Nigerian mothers. They are as sweet as they are bitter. They can do anything to see you happy and successful; yet the moment you say no to them, your backside will see red. I am thirty-five years old and I can swear that I still am risk of having my backside whooped by my mother. How do I describe her? Mehn, I can’t. She’s just a woman who raised four children all on her own with no outside help and got really thick-skinned doing it. Not the type of woman anyone should be messing with. As her only son, she had high expectations for me from my childhood and I seemed to meet every one of them. I did well in school, kept out of trouble, graduated with a good result and finally, turned myself into a successful business man. Yet it was not enough. She wanted me to have the perfect little wife and perfect little children and in her opinion, there was no way I was going to accomplish that without her help.
All the women I dated had to pass through her radar. Predictably, she disliked them all. Hence, when I started dating Amaka, I tried my best to keep both women as far as the east could stay from the west. But eventually, they met and unpleasant is mild a word to describe what happens when two rams lock horns. My mother did everything to make Amaka’s life miserable; Amaka did her best to avoid her which infuriated her more. But with Onagite, it was different. It was love at first sight for the old woman and she gave us her blessing immediately. When we didn’t get married, she was devastated and vowed never to speak to me but the moment Onagite called her and told her she was pregnant for me, I became the center of her life again.
She danced, she sang, she shared the good news with the world and when Onagite’s premature son was delivered safely, she called her pastor. I watched as she stood with rare tears in her eyes, loving his fragile body as he slept in his incubator. She swore that he looked like her dear Ismaila (my late father) and even had his fingers and lips. Then she told me something she had never told me before. I was also born at seven months and she saw hell taking care of me but I fought and survived. She believed that God allowed Onagite’s baby to be born the same way so she could care for him the way she did me.
“God has brought my Ismaila back to me,” she told me. “He has finally wiped away my tears.”
I couldn’t sleep that night. How was I going to tell her Onagite and I would never be together, even if the DNA result ended up proving that the child was mine? As I thought of a subtle way to break the bad news, I got a ping from Amaka, asking me to come get her from Loretta’s place. All the stress of almost losing me and blaming herself for it and the appearance of Onagite bore heavily on her and she caved in to cold and malaria. I went to get her and had to care for her all through that weekend whilst ignoring my mother’s phone calls and texts.
Sunday morning saw me driving Habeeba to the airport to take a flight home to Kaduna. I insisted she ironed things out with her father before I fully took her under my care. When I returned from the airport, I got dressed for church, but just before I left, I got into bed and snuggled in beside Amaka to check on her. Without warning, my bedroom door burst open and my mother walked in on us. I turned round, stared at her and sighed with an impatient smile on my face but Amaka was up on her feet with the bedspread wrapped around her, for she was actually naked (she always sleeps that way).
“Good morning, ma,” she greeted with a slight curtsy. My mother’s eyes narrowed at her and I knew the gates of hell were going to be unleashed on Amaka.
“Amaka, why are you here?!” she fired. “After all the pain you have caused this family, you still want to do more?! Shame on you! shame–”
“Mama, stop it.” I told her in Hausa and dragged her outside, shutting the door before she said any more.
“Haliru,” she called, distaste on her lips.
She spoke in Hausa. “I know you’re in cloud nine with that girl but this has to end now, my son. Your wife and your child need you–”
“Onagite’s not my wife.”
She heaved a sigh and held my hands tenderly. “Please, come back to your senses. If you don’t, the consequences will be dire.”
Translation: if you don’t go back to Onagite, I will dig up some sickness from nowhere and be bedridden by it.
“Mama, I don’t want to talk about this now. I have to go to church.”
“Church is under the blanket with her ba?”
“Am I not fully dressed for church and how is that your business now?”
“Haba, James! Stop this thing you’re doing. Stop it and come back to your senses! don’t–”
“Mama, it’s enough!” I growled at her in English. “That boy’s not mine and I won’t be bullied by you or anyone else into accepting him.”
“That’s your son,” she said in absolute faith and squeezed my cheeks gently. “Do the right thing.”
With that, she left the house. Annoyed, I walked into my room. Amaka was back in bed, her head propped on a pillow.
“I’m sorry about that,” I apologized.
“I’m really sorry. So, can I kiss you?” I asked.
She laughed. “Where did that one come from? You’re late for church jor. Be going.”
I had my kiss anyway and left for church. There, I endured the torture of a boring service where the senior pastor almost had the entire congregation in a united snore. Service over, I was heading back home when I got two separate phone calls from Bem and Loretta; they both wanted to talk and I was to be arbitrator. I couldn’t say no to them. Truth was I felt responsible for Loretta’s sexual indiscretions that night; it was poor judgment on my side, letting her take that drink. But then again, hadn’t I warned her about Pere?
