“Daddy, its past 6 am. Wake up. Wake up.”
Turning slowly away from the edge of the bed, I pulled the duvet over my head. “Do you have to go to school today?” I asked Shawn, not really interested in his answer, though. I know it’s very silly when your five-year-old son wakes you up in the morning and then you act like a little kid. The previous night had ended greatly for Shawn; he had dinner sitting beside his twin sister and she was great company while he ate. That was all he had wished for all day. I always wondered what experiences in life they had to share with each other. They could talk to each other all day, and never seem to run out of things to discuss. So, I could understand perfectly why Shawn was up so early and twitching with adrenaline. But how about me?
“Daddy, sure, I have to go to school today, it’s Tuesday, remember?”
“No, how would I remember, I am an illiterate obviously. Mtchewwww!”
“You are an illiterate, daddy?” Shawn asked.
I lifted up the covering over my head, “that was supposed to be a sarcastic reply to your question Shawn. Do I look like an illiterate?”
“Don’t let me get off this bed, cos I would feed you to Aunty Ndidi’s dog.”
“Hahahahahaha… catch me if you can.”
My little Pharisee found a way to get me out of bed and chasing him all around the living room. I had barely had 2 hours of sleep all night because I spent 90% of my time in bed reminiscing and having spells of nightmares. I kept thinking of the time Chyoma’s car pulled off, by the curb. It was exactly 15 minutes past 9 pm. I had been standing with Shawn outside her gate for over 30 minutes; I knew Shawn would always have a place inside that massive mansion, but I wasn’t sure if I would receive the same warm welcome, so staying outside seemed the best place for both of us.
“It was really a breath-taking night,” Chyoma said with glittering eyes that seemed to adore Akinyele. “This is where I live. It’s not so far from the café, you are welcome to visit me anytime you want. Just give me an hour’s notice.”
Akinyele reached out for Chyoma’s right hand, then bowed and touched her knuckles with his lips. I quickly used my right palm to cover Shawn’s eyes. I bit my lip so hard till I could taste fresh blood, my fist was closed, ready to be used as a weapon if needed. It was just a kiss on the hand, but I guess with the emotional attachment I had to Chyoma and the dislike for Akin, it meant more to me.
“Would it be too much to ask for another date now? How about the visit?”
Chyoma just smiled, both offers were alluring. “Another date would do for now,” she replied.
Akin scratched his head hard. I wondered if there was vermin in his hair or something. At this point, my heart beat was swinging all over the place, and I was certain I might have to take anger-management classes if I had to keep being anywhere close to Akin. This thing was killing me softly.
“You don’t want to visit me? Did tonight not end on a great note?” Akin probed, trying to remind Chyoma that visiting him had been dependent on how the dinner ended, and from her confession – it was great. Really great.
“Would you have dinner with me at home? I would want you to meet my parents,” Chyoma appealed. She had the look of love in her eyes, although she was trying really hard to mask it.
Akin smiled, and then he began to laugh and clap his hands. “Are you serious?” he said, “I feel like screaming.”
Please who laughs like that in front of a lady; laughing till you start to clap your hands? This guy was a first-class dud, and it beat my imagination how Chyoma couldn’t perceive it.
“Don’t scream, before people think I’m trying to rob you.”
“Very funny!” Akin said happily. Was there a better proposition than a dinner with Chyoma’s parents; Ambassador Andrew and Mrs. Frances Orjiuche? I guess not.
It was obvious Chyoma wasn’t aware that I was with Shawn, outside, close to her gate; if she was, I doubt she would have left her dome light on, and I’m sure she won’t have been having a cherry banter with Akin. I was just waiting for the scrawny fellow to disembark so I could get down to the business of why I was there.
“I’d fill you in on the date by tomorrow or next. It’s almost 10 pm, you should get going.” Chyoma lifted her right hand up, trying to reach the dome light. “That reminds me, do you still hurt? Like real bad?”
The dome light went off, so it was dark in the car now. I felt better about that. At least, I won’t have a heart attack before the night was over.
