NOMA’S DREAM – GRACE OCHIGBO
Noma turns uncomfortably on her bed. The night isn’t coming to an end in her own thoughts. Although she had only gone to bed not long ago, sleep seems to have deserted her and hers lately. She pulls her weight off the bed and is about putting her legs down when she remembers something. Quickly and anxiously, she pulls open the side drawers beside the bed and dips her hand in there to pick a white stuff – a treasure she’s decided to guard with all her heart. Folded neatly in a newer envelop different from the one it’d come in, Noma brings out the paper and opens it.
“My dearest Finest girl,” She reads out loud.
She’s always reading it out loud; wanting her subconscious to hear it and her mind to pick every single detail therein. It’d become her ritual – reading it first thing in the morning and last thing late at night.
“When I first met you, I only wanted to give you a lift, a harmless lift. I was in so much hurry that evening that I even parked right in the middle of the road, remember? But I hear about Ogugu girls being the female version of the real Yoruba demons.” Noma smiles at that statement. Akoji had mentioned it to her once or twice. “One cannot really get off their firm grips, huh? So you see how you got me hooked without any intention of yours? Frankly, my Finest girl, I met you as a man incapable of emotions. I’ve had a very tough battle to deal with in the past and even though somehow I managed to pull through, it had defeated my ability to love before I realized. I’m sorry about Agefu once again. I’m sorry if you ever had to classify me as a man who took delight and interest in using ladies. Far from it, my shining princess. Far be it from me.
Now I’m careful, and so as not to sound like a pope, I want to remind you about something I always tell you. I love you in a way a puppy loves – devoted, playful, trusting. And… that’s the truth. I guess I should be ashamed of that somehow; aren’t we all supposed to be tough? Like the prince charming you want to get married to.” Noma blinks and a tear crawls down her chin. She’s always wanted to marry a prince charming – a knight in a shining armor – but even at that, Akoji had become all those and more to her. Well, that’s until he chose the easy way out.
She sniffs in, bringing the letter back to proper view and continues reading. “Yet I prefer to be strong; strong enough to risk being broken all over again, to love again, fully knowing my own fragility. I’ve known heartbreak enough to shatter my mind, to leave my soul feeling like dust in the wind and my body unwilling to live. But, my Finest girl, you are worth my life and all that I have left is yours. Yet you wonder why I have to still leave after saying and knowing all these?” Noma rolls her eyeballs. Such a coward, she thought, then a cunny smile curves around her lips.
“Leaving sometimes is the best option because we both may be together perfect apart. Good bye is a funny thing, my Finest girl. It can ruin your day, sometimes your whole life. I know this one good bye would ruin my whole life – things would never remain the same again without you – but I want to take this one-time chance at forgiving my past, Noma. My father – he is my past. I want to try to unlearn all he did to me.” She feels a pang of pain course through her chest. She may not know exactly what Akoji’s father had done to him, but she sure can relate. “Nothing in the world matters more than love. I love you, Ojonoma. You exceed my dreams!
Noma bits her lips as she reads his last statement. She keeps her eyes fixed on the paper but she’s definitely not seeing the boldest alphabet on it. Her mind has drifted as far away as possible. How could she have been so careless as not to know the faintest details about Akoji?
He works in a bank, fine!
Which bank and what’s his position there?
Now that he’s gone away for more than a week, who’s standing in for him at work?
Who are his friends here?
It’s rather unbelievable that the only other thing she knows about Akoji is the house he’d taken her – she had requested to go – to only once. And God knows she would never be able to find her way back there without some help.
What to do? She wonders.
The man said he’s from Anambra state and his mother is from Ofabo. Anambra is too large a state and Ofabo, too large a village to begin a search for some young man she doesn’t even know as much as his surname.
What sort of relationship were they having in the first place?
The times they both got together, one person always took leave of his mind. Time was never enough. It felt like they’ve known each other over the past three decades but coupled with the battle with Hallie’s health, she’d oversighted a lot of things. Even at that, she’s not totally to blame, is she? Who would believe that someone that minced no word in professing eternal love to her, eternal affection for her and eternal promise to always be by her side would leave her when she needed him most?
