The Darker Berry #3
She was not prepared for this. Not even in her nightmares or in those moments when her mind enjoyed wandering into dark places to pick memories she would rather live without. But here she was, thrown back to her past by a single visit from the one person she least expected to see.
“Amra?” her voice shook like the weak gust of wind that blew over her and the woman standing before her, clutching the hand of a little girl.
The woman smiled at the mention of her name but her smile was met with a frown that lingered over her and lowered to the girl she was holding.
“Zainab, say hi to your aunty, Umi.”
Zainab, fair and beautiful, with thick African locks, braided into one long ponytail, looked up at Umi’s unfriendly glare and glared back in the same manner.
Some attitude! Umi thought. And then it hit her… History was repeating itself. This was the same scene from her past as a little girl when she went to answer the door on one rainy morning and found her mother standing outside, holding the hand of a girl about the same age as Zainab.
“Umi,” her mother had smiled, “meet your sister, Amra.”
That day, Umi spent her entire time wondering why Amra looked so different. Many times she put her hand against hers and marveled at the dissimilarity. She was chocolate; Amra was milk. When she asked their mother about it, the woman had laughed and sang the song about Jesus loving all the little children of the world – red, brown, yellow, black and white.
“Is my daddy her daddy?” Umi asked.
“Yes, my darling. Your daddy is her daddy.”
And because she was just eight years old and wasn’t aware that mothers could sleep with strange men outside and have kids by them, Umi accepted what was told to her. She had only been two years old when her heavily pregnant mother left the house one afternoon, a memory she never recalled. Months later the woman returned alone. No pregnancy, no baby. The child whom she had birthed, Amra, was left in the care of her biological father who later died when she turned five. Their mother was left with the job of taking over her care and thus she brought her into her matrimonial home. Umi understood nothing about the complexities of adult relationships. All she knew was that she had a mommy, a daddy, a new sister and another sibling on the way.
“Won’t you say hi to your aunt, Zainab?”
Amra’s daughter looked up at Umi for the second time and her expression remained as before.
Her tone lacked the shyness that was typical of girls her age. It carried a confident, daring air.
“Amra, what is this? I haven’t seen you in six years and you show up at my door, unannounced, with some kid you call my niece?”
Amra’s shoulders fell.
“At least, just let us in.”
Umi crossed her arms. Her face was set in stone.
“Please.” Amra placed a hand on Zainab’s back, sending a message. Umi gave the girl a glance and let out a sigh. She moved away, allowing them in. Amra dragged her daughter into Umi’s living room and asked her to sit but the girl instantly put up a tantrum. Umi withdrew to the kitchen to fix herself a cup of tea. A short while after, Amra joined her.
“Can Zee have something to eat? Our flight just came in and we haven’t eaten. She’s hungry.”
Umi pointed at her fridge. “Enjoy. Not like it’s a new thing for you to disappear from my life and reappear and start demanding stuff from me.”
“Everything you need is in the fridge. Knock yourself out.”
Umi stirred the mug of ginger and lemon tea in her hand, watching her sister with all concentration. She noticed she had lost some weight from the last time she was with her six years ago. One would think that being in a saner environment would do dome good to her looks but Amra had matured, looking well over her young age of twenty-six. Nonetheless, her beauty was maintained.
“So where are your things?” Umi asked.
“Mmm?” Amra turned.
“You said your flight just came in. Where is your luggage?”
“In a hotel close to the airport. I didn’t know if you would let us in, so I left them there.”
“I don’t need to even ask you how you found my house…”
“Rabi gave me this address.”
Rabi, whose full name was Rabiyah, was their younger sister. She was just twenty-one years old and was somewhere in Bayelsa, serving the nation as a youth corper. Umi had single-handedly put her through school. Same thing with Amra, although Amra had been unstable, going through three different schools before she ultimately quit in her final year and decided that the best life for her was in the UK with someone else’s husband.
“Where is your man?” Umi asked when the aroma of fried eggs hit the air. Amra had always been a good cook, even with her wild, undomesticated ways.
“Kadiri left me when I was eight months pregnant with Zee,” Amra replied to Umi’s question. She sounded like she wanted to say more but Umi didn’t encourage her to. She told herself she no longer cared what happened to Amra. The girl had put her through enough heartache. If the men in her life were treating her like shit, it was probably Karma at play, and Umi felt she deserved it.
