Someone Breakable


Someone Breakable


She should punch his dirty mouth. That mouth she hadn’t kissed for months now. She wouldn’t accept it. She wasn’t his slave.

"Not when I am alive," Deji said. "You will not... What if he touches you?"

"Touch who? Me Rebecca!" She got up from the bed, hands on her hips. "The man that will touch me hasn't been born." She beat her chest and sat down on their bed.

"What do you even need that job for? Am I not taking good care of you?"

She hissed. "When last did you give me money?"

He dipped his hands into the bowl of water, washing out the stuck eba on the back of his hands.

She snatched the bowl. "Answer me… oya."

"Allow me to wash my hands first now."

She got up. "Wash which hands? See, I'm taking that job whether you like it or not. He's an old man. What will I use him for? If I wanted to cheat, not with an old man and I'm not like you."

"Like who? So, I'm cheating now."

She shuffled out of the bedroom with the bowl of water. As if she needed his approval to do anything. He never needed her approval to sleep around. Why should she seek his approval to work? How long had she suffered! He was an idiot for thinking she would allow herself to keep suffering. She would buy new bras with her first salary. She had hand-sewn her only two bras over a dozen times, the elastic slack already. And the fool thought she would not accept the job. She would do it even though she were to clean the old man's buttocks just to get money.

#She let herself into the old man's house after knocking and knocking and no response. The house smelled of lavender or something like lavender. She could not tell exactly; whatever it was it was surely expensive.

"Good morning sir." She bent on one knee.

Slouched in a leather sofa was a bald grey-headed man with The Daily Sun newspaper raised to his face. She touched his arm. The newspaper dropped to his lap.

"Who are you?" he said.

"The house help your daughter employed."

"Okay. The kitchen is there." He pointed ahead, towards the dining table. "The bedrooms and toilets are up there." Towards the staircase on his left, he pointed, then raised the newspaper to face level.

She went to the kitchen, picked up a broom and began to sweep the house. Rebecca remembered not to serve him carbohydrates, she said to herself. She dared not make that mistake. She would lose the job if she did. And she was tired of depending on her mechanic husband. The old man didn't even look like a man who could get into the action. He barely looked at her. So, she wouldn’t have to worry about him trying some funny business with her. If he ever tried it, she would pin him to the ground. She would. God knew she would. She Rebecca let a man touch her? She used to pin boys under her armpit and beat madness out of them when she was in secondary school. Not only did she beat boys but also broke a boy's wrist after he grabbed her buttocks. She even earned the name "Touch-and-die" after a boy fainted because she smashed his head.

If not for marriage, she would still be hot water. Now she was reborn, purged to make a good housewife. If only Deji would be faithful. If only he would love her. If only he would stop following those smelling girls hawking food around his mechanic shop.

That day, the old man's words were mostly requests. "Can I have a cup of water?" "Can I get wheat and ewedu this afternoon?" "Can I get hot water for a bath?" His English was smooth as if he were British, and most times she said, "Eh!" and he would repeat his words, stretching them into monosyllables. "Can. I. Have. A. Cup. Of. Wa-ter?"

Donald Trump, at a podium, spoke from their small television, which sat on a three-legged stool in the sitting room.

"Can they really impeach Donald Trump?" she said.

"Not really," Deji said.

"I don't understand."

He glanced at her, then faced the TV. "Why the sudden interest in the news?"

"Can't I be interested again?"

He gaped at her. "They can't really—"

"Wait, let me get a notebook." She rushed into the bedroom.

When she came back, he told her about the American law system, which he called ridiculous. Afterwards, she asked about the Fulani herdsmen's killings, the Corona virus, etc and he explained, a bit of irritation in his voice. While talking, his phone rang and he darted outside.

She opened the door, then paced around. Maybe it was one of his friends that called. And he would run out like that? No... Definitely not. She went out and leaned by the window. He stood near the public toilet in the compound, facing the wall. She tiptoed close, behind a neighbour's open window.

"I will send it," he was saying. "Baby, wait." He paused, listening, scratching his head. "Tomorrow, I will send it."