* * * * * * * *
I looked at my friends, one after the other. They were both angry and yet, all I could see was passion burning in their eyes for each other, kind of what Amaka and I shared. Loretta’s chest was heaving intensely, while Bem just kept twirling the pen in his hand in restless motions. They had so much to say but both were afraid to hurt each other any more than they already did.
I stared at my watch. I was hungry and sleepy and it didn’t look like the two warring lovebirds were going to make things easier, so I sped it up.
“Bem, you said you wanted to speak with Loretta in my presence. She’s here. Lolo, you also have something to say to Bem. Now, can you please both be mature about this? Bem, you go first.”
He looked at me and back at Loretta and was about to speak when she lashed at him.
“You called me a fool, Bem!”
He dropped the pen in his hand and leaned back on his chair, surveying the restaurant we were in with distracted eyes.
“What gives you the right to call me names?”
Bem didn’t reply, he just laughed caustically.
“James, you see his behavior? You see how he looked at me? Bem thinks he’s better than everybody, that he has every right to look down on people. He goes about with this holier than thou air, like he didn’t sleep with half of the nurses at work!”
“I did not.”
“Lola, Cynthia, Patience, Isi, Blessing, Tutu, Shadiat in Ward D, Shadiat in Children’s Emergency, Amina, Bisi, Tamara, Nurse Chioma–”
“Stop!” Bem raised his hand. “That was my past, not long after Mhonum left. I was hurting and I…”
“Slept with the whole of Lagos?”
“It’s different, Loretta. See…I’m a guy, just like Pere. We do it, we get congratulated. But you’re a woman and when you do it–”
“Spare me your primitive double standards, Bem! I didn’t come from a province of fools. If I let you go on, you’ll go ahead to tell me it’s a man’s world. And by the way, I did not do the ‘it’ that you guys do! I did a ‘him’! Just one guy! Just one night! And so what? Bem, so what? It is my body and I will do whatever I like with it!”
Bem gave another caustic laugh that ended with a loving smile but it took him a while to speak. Loretta drew her bottle of coke to herself roughly and blew angry bubbles into it with a straw.
Bem spoke. “You know, throughout the weekend, I was mad at you beyond words and when I came here, I had so much to say until you opened your mouth a few seconds ago and went from 0 to 60. Then, I just told myself that this woman is going through a classic case of agonizing guilt, feeling like shit, so why not give her a break?”
“don’t talk to me as if I am a child, Bem,” she bit back.
He leaned forward. “Then act like an adult, Loretta. Act like someone with a brain in her head. Act your age, darling. Stop killing yourself. What do you think you are doing? How do you think it all ends? Yes, Pere can give you a multiple but that’s all there is to it. Where is he now? Am I not the one here at the other end of the table with you? Who gets to spend his entire day thinking about you? Is it him?”
Loretta bit her lower lip and sipped her coke quietly.
“My God, you are so intelligent but you’re not using your head. You want to throw it all away for someone who doesn’t have the decency to respect the private moment you shared together, he has stroke his mushrooming ego in someone else’s presence to prove he’s a real man? Lolo, real men are not tested in-between the sheets. It’s the moments after that count.”
He took a deep breath and reached for her hand but she withdrew. “I love you but…” He choked, sighed, leaned back again and resumed twirling his pen. “There are no buts. I just love you.”
Loretta’s eyes became cloudy as she began to sip her coke and though she tied to hide it, she couldn’t stop her tears. She covered her face with a paper towel.
“Why are you crying now?” I asked her. “Talk.”
She sniffed and took away the paper towel. “You guys know me, right? Have I ever been this emotional?”
Bem and I shook our heads.
“And I don’t want to. Being with Pere made me feel like I was in control. With you, Bem, I become…this.”
“Your problem is that you like talking rubbish, Loretta,” Bem said. “I am not Pere and God forbid that my name should even be mentioned in the same sentence with his. What is wrong with you sef? don’t you know when a man is dying for you? You think I don’t want to sleep with you or I don’t know how to? Ask the nurses whose names you just mentioned. But I don’t brag about it like Pere is doing as we speak. Why? Because I respect you. You are not a trophy to me. You are more than flesh and I want…all of you. The concept might be hard for you to understand, being that you have your priorities misdirected. And I know…I know you’re a big girl and you own your body and you’re allowed to sleep your way through a whole football team or donate your womb to a dozen sterile, old men but just… give us a chance first and get your head out of the bus stop and come back home with me. Can you do that, darling?”
