It had been 4 years since they had been separated as little kids, but on reuniting, they were up to their usual shenanigans. In comparison to their mother, I was broke; so I took them to Mr. Biggs for lunch. It was easy to interpret the look on the red faces of both lads. There was a spirit of el cheapo hovering all over the air. The taste of the meal cast a pall upon all of us, not one that would last long though, we were out of there in a jiffy. I was doting on Shirley, while Chyoma reciprocated same to Shawn. It wasn’t rehearsed, we were meant to be a family. I had been shellacked by life all the years we had spent apart. There was never a day I hadn’t wished we were together, building the family we had dreamt of.
Settling down on the sofa, it was like we had just walked into the outer courts of heaven. “Would you like to have some cappuccino?” I asked Chioma, hoping she would say yes. We were at Salamander cafe in Wuse II, Abuja, precisely. The kids felt more at home and the el spendo spirit was all over. Well, I wasn’t the one spending, so I just relaxed my nerves and prepared myself to enjoy the beautiful café.
Shirley was 5 years, 6 months, 15 days and 35 minutes old. She was just a Day 5 minutes and 20 seconds older than Shawn. We wanted to be as traditional as we could be while Chyoma was pregnant; so, we didn’t perform an ultrasound scan to determine the sex of the child. Why spoil the fun? I would be holding my child in my arms in a few months. Whatever the sex was, I was going to be a dad, and that was all that mattered. Shirley had been brought forth, and we had no idea another little man was coming behind her. It was many hours later and then Chyoma was in labor again. I was worried, scared, and a very young nervous husband at the time. Shawn was born the next day. He was brought forth, having a smile on his face, something more like a smirk saying – did you guys plan to leave me behind? I answered that question by holding him lovingly in my arms. Of course son, we wouldn’t trade you for anything in this world.
Chyoma seemed to think a little, “A cup of creamed coffee would be fine,” she replied.
I asked the waiter for two bottles of something soft for the kids, a cup of cappuccino, and another of creamed coffee. The waiter took note of what we had requested, and then he handed us a menu, so we could select our meal.
“Hello everyone, lovely kids, beautiful lady and…”
You won’t believe this dude stopped just when he should have referred to me as a handsome man or gentleman. He stopped and rather he said – ‘….and oga.’
I just kept quiet and held my peace. Oga isn’t a bad name; it means he respects me a lot. I tried to convince myself the young waiter or chef meant no harm.
“So, have you all decided on what you would like to eat?” The waiter asked, smiling all the way.
“I’ll have some salad; a little lettuce, cheese, bacon, chicken, boiled eggs, avocado, and tomatoes. I’d like to have some fresh curried fish too.” Chyoma said.
“I’ll have a plate of fried rice with grilled chicken and a bottle of Sprite,” I told the lanky waiter, who didn’t seem so excited about my order – maybe it was too simplistic. But I wasn’t ‘bout to eat curry soup with black beans, basmati rice with black-eyed Lobster. I wonder who conjures up these menus.
Shirley and Shawn were having the time of their life. I always heard there was a magical closeness between twins, even when they were not Siamese. Four years hadn’t changed a lot, they were having fun, and they really looked cute together. I stared at Shirley adoringly, while Chyoma wouldn’t take her eyes off Shawn. I was a little jealous that my son was getting more attention than I was, but he was her son, and myself – once her husband.
The waiter was back again. The chef was already working on the first order.
“And what would you like for the little cute girl?” The waiter asked, smiling from ear to ear, with sparks of light in his eyes. The kind of sparks I had in my eyes when I first saw Chyoma on that beautiful Sunday in church.
This dud couldn’t be hitting on my wife right in front of me, I thought to myself. Then again, I realized she was no longer my wife and I had to get used to that. But at least, the waiter knew this was a date. Or, wasn’t it obvious to him? I’ll give him a little space and watch how far he goes with this, and then I’ll fix him right in his place.
“She’d have Italian chicken with mashed potatoes and some salad. Also, bring a drink with little or no sugar please.” Chyoma requested on Shirley’s behalf.
The waiter spent more time trying to get the details of Chyoma’s order perfectly, that I thought – how unprofessional can this dude get? He seemed so nice and was all smiles when attending to her. But when I had ordered, he wouldn’t even let me repeat myself. He said – ‘oga, I got your order; you don’t have to say the same thing twice.’
“What would your order be for the little handsome boy?” The waiter asked Chyoma. This guy completely ignored me.
“He’d have Jamaican fried chicken with spaghetti Bolognese,” I replied the waiter without looking at his face. I wanted him to know that I didn’t like him and I had zero respect for a man who won’t respect another man’s lady.
