Two weeks passed, the incident forgotten….well almost. Poju still thought of that night from time to time. The sweltering sun was scorching so Poju didn’t linger outside but strode quickly into the office premises. Her break was almost up and she had a lot of catching up to do at work. She was the senior accounting officer in the firm dealing with school supplies. They had accounts of major prominent schools within and outside the state and international links to suppliers overseas. Her position required a lot of integrity and her approach and character had endeared her to the top brass who watched her career climb closely.
Poju at present had a major account that she was working on and that eclipsed everything….. Well almost because she did not fail to recognize Ify sitting forlorn, wiping her eyes subtly as she sat by the kerb at the bus terminal near the company gate. The tread of her footstep became light and swift. Something was up with Ify and she had to know what. The little girl tugged her heart strings and she was irresistibly drawn towards her.
The girl jumped, scared, her eyes wide in fear as she heard her name. Poju was appalled.
“Ify, dear, What is the problem?” At the gentle compassion filled voice, the dam broke and tears rolled down, fat heavy tear drops. “Aunty, Egba Mi O. Help me. “
Her plaintive cry pierced through her. That cry tore her heart. She was barely ten but her voice was wearied and she looked ready to give up. Poju dropped to her knees and held her close, ignoring the little girl’s appearance. She looked at her timepiece as the girl sobbed in her arms. Noting she still had ten minutes before she resumed from her break, she quickly made up her mind.
“Ify, do you have anybody who stays around here?”
She shook her head, her breath catching on a sob. Poju glanced around. They were beginning to attract unnecessary attention. “Come on. let’s leave here”. She could feel some burning stares piercing her back.
“I will take you to the eatery nearby. I am positive you have not had anything to eat. “
At the girl’s affirmative nod, she heaved a painful sigh. Poju suspected that the story about the wounds on Ify’s wrist wasn’t delightful but horribly intriguing.
“You can eat anything you want and I will tell the manager to watch you while I hurry back to the office to clear my desk. I won’t be long. I just want to clear my desk and hand over to someone. I want to discuss with you and take you home.”
Ify shied back, her shoulders shaking in fear. “Aunty, please I don’t want to go home. Please.”
Poju looked at her contemplating. “OK. Firstly, have something to eat then we talk. You are supposed to be in school by this time.”
Holding her by the hand, she entered the eatery and signaled the manager. She was well known there so it was no surprise that immediately she sat, the manager stood beside her.
“Good afternoon Mr. Abe. Surprised to see me again after my quick lunch?”
He smiled in affirmation. He looked at Ify shielding herself behind Poju, her eyes scared. His eyes narrowed as he saw the bruises on the girl’s arms. Keeping his thoughts to himself, he turned back to Poju and nodded in understanding. Glad that he understood, she said “Ify is hungry. She needs some food. Put it on my account. I am just going back to the office to clear with my superiors for the day. I will be back soon” she smiled reassuringly at Ify and she felt her grip loosen marginally.
Mr. Abe smiled gently at her. “Why don’t you have some rice and chicken and later a cup of ice cream?”
A tentative smile and a quick nod was her reply. Poju smiled and left her under Mr. Abe’s care.
Rushing back to her office, she bumped into someone.
“Steady”. He grabbed her before she lost her balance.
Poju blushed deeply. “I am sorry, Sir. I wasn’t paying attention.” Her face reddened in embarrassment.
The arms gripping her belonged to the Chairman’s son, a tall stalwart good looking young man who stood in for his father when the need arose. He had his own personal business dealing with the construction industry as well as helping out in his father’s business whenever the need arose.
He smiled at her. “No problem. Just be careful next time.” He gave her a reassuring smile and walked down the corridor. Poju looked at his retreating figure albeit longing. She knew she was staring but she couldn’t help it. She was smitten from the first time she met him over a year ago but always covered up with a cheerful and carefree demeanor around him. There was no sense in him getting to know about her crush. It was a no go area. She came back to reality with a jerk. She had to clear her table, obtain permission for an early closure and go sort out Ify’s situation. She quickly strode in the other direction towards her immediate boss’ office.
Obtaining permission was easy. She hardly took advantage of her position and considering her workload and performance in the past few months her boss was amicably considerate. Soon Poju was with Ify who sat satiated for the first time in a very long time.
“So…… what exactly is the matter and why don’t you want to go home?”
Tears filled her eyes. “Aunty……. My uncle…..” She faltered. Her eyes filled with tears. Poju enveloped her in a hug not minding they were in a fast food restaurant.
“What is it?” Her hand accidentally brushed her collarbone and Ify flinched.
Instant worry filled Poju’s eyes as she pulled up the shirt Ify tried to drag down.
“MY GOD!!!” She exclaimed, shocked and horrified. “Who did this to you?”
Scars, fresh and old crisscrossed the area exposed.
“Uncle Obinna, my Aunty’s husband.” The little girl sobbed hysterically.
The manager looked up from the counter where he was running up the day’s account. Seeing the unfolding situation, he hurried forward and tapped Poju from behind. She turned.
“I think you need a private room,” he said looking pointedly around . She turned and suddenly realized the interested glances coming from other customers.
“Thank you Mr. Abe” she replied gratefully. Holding Ify, she stood up and walked to the left where a door stood. She opened and observed the sofa by the corner, drawing the girl towards it. She sat and held her close until the sobbing subsided.
“Talk to me dear. I am here for you.”
“Aunty…. My aunty’s husband has been …….”
“Yes, I am listening” in a gentle encouraging voice.
“He has been touching me and doing bad things to me at night and anytime I am alone. He said if I tell my aunty or anybody he will kill me.” The tears started again.
Poju sat shell shocked.
“Aunty, he said it’s my fault. Is it true?” Ify asked in a quivering voice.
“No!” Poju hugged her gently. “My dear, none of it is your fault. Don’t ever think that it is.” she replied forcefully. “Did he also beat you?” Indicating the scars on her back and arms.
“Yes he said I am disobedient. He always says it in front of my aunty and she hardly says anything when he’s beating me. She is also afraid of him. I have seem him beating her twice but she denies.”
“Well you are not going back there and that is final!” She stood up, her stance on the defensive. “I will take you to a shelter tonight where there are counselors and child right advocates. Tomorrow we will take other steps.”
Ify looked at her disbelieving. “Aunty, what are you saying?” she whispered.”
“It won’t be easy keeping you from your legal guardian- I mean your uncle but Yes! it can be done. It is a battle I am willing to fight on your behalf. No one should be subjected to what you are going through. Not at all! Come let’s get going. My car is outside.”