I find her waiting outside. She has two boxes with her and a broken expression. I park the car, get down and help her with her things. When we enter the car, I take a good look at her face and see that the demon of a brother has left her cheeks marked. My anger grows wings. I try to find my voice but I can’t.
“They took all of my mom’s stuff and set them on fire,” she says, her eyes lost somewhere. “Every single thing my dad had kept over the years.”
That explains the smoke I’d seen rising from the building as I was approaching.
“They said she slept with someone else to have me. He was never my father.”
“And you believe them?”
Honey says nothing. I want to scold her really bad for letting those animals get to her but I think of her pain and loss. All she needs is a shoulder to cry on. I drive her straight to the hotel and lay her down. She tells me she is too exhausted to wash up. Her feet are dusty, her skin oily with sweat. She has acne on her face and the creaminess on her skin is gone. She doesn’t look like the Honey I know. I want to beat somebody real bad for this.
Before I can say anything, she falls asleep, snoring like a tired, old woman. I take a walk out of the room and dial Bobby. He answers my call but lets me know immediately that I disturbed his sleep.
“I need a lawyer,” I tell him.
“What trouble have you gotten into this time?”
I relate Honey’s ordeal to him.
“Devils!” he spits angrily.
“Azzin! He decorated her face, Bobby.”
“And you leave am?”
“I swear, I dey regret. You don’t want to see how she looks, man. She is traumatized.”
“Ah no o! We just have to screw those fuckers up abeg. I’m taking the case. I’ll be in Warri next tomorrow. I’ll fly in through Asaba.”
He hangs up after cussing Honey’s siblings one more time. I walk down to reception and ask a very alert receptionist where I can get some analgesic, explaining to her that I’m a medical personnel with a patient up in my room that needs treatment. She asks me to give her a second as she leaves her post and returns with a key.
I accompany her to a door that opens to a pharmacy.
“Help yourself,” she says. I pick the drugs I need and ask her bill to it to my room. She explains that the pharmacy is closed for the day, that she had just felt like doing me a favor. I understand that she needs some cash. I pass her some notes and go back upstairs. Emeka calls me and tells me he heard about Honey’s father’s death and wishes to send his condolences.
“How is she coping? Heard she lost her mom too.”
“Aww, she’s just an orphan like me,” I hear Tola say in the background.
“Well, shit happens,” I reply. Emeka immediately senses there’s something bothering me. He questions me in Igbo and I tell him everything.
“Boys suppose travel that Warri go arrange that nigga. I hope you people are not leaving it all to God?”
I laugh. He’s lucky Nne is not there or he would have received a smack on the back of his head.
“God gave us lawyers,” he states.
“Bobby is on the case.”
“That’s better. Bobby can’t be messed with.”
True. I’m proud to have him as a friend. He’s brutal, thanks to a boss and mentor that was famously known as agbero. Bobby is the posher version of him but not any less ruthless or intelligent. If I know him, he’ll be up early tomorrow, making phone calls to find out whose legal toes he would probably be stepping on once he gets into Warri to take Honey’s case; and he would doubtless, also call in some favors.
My anger has abated now and I’m calm enough to listen to that voice that has been telling me to pray. Nne would always say to me that before I face my enemies for war, I should always ask God for peace. My heart is against making peace with the animals Honey calls her siblings but I pray, nevertheless. It’s that type of prayer where I first ask for forgiveness from all my sins before laying my complaints. I don’t know if God will answer my prayer but I know he is the father to the fatherless. I tell him to help, if not for my sake, then for Honey’s who is now his sole responsibility.
After the prayer session, I lie beside her. She is not snoring anymore. I watch her sleep and I’m thinking if it’s too early to ask her to be my wife. It’s something I plan to do eventually but I feel that as a married woman, she would have better standing in this fight against her family. That way I can get into their drama and treat their fuckups personally without anyone telling me nonsense. But knowing Honey and her strong-minded persona alongside her romanticized way of viewing marriage, she would kick against the idea. All the same, I’ll try.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
This is not how I like my breakfast in bed. Not with my man half-worrying about me and half-concealing his anger over how my siblings treated me. I, on the other hand, have decided that I am done shedding tears. It’s time to move on. Very painful decision to make, especially since I know I rightfully own all that my dad left. However, I will not waste time that I’ll use to build my future in fighting with my seniors. They can take it all. Daddy had already compensated each of them years ago but somehow their greed and hate for me and my late mom consumes them still.
