Akin was stunned. It was hard to believe the gravity of his mistake. Never had he been that careless, not in many years of scheming. “It’s Fred’s fault,” he said out loud, hitting the steering wheel in annoyance. Things couldn’t go south now, not after he had done so much work to get to this point.
Parking the car, Akin got down, and then he handed the Key to Fred. It was 5 minutes to 10:00 pm. “Baba, no vex abeg,” Akin murmured. Fred seemed to ignore the apology and quickly rushed in. “If I tell you the kain mistake I make this evening after me and you talk for phone ehn..”
“Badoski, we go talk later. If my madam reach home before me, my job done finish for that house be that ” Fred replied, and starting the engine of the car, he zoomed off.
“Wuye?” Akin asked the cabby he had stopped. He decided not to have a fight over the fare the driver was requesting. He needed to get home as fast so he could find a way to get out of the mess he had put himself in.
Meanwhile, Chyoma and her mother were still discussing Akin. Showing her mother the pictures of her date with Akin, “he’s simply amazing,” she said. The date at Jabi was masterly executed. The speed boat was allowed to drift off a little, till it was in the center of the lake. The engine was turned off. It was just Chyoma, Akin, and the beautiful night sky. The bag with all that Akin needed was beside them. He unzipped it, and then he began to offload its content. An ultimate Godiva Truffle chocolate collection. Scented candles. Multi-coloured Chinese flying lanterns. A bottle of Carmen Gran Reserva wine. A battery-powered compact disc player.
Chyoma switched off her phone when she realized how beautiful the date was going to be. She let go of her fears and decided to trust him. At least, Ezinne, her best friend had been informed on what to do in case things went wrong. Akin kicked off the night by lighting the scented candles and then playing the Luther Vandross album. Akin had a good voice, and she enjoyed as he sang along to the tracks. And then they shared some wine and chocolates. One by one, the flying sky lanterns began to be sent up into the air, until the entire sky above them looked like a beautiful constellation of lights. And then there came the selfies. Those were the pictures Akinyele sent to me, to tick me off. The picture that broke my heart most was that of Chyoma resting her head on his shoulder.
“Babe, are you home yet?” It was official now, Chyoma had decided that babe was the best name to call Akinyele. “Are you alright?” she sought to know, referring to the manner in which he had left the dinner.
Akin had been home for over 15 minutes already and had time to think. He had already figured out what lie to tell as regards why he had to leave suddenly. “My love, I’m fine. I just got home now. You won’t believe I had to rush to the hospital to see my neighbor’s little daughter who was admitted. It was critical, and her parents really needed some money at that time I was called. That’s why I had to leave hurriedly.”
“Awww! You should have let me know. I would have loved to go with you.” Chyoma breathed deeply, and then she asked – “What’s wrong with the little girl?”
“She has emphysema,” Akin said and then went on to hiss as if he felt so much pain for the sick girl. “She was having shortness of breath, so it was very critical tonight. I had to spend almost a hundred and fifty thousand. The mother kept kneeling down and thanking me. It was the least I could do, I mean, thank God I had my atm card on me. That was a life saver for that little girl.”
“I love you, Akin!” This was the first time Chyoma was expressing love for Akin in black and white. The stage was set. He had expressed how he felt, and she had just reciprocated it. “You have a heart of gold. I don’t know if anyone has told you that before now. The kind of things you do just leaves me speechless. How many neighbors would be that caring?”
“A neighbor like me,” Akin suggested.
“That’s what I am saying. There are few persons like you. I feel pity for that child. A little girl shouldn’t have emphysema. That is just so sad.”
“That family has spent so much money, on her medical care, and I have been supporting them for a while now.”
“Would you mind sending me your account details?”
“Akin, I want to send you some money. Please, don’t say no.” There was silence on both ends of the phone for some seconds. “Pleaseeeeeeeee,” Chyoma said once more, stretching the plea so that he would accept.
“Ok. I would do that before I sleep.”
“Has your father said anything to you concerning my résumé yet?” Akin asked. His heart was pounding. It was almost sure that the Ambassador had not said a word yet. Because if he had, Chyoma wouldn’t be having that conversation with him.
“No. I don’t think my dad has or would even go through it. My father is a very busy person. He would probably just forward it to his PA or secretary and advice on what should be done.”
