NIMI PETERS – GRACE OCHIGBO
Mr Johnson paused as he heard his phone ring. He pulled it out and stared intensely the screen for a while.
“Your Nigerian number is still connecting?” his eyes sort of spelt out the question instead.
Joelyn chuckled lightly. “I’m roaming, Father! Good afternoon sir.”
“Well, it’s just the early hours of the morning on this side of the globe. How is your vacation coming?” He pressed down the car’s remote and it blinked. Holding his phone firmly to his ear with a raised shoulder, he opened the door to the driver’s side and sat in gently. He would be driving himself today for the first time in a very long time.
“Father, where are you off to so early? It’s 1pm here and since you are about seven hours behind us, it should just be 6am there, right?”
Mr Johnson smiled at the sincere tone of concern from his daughter.
“I’m not the daughter that need to be looked after, Chiamaka. I have to go now. We’d talk soon. You have your credit card with you, so I’m almost certain you don’t need anything. I even have an intriguing news you would either be proud of me for, when you hear it, or you would hate me for it.”
Joelyn paused for a considerable space of time before continuing. “What do you mean, father?”
“Oh no daughter. Just when you get back here. Enjoy your day Omalicha!”
He hung up the call before Joelyn could say more. He wasn’t ready to do any introduction of agenda over the phone. He believe things are better expressed face to face to avoid misunderstandings. Taking in five calming breaths, he strapped his seat belt and drove gently out of his mansion’s car park harbouring several other cars.
Joelyn quickly adjusted on the bed as the door to the bathroom creaked open presenting Tolu before her.
“It’s 1pm here? For real? I guess I must have woken up from the wrong side of this bed today.” He sounded sarcastic as he rubbed the white towel all over his head.
“You know father must never find out I’m here with you!”
“To hell with that man, Jo. Hasn’t he done enough harm to us? You are mine and mine forever..” He grabbed her shoulders and shook it violently. “I’m a tiger, I can play and at the same time I can bite wickedly. No one gets in my way, do you understand that?” Joelyn shook her head quickly in the affirmative. She could taste raw fear in her mouth. “Or do that old fellow want me to eliminate him quickly?”
“I forbid you to use ill words against my father, Tolu. I forbid you. If you love and respect me as you claim, then you must respect my father also, because he would be your father in-law eventually. That’s if anything ever happens between us!” Her voice shook while she said these but she wouldn’t stop. She just needed to say it nonetheless.
Tolu smiled cockily. He pecked her forehead, releasing her from his firm grip.
“Joelyn, you know I love you and can do anything for you!”
Joelyn nodded in the affirmative. She was crying now.
“No, Tolu. You don’t love me. You want to destroy my life. You are getting a payback. A payback for what I don’t even know about. I saw your messages, Tolu. I read them. Someone paid you to insist on marrying me!” she yelled angrily.
Tolu’s face suddenly turned pale, gradually to anger and finally rage.
“I curse the day I met you, Tolu. I regret it!”
He drew closer to her with venomous breaths like that of a wounded python.
“You killed two of my babies, Jo! You and your very wicked father. How dare you?”
“I didn’t kill anyone. The first one came out immaturely… it was still birth. How did I cause a still birth? This last one was an undeliberate suicide attempt. I could have lost my life in the process.”
“Who cares about losing your life? You killed my children and you have the nerves to go through my messages?” Tolu’s eyes were now as red as crimson and Joelyn knew she most probably would lose her life in few minutes from now. He drew nearer to her and she curled up on the bed as she moved closer to the wall behind her, hoping it would just break open and create an escape route for her.
“How dare you!” Tolu yelled, gripping her throat and holding tighter onto it.
Nimi dragged himself to the door.
“It’s a weekend for crying out loud!” He murmured underneath his breath as he pulled down the door knob. He was on a Roseberry short and white singlet and for yet another time he didn’t mind opening the door for a visitor without being properly dressed. He surprises himself a lot lately.
“Please, have your seat, sir!”
His voice had some little uneasiness coming from it. He watched as his boss took a seat before taking his gently beside him. Mr Johnson wasn’t talking, he was only looking around, as though a kid that was brought to the city for the very first time in his life. Nimi didn’t understand. Even though his boss wasn’t visiting today for the first time, he didn’t know why it’s so early.
“How are you, son!”
