TOO YOUNG FOR THAT – Episode one
Amaju Izokiri paced the floor of the cluttered room he shared with Tega. He was restless, livid, unwilling to accept the content of the mail he’d just received. He glanced at his phone screen again and hissed. He was the one who pitched the idea of creating the app interface to Clinton when he visited his firm. Clinton embraced the idea and Amaju immediately got to work. He gave him the budget, Clinton had no qualms with it, he approved it and agreed to send thirty percent once Amaju started work on it. Amaju could not understand why he was receiving a mail from Clinton’s PA that the contract had been given to another UI/UX designer. Amaju called Clinton immediately, all Clinton had was a limp apology and something about finding a better designer. Amaju asked who the designer was, Clinton said it wasn’t important but Amaju insisted on knowing who the replacement was. He eventually gave him the name. Omoregie Ofure. Amaju got off the phone and searched out the lady on LinkedIn. He found her digital portfolio and it elicited a scoff from him. Her works were okay but she was definitely no match for him.
Amaju put his phone on his lips, thinking on why he was double crossed. Perhaps Clinton slept with this Ofure lady or she sold herself unreasonably cheap, since his initial budget was affordable enough. Amaju hissed again. Tega lifted his head from his pillow and glowered at him.
“Osare, wey you now? If sleep no dey your eyes, abeg no disturb my sleep. You just dey hiss like snake, dey waka upandan for has (Guy, what’s up now? If you’re not sleepy, don’t disturb my sleep. You’re just hissing like a snake and pacing all over the house.)”
Amaju stepped out of their one-bedroom apartment, to the porch overlooking a stretch of inky black sky dotted by stars. Why was he getting sabotaged a lot lately? Even his own sister employed one Elijah Gbadegesin to design the site for her brand, a mindless work done with a free wix template, yet the designer put ‘designed by Elijah Gbadesin’ as a footer on the site. When Amaju saw the site, he felt betrayed but he said nothing about it to her. He only asked her how much it cost and he was taken aback by the cut throat price she paid. Amaju hissed again. There was something else bothering him. It was a bubbly weight on his heart calling for attention, gently calling him to the place of prayer. He was familiar with this kind of prompting from the Holy Spirit. He knew that if he would just take some time to pray in tongues, he’d get clarity but he didn’t want to pray. He wasn’t in the mood.
The nudge became stronger. Breeze whistled around him.
He turned around and went into the room. He’d pray later, when he was in a better frame of mind.
You don’t wait for a mood of prayer. There’s really no such thing, and even if there is, you would usually enter it by prayer. So, pray yourself into the mood of prayer. If you leave your prayer life to those moments of emotion and goosebumps when you feel up to praying, you won’t have a healthy altar.
Amaju knew this, the words came to him from a sermon he preached at his campus fellowship prayer conference when he was invited as the alumnus guest minister, after all, he had been the prayer coordinator in his day. But tonight, Amaju nudged aside the nudge in his heart, he climbed his bed, covered himself snugly with his wrapper and gave in to slumber.
At 2:00AM sharp, Amaju awakened and as though on cue, his alarm started ringing. His prayer alarm. He stopped the alarm and stood up to use the toilet. He remembered the previous night and the burden he postponed. He still didn’t feel up to praying. He picked his phone and idled from one social media platform to the other. Instead of feeling bolstered by the banter on twitter, funny videos on WhatsApp status and Instagram, he felt drained. He went back to sleep.
I will pray later.
Amafojim Alade stood before her bathroom mirror, brushing her teeth and obsessing over a pimple on her forehead, this unwelcome punctuation to her flawless face. She’d received a lot of compliments about her looks in her lifetime but she doubted anyone was as smitten by her own beauty as she. Her husband, Ige jocularly called her a narcissist and in response she’d quip, ‘if you were this awesome, you’ll be a narcissist too.’
Ama spat toothpaste froth and resumed the up-down toothbrush movement. There was something disturbing her peace. It was ameboid, this bother, but it was also tangible and somehow, Ama knew it had to do with her son and only child, Josiah. His landmark birthday was just around the corner, next week Wednesday Josiah would be clocking eight. A regular person would argue that there’s nothing peculiar about eight but Josiah was Josiah and the Josiah of the Bible was crowned king at age eight. Ama smiled. She had often teased Josiah in recent times about preparing for coronation rites. Josiah would go on to give the details of the kind of crown he wants.
I want a bronze crown; gold is too regular. Bronze with precious stones all over. I want the inside of the crown to be velvety and soft, cushion for the royal head.