“God is magnificent!” Akin blurted out in relief. “Your father is such a kind and gentle man.”
“So, did your dad have good things to say about me?” Akin asked.
“Akin, my mother loves you. My father has never been an issue. My mom kept talking about you till we parted just a few minutes ago. But you have some work to do in regards to Shirley. She loves her father to bits. Even before our arrival, it was always a special time for her whenever she was speaking with him. Meeting him in person has created a much bigger romance between them. I’m afraid that she would be an emotional mess for some time after we leave on Friday.”
“What!” Akin screamed. Chyoma hadn’t told him she was leaving on Friday. It was breaking news to him.
“I know I have not told you, babe. I really didn’t know how to inform you,” Chyoma said, shutting her eyes, plunging her head onto her open palm. “I guess this is starting to get hard for me.”
Akin was a little distraught. The future of his scheme was hanging in the balance right now. “What becomes of us?” he wanted to know.
“I have fallen in love with you, and that’s all I can say for now.” Chyoma seemed to sob a little. “What do you think?”
Akin was quiet for an entire minute, and then he asked her, “Will you marry me?”
Chyoma’s eyes got as wide as saucers. It was the last thing she would have imagined or expected Akin would request. Akin seemed to have said that on the spur of the moment. That was a way to ensure that his hopes stayed alive. On second thought, it didn’t seem wrong to him to have Chyoma as a wife, considering the influence that her father commanded in the society. There was just so much splendor and opulence about her family.He perceived it would be a win-win situation if she married him.
“Are you kidding?”
“Nope. I’m dead serious. I’ve got my knees on the floor right now, and I’m asking you once again so that you’d know I’m resolute on this… Chyoma, would you marry me?”
The tears came rolling from Chyoma’s eyes. It wasn’t all for joy, but confusion too. Here she was in love for the first time in four years of being alone and to some extent lonely. If she says no, it might turn out to be a terrible mistake she will regret for a long time. She made a great mistake when she served me a divorce bill. It had cost her a relationship with her son. It had cost her son a relationship with his sister, and it had made her a single mother. It messed my life up and also hers. We should have fought hard, prayed, believed and loved harder. But Akin could be the bridge that takes away the memory of the past. If she says yes, that would be the craziest decision she has ever made in her life.
“Akin, I need some time to think about this. I really don’t know what to say. I love you, but I’m not certain I can give you an answer now.”
“It doesn’t matter how long it takes for your reply. I would wait. It doesn’t matter how far you are, our love would defy the obstacles. In you, I find all that I could ever want. A wife, a friend and someone who would be the mother of my child. I wouldn’t have had it more perfect with any other.”
The tears seemed to flow more as Chyoma listened. She had to rush off to the bathroom and lock it so that Shirley wouldn’t walk into the room and find her crying out her heart. There were many things still running through her mind. Shirley needed a father figure in her life – would she accept Akin in that capacity? How about her career?
“Akin, I need to be alone for now. I would talk to you later. Thank you for coming over for dinner.” Chyoma cut the call without waiting for a response from Akin.
Akin quickly typed his account number and sent to Chyoma before the emotions would make her change her mind. But for once, he wasn’t gloating over his smoothness as a player. Chyoma’s tears really got to him. But because of breaking so many hearts, he had learned to separate business from pleasure. His favorite quote was by Johann Wolfgang… ‘things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.’ Chyoma’s feelings or emotions mattered least, even if she agreed to marry him.
Akin had had a fulfilling day. He remembered he hadn’t made my life miserable for the day, and there was still much time for that. So, he decided to send me a few of the pictures he had taken with Chyoma and her parents before he rushed off to go return the car to Fred. The caption this time was – what a real son-in-law should look like. But as long as Shirley stood as far away as possible from him in all the pictures, I was alright.
I typed my reply… I’m proud of you. You’d make a great son-in-law. But you’d never be a father to my daughter.
Guess he was certain that neither Shirley nor I was going to give him that chance. I knew I had lost Chyoma. I had seen enough proof to convince me of that. But when it came to my beautiful daughter, Akin wasn’t the kind of man I wanted playing the father figure to her. He was a slime.
It was very early in the morning, the cock was yet to crow, and sleep still had sway over the sons of men, but I was awake. That was the fourth night now. Short sleep was becoming a norm. It was a little different this night because my thoughts revolved around Shirley and how I could make her last day with Shawn and me one that she would never forget. An evergreen memory. But I was really short on ideas. Everything I thought about just seemed too conventional.
