Timeyin lived in the ‘Room and Parlour’ at the end of the corridor; the one on the same side as the communal bathroom. I never understood how he could stand the smell of stagnant soap scum water that wafted freely in the dark corridor into his abode through the gap between his door and the cold cement floor. I never understood why he always wore a blue polyester three piece suit with a bow-tie whenever he left home either.
We lived in a part of town that no one visited as soon as dusk even so much as threatened. Our street was full of uncompleted buildings; not the types that were being worked on, but the types that seemed to have been abandoned by their owners. The ones with unplastered walls covered in spirogyra, with bushes growing in what should be the inside of the buildings. It always seemed like the owners had money and decided to build a house then stopped halfway; either due to lack of funds or lack of zeal. Or maybe they decided that this part of town was not a part of town that they wanted to be associated with.
Three uncompleted buildings away, there was a brothel. It was not called a brothel; it was called Mama Emeka’s Bottle Store. But the green blinking lights from the inside, and the scantily clad ladies with white platform shoes smoking cigarettes outside as soon as the sun went down were unmistakable. It was painted bright pink and had a bright red door which looked surprisingly beguiling to me. There was always loud music, laughter and the smell of pepper soup. There also always seemed to be a patron drinking beer and slurping on goat meat pepper soup outside while one of the ladies massaged his back.
Occasionally, there would be an argument and a fight at dawn. Always about money. Then Timeyin would come out of our building and start his speech about the evils of ‘belligerent, wanton women’ and of how the smell of their cigarette was bound to cause us cancer. Most of the times, people laughed at him but sometimes they humoured him and engaged with him.
Timeyin fancied himself as a bit of an intellectual. He lived in absolute squalor like the rest of us, but he had dreams. Oh, he had big dreams. He used words like ‘echelon’ and ‘parasitic’ on a daily basis. As in ‘My friend, you are not in the same echelon as me!’ Or ‘your relationship with me is parasitic; I teach you world class wisdom and gain nothing from you’.
I often wondered why. As far as I and the other residents in the other 10 flats knew, he was unemployed and struggling to pay his rent like the rest of us. He also insisted on calling his Room and Parlour the proper name: ‘It’s a bedsit, my friend’
For a man with perpetually dirty, plaque covered teeth who farted very loudly and always smelled of key soap and camwood, he truly was ‘a comical little shit’ as oga landlord called him. His light skinned face was always shiny and he always seemed to have a diarrhoea. I can hardly remember seeing him without his skinny pale hand clutching his stomach.
It was a matter of shock when Timeyin came into the block with a beautiful, well dressed woman. They walked in with their arms linked, so it was obvious that they were not brother and sister. Timeyin brought out a rickety wooden chair from his Room and Parlour for her to sit in the communal verandah. The rest of us were tripping over ourselves to take in the spectacle. She spoke perfect English with an accent that had a bit of an American twang to it. Not the kind that Timeyin spoke; Timeyin’s was a strong unmistakably South-South accent. When she spoke, her eyes twinkled.
Where did he find her?
She sat there gazing at Timeyin in awe, as he used his big words. Suddenly, farted and stood up. ‘My dear, I have to defecate’
He produced a handful of neatly folded toilet roll from the inside pocket of his blue polyester jacket and rushed to communal toilet which was at the back of the building. I stood there wondering what sort of home Timeyin grew up in. He was a mishmash of awful manners and good grammar.
Aunty Clara walked up to her.
‘Good afternoon my sister, you and Timeyin na friend?’
‘Yes we are’ answered the lady with a sweet smile that betrayed a set of brilliant white, perfectly set teeth. She made small talk with Aunty Clara but I was too mesmerised to catch what she was saying.
The more we looked at her, the more too-good-to-be-true she seemed, and the more we wondered how she ever ended up with a man like Timeyin! He was uncouth, rude and condescending all in equal proportions.
Later that evening, they both retired into Timeyin’s Room and Parlour. The rest of us sat in the verandah talking about Timeyin and her.
‘She’s definitely a spirit. Mammy water spirit; hmmmmmm Timeyin is finished ooo’ said Aunty Clara.
‘I think she’s desperate to get married. Why else will she go with a man like that?’ Quipped Grace from number 3, beside Aunty Clara who lived in number 2. Grace was a divorcee and always preached about the evils of marriage and controlling men. It was obvious that she often spoke from her experience, but none of us ever questioned her.
‘No, nah person do jazz for her. I have seen this before. It’s either someone did her jazz and she can’t see; or they did her jazz and the only way to revoke it is by sleeping with a mad man. The jazz was done in the river. Definitely mammy water spirit that only a madman can release ‘. Shola from number 5 was a self-styled prophetess. She knew how to break every curse and always knew some man of God who had successfully prayed someone out of any number of sticky situations they were in.
‘But Timeyin is not mad now’ I decided to point out.
‘Person when dey use dat his kind of big English meanwhile he no get school certificate, wetin you dey call that kind of persin?’ I could almost feel the venom in Patrick’s voice. Especially as he was usually the butt of Timeyin’s many condescending jokes. His Room and Parlour was across the dark corridor from Timeyin’s but he wanted to move to number 1 which had been vacant since the last rainy season.
The debate raged on and on. By the time we retired to bed, it occurred to me that Timeyin and his lady would have long fallen asleep. I got into my Room and Parlour and pushed an empty oil drum against the door, just as a precaution in case armed robbers decided to make an appearance again. At least the drum would slow them down while I hid the little money I had. I closed the louvres and lit a mosquito coil. One day oga landlord will fix the mosquito netting on the windows and I won’t have to close the windows and choke on the smoke of my mosquito coil. And I may finally get rid of the chesty cough that had plagued me for most of my adult life. My last conscious thoughts drifted to the enigma named Timeyin. How did he end up in abject poverty even though he spoke such good English? He couldn’t have been a rich man’s son. Maybe he was a houseboy in a rich man’s house.
