Tuesday Evening. Kaduna
I walked into Baba’s room. He was seated on his bed, counting the beads on his Tesbi, praying silently. I turned away and walked back to the sitting room. It had been a long day and a very bad one. After what I went through with Kabir, all I wanted to do was remember the opulence I saw in his family’s mansion. It was a sad reminder of the kind of life I didn’t have, the kind of life I desperately desired. From the polished marble floors to the lavish walls and furniture, everything overwhelmed me. I wanted very much to get a tour of the whole mansion but Kabir was more interested in getting me into his room. I had been drawn in by deep, exotic fragrances of the orient and had my eyes being caressed by thick, rich curtains with shimmering gold trimmings. That house would remain in my mind for a long time, even longer than the fact that I lost my virginity to Kabir, my proposed husband, whom I had no feelings for.
“Ina wuni, Baba?” I bent my head slightly as Baba walked into the sitting room.
He smiled at me. “You’re just getting back?”
“How are our in-laws?”
“They’re good. Food is ready.” I pointed to the meal I laid out on a tray and Baba sighed.
“I’m counting my calories. It’s too late to eat. Thanks, anyway,” he said as he sat on the old Persian rug on the floor and leaned on his favorite Arabian pouf which was also old and worn out.
“Tell me about your time spent with your husband.”
“I wish you’d stop calling him that,” I said with a frown and folded my legs under me, remembering what Kabir did to me.
“Did you people fight?”
“Young people these days, you’re so temperamental but don’t worry, it’s one of those things. With time you will get to accommodate and tolerate each other.”
I remembered the pain as Kabir had torn through me. Amaka said I was supposed to fall in love with the first man but all I felt was seething hatred for Kabir. He took what I should have given Bem and I couldn’t take it back.
“Baba…I am not getting married to Kabir.”
Baba looked at me intensely, his eyes piercing mine with a deeply worried look.
“Did he…treat you improperly?”
I looked away and fought my tears.
“Then what happened?”
I swallowed. “I want to get married to the man I choose, the man I love… I am old enough and I know what I want, Baba, and with all due respect, what I want is not Kabir.”
“You must be out of your mind!” Baba sat up, his famous quick temper coming to the surface. “Have I not told you to get such nonsense out of your head?! Ko kin fara hauka, Habeeba?!”
“No Baba, I’m not mad. I just don’t want to marry a man who has a wife already and doesn’t love me!”
“Marriage is not always about love, Habeeba! There’s responsibility and devotion and obligation and even religious duties and often times, love takes a backseat to all those things! Love fades! You have to understand that, my child! Love fades!”
“Did your love for Mama fade?”
“don’t talk about her!”
“You went against your family and Christianity all because of Mama! Why didn’t your love fade when your father disowned you or when your church excommunicated you?”
“Shut your mouth, young lady!”
“No! It’s not fair!” I cried. “I want to fight for what I believe, like you did!”
“And look where it got me! Look where it got your mother! Do you want to waste your life like that?!”
“Mama died looking for peace, but Baba, it was your pride that killed her!”
Baba’s hand went to his mouth and a look I will never forget filled his eyes. I saw tears that he struggled to hide slowly make their way to his eyelashes. His beads dropped to the floor. With visible effort he got up on shaky legs and in silence, he walked out.
I cried like my heart was going to break. Each time I tried to stop, the tears welled up from their pits and choked me again. I knew the proper thing was to go after him and ask to be forgiven but I had wanted for so long to say those words to him.
I stared at the Tesbi on the floor. They were more than prayer beads to Baba; they were a gift from me to him. I had been given the privilege by Mama, of picking it out for him in a shop in Jeddah in 1992. Those were the days. We were rich and travelled anywhere we wanted, but Mama died in 1994 and Baba never recovered. As he quit his broadcasting job with the BBC, he also quit on life. He gave away all he had and moved into a plain two-bedroom house and started life as a hermit, dedicating himself entirely to God. The rich foods and clothes disappeared from my life a long time ago and Baba trained me to be content with every little I had. I didn’t complain, initially because I adored him and would have done anything to make him happy. But the reality of schooling in Lagos, hanging around Amaka and others and growing into a young woman with wants and needs that craved to be satisfied, made me begin to desire another side of life that Baba couldn’t afford.