Amra left her position before the gas cooker and went to Umi. She stood beside her, threw an arm around her and kissed her cheek.
“I’m sorry for all I did, Mimi.”
Umi remained like a statue. The mug of tea in her hands didn’t feel hot any longer. She took a sip and it tasted to her like piss. Nudging Amra away with one hand, she turned and emptied the tea in the sink behind her. When she made to turn back to her former position, Amra flung both arms around her neck and clutched her tightly. Her voluptuous breasts crushed into Umi’s moderately-sized ones and to Umi it felt like she was choking the life out of her. But she didn’t push away or draw back because she felt moisture on her neck where Amra’s face was buried. The stupid girl was about to cry and she would fall into the big sister role and lend her shoulder to be soaked with tears. This had always been their manner. Umi had never found a way to be immune to Amra’s tears. Not even when she caught her giving her father a blowjob on a Sunday morning when every normal person was headed to church. Amra had run after her, fallen on her knees, clutched Umi’s legs and wept until Umi got overwhelmed by her own tears and forgave her.
“Kadiri wants to take Zainab away,” Amra cried. “After abandoning us all these years, he now wants to take my baby, threatening to report me to immigrations. I can’t let him do it, Mimi. I took all I saved up and brought her here. But I’m scared. He’s rich and connected. He might just trace us back here and take her from me. Please, don’t let it happen.”
Umi managed in some way to free herself from Amra’s grasp.
“I don’t plan to stay here for long but…”
Umi shook her head strongly. “You can’t stay here. Not going to happen, Amratu.”
“No, Amra! No!” Umi heaved. She was angry, years of disappointment coming back to her. “Whatever mess you are in right now is because you refused to listen to me! You brought this on yourself and no, I am not going to fix it for you like I used to!”
“I’m begging you…”
“You quit your education for this same man, Amra! You insulted me when I was begging you not to leave! I cried like a baby, Amra! I offered you everything I had for you to stay but just like your selfish mother, you walked out on me and your future! Now you’re coming here to dump your load on me?!”
“Just for a few days…”
“You and I know there is nothing like a few days, Amra! You are back to use me and walk out of my life again and I can’t handle it! I can’t! So just take your daughter and go back to where you came from! I am so done with you!”
Both women turned. Zainab was standing at the kitchen entrance. She was holding a teddy Umi hadn’t noticed earlier. Amra sniffled.
“Your breakfast is ready, sweetheart. Just wait for me at the table and I’ll bring it for you.”
“There’s no table there,” Zainab replied.
Umi found her accent cute but she showed no sign of endearment towards her. She was still seething but asides that, she didn’t like kids and her niece was not going to change her mind about them.
She watched as Amra hurried over to the girl, taking with her a mug of hot chocolate and scrambled eggs. When they disappeared out to the living room, Umi rinsed her mug. Her past was tugging at the door of her emotions. Painful memories begged to be exhumed but Umi pushed them away.
She turned off the tap and left the kitchen. The house was particularly quiet today. Quincy would have been up, playing loud music, but she was visiting her parents and would be away for two more days. Umi missed her. She was the noisier of both of them. Livelier and wilder too. At thirty, she still lived life like she was ten years younger. And she looked so too, which made it easy for her to get away with so many things. But if there was one thing Quincy was not, it was promiscuous. With a body that was sometimes too perfect to be true, one would think she would have a healthy list of men on her trail, but it was not the case. Quincy was surprisingly picky and stayed off sex and men most times. Somehow, like Umi, she always dumped her men whenever the relationship exceeded a certain period. Umi knew her interest was specifically in someone. She just didn’t have any idea who that person was.
“You want to talk about it?”
Buzor’s voice coming from the staircase gave Umi a bit of surprise. She had no idea he had slept over. On the first day she moved into the house, she had offered him a room for his personal use whenever he felt like. But he hardly used it, being that he had a much fancier house and it wasn’t so far from hers.
“You slept over?”
“Yeah. Came in late last night. Ada was up to her antics again. I couldn’t deal.”
Ada was his on and off girlfriend, the one his family had picked for him to marry. Buzor had vowed to Umi that he was never going to propose to her but admitted that she was fire beneath the sheets and he enjoyed the benefits of wifeliness she gave him whenever they weren’t fighting. He felt no guilt in using her for his selfish needs. Umi and Ada never got along.
