“Would you say a prayer before we eat?” Chyoma urged Akin, who was sitting opposite her. The time was 6:00 pm, their meeting was later than they had scheduled because Arik Air had delayed Chyoma’s flight to Abuja by over two hours.
Sheraton never looked so good like it did to Akin this night. “Sure let’s bow our head.” Akin was dapper in a black tuxedo and it was complemented with a flawlessly shined George Cleverly black shoe. “Lord we thank you for this dinner, for-” Akin seemed to pause as if he was trying to analyze what he was about to say next if it were appropriate or not. “-Thank you for this newly found love in my heart for Chyoma & Shirley-” Chyoma opened one of her eyelids briskly when Akinyele said that. He looks so serious Chyoma thought. So, she smiled and closed her eyelid. “….May we have more times like this in Jesus name.” And they both responded with an – AMEN.
Picking up the cutlery, “your prayer was simple and beautiful,” Chyoma informed Akin, and then she stuck her fork into the bowl of salad. Chyoma had a thing for salads. This time it was the chicken salad made with celery, cucumber, apples, fresh dill, and mayonnaise with salt and pepper. “How bad does your neck hurt?”
“I can’t chew for so long. I’m surviving on liquids at the moment.”
“I think you should have some coconut curry chicken soup. You would love it.”
“I love chicken curry soup.”
“This is a little different… You left the coconut out.” Chyoma shrugged and forked a piece of chicken off the autumn foliage platter set a few inches away from the salad bowl sitting on the table.
“Why didn’t you bring Shirley along?” Akin asked, putting up a serious face while taking a sip of Chapman.
“It’s meant to be dinner, you know!” Chyoma whispered and smiled, and then she bent forward to smell the flowers. “It’s just meant to be the two of us. And these flowers have a lovely fragrance. Where did you get them from?”
“I ordered them from Petals & More, somewhere around this Central Business District. You should tell about your stay in Sierra Leone; starting with – what kind of people they are.”
“They are amazing and beautiful people. You won’t believe how receptive they are.”
“More receptive than Nigerians?”
“That’s an unfair comparison. I would give a biased answer because I’m Nigerian. But guess what?”
Akin squinted as if that was going to help him figure out the answer. “I’m a poor guesser. I couldn’t guess right to save my life.”
“I met a Mandela. Oh, she is the sweetest soul I have met all year.” Chyoma immediately remembered that she had not talked with Silvia since arriving Nigeria. Quickly pulling out her iPhone from her bag, she dialed Silvia’s Cell phone. “Will you excuse me, Akin? I would need a few minutes to speak with Silvia.”
Akin looked confused for a minute. Well, to me he always looked like David Moyes when his team was conceding three goals-CONFUSED.
“Who is Silvia?” The inquisitive Akinyele asked Chyoma.
“Oh, dear, she is the Mandela I just told you about. I haven’t even informed her that I have arrived. Without her, I wouldn’t have had my big story air today,” Chyoma smiled. “Have you had time to watch the news today? CNN?”
“No, I haven’t,” Akin replied.
But how would he have time to watch CNN when he is busy with other people’s business?
I had called Chyoma several times, but she wouldn’t pick my calls. Shawn was ruining my night; he wouldn’t eat, nor do anything else, except remind me that I had promised that I would work things out with his mother so he could see Shirley. He even went as far as reminding me how he had been taught in Sunday school that no one should make a promise they could not keep. This boy was just a little Pharisee. How many times had he made promises that he broke in 2 minutes? But now, he was trying to hold me to ransom.
“Ete etie didie?” (How is it with you?)
“Idem mi osong.” (I’m well, thanks.)
It was obvious Etim was nibbling on something. “Di dia mkpo,” he said and kept up with the chewing. “Oga I know say you no understand wetin I talk.”
Etim really didn’t know that I was less concerned about what he was saying. I had just one interest; how to see Shirley once more. It began as Shawn’s dream, but now It had become mine too. “Etim, where are you?”
“Oga I dey house.”
“Is madam at home?”
Etim hesitated; he seemed to play deaf for a minute, “madam comot,” he answered.
“Where she go?”
“Oga, I no know where she go. Na madam drive herself.”
“That’s fine. Is Shirley there with you?”
“No. Little madam dey with her grandmother for upstairs. You wan make I give am phone?”
I wanted that more than anything else. But I wasn’t sure her grandmother would allow her to talk to me when Chyoma wasn’t around. You see, it had been four years two months, 5 days and 3 hours since I last saw my ex-mother-in-law.
