Damaged Goods

It was another world, like a village lost in a city. It lay somewhere between the long highway stretch that connected High-level Makurdi to the Federal Medical Centre in Api. Somewhere in this quiet mist of uncertain development I lived, forgotten, in this place, another world–like a village lost in a city.

Because it was the largest public building in the district, church was school on weekdays and school was church on Sundays. It was always kept tidy and I was respected by my friends because I lived right opposite its divine glory.

Our Principal lived in the same prestigious line as well, so I was the first to meet Ms Betty when she finally arrived. Ms. Betty had come from overseas to stay in Makurdi a whole year, representing an NGO that would support the special parts of town; places like mine.

Ms Betty was so big her chin sat in a chin of its own, her breasts sulked to her belly, her belly stooped to her pelvis and there was nothing more for her thighs to do but thunder ripples when she walked. Yet she moved with a darting stride, as though it was all a costume she carried underneath her flesh.

She wouldn’t let us call her Aunty, she preferred Ms Betty. She gave us long hugs and said Oyoyo in the silliest accent. I loved her. She brought with her so many storybooks that a wooden library was built in the church court-yard. She brought toys I had seen only in cartoons, cartons of Indomie, baskets of vegetables from Wurukum every week, and so many packets of marshmallows I ran out of fingers and toes to count.

Our Principal seized the marshmallows then announced to us during assembly, “I will present one packet each to the best three pupils every end of term!”

Every morning I prayed to God that the marshmallows would not expire before I came first position. Every night after homework I would lie in bed ignoring my little brother’s noise, imagining instead, the taste of marshmallows until sleep crawled into our room.  In my dreams marshmallows were sweeter than chin-chin, ice-cream and birthday cake.

Then a month into her arrival Ms Betty met him; Kamanga, our French teacher who came once a week–a slender young man from Cameroon with honey-gold eyes and long stories. He always arrived playing his brown guitar, strolling down the dirt road all the way to the church building.

After the Principal introduced Kamanga to Ms Betty, he played her a welcome song right in front of the whole assembly. She laughed like a small baby and wiped her eyes with a hanky.

Two months later we heard the news; Kamanga and Ms Betty would be having a traditional wedding in Makurdi and when her time with us was over they would return to her country for the white wedding.

Our principal didn’t seem to like the idea. But I was happy Ms Betty would be getting married and even happier that everyone was invited to the traditional wedding. I planned to wear my Christmas dress.

Ms Betty’s office during school hours was Pastor Victory’s reflection room. I was allowed in there because I was class monitor, appointed by Ms Betty herself, so I was the one in charge of important duties like dusting the blackboard, organizing the wash-hand basin and writing names of noise-makers.

There was this box in her office I adored; so beautiful I could swear it was edible; a pink parcel with a giant bow glued to its top. It was too pretty to just sit there on a quiet shelf, and worst of all she had slapped a strip of dull masking tape across it that read, damaged goods.

Inside it she kept a little chipped mug, an old trinket, a tired hair brush and bits of odds and mismatched ends of other things whose functions I was unsure. Once I said to her, “Ms Betty, why don’t you throw away these things from your fine box?”

“Oh I don’t know,” she laughed, “guess I just hate to toss stuff away,  you know?”

Ms Betty gave me a pocket book of poems once.  My favourite was one that read,

With good news comes bad news

And bad news; good

For good news is no news

 If bad is mute

 

I would come to understand its meaning one morning in July when our principal announced that Ms Betty had returned to her country. This was bad news, terrible news, the suddenness of it–wrenching. For days I wandered about in a daze waiting to wake up from this nightmare. Why had she left us so soon?

But then I learnt to accept the bad news for it had come with good. Ms Betty had left behind more gifts; each child would receive a colouring book and one new toy during Monday assembly. Also Mr. Kamanga would not be leaving us anymore.

And behold there was more good news; and I had heard this from our principal himself when he came to visit my mother. “Kamanga’s pregnant wife from Cameroon is finally coming to join him.” He winked, “I told you Dorcas! Told you that man was married!”

“You always get to the bottom of things!” My mother clapped her hands laughing.

I wanted to be as excited as them but again I was confused, wasn’t Kamanga supposed to marry Ms. Betty?

I tried to take the good with the bad as much as I could, but I was unhappy most of the time.

After school when I would sit in front of my house, watching the cars speed across the highway, I found solace in day dreaming that I was a broken trinket in Ms Betty’s pink parcel. In there I slept on a bed of pink marshmallows and travelled with her, wherever she went.