“Get him a glass of smoothie too.”
“Will that be all sir?”
“If I need something else would you need to remind me?” I replied, my face looking like an angry Killi Wee Nwachukwu.
The waiter was handsome and wore a crisp white shirt with fitted black pants and a well-shined shoe. Maybe I was a little jealous. But I was more handsome. Maybe thrice as handsome as he was. But my trousers were not fitted and my shoe looked like they had survived four generations of hardship. My properly starched blue T.M Lewin shirt was the only source of swag about my outfit. Things were a little rough, but Chyoma knew I was avant-garde when it came to fashion. But sadly, today I looked more like a shadow of myself.
“Don’t you think you are being a little too harsh on the young man?” Chyoma asked, looking right into my eyes.
“What?” I replied, acting like I didn’t understand what she was talking about.
“Come off it Mitchel, You haven’t treated that young man nicely since we walked in.”
I wanted to badly ask her if she noticed how ‘that young man’ had been looking at her and how he had been treating me too. But if I did, she would say I still same old me, as ever. I wasn’t about to let her open an old wound. Most especially, a wound that hadn’t completely healed. So, I apologized and promised to treat him better.
“Shawn, do you like this place?” Chyoma asked, wearing a loving smile.
I realized she so badly wanted to hold Shawn in her arms. I could tell it from the look in her eyes.
“Yes Aunty,” Shawn replied.
“No Shawn, she’s mummy, not aunty.” I quickly interjected.
“It’s alright. He hasn’t had me as a mother for four years.”
Those words almost brought tears to her eyes.
“Will you like to listen to some jazz music while we wait for the food?” I asked, trying to get her mind on something else.
“That feels just so right.”
So, we left both lads and took a walk to the lounge. It was cozy and had a good ambience – just as the entire cafe did. The playlist was a mix of Chris Botti, Kirk Whallum, Dave Koz, Kenny G and George Benson; we couldn’t have been having a lovelier time. The music afforded me a respite from thoughts about the waiter, and it afforded her a breather too. At least, her eyes were no more moist like they were when Shawn called her aunty.
Shawn had spoken to Chioma several times over the years, and he had often called her mom. Well, that was easy, I usually notified him who was on the other end of the telephone before he spoke. Now, placing a face to the voice was not so easy for the little man. Shirley knew I was her dad – she called me that. I wondered if a day, 5 minutes and 20 seconds made her all that wiser, or had I failed in my part to keep his mum’s memory fresh in his mind? I’m sure it’s the latter.
“How long do you have to be around?” I asked.
“A couple of weeks” Chioma replied.
I wanted to ask her lots of questions. For one, I still had butterflies in my tummy for her, I needed to know if the feeling was mutual. It seemed selfish to ask such at this time. I should focus on her and not me.
“What have you been doing in the US for the past four years?”
“Well, nothing you don’t know. I’ve been pursuing my career as a journalist. Finished my internship with the Voice of America last year, and landed a job with CNN as junior correspondence.”
“Wow! Way to go girl.”
I was sincerely happy for her. I didn’t think she would have been able to accomplish that if she had still been married to me. It was a nice feeling and a sobering moment too. What had I achieved in four years since we separated? That was a rhetorical question I asked myself, as I smiled and took a sip of the smoothie from the big glass cup before me, trying to take my mind off the sad answer to that question.
“So what have you been up to in 4 years?” Chyoma asked.
It’s funny how she didn’t know anything happening in my life – she was once my life, the very center of my world. I would have given up my breath for her in a heartbeat. It’s funny how things suddenly change.
“I found a new love – poetry.”
“Tell me more about your new love,” Chyoma asked.
“Well, after we separated, it was difficult for me to move on. I blamed myself for months. I blamed your parents, I blamed our friends, and I blamed everything and everyone. Then, I found solace writing my thoughts almost every day. At first, the pieces were dark and had a lot of pain and grief concealed in them. Then, after a while, the light began to break-forth, and they became more beautiful. I eventually started a blog, one dedicated to love and poetry.”
Chyoma didn’t say a word for the next few minutes. I wanted her to so badly ask me to read out one of my poems to her. I was wondering what was going on in her mind. She just smiled at me and kept smiling. I couldn’t help but stare at her when she wasn’t looking at me. Chyoma was beautiful, really beautiful. I know they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I wasn’t just the only one seeing it, the waiter must have seen the same thing too. Chyoma usually wore light make-up and most importantly a charming smile, one that had characterized her for many years.