“Chai. See flows,” I said with a laugh and Loretta gave a lopsided smile. “Lolo, if you say no to this guy, you’re banned from my wedding. Walahi.”
“This is a defining moment for us.” Bem stretched out his hand on the table. “Say no words if it’s too much for you to handle. Just hold me.”
Loretta had a look in her eyes that told me she was scared to hold his hand but I urged her on with a nod. Yet, she held back.
“My work here is done,” I said, standing up. “Lady and gentleman, I have a sick person to attend to…”
“Wait…” Loretta put her hand in her handbag and brought out an envelope.
“What’s this?” I asked, taking it.
“Already? But today’s Sunday. You took my sample on Thursday.”
“You wanted it sharply. You get it sharply. That was why it cost you a fortune.”
“So what is it? Am I a father?”
“I don’t even know what’s in there; just got it from the lab,” she said.
“Thanks,” I told her.
“No, thanks for being here.”
I bumped fists with Bem and headed out and when I turned around to look at them, Loretta was holding his hand.
* * * * * * * *
That evening, after a hot shower and dinner, Amaka and I opened the envelope Loretta had given me and read the DNA result together. It wasn’t good news. The boy was mine. I quickly pushed my own worries aside and looked at Amaka, not knowing what to tell her. But she smiled, held my hand in both of hers and said everything was going to be fine. I wasn’t sure I was speaking to the same Amaka I knew but I couldn’t complain. We went to bed early and by morning, I left for work. Business meetings and loads of untouched work consumed my day and I got home really late, after two hours in traffic. When I entered the bedroom, I found that Amaka had left. I fished my phone from my pocket and switched it on and saw a lot of pings from her, asking me where I had been. I tried calling her but her phone was switched off. While texting her, my phone beeped and an email from her came in. I read it.
I still hav 6 months left on my US visa and on a whim, I’m takin a flight to Atlanta dis nite. i hav to do dat breast reduction surgery I’ve been buggin u about cos my back aches lyk hell dese days. After dat, i’ll jus take a boat cruise. I plan to stay away d whole 6 months, 2 find myself or warreva. I had a long talk wit Pst Ishi dis mornin and he opened my eyes 2 wat becomin a wife really means and I almost gave up d ghost. It seems I’m not yet ready; I’m still very self-absorbed and ill-informed. his words, not mine.
Now, don’t start trying to pursue me to d airport to form hero. D last time u did dat, car nearly killed u and Lolo slept with ‘the whole of Lagos’. So jus stay @home. we’re not breakin up, I’m not throwin away ur ring. how can I wen ur my sugar daddy in evry sense of d word? anyway, I took ur visacard.
pls try 2 iron things out wit ur momsie and become d fada she wants u 2 be. u shd name ur son Eric. dats d name I wud’ve given our 1st boy. I know ur mad at me now but I cnt quite compete wit watzhername now dat her mental illness will be reachin a new high cos she has one ova me. I fink u shd hook her up wit one of ur expatriate friends. D Turk will do. wen I get bk, I’ll claim my castle. Dnt worry abt my work, they’ll fire me by d end of d week.
Btw, I’m goin on a bastard shoppin spree. Wat do u want me to buy 4u? I’m feelin quite generous. Do u fink dey should inject fat into my ass lyk niki minaj? #just askin. C d shock on ur face.
Goin thru customs now. some guy’s staring at d twins.
I love u, baby daddy
I burst out laughing. Amaka was at one of her impulses again. She had them occasionally, but this was the worst yet. I couldn’t stop myself from finding the humor in it.
I replied her.
Ur insane. I give u 2 months to hurl ur ass back here! And seriously, u have to stop speaking with Ishi. He put a ban on my sex life and now he has you ‘globetrotting’ to find urself or warreva? Very unsexy.
As u wish, I’ll name the boy Eric.
Hmmm….my visacard? Showing ur igbo skills abi? Break a leg while you’re at it and flash the ring on that finger to every man who hits on u. It’s ur badge. U earned it.
I miss u already.
Shop till u drop.
Do you mind sending me some last ‘before’ nude photos of d twins before dey go under d knife?
Words can’t express…
I walked out of the room and out to the backyard where I sat quietly. Apprehension of how Amaka was going to take in the sudden appearance of Eric into our lives had held me back all day. But after knowing she was going to be fine with it, I got respite.
I looked up to the sky and tears stung my eyes. I couldn’t believe I was a father. I was infinitely grateful to God. Once upon a time I was a poor, fatherless boy with nothing but the clothes on my back and barely a meal to eat. Now I had more than I could dream of. Eric had not been part of the plan but he was mine and was going nowhere. As for Onagite, her short romance with my life was over. Eric had only one mother, and she was on her way to Atlanta.
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