It was all banter and jokes and a bronze crown with velvet interior was an impractical gift, but Ama was going to get that crown for her boy. He would hang it somewhere in his room and wear it for pictures, or whatever, but it would be a constant affirmation to Josiah that he was royalty. Ama had reached out to a bronze sculptor online. The piece would cost a fortune and it would have to be shipped into the country but she told herself her son was worth it. He was worth so much more. She’d give as much as she could to keep his winsome smile intact.
Ige came to her side, picked the toothpaste and pressed a glob on his toothbrush. He was one of the few Nigerians who adhered to the ideal peanut measure of toothpaste, even after many years of trying to convince Ama, she still put a stretch of toothpaste that ran the full length of her toothbrush every day.
“Babe, I’m feeling funny about Josiah… How about we let him stay back home today?”
Ige gave her a funny look.
“I don’t know how to put it in words, but I have this foreboding… just this off feeling.”
Ige spat in the sank and ran water to flush it down the drain. “I think this is about the late-night news we saw yesterday. This is why I’m starting to hate watching news these days.”
Ama paused to consider that. On the news the previous day, a young girl about Josiah’s age had been declared missing and Ama remembered that she had a surge of paranoia in that moment. Perhaps this feeling was only paranoia in disguise. Ama shrugged and decided to brush the feeling aside.
“How prepared are you for your presentation today?”
Ige pursed his lips and feigned a scowl. “The same one you refused to look through for me?”
Ama chuckled and walked around Ige’s hulking figure. “Don’t be petty, young man. You know I had to help Josiah with his homework.”
Ige shrugged. “I’m positive. I should be able to close the deal.”
Ama walked to the closet, scanning through for what she’d wear that day. “Did I tell you I called the web designer?”
“Well, he said he can’t do anything about the brand site that was hijacked. Can you imagine? After all the money I paid for him to put up that whack site.”
“So, the site is gone just like that?”
“I was so upset. He said he was going to create another one. I’m like dude, I don’t want another domain name, I want the one I chose originally, the one I’ve pumped work and sweat into.” As she spoke, she picked a blouse, examined it, scrunched up her nose and hung it back on the rack. She decided to settle for a checkered chiffon gown with puffy sleeves and a belt. She could do with the comfort.
“I hate to say I told you so, but all these could easily have been avoided if you just used your brother’s service. Amaju is great at it, I don’t get why you wouldn’t work with him.”
Ama dropped the gown on the bed and returned to the closet wall where her wigs were hung. “First off, the both of us know that you don’t hate gloating. Secondly, I know that Amaju is good, but it’s against my work ethic to mix business with family. It hardly pans out well. Thirdly,” She held up two wigs. “which do you think would match that dress?”
“I beg to differ sha, there are a lot of family businesses that are doing just fine… The brown one, water coil or what do you call it?”
“Water curls and no, I’ll wear the longer hair.” She said with a smirk.
“You do this all the time, ask for my opinion when you already know what you would do.”
Ama brushed her wig with evenly spaced, intentional strokes. She hated tangled hair. “Even if the business does fine, it could put a strain on their relationship…”
“…if it’s not rightly managed. Anything can put a strain on family relationship.”
Ama sighed. “Look, if I choose to work with Amaju, he might be reluctant to charge his worth… I might delay in paying him up because of overfamiliarity… He might deliver something substandard… I could go on.”
“At the end of the day, the whole work ethic story is founded on fear.”
Ama folded her arms. Why did Ige diagnose virtually all of her concerns and reservations to be off shoots of fear? “And you make it sound as if fear is such a bad thing? Do you know that without fear, humanity is bound to self-destruct? Fear preserves. Sometimes, fear is wisdom. Fear doesn’t always mean cowardice.”
“Yo! Chill, babe. I’m not attacking you. I get your point and I know you’re a smart woman who knows her stuff but I’m just trying to get you to see things from another perspective. While your opinion and view are very valid, I believe there’s usually something to gain by looking at things from where someone else is standing.”
Ama relaxed then, realizing she didn’t need to be defensive. “You for talk that one since na.”
The door of their room opened and then closed almost immediately; a knock followed.
“You have to be more conscious about knocking and waiting for a response before you open doors, Josiah.”
He walked in smiling, an apron over his school uniform. “I made breakfast.”
Ama’s eyes were wide with fear. “I’ve told you to stay away from the gas burner, haven’t I?”
Ige put a hand on her arm. “Our chef, we’re right behind you. Let’s see if you are indeed a chef or a kef.”
Josiah laughed. Ama glanced up at her husband, displeased.
Josiah walked out.
