Sunday mornings were always exciting for me. I liked church a lot, and as was my custom, I tried to always be in the building at least 10 minutes before service began. I didn’t review poems on Sunday. The kids were up by past 6 and were already turning the house upside down.
“What are you guys gonna have for breakfast?” I asked Shirley, squatting so that I could be about the same height with her.
“I’d like bread with eggs and some lemonade or milkshake, I’m sure Shawn would want same too,” Shirley replied.
I got down on my knees and took Shirley by the hands. “Sweetheart, bread with eggs, I can do that for you. But lemonade or milkshake, daddy can’t give you that this morning. So this is what we are gonna do. I’ll put milk in a bottle, and then you would shake the bottle very well, and the milk would be turned into a milkshake. Wouldn’t you like that?”
“Sure.” Shirley excitedly replied, and then she ran off to tell her brother how she was about to turn milk into a milkshake.
I was certain that service was going to be emotional. Many of my friends in the church had never seen Shirley, some saw her last when she was a little baby. I had mixed feelings; one was of excitement, the other – I really couldn’t place it.
The excitement in church on this Sunday was extraordinary. The praise and worship session was the best we’ve had that year. Or maybe it was just me feeling that way. I let Shirley sit beside me on my right and Shawn on the left. Allowing both of them to sit beside each other would have been bad for those around. These young ones didn’t still understand that you only talk in church when the preacher says Hallelujah or Amen.
It was time for the sermon, and Pastor Andy Osakwe was already standing in front of the lectern. But as usual, he liked a song of worship to be sung before he preached. That session was handled by Miss Agodichinma… She was good, she usually handled that moment with the finesse of Sinach or Karen Kiki Sheard. That moment reminded me of the first time I attended Summit Bible church, it was Chyoma who handled that moment. She did it with such grace that I spent most of the time staring at her instead of worshipping with others. That was the first time in my life that I fell in love at first sight. After Chyoma was done singing, she stepped off the stage and joined the other members of the choir at their stand. My eyes were transfixed on Chyoma. Till this day, I have no idea of what was preached, because I wouldn’t stop stalking Chyoma with my eyes. After service, I walked up to her and told her how special I thought she was on stage. She obviously had heard that several times, but she was appreciative nonetheless. I asked for her phone number, but she wouldn’t give me because I was a stranger. I thought there were no strangers in the house of God? I asked her. But she just laughed and walked away without doing so rudely.
“Hello Mitchie Mitch” She replied, reaching into her purse to pull out her car key. We were now at the car park after service had been dismissed. It was Shirley’s last day with Shawn and I, I was already getting emotional about the entire scenario that would play out the next day, when I would have to let her go. I kept thinking of the possibility of just kidnapping her, and running away, far from where we all could be found. But that was selfish, and I had to stifle that thought.
“I want to take Y’all out for lunch,” Ndidi said, kick-starting her Range Rover Sports utility vehicle. “You guys should hop in.”
The kids all sat at the back, while I sat beside Ndidi. “Where are we off to?” I asked, clipping the seat belt, and adjusting myself to enjoy the ride.
“No, can‘t we go somewhere else please?”
“Why? I think Salamander is the best place we could hang-out at the moment. It’s closer to home, you know.” Ndidi replied, not understanding why I had objected to Salamander. While I was still trying to figure out how to convince her to consider Dominos Pizza, Johnny Rocket or one of them fanciful restaurants, she immediately put up an opinion poll. “If you want to go to Salamander Café, say yea.”
Unanimously, everyone in the car said – yea, excluding me. So, at this point, my opinion didn’t matter again. Ndidi hit the accelerator harder, and we were en route the café.
“Welcome to Salamander” The beautiful lady who ushered us in said.
My eyes were moving through and fro, searching the most annoying man alive – Akinyele. It didn’t take but a few seconds to find him.
“Daddy, see uncle Akin,” Shawn shouted, pointing towards a table Akin had been waiting on.
“He’s is not your uncle. He can never be your uncle. Anytime you see him just refer to him as Mr. Akinyele.” I said to Shawn, looking as serious as I could be. Anyways, Akin didn’t matter, so I just acted as if he didn’t work there and enjoyed my time out with the Kids. The meal was a special one, without any interruptions from Akin. At some point in between bites, a tear rolled out from my eye; It was hard to imagine how hard it must have been for Shirley not to have a father with her. What would she say to her friends at school when they asked about her father? How does she feel when her friends are picked up from school by their fathers? Being separated from Chyoma was far more than how each of us felt. How ‘bout the kids – their dreams, hopes, and future?
