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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Tenant's Dilemma (2)


Shortly after Vero left school, we got married. In fact, she took part in the mandatory National Youth Service Corps' programme as a married woman. By the time the service year ended, Vero was already pregnant with our first baby. Unfortunately, the baby, a boy died when he was three months old. It was a terrible time for us. I felt so devastated by the loss as I had so looked forward to seeing my son grow up into a strong healthy boy. 
 I blamed my wife for what happened. I had left for work on the fateful day, leaving a fine, healthy baby behind only to see his corpse on my return. 
According to the house girl, she had been left with the baby all alone at home as Vero had gone out with her friend. Sometime in the afternoon, my son had developed a fever. On calling my wife to inform her about the boy's condition, Vero had told her to give him some baby syrup.
 A few hours later, my son was dead. For the first time since our marriage, I felt like hitting my wife. But I was restrained by my younger brother, Joe who lived with us. 
 "Brother, calm down. Beating her won't bring Junior back," he cautioned as I made to beat Vero up for her actions. I believed it was her carelessness that caused our son's death. How could a woman nursing a baby leave home in the morning and not return till late in the evening, leaving her baby in the care of an ignorant maid? 
My son's untimely death caused a rift between Vero and I. We later made up though and before long, she conceived again.
 This time, she had a girl whom we named Oluchi. I didn't want anything to happen to this baby so I brought my mother from the village to help take care of her. 
 By then, two of my younger ones and a cousin of Vero were living with us. My apartment grew too small for all of us so I got a bigger three bedroom flat in a nice neighbourhood.
 We settled down in our new place and for a while, things went well for us. When the baby was six months old, my mother returned to the village as my father was ubeginning to complain about her long absence from home.
"Others who went for 'omugwo' at their daughters' homes at the same time as your mother  have long since returned. Or does she want to become a city dweller now, like all those city women who rub pancake and wear trousers like men? Doesn't she know she is now an old woman? Agadi nwanyi! (old lady)," my father said teasingly when I had gone home for a brief visit.

***
Some months after, something terrible happened at my work place. The Chairman of the company, who had founded it several decades before died. Most of the staff expected the only son, who was already a director in the business, to take over the reins of the company. But to our shock, the irresponsible young man sold it to some foreign investors, took the money and relocated out of the country!

 All this was done without carrying the workers along or even considering their welfare. We resumed work one morning to see a notice at the locked gates that a new management had taken over and all the workers had been made redundant. It was a big blow to everyone. The vague promise that we could be recalled some time in the future did not reassure any of us.
 I stood with the rest of the workers at the gate, feeling dazed as if I was in a dream. The thoughts going through my mind were confusing ones; how was I now going to take care of my family, pay my bills and take care of other things as a responsible family man now I had no job? I had been in the company for about six years and enjoyed working there.

 So, I felt really bad at being tossed into the uncertain labour market without warning. Worse still, I had just bought a new car and a plot of land in the suburbs of the city. My plan was to start developing it so we could move there in a few years' time. All those plans were now on hold.

 My wife was supportive at first of the situation. She kept reassuring me that something would turn up soon and I should not worry. But one year later and still no job, I began to worry. As an accountant, I had thought it would be easy enough to get another job. How wrong I was! While I still had a job, I never knew how saturated the labour market was with job seekers. 
  
 I wrote many applications but none were successful. But I never gave up. I kept writing, hoping and praying that a good offer would come. A few professional colleagues I knew gave me a few private jobs to do on the side to make some money. This helped a lot at least in feeding the family.
 Things went this way for a while with me continuing my job search. At a point, my financial situation became so tough that paying the rent on my apartment when my rent expired became a problem. I went to my landlord to explain my situation to him, promising that once I secured another job, I would pay. I had had a good relationship with the man since I began living in his house and he was understanding at first. But when a year passed with no rent, he gave me quit notice. 

 I didn't know what to do. Where would I move my family to if the landlord enforced the quit notice, I kept thinking worriedly.
 Then one day, I returned home from my usual job search to meet my landlord, the caretaker and a few others standing by the door of our flat. My wife and other members of my family were there too and it looked as if they had been pleading with him. The man was holding court papers which he waved in my face.
 "You have till the end of the week to move out else I will throw your things out! Did you give me money to build my house? So, why do you want to live here for free?" he asked belligerently.

 My wife knelt down and began to beg for more time to pay. I joined in too. But the man was not ready to listen.
 Flinging the papers at me, he threatened:
  "You either pay me my money or don't let me see you here when I return later in the week!"
 Since I didn't have the money to pay him, I began making alternative arrangements. I had spoken to a very good friend of mine, Mike concerning my accommodation problems. He told me about his younger brother who had travelled abroad, leaving his small flat empty.
 "His rent has not expired. You can move in and even take it over if you like the place," he stated.

 But my wife was against the idea. 
 "A mini-flat with just two rooms?" she stated incredulously when I told her about the flat. "It's too small for all of us. Besides, what will my friends say? They will laugh at me if we move from this big place to a tiny flat like that!"
 I tried to reason with her that because of the situation we were in, we did not have much choice.
 "It's only for a while till I can get another job," I stated reassuringly.

 But she was adamant, insisting that she was not going to live in that 'match box' as she called the flat.
 "I'm going no where! You are the man in this house! You go and get the money for the rent or look for a way to appease the landlord!" she declared.
 I shook my head, thinking how unreasonable she was being...
  Then a few days before the deadline given by the landlord for us to pack, Vero told me on my return home one evening that the landlord had changed his mind and that we could stay.
 "He said we should not move again. That we can stay till you have the money to pay," she announced, looking excited.
 "How come? Did you go and beg him or what?" I asked. I felt relief, as if a big weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
 But if I had known the reason for my landlord's change of mind, it would have been a different feeling indeed...


Names have been changed to protect the identity of the narrator and other individuals in the story.



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