Well, whatever they do, they cannot erase the fact that daddy loved my mom more than any man I ever knew who loved his wife. I guess that is why I have this textbook impression of what love and marriage should be. He doted on her to the point of obsession. I can’t remember how many times I saw them kissing or the few occasions where he’d literally sweep her off her feet in his arms and leave her squealing like a little girl. Of course, my brothers and sisters couldn’t stand their brazen display of love. Harry was particularly disgusted over it and many times I heard him openly voice his irritation.
It was no secret that daddy had not loved their mother while she was alive because, according to my aunt, she was impossible to love.
“She was the most wicked woman on the face of the earth,” my aunt had told me. “She hated and fought with everyone and poisoned your brothers’ and sisters’ minds against your father. Every time he was away at work, she told them he was with other women, something that was a total lie. Everybody knew that even though she was the most impossible woman on the planet he was still faithful to her.”
He had only married her to please his mother. The marriage barely survived the years it did. One ordinary day she died on her way to some errand, knocked over by a police van that threw her off the road and to her grisly death. Ten months later, daddy married my mom in a drama-laden wedding ceremony that would have given Mexican, Spanish and Indian soap operas combined, a run for their money. My mom was never welcomed by his family or his late wife’s. And it didn’t make it easier that she was young, beautiful, educated and opinionated. They tried to make life unbearable for her but she fought them on every side. In the end, they killed her.
Daddy told me she died in her sleep but I knew he was lying. I had spoken to her on the phone the night before she died and she had sounded like one in pain, stopping every now and then to breathe. When I asked what was wrong, she had simply told me she was tired. Then she went ahead to talk about her love for me and how she would have me as a daughter again if she had another life to live. She told me to make sure I fell in love with someone like my dad and to be certain that his family loved me. She didn’t want me to suffer the same fate as she did. At that point, I became apprehensive and asked why she sounded like she wanted to die. She laughed my fear away and told me she wasn’t going anywhere. And in one final warning, added that I should never fight with my siblings. She prayed for me over the phone and called it a night. The next day, daddy called and summoned me home. He didn’t have to tell me; I knew something had gone wrong with her. I cried all the way to Warri. I was taken to the mortuary upon insistence, to see her. She looked nothing like the healthy mother I knew. She had emaciated so much and yet daddy insisted that she had died peacefully. The chapter of her mysterious death was closed after the burial and I got no other explanation from him. It’s been so many years but I still suspect foul play.
“You’re seriously not going to take them to court, sugams?”
I love Jide’s voice in the morning. It’s deeper and sexier. He sits, facing me, watching me with intense eyes. I am having my breakfast like I have not eaten in days. Come to think of it, I really haven’t had a decent meal in a while.
“Initially I wanted you to leave them with the money but after you told me what your dad was worth and how much your mom contributed to the wealth, I don’t think you should just let it go like that.”
“It’s just the Igbo in you talking, Jide.”
“It is not about money.” He seems annoyed by my statement. “It’s about your father’s legacy, about what your parents built, the love they shared. Your siblings want to take it all away.”
“Then let them have it. I don’t care.”
He says nothing more. I can see that he is still annoyed, though. I leave my breakfast and crawl towards him.
“You don’t remember yesterday, do you?” He asked. “How your brother hit you, how you cried, how I came and found you sitting outside your own father’s house because they kicked you out after setting your mom’s stuff on fire?”
“Jideofor, please stop.” I hold his face and kiss the edges of his lips. “Let’s just forget them and leave this town.”
“Where is the woman who smashed my phone and walked out on me? I want her back so we can deal with these assholes together. Where I come from, you do not just throw away your father’s legacy like that. And it is not about the money. It is about your pride. The memories your parents built. The pain of loss that must be healed.”