“What’s her problem this time?” Umi asked as Buzor came down the stairs.
“Please, forget that bitch. Na she sabi wetin dey do her.”
Buzor scratched a beard that was full for no reason. Creases marked his Armani shirt, the one Umi had gotten for him last Christmas which caused a huge fight between him and Ada. He was wearing a pair of ripped jeans, giving his overall appearance a look of ruggedness.
“I heard your voice. Heard Amra’s too. You want to talk about it?”
Umi mulled over his question for a while. What was there to talk about? He already knew her life story, from the day her boarding house mistress called her during prep and gave her a letter from her mother that tore her heart. The letter didn’t say much but expressly explained that her parents had split and that her mother was leaving her father for good. Chibuzor was also there when on the last day of that same term in school after their final SSCE paper, she had sat at the gate and waited for either of her parents to come pick her and nobody did. Each time any of her friends stopped in their parents’ cars and asked if they could give her a lift, she would smile and tell them her father was coming. And so she sat under the sun for a long while, until at last, Chibuzor’s mother parked her Volvo beside her and Buzor stuck out his head, asking if they could take her home. She gave the same answer but Buzor was having none of it. He alighted from the car, picked her metal box and other bags and loaded them into the trunk and then opened the backdoor for her.
He was there, beside her when she walked into the house and saw a lean version of her almost-obese father, lying in a puddle of his vomit, drunk and calling out her mother’s name. And even through the rough, agonizing years that followed when she hawked all sorts of things to see that her siblings fed and went to school, when she had to delay going to school herself to care for them, including her father, who lost his job due to his drunkenness, when she watched helplessly as Amra sold her body to live a materialistic life and when she broke down because she felt like a failure once Amra abandoned her education and left for the UK with a man old enough to father her – Buzor was there. What was she to talk to him about that he didn’t already know?
“I’m good,” she replied with no conviction.
“If you want me to drive her away, just say the word.” Buzor towered over Umi, gentle hands on her arms.
“No, it’s fine. She can stay.”
“She doesn’t have to, Umi. She’s an adult. She can care for herself and her child. She did that for six years without you. She doesn’t need you now.”
“She’s my sister. I can’t turn family down.”
Except for that one time she turned her mother away who showed up at her door, sick and bedraggled. The woman died hours later in a bus to Obalende. Umi had gone to see her body in a cold mortuary, lying peacefully despite all the sorrow she heaped on her family. That day Umi took her and had her buried as a Muslim even though the woman had claimed to be a Christian all her life. Umi did not desire to spend a dime on her or bother with arranging a funeral in which she would be required to read out a eulogy. What would she have said? “My mother was a slut, a heartbreaker, an evil wife and she deserves to rot in hell.”? She had gone through the burial process without tears and often reminded herself that she did the right thing but now and then she couldn’t help but think that maybe if she had let her into her house, maybe she would have survived and changed her ways.
And this thinking was the key reason why she couldn’t drive Amra away.
“She stays,” she said in finality to Buzor.
“She’s going to do something stupid again and you will hurt. I know this.”
“Bubu, let it be, please. Ignore her, let’s make breakfast and talk about other stuff.”
They entered the kitchen. Choice of breakfast was fried sweet potatoes and peppered sauce. Amra joined them when they began peeling the potatoes.
“Hi Chibuzor,” she said. There was a smile on her face. There was a frown on his.
“Hi Amra. You finally decided to show up after six years. We missed you around here.”
He giggled. It was a flirty one, Umi noted. Girls flirted with Buzor a lot. Amra flirted a lot.
“You haven’t changed much, though,” he commented. Umi noticed how his eyes roamed over Amra’s hourglass figure. Her friend was a shameless whore.
“You too,” Amra replied. She was doing that thing where she played with her hair and jutted out her voluptuous breasts that always liked going without a bra because they were firm. She had a bra on this time, though, but it didn’t stop her reprobate nipples from showing.
And just as Buzor had turned on the charm, he turned it off. “Be a grownup this time around. Stop giving your sister heartaches. Keep your legs closed.”
Amra’s seduction receded as she placed the mug and plate Zainab used in the sink.
“Wash the dishes too,” Buzor added. The air was tight as Amra obeyed his instructions. When she left, Umi let out a held chuckle.
