Alice dreamed of the day that they would be official. Bound together. A bond that was not with chains but with pure compassion. They needed money to start a home and like every other problem they had, lack of money was their major barrier. Alice consoled herself that she was quite young and there was still time, She was just Twenty four years old and with the major step of getting a place for the bakery, in no time, they would get married.
Within the next few weeks, Alice got her equipment into the building after she and Justin had attempted to clean it. The space downstairs was not floored and was full of weeds, they pulled it out, swept the upstairs where she decided to situate her working station, after cleaning the place up, it looked mildly less like a crack house. The space inside was huge but because of the open roof and windowlessness, Alice cramped her equipment in a corner where the dust or rain wouldn’t ruin it. The second story was floored with rusted metal plates which looked as if it would give way in any moment. In some places, the welding had worn off and metal plates curled up like open cans of sardines. Alice and Justin avoided walking on those places. There was actually a lot of work to be done but as Justin had said before. Baby steps.
When Justin had said baby steps, it really felt like baby steps. After one or two wobbly steps, babies usually fell hard on the floor and Alice and Justin felt like they had just toppled over. It seemed as if things were even better before they got the building. Alice could not find customers. For weeks she kept going around, putting up posters, giving out fliers, but there was no progress. Justin was not having much luck either. It was as if things were going in slow motion.
Alice had a lot of doubts, she wondered if it would work. What if it was not meant to be? What if she had been following the wrong path all along? This dreamed that had defined her life, Was it too late to turn from it? Alice sat outside her one roomed apartment that evening. A pile of dirty dishes was on the floor and a small bowl filled with water was right beside it. She had a soapy sponge in her hand and stared into space thoughtfully. She thought about Justin. If this thing was a dead end, then he had made all those sacrifices for nothing. If this dream had been a mistake then she had dragged him down with herself. And the reason why he stuck by was because he loved her. She couldn’t even pin point the particular reason why he loved her. He just loved her so extraordinarily despite the fact that she was so ordinary. He loved her enough to suffer every day for her dream which he had adopted; the possibility which she doubted right now.
A woman passed by and said hi. She didn’t notice the woman and the woman shouted the greeting.
She sighed. “I’m sorry. Good evening Mrs Momoh”
The woman nodded. “How are you?”
“I’m fine.” Alice said formally but she knew better.
Mrs Momoh worked in the nearby polytechnic as one of the clinic nurses and her nephew/ward who was a student of that polytechnic was Alice’s neighbour. She was fond of coming around to visit him. The woman had a permanent scowl which made Alice never want to get on her bad side.
Alice picked up one of the dirty dishes and stared to scrub it with the soapy sponge as the woman walked away. Her mind drifted away again. Speaking of aunties, Justin had gone to meet one of his uncles; his auntie’s Husband who was a wealthy politician to ask for a loan. The man was loaded, she had read about him in several newspaper articles. He looked exactly how you would imagine a politician; overweight. The point was that he had more than enough in the bank. Justin had told him all about the business idea and had asked for a loan which would cover fixing up the place and starting the business full-fledged. All this while, his uncle had been too busy to actually hear Justin out but finally, a week ago, they had arranged a formal meeting where he presented his proposition. Justin had prepared a business plan and everything regarding ‘Just-Alice’s Bakery’ and was optimistic about it as always. After all, the man was family, he would definitely help. After the meeting, Justin’s uncle told him that he would call him in a weeks’ time to inform him on his decision regarding Justin’s schemes. Yesterday, Justin came with news about his uncles’ decision.
His uncle brought up a lot of excuses but the whole point was that he was not giving them the loan. He had told Justin that he felt strange giving him that much money, especially in Justin’s condition (without a decent job). He didn’t know how long it would take for him to pay back and generally, it would feel weird knowing that Justin owed him and he would have preferred to give Justin the money not as a loan but he really didn’t have that much. But he promised that he would do something to help.
That was what they always said. It had been excuses and disappointments all the way through and she felt it was just easier to give up. Everything was working together for their misfortune.
“Baby.” A voice shook her from her reverie.
She looked at the tall dark form hovering above her to discover that it was Justin. “Are you daydreaming again?” he sat down beside her.
“I was just thinking about your uncle. All those politicians sef, what have you ever asked him for? They never help anyone out. What could he possibly lose…?”
“It’s his money after all and he can give it to who he likes. And it is actually a large amount of money. He was nice about the whole thing sef and he even gave me money to buy lunch.”
Alice rolled her yes. It was very Justin-y of him.
She dropped the washed plate into the bowl of water and picked up another dirty one. He pulled his sleeves up and began to help her rinse the dishes.
“It is as if no matter how hard we try, there is always some way for things to mess up. I’m… I’m actually tired. I think I’ve reached the breaking point. Things are even worse than before. I can’t find any customers, your uncle disappointed you, the economy is so messed up and they have not paid your salary. I don’t want to think about it but the rent is almost up…” She felt a physical pain in her chest.
Justin used his wet thumb to massage away the creases on her forehead and she leaned away looking irritated.
Justin chuckled and hummed count your blessings name them one by one…