“But not by fighting with my brothers and sisters!” I shoot back and move away from him, exasperated. “I want my peace, Jide! It’s priceless! I need my peace! Inheritance wars never end! They go on and on and on! And I don’t want that!”
I get off the bed in frustration.
“I want to start and build my business and get married and have kids and forget that I ever had siblings! I can’t live my life looking behind me and wondering who wants me dead just because of money that won’t follow me when I die.”
“I understand where you’re coming from but Honey, you can’t just leave them like that.”
I sigh. I am tired of explaining myself to him.
“They’ll see you as spineless.”
I have had enough. I walk into the bathroom for a shower but my knees weaken beneath me and I burst into tears.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
I’m glad to be away from Warri. Finally I can have my peace.
It’s Friday and I wake up to find my head resting on Jide’s chest.
I try to remember the night before but I can’t. I know we were spooning and then we ended up making love in the same position. Did I sleep off during the act?
“Yes, you did,” Jide replies. I bury my head in shame.
“Sorry? It was actually an intentional act from me. You were dead tired and couldn’t sleep. I told you I would tranquilize you, remember? You had this dirty joke about me injecting you?”
“Yes, I remember. But still I’m sorry.” I keep my head buried on his chest. I get a smack on my bum, and then a squeeze, or more like a crushing cuddle as he pulls me into him.
“How are you, though? No more headaches, fever?”
“Good. So you have energy for me like…right now?”
I’m about to reply but he attacks me with tickles. I scream; he shows no mercy. I have to kick my way out of his clutch to free myself before he stops. He takes my hand again and sits me properly on the bed.
“You know I’m crazy about you, right?” His voice carries a serious timbre.
“And I don’t want anything to be between us.”
“I actually cheated on you with Ezinne. We kissed and maybe my hands strayed a little…”
“Okay, not maybe.”
I pinch his nose.
“But that was all we did. I’m sorry, baby.”
I smile genuinely. I had forgiven him a long time ago. “I hold nothing against you, babe. I knew you did something with her and when I forgave you, I forgave you for what you told me and what you didn’t tell me, so it’s fine.”
I stroke his cheek. “Sure, hotstuff.”
He takes my hand and kisses it. Together we enter the bathroom for a shower and there’s a lot of naughtiness as we both soap up. Jide tells me he’s glad that I can laugh after all I’ve been through. I reply that he makes me happy.
“So, the car is yours,” he says casually.
“Car? What car? The one you brought to Warri?”
“Yeah. Got it for you.”
The news doesn’t sink in. “But I don’t even know how to drive.”
“I’ll teach you.”
A few seconds go by and then I get the message.
“The car is mine?!”
He gives a quiet laugh. I scream and get soap all up in my mouth and nose.
“For me?!” I turn off the shower. I’m overwhelmed. It’s the most expensive thing a man has ever given me.
I start to cry. Life doesn’t feel so shitty anymore. I have the best boyfriend in the world. I thank him with kisses, long and sensual ones, but he doesn’t seem to be in the mood. He’s late for work.
We leave the bathroom and I snuggle in the bed to watch him dress up. His bedroom has changed quite a lot. It looks smaller but that’s just because he used up all the extra space smartly. I love the new décor. It’s cozy, manly and cool. I’m in a sea of pillows and bed covers that hold different tones of blue. I pick out Argyle and Moroccan patterns against a cobalt duvet. There is a small, black ledge beside the bed that holds items Jide likes to indulge in before he sleeps; like a tin of cashew nuts, a hydro flask of freezing water for when he gets thirsty at night, his novel collection of ‘manread’ (as he calls it), and surprisingly, Fifty Shades of Grey. I smile when I see the book. I had begged him to read it so we could try some Christian Grey stunts but he had vowed that he’ll never read such ‘tasteless’ literature, that he had already been scarred enough by the cheesiness of the movie. I spot a bookmark sticking out of the novel, indicating he is currently reading it. Silly boy. After all the shakara.