“It’s like a miracle. Each minute I spend with you, I feel much better,” Akin paused for a second, “Have you asked Mitchel why he punched me in the mouth?”
Chyoma breathed heavily, “I watched the video, there is nothing more to discuss with Mitchel,” she said.
“It’s just because I honor you a lot and I had respect for the presence of the kids that I kept my calm. No child should see his father beaten up in public. So, to avoid embarrassing Mitchel, I just kept cool.”
“That’s why I said earlier you are an honorable man. I am proud of how you comported yourself,” Chyoma replied.
“As for the woman he came with, she even came back today to insult me.”
“You have got to be kidding me.”
“The lady is not even half as beautiful as you are, yet she was so full of herself, wanting Shirley and Shawn to call her mother. I don’t want to start brooding on how miserable Mitchel and his girlfriend or whoever she is to him have made my life, in just 24 hours.”
“I’d make up for it. I promise you, Akin.”
“You don’t have to. I’d do anything just to put a smile on your face,” Akin informed Chyoma.
Finally, the door opened and Akin alighted. It felt like I had been standing there for 3 long nights, waiting, waiting, and waiting. I was glad Shawn hadn’t even complained for a minute the entire time we stood, waiting. Akin got into a cab, and zoomed off, not before he had waved and blown a kiss to Chyoma. I was exhausted, and I had lost all desire for a confrontation with Akin, and so I cared less. Chyoma reversed the car and a second later the beam of its headlight was focused on us. She was shocked, and then she drove closer, honking, trying to get the attention of the security personnel’s that guarded the house.
“Mitchel, what are you doing, standing here by this time?”
“Is that all you have to say?” I replied curtly.
“How long have you been here?”
“Long enough to have seen enough,” I gruffly said. “I guess that’s why you refused to respond to my text or to pick my calls. All day. It’s really sad. Do you want to say hi to your son?”
“Why are you talking to me that way? Will you punch me soon like you punched Akin?” Chyoma replied in a nasty tone.
For a second, I was grateful she mentioned that. I was wondering why she had refused to pick my calls all day or respond to my text, even when the latter was just to congratulate her for the intelligent report she had done in Sierra Leone. “So Akin squealed about the fight?”
“I watched the video. It was not a fight. He never touched you or responded, although you physically assaulted him. I was so embarrassed,” Chyoma screamed, and then she remembered that Shawn was still standing there with me, so she lowered her voice to a whisper. “How could you fight in public when the kids were there Mitchie, how could you? Is that how a responsible father behaves?”
I felt so ashamed when she asked me those questions. I quit trying to explain what had happened the previous day with Akin. “I’m really sorry, there’s no explanation to justify my actions,” I said, and then I walked closer to the side window. “Please, take your anger out on me in any way you want. Cuss me out, if that would be an atonement for my sin. But right now, your son is standing behind me, and all he has wished for all day is to see his sister. He has not napped nor eaten. I might be the poorest example of a father, but I love that little boy so much, he means the world to me, and I promised him. I promised him he would see his sister today. We have been standing here for almost an hour because I want him to know that when I give him my word, it should mean a lot to him. At least that is the kind of father I can hope to be. I don’t mind staying out here if going in would be a bad idea-“
“Mitch, he is also my son,” Chyoma said, and kept quiet, trying to strangle the tears that were welling up in her eyes. “He’s just five, and shouldn’t be living without his sister,” Chyoma cried.
We just spent a minute staring at each other. I could read it in her teary brown eyes; she blamed me for everything that had happened between us. I was the failure. “Would you say hi to your son? You have not said a word to him tonight.” We had selfishly bickered back and forth, ignoring Shawn all along.
“My baby!” Chyoma called out to Shawn. She had to use her palm to cover her mouth, so as to stifle the deep groan that accompanied the free flow of tears. She just put her other arm around him and drew him closer. It was a warm tight embrace, followed by many kisses. She did the kissing. With every kiss, Shawn just seemed to look more confused. I knew what was running through his mind; what had been done to deserve all these kisses. Cos when I gave him a kiss, it was a reward for something good he had done.