Nimi’s eyes popped open. For all he knows, his father is in the beautiful city of Anyigba with his mother. He can’t remember enthroning another father in Abuja. Even the so-called ‘office father’ stunt Edward pulls at times pisses him off.
“Yea! You know I see you as my son! The son I never had.”
Nimi smiled. “Sir, what are you here for?”
Mr Johnson chuckled lightly. Typical of Nimi.
“I really want to meet your father someday. I just want to ask him how he copes with your arrogance. Boy! How can one be this arrogant and polite at the same time?”
Nimi smiled again. That statement came across as a compliment and he wouldn’t be giving any further thought to it.
“How is your twin sister?”
Nimi somehow had suspected what this august visit would most likely be about, yet he wasn’t going to run ahead of himself.
“She is fine. Moreover she works in your house!”
Mr Johnson thought he felt provocation in Nimi’s voice and that made him feel weirdly victorious.
“And how is your plan with Joelyn coming too? I thought you would be with her for this vacation she went on.”
“I have no plans with your daughter, sir. It is you that have plans for us which I’m not cut out for. And about vacation, she needed an ‘alone’ time!”
Mr Johnson cleared his throat. “Joelyn’s mother left us few months after she turned five. The poor woman couldn’t bear up everything again. Since leaving was the best option for her at the time, there was no point stopping her. I only regret that my beautiful daughter had to grow up without a mother figure in her life. Most times, I don’t even know if I should blame her for some of the reckless life she lives. Shouldn’t that be my fault?”
Nimi stared as the older man lamented. Mr Johnson would always beat around the bush whenever he has something to say, and that was sure. He’ll be patient anyway.
“I’m sure you at some points wondered why I didn’t take any other wife after my wife left?” he winked at Nimi and the latter involuntarily nodded his head in the affirmative. “Well, I saw no need to. I have all the money I need in this world and the next two to come. But if happiness and love are what anyone can buy, Nimi, I would quickly rush to, not just buy but, invest in them as well.”
Nimi adjusted uncomfortably in his seat.
“It’s been more than three decades ago now since I felt my heart ever reach out to someone like this. I know that feeling, I recognise it when I see it, and would do everything possible to get my heart its desire.”
Nimi swallowed now. He felt his heart beating hard against his chest and almost spewing blood out to the exterior.
“I don’t understand you, sir!” he managed to say.
“I know Fiyinfoluwa is not your twin sister as you introduced her to me.”
“Well…” Nimi started, but got interrupted by his boss.
“From all background checks, I see no blood correlation or any form of kinship between the both of you, both nuclear and extended. So why did you tell me she was your twin sister?”
“Because that’s what I see her as!” Nimi answered bluntly, turning his face away. He couldn’t even convince himself with that response.
Mr Johnson smiled. “How can one, as old as you are, be lying to one’s self? Your eyes are saying different things from what your mouth said. You love her, don’t you?”
Nimi stared back at him. He opened his mouth to answer the question but closed it as no word was ready to come out. He felt this hard tightening around his throat. He used to be bold and courageous. He had heard the saying that ‘love is the only thing that makes a well man sick and a sick man well’. He didn’t expect himself to still be this timid in his approach to love. Never!
“I know you do. You can deny it for all I care. Anyway, that’s why I came here!”
The younger man sat up again. His eyes staring deeply at the former, such that by any means possible he could be able to draw out the words faster.
“I want to marry Fiyinfoluwa!”
Nimi felt like a ghost hit him. It was so hard, so hard he lost control over the muscles responsible for keeping his eyes and mouth closed at the same time. He didn’t know what he would prefer to hear afterwards, maybe he would want to hear that it was just a joke?
“I see the affections you have for that girl in your eyes. We are not mates in any way or level whatsoever, Mr Nimi Peters. I’m your employer, and can employ all other employers in this country put together. It’s not pride. Everyone knows this in Abuja. I could choose to frustrate you at the office, rip you of all your properties, implicate you in some way, send killers after you or do more dangerous things that would make you let go at first instinct, but as I said earlier, I see you as a son… the son I never had.” Nimi swallowed painfully, Mr Johnson continued. “As much as I won’t have anyone harm my precious daughter, I can’t bear the thoughts of harming my own son. That’s why I’ve come to you in person, to discuss this with you as colleagues which of course, we are not close to being.”