Akin was up early too. But he was awake for a different reason. His phone had beeped by 37 minutes past 2. It was a bank alert, notifying him that Chyoma had transferred a million to him. He couldn’t sleep again for the joy that had overtaken him. This was the biggest one-time money transfer he had received from anyone in his life. Now, he was more determined than ever that Chyoma was the last bus stop for him. There was so much wealth around her that he didn’t need another lady.
Akin was off work for the day. He had decided that he would go spend the day with Chyoma and her family. Cook for them, and mesmerize them some more with his charm.
It was 5:00 am when I started to feel sleepy. I still hadn’t been able to come up with a mind-blowing idea of how to spend our time with Shirley. So, I decided to sleep a little before I reviewed a poem and prepare Shawn for school.
It was now 6:52 am. “Wake up daddy,” Shawn screamed into my ears. I jumped up looking confused. My eyes were bloodshot and wide open. He started to laugh at me.
“Silly boy like you,” I responded.
“Good morning, dad.”
“Come give me a hug son.” I was all smiles because I had a dream which was like a blueprint for how unique I wanted to make the day. But I needed Ndidi’s help. “I’m sorry I overslept. Have you had a bath?”
“Yes,” Shawn responded. “But I haven’t eaten.”
I quickly got out of the bed and rushed into the kitchen to prepare noodles. “Hello dear,” I said to Ndidi as I was about to sauté the egg, corned beef, green pepper, and sausage.
“Hi sweetheart, hope you slept sound?”
“I did my dear. How’s Joan?”
“She’s here. We are getting ready to leave the house. Is Shawn ready?”
“That’s one of the reasons why I called.. you are just so amazing.”
Ndidi seemed to chuckle over the phone. “It’s a pleasure. What’s the other reason?”
“Shirley would be spending the night with us, her-”
“Are you serious?” Ndidi screamed over the phone. “How did things change?”
“I don’t really know, but her mother informed me last night. And I want to make it unforgettable. There are some regular things we want to do together, but I also have a hare-brained idea, one that I want to be aired on TV. Can you pull that off?”
“Ah! Mitchie,” Ndidi muttered. “What kind of idea do you have?”
“If it’s TV-worthy, would you find a way to have it aired on AIT?”
“I’m not the director of programming. But if it’s something that’s really sweet and beautiful, I believe she could consider it.”
That was a little encouraging. At least the idea wasn’t just one to dump in the cooler. “I promise you I’d discuss everything with you once you are free. Are you working a shift today?”
“No,” Ndidi replied, and then she went on to say something to Joan. “I’m off the entire day. I’d come over once I drop off Joan and Shawn.”
“Perfect. Thank you!”
“Anything for you bae,” Ndidi said, and then she went ahead to end the call.
I wasn’t still used to her calling me bae. Well, I wasn’t entirely against it either. If there was anyone apart from Chyoma that I would have wanted to call me bae, it would be her.
“Now Shawn, remember we have a busy day after school. I have not told you this, but your sister would be traveling back to America tomorrow.” That statement seemed to wallop home. His countenance had a sudden change.
“Why?” he requested to know.
I could see his eyes tearing up already. “Your mother has to get back to work.”
“Can’t she leave Shirley with us?”
“It’s not as simple as it sounds. It’s just like me asking you to follow Shirley to America. Would you want to go without me?”
“No,” Shawn vehemently declared. “But if you would come with me, I would.”
“That’s the point. It would be selfish of us to separate Shirley from her mother.” Shawn was hurt, but I was glad he appeared stronger than I had anticipated. I really loved this boy. He was my little Pharisee. My best friend. My adorable son. “Now, don’t forget to be a good kid. Share your food with someone if you can. I love you.”
Chyoma woke up still confused. A little more chaotic than the previous night. So, she decided to call Silvia Milowangawe, the friend she had made while in Sierra-leone.
“Hello, Silvia, sawubona!” (good morning)
“Sawubona. Habari gani?” (how are you?)
Chyoma laughed because she understood what Silvia had asked. “Sijambo!” Chyoma replied. (Sijambo means – I’m all right.)
“Wow. You are now becoming a Zulu princess too,” Silvia responded to Chyoma’s reply.