The security details had opened the gate, but we spent some extra fifteen minutes outside. I desperately wanted to cut down on all the protocols and just get Shawn to see Shirley so we could leave. The next day was school, you know!
We walked into the living room. It had been many years since I last was there, but it’s graceful look still left me speechless. The floor was made from calacatta gold honed marble. It glittered. The drapes were pristine white, with tints of burgundy at the edges. The most beautiful golden chandelier was hanging in the center of the room, hanging from the finely designed pop ceiling. The walls were covered with expensive pieces of art and a few memories captured in pictures. Some of the memories captured were of Ambassador Andrew’s time of service in the military as a General and commander of the 12th battalion, while the others captured his life as a politician. He had been an ambassador to the United States and South Africa, before being made the minister of information, and now foreign affairs. To be honest, he was a sweet man. I wouldn’t have had an issue seeing him again. It had been a year since I last saw him. He was actually the only family member I had been in touch with. We had hooked up a few times over the years. He loved his grandson to bits. Mrs. Frances was different. She didn’t want anything to do with me again, and I’m certain that if she knew her husband had been visiting, all hell would have broken loose.
I was relieved when the steward confirmed that her mother was asleep, and her father was attending an important function at the Hilton.
“Where is Shirley?” Chyoma asked the steward.
“She’s in your room ma, sleeping.” The huge pot-bellied man replied in clipped English. I liked his accent. He was new I could guess; I didn’t recognize him, and that went both ways – my face didn’t ring any bells. The last steward was a woman in her mid-forties. Erinma was her name. She was very beautiful, youthful and likable. I had never met any woman more polite than she, it was almost to a fault. Everyone loved her sweet spirit. “You are welcome sir,” Bonnyface assured, and then he turned his gaze back to Chyoma. “Should I wake her up?”
“No, I’d do that myself. Thank you!”
“You are welcome madam.”
There was one thing about Bonnyface I didn’t seem to like. It was his breath. It seemed to reek of garlic, one thing I found difficult to stand. The repugnant smell usually caused nausea to well up in my throat.
I sat down on the soft blue velvet mid-century sofa that faced the television. Shawn found his place beside me, and then he placed his hands in mine. I could tell that he was slumberous. He was struggling to keep his eyelids open.
Chyoma got into the room and lay on the bed, “Shirley, Sweetheart,” she called into her ears, trying to wake her up. That didn’t serve, so she tapped her a little to wake her up.
“Mom. Where did you go to?” Shirley queried in a sleepy voice.
Chyoma had promised herself never to hide anything from her daughter. She had promised that she would not just be her mother, but her best friend too. “Mummy went out for a date,” she confessed.
“With who? Daddy?”
Chyoma had to think it over before replying. She knew that Shirley loved me a lot. But did Shirley like Akin? Was Shirley going to like the fact that she had spent the evening with him? These were questions she played over and over in her head. “It was with Mr. Akin. Remember him?” she asked, and then quickly found a way to make her not remember him. “But guess what?”
“You have someone special in the living room who has been waiting all day just to see you.”
Shirley’s eyes widened, “Who?” she sought to know.
“Take a wild guess.”
Chyoma seemed to keep her face expressionless. That made Shirley doubt the answer she had given. “You miss Shawn a lot?”
Chyoma ran her fingers through Shirley’s thick dark curly hair. Then she planted a kiss on her cheeks. “Your brother has been waiting all day just to see you.”
Shirley jumped up from bed. “Shawn?” Mummy, Shawn?” she asked loudly, almost screaming.
“Yes baby, Shawn.”
She finally screamed and began running to the living room. I heard her scream. It was one of joy, but I was also afraid she would wake her grandma – my nightmare – up. But as soon as Shawn heard her voice, life came into him, and he stood up in anticipation. She burst onto the scene, and in a second, she and Shawn were locked in an embrace which lasted for over a minute. I couldn’t hold back the tears. I just slumped into the chair and cried like a little child. Then I felt those little arms I had missed so much in just one day, around my shoulder and head.