I was told Kabir would sate all those desires. He was of course, every girl’s dream—tall, fair, handsome, curly hair, smelled like a million dollars, owned something close to that and had diplomatic access to certain places in this world. They said he’d fly me everywhere in his private jet and if I gave him a son, he would get me my own house in London. It sounded good at first but then I met Bem three years ago through Amaka and I fell hard and deep. He was everything Kabir was not—gentle, soft-spoken and very smart. My type of man. To me, Bem connoted not just love but freedom and maturity. He made me want to break away, to be different. I wanted desperately to rebel and he was the key to that door. He was the only one I wanted to give my body to because I knew he would have respected and adored it, not like Kabir who rolled over afterwards, stared at the blood-stained sheets and said “geez, your pops was right. You’re a fucking virgin.”
I shouldn’t have let the bastard. I should have followed my heart but I was too afraid to lose it all.
Having been raised under the tenets of Islam, I had prided in being a faithful Muslim all my life and faithful Muslim girls never went against their fathers. Therefore, I tried everything in me to make Baba happy, so I worked at knowing Kabir better. Sadly, the only thing the horny son of a thousand whores wanted was to sleep with me. He tried and tried for weeks but I did not give in. Then he brought in the threats and promised to pull out of the marriage arrangement if I did not give in to him. Though I begged him to wait till our wedding night, he refused. That Tuesday afternoon as I lay beneath him, taking in all the pain and humiliation, I cried for the spirit of Mama to comfort me.
She died trying to reunite Baba with his estranged family. It was a senseless, fatal accident that claimed both her life and James’ father’s. She had gone to beg her in-laws to accept Baba back into the family; James’ father, touched by her humility, decided to follow her back to Kaduna from Kano to reunite with his brother whom he had not seen in nine years but they both didn’t make it to Kaduna. They shouldn’t have died but it was Allah’s will. Mama was a strong woman and fought for love and it was her spirit that kept me sane beneath Kabir’s brutal assault. After he was done taking my innocence, I knew my life had totally changed. God had willed it for him to do what he did so that I could be strong. I left his house, no longer a little girl who was confused about what she wanted in life, but a woman with renewed ambition.
Wednesday Morning. Kaduna
I had spent most of the night seated outside Baba’s door, begging him to forgive me and the other little time I had, I spent packing my belongings for my trip to Lagos. It would have been wiser to go by road to save some money but I was afraid of road trips because of what had happened to Mama, so I booked a 9am flight online and needed to be at the airport three hours earlier. The sun was already up when I left the house and Baba had still refused to speak to me or come out of his room. I told him I was leaving and where I was going and added that my seeing him again would be solely to introduce him to my husband. I said goodbye to my home and set to Lagos to follow my heart.
Wednesday Evening. Lagos
For obvious reasons, I tried my best not to go back to the moment I found Bem kissing Loretta. It left me in pieces and felt like the irreversible moment with Kabir. I would have been stupid if I believed Bem loved me but I wasn’t going to let him go without a fight. That is what any woman would do.
“You think that’s the right course of action?” James had asked me after I related everything to him that evening. I opened up because I needed someone older and wiser to talk some sense into my life that seemed to be spiraling out of control so fast.
“I can’t just let Bem go, Yaya,” I told James honestly.
“Not everything is a fight, Beeba. You have to just let go sometimes. Bem’s my friend; I know him well enough to say he’s been crazy about Loretta for as long as I remember. He’s not worth the drama. Let him go.”
I said nothing. James was right.
“So now that you’re in Lagos, what’s the next course of action? What do you want to do? Continue schooling, get a job, what next?”
He raised his brows. “Okay. What type?”
“I’m still very good at hairdressing. I want to open a salon.”
“Where? Location is very important.”
“The last time I stayed here, I noticed the nearest salon was at Idowu Taylor. I want one in this neighborhood.”
“Done. Go round and search for a place, then write out a full proposal. Ask Amaka to help you write out a budget; she’s quite good. You have a week. Meanwhile, I’ll get you a place soon because this is a bachelor’s pad and apart from Shola, other friends hang here a lot, so I don’t want anyone hitting on you.”
I was speechless. I couldn’t believe James was willing to sacrifice so much for me. He was known to be very thorough with his finances but who could blame him? He had worked from rags to mega riches all on his own.
“Thank you so much, Yaya,” I said.
“Ba ko mi. It’s my duty. I’ve always wanted to take care of you. Have no fears. I’ll talk to Baba on your behalf but you should call and apologize because you have put him in some serious ish with Kabir’s family. Also thank Amaka. She’s been stalking me with endless pings on your behalf.”
I smiled, nodded and thanked him again. It was almost 8pm when I went to bed, leaving him watching a football match. Amaka was still out with Fiyin at Silverbird and I tried to reach them but network was bad and I couldn’t get through. I had over twenty missed calls from Bem and Baba but I did not return any of them. I banished both men from my head and went to bed. James knocked at my door the moment I was drifting off.