“Don’t worry Etim, I would call you back later to find out when madam is back home.”
“Ok, oga Mitchel. Greet oga Shawn-“
“Etim, please no carry this your oga thing come my son side, abeg.” I said, abruptly interrupting Etim, and then I thanked him for his time and dropped the call.
Shawn had been standing beside me all along while I spoke with Etim. “Daddy, so?” He asked, anticipating some good news.
“So?” I replied him, pretending I had no idea what he meant. Then he suddenly tilted his head, and his countenance changed.
“It’s just 6:22 pm Shawn, we can still go over to see Shirley before the frogs begin to croak and the chirping birds retire to their nest for the night. And before -”
“And before you kiss me good night,” Shawn completed my statement and then he sat on my lap and put his head on my shoulder. I patted him on the back and just allowed him to enjoy my embrace.
“Oh, is this Chyoma?” Silvia asked.
“Yes, it’s me Zulu princess.”
“When I didn’t hear from you, I began to wonder if your airplane was hijacked.”
“Very funny, why would anyone want to do that?”
“That was a joke, but I was really scared for you because your story was aired on CNN this morning. I wasn’t sure if the Sierra Leonean authorities had prevented you from leaving the country because your story caused no small stir.”
“I was informed that the story would be aired this morning, and I have already received over two scores of congratulatory messages, the first being from my ex.”
“How is he?”
“I haven’t talked to him since.“ Chyoma used her palm to block the transmitter of the phone, “Akin, is it alright if I go somewhere private to finish this call?”
“Sure, but don’t make me miss you.”
“You are such a-“
“Darling?” Akin quickly blurted out, cutting Chyoma off.
Chyoma just laughed and hurriedly took her leave. “I’m so sorry Silvia, I’m having dinner with a friend.”
“Would I be inquisitive if I asked who this friend is?”
“No, you won’t. In the fullness of time, you might get to meet him if all goes well.”
“That’s a strong statement. It seems someone is falling in love.”
Chyoma chuckled a little. “You asked about my ex.”
“True, I did.”
“I haven’t seen him or talked with him, although he sent me a message and has called me several times already.”
“I think you should talk to him, Chyoma.”
“But Silvia, you know…”
“Yes, I know,” Silvia spoke up. “Is he not already your past? Would picking his calling or talking to him make him any more of your ex than he is now?”
That point struck a chord with Chyoma. “You are right Silvia. I would listen to what he has to say. I bet he is still unaware of why I was upset and why I asked my driver to pick my daughter up a day before she was to leave. I guess I was really rude to him yesterday.”
“It’s nothing a good apology can’t fix.”
“Well, the apology should be the other way. He was the one who acted like a teenager when he decided to throw a tantrum in public, in front of the kids. I think my reaction was appropriate, but the manner in which it was executed was not. ”
“Time would tell. But like my uncle Mandela would say; A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”
Silence on both ends followed that statement, and then Silvia went on to explain what she was implying. “You have a lovely head and heart. But in this case, I think one is being left out, and that is – YOUR HEART.”
Chyoma took a deep breath. “Thank you so much for everything, Silvia. I couldn’t have covered the story without you. And you made my stay so memorable.”
“Take it easy Zulu princess,” Chyoma said, laughing out a little. “Oya translate.”
“It simply means – you are welcome,” Silvia responded, “and I would add a phrase to your Zulu vocabulary tonight.”
“What phrase would that be?”
“Ulale kahle… it means good night.”
“Good night Silvia.”
“Lest I forget – tell Shirley that she has someone who cannot wait to meet her.”
“Oh, she is going to hear all about you tonight.”
They both talked about trivial things for a few more minutes, and then they decided to end the call. It had been over 15 minutes since Chyoma had left the table. So, she tried to walk as fast as she could, and that made the click of her high heels so audible, it made a lot of people turn to look at her.
“Hey Akin,” Chyoma said, and then she drew the chair backward so she could sit. “I’m sorry I kept a gentleman like you waiting.”
“It’s alright, but I missed you a lot while you were gone.”
Chyoma blushed, and then she picked up a spoon to continue from where she had left up. “The soup is cold already,” Chyoma murmured. Everything was already cold because she had been away for 22 minutes.
“I could ask the waiter to have everything warmed up for you.”
“No, I think I’m fine. Did you enjoy the coconut chicken curry soup?”
“It was nice, but I could have done better.”