“My baby. I can’t believe how much I have missed you.” I drew her close, and held her tight as if I was never going to let her go. I couldn’t believe what I had missed for four years. Chyoma stood by the corner, her eyes were teary, but she was smiling. It was only a few minutes, and they were up to their usual shenanigans, again. I couldn’t care anymore if their grandma would be awakened or not. That is the sacrifice she was supposed to be making for having grandkids.
“Have you both eaten?” Chyoma asked, standing over me.
“I think Shawn would need some food. He hasn’t had any for many hours now. As for me, I’d be fine.”
Chyoma picked up her phone and rang the chef, requesting he prepared something for Shawn, and myself nevertheless. Such a big-hearted lady Chyoma is. We spent the remaining hour around the dinner table; eating, laughing, playing and just being what we should have always been – a family. Etim and one of the armed security details dropped us off at about 12 am. Shawn slept off in the car and didn’t seem to want to wake up. I couldn’t blame him, he had daddy ‘the wishing well’ make his wish come true. It was a sound sleep for him, but a rough night for me. Apart from the picture Akin sent that was still haunting me, I got a message from Chyoma at about 1:13 am – ‘This reunion is getting too emotional for everyone. I’m especially concerned about Shirley. If she stays much longer, it would an emotional disaster when we have to leave. So, we would be leaving the country by Friday.’
“It’s past 6 am Shawn, I shouldn’t be chasing you around the parlor. You need to shower.”
“Did you sleep well?” I was certain he did. But I wasn’t sure he might in the coming days. How do I explain to him that he wouldn’t see his sister again, maybe not forever, but for as long as his mother decides? I won’t want to pitch it to him that his mother wants to separate his sister from him again. I don’t want him growing up a bitter child.
“Yes, dad, I did,” Shawn replied. He stopped the hide and seek game and immediately went for his towel. I felt too weak to take him to school, so I had to call Ndidi. Somehow, just thinking of calling her made me smile. She was like the only friend I had close by, although I knew she had a crush on me.
“Hey,” I greeted her, “good morning. Did you have a sweet sleep?”
“I did. It was the best dream ever. And you were in it.”
Now, I wasn’t sure if I was willing to find out the details of that dream. I really liked Ndidi, but my heart still had a sign over it that said – closed. But with the way things were going with Chyoma, I felt I should reconsider removing that sign.
“So, will you tell me about it over lunch?” I asked before my brain could process the information, what I had just said. Over lunch? That was a suggestion. Really silly.
“Yes,” Ndidi replied blissfully.
Now I had a date I really hadn’t planned for. “Will you pass over to pick up Shawn?”
“Sure. I would be there in twenty or thirty minutes.”
I hadn’t reviewed any poems today, I didn’t feel like it. I felt like two ton of steel had been placed on my shoulders. I kept reading Chyoma’s text, wondering how best to reply. All I wanted to know is if she would allow Shirley to spend one more night with us before Sunday. That might even end up being more torturous. But it was better to see her one more time than not again.
“Akinyesco Badoski,” Fred, the criminal replied. The part many of you reading this do not know is that Fred was the one who videoed the altercation I had with Akin at Salamander café.
“Fredo lala,” Akin laughed over the phone.
“You are a badt guy. The baddest of them all. How’s the scheme going?”
“Better than planned mehn. Things are falling into place quickly. Should be meeting her parents soon.” Looking in the mirror, Akin shrugged, as if it was a normal thing to be the good playboy he was. “Blame it on the looks and sweet flows bro.”
“How about her husband, is –”
“Hey, it’s her ex-husband. And I intend to make sure he knows that is his position. That guy picked on the wrong person o. I have dealt with worse. You know me nah.”
“I know you. I dey pity for the guy sef. If he decides to interfere with your plan, then, you would interfere with his life. Period.” Fred gloated and laughed for half a minute. “But finally, the guy na fine boy sha. Their kids are sweet and cute too.”
