Mrs. Ajayi, the clerk at the Igbinla local government secretariat, was exhausted. It was a hot Wednesday afternoon and she had planned to make her husband’s favourite dish of jollof rice with assorted meats that night. She spent the entire day gathering the foodstuff and prepping them.
Before she came to the office, she went to the market and bought tomatoes, peppers (tatase and ata rodo), onions, cow liver, goat meat, and snails. She got to the office at 11. She put on her slippers and washed the vegetables in the toilet sink. She laid newspapers on the floor around her desk and tackled the vegetables for the next few hours, slicing the tomatoes and onions into neat quarters and cutting open the peppers to clean out the seeds.
By 1 o’clock, the vegetables were packed into a small bucket ready for blending. She cleaned the snails with alum (also in the sink) and chopped the liver into tiny cubes to go along with the rice. She packed the meats into a second container, cleaned up and prepared to go home. Only two people had come into the office that day. The first was a corper looking for the local government chairman. She glanced up from her chopping and shooed him away. The chairman only came in on Mondays and on the last Friday of the month. The second person was the building contractor for the extension being built to the government primary school across the street. He dropped off the invoice for the construction and left her three 500 naira bills to help her remember to pass the invoice on to the chairman.
The same contractor had done the renovations to the community health centre last year. For six months he came by two sometimes three times a week to get the payment cheque for the job. Each time, she told him to come back again another day. She tried to give him hints. She told him the chairman hadn’t gotten the invoice. She told him the chairman was out. She told him the chairman had left the cheque but forgot to sign it. She told him she lost the cheque. She told him she would have to get a new cheque because the account the original cheque was from was frozen. She told him she was tired. She told him the chairman’s hand was tired from so much cheque signing. She told him her feet were swollen. That day, she had just finished clipping her toenails into a neat pile on her desk and was lying on the couch in the office, with her hand over her face shielding her eyes from the light. The ceiling fan was spinning so fast, it was vibrating with a loud whirr as if it would fall off. She didn’t bother to raise her head when she heard him come in. She peeked out from under her hand and said, “Eh, eh, eh… not today. My legs are swollen.”
Finally he came in one morning calling her ‘Auntie mi’ and apologising for wasting her time. He brought her six yards of lace.
The next week, his cheque was waiting for him.