It was time to leave after we had had a splendid time. Ndidi wanted to pay for the meal, but I refused. “Haba! I will take care of it.” I said to her and pulled out my ATM card from my wallet. Even though I wasn’t very rich, I felt I shouldn’t just sit back and allow ladies to keep paying the bills whenever we were out. I had very little money the last time I had come with Chyoma, but I had a little more now. So, I walked out to the counter to settle with them.
“Your bill is N19, 500, sir.”
“Ehn,” I screamed. I knew the bill was going to be high, but I didn’t expect it to be that high. I couldn’t swallow my words back, so I slotted my card into the POS machine, entered the amount, my pin, and then I hit the enter button.
Akin walked by, stopping beside me. I acted like I didn’t notice he was standing next to me, although I could feel his hot breath on my neck. “You can’t even wait for Chyoma to leave for the United States before you return here with another woman.”
I kept quiet, ignoring him, maybe my silence would be golden I thought to myself. I remembered Pastor’s message that said ‘We were wrestling not with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers,’ so, I just relaxed.
The lady at the counter handed me my payment receipt, and then I turned to walk away.
“Are you walking away Michelle?” Akin said to me. He purposely called me the feminine version of my name, invariably referring to me as a woman who could not stand up to him.I stood still for a few seconds; my pride said fight, but my feet said go, so I obeyed and kept moving.
I suddenly felt Akin’s hand draw me back… “Chyoma said you were the biggest mistake of her life.” He only whispered it, but it echoed so loud like he had spoken with a megaphone. I suddenly forgot the part of Pastor Andy’s sermon that said ‘we weren’t wrestling with the flesh,’ I turned and landed a punch on his face.
“Why wouldn’t you let me and my family be?” I screamed at him. I had lost my self-control and I just let the floodgates open, and just kept talking and screaming at him. It was when I felt a little hand on my leg, I realized that everyone in the café was looking at me. “Daddy, why are you angry?” Shirley asked.
I felt so ashamed and embarrassed; most especially, because Akin was so calm, cool and collected while I was raving, although his lips were bleeding profusely. I began to wonder if the devil could suddenly change from a masquerade outfit into a Prada suit within seconds.
While we were in the car on our way home, I felt so bad. I knew that I had failed my kids and Ndidi. Although I had apologized to Akin before leaving the café, I still picked up my phone, scrolled through my true caller app call records for Friday, the day he had called me. ‘I am really sorry I hit you. Please forgive me.’ I hit the send button.
“I don’t know exactly what pissed you off, but I know you are a good man Mitchie,” Ndidi said to me after I had apologized to her and the kids too. My temper was in my control, and there was no excuse to justify the way I had behaved.
*Back in Sierra Leone*
Chyoma and her team had made a lot of progress with her big story, thanks to Silvia Milowangawe. Silvia had linked Chyoma to an NGO, providing her an opportunity to pass off as a health worker rather than a journalist, which would have probably gotten her arrested. The needed interviews with doctors, survivors, community member, and other health workers had been captured on video. Chyoma’s perceptions had been true. The Government had really controlled the local media to do downplay the real devastation of the outbreak; over 250 had died in the Njallah Geima and Kambia community only.
“How long would you need to edit and have this story ready?” Chyoma asked Barry, the head of programming supervising the story.
“Quarter of a day, or half at most.”
Chioma was scheduled to return to Nigeria the next day. Spending the rest of the evening with Silvia was her only priority for the rest of that Sunday. “What a busy, but productive day,” Chioma murmured, and then lay on her extra-large bed, hoping to catch forty winks. The sound of her phone beeping was disturbing, very disturbing, the nap was cut short. “Twitter, whats app and Instagram messages,” Guess Chyoma hadn’t had time to go through her notifications. “Akin sent me a video? What’s it all about?” Chyoma grumbled out loud and then proceeded to download the video. She was still a little sleepy, tired from the several hours of road trips and information gathering.
‘Why wouldn’t you let my family be? What is wrong with you? I’d punch you a second, third and fourth time if I have to…..’