Chris Botti has got to be the godfather of trumpet jazz I thought to myself. I was loving the jazz collection playing in the background. Whoever the Disc Jockey was, he had to be a jazz freak.
“I should check on the kids,” Chyoma said, and then stood up.
Shirley and Shawn were done with their drinks, but the bonding didn’t stop. It was the twin spirit at work. It was unbreakable. Chyoma walked up to them, and then she sat on the sofa.
“Mummy, when are we going home?” Shirley asked.
“As soon as you want us to baby” Chyoma replied.
“Can we take Shawn with us?”
“We will someday, but we can’t today.”
Shawn was looking at Chioma the way a kid looks at a stranger he wants to get acquainted with.
“Shawn, come over here,” Chioma said, reaching her hands out toward him. The little man was up and sitting on her laps in a few seconds. She ran her fingers through his afro while holding him tightly to herself with her other hand.
The lanky waiter walked into the lounge with an assistant, both searching with their eyes for Chyoma and me. Walking to the table, they off-loaded the delivery – our order. I could tell they seemed disappointed that I was alone. I guess he had gone to rub powder on his face, add a little swag to his step and had brought along a co-worker just to score a point; that there was a pretty lady who seemed to fancy him.
Well, maybe it was all just in my imagination, however, I thanked him for the meal served.
Shirley sat on my lap while I ate. She was having fun playing with my beards. I had missed so much of her life that I wished that moment could last forever. Shawn was a little more reserved, he sat quietly on his mother’s lap and wouldn’t say much. I was racking my brain for the right pick up line to say what I had in my heart. I was wishing we would spend some more time the next day, and every following day. Maybe they could even spend the weekend at our crib.
“Mitchy, I think it’s time to leave. We’ve spent quite some time here.”
“That’s true,” I replied. But I was just half-way through the meal. So, I pounced on the chicken quickly, and had my mouth full in a bit, while also trying to feed Shirley with some. I could tell by the look on Shawn’s face, he was starting to get jealous. Was I loving this?
It had been a beautiful outing, and now, it was time to leave. Chyoma had settled the bill and given the waiter a tip. The latter seemed to annoy me a lot, especially because he wouldn’t just take the tip and walk away, he had to spend two minutes talking to her. What does he want from her? I kept asking myself as I kept looking at both of them with the corner of my eye.
“I have just been in the country for a few days. It’s a new number, I haven’t memorized it.” Chyoma responded to the waiter’s request for her number.
“Ok, then I’ll just give you mine.” The waiter cum chef said, smiling like he was about to do an ad for Oral-B toothpaste.
I had become certain this chef of a guy was doing all these on purpose just to irk me. This guy wouldn’t qualify for the celebrity chef reality show if Nigeria ever did one, so, what was it about him that made him feel like the special one?
“What is his name?” I asked Chyoma as we walked out the door.
“Whose?” Chyoma asked, acting as if she was oblivious to whom I was enquiring about.
“The waiter or chef guy, or whatever he is,” I replied in a not so friendly tone.
“In the words of Asa – Akinyele wants to marry wife, He doesn’t want to pay some bride price.”
“What did you say?” Chyoma asked me, not grasping what I had just said.
“He seems like a pretty nice guy,” I said to Chioma, hoping to score a point – I wasn’t this jealous egotistical fellow she’s thought I was.
“Yes, he seems nice. He wants me to go on a date with him.”
My heart stopped for a few seconds, it seemed I had swallowed my Adam’s apple and had to gasp for breath.
“Are you alright?” Chyoma asked.
“Sure. I’m awesome.”
I kissed Shirley on her forehead and made sure Shawn gave his mum a big hug and a kiss too.
Shirley and her mother both got into the car; Mr. Etim, the driver had been waiting. I had known Mr. Etim for a long time now. He had been Chioma’s family driver for many years – and he kept getting fatter and also, the family cars just kept getting better.
Shawn waved goodbye to Shirley, I blew a kiss into the air to her – she blushed and chuckled.
“Do you like mummy?” I asked Shawn, kneeling down beside the road while trying to lace up his And1 canvas.
“Yes, but I like Shirley more.” He replied.
“Well, mummy and Shirley are one. If there was no mummy, there would have been no Shirley, and neither would you have been too.” I could tell by the look on his face, he didn’t understand most of what I had just said, “Don’t worry, with time you will get to understand.” I said to him, lifting him off the floor unto my loving arms.
“Let’s go home son.”
Blogging had been my solace for about four years now. I started a blog that focused on poetry and love. It isn’t hard to figure out the link between the two. If you really fall in love, you will embrace poetry, and if you aren’t in love and embrace poetry, you would soon fall in love.