“My heart is heavy Silvia. I needed someone I could talk to. Someone who would tell me the truth.” Chyoma took a deep breath, and a sigh followed. “Remember the friend I told you I was having dinner with the last time we spoke?”
“Yes, I do.”
“He wants me to be his wife.”
“Wow! Are you kidding?”
“I kid you not dear. Akinyele made his intentions known last night. But I keep remembering the quote of your uncle Mandela; a good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination. My head says one thing, and my heart says another.”
“What does your heart say?” Silvia wanted to know.
“It says it’s all too sudden, and that maybe I should wait a little longer. But my head keeps reminding me how long it took me to fall in love again. I have met many guys, Silvia, believe me. I don’t get swept off my feet so quickly.”
“I believe you. From the little time you spent with me, I could tell that you are an independent woman who isn’t looking for a man to take care of her. This must be difficult for you.”
“What makes it harder is that I’m leaving Nigeria tomorrow, and I’m hoping I can give him a reply before I do so.”
Silvia knew that this matter was not as easy as saying-do-this or do that. “Trust your instincts. Whatever you decide, I’d be here to support you all the way. If you love him, and if it’s right, your head and your heart would align.”
“Thanks, Silvia, I knew I could always get some common sense from you,” Chyoma replied and then she laughed. “By the way, the story I covered has been so big that I have my hands full.”
“Tell me ‘bout it.”
“I have an offer to run a weekly column on Wall Street Journal. I have a meeting with WHO and UNICEF in the coming weeks. I have been asked to do more original stories by my head of programming. Finally, I think the government of Sierra-leone would have to come clean and allow those poor sick people receive help from these foreign organizations. That gives me so much comfort. My effort was not in vain.”
“Well done my dear. You inspire me with your courage. Now, I’m tired of talking with you, can I finally say hello to Shirley?”
Chyoma laughed, “Shirley!” she went ahead to scream several times.
“I’m coming Mommy,” Shirley yelled back as she ran up the stairs.
I had hatched out the entire plan for the night. Moreover, Chyoma had sent me another text to inform me that Etim, the family driver would bring Shirley by 5:00 pm and he also would be available all night, in case I felt like hanging out with the kids. All I could say after reading the text was – “God bless you Chyoma.”
Akinyele was determined to have the greatest day of his life. He started off by having a big breakfast at The Charcoal, which was on Aminu Kano Crescent. And then he used a nearby ATM before proceeding to visit Fred. “Brotherly, I dey outside, abeg show,” he said over the phone to Fred, who had ignored two of his calls already.
Fred didn’t sound excited over the phone, and Akin could guess why. “Bros, how nah?” Fred said. His appearance was scruffy and his countenance unwelcoming.
“Fredo lala, brotherly, I know say I no try yesterday. But I just came to say sorry.” Akin pulled out a bundle of fresh notes from the back pocket of his trouser. “This is N50k.”
Fred’s was speechless. The money was fifteen thousand above his salary. “Bros, how e take happen?”
“I told you we would reap the dividends soon.” Akin smiled, and then he tapped Fred on the back. “Chyoma gave me a hundred thousand. But as my friend, it’s 50/50.”
“Kai! You are a good friend,” Fred said, almost moved to tears at the kind gesture.
“Brotherly, can you imagine if it’s one million she gave me?”
“That would have been 500 thousand for me. Akinyesco Badoski!”
“Abeg no vex for yesterday.”
“Yesterday, haba, we be mens nah. I don forget that one since.”
“I Know say your madam dey, I no fit get any car this morning, but how ‘bout evening? You fit bring the vehicle come Chyoma house?”
“I plan to spend some time in their house, so anytime from 4:00 pm is alright. I’d just pretend the car had an issue and it’s being worked on. When you come, just hala me, I go come down collect key from you.”
“Brotherly, brotherly,” Akin said, smiling as if Fred was the best thing to happen to humanity. “Ose.”
Ndidi was at the house after she dropped off the kids as she had promised. “Hey!” I greeted, and then ushered her in.
“So, what’s up?”
“I was thinking of doing something that had the potential to go viral. Something that Shirley could watch on youtube twenty years from now and remember how much her father and brother love her.”
“Hmm. Sounds nice. Let’s get down to the details. That’s the skeleton. Can I have some meat?”
