Lola tried to heave herself up when she heard her father’s voice. She didn’t want him to see her like that. Her hands were floppy. Weighing heavy beside her.
Her father did not find her slumped on the floor alone. Her mother and sister were with him. But it was her father that rushed to her side. The one who called out her name and asked what happened in swiftly spoken Bini.
“Is she okay?” Her mother asked.
“Does she look okay?” Jackie replied whilst helping their father support Lola into bed.
“I’m fine” Lola said quickly. “I think I fainted.” She had tried hard to remember. All she came up with were jumbled memories that would not fit into a coherent whole. She remembered shouting at her husband. She remembered telling him that she was going home to her parents’ and his meekness when he brought her a cup of tea.
“Why did you faint? Why would you faint Omolola and be unable to get up.” Her mother was no longer standing back. She had unknotted and taken off her neck scarf. She did not notice Lola’s father who was trying to communicate something with facial gestures.
“Looks like someone got knocked up.” Her sister did not look at their mother. She winked at her as she sidled in beside her.
“What do you mean she got knocked up? Did someone hit you with a machine at work? This your nursing job can be dangerous sha.”
“My sister is defo feeling great. She has been busy with her husband. That’s all.”
“Shut your mouth. What do you know about such things?”
“As much as my sister did when she got married.”
“Darling,” her mother turned to her father. She bore the grave look she had on her face when she found a pack of cigarettes in Peter’s school bag. It didn’t matter that Peter was keeping the pack for a girl at school. He received his punishments. One slap that made him go dizzy. Midnight reflection period with their father for a week. And of course, the constant retelling of that story during family gatherings. “See what I mean with this girl?”
Her father was too busy holding Lola’s hands and muttering. “Thank you, Jesus.” When he smiled, it was etched broadly on his face. “Congratulations my girl.”
“I thank God for you. This child will be bigger than both its father and mother.”
“Why didn’t you come and stay with us? We would have looked after you.”
“You don’t look fine. This is why The Holy Spirit led me here.” He had his warehouse security uniform on under his brown leather jacket. He didn’t like visiting people in his uniform and Lola guessed he had come shortly after work. Perhaps after picking up her mother and sister. “I had to see you, Osaibvie. You know we don’t see you much these days.”
“Go and get your sister something to eat and drink.” Her mother said to Jackie.
“Can I get myself something too?” Jackie asked. “I’m starving. I haven’t eaten.”
“And what do you call the eggs, bread and plantain you had this afternoon?”
“Go and get what I asked you jo, ode buruku.”
Jackie walked out of the bedroom, stomping her feet as she left the room.
“I’m tired of that girl. Do you know she cleared the fridge again last night? The chicken and turkey pieces I put there for the soup today, all gone. She even ate the sausage rolls and chocolate. Even the special cheese for the women’s meeting.”
Lola was struggling to keep her eyes open. Although she didn’t feel as ill as she felt whilst on the floor, it worried her that something was wrong with her. That whatever it was, could affect the baby.
Her father squeezed her hands tighter. He had always been able to tell when she was keeping things back. Her mother wasn’t this intuitive.
“If she really doesn’t know what she is doing, how come she leaves the lettuce, pap and bottled water untouched? What kind of condition is that? She doesn’t touch the fruits, onions and garlic o. What about the bitter leaf juice in the fridge? Her eyes no see am? Na nice things she sees?”
“We know why she is like this.” Her father glanced at her mother and sighed. “This is why we need to talk to her.”
“There is nothing we need to say to her.”
“You have to.” Lola had meant to say they were all tired of the secrets. Instead, she found herself stifling another yawn.
“When is your husband back from the hospital?” Her father asked. “We need to ring him so that he can come back home. Or should we take you to the hospital?”
“I’m fine, Dad.”
“She is pregnant, not ill,” her mother said. She was talking of how she suffered with her pregnancies when they heard something dropping to the floor and smashing downstairs. “What is that girl breaking again? God help us deliver her from this laziness of hers.” She shook her head repeatedly and puffed. “This is how she eats at home, puts the plate on the floor and starts snoring.”
“I will go and see what’s going on.” Her father’s eyebrows went up.
It was his way of telling them when they were children that their mother’s nagging session had started. At times, she felt sorry for him. At times, however, she knew not to worry for under her mother’s tetchiness and grumbling lay admiration and respect for her father.
Her mother sat beside her after he left. Her lips were pouty. She tended to do this whenever she disapproved of something Lola had done. A regular occurrence.
“I’m fine, Mummy.” Lola said. “You don’t have to call John.”
“You are really fine?”
“Nothing you want to tell me?”
“Like why you are cheating on your husband.”
Lola lifted her head up. She would have pushed the bedspread off her body and scrambled out of bed if she could. Her drowsiness would have completely lifted. Her weariness, a fleeting memory.
“Pastor John called me at the shop today. He said you barely let him touch you.” Her mother took off the headscarf around her cornrolls and placed it with the brighter one that had been on her neck. Now neatly folded on her lap.
“And that means I’m cheating on him?”
“He said Omari … abi Omaye or whatever his name is, has been calling you.”
“Omar called me, yes. That doesn’t mean anything is going on. I didn’t even speak to him when he called.”
“Why are you even still speaking with him? Do you not know you are now a married woman? A pastor’s wife for that matter. Why are you messing around with a man your father would never have let you marry?”