“Men… That’s what you all always say. I remember how much Mitchie used to brag about his cooking skills. The day after we got married, he made me breakfast and served it while I was still in bed. The food looked so good, and I thought it would taste like heaven. The first bite was all it took for me to get out of the bed and get into the kitchen to prepare a proper breakfast for both of us.”
Chyoma kept laughing as she told Akin stories about our first few days of marriage. But it seemed that the more she talked, the more Akin’s face ruffled.
“Are you alright?” Chyoma asked Akin, wondering why his mood seemed to be swinging south.
“I’m fine. I would just prefer you tell me something else. I don’t want to spend my date with you talking about Mitchel,”
“I’m sorry Akin, I should have been more sensitive.”
“I could make breakfast or lunch for you if you would visit me.” Akin indirectly requested, hopeful that Chyoma would say yes.
“No promises Akin. It depends on how this dinner ends.” Chyoma said, and then she took a bite off the chicken lap. “This chicken doesn’t taste as nice again.”
“I want the day to end on a fabulous note because I really want you to visit me. So, why are we doing something mundane?
“Are you calling my dinner boring?” Chyoma asked, putting up a frown.
“No. No. No, don’t get me wrong, I’m loving every minute of our time together. But if you are going to visit me, then it depends on how this night ends, remember?”
Chyoma giggled, bent her head down for a few seconds, and then she turned her gaze from the floor below slowly back to Akin. “You really want me to come to your place?” Chyoma was a little surprised that Akin would push for a visit, as most guys usually tried to avoid being visited so that they could hide whatever they wanted to. He must be an honest handsome gentleman Chyoma thought. The devil wears Prada and Louis Vuitton too she forgot.
“Yes, it would be an honor to host you for breakfast or lunch. A candlelight dinner would be so legit.”
“OK, so what is your plan Mr. unconventional? Are we going bungee jumping or skydiving?”
“Something even better,” Akin proudly said, grinning as if he had needed just one more lucky number to win the lottery. It would have passed for a silly grin if not that Chyoma was really anticipating what he had in mind, so she repaid him for the silly grin with a broad smile. “Can we have dinner on the lake?”
Chyoma had a good laugh, it was so loud she felt embarrassed when she turned and saw a few people staring at her. “I’m sorry I laughed that loud. It just sounded sooo…”
“Why don’t you give me a chance to show you how serious I am?”
Chyoma was much skeptical. As much as she was trying to convince herself that Akin was not a stranger, her heart wouldn’t be deceived – he was a stranger. What was his favorite color? Where does he stay? Who are his friends? None of these things could be answered, except that his name is Akinyele Solarin, the waiter/chef who works for Salamander café. There was a part of Chyoma that still yearned for an adventure, so, giving the idea a thought, she asked Akin to give her a few minutes to decide. Scrolling through her BB Messenger, she read all the messages she had received. Most of those messages were still congratulatory ones from friends who had seen her story aired on CNN. Chyoma began to type ‘Hey babe, I’m off to dinner on the lake with this dude I met sometime last week while hanging out with Mitchie and the kids. Don’t ask me questions about this date for now. The guy works at Salamander café in Wuse II, and his mobile number is 08140049694. If you do not hear from me in two hours, kindly call me. And if I do not pick, please alert my dad. He knows who is who in Nigeria and the police would be looking for me in no time. LOL’ The message was sent to Ezinne, Chyoma’s closest friend. “OK, let’s go,” Chyoma said to Akin, and then she wiped her mouth and got up.
“Daddy, what is the time?” Shawn asked, keeping his face like two days old bread.
“It’s 17 minutes past the hour of 7.”
“When are we-”
“Not again Shawn. I promised you already that today would not end without you seeing Shirley. Are you questioning my integrity?”
Shawn just stared at me a little confused, and I couldn’t help but wonder why I was addressing him like he was an adult. I was just as confused as he was, maybe even more. How was I really planning to pull off this promise? I had no idea, and time wasn’t even trying to be kind to me. I phoned Chyoma again, hoping she would pick and somehow tell me she was not on her phone all this time that I had been calling. Her phone kept ringing, but she would not pick the call because she perceived that Akin might be persnickety, especially if he knew I was the one she was talking with, so she didn’t want to ruin the dinner. I kept thinking as the second hand of the clock kept ticking.
“Shawn, I have called your mother several times already, and she is not picking her calls. I think she is very busy at the moment, and she would call us back when she is less busy. You know your mother is an international journalist and her story is the hottest piece of news trending at the moment. So…” I just kept on talking, and then for another moment, I realized that I was being more defensive than I should be. “I’m sorry Shawn, what did you want to say to me?”