I slept fitfully. If Timeyin could ‘catch’ such a woman, then there was hope for a man like me. As far as I knew, he did not have a job. I did not have much of a job myself, but at least I had one. Being a wheelbarrow owner at Pessu market was hard work. I had to stand at the market entrance with my wheelbarrow so that women with a lot of shopping would hire me to push their shopping around in my red shiny ‘truck’. Sometimes, I was hired by builders who wanted bricks or cement moved. On days like that, I also doubled as a bricklayer. But it was now rainy season, and no one was building at the moment so I had to make do with ferrying shopping around.
As usual, I was up at the crack of dawn. There was no sign of Timeyin’s lady but He was singing loudly to a song on the radio. It was obvious that he did not know most of the words to the song, but he still sang loudly and out of tune.
In the weeks that followed, Timeyin’s lady friend visited more frequently but only ever spent one night at a time. It became normal, until we started hearing noises that made us uneasy. On one of the nights that she visited, we heard shouting and arguing. Timeyin’s radio was playing very loudly so it was almost impossible to hear what was being said or who was saying what. But then we heard thuds and crying that went on for a few minutes. The crying was both loud and unsettling. It made the kind of sound that one of Mama Emeka’s goats made just before it was slaughtered. Then there was absolute silence. The following morning, there was no sign of Timeyin or his lady friend. It was obvious that Timeyin was in because his radio was still on, but he didn’t come out of his Room and Parlour. Not even to go to the toilet.
‘I’m sure he’s ashamed of himself, and so he should be. A man that beats a woman is not a man at all!’ That was Grace. In a different setting, she might have been a radical feminist. But in our current setting, we were all dirt poor and our main concern was our next meal or next pay cheque. We had no time to rationalise or define our political affiliations.
‘We should report him to oga landlord. This behaviour no good at all’ said Patrick.
Shola couldn’t help herself. ‘It’s either the spirit of witchcraft in her that is pushing him to beat her, or he is possessed with the spirit of Gog and Magog. These spirits are fighting spirits ooooo. That girl should be careful’
‘I thought you said she was mammy water’ I pointed out again.
‘Me? When did I say that? I only said they did jazz for her. It was Aunty Clara that talked about mammy water ooooo. That girl is in trouble, mark my words. I will recommend her to Pastor Ejim I have seen him pray for one girl like that’
‘So how does the jazz invoke the spirits he has, or make her have witchcraft that turns her into a punching bag?’ I asked Shola
‘Abeg, you have come again. You already don’t believe so I can’t even start explaining’. Was Shola’s curt reply
These conversations became more frequent. Timeyin’s lady seemed to visit him at least once a week, and there was always an argument that ended up in a beating and goat-like crying. But she was always gone at the crack of dawn before anyone had a chance to talk with her privately. She rushed out of the building leaving only a waft of perfume; the kind of perfume that I had never bought but had carried in my wheelbarrow for women who had money to burn. We felt pity for her. Money to burn, attractive, well spoken, and she ended up with Timeyin who beat her and who clearly did not deserve her. Shola had taken it upon herself to try to trace the lady’s family to tell them about the spell that their daughter was under.
We all felt pity for her, but my envy for Timeyin grew and quickly gave way to malice and resentment.
One day we were able to corner Timeyin. Aunty Clara boldly scolded him about the beatings and gave him a smelly cowhide drum which smelt of wet mouldy leather.
‘Take! Whenever you feel like beating someone, beat this drum! If i hear anymore nonsense, I will tell oga landlord to come and evict you. A beautiful woman like that agrees to love you and you beat her like an animal? God will punish you and your father!’
It seemed to work. Timeyin’s lady came to visit a few more times and there was no sound. No shouting, no thuds, no goat crying. But it was very short lived. It started again almost as suddenly as it had stopped.
We felt that we had to get the oga landlord involved especially as Timeyin was blatantly avoiding us. Whenever we knocked on his door and he would snap. ‘Depart from my door. I will converse with no one today!’ Still speaking his stupid artificial English in his bush Downtown Warri accent! The man was unbelievable. Ugly, dirty, female beater. Less than a man and he still had the effrontery to speak his big English to us.
We decided that the time had come to call in oga landlord. And as preplanned, we called him when Timeyin’s lady visited. He arrived almost as soon as the arguing started wearing a dirty grey pair of trousers pulled up to his breast bone. The thuds and cries followed almost immediately. Oga landlord knocked decisively on the door.
‘Timeyin Okoro, open this door now now!’
The thuds were sounding in quick succession and the cries were getting louder. The cries sounded like Mama Emeka’s wounded goat as usual. In a blink of an eye, oga landlord kicked the door down.
To our eternal shock, we saw Timeyin’s lady fully clothed, dealing blows to Timeyin who was on the floor and crying. Timeyin had been the wounded goat all along!
My malice and spite quickly reverted to pity and shame. The shame that Timeyin was feeling now that his secret had been uncovered. Now that we all knew and would call him a weakling.
Was his love of fame bigger than his dignity? Why did he prefer that we envied him instead?
Oga landlord was unable to tackle Timeyin’s lady. He went in there, all guns blazing hoping for a showdown with Timeyin. But when he got a little bit more than he bargained for, he lost his gall.
‘Em madam, please pity this man, no fight am again’ he said weakly. In reality, she wasn’t fighting with him. She was beating him up. Oga landlord closed the broken door the best way he could, turned around and walked out of the building, leaving the rest of us in his wake, aghast with our mouths open.