She even had to be sedated that morning in the hospital. After reading the letter and seeing it’s a ‘goodbye’ note, – a goodbye that may never be reversible again – beads of water started falling down one after another without a sign of stopping. She hit the wall right behind her and tried to scream, but her voice was melting away gradually. The muffled sobs wracked against her chest. The world turned into a blur and so did everything around her. Brick by brick, her walls came tumbling down. Suddenly, she broke out and started acting strange. She ran the short distance from where she was standing to the door and slammed against it. She didn’t care how noise was affecting Hallie or anyone else for that matter. Mrs. Gina tried to hold her down but a loud hysteric laughter escaped her and was just about pulling off the buttons of her dress when the nurses grabbed her forcefully onto the bed Hallie was just taken from. She remembered Mrs. Gina pleading in sorrowful tears, assuring Noma that she would be there for her no matter what; if only Noma can be strong for her only daughter as she’s always been so far, but those words were coming like a trance to Noma in the short moments before the sedative knocked her out.
By the time she opened her eyes, Mrs. Gina was leaning over and smiling at her. Noma could almost not remember what led to her being confined to a hospital bed. She, as expected, tried to jump down, but a sharp pain tearing across the two hemispheres in her brain returned her back to the bed without any further warning.
“Mummy, why am I here, where’s Hallie?” She asked several questions following each other without giving Mrs. Gina any avenue to respond to one before the other.
“Rest, my daughter. Rest.” The woman persuaded her, pushing her heaving chest back to the bed lovingly. Noma only glared on with utter confusion as she tried to joggle the part of her brain holding back memories from the day before, or even, few hours ago.
Thankfully that’s all in the past now.
She’s had the craziest week yet, but as it’s said, whatever doesn’t break one makes them stronger. Putting the letter carefully back into the drawer, she slips her feet into a pair of silver slippers before getting up.
Maybe it’s a beautiful day to act fast, she thinks as she opens the bathroom door.
Akoji smiles coyly as his brother says something… maybe funny, maybe not, he smiles either ways. He’s missed Collins, well, perhaps everyone but not to the same degree as the way he’s missed the young man. His younger brother may not be the innocently looking, well-cultured gentleman but Akoji sees him as a realer person compared to himself. Collins is so straight forward real and barely hides his feelings on any matter.
“Now that you are home, bro, China feels like a dungeon.”
Akoji smiles at that flattering statement. “It’s not too late to come back, Col. You will be just in time for the festival?”
Collins blinks. The lighting on his side of the call is superb for a daytime. “Nna mehn, I doubt that.” He moves his lips in a quick way. “The guys here are saying that machine has been damaged beyond repairs. And that’s the major reason I came. Although I contacted another company and they said they’d come take a look at it.”
Akoji looks on expressionless, as if the man on the other side can see him.
“But it’s good you are home now, bro. I’ve always been a not-so-suitable representative of our Opara in the last years. Now that the real person is around; I can bet that my absence would not be felt.”
“C’mon already, Col. I’m already feeling your absence.”
“Get a wife, bro.” He jeers, chuckling loudly. “I got to go now. And one more thing?”
Akoji’s initial smiles gives way to a serious look. “Get a phone too, bro. It’s uncalled for to be talking to you through mum’s.”
Akoji takes in a deep breath as the lines goes off.
…it’s uncalled for to be talking to you through mum’s
That statement runs through his head in the next few minutes.
Collins must consider himself lucky that Akoji even allows him a means of communication in the first place. He knows how many persons – one most important – craves to hear from him. Dropping his mother’s phone on the bed, he trudges over to the wardrobe. The bag he’d packed from Kogi state is still the same way it is. Even though he’d left almost all his clothes, shoes and accessories for Patrick, he just realized on getting here that there was no need carrying the little ones he’d carried in the first place. There’s a lot to pick from at home. He used to have a wardrobe consultant who worked with the best of fashion designers and stylist in getting his clothes and accessories. That was until his abrupt departure. Meanwhile, in the past week since he’s been home, every staff meant to wait on him has been reinstated. He’s the prince, the crowned prince for crying out loud. And…
This is home, he reiterates.