“She’s pissing me off,” Buzor murmured.
“But it didn’t stop you from staring at her boobs.”
“The one-eyed snake is never blind.”
Umi hissed. Together they made breakfast, sat in her bedroom and devoured it like they hadn’t eaten in days. Buzor then announced that he needed to go and break up with Ada.
“Four months is too long for this particular stretch. She’s started begging me to cum inside her. I don’t want that kind of nonsense in my life right now.”
Umi laughed. “Somewhere in the bible, God struck someone dead for not cumming inside a woman.”
“And your point?”
“Have Ada’s baby. Become responsible, Bubu.”
“I will – only after you do.”
“And if I don’t want to?”
“Then we’ll do that thing they do in movies.”
“What thing is that?”
“We hook up if we both haven’t found partners.”
“Leave my room abeg.”
Buzor, laughing, kissed her cheek but it came off as rubbing his beard against her cheek.
“Uncle, try and shave small while you’re at it.”
He left the house and she stayed in for a shower before going downstairs to the garage to see what her employees were up to. The new lady, Iyabo, was set to deliver some laundered clothes. She had impressed Umi on that day of her interview with her when she ran into Femi Agbaje in the same restaurant they had planned to meet. She remembered his questioning stare, as if he was saying she, Umi, had no right to be there. But that stare had quickly changed to one of attraction, something she pretended to not to see. So far, Iyabo was doing her duties well, although she came off as someone who had other things on her mind, things that could fetch her more money than being a delivery woman for a small laundry company. However, Umi didn’t bother herself with her personal life. As long as she did her job, they were good.
Umi rolled up her sleeves. There was a lot to be laundered. It was going to be a tiring day.
The air was cold and bore with it droplets of rain but Umi did not notice. A mighty wind would come and blow and carry roofs of houses away and she would still remain in her spot. Something about sitting on the hood of her car and watching her neighbors hurry off to work brought comfort to her troubled mind. How else would she escape from the desperate urge to scream out like a mad woman?
Buzor had warned her. Her reasoning had offered to give her sense. But she had been stubborn and listened to her emotions alone. Now, Amra had done it again. Barely four days since she re-entered her life, she disappeared as before – without a note, text or phone call. Gone! Just like that!
The morning on which she showed up, Amra had left to the hotel and brought Zainab’s belongings and a few of hers. Umi would have been observant of this but she had been too occupied with work to care. Amra stayed for three days, cooked, acted like she was all changed but the previous afternoon she left the house, claiming to run to a store nearby to buy tampons.
She was yet to return. Umi was out of her mind. The estate guards claimed they saw her leaving in a car with some guy.
“That yellow one wey get big breast and nyash, abi?” one of the guards described with much pleasure on his face. Umi nodded. “Ah. She don go! We see her dey even hold hand with the man for inside car.”
And that was the most Umi knew about Amra’s whereabouts. She hadn’t bothered to take her number. Now she slapped herself sideways over it.
“Mimi, you’ve been sitting here since 4am. Come inside.”
Quincy was standing by the front door, and for a moment Umi thought she was looking at Amra when she turned to look at her. She was just noticing they had certain similarities. The fair complexion, the curvy figures.
“What will I tell her daughter? The girl has been crying since yesterday.”
“We will keep doing everything to make sure she’s fine. But you have to be fine first. Come in and eat. I warmed up yesterday’s beans. I’m about to make pap.”
“How could Amra do this to me?”
“I doubt that she’ll stay away for long. If we go by what the guards said, then she is probably romping with some guy in some hotel. Let’s give her a week tops.”
“What will I do with Zainab until then?”
“Leave her for me. She’ll be fine.”
Umi didn’t find assurance in Quincy’s words but she followed her in. Zainab was asleep in Umi’s bed as she had left her, clutching her teddy, covered in a blanket. She was an adorable sight and for the moment, this was bliss. But she would wake up and resume another round of madness.
Umi trudged downstairs and endured breakfast. She had a few places she had to be and without a shower, she left the house. When she returned it was way past noon and the cool weather had given way to a sunny one. But this was the least of Umi’s problems, as she had gotten worse news the moment she walked in through the door.
“Zainab is missing!” Quincy announced in a wail. The staff of Umi Yohan laundry services were all in the living room with faces that confirmed the grave news.