He walked and I noticed something was bugging him.
“I don’t know how much Amaka has told you about Onagite but whatever she has, she didn’t tell you that the witch is pregnant for me. That’s because Amaka doesn’t know. But I’m not sure about the baby being mine. We’ll have to wait until it’s born to know for sure. That’s if she’s really pregnant sef. But I need your help now. Can you help me?”
“Okay, dress up. We’re going out.”
He walked out. I hurried into my clothes, very curious to know what was happening and I got the whole story in the car as we drove to Silverbird.
Of late, Onagite had begun stalking James. She showed up at his office unannounced, called him several times a day and sent him threatening texts. Earlier, when I had retired to bed, she called to say she wanted to meet with him urgently. He tried to schedule the meeting for the next day but she said it was a life and death situation. Unable to say no to her, James picked the galleria as a meeting point since he knew Amaka would be there, but to be double-safe, he wanted me along.
Onagite hadn’t changed much since the last I saw her at the wedding but pregnancy had made her fatter and bitchier. When she saw me, she wasn’t so happy but she put up an act.
“You’re looking good, Beeba. Long time! It’s not because your cousin and I are not together that you can’t call me again, o.”
I smiled at her and spotted Amaka and Fiyin walking into the bookshop where one of their friends worked. James also noticed them but turned to Onagite. “So, what’s this life and death thing that we have to talk about?”
“Boo, you’re quite rude, o. You haven’t even asked me how I’ve been doing.”
“Onagite, no jokes. What is it you want this night?”
She looked at me and back at him.
“Let’s talk in private.”
“No, we’re done talking in private.
And that is why Beeba is here. In short…” He took her hand and dragged her, against her will, towards the bookshop.
“Where’re we going?” she asked but it was obvious she enjoyed the attention she was getting from him.
“Somewhere more public. I’m not into all that private bullshit.”
When we got to the bookshop, James stopped to answer a phone call but Onagite walked in. I had no idea if she saw Amaka but if she did, she did not show it. I knew Amaka had seen James and naturally, I was expecting her walk up to him and claim her man like every normal girl would do in the face of a threat but she disappeared in an instant and only Fiyin’s annoying face was seen.
“Fiyin?” James called out after he ended his phone call. “You’re here?” he asked, as if surprised to see her.
“Err…yes,” she replied.
“Where’s your naughty twin?”
Fiyin smiled mischievously and pointed down to where Amaka had hidden herself. James walked towards them and pulled Amaka up. From where I was, I couldn’t hear what he was telling her but I could feel the heat coming from Onagite who was standing beside me.
“James?” she called, rubbing her swollen stomach. “You’re wasting my time.”
“Onagite,” he replied, “I’m in the middle of something, here.”
“You’re always in the middle of something,” she murmured to herself and raised her volume. “James!”
He ignored her and sighed.
“For heaven’s sakes, is it not bad enough that you abandoned me and your unborn child? Do you also have to humiliate me in public because of this same brat that tore us apart?!”
My mouth fell open. The bookshop had only one other customer apart from the staff who were preparing to close shop but all of them had heard her high-pitch tone and every word said. James is like the brother I never had, more like an uncle to me. I couldn’t stand to see him embarrassed in public. I quietly withdrew from the bookshop and the drama and walked out of the building, knowing he could handle himself alone.
There was something very humid, dense and putrid about Lagos air that started to comfort me that night. It welcomed me to the souls of people who had fought against all odds and won. They did not allow themselves get swallowed and spat out and neither was I, but for me to succeed, I needed Baba’s blessing.
I got out my phone and tried his number but his phone was switched off. I sent a text, apologizing and promising to call the next day, and then I waited for James. I didn’t have to wait for long, though, as I saw Amaka storming out through the doors, obviously enraged at James, who was on her heels.
“Maxy, wait nau!” he called after her but she wasn’t listening. In blind fury, she walked past me and into the street in front of her without checking for oncoming traffic.
“Amaka!” James screamed. “Are you mad?!”
Gratefully, there was no car coming her way but there was the second double lane to cross on the other side, and she also walked into that one blindly.
“AMAKA!” I could hear the panic in James’ voice as he stood between both lanes, trying to catch his breath.
“What is wrong with you?”
Amaka ignored him and hailed a cab. Then from that point on, everything happened so fast and the details remain a little sketchy for me till date.
A street hawker, carrying his goods of cigarettes and sweets, dashed out from nowhere, being chased by KAI officials or so. The hawker ran straight into James, pushing him out of his point of safety right into the street and unto a speeding vehicle.
There was a loud screech and I closed my eyes.
“James!” I screamed.
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