“I was planning to take her on a date, I might not get the opportunity again in a while except things change.”
“OK,” Ndidi answered. “But what’s the unusual catch ‘bout the date?”
“I just want to show every father how special their daughters should feel when with them. I want to show Shirley how a man should treat her. And I would love to have it aired and also posted on YouTube. She could always go back to watch it and see how loved she is.”
“Sounds nice. We can get it into the entertainment news for tonight if you’d have it ready before 7:30. All content for the 9:00 pm news must be approved at most 30 minutes before we go live. Also, who is doing the shooting?”
You see the funny thing about hare-brained ideas. I was thinking only in black and white and not in colors. So, I just kept smiling, while Ndidi looked at me funny.
“Mitchie, you apparently didn’t think this through,” Ndidi murmured. “But I can sort that out. I mean, it’s you, anything for you.” So, we spent the next 30 minutes fine tuning the plan till the blueprint was perfect.
I wanted to badly say… This is why I love you. But I wasn’t sure what the outcome of that would be in the coming days, so I just smiled and said “thank you.” I still felt I hadn’t appreciated her enough, so when she was about to leave, I gave her a hug.
I dug out my suit and bow tie from the trunk box where it had been stashed in. It was kept for special occasions. Before you laugh at me and think that I am el-cheapo, I’d like to inform you that it’s a Dolce & Gabbana dinner suit and it was given to me by my father-in-law. That suit smelled like a field the Lord has blessed.
“I’m outside, in a cab, looking up at you,” Akin said to Chyoma over the phone. “I don’t know, but has anyone told you today that you are beautiful?”
“No,” Chyoma giggled, “So?”
“So, I would like to be the first to tell you today that you-are-beautiful.”
“Thank you, Akin,” Chyoma said and then she called out, instructing the security officials on duty to let Akin in.
Chyoma gave him a hug as he walked into the house. “It’s good to see you, babe,” she said. “How’s the little girl?”
“She is doing much better than she did last night. I went to see her this morning, and her parents are just so appreciative and grateful.”
“Awwww! You are such a special guy.”
Akin smiled in agreement. “Thank you for the one million you transferred to me. But you know you didn’t have to, right?
I wanted to. Thank you for not returning it back.”
Returning it back? Chyoma seemed to be totally unaware that this guy would have pocketed 50 thousand Naira without complaining. But the façade of being a wealthy chef was working out just fine. So, she believed one million wasn’t so much money for someone who had a Mercedes-Benz-C-Class and 12 million in savings for his restaurant.
Akin didn’t waste time making his presence felt. Wearing an apron, he went into the kitchen to show everyone what he was made of. Chyoma also wore her apron. She wanted to be a co-chef with him. It was an excellent opportunity for him to play with her. Mrs. Frances also wanted to be in the kitchen with them. There was just this charm about Akin that made people revolve around him. It was like an anointing, but not from God. Chyoma’s heart began to align with her head faster than she could imagine. Akin seemed to get along with everyone in the house. Mrs. Frances loved him. He was unconventional. There was no reason for this love to be denied a right to bloom, Chyoma thought.
I had called Etim to inform him that he would meet us at Nicon Luxury Hotel in Garki Area 11, close to where I lived. It was close to the house, and that’s where I decided would be best for our dinner. The proximity to the house was so good, I could be at Ndidi’s place in barely 5 minutes.
“Hey, Shawn, When the car pulls over. Open the door for your sister, and then give her a peck on the cheek. I would do so same too. Tell her how beautiful you think she is. You do believe she is pretty right?”
Shawn was listening with rapt attention. “Yes, Daddy,” he replied.
It was funny, I was talking to him like an adult, but I wanted him to say it because he believed it. “Then you’d hold her to the left while I hold her by the right hand. We would walk with her into the hotel, then into their restaurant. Once we get to our table, I’d pull out a chair for her, and then we’d both wait for her to sit before we do same. I want to teach you how to treat your sister. So that if any man treats her less, she would know that he doesn’t love her.” Shawn was all smiles. I couldn’t help but allow a grin to break out on my face too.
“Give her preference, we would let her pick what she wants to eat first before you do, and then me. Then, the rest of the evening is up to me.”