Staring at the little travel bag like it held the secret treasure kings from time immemorial have been searching for all their lives, he bends to lift it out of the wardrobe, bringing it onto the bed. He takes deep calming breaths, unzips and slowly begins to bring the well-arranged clothes out.
What he’s about to do may have a dead end but he can’t seem to have a grip on himself at the moment.
As he takes the last layer of neatly ironed packet shirts out, he finds what he’s looking for. Right there, underneath the load and at the barest bottom of the bag, sits his iPhone. He picks it up, but quickly lets it drop back like it’s hot.
Damn it! It’s more than a week now, he screams in his head.
The device had been switched off completely for over one week. He wanted to stay off – which didn’t make any sense – but it was the better of two evils. He knew he would be unable to bear the sound of Noma crying over the phone if she calls him or he does. He had left her the wrong way. He shouldn’t have left her that way; not at the time he did. He was selfish – thinking himself more important than her.
That’s not what love is. Agreed!
Love would put the other person first. Love will not leave one stranded. Love…
He’s still with his thoughts when a tap on the door jerks him back to reality.
In a flash, he throws the phone back into the bag and dumps the clothes over it. The initial tap has grown to become a slight knock on his door now. He wonders who’s knocking his room. Only his mother had been allowed in in the past week since he got back. Not even the house keeper or any of the domestic staff had access. He didn’t need them to clean his room. He could clean it all by himself when he wanted to; if need be. He never joined the family for dinner downstairs. His mother would have to come with his food and often times, he blocked her at the door to take the food from her hands. The only time the woman came without food was yesterday evening, and she had come with her phone saying Collins wanted to speak with him. She said he could keep the phone until morning if coming back for it would be a disturbance. The woman. So kindhearted and patient to a fault – the very direct opposite of his father.
Akoji makes sure the bag is back in the wardrobe, and the wardrobe is properly locked before heading for the door. The persistent knocks show clearly that it’s not his mother. His mother is not an annoyingly persistent person. She lets one have a range of free choices and no bother at all. He peeps through the door hole to see who’s right behind it and his eyes couldn’t believe it. Something breaks on his insides as he peeps again. Willing all the energy left in the muscles of his hand, he contemplates whether or not to open the door.
She’s wearing a peach gown made of soft, satiny fabric, long and fitted. A pair of high heels makes her walk more graceful as she walks as lightly as an acrobat through the veranda; the aroma of something delicious meeting her nose the whole time. In curiosity, she walks into the kitchen and her suspicions are confirmed.
The older woman is dipping a long spoon into a pot full of…
“Ukpeye rice?” she sounds pleasantly surprised. The woman just smiles, not taking her face from the pot on the burning cooker. “But why so early, mummy?”
“Well, I feel like spicing my beautiful daughter’s appetite this morning with her very own favorite ukpeye jollof rice. Trust me, this food would blow your mind away.”
Noma smiles. Surely. She’s never been able to reject Ukpeye rice for any reason. It would be her favorite forever. “I love you, mummy!” She giggles excitedly
“Wait until you eat the food first before professing love.” Mrs. Gina jeers, picking a ceramic plate from its holder.
Noma lets out a light chuckle. The woman is now feeling too proud. “Can I eat it already, mummy? My taste buds are dying of curiosity.”
Mrs. Gina looks back at her and wonders. “Why all dressed up?” Her eyes assess Noma from head to toe before continuing. “I love that you are finally out of that your cage of a room today, alright? Don’t get me wrong. You are even wearing this your beautiful gown that I love so much and a light makeup this morning. And… uhmmm” She sniffs in with her nose. “Our ‘Million Lady’ perfume is all over the place…”
“Kai, mummy,” Noma is giggling. “How do you perceive perfume in a kitchen full of delicious aroma from ukpeye rice?”
Mrs. Gina blinks. “I am perceiving the perfume, is it your perceiving?”
Noma burst into laughter at this point. The older woman is really keeping up with young people’s slangs and it’s quite impressive.
With a serious expression now, Mrs. Gina stares at her squarely. “So now, can you feed me in on the occasion?”
Noma burst into laughter again, collecting the plate of hot food from Mrs. Gina and carefully putting it on the table in front of her. She pulls a chair and sits. “Let’s say, mummy, that I’m going out.”