“Who fine boy epp?”
“Brotherly, if you see the car she came with the first time I saw her. It was a bad Bentley. When I sighted her from inside, I decided that I had to attend to them personally.”
“But you didn’t know she was divorced then nah,” Fred quizzed.
“How that one take concern me. She was beautiful and looked wealthy, that was all that mattered. Now, she is falling per second for me. I plan to buy ice-cream and flowers for her today. Should be going over there soon before I proceed to the office. Her father is wealthy mehn, and very soon, I’d be balling.”
“I want to be like you when I grow up.”
“Brotherly, by the time you grow up, I would have been badder than this. Just grow up to be yourself mehn.”
After Shawn had left for school, I tucked myself back into bed. But I couldn’t sleep, so I just plugged my ears, some smooth jazz was needed. I had no close friends I could talk to. Ndidi had feelings for me, and I felt best not to let her know what I was going through emotionally. A lot of things didn’t make sense to me. How did Chyoma get the video? And who knows what else she must have been told that I wasn’t aware of yet? Concerning Akin, I kept wondering if I had met him somewhere and had greatly wronged him. Just maybe I had. He had to be one of those SS2 students I had greatly offended whilst I was senior prefect at Demonstration Secondary School, Jos. He had to be.
Chyoma had planned her day. Work. Salon. Work. Work. She was scheduled for a video chat with the CNN New York studio, there were a lot of questions needing answers about her story. It had caught the eyes of the United Nations, and that was quite big. Right now, it was an endemic disease, which had the capacity and tenacity to become epidemic, especially because the government of Sierra Leone kept denying the truth and kept referring to the story as a propaganda. But it was being taken seriously by other countries. The threat of borders closing or extra health checks at the airport for Sierra Leoneans was already considered by a lot of countries. Chyoma wasn’t trying to put the country in bad light. But to stem the increase of the disease and help those suffering and were in need of serious medical attention.
“Hey babe,” Chyoma called out to her best friend over the phone.
“I have been waiting for your call o. You asked me to call your father yesterday if I didn’t hear from you in two hours. I almost did so. Only for me to call you first, and you were laughing, the kind of laugh that…”
“It’s true nah. The chuckling and laughing were too wonderful for me not to be briefed fully on what is going on.”
“Well, let’s say… I’m falling in love.”
“Who would have thought I would after four years. You know, I met lots of guys in the US, didn’t like most of them”
“But you like this guy?”
“Knowing you for over 12 years now, this guy must be something special.”
“Well, I don’t really know him so much, but he makes me feel almost like I was 16 again. It’s hard to say this in public, but Mitchel is the most special guy I have ever met. Things didn’t work out for us. My mother had a part to play. Mitchel also seemed to play his part well. But this new guy is the only person that has come a little close to making me feel how Mitchel did.”
“Why didn’t I hear about this guy until yesterday when you were afraid of being kidnaped?”
Chyoma laughed and tried to explain it off. She and Ezinne had been best friends as children. Ezinne’s father was the second most decorated officer in the military quarters, after Chyoma’s father, who was the commandant on the base. We were all friends till things went south. I ditched everyone so that my heart could heal from the pain I was experiencing. That had turned out to be a bad idea because now I needed someone who could talk some sense into Chyoma, there was no one I could talk to that could be a mediator between both of us. Not one person.
Akin parked the Mercedes-Benz C-Class beside the gate and motioned for the security personnel outside to come closer. That didn’t turn out well. Obviously, this was not your regular Hausa mai guardi, who was illiterate. The security detail was neat, dressed in a black suit and had on a white shirt and a black tie. His right ear was plugged with midland AVPH3 transparent security headset, and he had on a holster belt with his weapon, which was hidden by the jacket he had put on. As he got closer, it became obvious to Akin that he wasn’t going to sweet talk this guy into delivering the flowers and ice-cream.
“Is Chyoma around?”
“Sir, you are not allowed to park here.”
