Hi everyone! We’re pretty sure you’ve all been thoroughly enjoying the Portraits series as much as we have so far. Today, we branch out a bit and check in with Anwulika, the receptionist at the hotel where Ameli (read her story HERE) and Baba Raji (THIS is his story) have their rendezvous.
I really want to change my phone. See the big-big phones my age mates are carrying and I’m still using Nokia torchlight. The small money that oga Linus pays me in this place is the same one I will use to buy Chiboy’s baby food, mama will still collect small and that useless Akpan will still want to come and put his eye inside my breast to collect the remaining, instead of giving me money to feed his son. Cynthia comes out from the staff toilet as I am searching my bag for the phone. I know she is the one from the sound of her lazy feet, each step dragging like a new wife reluctant to leave her husband. Not that I know what it feels like to be a wife, new or old.
“Cynto. Good morning.” I greet without looking up.
“Anwuli baby, how far na?” Cynthia replies, hiding her yawn but not her morning breath behind a hand that is almost three shades darker than her face.
“I dey. You don dey go?”
“Ehn o. Person don tire”
My phone starts to vibrate, giving away its location in the new pocket that has formed between the torn lining of the bag and its fake leather. The lining tears some more as I pull the phone out. It is a text message from Airtel. They want me to pay to listen to a message from some actor. Who that one don help? I hiss again. Cynthia says goodbye and drags her feet away.
I look at the clock on the wall. It is already 10am and only two sets of customers had entered the guest house. I am getting bored and also fewer guests mean fewer tips for me. One of the idiot men did not even tip me at all. I hiss. Mama calls me at 10:30.
“Mama wetin happen?” I say.
“Your pikin need pampers. All him nappy don doti and we no get soap.”
“Ah ahn. Wetin do the 500 naira I give you yesterday?”
“Which kain question be that? Your pikin no chop? As you come back yesterday, person never baff am? Anwulika, no talk that kain talk now abeg.”
“Oya now. Just wait small. I go soon come back house.”
With mama, you never know. When I got pregnant after secondary school, mama did not act like all those women who disgrace their daughters, chase them around the neighbourhood, calling them ashawo. My mother said she would look after my child so that I could find my footing again. Then when Chiboy turned one and I started working here, mama stopped selling at her stall in the market. It’s like she works for me now. I sha thank God for oga Linus. His sister was my school principal and she recommended me for the job as a receptionist here. God will bless both of them.
I look up to see a new customer and put on my brightest smile, all my problems forgotten for the time being. I am a good receptionist. I make my guests feel at home. I ask the man what kind of room he wants and I smile at the girl. This world sha. Small girl. I want to ask her what happened to her, tell her that men like this can be dangerous, because, what manner of man sleeps with a girl whose breasts have not even decided what they want to be? I show him where to write his name and notice that he is wearing a plain gold wedding ring, and I only barely control my desire to clap my hands and shame him. Instead, I smile wider. Tell him we offer discounts if he visits at least three times a week, ask him to ‘find me something’ as the girl walks inside ahead of him. He drops fifty naira on the desk and walks briskly to catch up with the girl as I say “thank you sah,” just as hurriedly. I would have thanked him just the same if he had given me ten naira.
They stay in the room with a window not far from my desk and I shudder as I hear the man grunting and panting and try not to imagine that small girl beneath his body, and yet, the girl is so silent the entire time that I want to check that nothing has happened to her. Oga Linus always says the one thing he never wants to hear “na say person kpai here. Abeg Anwuli, shine your eye for this place ”. They come out thirty minutes later, and the girl seems even more lukewarm than she was when they came. I tell them bye-bye and to come again soon as I wink at the man.
I am humming to myself when oga Linus comes in holding a newspaper. He tells me to come to his office because he wants to talk to me and I start to worry. I know the guest house has not been getting the most visitors but things will pick up and I start to tell him this as soon as I enter his office. It is hot and dusty because he never comes here and the window is far too small; it feels like a prison cell. He drops the paper and sits on his desk.
“Anwuli, you’ve been here for almost six months now and I’ve been watching you. You’re always early, not like that Cynthia, and you treat my customers well”
“Thank you, sah.” I am smiling. I’m getting a promotion. I don’t know what other posts exist but he must be promoting me to somewhere. This is how it happens. I must have been lost imagining my new promotion because I wasn’t sure what I heard afterwards.
“Sah? You say?”
“I’m saying, my friend, Chief Nwokocha wants you to look after him. He likes you and he will look after you well. Your skin will be shining, you will see.”
“Ah oga no. I want to stay here. Abeg sah”
“Think about it. Don’t mess up, Anwuli. You’re not a small girl.”
He dismisses me with a wave.
I open my mouth to beg but my Nokia is ringing in my hand. I excuse myself and answer. It is mama. Chiboy is in the hospital. I’m not sure how long it takes me but next thing I know, I am at the hospital where my child is crying. His hands are swollen and mama is telling the doctor that this has been happening a lot. The pikin dey cry well well and na so im body go dey hot.
They want to do a blood test. They think Chiboy may have sickle cell. My mouth feels dry all of a sudden. I feel like the world has shifted on its axis, and it is barely even afternoon.