No Heart Feelings #2
Alhaja Nnenna Bahaushe was the first wife of Alhaji Babajide Bahaushe, a major gold and jewelry merchant. He began his business as a trader to the north in the early seventies, selling gold in bulk to top wholesalers and retailers. He was so shrewd in business that his customers named him Nyamiri, an offensive term used for Igbos, even though he was Yoruba. Afraid that the name would stick and spoil his business, he began to call himself Alhaji Bahaushe. Bahaushe was simply the term used to refer to the Hausas, especially those from the core north. With time, the name stuck on Babajide, even though he was neither an Alhaji nor a Muslim. But to fit in better with both his suppliers that were mainly from the Middle East and his end buyers, he changed his religion and took a second wife, a true blood Hausa lady from a well-known family.
His first wife, Nnenna, Jimi’s mother was displaced after her stubborn refusal to convert to Islam. She was sent to live in Jos while the new wife lived with Alhaji in Lagos. Eventually, Nnenna, to keep her marriage and retain her status as first wife, converted from Christianity and turned into a fulltime veiled Muslimah, a Niqabi, or Eleha as she was called by the Yorubas. Yet she retained her Igbo name and offered her children freedom to practice the faith of their choice. Jimi and his two sisters chose Islam while Jimi’s elder brother and the younger stuck to Christianity. Nnenna had no problems with the diversity and encouraged both faiths in her house, sometimes even indulging in a healthy argument about the Bible with her first son. It was with this same liberality she ran her business.
All the girls that worked under her, she treated with respect and generosity. Terdoo was one of them. She had worked with Nnenna for five years before she was transferred to Jimi’s home. She was the most trusted amongst the girls. And it was the same with Marie who only started working for Nnenna a few weeks before the Christmas of 2010. She had shown up at Nnenna’s high-end jewelry store at The Palms asking to fill in the vacancy for a new salesgirl. The post was already taken but Marie’s face held unexplainable charm that Nnenna was drawn to and she offered her immediate employment.
Marie became all that any shop owner could hope for. In just three months she established that she was not just a reliable employee but also a charming money-maker. However, Marie’s greatest advantage presented itself the day Nnenna invited Jimi over to the shop to pick up a pair of silver and diamond earrings for his elder brother’s wife. It had taken Nnenna over ten minutes on the phone to persuade him to come over. She could have easily chosen his younger brother for the errand but Nnenna was worried about Jimi’s gynophobia turning into a fear of everything else that could keep him outdoors. She wanted good things for him, to see him become as successful as his father. She also desired for him to fall in love with someone and get married, and that was not just for the main reason of dealing with his phobia. Nnenna had an entirely different reason for seeing him tie the knot.
Alhaji had announced to both his wives that he was soon going to be sharing a blinding 80% of his wealth amongst his children. Obviously, the boys were to have larger shares, followed by those who were married and had children. Nnenna didn’t want Jimi to have less than what was due him, so she sought for ways to hook him up with her friend’s daughters but nothing worked. Every disastrous meet-up and failed date only drove him deeper into his shell. Therefore, Nnenna looked for opportunities to have him out in the wild at the mercy of females. She had gotten to the point where she wasn’t going to care if he came home with a girl who wasn’t up to their status; all she wanted was for him to be normal.
Hence, on the day he came to collect his sister-in-law’s jewelry from the store, Nnenna urged him to take a stroll round the mall just to enjoy the ‘sights’.
“Come on, mom, I’ve been here a dozen times.”
“You have?” she feigned surprise.
He sighed. “Yeah.”
“Not important. Can I take the earrings and go, please?”
Nnenna didn’t like his impatient tone and she also had a strong urge to yank off the unflattering sunshades he was wearing. She shook her head at him in pity and called for Marie who was in the inner office.
“My dear, please bring that jewelry box I gave you to keep earlier.”
“Okay ma!” Marie replied and Nnenna leaned towards Jimi briefly.
“Come here. There’s something on your nose,” she said. When Jimi got closer she pulled off his sunshades.