Mrs. Gina blinks her eyes in confusion. “Going out?” Her eyes meet the ticking wall clock above their heads. “To where?”
Noma picks a spoon of rice in haste but sees the steaming smoke emanating from it and cautions herself. “To look for a husband, mummy. Your daughter needs a man in her life.”
Mrs. Gina’s jaw drops down in utter confusion.
Akoji stares blankly, not moving an inch.
He takes in a deep breath and leaves off the handle of the door he’s holding onto. He finds a place on the foot of his large bed and drops onto it like a sack of potatoes. The older man walks calmly and rather too slowly in Akoji’s sight and all of those aggravates the anger he’s really trying to suppress deep inside.
“Good morning, Nwanna!”
Akoji looks up at the older man with sad eyes. His father has refused to call him ‘Akoji’. Right from when he became wise enough to know his name, his father always called him ‘Nwanna’, his mother, ‘Akoji’ and Collins called him ‘bro’ or at rare times ‘Philips’, his English name. Such a confusion right? But somehow it used to be fun. Being able to know who is calling per time by his or her own peculiar name used to make a lot of sense to Akoji, but right now, right here, as his father takes a seat right beside him, he feels irritated by the name.
“A good morning to you, father!” He bluffs, looking away.
Chief Mba swallows against a tightening on his throat. “Onyiyechi…”
“I don’t want to talk about that, sir!” Akoji interrupts rudely.
Chief Mba sits back and rethinks through his statement. “Nwanna, the girl started it all. She…”
“I said I don’t want to talk about it, Father!” Akoji yells now, getting up. He lets hot air out of his mouth and moves closer to the wall. “Father?” His tone is unbelieving. “How dare you, father!”
Chief Mba gets up as well. The way his son is boiling with anger, he needs to be on his feet if defense-need be.
“You dare come to my room after four years to tell me about Onyi?” A pained sarcastic chuckle leaves off Akoji. “I brought a girl to you that I wanted to marry. I told you I loved this girl so much and she’s carved a niche in my heart already…”
“And I believed you, son. I believed you. I gave my blessings and I supported your venture with all my heart.” Chief says, stylishly moving an inch closer the raging Akoji.
“Yes, father. Yes. you really supported me. You truly gave our relationship your blessings, if another name for your blessings is your sperm.”
Chief Mba cowered his head. The rage in Akoji holds all the power of wildfire, he could practically see the flames roaring in the young man’s eyes, ready to ignite anything that he came in contact with.
“Look how you blessed us with your worthy sperm, father! You taught me chastity in this house. I didn’t even do as much as kiss Onyi, father. I reserved everything. Intimacy with her for me had nothing to do with her skin. I loved her and was ready to have a pure relationship, but what did my father and teacher do for his son?”
“I apologize to you, Nwanna. I’m…”
“And for every single time you call me ‘Nwanna’, I get pissed off all over again…” Akoji knows he is crossing the line but couldn’t stop. His vision is blurry as a flame curled in the pit of his stomach. His brain goes on overdrive as it picks every moment that he’d buried in the past four years. The memories weigh down more and more on him. “I hate to be called Nwanna, father – ‘my father’s son’. I hate every bit of the concept.”
Chief takes a step backwards as the words hit him. He had lost his son, he knows. Akoji used to be sweetness personified. A sweet heart in a sweet soul. They played chess together while Akoji was growing up. That used to be chief’s best and most looked-forward to time. After all the hustles and bustles that came with being Obi of Onitsha, he usually couldn’t wait to come home to the waiting desk of his son to play chess. They were bond by real love. And when Akoji found love, Chief was happy. God knows he was. How things went beyond his control, he cannot fathom, and his attempt at making amends is failing…again.
“You know what, father?” Akoji brings the man back from his thoughts. “Please excuse me.” He points his first right finger in the direction of the door.
Chief Mba looks at him like someone stricken by a yellow ghost. “Nwanna, pl…”
“Leave!” Akoji yells at the top of his lungs.