Shawn seemed to smile, just the way he did when he had a hare-brained idea. “Why don’t we go to Shirley’s place?”
I gave Shawn the look; that kind of look Jesus gave Peter before he said to him ‘get thee behind me Satan.’ The last thing I wanted to do was to be anywhere close to that house. I had not seen Chyoma’s mother or father since the divorce, I wasn’t sure this night would be the time to do so. But in all honesty, Shawn’s idea seemed to be the best we had both thought up that night. I wasn’t willing to take that option, so I phoned Chyoma’s younger sister, at least, that seemed to be a better option.
“Hey Nennaya,” I greeted, trying to sound excited to speak to her. But I couldn’t remember if we ever spoke on phone after the divorce.
“Who is this please?” Nennaya asked, sounding more welcoming than I would have thought. Or was it because she was still unaware of who she was speaking with?
“It’s Mitchel,” I responded and paused for a reaction.
“Oh, Uncle Mitchel, it’s been ages.” She screamed, sounding warmer than I would have imagined.
“Yes, it has been. I’m sorry I have not been in touch despite having your number all these years. And I told you several times, many years ago, my name is Mitchel, just take away the uncle.
“OK. How is my nephew?”
I searched for Shawn with my eyes, but couldn’t find the little man. “He was here with me a few seconds ago. I guess he just went to the restroom or kitchen. Actually, he is the reason I am calling you.”
“Hope he is alright?”
I felt unworthy to be asking for a favor from someone I had not talked to in a while, but I had an obligation to follow through on my promise. “He is alright. It’s just that he wants to see his twin sister so badly that he wouldn’t eat, rest or sleep.”
“Have you called Chyoma?”
“Yes, I have. She wouldn’t pick my call, nor respond to my messages. I was wondering if there was a way you could get across to her?”
“I haven’t spoken to her for about a week now. The last I did, she was on her way to Sierra Leone. If she is back, I could call her to find out where she is, and then I would get back to you.”
“Yes, she is back. That would be much appreciated Nennaya. Thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome, anytime. Say me hi to my little nephew. Hope I can get to see him when I’m in town.?”
“You could see him anytime you choose to. Just let me know beforehand so that I can prepare to host you.”
The phone went dead on Nennaya’s end, and I was still as confused as I had been before calling her. “Integrity is just an English word,” I said out loud twice, trying to convince myself that I could get Shawn to understand that I had tried my best.
“Daddy, why are you talking to yourself?”
I was a little startled, and then a smile broke out unconsciously. “Wear your boots boy, we are going to see Shirley.”
“Yesssssss. Yessssssss.” Shawn’s face seemed to glow like a neon billboard. He ran to his room to pick up his boots, while I walked into mine to get my wallet.
Chyoma got into the car, and then Akin followed suit. “Strap yourself to the chair,” Chyoma said to Akin, smiling at him while giving him a look that said – what next?
Akinyele pulled out his phone, “give me a minute,” he said to Chyoma, and then he began to type. ‘Guy, just like we planned, everything is falling into place. I hope the boat, wine, and chocolate are available?’
“Just turn around and take the straight road. We are off to Jabi lake,” Akin said after he had received a confirmation that the things he had requested were available.
Chyoma hit the road, smiling intermittently. It was the kind of smile that you would usually see a lot on Valentine’s Day. “Would you like to take the wheel?”
“No, I enjoy the part of directing you and staring at you while doing so. How could anyone be this beautiful?”
Chyoma wasn’t one to get shy when complimented, but she chuckled and for over a minute and then she caught her self-shamefaced. “Stop staring at me,” Chyoma playfully murmured to Akin, “I’m getting so conscious of myself around you.”
“One thing just keeps running through my mind as I stare at you.”
Chyoma snorted, not knowing whether she was willing to find out that one thing that Akinyele was talking about. But like you know, when people say – one thing just keeps running through my mind when I stare at you, they want you to ask – what?
Putting her foot slightly on the brake, Chyoma slowed down the car so she could make the turn leading to the lake. “What keeps running through your mind?”
“Why did you ever marry Mitchie?”
Chyoma’s expression went blank for a moment, and it became obvious to Akin that he had said the wrong thing, but for the joy of ridiculing me further, he didn’t stop there. “Mitchie is such failure-”
“You don’t know Mitchel as much as I do,” Chyoma interjected, stopping Akin from any further assault to my person. “My marriage to him might have failed, but he’s a good man.”
