father anymore.’

‘Kids can be mean!’ They must have overheard their parents discussing the separation between Obatunde and Eleanor.

‘Yes, o.’ They say everybody knows and are making fun of them, even at school, they say children make fun of them. I think the kids are suffering.’

My heart sank for the kids.

‘And what is their mother doing?’ I asked her.

‘What will she do?’ Margaret asked. ‘She is working to make sure her kids don’t suffer and I hear her crying many times in the bathroom but she never lets me or the kids see her break down,’ Margaret said then hurried away to run her errand.

Eziokwu!

She is working and shedding crocodile tears! Tufiakwa! She lost her husband, she will lose her kids and she is still working!

One day, months after Obatunde moved, I met Eleanor by the gate, she was coming from an owambe going by her huge gele and heavy makeup. She was looking too happy, not like someone suffering over the breakdown of her marriage.

‘I haven’t seen Baba Nikky in a while,’ I said to her, hoping she would confide in me.

She didn’t even break her brisk walk upstairs.

‘Good afternoon Mummy T. He’s fine’, she told me. ‘He travelled.’ She slammed her door shut!

Shio, be lying to yourself, I wanted to call out to her, so you don’t know the entire estate already knows Obatunde has left you to your bad behavior! Ashawo.

Yes, what woman will still be looking cool after her man leaves her with three children? There’s another man in the shadows. Yes, there has to be!

*Continues next week

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