She backed toward the door and once inside, scurried into the bedroom, tears gathering in her eyes, and slumped on the bed.  So, he could give another woman money but starve her. What was he looking for? A child? Because of her childlessness, he treated her like a dump. Perhaps she should drink the concoction that her neighbour said would get her pregnant. But how would she do such diabolical things? She was a Christian. A good Christian.

A wind flipped open newspaper pages at her street end. The Daily Sun in her grip, she wrestled with the wind. Shouldn’t she return home and call in sick? It had been decades since she stayed in bed. And today’s weather was perfect. She deserved to enjoy it too. She had suffered enough. The newspaper vendor tapped her. “My money.”

She gave him two hundred naira and hurtled towards the old man’s duplex.

The house was the way she had left it the previous day, the curtains still drawn closed, the tray she had used to serve his dinner still on the wooden stool. She packed his plate to the kitchen, then came back to hand him the newspaper.

"But I didn't ask you to buy a newspaper." He sat up on the sofa.

She fumbled with her headscarf hanging on her neck. "Just wanted to buy it."

"Thank you." He smiled.

"What do you want for breakfast?"

"Anything but pap. My teeth are still strong."

"No one dares say otherwise sir."

Later when she had done all her chores, she sat on the sofa next to his. He was lying on his back, shirtless, his eyes wide open.

"Have I shown you my family?" he said.


"Please get me the photo album under..." He pointed at the center glass table.

She handed it to him and perched it on the floor beside him.

First were wedding pictures.

"My wife," he said, pointing to a dark-skinned lady in a wedding gown.

"Is that her natural hair."                  

"Yes. She had hair like a mermaid. So beautiful."

"I'm so sorry."

He flipped the pages. Babies, different faces. He pointed at Shade his first child, the one who employed Rebecca. Then he pointed at his four other children, boys who were now men scattered in different states, living with their wives and children.

"We married thinking it would be for long, my wife and I," he said. "Now even our children are not here."

For months they talked and talked, their conversations reaching into their personal lives and dreams. She had wanted to become a nurse but because her father died when she was ten, she became a domestic help when she was a teenager. He said she could still go back to school, that he could help but she said no. That desire died a long time ago. When they talked, she saw her father in him, not her real father, no, but the father she had wished for, the father she could be close to. Her father died driving his bus. He drove passengers to their destinations but seldom drove to his destination, their house. He was never truly at home, not even when he was, for he came home to sleep. Because of his absence, their relationship, if they had any, was a slack bridge.

On the first day of Rebecca's second month, Shade, the old man's daughter, brought foodstuffs. Rebecca rushed from the kitchen to collect them.

"Why is my father sleeping on the sofa?" Shade said.


"If you can't take my father into his room to sleep, what am I paying you for?"

"He refused to sleep inside," Rebecca said.

"If you can't convince him, what is your use?"

"You wan make I force am? This na old man fa, no be baby." She breathed deeply. Just because Shade was her boss didn't mean she should say nonsense to her.

Shade scowled. "It's like you want to be fired."

"Na the truth be that. You wan make I lick your yansh? If na because of truth you wan fire me, fire me."

“Why are you talking back at her?” the old man said.

Rebecca stared at his eyes. When did he wake up? So, he could shout. “I’m sorry,” she said to Shade. 

"Just take them inside," Shade said.

Rebecca picked up the foodstuffs.

"Wait," Shade said, raising a pack of drugs in transparent plastic. "This, thrice a day. This, once a day. Don't forget. Do you understand?"


Shade repeated the instructions.

"I understand."

Shade said them again.

Rebecca folded her arms. 

 While she was preparing akara and pap for dinner after Shade left, he called her to the sitting room.

"I'm coming, sir," she said.

"Will you come here!"

She dashed to the sitting room, drying her palms with the kitchen towel.

"Get me drinking water," he said.

"Ok sir.” He could have said so instead of making her run here and now she would have to go back. And why was he shouting?

