When I met Roseline for the first time, she did not give me time to get to know my new home from my own observations. She was an elderly woman, possibly in her 50s. Roseline was the caretaker of the building I shifted to.
Needless to say, she was the first person I had to meet over rent discussions, handing over of my room keys to me and signing tenant-landlord agreements. She did this on behalf of her rich brother who owned the houses.
My father had hired a pick up to help me move my few belongings from his house to my new residence. It was my first time to be a tenant. I had attained my first employment in a local pharmacy as a pharmaceutical technician. It did not pay much but my parents and I agreed it was a good start. “Jobs are rarely found, better a penny in your pocket than a million bucks in your dreams,” my mother had urged me. So I grabbed the opportunity. I was only 23.
“Is this all you have?” Roseline, stifling a laugh, asked when she saw the meagre possessions I carried ; a bed and mattress, a blanket, stool, basin, stove cooker, two sufurias and a small suitcase with my clothes and shoes in it. None of that had I bought, they were all donations from my parents.
“Yes, this is my first job. A girl has to start somewhere,doesn’t she?” I said and wondered why I had to justify my decisions to a stranger.
“Yes, true, true, come. Let me help you take them to your room.” She said as she picked the mattress. I wanted to ask her not to trouble herself but she was already metres ahead. So I pursued her with the stove and suitcase to house number 32. Ahead of her was a man approaching her. One could tell he was not very happy at meeting Roseline. He almost turned back but had a quick second thought to take his phone out and make a call.
“Hey Jonnie!” Roseline stopped him. He turned quickly, obviously pretending to be taken aback at our encounter, his phone still on his ear.
“Today is the 5th and you have not paid the rent yet, are you going to pay on the 20th again like you did last month?” Roseline inquired as Johnnie threw embarrassed glances at me. I saved him the humiliation and walked to my house. Roseline came later.
“You see that man, his excuse for not paying rent in time is that he has a business that is not doing well. You know what…what did you say your name is, by the way?” She said taking out a paper from her dress pocket and reading it, “Ooh Olivia…You know what Olivia, I know where his money goes to, he squanders it all on women. Please Olivia do not be one of those loose women. You look like a girl that can easily be deceived.” I stared at her wondering what I had gotten myself into. This woman was too loquacious!
She left the room as I tried to figure out how I would live in such big space alone for the first time without my parents and siblings. She came back carrying the rest of the items while two young boys followed her carrying the bed. She thanked them for assisting her and they ran off.
“Those are the sons of the woman in House Number 24. That woman is bad news! Ever seen women who are always angry with life? She is one of them.” Roseline continued gesticulating and forming grimaces of disgust and scorn on her face. She continued, “I think she is bitter with life because her husband ran off with the housegirl.” She was now placing each item in a corner.
“I think I can move on from here. Thank you for your great help, Roseline.” I said.
“Don’t worry my dear. I will leave this place when I am sure that you have settled completely.” I winced at the statement. I imagined another minute around her and felt a stab in my head. I thought of telling her off impolitely but she could be my mother’s age, so I hushed. Besides, she did not even give me a chance to give my opinion.
“I like helping people. Ask Mama Stacy in house number 31, your neighbour here. I go to her house often to help her with the house chores. But I wonder when that woman will stop getting pregnant. This is her fifth pregnancy! Yet her husband is just an office messenger.” She persisted with the unsolicited and unnecessary information.
What irked me was the way she spoke, so loudly that any person passing by would clearly hear her. I decided to change the topic.
“So, Roseline, do you have any children of your own?” I asked.
“Yes I do. They live upcountry. They are big now. The last born could be your agemate. Two girls and two boys just like the woman in first floor,house number 3. She too has two girls and two boys. The problem is that hers are from different fathers.” She spoke, waving four fingers at me, “Four children of one mother but four fathers!”
“I can’t believe this!” I said vehemently.
” I know its hard to believe but it is true!” She insisted.
“No Roseline, I mean that I can’t listen to any more gossip. I need my peace!” I was irritated to the core.She gave me a confused look.
“Gossip? Who is gossiping? Do you even know what gossip is? Wait till you meet the pastor’s wife in House 11. That woman loves to talk about people. She even talks about her husband. I heard her telling someone on the phone that her husband is a vicious animal in bed. That he…” Her eyes showed great excitement as she said this. I stopped her.