“Mom, don’t you get tired of doing this? You’re removing my glasses when you’re all covered up like a ninja.”
“That’s not a nice thing to say to your mother.”
Nnenna shoved the frames into her handbag as Marie emerged from the office with a gift bag. Jimi who had in an instant lowered his head, slightly lifted it in a side glance to stare at Marie as she stepped out. And like a bolt of lightning, he was struck.
Nnenna noticed what was happening with him and she wished she could get out her phone to record it.
Though not fully facing Marie, Jimi’s head had remained in an angle that left his eyes on her. He stared without blinking. It was something Nnenna had never seen before and she didn’t want to disrupt the moment.
“Give the bag to him,” she whispered and Marie obeyed with a step in Jimi’s direction. His concentration became broken when she appeared before him and he returned to his senses, lowered his head and managed to push out a croaky “hi”.
Another thing Nnenna had never seen him do. Usually, the females she introduced him to made the first move.
“Good afternoon, sir,” Marie replied.
“Hi,” he said again and Nnenna held a chuckle. Her poor boy was in a mess and it was fun for her to watch.
He looked her way. “Mom, my glasses.”
Nnenna handed the pair to him.
“I’m leaving,” he said to her and she nodded, watching him as his eyes grazed over Marie one more time before they went behind the sunshades and he hurried out of the shop.
When she got home that day, he visited her bedroom where she was unveiled and the creamy tone of her subtle skin lay exposed under dim lights. He talked about pointless topics, walking round the bedroom with his hands in his pockets. She knew he had something else on his mind but she waited for him to bare it out. It took him over an hour though, but he did come round to saying the purpose of his visit.
“Mom, that girl I saw in your shop today…Marie? I think…I like her.”
Nnenna almost came to tears. The last time she had heard him use similar words was in his Primary Three. He had come home one hot afternoon and slammed his schoolbag on the kitchen counter and said, “mommy, I’m in love!”
Her immediate reaction had been hearty laughter. What could a seven year old boy possibly know about love? But Jimi was not joking. Sade, the object of his affection, became a constant name on his lips. He often helped her with her homework, shared his lunch with her and used all his savings to buy a pair of blue studded earrings from Nnenna for her birthday. Like every observant mother, Nnenna saw that the relationship was one-sided but she thought it was a jinx to disrupt one’s first crush, so she let him be, waiting for the day his heart would come back home to her in pieces. And it did. On another hot afternoon, he slammed his bag on the kitchen counter again and went, “I hate Sade! And I hate girls!”
When Nnenna asked what had made him change his mind, he said nothing and stomped to his room. She threw the same question to his elder brother, Jude but Jude shook his head and said, “I’m not telling you.”
Nnenna never got to know what happened that day but she was okay with it, since it did not affect Jimi’s grades. In fact, it seemed his heartbreak helped him do better in school, but there was something her eyes missed about him and his interaction with girls. By the time she noticed it and was zooming in on correcting it, he had gotten his heart broken a second time, alongside his head and elbow – the result of a bloody fight with a senior in secondary school over a girl who embarrassed him in front of his entire classmates. The details of that encounter also remained sketchy to Nnenna but what bothered her more was the way Jimi stayed away from females like they carried a deadly disease. The journey to try to cure him would take a rough road with visits to psychologists, imams, pastors and even native doctors. Yet Jimi would remain the same, excelling in every other thing but lacking in the love zone.
Now, here they were, after all the trying years and he was saying he liked a girl. No doubt, Nnenna was the happiest mother but she maintained her calm.
“Let me just clear this off your mind sha,” Jimi said, leaning on her bathroom door. “I’ll not go near her or toast her, so don’t try to set us up or something like that. I just want to observe her from a distance at my own pace.”