It’s Friday Morning… I had dropped Shawn off at his School – Early Springs Primary School and was back home.
I didn’t have a paid job, but I had a thriving blog; and somehow, it had begun to yield some financial dividends. My blog had become one of the most visited in the country. I guess, people never stop falling in love, and looking for poems to express how they feel. I wrote a new love poem almost every few days and also reviewed the poems submitted by other poets. Upcoming and a few famous poets from all over the world sent in their poems for publishing on the blog. The fame of my blog hadn’t really translated into much money in the bank, but I could pay my rent and fend for my son.
Ok, it’s 7:58 am on January 27th, and it’s time to review a poem. A lot of poems had been submitted, but I found this piece a little special.
All you wanted was a rose
So I scampered all over the earth
I wouldn’t let Kilimanjaro’s height scare me
Neither the length of Thames
My feet hurt from the scorching sands of the Sahara
My palms, thorns stung
But I found you a rose, and it’s red
because I want us to be more than friends
I want to dance with you beside the deep blue sea
We’d dance all night to the songs of the angels
God would be our host
The sun, moon, and twinkling stars our guests
I hope when the morning lights rise you’ll say ‘I do’
I pray you’d say ‘I do’
I promise to keep you in my heart – it’s warm
It might not be everything you desire
But if you’ll make it your home,
I’ll make it paradise
Why are your eyes turning cold?
You don’t love me as much as before?
Before you say those sad words,
Take my hand; let’s dance by the deep blue sea
All night long and maybe forever…
Review: The writer is in love and would do anything to grow that love. He would go as far as the depths of the sea, and as high as outer space for the one he loves. The writer takes it a step further… he wants her to be his wife. That is the maturity of love when you want to spend forever with your favorite girl. But it seems she is withdrawing from him. The writer expresses this by saying – why are your eyes turning cold? However, he still shows optimism in hoping for a forever together. The writer shows depth in this piece and I must salute his heart. I hope she says yes, and I pray they stay in love forever. I’d rate this poem 4 stars – very good. I wish you all a love and poetry filled day. Salute!
Everything felt a little different today. Maybe seeing Chyoma wasn’t such a good idea, especially because I hadn’t gotten over her. It’s hard to believe that four years hadn’t changed much. Maybe I should get to the gym and have a good work out session, I should feel much better within an hour. So, I got dressed and was off to Denis Hotel, off Aminu Kano Crescent, Wuse 2. I had just spent few minutes in the gym before my phone rang – it was Chyoma. My heart began to leap for Joy, but of course, I wasn’t going to sound surprised on the phone.
“Hi.., good morning. What’s up?” Chyoma asked, sounding like she had some sweet liquid in her mouth.
“I’m good. What’s in your mouth?”
“I’m having green tea with plantain for breakfast.”
My first thought – hope Shirley doesn’t eat that too. But I refrained from asking, I shouldn’t think ’bout me and what I like or don’t at the moment. How about what Chyoma likes?
“Green tea and plantain? Maybe I’ll try it out sometime.”
“Mitchel, I know you’d never.”
“Never say never”
“OK, if you say so. By the way, where are you at?” Chyoma asked.
“I’m at the gym, working out these muscles. I need to stay as nimble as I can.”
“How ’bout you?”
“I’m lazying about the house, eating and packing my bags.”
“Where are you off too?”
“Why? Thought you were to be around for a while?”
“Yes, but I got a call from my head of programming. There’s been an outbreak of the deadly virus in Sierra Leone.”
“I haven’t heard about that.”
“Yes, I’m hoping to be the first international journalist to bring the story to the world.”
“That would be big.”
“Yes, and that would be a boost for my career.”
“Are you going with Shirley?”
“That’s one of the reasons I’m calling you. Can Shirley spend the weekend with you and Shawn? I hope to be back by next week. Etim would pick her and take her back to my parents, on Monday.”
“That would be awesome.”
“OK. Let’s meet up at Grand Square by 11 am. My flight to Lagos is at 2:30 pm.”
Boy! Was that the best news I had heard.. A weekend with the cutest little girl alive. This was going to be a weekend surprise for Shawn.
I was out of the gym in a jiffy and had a little pricing war with several cab men before I found one willing to take me to Area 11 for N300. Not that I couldn’t pay more, but these Abuja cab guys can drive from your parlour to your bedroom, and charge you N3000 if you don’t open your eyes. Everyone is a millionaire in Abuja to these guys, even if you stay in Jikwoyi or Mpape.