From the kitchen cabin, she picked a glass cup but it slipped and shattered on the floor. She picked another glass, filled it, and scurried to the sitting room.

"Don't break what you can't pay for," he said.

"The akara," she said, and ran to the kitchen. They were almost burnt. She packed them out of the oil into his favourite plate, a deep stainless with a cover, and went to serve him.  

He uncovered the plate. "Why didn’t you use red oil?"

"But groundnut oil is what I always use to fry your bean cake."

"Don't you know about nutritional values? This—" he raised the plate—"will kill me."

"But..." She sighed. "I'm sorry sir."

"You can go."

"I'm sorry," she said.

He pantomimed that she should go.

The following day she joined him in the sitting room when he was watching the Channels news.

"These Fulani herdsmen," she said, "the only way to eliminate them is to remove Buhari."

"Hmm," he said.

"You disagree?"

He crossed his legs at the ankles on the glass stool.

Maybe she shouldn't have used "remove". It was Deji's word. "Remove," he had said the previous night, as if the president were a mere thing, a nonliving thing, easily picked up and tossed away. If he had sense, he would have known the right word was "impeach", not remove.

"Sir, you disagree," she said.

He was staring at the television.

Why wasn't he talking? Had her village people found her and turned him against her? Or maybe it was an evil spirit. Or evil spirits. Why wouldn't he talk to her? Maybe Shade had turned him against her. Or was it because she talked back at shade.

In the days that followed he remained cold. It was as if she were absent. As if he were deaf to her news analysis welling from deep interest. And his silence shut her up after a few days. It infuriated her, his silence, this old man who would not talk to her. Perhaps he had seen through her, had seen all her fights with boys, had seen how useless she was in this world, where nothing good ever came her way. And no wonder Deji showered her no affection. No wonder God locked up her womb. If she had a child, Deji would be faithful. He would treat her as though she were breakable.

Pepper, salt, and seasoning went into a bowl of egg. She poured it into the sizzling oil and sat on the kitchen stool. Why was her life like this? No child. No money. Forgotten by God. Why was Deji treating her like this? But he wasn’t always like this. First-year in marriage, he came straight home after work, gave her enough money for upkeep, stayed home on Sundays after church service. In bed, he would rest his head on her belly, saying, "Baby boy, I know you are in there, come to daddy." He was so sweet, behaving like those crazy Americans, and she let him, rubbing his head, savouring the touch of his breath on her belly. Perhaps he thought speaking to her belly would call his child into this world. But his voice wasn’t enough to bring their child into the world, and she cried each month her period came, afraid she would lose him. It was in the second year his lateness home began.

Now, Rebecca screamed. “Why did you slap me?”

Coughing, the old man turned off the gas cooker. Smoke wafted, burnt egg stench heavy in the kitchen air. She raised her hand, glaring at him.

"Are you stupid?" He pointed at his head, then rotated his forefinger as if he were turning a screw. 

She dropped her hand, gripped the sink. "I'm sorry."

He walked out.

She plopped down on the stool. He would definitely call Shade. He would report her to that witch and she would be fired. Why did she raise her hand? What was she thinking? Maybe she should resign. Maybe she should divorce Deji. Maybe she should kill herself. Maybe…

This was how she burnt Deji’s food sometimes, and he threatened to marry another wife. She was already worried about her childlessness, his infidelity, her troubles at work, how was she to add his getting a wife to her stack of worries? But what could she do? If she were still young, she would have broken a bottle on his head. But she was grown now.  Fighting would dig up only more troubles.

When it was evening, she served the old man's dinner and apologized before leaving.

"It's fine," he said.

Back at home, she fetched a bucket of water and went into the bathroom. A tear dropped into the water as she fetched a bowl of water. She sank to the floor, the bowl still in her hand. Tears ran across her cheeks, down her chest. She sat there until the tears ceased.


Samuel Oladele


My works have appeared in Bewildering Stories, Virtual Zine, Shallow Tales review, and others. My short story, Two in One, was one of the winning stories of the 2020 Mariners award (Bewildering stories).

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