Ama opened her mouth to say something, before she could, Ige put a finger on her lips. “I know you want to find out what our son has made.”
The pancakes Josiah made were soggy and bland, but Ige and Ama endured it not wanting to discourage the boy. It turned out he was more of a kef.
They set out for the day in the only car they had, like they did every other day. The first stop was always Josiah’s school, then Ama’s shop before Ige headed to his office. In the unhurried city of Ibadan, they could afford to make three stops one morning without running late. This was one of the reasons Ama insisted she didn’t want to live in Lagos. She said she didn’t want to start every day waking with a start and Ige understood this. Even though he was born and bred in the pulsating city of Lagos, his period in Enugu made him see another side of life. While he was at University of Nigeria Nsukka, he saw that people went about their hustle with passion but without the Lagos kind of frenzy he had become acquainted with. You could get to a market in Enugu at 8:30AM and see only a few stalls open and if you stepped out of your apartment at 10:00PM, you might think a curfew had been declared. This easy life struck Ige as strange initially but with time and adaption, he saw that he could do with the peace. And so, he agreed with his wife to settle in Ibadan.
They pulled up in the parking lot of Josiah’s school, Prodigies’ Forte Primary school. Josiah hopped down from the car.
“You’re forgetting something,” Ama said as soon as she saw his lunch box in the backseat. She reached for it.
He extended his hand to collect it from her. “Thanks Mum.”
A sudden surge of illogical dread washed over Ama. She didn’t want to give Josiah his lunch box, she didn’t want him out of her sight, she didn’t want to let him go.
“Come here,” She whispered.
They hugged. She sighed. This was nothing but paranoia. Ige was right, she couldn’t let fear rule her. She handed him his lunch box and watched him saunter off as though she knew it would be the last time.
Ojochenemi Enyo adjusted the strap of his bag and picked up his pace. He had to get to work on time. Unlike other members of staff who could arrive late and doctor the documentation of their signing in time, Chenemi had integrity binding him. He walked past the back fence of the school where he worked. He had taken this route because it was faster. He harrumphed and spat a glob of phlegm beside an empty well.
Chenemi took this teaching job not because he had a passion for children, but because he needed the pay and this was a job he was able to clinch with his BSc. in Sociology. Three years down the line, Chenemi was now a class teacher and he had come to live with it. He was not passionate about the job but he didn’t loathe it either. There were parts of the job that thrilled him -looking at life through the eyes of his pupils, for some weird reason, open days were also one of the allures of the job to him- and then there were the things that were clunky chores, such things as marking scripts and worst of all, sitting through complaint sessions from pedantic mothers.
Chenemi chuckled as he remembered the drama that ensued in his class the previous day. Two girls in his class were reported to have been involved in a brawl during break time. He called them to his desk.
“Tare, Laide, what happened?”
Tare wiped her face with her palm. “Is it not this foolish Laide?”
“It’s you and your family that are foolish!” Laide retorted.
Chenemi frowned. “Excuse you?”
“Good. Now Tare, what happened?”
Tare eyed Laide. “She wants to snatch my boyfriend.”
“It’s a lie! Tare is just jealous. It’s not my fault that he prefers me.”
Tare burst into tears and started clawing at Laide frantically. Chenemi had to stand up to restrain her.
“Kneel down.” He turned to Laide. “You too, on your knees!”
“Uncle, it’s not fair, we’ve been seatmates since primary two…”
“Be quiet.” Chenemi snapped. “what is all this nonsense? Neither of you needs a boyfriend and you should not be fighting over a boy. By the way, who is this boy?”
“Josiah.” The both of them chorused.
Chenemi nodded slowly. It was not surprising that ladies would fight over Josiah, with his mother’s perfectly oval face and sloe eyes, he was an effortless charmer. He definitely had women issues coming. What was surprising was how soon the issues were coming. They were just primary four kids. Who taught these girls to fight over a boy, to claim a boyfriend? Chenemi made sure to correct the girls and warn them against unnecessary infatuations and strife. When he let them go, he saw Laide lean close to Tare and mumble something viciously. Tare responded with a scoff and a haughty look.
Small girls already putting up market women behavior, perhaps they picked this up from observing a neighbor or from TV or this was just plain female proclivity for possessive territorialism finding expression. But even at that, wasn’t it too soon? Whenever things like this happened in Chenemi’s class, when his kids did something he considered beyond their age, said something strikingly profound or remarked on something one would have assumed they’d miss, he found himself wondering where the line was really. What was the point of difference between children and adults? If there ever was such a line, it seemed to be waxing wooly with time and that line was at risk of extinction.