“What? This cannot be true,” sitting up on the bed, Chyoma replayed the video – my encounter with Akin. I had no idea he had planned the provocation and had told someone to record it from the point when I hit him and began to shout. He carefully left out the aggravation on his part and the apology on my part after I had hurt him. Scrolling through her contact list, Chyoma quickly dialed Akin’s number.
“Hello Akin… “ dragging his name to show her Empathy, Chyoma called out, being so touched by the pains he had been put through. “How are you dear?”
“I’m fine,” Akin informed, coughing hard and moaning in pain. My mouth and my neck hurt me soooo bad. I took an x-ray, and I’m being observed by the doctor at the moment.”
“I saw the video. It’s sad to believe that Mitchel would stoop that low and act like a teenager. How did it all happen?”
“Mitchel stopped by at the café today, at about 10 minutes past 11 am. I knew the time because I had just received a text message from my Manager informing me that most of the customers that had walked in that morning had been so impressed by my service and how nice I was that a few of them went ahead to commend me.” Akin gripped for a few seconds, followed by a few seconds of silence, and then he picked up from where he had stopped. “I walked up to Mitchie, as someone I knew and greeted him, trying to put aside our differences. I noticed he came with another woman; she looked a little older than him, but she was nowhere half as beautiful as you are. You know you are so beautiful, right?”
Laughing over the phone, “Yes, I know that,” Chyoma replied, and gave Akin a kind compliment too – “You are a perfect gentleman, you know, right?”
“I didn’t know. No one ever tells me that. Thank you, you are just so special.”
Fifteen seconds of silence followed Akin’s compliment. It seemed they both were trying to savor the compliments a little more before akin continued his story.
“…OK, so I thought the lady he came with was someone you knew, so I welcomed both of them and gave Shirley a hug.”
“Oh my Shirley, How is she?”
“She is such a lovely little girl. She was the reason Akin hit me.”
“I noticed that each time I walked by their table, I would hear Mitchie ask Shirley to refer to this woman as mother.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“True. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t heard it with my own ears. I kept wondering, why would Mitchel try to fill up your space in Shirley’s life overnight? I wouldn’t stand back and let that happen, not when I’m alive.”
Chioma wasn’t aware when she blurted out “You are so much of a man,” realizing she had spoken out loud, “Thank you for standing up for me,” She said to Akin.
“So, when he walked up to the counter to pay the bills,”
“Sorry to cut you short. Are you trying to say he paid the bills?”
“Yes, he did.”
“You won’t believe the last time I was there with Mitchie, he said he didn’t have money, so he took us to Mr. Biggs. I noticed the kids were so uncomfortable, so I had to pull out my phone and search online for the best spots to hang out in Abuja. Based on the reviews and closeness, I preferred Blue Cabana and Salamander café. But Salamander was just beside where we were, so that was how we came over.”
“He came over to pay ooo, and that was how I accosted him, trying to inquire why he had been asking Shirley to call that woman – mother when it was obvious that she wasn’t and could never be. And that was how Mitchel flared up and attacked me.”
“I’m really short of words. It’s amazing how quiet you were. You wouldn’t even defend yourself. I was thinking, what kind of man are you? Really, Akin, what kind of man are you?”
“Just a man who believes in standing up for what is right. I’m just a man who believes in love. Just a man who believes in you.”
“Can we have lunch tomorrow?” Chyoma asked.
Akin was shocked. He had hoped to ask chyoma out for lunch but didn’t expect the offer to come this early, and on a platter of gold too.
“Wouldn’t you be tired after a long flight tomorrow?” Akin asked acting very concerned.
”It’s not really a long flight. It’s just 2 hours and 48 minutes from Freetown to Lagos, and an extra 50 minutes to Abuja. I should be in town before 11 am, and then I could rest a few hours before our lunch. I want to have lunch with you. Don’t say no, please?”
“It would be such an honour,” Akin replied.
Of course, for Akinyesco Baddoski things were falling in place, and he wasn’t even trying as hard as he could.
It was 5:45 pm, my phone was ringing. The number resembled the number that Chyoma had called me with on Friday night. The kids and I were in the parlor watching the Johnsons on Africa Magic, so I excused myself and walked into my room to pick her call.