The night was really fun. We kept laughing and playing. I tickled them, and they tried to do same to me. A lot of those in there were staring at us because we were loud. Who cared? I knew they wished they could be as in love with their children as I was with mine. After we had eaten and cut the cake I had ordered, then it was time for my last act. “Shirley, I want to sing something special to you,” I said, rubbing her chubby red cheeks.
She blushed and chuckled. I could see so much of her mother in her. A beautiful soul and heart. “What song?”
“Whitney Houston’s – I will always love you.” I knelt down on one knee, then I began to sing out loud. And everyone started to turn towards our table to watch. I started off very well, but I couldn’t go past the second stanza. Because as I looked at her, it dawned on me that I was singing a farewell song to my own daughter. It didn’t feel right. I couldn’t hold back the tears, I just held her in my embrace and allowed the tears to flow.
Of course, none of it was rehearsed. It was all spontaneous, and Ndidi seemed to like the video when she saw it, because it was emotional and not surreal.
That night, we played and laughed again and again. Wrestled each other, played hide and seek, ate some more and then played some more till late into the night. I had decided Shawn wasn’t going to school the next day, so we cared less about time. Shirley slept in my arms. I kept staring at her. It reminded me of when she was a baby, how I would hold her and just keep imagining how God was so gracious, to give me a little girl that beautiful. Chyoma had a stronger bond with Shawn than I did back then. But when we got divorced, it was certain I wouldn’t be able to raise her better than her mother could, and vice-versa. So, she filed for custody of Shirley, and I got Shawn.
It seemed the night was good for everyone. It had been a great evening for the kids and myself. Akinyele and Chyoma had a beautiful time together too. Everyone was happy, and for once it seemed Akin forgot to torment me. I was grateful for that. And yes, our video was aired on AIT, much to the admiration of everybody. I cared less for the accolades, but I was confident that if I didn’t see my daughter for the next 10 years, that video would remind her of what kind of man I am.
It was morning, and Shirley was still curled up in my arms while Shawn snuggled up around my waist. It was a beautiful feeling. My phone had rung several times already, but I had been unaware because we all seemed tipsy. We had had a weekends amount of fun in just a few hours.
There was a knock on the front door. It’s sound kept getting louder until it seemed I heard it in my dreams. Opening my eyes, it was past 8 am.
“Who is it?” I asked, having one eye closed and the other opened.
“Oga Mitchie, na Etim,” he replied. “I don call your phone tire.”
Opening the door to him, “Oga Etim, emesiere,” I greeted.
“Emesiere nde!” He replied and then walked in.
“Oga, I come to carry Shirley.” Etim looked a little tired also. He had been with us most of the night. The cinema. The suya spots. The fast food restaurants. He took us everywhere. We rocked the night and rocked it more when we got home. “Madam don start to dey park already,” he informed me.
“This early?” It wasn’t really early. I usually start packing two days before a trip. But I needed to give myself some reason to delay Shirley leaving. “OK. I would wake little madam.” Etim laughed. He knew I was teasing him by calling Shirley that. I didn’t like him calling my daughter ‘little madam’.
“Sweetheart,” I called out into Shirley’s ear. “Shirley,” I called out again. I knew she was still in sort of a hangover mood. The yawning and stretching just went on.
“Etim, you fit just wait small make I cook food for am?” I knew he was working on strict instructions, but I wanted to stall a little so that Shirley could wake up properly and not feel forced to do so. “You go chop indomie?” I asked Etim.
A smile broke out on his face. “Oga, I go chop.” I knew it was going to be hard for Etim to say no. The size of his waist was a testament to the fact that he had not said no to food in a long time.
“No wahala.. make I enter the kitchen.” The hot plate started heating up, and I got to chopping and pounding. I had a concoction in mind, then wanted to fry some eggs and plantain too. In thirty minutes I was done and began serving. Shirley’s prolonged pandiculation had stopped, and she was now arguing with Shawn over some animated character.
We all sat down to eat, and I asked the little ones to pray. This felt like the last breakfast.
For once, I got a graphic picture of how the disciples felt when they were eating the last supper with Jesus. The only difference this time was that Akinyele ‘Judas’ Solarin was not on the table.
We had just started eating when Chyoma called Etim, upset that he hadn’t still returned home. “Give me the phone, please,” I requested.
“Good morning Chyoma. Sorry, I just wanted Shirley to eat something. We had a long night, we didn’t wake up on time.”