“I haven’t had strong emotional attachment and drawings for any woman in a long while. I’ve said this severally. I know I’m old enough to be her father, but at the same time, I want to take care of her. I want to build her potentials, make her stand out among her colleagues and make her a celebrity. I want to make Fiyinfoluwa Mrs Johnson in few months, please don’t stand in my way, Mr Nimi Peters! I don’t want you losing out from both ends.” He said firmly and cast his whole gaze on Nimi who sat at loss for words.
Fiyin walked slowly but steadily into the largest sitting room she had seen her whole life – the sitting room of the Johnson’s mansion. It shined and glittered back at her face like it’s made of pure gold. The only place she had seen such width for a sitting room was in an Indian movie, and she envied how a wedding party could be done inside the house, yet there was still much space for everyone.
Oh! How she loves space. If she can afford it, she would want something as spacious as this over and again.
Some people would live in heaven while on earth before going to heaven later on, she thought within her.
Pulling the black scarf off her head, she wondered why there was no one in the house. The gateman handed over the key to her at the gate post, saying it was an instruction from ‘oga’. It’s rather unusual to see the Johnson’s mansion empty.
At least, she had ascertained to that fact in her many weeks of working here as the chief chef. Someone must just be around, the gardener, laundry man, housekeeper, most especially, some of the numerous house staff, someone just must be around.
She turned around with darting eyes as she suddenly started feeling scared. Moving in the direction of the kitchen – her office as it were, she noticed that the dining table was set. That’s rather strange too. If no one was in the house, who then made breakfast for chief? She wondered. She moved gently to the table and opened the covered plate. Therein was a plane envelope with ‘Fiyin’ written boldly on it. She felt her body shake involuntarily now as she picked up the envelope, tore it open and drew out the tiny paper in it.
For every time her foot landed on the staircase, she questioned herself again if she was doing the right thing. The paper only had, ‘go to the study’ on it. She’s been there a couple of times, yeah! The first time was when Mr Johnson didn’t come down on time to take his meal and she needed to go remind him. The very recent one was when he ordered her to start bringing his food in there henceforth.
She opened the door to the study lightly and left it open. Who knows? One may have to run out soonest. She didn’t understand what she was seeing anymore; apart from the fact that the study’s arrangement appeared very different from what she’s been used to, she was more amazed at something else;
There were only three books left on the bookshelf.
‘This shelf used to be packed full with books.’ She affirmed within herself as she made for the shelf but stopped when her eyes met another paper on the reading table. Only then did she realise that the shelf was lettered and the writing on that paper stated the chronological way with which she should access it.
The first book was the largest; it was an old photo book, looking like it was just dug out from somewhere and dusted. The first picture had a dark lady, fro and beautiful, sitting in a grassland with a young man she assumed was the younger version of chief. Next picture contained who she assumed to be chief’s friend, chief Ogbonna, chief himself and that same lady from the first page.
“They have been friends for such a long time?” she couldn’t believe her eyes.
She was shocked that there were no more pictures left in that large photo book, so she dropped it and by the order in the paper, reached out for the shelf that had letter B on it.
The photo book therein was old but not as old as the first one she just saw. A little beautiful girl was smiling at her in the first page. Then was chief, a fair lady and that same little girl. Subsequently, from pictures showing age progressions, she was able to deduce that the little girl in there was Joelyn. She quickly flipped back to that part bearing Joelyn, chief and the woman again. That must be Joelyn’s mother. Chief had told her at one of their informal outings that Joelyn’s mother left when the little girl was five. The reason she left has been something no one knew till now.
She opened the photo book on the last shelf and was extremely stunned at who she saw. How did he capture her in the kitchen slicing tomatoes without her noticing? Were there security cameras in the house?
She hit her head for asking such a dumb question. Which rich man wouldn’t have a surveillance systems in the house? Another issue would be if security cameras snap and print too.
She laughed at her own ignorance.
That was the only picture in the last photo book and she was going to just drop it and quietly leave the house.
What were all these about? She questioned herself.
It’s true what they say that a picture is worth more than a thousand words but right here, she couldn’t pick the point chief was trying to make by showing her pictures. She couldn’t even connect with whatever stories he wanted to tell. Were those his former wives or something? He said he had only been married once. Perhaps the first black woman was Chief Ogbonna’s wife. Why would chief keep a picture of his friend’s wife? Did he have an affair with her?
“Haba, No!” she rebuked herself immediately. Chief couldn’t have betrayed his friend that way.
At the same time, why was her own picture lying solo in one whole big photo book? That was the most confusing part. She was about to drop the book back in the shelf when a paper fell off it.