In a strange manner, Nnenna understood him; she recognized his need to be fond of someone from a distance. It was his own way of telling himself he was still normal and could still have feelings. However, Nnenna wasn’t going to be satisfied with his way alone. There was a lot for him to lose, inheritance-wise from his father and it was her duty as first wife and mother to ensure that all her children were well settled. As a result, she spoke with Marie three days later when she noticed that Jimi made good on his word for not going near her.
“My son likes you,” she stated matter-of-factly as Marie was dusting the glass shelves that held expensive diamond jewelry in the shop. Marie stopped and so did Terdoo, who was mopping the floor. Terdoo was in charge of another branch of Nnenna’s shop at Allen Avenue but Nnenna had invited her over because she had plans for Marie.
Noticing Terdoo was eavesdropping, Nnenna turned to her. “Tee, go and mop my office.”
Terdoo curtsied and disappeared with the mop into Nnenna’s office.
“Pick that stool and come here, Marie.”
Marie did as she was told and sat on a high stool before Nnenna.
“Where are you from?” she asked.
“What are your full names?”
“How old are you?”
“Level of education?”
At this point, Marie paused. She was sure the CV she submitted to Nnenna before she got the job had all the information. Still she answered.
“Diploma in accounting.”
“You have a child?”
“Ever been pregnant?”
“Any family disease, mental or otherwise I need to know about?”
“Any disease you have now?”
“Where are your parents?”
“They are dead, ma.”
“No sister or brother?”
“Just one brother. He lives in Yola.”
“Any criminal records?”
“Who do you live with in Lagos?”
There was hesitation again. Nnenna narrowed her eyes.
“You can confide in me.”
“You have sex with him?”
Another hesitation. “Yes, ma.”
Nnenna nodded and pulled her handbag close. She got out her wallet and drew out some money. She also scribbled down a note on a small piece of paper and handed it to Marie.
“There’s a clinic at Phase One. That’s the address. Go and get yourself tested. I want your blood group, genotype, HIV status, everything. I have already spoken to the doctor and they’re waiting for you. Just ask for Doctor Itopa.”
Marie nodded. “But please ma, what is it for?”
“Just go and when you return, we’ll have a talk.”
Nnenna watched her as she left the shop, taking a full view of her body. She approved of what she saw.
The results of Marie’s test came in the following day and the doctor declared her ‘clean as a whistle’. Nnenna was elated. She went in for the kill while she and Marie were walking towards her car in the parking lot.
“How would you like to go on a date with my son?”
Marie was shocked at the question and all she could do was stare at the ground she walked on. Nnenna asked no further questions until after they were seated together in her car.
“You haven’t replied me yet,” she said to her.
“I asked you a question earlier.”
“Ma… I have a boyfriend.”
“Has he proposed to you yet?”
“Then the relationship is useless as far as I am concerned.” She turned to Marie with a slight shift and took off her veil, exposing her face to her for the first time. “My son, Olujimi likes you, which is a miracle. A huge one. And I don’t want it to turn into a nightmare for him when he finds out he can’t have you. So here’s what you’ll do for me. You will make the first move, date him and then marry him.”
“What?” Marie smiled but only to hide her shock and unease.
“I will pay three million naira into your account to be my daughter-in-law. I have no hidden agenda, I am an easy woman to be with and Jimi is the most gentle of young men. You will be marrying into a prestigious name and family and you will be well taken care of.”
Marie began to perspire. Nnenna started the car and turned on the air conditioner.
“What do you say to my proposal?”
“Ma, I have a boyfriend.”
Nnenna rolled her eyes. “You already said that but what has he offered you? Just look at you. You’re beautiful, intelligent and charming but you’re just a salesgirl! Is that how you planned your life to be? You deserve more and the Bahaushes can do that for you. Once you get married to Jimi, you can go back to school or open your own business or work wherever you want to work. Nothing will stop you from achieving your dreams. don’t tie yourself to someone you’re not certain will be there for you tomorrow, either financially or emotionally. But I can assure you that my boy will love you the way no man has ever loved you before.”
Nnenna knew she was beginning to sound desperate but she didn’t give a damn. She was going to throw all in for Jimi, the one who gave her most trouble, the one she loved most.