I tilt my head towards the wall above the bed and see two square paintings hanging side by side. One of them is of a busy street on a dark, rainy day. The other has a black background that holds the painting of a daffodil. It suddenly strikes me that Jide’s feelings for me are not surface. This particular flower holds meaning for two of us and he has let it into his personal space. I begin to feel bad for the hard time I gave him over his ish with Ezinne. I recall daddy’s advice and promise to make it up to him.
Daddy…sigh. It’s heartbreaking that I can’t think about him without exhuming the terrible things my siblings told me. How do I live past the nightmare?
How can I just let it all go like that?
Jide pulls me to my feet for a kiss.
“Can I borrow your car, sisi?”
“Want me to bring you something on my way back?”
I pull at his waistband. “Just your hot self.”
He encloses me in a hug and leaves. I hear my phone ringing. I fish for it. The screen spells out Jane’s name. I go for the answer button but remember that I have promised to have nothing to do with them. I reject the call.
Yet I am curious as to why she’s calling. As much as she is the kindest to me, I still don’t trust her.
I search for a change of clothes from my suitcase and come up with a pair of matching Ankara shorts and a crop top. I lie in bed with a pen and notebook in hand to touch up on the plan for my travel agency. Saratu has shown interest and Dele’s wife has also bought into the idea enthusiastically. Tomorrow is Saturday and we plan to meet to talk about it before Saratu travels back to London.
My phone buzzes. Jane is calling again. I don’t take the call. Seriously, what does she want?
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
If I go for one more wedding where people leave what they came for and start questioning me about my marital status, I’ll break someone’s neck. Can’t married folks just leave us single people alone? Is marriage the height of life’s achievements? It’s already hard on a guy just being a guy. People should free me abeg.
“We should sha hear wedding bells by the end of the year,” Celia says to me with an annoying wink.
“Can you just stop, madam?” I reply. She laughs. I wish Honey was here for this wedding. Everyone would have let me be. I don’t even know why I came in the first place; I don’t know the couple getting married. I did it for Mary who had specially invited me. This is her first big wedding as a chef. Reno has graciously offered to help her and both of them have whipped up dishes that the guests are going crazy over. I especially like the goat meat peppersoup. I have to admit that it is better than my mom’s.
“I think we should leave,” Bobby says, staring at his wristwatch. We all concur.
“Peace, are you waiting for Reno?” Celia asks.
“No. He’ll stay back with Mary until after the wedding. Let’s just go.”
We shuffle our way through the thick crowd of wedding partiers. After bidding my friends goodbye, I get into my car and head home. I have no idea that they are tailing me. It isn’t until after I park outside my building that I see them driving towards me.
“Is everything okay?” I enquire as they all step out of their cars.
“We came to pay Honey a visit over her father’s death,” Shady says.
I’m touched. I have the most amazing friends in the world.
“And we’re also here for a beer or two,” Bobby adds. We laugh.
“Yeah, Mary promises to come with more of her peppersoup,” Celia announces.
“Let’s go in.”
I lead them to my apartment. Honey appears to be home. I hope her hangout with her friends went well. She opens the door and lets us in, surprise impressed on her face.
“Am I on the barstool again today?” she asks and gets a round of laughter.
“No dear,” Peace replies. “We just came to pay our respects to your dad.”
She hugs Honey, sits her down and in classic Peace manner, delivers this long tribute that gets all of us emotional. Honey is in tears when she is done.
“Sweetheart, I didn’t mean to make you cry.”
“Aww, you poor thing,” Noka adds and before I know, the women are all over her. Well, looks like they have finally let her in and the idea of Mary taking her place is old news.
Honey pulls herself together and thanks everyone. Subsequently, she and I raid the fridge for drinks.
“You have very nice friends,” she tells me.
“Yeah. But sometimes they can get anal,” I reply, taking two bottles of wine from her. “Be warned.”
“She’s still at the wedding with Reno. They’ll be here soon.”
Honey brushes her butt against my groin as she walks away. I swallow and wish my friends are not under the same roof with us right now.
I join them in the sitting room. Over drinks, we talk about Honey’s siblings, and everyone except Peace, shares my mind over what should be done to them.