“Hey Chyoma,” I hollered, sounding excited to hear her voice again.
“Where is Shirley?”
“She is in the living room with Shawn.”
“Please, pack her things. Etim would be coming to pick her up in 15 minutes.”
“But… why?” I quickly retorted. The phone went dead. I couldn’t explain why Chyoma’s voice was so frosty. I sat down on the bed to try figuring out what was happening. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. I looked at my phone again, and I realized I had lost two minutes out of the 15 I had to pack Shirley’s bag and have them ready for Etim.
“Sweetheart, your bag needs to be packed right away. Uncle Etim is coming to pick you up,” I said to Shirley, not being able to look into her eyes because mine was already teary.
Holding onto my hand, “Daddy… Why?” Shirley asked. “You don’t want me to stay with you?”
I quickly knelt down beside her and gave her a big hug. “I would give anything to have you stay with me forever, but mama needs you at home tonight.”
“Daddy, would you allow Shawn to come with me? Would you come with me too?”
I just held her tight, not knowing how best to respond to her questions. Shawn not understanding why we were both crying, joined in, and it seemed for the next few minutes I hosted a real pity party. Shirley had changed our lives in just two days. I hadn’t figured out how much I had missed this little precious gift God had given me until that moment.
Opening the door, “Ete Ideme,” I greeted Etim and invited him into the house.
“Osong” Etim replied and then, he walked in. “Madam say make I come pick little madam.”
I would have fought with Etim for calling Shirley that. But I was unable to at this time because my heart was heavy.
“Your madam called me. Shirley’s Bag is packed. Let me go get it for you.”
I could see the pain in Shawn’s eyes. It felt like I was depriving him of being with his sister all over again. He began to cry again when I walked out with the bag. You see, Shawn had been my roommate and best friend, I almost forgot he was just 5 years old.
“I love you, my baby, I’m grateful to be your father,” I said to Shirley, kneeling beside her. I kissed her on her forehead and gave Shawn some room to spend a minute or two with his sister before she left.
Chyoma had gone to spend the evening with Silvia, and her new friend, in turn, had cleared her schedule for the evening to accommodate the visit.
“Sawubona dear… Ngiyakwemukela!”
“I have no idea what you just said, but come over here and give me a hug, would you?”
“It means you are welcome,” Silvia informed, and then gave Chyoma a peck on both sides of her cheek.
Lying on the sofa, Chyoma was snuggly with Silvia’s teddy bear; she felt much better at Silvia’s than she did at the hotel. “What were you doing before I interrupted?”
“Cooking,” Silvia responded and quickly dashed into the kitchen. That question had reminded her that she had a mixture of beans with pork in tomato sauce, simmering. “Hope you don’t have a phobia for pork?”
Reaching for the remote, Chyoma began to flip stations in search of something interesting to watch.
“Young lady, do you eat pork?” Silvia yelled from the kitchen a second time because there was no reply to the first call.
“I eat anything that tastes good.”
“That makes two of us.”
Silvia was in and out of the kitchen every few minutes. She was more in than out, so Chyoma decided to walk over there to keep her company while she cooked.
While Silvia kept up with the cutting, simmering, chopping and frying, Chyoma pulled out her phone and began to watch the fight between Akin and I. Well, it wasn’t a fight, it was one-sided, so I would call it an assault.
“Why so serious?” Silvia murmured, “What are you watching?”
“It’s my ex. I’m watching him make a fool of himself.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know, what more painful is that our kids were right there with him while he was doing so. Take a look at this video.” Chioma angrily passed the phone and hissed in disgust.
“What made him act this way?” Silvia asked as she kept watching the video.
“That’s even more disgusting, I won’t want to bore you with the details. I have instructed my driver to pick up my daughter. I wish he could have picked up Shawn, but the terms of our divorce give him the right to custody of our son.”
“Have you asked him why he behaved this way?”
“I have all the information I need concerning this video. There is nothing more to ask him.”
“Who furnished you with the information?”
“Oh, it’s the other handsome gentleman who wouldn’t even cuss or fight back….” Chyoma’s eyes seemed to lighten up as she spoke about Akin. But Silvia seemed to pause for a minute to analyze the video and everything Chyoma had said.
“I think this whole thing is biased if you don’t hear the other party’s side of it.”
“It’s not biased, one bit, believe me.”