Lizzy keeps her eyes fixed on the plate of red velvet cake in her hands. Her best of all suddenly appears unattractive to her right here. It’s a good thing that madam is at work today. The whole place hasn’t been the same without her and they – she and the rest member of staff, that is – understand. She had, in the past few minutes, briefed madam Noma updates from their business involvements with Regius Dynasty events. Noma looks pleased. Well, it’s hard to differentiate what excited Noma most today; the good news from their business ventures or the fact that she’s looking all gorgeous. Lizzy was about to go back to her desk in the reception when Noma called the bakery, ordering for two plates of red velvet cakes. The cakes were delivered in no time and Lizzy felt extremely honored to be treated to her favorite. That feeling wasn’t to last long as Noma went ahead to ask a question she’s finding really difficult to answer.
“Look here, Lizzy. I know you care about me. I know it’s more than being my secretary. You are my sister and would look out for me in any situation.”
Lizzy nods hurriedly like an Agama lizard as Noma reels out these words that hit her like a two edged sword.
“I saw the way you felt uncomfortable that afternoon I called Akoji to the office to celebrate our win with us. Something tells me you know more than I do. So, Lizzy, could you please help a sister?”
Lizzy raises her left eyebrow and lowers the other one feigning lost.
Noma sits up. “What do you know about Mr. Akoji?”
“He’s the one…” Lizzy starts shutting the part of her brain reminding her of her promise to Akoji. She’d promised the young man that she would never divulge any information to Noma, but here she is – betraying him.
Noma urges her to speak on.
“Madam, it was Mr. Akoji that came here that afternoon as the rep from his bank seeking young entrepreneurs to give grants.”
The words hit Noma as a pin ball would a hard wall first, then slowly and steadily, it begins to penetrate.
“I don’t know if he said that for me to relay your whereabouts, but I did tell him you were in the hospital.”
Noma linked one and two together and suddenly realizes that it was Lizzy that described the hospital to Akoji that afternoon. Yes. She had her apprehensions. The young man kept calling her ‘madam Noma’ for a while and something made her suspect he must have had contact with Lizzy, the only person in the whole world that adds ‘madam’ to her name. How had she discarded those suspicions in a short time?
“The next day, when I let him into your office without prior notice, he’d come to tell me not to relay the ordeals from the day before with you, and that he really needed my assurance on that.”
Noma doesn’t know what to do as she sits morose.
“I’m sorry, madam Noma. I would have told you either ways, but you both came out of your office laughing and giggling like old friends and I didn’t want to spoil anything.”
“It’s not your fault, Lizzy.” Noma assures. “So he came as the rep from his bank and you said he showed you his ID card?” She seeks confirmation and Lizzy nods in the affirmative. “What else do you know about Akoji?” Noma couldn’t believe her ears that she’s seeking information about someone meant to be her close lover from her own secretary. Who should tell who about who? She wonders.
Lizzy moves uncomfortably in her seat as she racks her head to see if there’s anything. The man came, got their office cards and then delivered on his promise of giving them a grant. Is there anything else she knows about the man? Well, aside that he’s a handsome man, visible to the blind. Nothing else, right? Nothi…
Then it clicks. She remembers.
Shifting forward on the chair and dragging Noma’s attention with her curious eyes, she opens her mouth to speak.
Joyce pulls a belt round her robust waist. The greyish band looks too tiny for the waist and she’s trying not to let frustration set in.
“I was thinking those man O’ war drills in camp would lessen that waist.”
Joyce frowns. “It’s not funny, mum!”
“I know!” Iye Akpa shrugs, dropping the tray containing ceramic cups on the dining table. Joyce is still struggling on her position in front of the large standing mirror just to the left of the dining hall.
Professor Akpa hurries downstairs with a briefcase. He drops it on the table and picks up his cup of tea.
“Good morning, dad.” Joyce calls out.
“Once I’m done with this tea, Joyce, I’ll be out of this house.”
Joyce snorts. Her father can be annoying sometimes. Imagine the not-correlating response he’s giving to an innocent greeting, all because she chose to use a ride with him these days. She may return back to using her car if he provokes her.
She smiles at her thoughts.
“What’s amusing you?” Prof Akpa asks, pouring from a tin of milk into his cup of tea.
Joyce pulls her cup closer. “Nothing, dad.” She sips. “By the way you look very good this morning.”
Prof Akpa, who never knows how to take compliments, only smiles at the girl’s statement.