“What do you mean, missing?”
“I entered the bathroom to have my bath and when I came out, she was nowhere to be found.”
“I still don’t understand. How did she get missing, Q?”
“What I just told you,” Quincy cried. “She was here, in the parlor and when I came down, she was no longer here. I searched everywhere and I didn’t see her.”
“And you guys didn’t see her too?” Umi asked her staff. None of them had seen her leaving the compound. They had been on a search for her for three hours, going from house to house and streets in the neighborhood.
Umi felt her head spin. This was too much news for her to handle. She needed Buzor.
“Q, call Buzor, please. Tell him to come over.”
Quincy cleaned snot off her nose. “Let me use your phone. I don’t have credit.”
Umi handed her phone over and stood blank-faced as Quincy tried to reach Buzor. The call went through and Umi could hear her speak to him but couldn’t really pick out any words.
“He’s on his way,” Quincy said. Umi felt no relief. Instead she turned around and made out of the door. She was angry. Angry at Amra and her little, spoilt child. Angry at life, her mother, her father and the world at large. And it was with that anger she left her house to search for the girl on her own.
He had a perfect explanation for this. Or at least, it was what he told himself when he hopped into his car and went in search of the woman.
Caught in between wanting to know what Iyabo was truly up to and really wanting to see her again, he’d indulged himself in the playful feeling that came with being unable to shake off her pretty face once he left the restaurant that day.
He had returned to the studio really, but soon realized he could not shake off the feeling of uneasiness that burdened him earlier. Especially with the way things had gone with Iyabo. The feeling stretched on for days and finally, he decided to act on it. And so while he wondered what to do with himself, his mind had presented him with two options.
One was to go hang out at his friend’s bar which was located on the roof of a tall building which had a great view over the ocean and a cool canopy; the other, to go see what the Umi chick was up to.
And if Iyabo was up to no good while he was at it.
So he enjoyed an old Kanye West music while he found his way to the neighborhood that housed her company.
He had been there once… or twice. He honestly really couldn’t remember.
The first time was to come see a chick whom he wanted to lay so bad, and the other time was to drop off her stuff when she purposely left them at his after they finally started having sex.
He could remember clearly now.
She had thought she was clever but he had allowed her humor herself and had dropped it off himself with her security guard on his way to a meeting the following day.
She had been angry. He had been unbothered.
And it was the last time he picked her calls, responded to her messages or called her.
Yeezy was singing about gold diggers now. Nodding his head idly to the music, he realized how much he missed the ‘old Kanye’. It was something he and his boys discussed all the time, with glasses of Hennessy mixed with coke and ice.
“Guy forget, Kanye don change and im music don follow. In fact ehn, I don’t think change is a good thing anymore, I mean look at the current state of the country!” Tomiwa would say, the corners of his mouth giving way to a smile before swigging the drink in his glass.
“He became ‘Ye and we thought it was a good thing. We no know say as Baba lose one half of his name, his genius followed” his other close friend, Korede would sometimes add. “Or maybe we should just blame Kim Kardashian.”
“I miss the old Kanye but I will forever love his music abeg. I like the change.” He would say. Now, as the track switched to something else, the security at the gate allowed him access into the small Estate with buildings all built and painted the same.
Confirming her house number on Google, he began to look for the number of the house, and that was when he saw the little girl wandering the street. She was a cute little thing in her PJs and she looked lost, holding a little teddy.
Normally, he would continue driving but something did not seem right with her. Maybe it was the way she stood, her little hands shielding her forehead while she watched his car drive past and eventually, reverse.
He parked right in front of her.
She looked him over as if deciding whether or not to talk to him and that alone, elicited a smile from him.
“Who are you supposed to be?” she asked and his smile deepened.
She was a spoilt little brat. It didn’t take him long to notice that. It was also no surprise that a child like this was wandering in an estate like this one. Wealthy people’s kids were generally pampered and spoilt rotten. However, there was something more about this kid.
Asides from her accent of course, she seemed like her bluntness was part of her and not her upbringing.
And as much as he found it fascinating, he knew he would smack Teni, his daughter on the butt if she ever talked to anyone like that.
It didn’t matter what position he took on Forbes list or how vast his wealth was, his kid was going to be well mannered.