“Why? The owner of this house is my friend. His daughter precisely. You think you can just intimidate me because you are wearing dark shades and look like Hulk Hogan,” Akin said, laughing.
Seemingly unamused by the response, “I’m sorry, but if you do not move your car, I’ll have you detained, just as fast as snapping my fingers,” the serious looking guy said without mincing words.
Akin hurriedly moved the car a few blocks away to a point he considered not to have restricted parking.
“Hello Chyoma,” Akin greeted over the phone, “I’ve been outside your gate for a few minutes now, and your security man treated me like I was a scum.”
“Oh, dear Akin, I’m so sorry. That’s why I had informed you to let me know an hour before, anytime you intend to come over. My father is the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and –”
“My lord, chai, my life don change,” Akin said under his breath. He knew Chyoma’s family was rich. But he wasn’t aware her father was a serving minister. And Foreign Affairs for that matter.
“Did you say something dear?” Chyoma asked, after faintly hearing Akin mumble some words.
“No, please ride on.”
“OK. So, whenever he is in the country, the security at the house is extra-tight, especially when he is in the house. Do you want to come in?”
“No, I just wanted to drop off some ice-cream and flowers for you. That’s why I didn’t call, didn’t plan to stay around for more than a few minutes. It’s 12:40 pm already, and I resume today in 20, you know!”
“Yes, in twenty minutes, but can I steal a 10?”
“I came with my car, so I’d give you more than a 10, how ‘bout 15 minutes?
“Awwww! I’m on my way down right now.”
Akin had on a denim jean and a fresh white Tee. Plus he smelt like he had been in the inner courts of heaven – it was a Kenneth Cole cologne that did the magic.
“Hey boy, you look super fine,” Chyoma said, as she reached out to hug him.
“Is this your car?” Chyoma asked, looking like she was impressed with it.
“Yes,” being a chef has paid off in many ways.
Chyoma hadn’t been in Nigeria for a while before now, so she had no clue what the monthly pay of an average chef would be. Akin was good, but I didn’t know he was this good. How does a chef have a C-Class? But he was playing a good game – ‘appear not be in need of money, and as such, nobody sees you as a gold digger, and then you can actually dig all the gold you want.’
Appearing to be a gold digger was my bane. I actually wasn’t. I just refused to live a fake life by pretending to have an affectation of great wealth. Chyoma’s mother never liked me. But her father didn’t care for any of the materialistic things I couldn’t afford, he just loved me for the fact that I loved his daughter with all my heart.
It’s 1:00 pm, I’m in the shower, playing sad music – the kind that says I can’t live, if living is without you – while taking my bath. I wish I could call or text Ndidi to tell her it was a slip of tongue caused by a moment of confusion. But knowing how emotional a lady Ndidi is, that would be dealing her a bad blow, one that our friendship would never recover from, even if she does heal with time. I’d try my best to look as unattractive as I can. Maybe I should wear no perfume and put up a mourning face? It’s not that bad, it’s just a date I convince myself.
I texted Ndidi to come over to 355 Steakhouse and lounge at 35 Osun Crescent, Off IBB way. My pocket wasn’t smiling at all. I knew this lunch was going to cost me more than I had bargained. But do I take her to Iya Saraki’s buka just cos I’m trying to save money? Wouldn’t be nice, especially for a lady who has been so helpful and kind to me. At exactly 1:25 pm, Ndidi walked in, looking like a million dollars. I suddenly swallowed some saliva involuntarily. I knew very well that that meant I was having some anxiety. I had never seen her look that beautiful, not even when she was reading the news live on TV.
“Mitchie, I had to clear up my entire schedule for today,” she said, as I pulled the chair out so she could sit.
“Why nah? You would have just told me you had a lot to do, I would have rescheduled.”
“I have nothing more important to do, than sitting here, about to have lunch with you,” Ndidi said, smiling and just with the right amount of shyness.
When she said that, I involuntarily swallowed some saliva several more times.
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Written by Richard Oti.