“It’s ok, Mitchie,” she said and then seemed to laugh a little. “Nennaya sent me the link to the video you made for Shirley. I think it was beautiful. I don’t think she would have had a better father. Thank you!”
For a moment, it seemed my faintly burning wick-of-hope got reignited. “I wish you were there with us.” The conversation went silent on both ends for almost a minute. “What time is your flight?” I asked, to break the ice.
“It’s actually tomorrow morning by 6:00 am. But Delta doesn’t take off from Abuja. So we would fly to Lagos this evening by 5:15 pm precisely.”
“Can I come along with you to the airport?”
“Sure. You would be good company.” It seemed Chyoma wanted to say something else but was finding it difficult. “But I must tell you, Akin would come along too,” she finally said.
Oh, not again. Me and Akin in the same car, for a trip over 30 minutes. I wasn’t sure what might happen. The kids would be there, and I didn’t want to erase the good memories with one-act of stupidity. “Would he follow you all the way?” I asked. After saying that, I realized how silly a question it was.
“of course, he will,” Chyoma replied. She seemed adamant that nothing was going to stop Akin from being in that car.
“Ok. I’d come over to the house by 2:00 pm. Would that be okay?”
“Yea, that’s perfect. How is Shawn?”
“He is here. I pay his tuition, so I declared today a school-free day for him. Want to say hello?”
“Sure,” Chyoma said excitedly.
So, I passed the phone to Shawn. He seemed to enjoy the call. I kept wondering what his mother was telling him that just made him keep laughing.
We made it to Ambassador Andrew’s house on time. Standing outside, I had to think for a minute if it was worth using 2 calories of my energy to knock on that big black gate that stood as a barrier. Being outside, I still had a lot of self-respect, but there was no telling how much of it I was going to lose in a short time if I walked in.
“Hello, sir, who are you please?”
I introduced myself and who I had come to visit. The not-so-good-looking huge security personnel radioed someone inside, seemingly to confirm if Chyoma was expecting me. While waiting for feedback, I kept wondering why this bouncer-looking-security-guy was stoney faced. That was why he looked less handsome than he had potential to look. Well, it was none of my business I thought.
“You have been confirmed. You can come in, sir.”
So, we walked in. I was warmly received by the steward. Oh, boy, this guy reeked of garlic more this time than the last time we met. I was just hoping Shawn wouldn’t be naughty and ask him why he smelled like that.
“Bonnyface, how are you?”
“I’m fine sir.”
Bonnyface was a good man, to me that was more important. It was his prerogative if he wanted to smell to high heaven. I tried not to focus on that much.
“Is mummy inside?” I inquired.
“Yes, she is in the living room,” Bonnyface replied and then he began to lead me into the house.
I thought about staying outside, in the garden. There were seats available, fresh breeze and big trees which provided shed. But that would be the best grounds on which Mrs. Frances would insult me. I hadn’t seen her in four years, and now I come to her house and sit outside knowing she is just a few meters away?
“Mummy, ndewo!” (Igbo greeting)
“Is that my grandson?” Mrs. Frances shouted and quickly motioned for Shawn to come closer. I was totally ignored. My people, I mean totally, like I wasn’t standing there. The self-respect I came in with was already putting on wings and ready to fly out in just seconds. “Mitchel, didn’t you meet me talking with someone? Did you greet him?”
Guess who that person was?… Akinyele ‘Judas-Iscariot’ Badoski.
“Akin, good afternoon,” I said to him, avoiding eye contact so it would be less annoying. He was drinking red wine, sitting on the same seat with my ex-mother-in-law. This was how close they had become?
“How are you, Michelle?” Akin asked. That was when the self-respect finally took flight. He had called my name in the female version again to provoke me. This was only happening because neither Chyoma nor Ambassador Andrew was there. They would not have put up with the crap Mrs. Frances was permitting.
So, I just stood there, instead of trying to sit and then someone would ask me if I had such gorgeous upholstery in my house.
“Mitchie, why are you standing?” Chyoma asked, pulling a bag in each hand.
“Are you ready to leave?” That was the only question I could ask. She could see from the squinting and narrowing of my eyes that I was getting chaffed.
“Daddy!” That was the sweet voice that changed everything. It was angelic. It was honey-like. It was Shirley’s.
“Yes baby,” I said and scooped her up into my arms. “Wow, You weigh a lot o,” I informed her.
