THE CARETAKER

A true life story by Japheth Prosper

I was heading to school that morning when the caretaker summoned me.
“Ugo,” he beckoned as he headed towards his car. “Is your father in?”
I shook my head. My father had rushed down to the mechanic workshop to attend to a customer who had been waiting for him.
“What about your mother?” he probed further. “Is she in?”
Again, I shook my head in negation. The caretaker was a very handsome tall man. I used to think that he was probably chosen as the caretaker of the house because of his intimidating height or handsomeness. He was far more handsome than the rest of the men in the compound.
He opened the bonnet of his car and as I walked past him, he beckoned to me again. This time, he whispered in a voice that could hardly be heard by himself.
“Is your sister Ijeoma at home or has she gone to school.”
I told him that Ijeoma was in the room. He smiled and went into his car.
“Come,” he passed a brown envelop to me. “Give it to her and tell her to call me.”
As I walked out of his sight, he called me back. “Take this and use it in school.”
He passed me a neat two hundred naira note. I felt like a king as he said I should use the money in school. No one had ever given me such huge amount of money before.
“Thank you sir,” I said and dashed off like a chased animal.

Ijeoma was getting dressed. She had worn her uniform and was applying lip gloss on her lips. I wondered why she had always taken time whenever she was getting dressed for school.
Her uniform fitted her like a second skin. It was neat and well ironed unlike mine which had rumpled here and there.
You might not know but Ijeoma was a sister I have always been very proud of. She was the third child of the family. My parents had just four of us. Emeka, who had gone to learn a trade, was the eldest. Ada came next. After Ada, Ijeoma followed and lastly, I came from behind. Ada got married a year after she wrote her secondary school exams with the husband promising to let her further her education after the marriage. According to my mother after Ada had her second child; “Ada’s education has entered voice mail.” I wondered what that meant.

As Ijeoma powdered her face, I handed her the brown envelop which the caretaker had given me to give to her.
“Who?” she eyed me rather inquisitively. “Is it from Innocent?”
I wondered why she felt very comfortable referring to the caretaker as ‘Innocent’. That very huge man! Ijeoma had only turned sixteen a few months before. How could she call a man with that intimidating height by his name?
“You don’t fear again o,” I challenged looking around as if to be sure the caretaker wasn’t close by and hadn’t heard his name being mentioned.
“Is he the one that gave you the envelop?” she asked again and cocked her head. I nodded and she made a face before throwing the envelop into her school bag. When she had done so, she waved me off immediately.

That was the first pointer that made me sense that my sister and the caretaker were having an affair. I began to imagine what the two of them could be talking about with the age difference between them. He was about thirty two years old and my sister was just half his age. Was she crazy?
These thoughts always filled my head.

One Sunday, Ijeoma took ill. My mother had gone to the bush market and my father went to his town’s meeting.
He left a hundred naira note on the table and told my sister casually to buy Paracetamol with it.
“Buy Paracetamol and take two tablets. Keep the change for me okay. Ndo.”
My sister was shivering on the bed when he left. I went to meet her and touched her head. It was smouldering hot.
“Have you eaten anything at all?” I asked feeling very concerned.
Her teeth made a chattering sound as she tried to respond to the question.
I took the money my father had left on the table and went out to get her the Paracetamol.
I was already at the gate when I saw the caretaker trying to park.
“Where are you going Ugo?” he asked. He must have sensed from the look in my face that something was probably wrong. I told him that I was going to buy Paracetamol for Ijeoma.
I could see the naked horror spread on his face the moment I told him about her.
“Go and fetch her at once and let me take her to the hospital. She can’t be taking Paracetamol. No, it is not proper please.”
He immediately grabbed his phone and began to call a doctor friend of his. I simply slipped back into the room and told Ijeoma what the caretaker had told me.
“Is he outside?” she echoed.
“Yes,” I replied, “please get up and let’s go to him. He is out there waiting. I could hear him making a call already to a doctor.”
Ijeoma managed to get up and we both headed to meet him.

Soon, we were on our way to the clinic. A test was carried out on my sister and drugs were given to her. The caretaker paid the bills and drove us back to house.

That was the second time I sensed clearly that the two had something going on between them.
Although they were meeting secretly, my parents were completely in the dark. I still don’t know why I did not tell them about it.

The months swept by smoothly and the day Ijeoma wrote her final exam in secondary school, my father shocked us all. He came with an old man about his age whose daughter was a year ahead of Ijeoma in school and broke the news we were not prepared to hear to all of us.
“Nwokedi lost his wife last two years and since then, he has been lonely. He is my very good friend. We started the engine oil business together years ago. He is a very good man and also very comfortable. He has come to marry Ijeoma.”
As the words fell out of my father’s mouth, I felt like knifing him in the stomach. How could he dare say a thing like that?
My mother was the first to speak after my father had already spoken. “Papa Emeka, you are not the one to speak for Papa Ebere. He has been a family friend and we cannot deny him anything in this house because he is not new to us.”
The suitor smiled and my anger amplified when I saw that he had lost two front teeth. What was my father thinking? How could he just ruin the life of my sister just like that?

The man spoke about how he was going to make my sister’s life a paradise on earth and how his grown up children had advised him to quickly seek a wife that would be a helper to him so as to “elongate his life.”
My father was grinning from ear to ear and praising my sister. He bragged about her cooking prowess and about how very intelligent she had been in school.
“You have found yourself a perfect partner that will make you the happiest person on earth.” He said laughing like a clown to his own dry joke.
The old suitor gave my father the sum of one hundred thousand naira and gave my mother half the amount.
“You know me Ignatius that I am a man of my word. There is a lot more where this money is coming from. If you don’t disappoint me, rest assured that more of this will flow.” The man bragged.

My father and mother followed him to his car which was parked outside. It was a Mercedes Benz 230. I could hear my father joking that the car and the owner had been the best of friends who had been together for decades and they all guffawed.

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