Bimpe eased into the softness of the leather chair after a chaotic afternoon spent sorting out customer’s orders for next day dispatch, the clock said 6pm. Her store was one of the exotic shop for expensive Lace and George materials. Her nosy neighbors seem to have lost track on what new charm she was conjuring to attract the class of flashy women who didn’t know what to do with their money around Magodo.
She knew why they flocked her store like hungry lionesses, it was simple – in Lagos even if it was human shit you sold, as long as you give it an attractive packaging, someone will find value in it. She also knew how to fan those women’s fantasy. And she could go to anywhere in the world to get them what they wanted.
Her philosophy was always, ‘the more they want it, the higher the premium you put on it’ and it worked for her. Still the one she never ceased to laugh over was their endless chatter when they visited her store, those big big women with loud mouth looking for whom to tell their woes.
They told her about the unavailable husband, the new guy they were seeing and how they hoped to spend their next holiday in Mercury or somewhere close to the dead sea. She laughed when they made dry jokes and reacted to their endless woe stories like a robot – smile when they smiled, clap when they talked about their escapades. What they wanted was that she listened to whatever they have to say, even if it was for the hundredth time – she listened.
Today was one of those days and she hoped another customer didn’t push through the door when Anisha walked in noisily, it was her trademark and once she entered every attention was on her.
‘Ah, Bimpe the cloth dealer, you didn’t see me all these weeks and you didn’t bother calling. You are not a good customer ooo.’ her words buried in thick Yoruba accent. She flashed her new set of gold teeth too long that her jaws hurt, she patted them with the back of her hand revealing yellow skin neatly toned.
Bimpe was about to form something that should have come out as an apology but instead she replied, ‘Alhaja are those new sets of good teeth?’ Anisha smiled again, Bimpe knew she had her where she wanted. Then she stood up revealing her baby bum.
‘Ah, the cloth dealer will soon have a baby, this one shouldn’t like money like the mother ooo.’ she chatted walking towards Bimpe’s table.
‘If my child do not resemble me, who will she resemble?’ she asked and they both laughed while the attendants returned their attention to sorting out the day’s sales book and packing their stocks. Bimpe offered her one of the available cushion seat and sank back into her seat.
Anisha had gone to the pilgrimage, she had spent the last one year planning the trip and returned with two new set of gold teeth as souvenir. She showed Bimpe all the rings she bought from the Arab merchants but not without telling her, ‘You think say na my money I use buy them?’ before releasing a wicked grin.
Bimpe shook her head, she knew Anisha quite too well, she was one of those women who lived off the men they date even though they can afford all of life’s luxury. They continued to chatter about the mecca trip when Bimpe’s silver plaited Samsung A8 rang, she glanced at the screen and hissed when she saw Leye as the caller.
Leye was her cousin from her father’s side and apart from his sarcasm, the only thing she knew him for was that he carried tales like flies carry diseases, many of which were either gossips or bad news. She prayed it was the latter because he never told fake stories.
She let the dial trail off and he called again. Not until Anisha nudge her did her hand stretch to the phone like it was a heavy log. Her husband had told her she was tardy since she hit her second trimester, she almost chuckled.
‘Hello aunt.’ his voice came through at the other end. She chided herself and smiled wryly at the receiver. After the pleasantries, she inquired about his august call.
‘Ha, aunty Bimpe, don’t tell me you have not heard what is happening in Lagos right now.’ he said, his voice less serious than he intended.
Bimpe was irritated, this was why Nigerians tired her, ‘Why not tell me what is happening since you already called me.’ She let out a breath before her mouth blurted something brash.
‘Sorry aunty, is it the pregnancy. Sorry ooo.’ Bimpe was about to give him a piece of herself when he rambled on, ‘Otedola bridge is burning ooo and because your husband works around there, I said let me know if you have heard from him.’
Bimpe went bland for a while, that was the same route her husband flew every day for the last three years they said I-Do.
When she felt lighter, she murmured to the receiver, ‘when did this happen?’ her irritation turning to grey dread.
‘Happen ke, it started one hour ago and from what I heard in the news it is still burning. It was a petrol tanker, those yeye -‘ he was still saying when Bimpe dropped the phone. She heard him yell curses at the background before cutting the line when he got no response from her.
She wrapped her head with both hands before remembering she had a customer. On another day, she would ask Anisha to leave but she was more than a customer, it was her time to beg a place on her shoulder. ‘They said Otedola bridge is burning. My husband goes through that route every day.’
‘Ye,’ Anisha screamed fanning her rising fear, ‘I overheard something like that ooo when I was coming but I thought it was just small something. You know Lagos like to make noise about things. Ha, Oya call your husband.’
As if she just borrowed some sense, her hands seized the phone, she dialed repeatedly but it was a dead attempt. The agent kept saying the number was switched off or out of reach. She opted to dial her mother, it was futile, her brothers too didn’t respond either.
Without realizing it, tears started trailing her cheeks.
Anisha walked over to assure her it could be mere coincidence. Bimpe lifted up her moist face and nodded. Anisha asked to have those numbers so she can keep dialing from her phone, peradventure the network on her end would pull through.
Bimpe was overwhelmed by the gesture and called out the contacts to her. Anisha offered to drop her off when she bade to leave, she had meeting with a friend in her own store before they closed but Bimpe declined the offer.
Her attendants were still packing and she wasn’t leaving her store until her husband came for her. That was their agreement since she got pregnant and couldn’t steer the wheels. Her black Ford Escape, a gift on her last birthday from him was parked in their garage until she pulled through with her pregnancy.
Anisha left shortly leaving Bimpe to gloom over legions of forbidden thoughts. It was almost 8pm when her phone beeped, she leapt up almost jumping off her chair. It was her husband, ‘Sugar where have you been all day?’ she cried into the device. He apologized and explained that he was caught up at work which was unusual and unknown to him, his phone went dead.
By the time he was ready to drive home, every route was blocked because of the inferno. She sighed and muttered sweet nonsense to him relief washing over her. He had taken another route and was soon to be with her.
Thirty minutes later, she was grinning in his embrace, the attendants dispersed immediately he drove in. She kept thinking about how everything could have changed – the thought of becoming a widow in a bleak made her break away from his kiss. Before she could beat herself for being so dramatic, a call came in. It was from an unknown number.
‘Hello, is this Bimpe?’
‘Yes, how may I help you?’ her husband gave her that look of that-is-not-civil. She rolled her eyes before rephrasing her response. Her attention was needed urgently at a nearby hospital because her father was in a critical state and she was the only relative they could get through to. Her father was the last person she had thought to call, could he have been in the inferno?
When they got to the hospital, her father was in the emergency ward, he was in a vegetable state with eyes staring into nothing in particular.
The doctor asked for an alone time with her husband when he saw her protruding midsection but she objected demanding that she deserved to know whatever was wrong with her father. The doctor swallowed and offered them a walk to his office, when they were seated, he started.
‘I don’t mean to belittle your person ma’am,’ he said with unease, ‘your father collapsed after he got the news that your mother, two brothers and one of their girlfriend, Isioma, was identified as victims of the Otedola Bridge inferno.’
As the words spluttered from his lips Bimpe nearly sprang from her seat, gripping her husband before she slumped back into her seat.
A week later, she stood between her husband and Anisha when the bearded priest asked her to pour ashes on her father’s coffin. The inferno didn’t end on Otedola bridge, it burned in her.
She closed her eyes and wished it would consume her. It was 9 o’clock but the world turned dark inside of her, the only sound she heard was the sweet kick of her unborn.