“But daddy is Superman, right?” she responded in her beautiful American accent.
“Yes, daddy is Superman, he is ready to carry you in his arms all day and all night if that’s what you want.”
A kiss on my cheeks followed that statement. I was really glad that those who mattered most to me loved me and respected me. So, my smile returned.
The ambassador walked into the parlor just when we were about to leave. I felt refreshed. It was almost like I had seen a long-lost friend. “Daddy, it’s good to see you again.” He had been resting because he was also traveling that night to Berlin, Germany, for a meeting with his foreign-counterpart.
“Akin, how are you,” Ambassador Andrew asked the once again fully prostrated-prostrated Akinyele.
“Fine sir!” Akin went ahead to ask him if he tasted some of the food that he cooked the previous day.
“My wife gave me some of it. I really enjoyed the grilled chicken breast with onion sauce and the sweet potato pie.” Ambassador Andrew wasn’t one known for flattery. If he said he enjoyed something, then he really did.
Bonnyface and one of the security guards helped haul the boxes into the Mercedes-Benz G-Class SUV. “Who would like to sit with me in the front seat?” I asked the little ones. Chyoma was a little far away with her father, talking privately. The driver was already warming up the engine. Akin had taken his place at the back of the car. It was obvious that the front had been left for me.
“Me,” Shirley shouted.
“I would stay in the back with mummy and uncle Akin,” Shawn replied.
“He is not your uncle,” Shirley said sharply to Shawn. It was loud, Akin heard it, and I like that he heard it. But it was true also. I thought an uncle is supposed to be your mother’s or father’s brother?
Far from rebuking her, I said, “God bless your akan’uche (common sense) my darling.” At least I was sure I had a fellow warrior in her, someone who would give him the creeps.
We all hopped in and embarked on the journey to the airport. I was reticent and didn’t want to speak much. I just wanted to hold my daughter in my arms for the last time and run my fingers through her hair and enjoy the warmth of her sweet smile. Then Akin decided to destroy the calm.
Shawn had been between Akin and Chyoma in the back seat of the SUV. Then suddenly I noticed that Shawn was sitting on Akin’s hips, and the latter had moved closer to Chyoma. I wasn’t comfortable with someone who disrespected me that much carrying my son, but I ignored it. Then in a few minutes, I noticed that he had pushed Shawn aside towards the window, and he was so close to Chyoma now, whispering things in her ears. This guy moved Shawn out of his position on purpose. What kind of man could be so cruel even to a child? Was his mother blind to what was happening?
I couldn’t hold myself again. “You should be ashamed of yourself Akin,” I blurted out. “How dare you move my son away from his mother, so you can have your personal space with her? Do you know the last time he had that privilege? For once, can it not just be about you?” I yelled in disgust.
“Mitchie, I was the one who asked Akin to move Shawn to the other side. I wasn’t sure you’d have been comfortable with him sitting on Akin’s lap,” Chyoma replied softly.
Akin was just calm and all smiles. I had acted the fool again, giving Chyoma another reason to believe that I had just disliked Akin without just cause. But I wasn’t going to let him win this time. “I’m sorry Akin for falsely accusing you. I really do apologize.” I apologized to Chyoma too and made sure she realized I had no ill will towards Akin.
“Do you want to sit with me, Shawn?” I asked. I couldn’t understand why his mother would not use the opportunity to create a memory with him. I guess Akin was more important.
Shawn joined Shirley and me in the front seat of the car. “Can you play some music?” I asked Etim. I needed something soothing. Something to take my mind off the depressing thoughts. Akin was in the car. Shirley was leaving. Chyoma, the lady my heart was still beating for, was leaving too. I felt sick in many ways.
‘Attention, please! This is to announce the boarding of Arik Air flight A321 to Lagos. All passengers, please proceed for boarding. This is a first boarding call, please.’
It was time for them to leave. I had planned how I would express my love and adoration for Shirley one more time. But I was speechless. One word would have opened the floodgates for the tears to begin to flow. Shawn was already crying so hard, and so was Shirley too. This was too painful for my heart.
Chyoma was a little distance away because she had something she quickly wanted to tell Akin. “Akin, I thought carefully about what you want.” She took a deep breath and then she looked into his eyes as if she wanted to see into his soul. “Yes, I would be your wife. I would marry you.”
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STORY BY; Richard Oti