“Are you lost?” he asked and she rolled her eyes. Eyes that looked red and swollen.
“Where is your mom?”
She was silent. He didn’t notice that she was on the verge of tears.
“Hey young lady, I was trying to help but I see you prefer to stand in the sun.” He began to roll up his glass. “By the way, the sun isn’t good for your skin.”
“Wait!” she said when she realized he was not going to play nice.
He’d successfully sent a message across.
“Can I help you?” he asked her and she nodded slowly.
“Yes. I can’t find my mommy.”
“But you can find your way home?”
“I don’t want to go home. I want my mommy.”
Tears had begun down her rosy cheeks.
“What’s your name?”
“Zainab. My mommy says I shouldn’t talk to strangers but if you promise to help me find her, I can talk to you.”
Femi tried not to laugh.
“Okay. Do you know your way back home?”
“I want my mommy!” she bawled.
“What’s your surname?”
“Your daddy’s name?”
“Mommy said daddy is not a good man.”
Femi wasn’t sure what to do with her but it was important he took her home. He came down from the car.
“Please, Zainab, tell me you know your way back home.”
“If I did I wouldn’t be lost,” she pointed out and bawled louder while he laughed. “Okay, if you show me your way home, I’ll bring your mommy back to you. Deal?”
She turned off her tears like a tap. “My mommy knows you?” There was a suspicious look on her face.
“Yeah,” he replied, afraid that the child saw through his lie.
“My mommy knows many men.”
“Oh. Well…I’ll get her for you.”
Femi opened the front passenger door and let her in, remembering to wipe the tears from her eyes.
She strapped her seatbelt the moment she hopped in beside him and shut the door. Thankfully, the estate wasn’t big, so he planned to take a short trip around and hoped she recognized her house.
He had barely driven far when he spotted Umi. She looked angry and exhausted – and still damn sexy.
“That’s my Aunt.” His little companion said calmly.
“Umi’s your Aunt?” he asked, surprised. The child nodded in response. Slowing down beside the woman, he rolled down the glass on his companion’s side. “Hey.” He called.
Umi stared at her niece before she looked his way and he saw relief wash through her petite frame.
But the relief was quickly gone and it was replaced by anger. “What did you think you were doing, going off like that?!” she shouted and as if suddenly realizing that the scolding was better done in private, she directed her gaze to him. And again, the anger was gone, replaced quickly by a look of gratitude and a smile.
He had to admit, she changed her expressions so quick, even PHCN would be jealous – because even they couldn’t switch electricity that fast.
“Thank you,” she said to him, opened the door and spoke to her niece. “Come down so we don’t keep the nice gentleman.”
And as his stubborn little companion meekly dropped out of his car, he realized he was further attracted to this woman.
She had that faux smile his mother usually had when he was about to have his ass whooped too many times, he couldn’t sit when she was done. Those beatings were so serious that he forgot how to sit even when his butt healed.
And somehow, the fact that she reminded him of his mother and how he was going to handle his kids if they ever decided to go on a self-imposed mission around his estate turned him on.
If he ever thought it was an option to leave this woman alone before, he just got his reason to stay.
“It’s okay. I was going to come pay you a courtesy visit anyway,” he said and her brows furrowed in a deep frown. “I wanted to come discuss laundry and anything else you wanted to discuss. And to apologize for being rude the last time.” He grinned when her frown refused to give way to another expression.
Zainab wasn’t moved by the scene before her. Tears had begun to form in her eyes again. Femi noticed it.
“Let me take you home,” he said. “Please,” he added when he realized Umi was going to turn him down.
She got in his backseat while Zainab remained in front. They rode in silence until he pulled up in the building that housed her office and her apartment.
“Thank you,” she said and was about to get out when he asked, “Can we have drinks?”
She contemplated his offer and that surprised him. He did not think she would think about it, he had been certain she would discard the offer as soon as it came from him.
She intrigued him. The more he tried to understand or figure her out, the more she drew him in.
It was interesting to him. He hadn’t seen or met anyone like that in a while. She seemed to have more layers than onions.
“Fine. Bullet. In two hours.”
And like that she was gone with Zainab who stared back at him with disappointment in her eyes.
As he watched Umi’s retreating figure, a smile formed and stayed on his face.
He was so going to lay this woman – all spread out on his bed, arms spread like a quarter past three.