“Ma, can I think about it?”
“Okay. Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll give you five million naira. Five.”
“Let me think about it ma. Please.”
“Okay. Put on your seatbelt.”
Nnenna started the car and they drove away.
Marie’s answer came in the next day. She accepted the offer. Agreeing never to mention the deal to anyone, she had her first pay which was not inclusive of the five million. It was for a shopping spree for new clothes. Jimi showed up the following afternoon for some vague errand as requested by Nnenna. This time around, he avoided Marie but Nnenna noticed he had come without his shades. Later, at home, he spoke about Marie’s good dressing over dinner and wondered out loud if she had a boyfriend.
“None that I know of,” Nnenna replied.
“That’s good.” Jimi nodded and got a smirk from his younger brother, Sesan.
“Dude, just yarn the girl or simply shag her.”
Nnenna eyed Sesan from her place on the table. “I am sure Doctor Itopa switched you after I gave birth. You’re not my child because no son of mine will be suggesting that kind of rubbish in front of me.”
“Alhaja! The only Hajia in my life.”
Sesan laughed, licking ogbono soup off his thumb. “Ma binu but did Jimi tell you he cannot shag a girl or that he’s a virgin?”
Nnenna was on her way to replying Sesan but she paused and considered his question. She looked at Jimi.
“Not now, mom,” Jimi replied, his head bent.
“He’s been disvirgined,” Sesan mouthed inaudibly to Nnenna and rose from his chair. Sesan was a short boy with a small stature but he carried around a big mouth and didn’t know how to use it. Picking up his plate of soup, he did a sorry moonwalk whilst singing TLC’s Red Light Special as he left the dining area.
“Jimi, is it true?” Nnenna asked. “You’ve had sex? With who? How did you manage to…?”
Jimi shot Nnenna a mean stare with a raised brow. “Drop the issue, mom.
Besides, it’s Sexy and his antics. No one should be listening to him.”
“Okay o.” Nnenna kept quiet and picked out a huge piece of kpomo from her soup dish and left it hanging in the air. “I’m just surprised that you didn’t tell me there was a girl at some point in your life that you’ll even go all the way to have sex with her.”
“Mom!” Jimi snapped. “Haba!”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I won’t talk about it again.”
“Thank you,” he said in annoyance.
“By the way, your father and his wife will be here for dinner tomorrow. Your sisters also. Make sure you get back from the office on time. Your father wants to have a word with you.”
Nnenna watched Jimi’s jaw clench and observed how he slowly lost his appetite. He wasn’t his father’s favorite and family dinners with both of them always ended in fall outs. Alhaji was coming to discuss his displeasure at Jimi’s ‘issue’ even as much as Nnenna had begged him not to. Alhaji was very certain Jimi was gay and hiding it. He was determined to prove it and after doing so, cut him off from his wealth. But first, he enjoyed the game of harassing him. If there was anybody Sesan took after, it was Alhaji.
Always one to think fast, Nnenna dialled Marie after Jimi left the table and invited her for the family dinner the next day. Smiling on her bed as she went to sleep that night, she imagined the shock that would be on everyone’s face when she introduced Marie as Jimi’s girlfriend. Jimi, she was certain, would be mad, but she was Mommy Dearest to him and everything she did was for his good. He always understood that and he would forgive her no matter what she did.
The dinner came and went the following day and everything happened as she had planned; she couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. The whole dinner table was silent after her introduction of Marie. Jimi was embarrassed and wanted to deny the relationship but Marie’s hand found his under the table and held it. If Nnenna hadn’t been observant from where she sat beside Marie, she would have missed that special moment when Marie wanted to pull away but Jimi held on tight and some form of peace filled his face, yet revealing nothing of what was going on under the table.
After that night, their relationship progressed without her butting in. It was difficult to stay away but she felt she had done her bit already. As soon as they announced their engagement seven months later, she found some quiet place to cry and to thank God. Like every Nigerian mother would, she arranged the wedding and made sure it was a noisy one. Jimi got his share of the inheritance, Marie got her deal money, they both were expecting a baby and Nnenna was proud of herself.