Silvia walked closer to Chyoma and put her arms around her. “Baby, I have been married for 26 years, and I know that no man is perfect. But one thing I have come to understand also is this – never make judgments without your heart. What does your heart tell you?”
I had slept for several hours but still found it difficult to get off the bed; not that I felt sleepy, but because I still felt knocked out from the happenings of the previous evening. The poems were good, so much genius in them. The first ten poems I had gone through were really beautiful, but the second, really had my heart, and that was my piece for that morning.
MY IMMORTAL BELOVED
Sitting on the lush green grass
Sprouting from the rich earth, the exact color of brass,
Surrounded by numerous brightly colored butterflies
And the beautiful symphonic noise of singing birds and buzzing flies
The wind is blowing so softly
And into the still, cool pond dangles our feet lightly
Everything smells so beautiful, looks so magnificent
Because I’m with my Unsterbliche Gelibte
Right next to him, my Immortal Beloved
Our eyes are shut, for this moment ought to be savored
He reaches out, takes my hand in his
I turn and look at him, my eyes lock with his
And time and nature stands still
Words can’t explain how we both feel
So, I say nothing, neither does he
Everything has finally become as God meant it to be
All I could hear was the beat of my heart Or was it his?
No, it’s ours. For now, we have but a heart.
Review: The writer was able to capture love, not just as a fleeting feeling that last only for a week or two, but as it should be – forever. I get amazed at the depth of rich minds that contribute to this blog every day. I’m honored that a lot of these poets will give me the opportunity to review their poems. I pray you fall in love, and that it would last forever. I wish you all a poetry and love-filled day. Salute!
It was 5:35 am, and I had to start preparing breakfast for Shawn. Opening the fridge, I had a pack of fresh milk, an open can of corned beef, eggs, bread, and chicken. These were enough to draw up an early morning menu. I mixed the eggs with corned beef and allowed it to sauté for a few minutes before adding the spices. I always prided myself on being a good cook. That estimation was me being modest; I’m really an exceptional cook. It was 6 am and Shawn had awakened from slumberland. I had placed a pail in the bathroom for him, and breakfast was already set on the dining table.
“Have you brushed your teeth?” I asked Shawn after he had greeted me. He looked a little livelier than he did before he had gone to bed.
“Daddy, do I have to brush every morning?”
“No, you don’t have to, but you can only take that decision when I don’t have to be so close to you, to smell your stinky breath.”
“What if I run away? Daddy, catch me if you can?”
I began to chase him all over the living room, and we began to play for the next few minutes, I helped to take his bath, dress up, and get ready for school. We were out of the house at 6:52 am, and in 17 minutes, we were standing just outside the school gate.
“Be a good boy. Share your food with a friend, if you can. Always remember, I love you.”
“Thank you, daddy, I love you too.”
As I turned to walk away, Shawn tapped me on my right leg. “Can I see Shirley after school?”
I could see the hope in his eyes, and I didn’t want to be the one to dash it. I was flummoxed on how to respond, but I decided to be honest with him.
“I don’t know when we would be able to see Shirley next. But when mummy returns today, I’m sure we would work something out, I promise you.” His eyes seemed to lighten up even more, and then he turned and walked away. I stopped a cab, hopped in, and was off to the gym.
The treadmill never looked so unattractive as it did today, even for me a die-hard workout advocate. Everyone and everything about the gym looked clumsy today. My mind was more pre-occupied with what was going to happen to the newly built relationship I had established with my daughter when she and her mother returned back to the States in two weeks. Would it take another four years to see her again? Would Chyoma eventually marry someone else who would replace me in her life? The latter question seemed to hunt me. I decided to take a break and rest for a few minutes.
Settling down on one of the chairs beside the cables and pulleys, I lifted my eyes and behold, CNN was airing Chyoma’s story from Sierra Leone. I jumped off the chair and hurried closer to the Television, but the sound of the music in the gym was drowning the audio of her report. The story was tagged as exclusive. Oh, I was so proud of her. I pulled out my phone from the back of my jeans and dialed her number, but it was switched off. So I typed out a message – ‘just watched you on CNN, I’m proud of you always,” and then I hit the send button.
Part 4 here
Written by Richard Oti
Poem – immortal beloved – written by Laura Uwajimba.