“It’s ‘Thank you’, honey.” Iye Akpa says, joining them. “The ideal thing to say when someone compliments you is ‘Thank you’. Not a smile. Not even a ‘you too’”
Prof Akpa smiles broader this time. “Meet a professor of Business Admin, ladies.” That gets the two others laughing. “Joyce, you have already chosen the boring path of English language as your mother. Come to where life is happening, baby girl.”
“And where’s that?” Iye Akpa jeers. “Department of business admin? Excuse you?”
Joyce is careful not to laugh too loudly so as not to choke on her tea. The best time for her is when her parents are arguing about their professions like this. Dad often feels neglected in the house, especially when she speaks familiar jargons with mum and he’s lost. Well, so it doesn’t sound like anyone of them influenced her decision to be a linguist…
“I didn’t go to English and linguistics cos of mum alone, dad. I also did that for you.”
Prof Akpa raises his head up, looking curious. “How do you mean?”
“We have to be two tutors for you to overcome your gross deficiency in the English language, dad.”
Iye Akpa begins to laugh out loud enough the table shakes.
“OK. You will find your way to your PPA this morning.” Prof Akpa says, getting up and hurrying out.
Joyce, unable to control her laughter jumps up. “Dad, please wait for me. I’m sorry. Please.” She calls out as she hurries after her father, bumping into one of the policemen who’d come in to pick his briefcase.
“Hold on a second. Yeah. She’s here.”
Noma’s heart skips beats as she waits, then the voice of the one person that effortlessly lightens her soul always comes up.
She rolls her eyes. “So you are sleeping while Donald is making breakfast, huh?”
Rhoda fumbles with the sheets and sits up. “I slept barely an hour before dawn, baby girl. The kids need to eat something before going to school.”
“Hmmm. You have to get your priorities right, Rhodess.” Noma cuts in, sounding really serious. “That job is taking a toll on your family. It’s stressing everyone out, including me.”
Rhoda rolls her eyes, as though Noma could see her. “You? You how?”
“Like now that I couldn’t get through to you and had to bother Donald, coupled with the fact that he’s fixing something for breakfast.”
Rhoda wonders why Noma keeps emphasizing the ‘fixing breakfast’ over and again. “It’s no big deal, Noma. No one is complaining. This is not Africa. There are no set ‘couple roles’ here. We help each other out anytime any day.”
Noma shrugs. “Just be careful though. I’m not against helping each other out, but one person in bed and the other in the kitchen doesn’t sound like helping out to me.”
Rhoda begins to laugh. “Why don’t you tell me what’s frustrating you instead of hiding under the guise of caring for my family?”
Noma lets out a forced smile. “You won’t believe what I found, Rhodess.”
She takes her time to narrate the ordeals from Lizzy’s confession to going to the bank herself and getting one of the customer care guys – who was actually eyeing her – to give the information about Akoji she required. All it took was an exchange of ‘digits’ as the man called it – false digits from her anyways.
“So lover boy stole money to help lover girl and now he’s relieved of his duties?”
Noma blinks. “That’s not funny, Rhodess.”
Rhoda laughs loud enough for her to hear but short enough not to aggravate Noma any further. “So what do you plan to do?” She hears the sound of someone climbing up the stairs. “And where are you going to?”
“Mummy’s room.” Noma says casually, without a care in the world.
“Mrs. Gina?” Rhoda sounds surprised and confused at the same time.
“Yes baby. I’m here already. I’ll talk to you later. Keep your phone close. Love you!”
Rhoda holds the phone in shock as she hears the ‘end call’ tone. Noma just ended the call on her ear. Why had Noma called to wake her up then, if she wasn’t going to let her in on the big plan. Rhoda wants to feel annoyed, but it’s Noma. Noma never gets on her bad side. Throwing the phone to the far end of the bed, she slips under the thick duvet.
Noma drags down her gown as she prepares her mind for what’s about to hit her.
Mrs. Gina is on her reading desk; a wide bible opened in front of her, beside which lays a concordance rivaling the size of the bible. She calls this ‘studying time’ and Noma is surprised the older woman let her in.
“You are back?”
“I need to tell you something, Mummy. Now. Right now.” Noma says it like it burnt her tongue. She sees no use prolonging matters any further.