“You can’t just let them do this to you, Honey,” Celia strongly puts out.
“If the inheritance is in your name, then they can’t touch it,” Bobby states.
I feel this is not a good day to talk about this issue but I just have to let out why the whole thing gets on my nerves.
“Honey wants to sign it over to them,” I reveal. She frowns at me as everyone faces her.
“Why, luv?” Noka asks.
“I don’t want to fight them.”
“But it’s legally yours,” Bobby points out. “And that is why they have come up with this bullshit that your dad was not biologically your dad. If they can prove that, then they don’t need you to sign over the money to them. They will just take you to court to challenge your dad’s will.”
“That’s the problem. I looked nothing like my dad. And my mom was already pregnant when they got married, so I don’t know…”
“Sugar lips, you allowed them get to you? You actually believe them?”
“I am the only light-skinned person in my house and the only one that doesn’t look like my dad.”
“Your mother was light-skinned,” I stress. “She was half- Eritrean and half- Shua Arab,” I explain to my friends.
“You shouldn’t believe them, Honey,” Bimpe tells her. “They are lying and we will prove that they are. Abi, Bobby?”
“It’s all in your hands, Honey,” Bobby emphasizes. “And they can’t touch what has been passed down to you. So as long as that will is in your name, you still hold the power. If they insist that you are not related to them, we can get the court to order a DNA test, using a sample from one of them.”
“But what if it turns out negative?” Honey asks with fear in her eyes.
“Then we fight still. It might get hairy but we’ll get something out of that inheritance in the end. Nothing will nullify the fact that it was willed to you. The law will back you on that.”
“Trust Bobby,” Bimpe utters. “He handled my case with my ex-husband. The monkey wanted to cheat me out of a business we built together but Bobby helped me get what was rightfully mine. He will help you, Honey.”
Honey seems overwhelmed. I don’t want us to push her into a decision she doesn’t want to make.
“I’ll talk to her later on,” I assure my friends. “We’ll come up with a plan.”
“You’d better,” Celia pipes. “Because the whole thing is just scattering my brain. It’s like being raped, like someone violating me. God knows what I would have done if it was me.”
Shady cleverly shifts the conversation to something else and time ticks by as we banter. Someone mentions something about Mary’s peppersoup and Peace wonders out loud where Reno is. She dials his number but gets a busy tone.
“I’m sure they’re still occupied at the wedding,” she comments, putting her phone away.
“Let me call Mary.” Noka picks her own phone from her bag. As she sets to dial Mary’s number I see that I have an incoming call from Mary herself. I answer it.
“Are you alone?” Her voice is hush.
“No. Anything the matter?”
“Please, can you come to my house right now? Please?” I hear distress in her voice and move away from the curious eyes resting on me.
“What’s wrong, boo?” I walk into the kitchen.
“Just come, please. Don’t tell anyone where you’re going. Just come.”
She puts an end to the call. I walk back to the sitting room.
“Who was that?” Honey asks.
“Erm… Nothing serious. My mom. She wants to see me straightaway. She won’t say why.”
“I hope everything is fine.”
“Me too. You guys, excuse me. I’ll be right back.”
I leave the house in a hurry and dash downstairs. When I get into the car, Mary is calling again.
“Are you on your way?” This time I pick out that she’s crying.
“Boo, what is wrong? Talk to me nau.”
“Are you on your way?”
I fire up the gas and drive away from my neighborhood. I get to Mary’s apartment some fifteen minutes later. I knock on her door and she opens it. She is wrapped in a bathrobe. I am not wrong about her crying. I’m greeted by red, swollen eyes.
“Jeez! What happened to you?”
She locks her door. I walk in to find her room in disarray.
“Did you fight with somebody?”
She remains silent.
“Mary?” I turn to her fully and when I take a step forward, she moves back.
“What happened here?”
And just like that she shatters into tears. Her fingers clutch at the collar of her bathrobe tightly. I try to touch her but again she steps away from me.
“Mary, please talk to me.”
But she wouldn’t, so I sit and let her cry it out. Finally, she simmers down and let out words that cut my heart like a knife.