Looking through my wardrobe, I was trying to pick out something nice. The options were limited, but I had to still look my best. So, I picked out a dirty denim black Jean and a polo by Ralph stripped T-Shirt. That was my best. Suddenly, everything just seemed different, there was such a joy, it was Chyoma, she had such an effect on me. I was out of the house by past 10 am… Never keep a lady waiting.., one of the rules of dating. It wasn’t a date, but to me, any opportunity I had, I determined to treat it like it was the first date.
“Where are you at?”
“I’m inside, sitting in front of a bowl of ice-cream.”
“Is that your prize for working out?” Chyoma asked.
“Naaaaaaah… Just a luxury I can afford because my body is in good shape.”
“We just alighted from the car, we are coming in now.”
It was hard for me to act normal, not around Chyoma. I smelt my body to ensure it smelled good. My hair was curled and shiny, and I crowned the good look with a smile of life.
Shirley walked in first, and immediately she spotted me, she ran towards with her arms wide open. You don’t understand how that feels if you have never been a daddy. I held Shirley tightly in my arms, with my eyes closed, savoring the precious moment. When I opened my eyes, before me stood the most beautiful woman alive, and yes she was accompanied by the most annoying man alive – Akinyele the waiter.
Akinyele was a mood killer, and he didn’t even know it. I knew Chyoma hadn’t given him her number because she didn’t even know it off the heart. So, that leaves me with only one conclusion – Chyoma must have called him. That is so bad for me. I have a competition to deal with?
“I brought Akinyele along.”
“Yes, but I only have space for Shirley at home.”
“Mitchelllll… ..” Chyoma said, and laughed.
Akinyele didn’t find it funny. Who cared anyways? We all sat down, hoping to enjoy the 30 minutes together before Chioma would leave for the airport.
“Is Salamander cafe closed today?” I asked Akinyele.
“No, I’m just off work today.”
“O, I see. Are you like the chief waiter/chef or something?”
“No, I’m just one of many waiters, but also a trained chef whose specialty is continental dishes.”
“Where have you worked before?”
“I have worked in Ketchup and Blue Cabana, and a few other places you might not know. As you may know, I’m an embodiment of culinary experience.”
I had many other questions I really wanted to ask him, but they were not nice questions. For one, I wanted to know what he was doing in Grand Square beside me and Shirley and two, if he had heard about ukwu aba shoe, because that was what was coming his way, since his foot had refused to stay where they should. But, I wouldn’t be a jerk. At least, not today, and never before my little Shirley. So, I became as nice as I could be to Akinyele.
“Actually, Akinyele met us outside. Akin is actually off work today, and he decided to go shopping. It’s a coincidence, but a nice one.” Chyoma said, smiling at Akinyele.
I swallowed some spit involuntarily when she said it was a nice one. I also tried to smile and tell Akinyele how welcome he was. So, Chyoma hadn’t called him? That really keeps my hope alive, I thought to myself.
“What flavor of ice-cream would you like?” I asked Chyoma, as Shirley and myself were doing justice to the bowl of chocolate ice-cream in front of us.
“Vanilla will be fine.”
Akinyele was looking at me.., was he expecting me to ask him also what flavor of ice-cream he would want?. Come on man! Chyoma said it was a co-incidence, so, you were not destined for the ice-cream.
“Akin, would you like to have some ice-cream?” I asked out of courtesy, hoping he would try to be a gentleman, and would thus say no.
“I’ll share with Chyoma?”
I didn’t know when I shouted: “Why?”
Then I looked at Chyoma… “That would be fine,” she said.
Akinyele winked at me when Chioma wasn’t looking, as I was at the stand to get the ice-cream. He seemed to think this is some funny stuff. He should just not push me before I travel and bring an untamed Edi abali that would do justice to his bum-bum.
As I stood there thinking, Bamidele by Asa began to play in the background. I quickly rushed with the ice-cream and sat down beside Chyoma and Akin. When it got to the part where Asa sang – “Lawyer alagidi, first-class liar”, I quickly raised my voice and sang it, looking at Akinyele while doing so, and then I also got Shirley to sing along with me, we were having the time of our life. The next song was a fast tempo Spanish song which began to play in the background. Boy! I grabbed Shirley, we both got up and had ourselves a dance. Chyoma was adoringly watching, while Akinyele was doing so jealously too. Then it dawned on me like it had never – I was meant to be the only, and the best husband Chyoma would ever know, and I was meant to be the greatest father Shirley and Shawn would ever know. I made a pact with myself – whatever it takes, no matter the cost, I’ll never miss a second opportunity if I get another to restore my family…..
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written by Richard Oti