It was funny how cool the car had been, but Akin suddenly began to feel hot. “Do you like football?” Akin asked, trying to switch the conversation flow to something lighter.
“Oh, no! Another soccer freak?”
“Errrmmmm! Not a freak in the real sense of a freak, but I have freakish tendencies when Arsenal is playing, though.”
“OK. You just lost me with that statement.” Chyoma sighed and then she laughed. “Akin, where do I park?”
Pulling out his phone from his side pocket, Akin called Fred his friend-I prefer to call him-his fellow criminal. “Hey! Fredo, Where you dey?”
“I dey close to the lake.”
“OK. I see you brotherly.”
“I like that,” Chyoma muttered.
“Like what?” Akin quizzed looking a little surprised.
“I liked how you called him brotherly.”
“Oh, that? Yes, he has been one of my closest mens since my secondary school days.”
“Closest mens?” Chyoma laughed uncontrollably.
“Why are you laughing again?”
Back at my house
Shawn was in high spirits, singing all over the house while waiting for me to come out of my room. I was still trying to figure out if to put on a suit or something casual. I wasn’t sure who I was going to meet at Chyoma father’s residence. I had been there for a few celebrations before we got married, and believe me, the crème de la crème of Nigeria military and politics were usually present. When I had married Chyoma, her father was the minister of Foreign Affairs. Those were some of the issues that contributed to our breakup. I won’t talk about that now, maybe later.
“Daddy, what are we still waiting for? Will aunty Ndidi go with us?”
“No, aunty Ndidi is not going with us, and please Shawn, don’t ask me more questions. You are adding to the stress I’m already going through. When I’m ready, we would be on our way to see your mother and sister.” I wasn’t sure my message was pitch perfect because the look on Shawn’s face was pitiful. I walked closer to him. “I’m sorry Shawn. Daddy is a little livid at the moment, but that isn’t enough reason to speak to you in that tone.”
Shawn didn’t seem to understand what livid meant, but he got the message. “I love you, daddy,” Shawn spoke up, standing just a feet away, and then he proceeded to hug me.
“You are the best son ever.”
The night had been one of my longest. It was just past 8 pm, it seemed like a starless night that was destined to last forever. I had not heard from Chioma yet, neither Etim nor Nennaya had also gotten back to me. I was hungry, hysterical and almost looking paranoid. For a few minutes, I began to wonder if it would have been much better Chyoma and Shirley never showed up in our lives again after these “many” years. It was all of a sudden hard to live without them, something I had been used to. Or maybe it was just Shirley I couldn’t live without. I was sure I just couldn’t live without that pretty little girl.
“Daddy, your phone is beeping.”
I was lost in thought, and I didn’t notice the screen of my phone light up or hear it beep. “Thank you, Shawn,” I swiped the screen to unlock it, “I hope it’s good news.”
“Is it?” Shawn asked after about a minute. “Daddy. Daddy,” Shawn repeated.
“It’s news, Shawn. It’s neither good nor bad.”
That seemed to startle the little man for some seconds. He looked away, then turned back, “OK daddy!”
It wasn’t news, it was more like a nightmare. It was the sort of horror you got as a child after watching ‘Nneka the Pretty Serpent’ and you had to sleep alone at night. It was several images Akin had sent to me via what’s app. Pictures of he and Chyoma in a boat. I proceeded to take another glance at the pictures. “How would this happen?”
“Daddy, what did you say?” Shawn inquired after he heard me talk out loud.
I tried keeping quiet, but I knew Shawn was going to persist. I was the most important person in his life, and as much as he was a little Pharisee, he really cared for me. If I was unhappy, somehow, he would know and would keep trying to find out why I was bummed out. “The truth is – Daddy loves mummy and Shirley so much that it’s hard to see them stay apart. Daddy robbed you of your sister and a loving relationship with your mother.” It was hard to keep back the tears – so I let it flow freely.
“Stop crying, daddy,” Shawn begged, and then he began to cry too.
“Oga, why two of una dey cry nah? Wetin dey happen?” The driver inquired rudely, meddling in a father and son personal moment.
“Oga e no concern you o. If me and my pikin wan cry, how e go affect the money wey we go pay you?” Mtchewwwwww!
If you enjoyed reading this, you would enjoy reading other short stories too. Also, kindly drop a comment, share stories and tell a friend. Thank you!
Written by Richard Oti.
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