“Reno raped me.”
I can’t move. A thick cloud of darkness falls on me, choking me. I can’t speak; she can’t either. When I finally regain use of my voice, I ask her how it happened. She tells me everything – in disjointed words, but I piece it together.
Mary had called Reno about two weeks ago to help her out with the catering of the wedding since he was a master chef at a prestigious hotel and had catered to many weddings before. Although an excellent chef, Mary was new to the food business and needed help on her first huge gig. Reno gladly offered his services for free. Over the days that followed they walked closely together, seeing each other every now and then. Reno alone was aware of some new guy Mary was dating and had promised to keep it a secret from the wives because she wasn’t sure the relationship would go anywhere. Mary opened up to him about many other things in her life and especially her loneliness and fear that she might not find the perfect man. Reno played the role of the supportive friend and they bonded in such a short time. She trusted him, she told me, just as she trusted me.
“I would never have imagined that he’ll do this to me. Never!”
The story becomes grimy when she begged Reno to accompany her home earlier on so she could change into something fresh before they drove down to my place. Upon getting to hers, she decided to go for a quick shower while Reno waited. When she stepped out of the bathroom in her towel to pick what she would change into, Reno shamelessly asked to have sex with her. She explained to me that she thought he was joking at first and brushed the request off but he repeated himself and went on to tell her how he had always nurtured feelings for her and wished it wasn’t Peace he was married to; and that his feelings had grown for her over the past week and he hoped they could develop something on the side.
At that point, Mary lost her top and ordered him out of her apartment, threatening to tell Peace what had just transpired. And to her, she thinks that was the mistake she made, because Reno turned into this beast that locked her door, pushed her to the bed and raped her.
Anger like I’ve never known bustles inside me. I feel tears scald my eyes as I watch my friend sit in one corner of her room like one who is held hostage in it.
“I am so sorry, Mary.”
I don’t know if she can hear me. Her head is bowed over.
“When exactly did this happen?”
“It happened just before I called you. He told me that if I told anyone what he did he would deny and say we had consensual sex and I had been seducing him for a long time.”
“Did he use protection?”
She shakes her head.
Lord help me, I will kill Reno and nobody will stop me.
Mary stretches her hand to me and hands me a small container. She doesn’t tell me what it is but I know it’s semen sample.
“Wear something let’s go to the hospital.”
“Mary, you need to be properly checked and taken care of.”
“Please,” I beg.
“Jide, no. It’s just sex–”
“IT IS NOT JUST SEX!” I am enraged. My tone plunges Mary into another round of weeping. I pull her from the floor and hold her until she calms.
“Mary, please let a doctor check you.”
She steps back. “So that they’ll treat me like a rape victim? And ask me intrusive questions and leave me worse than I already feel?”
“No. They’ll give you anti-retroviral medication alongside contraceptives and some pain killers. If you don’t want to talk to anyone, it’s fine.”
She considers my words. “They won’t ask me to recount what happened?”
I leave the house and sit in the car. My anger has not gone down one bit. Reno has no idea what is coming.
I take Mary to the hospital and leave her in Tola’s care. I drive back to my house as if I’m on steroids. When I get in, I am shocked to see Reno comfortably sitting on my couch, sipping on my wine and making conversation like he had not just committed a monstrous crime.
God knows self control is the last thing on my mind. I speak to no one as I aim straight for him, jerk him off the couch and deliver a punch that breaks his nose on impact. Dazed, his head falls back. I use the opportunity to knock him to the floor and he goes down in a heap.
I am so furious I can’t hear my friends speak. My anger is made worse by the helplessness I felt when I couldn’t give Honey’s brother the beating he deserved.
I see Bright dashing towards me. And in quick but lethal kicks, I give Reno’s balls a lesson in unbearable pain. Before Bright gets hold of me and drags me away, I add one last kick to the side of his face that knocks him out.
“You’ve killed him!” Peace screams and rushes to him. I ignore her and everyone else as I shove Bright off and storm into my bedroom.
Image credits: favim.com, pinterest.com
Agbero – tout
Sharaka – to fuss