“Roseline, I am too tired. Please let me just sleep then I will call you later.” I said feigning fatigue. She got the cue this time and opened the door to leave. I heard her bump into someone.
“You have a new neighbour there Maggy.” Roseline said.
“That is nice. That house has been vacant for some time now.” Maggy said. Then I heard Roseline chuckle.
“It might have a tenant but it still looks vacant. The poor girl has nothing on her. Just a few clothes and one or two belongings.” Roseline did not care that I was hearing her loud and clear. I vowed to avoid her like a plague. She had a very dislikable personality. I locked the door to keep her off. If she came calling I would not answer.
I must have slept because I was woken up by an incessant ringtone. My watch said it was around 7.00pm.
“Hello” I said sleepily.
“Olivia, did you say you will be working in a pharmacy?” It was Roseline, her voice was desperate and she seemed as if in pain.
“Yes. What is wrong? Are you unwell?” I heard a muffle, not from her but another person, male. She whimpered for a few seconds then stammered out the words.
“We are stuck!” She was trying not to be loud.
“Stuck? What do you mean stuck?” Then the man let out a controlled sound of agony and despair. It dawned on me. Roseline and her partner were going through a condition called Penis Captivus. They were stuck during sexual intercourse.
I wondered what it would be like if I alerted my neighbours on the intriguing scenario. It would be their day to pay back and shame this woman. They probably had suffered so much from her nosy and noisy gab. I thought of tipping off someone anonymously to witness the spectacle. I imagined how people would throng around her house and make fun of the gossipmonger. The experience would completely shut her loud mouth. Nonetheless, my line of career plus my conscience would not allow me to do so.
“Ok. Roseline. Both of you need to just relax and don’t panic.. All will be well. Just give me some few minutes. Are you in your room?” I asked.
“Yes, house number 1. Please Olivia do not tell anyone. Please. Only you should come.” She pleaded. I promised to respect her wishes but I had to make a call to an experienced medic. He was a friend. Fortunately, we were in a big town that had 24-7 working pharmacies that sold muscle relaxers as the doctor had instructed. I paid a bodaboda to rush me to one of the pharmacies and buy one.
“Try to open the window by shaking it. It will spring open. Then put your hand inside and grope for a small bunch of keys on the table.” She directed me in low tones probably out of pain and fear of being heard. So much for my first day as a tenant!
I struggled to find the keys for a few minutes but finally went in. The man was stark naked, lying on top of nude Roseline. I was bewildered by the fact that he looked young, probably younger than I was. He was sobbing like a baby. She was also afraid and teary. They looked at me with pleading eyes. I injected the muscle relaxer to the woman. The man, after a few seconds jumped out like lightening, grabbed his attire and bolted out of the door, nude as he was born.
Roseline pulled a sheet to cover herself. Her eyes could not connect with mine. She knew I was bewildered. That boy was too young. There was a likelihood that he was under eighteen years. She had fronted a reputation in my eyes that was now badly smudged.
“Are you going to tell anybody?” I wanted to assure her that I would never do such a despicable thing, that I was not that kind of human being who found pleasure in gossiping. Instead, I opted to give her a dose of her own medicine.
“Only on one condition, will I not.” She looked at me puzzled and her eyes begging me to be lenient on my condition.
“If only you promise to control your mouth. If I ever hear you gossiping to anybody about anyone, I will tell them all, that a young boy was in your room and he got stuck in you.” I said it, with a feigned sincerity, like I meant my words. I later came to know that the boy had just completed his form 4 class, a pastor’s son from House No.11.
“As long as I am alive I will never engage myself in gossip.” She swore, licking her index finger and pointing it up the roof. She then paused and wiped a tear on her face. “I can only imagine how this would have been sweet gossip on everyone’s lips.” Then she stared at me for a moment and continued, “I retract the words I said earlier, you are not gullible. You are wiser than my 54 years of age.” She spoke with a tremble in her voice, her eyes glassy, tears threatening to spill any time.
“Now sleep well Roseline. I hope this is a lesson to you. Everyone has a secret, just let them be.” I said as I left, locking the door behind me and then throwing the keys inside from the window, like she had requested.
The next few months were a great relief to my neighbours. She had changed. She no longer was the bearer of scandalous news in the building. She put off those who missed her useless chatter. Roseline only attended to her duties. She did what all the rest had always wished from her, she minded her own business.