She jittered as she bent down to pick up the paper.
“Please, marry me Fiyinfoluwa!”
She read out loudly to her own utter amazement. She covered her mouth because she had involuntarily let out a shocked scream after reading that one line from the note.
What to do?
She glanced at the door, it was still open. Thank God!
She needed to act fast, she needed to get out of the building before anything else. What if chief meets her here and pounces on her? Many weird thoughts took merciless spins round her head and as typically emotional as she was, she couldn’t stop tears from flowing down her cheeks.
She ran down the stairs as quick as her thin legs could carry her. She couldn’t still believe what she read. How? How was it possible? Her mother had envisaged that some time ago. Her heart’s racing, her heart in her mouth. At the door, she stopped and paused to calm down. The gateman would raise alarm if he sees her running out of the house, all sweats. She waited again, took in seven calming breaths and pulled down the door knob.
She almost dropped dead as Mr Johnson stood before her, blocking the doorway in the process.
Nimi couldn’t stop his staggering legs from pacing from one side of the room to another. He felt like crying but had inactivated that ability for as long as he could remember. His heart broke underneath his chest. He still couldn’t wrap his head around Mr Johnson’s statement. Could the man have meant it? Somehow he still wished it was a joke.
‘Nimi, I thought you saw her as a sister.’
He hissed dryly as that thought came through his head. “I love that girl, damnit!” he screamed, punching the wall behind him hard. He slid down with his back against the wall until his buttocks sat on the bare tiles. Picking up his phone, he stared helplessly at it.
Something told him to call Fiyin. He believes there’s a strong connection between himself and the girl. He felt it. The pain in her eyes whenever he does some of those sarcasms that really gets to her. Why did he take this long to realise that Fiyin had gotten underneath his skin this deep?
He shook his head vigorously as though he could shake the thoughts off it. He scrolled down his phonebook till it came to ‘Twinnie’, that was how Fiyin’s number was saved on his phone. He made to press the dial button but suddenly refrained himself from it. He may just have to call Edward after all. That one would always know how to create a get-away for whatever emotional trauma anyone is going through. If only he had listened to Edward’s advice the whole time. If only he was quick to analyse whatever the feeling he had for Fiyin was. He scrolled upwards till he got to ‘mum’, stared at it so intensely that one would think he wanted to get his eyes into the phone. Pressing on the dial button, he waited for the call to connect.
Ojima Peters shushed her husband and son up as her phone buzzed and started to ring.
“It’s Nimi!” she mouthed before answering the call. “Good morning precious son!” she was all smiles as she said this, and Ojonugwa drew closer to her. Eavesdropping was part of his C.V.
“Mum, when did you say you fixed Nukpe’s wedding and engagement again?”
Ojima Peters’ smiles suddenly vanished. Her son didn’t even respond to a simple good morning? She continued anyway.
“We – you and I, you especially, haven’t given support of her relationship with a white man yet, Nimi. So it’s still pending, or what other engagement are you talking about?”
“She said the guy’s family are begging to have the wedding done in Norway, right? While they all will come down to Nigeria to do the engagement.” Nimi questioned like it was a finite statement.
“Ehen!!! And so? Me I can’t give my only daughter to another tribe o, let alone another race, a white man. Ojo kiko. I can’t be speaking only English with my in-laws agba!” Nimi’s mum grumbled as she eyeballed her husband, who just smiled peacefully. He didn’t see any big deal with all these intercontinental marriage saga in the first place. For him, being comfortable with who you are with is the most important thing.
“Nukpe fixed ending of next month tentatively for the trad, right?” Nimi sounded like he didn’t hear any of the things his mother just ranted out.
Ojima was shocked and it showed in her eyes. “Nimi, what’s all these about? You called me first thing this beautiful Saturday morning to discuss Nukpe’s marriage?” she couldn’t believe her ears
“That’s because my sister’s happiness is important to me much more than any tribal sentiments. No one has forever to make a decision, mum.” He said with a frustrated tone.
“Are you OK, son? You sound unlike you. Is all well?” Ojima had sincere concern in her voice.
“Yes, all will be well after we start planning to meet up with Nukpe’s traditional wedding date. The plans start now, mum, don’t fight it any further! Remember, no one has forever to make a life changing decision. No one!” he said gently.
Ojima Peters swallowed. She darted her eyes from her husband to Ojonugwa, feeling really uneasy while at it.
To be continued next week.
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