When Kiki was born her joy reached a new high and she went all out to shower her love on her. She sent Terdoo to Jimi’s as both nanny and housemaid. Her payment to her was school fees for part-time evening classes at the Lagos State University for a postgraduate diploma she had been seeking to acquire.
Nnenna also put Terdoo in the house as a spy, to report any strange behavior from Marie towards Jimi but Terdoo never had any reason to suspect Marie. In her words, Marie loved Jimi wholeheartedly. With that report, Nnenna assured herself that Marie had fallen in love with Jimi and the money had nothing to do with it. She had believed it was going to be smooth sailing henceforth but Marie’s sudden death jolted her from her castle in the air. It hit her almost as hard as it did Jimi. She cried for weeks and refused to eat or even leave the house. Her dread was for Jimi and how he would recover from his loss. All her efforts were to waste and finding someone new to fill in the void Marie left was near impossible.
She allowed Jimi mourn but when she felt he had suffered enough agony, she traveled to Jos to get him home. He was not the son she used to know. Hollow cheeks, sunken eyes and an overall skinny frame greeted her eyes when she sighted him but she remained strong for both of them. On their return to Lagos, she made sure he was settled in and comfortable. She didn’t mind that he didn’t want to go back to work; she was just glad to see that he was coping fine. Before now, she was back in business and had even expanded her line of shops to Port Harcourt. Jimi’s return home gave her reason to rest for a while.
After a short week of taking it easy, she was spending the last evening with Kiki before she made another week-long journey to Dubai and Qatar. Kiki had gotten into a tantrum at dinner time and while Nnenna was trying to force her to feed, they were interrupted by her ringing phone. Nnenna instructed Sesan to answer the call but he passed the phone to her instead.
“Must be your business people,” he said. “Private number.”
Nnenna clicked on the answer button and put the phone to her ear while trying to get Kiki to stop crying.
There came silence from the other end.
“Hello? Who is on the line?”
She heard the sound of someone clearing their throat and finally a voice came.
Nnenna’s eyes shot out at once. The phone left her hand and fell to the floor. Sesan who was strumming the strings of his box guitar nearby, turned to her.
But Nnenna couldn’t move. She glared at the phone on the floor with eyes of fear and kept pointing at it without speaking. Sesan put his guitar away and hurried to where the phone was. He picked it up and saw that it was still connected to the caller.
No one spoke.
“Who is this? Hello?”
A man’s guttural voice came on.
“Give the phone to your mother, young man.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“Give the phone to Alhaja!”
Sesan put the phone on speaker and urged Nnenna to speak up.
“H-hello?” she said.
“Mommy…” The initial voice Nnenna had heard returned. “It’s me. It’s Marie.”
Nnenna held her chest to keep from falling. Sesan held her, his own shock palpable as well.
“I’m not dead. I’m alive. Mommy,” Marie began to cry over the phone, “this man…he kidnapped me and he won’t let me go unless you do what he wants.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, I am.”
“What does he want?” Sesan asked.
“Kiki. He wants Kiki.”
“Why?” Sesan almost shouted.
“Kiki doesn’t belong to Jimi, mommy. I’m sorry. She belongs to him… to my kidnapper.”
Nnenna looked down to see her precious granddaughter who was now clinging to her leg, her cries abated, her thumb in her mouth. Nothing was making sense to Nnenna at that juncture; not Marie’s resurrection from the dead and certainly not the strange phone call. All she knew was that she wasn’t giving Kiki up.
“No. Nobody will take Kiki o.”
Sesan nodded in agreement.
“Very well,” the man’s guttural voice returned. “Prepare another funeral for your son’s real baby whom Marie is carrying as we speak! And this time, Marie will go for real! Have a nice evening.”
So that’s it for today’s episode. Is Marie a victim or a villain? Please tell me what you think.