Mrs. Gina closes her jotter and turn around in haste, enough to see Noma squarely. Her eyes are focused on Noma and the sweat dripping down the latter’s face like someone that just ran a hundred meters’ race; the tiredness in her eyes and the fear in her voice all make Mrs. Gina worry the more.
Noma moves forward in a flash to come kneel before Mrs. Gina and that’s the point the older woman couldn’t withstand anymore.
“Stand up, daughter. What’s the matter? Speak?” Mrs. Gina demands, the curiosity in her building like a cat fixated on its prey.
Akoji turns his face away as the door opens. He was hopeful his father would do otherwise today and for once not report a misunderstanding that ensued between them to his mother, but bad habits, they say, don’t die easily. The woman slowly comes to take her seat beside him on the bed. He readjusts uncomfortably. Anger is still fuming from his insides and Beatrice Mba could feel the threatening way Akoji’s breathing comes out strongly to her.
He cannot hurt his mother, she is sure.
“Your father is sick, Akoji.”
Akoji, with his face still turned to the opposite side, smirks.
His mother would not come here and feed him with lies because she wants him to forgive father.
Beatrice doesn’t know if she would be able to do this but she has to try. To save her family the pain they’ve been going through, rather, they’ve been putting each other through, all these years.
“Your father was poisoned, Son. A deadly poison was put in his drink that almost killed him.”
Akoji springs up in a way that surprised even him. He didn’t realize he had the littlest emotion to spare his father after all, because to him, Chief is a wicked man, not good enough to be called anyone’s father.
Which father decides to impregnate his son’s fiancée? Which?
“Onyinyechi was never pregnant.” Beatrice drops the bombshell that drags Akoji’s questioning eyes fully in her direction.
She heaves and begins to narrate the story.
Because of chief’s innocent initial fondness towards Onyiyechi and how that they’ve accepted the lady as their first daughter, she had the direct phone numbers of every member of the house, including Collins’. She started chit-chatting with chief via WhatsApp until the time came when she opened up the fact that Akoji was not meeting her needs emotionally.
“She told my husband, in her own words now, that you were dulling her vibes and not making her feel like a woman; hence she doubts if you are man enough!”
“What!” Akoji screams in shock before he could stop himself. “Because I choose to honor her as God says and as you and dad brought us up, makes me not man enough? What rubbish!” Steaming anger boils on his insides.
“Calm down and listen!” Beatrice says, patting his back lovingly.
She continues from where she stopped. How one thing led to another until Onyiyechi consistently and relentlessly started sending nude and stimulating pictures of herself to Chief via whatsapp.
“The mistake your father made was to bear all those rubbish up for the time he did. He should have spoken out. He should have confided in me, you or anyone else for that matter. What responsible daughter in-law to-be tells her father in-law that he’s so handsome she wishes he’s the one attempting to marry her instead? But you know your father to always want to feel on top of every situation.”
Pain wells up in Akoji’s throat so much so that he almost loses his voice. “Dad was enjoying the flirts, huh?”
Beatrice doesn’t want to admit that. “You know the type of girl Onyiyechi is, Akoji. She’s a revolving force, a force anyone can barely resist.”
Akoji swallows painfully as his mother continues.
Onyinyechi had lured Chief over to her apartment one afternoon; an apartment Akoji got for her actually. Chief says she offered him a drink and that was the last thing he was conscious of until he woke up late in the midnight to see Onyi crying and the mattress stained with tiny drops of blood. The lady claimed and insisted that chief had his way with her because he was drunk and now he had taken away her virginity. Chief could bet on his name that he did nothing with her but the proofs the lady presented were valid so he reluctantly agreed and consoled her.
“Mum, are you saying Onyi lied that she’s pregnant for father?”
Beatrice nods her head in the affirmative. “After the whole pregnancy scandal Onyi started; the same one that got you infuriated enough to leave the house, I felt really heartbroken, I couldn’t imagine Callistus putting a lady, young enough to be our daughter, in the family way. For weeks I contemplated divorce but the love I have for your father constrained me. So I took it upon myself to investigate and dig out the truth.”
“What did you find out, mum?” Akoji couldn’t hide his curiosity.