Chenemi shook his head at the memory. He made sure to reposition Josiah, giving him a new seatmate, a boy this time, Ihionu Mmesoma.
Chenemi got to the admin office, signed in for the day and muttered a word of prayer on his way to the assembly hall. It was another day in Prodigies’ Forte only God knew what lay ahead. After assembly, he settled at his desk and picked his attendance book.
“Good morning class,” the pupils echoed their greeting back to Chenemi. He nodded and wet his lips. “Please listen to your names. Adebare Matthew.”
“Present sir.” Matthew lifted his head to answer. He was always reading something.
Chenemi nodded and ticked his name. “Adeoti AanuJesu…”
“Present sir!” Toyosi shrilled from her backseat corner.
Chenemi ticked her name. “Alade Josiah…”
Chenemi lifted up his eyes, he looked around the class, his eyes came to rest on Ihionu Mmeso. The seat next to him was vacant. Chenemi dropped his pen.
“Has anyone seen Josiah today?”
No reply. Chenemi made a mental note to call Mrs. Alade later that day. Perhaps Josiah had fallen ill or something but it was unlike Mrs. Alade to not call if Josiah had to be absent from school. Chenemi shrugged and continued with his roll call.
Ama was in a meeting with her brand strategist, Simi, discussing the inflation and how they could harness it to retain current customers and win more by keeping price rates at a relatively low levels, when her phone rang. Ama did not pick calls when she was in meetings but one glance at her phone screen and she excused herself. The caller was Mr. Ojochenemi Teacher. Ama’s heart was thumping hard.
“Good morning, sir.”
“Good morning, Madam. I trust you’re having a great day.”
Ama grunted. This throat-clearing was only making her more anxious; this teacher should spit what he had to say already. “How is Jo…”
“I called because I didn’t see Josiah in school, I hope he is okay?”
Ama said nothing.
“Hello ma? Are you there?”
“You’ve not seen my son today?”
“Not in class, not at the assembly?” Ama spoke with an eerie calm.
“Did he leave home, ma?”
Ama ended the call and immediately dialed Ige. Ige ended the call and sent a text.
-Babe, I’m about to make that presentation. What’s up?-
Ama dialed his line again, punching her phone screen with anger. He declined the call and thereafter his line stopped going through. Ama balled her fists, striving for control as anger rose to the back of her throat. Josiah was missing. If Ige had allowed her indulge her fear this once, perhaps whatever happened wouldn’t have happened.
Stop, Ama. You don’t know if anything happened. Go to Josiah’s school and find out yourself.
“I’m not going anywhere! Ige must fix this himself.” Ama responded out loud. She picked her phone and furiously thumbed a text to her husband.
-You better be on your way to Josiah’s school this minute. His teacher called. He’s missing-
As soon as Ige stepped out of the boardroom, he took his phone out of the inner pocket of his jacket. He turned off the flight mode, as he made for his workstation. Ama’s text came in. He got to his station, he turned to Kelechi, his office buddy.
“Kelz, abeg cover for me. I’ve got to run, family emergency.”
He didn’t wait for a reply before he grabbed his car keys and took off. As he sped down to Josiah’s school, he called his wife. It was her turn to decline his calls. He knew she was upset. Ama was the type to shut the door behind her when she was upset, sad or troubled. She was working on communication, Ige knew that she was putting in effort. She had told him that whenever she was under duress, she found it extremely difficult to express it in words and at such points, what she loved was to be left alone. Of all of Ama’s silence bouts, the worst was when she slipped into a block of angry silence and Ige could see that angry silence was brewing. He hoped with all his heart that they’d find Josiah. Beyond the wrath of his wife, he didn’t want to lose his son. The mere thought of anything happening to Josiah made his belly quake.
Ige got to Prodigies’ Forte at 12:35pm. He walked to Josiah’s class. The teacher sighted him from the window and came to meet him outside.
“Welcome sir, I…”
“Where was the last place you saw my son?”
“That’s the thing, I haven’t seen him today at all. I thought he was at home.”
Ige dabbed his forehead. “We brought him to school this morning. Let’s begin a search. He has to be somewhere around.”
The search started. Mr Chenemi, Ige and one of the guards searched, asked students if they had seen Josiah, went to nearby kiosks and food vendors. It all turned up dry.
Ige kept repeating. “He has to be somewhere around.” Because he had to believe it.
Eventually, they found him outside the school premises near the back gate, in the empty well Chenemi passed that morning. Josiah was at the bottom of the well, with his school bag and lunch box, twisted in an ungainly position. When they saw him, no one had to tell them; He was dead.