Beatrice bits her lower lip. “That Onyinye is an osu.” Akoji’s eyeball pops out. “Yes, my boy. She’s been told by her mother that the surest way to be regained back into the community is by having sexual intercourse and getting pregnant for anyone from the royal line!”
“Jeez!” Akoji jumps onto his feet. Too many revelations in one day.
“Yes, son. And when you were not going to give her what she desired on time, she decided to jump past you to your father knowing fully well that her secret would be laid bare when you openly declare your intentions to marry her. If nobody else, the ichies would have done generational investigations on the crowned Prince’s wife to-be, their next Lolo. They would have found out she’s an osu. And the whole marriage would have ended long before it started.”
Akoji cups his now heavy head in between his palms. “Mum!”
“Onyinye wanted to use you to get what she wanted, son, she never loved you. She wanted freedom; wanted her family to be accepted back in the community. It wasn’t about you. One cannot build a successful marriage on such foundation of lies and deceit.”
Akoji nods his head consistently.
“Onyinye later confessed with her mouth that the whole pregnancy allegation was made up and all.”
Beatrice holds Akoji’s hand. “That was part of the reasons your father thereafter moved for the abolition of the whole osu practice in our culture. Some elders fought against it and others agreed but it’s still inconclusive until this moment.”
Akoji collapses his back slowly until it hits the bed and he stares at the ceiling above his head. So for four years he held a false grudge and bitterness against his father – against the wrong person. He’d felt that the man deceived and deliberately chose to hurt him, not knowing that the girl he brought into their house was the chief architect of everything. Oh! How he’s been wrong all along. How he had suffered the older man unjustly and by extension, hurt himself badly too.
“So, what exactly is wrong with father?”
Beatrice explains how chief had collapsed once and on getting to the hospital, the doctors affirmed that the overdose of whatever substance Onyinye had used to knock him out slowly ‘ate up’ his liver. The doctors battled to see what can be done, but all to no avail.
“So father is having a chronic liver disease?” Akoji couldn’t hide the soberness in his voice.
“That’s why he needs your forgiveness and needs you to save him from shame. He’s sorry, Akoji. Your father never meant to hurt you. He’s deeply sorry.”
Slowly, Akoji begins to sob as he lifts himself off the bed into the open arms of his mother. He rarely breaks down but whenever he cries, there’s rawness to it, like there’s an open wound. He clasps onto his mother’s hands for support as his whole body shakes vigorously. The sobs are stifled at first as he attempts to hide his grief, then overcome by the waves of emotions, he breaks down entirely, all his defense washed away in those salty tears.
“One favor we ask of you, Akoji!”
Akoji turns to face his mother, a picture of grief, loss and devastation.
“To help safeguard your father’s throne and not let our enemies take over and laugh at us,” Beatrice swallows, not sure how to say the next words. “We… I… Your father and I … and…” She stammers then readjusts seeing the curiosity on Akoji’s eyes. “The Opara must take a wife during the coming Ofala festival, Akoji. It’s the only way this throne wouldn’t be taken from the family lineage.”
Akoji feels like laughing loudly. Take a wife? Him? Does this people liken marriage to going into a boutique and selecting from an array of beautiful Asarco shoes? Are they for real? All these questions fly through his head until his mother’s next statement startles him completely.
“I have carefully selected a maiden for you, Akoji!” Beatrice gasps her few words. Scared. “We are not going to force you against your wish, son. All we ask is that you meet and talk with this lady. Who knows what the future holds?”
Akoji takes in a deep breath and in a minute he sees Noma’s face all over him. Noma; the girl his heart loves – even with a child. His people would not let him marry such a girl, that he’s sure of. The crowned prince must marry a fair maiden who must be a virgin. He’s heard all these things before; what he now considers cock and bull stories. And now that his mother wants him to meet a fair virgin maiden, the battle line in his heart is being drawn. He would be required to choose between staying Prince – the exact type of man Noma dreams of marrying, or going against his tradition to marry Noma, a single mother.
“What do you say, son?” His mother’s voice calls him back to the room.
To be continued on Saturday.
We’re almost at the end of the story. Please leave a comment and share to encourage me. It’s really hectic here.