“I’m not messing around…”
“Are you not the one that told us his father has three wives? Or have you forgotten that Omar cheated on you and impregnated a girl? Have you forgotten too soon how Pastor John took pity on you? He didn’t even care that another man had used you. Abi, you have forgotten that he could have picked a younger girl that had not messed around.”
Lola pulled herself into a sitting position. The action left her out of breath. She wanted to tell her mother Omar did not use her. That he understood when she told him she didn’t want to sleep with him. Unlike John, whose fingers she woke up to on Monday morning. He had pushed her legs apart and entered her before she could say good morning.
“Men are not like us,” her mother’s voice softened considerably. “You have to be patient.”
“Divorce is not an option,” she repeated what her mother said too often when she was growing up. Resting back and pulling the bedspread over her body. “I will try harder.”
“Divorce is not for you. Over my dead body.” Her mother raised her hand over her head in a swift motion. “You have seen what happened to Yemi after she left her husband. She had to marry a Muslim who already had a wife and five daughters. What about Kehinde’s mother?”
“Aunty’s husband died in a car accident. It’s not her fault.”
“Yes, that’s true. But she tells me that the respect is not there anymore. When the women in church need to talk about marriage, they come to me or you. No one goes to her.” They heard hurried footsteps and her mother stopped talking.
“Sorry Lola,” her father came in and placed the glass of orange squash in his hand on the table. “Your sister was fighting with the gas cooker.”
“You have to tell her the truth, Daddy.” Lola said.
“I know. Not right now though. I want to drive up to Warren Street to go and see Kehinde. You know she is on her own.”
“Yes, you should go and see that cousin of mine. She is going through a lot with Tony. I messed up again, so she is not talking to me at the moment. She needs someone to talk to, Daddy.”
“She will be okay.” Her mother smiled. “Tony called your dad on Sunday morning to tell him he wants to marry her soon.”
“I’m not sure that’s still on the cards.” Lola did not know how to explain what happened. What she feared was, her mother would blame her and most likely support John if she knew what happened.
“Okay, we need you here, sha.” her mother gestured for him to sit down. “Please let’s talk about Jackie before she comes in with the food. I’m worried.”
Kenny did not know how long she had been in the same room with Uncle Kola for. He was telling her about the heat in Ghana, shuffling his legs now and again, talking about when he lived in London as if nothing bad had happened whilst he lived there.
She had sat down because she needed to. Light-headed, legs unable to hold her up. She sat down. Right on the edge. Her phone somewhere under her folded arms.
She never expected him back so she had never thought of what to say to him. She didn’t know what she was supposed to feel or why her anger chose today to wilt like a dead plant. Even though he was the same – in his mannerisms, the lowering of his voice when he said her name, the way his legs moved – he did not look like the Uncle Kola she dreamt of. He seemed milder. Older in appearance and in the patient manner he asked of her mother.
“My mother will be back soon.” Her voice was like that of a frightened girl. A familiar one. Cindy’s.
“I know your mother is not here.” Uncle Kola sat back in the chair, arms spread out. “Yemi told me she has gone to see Tayelolu.”
Kenny thought of Sister Yemi, her mother’s sister. The woman was fond of sending her messages on Facebook. Sending her the odd text about their lack of communication. Saying she should behave like Lola and try to be friendlier.
Sister Yemi was one of those that called her mother from Nigeria when people found out what Uncle Kola did. She had shrieked on the phone and threatened to kill him if he came near her.
Perhaps, Sister Yemi would never be rid of him. After all, he fathered her daughter, Jackie.
“I will tell my mother you came.” He was staring into her face so she tilted her neck downwards to her phone like someone expecting a call. “My fiancé will soon be here. He won’t be happy if he sees you here.”
“Isn’t that the fiancé that Yemi said ran away from you?” He grinned. “The one Yemi said you let Lola’s sister tell lies about.”
She gaped at him. He was grinning the way a typical uncle would. Like one who hadn’t hurt his nieces.
“I wanted to make sure you and your mother are fine. So, I asked Yemi about you. She was always ringing me when I lived in Ghana. Even in Spain.”
“She is loyal to you because she had your child,” she snapped. “There is nothing else to it.”
“Jackie of course, who else?”
He laughed. A throaty laughter that was too familiar. It reminded her of how he laughed when she tried to fight him off with a wooden stick one afternoon.
“You don’t care about your daughter. Surprise, surprise.”
“She is not my daughter, Kehinde. Go and ask whoever lied to you again.”
“You are denying her?”
“Look here,” he snapped his fingers. “I did not impregnate anybody. There were two men in that house with Yemi in Lagos. Your father, me and Yemi. You get brain. Use it.”
“Liar,” she screamed at him. She screamed again when he tried to speak. “My father was not like you. He didn’t sleep with my mother’s sister.” She could hear her own voice urging Cyndi to swim at work. It was better to battle the waves than be carried away by the current.
She jumped up because she knew him too well. He had risen and was coming towards her. Leering. She could ring the police but it would take several minutes before they got to her.
“I’m not the little girl you hurt anymore.” Although her heart was thumping the way it did every few days when she was a child, she did not want him to know this. “Jackie had a lucky escape. Thank God you were an absent dad. As for me, I wish I never set eyes on you again.”
“Akehinde,” the smirk on his face vanished. “You and I were friends. Do you not remember how you used to come back early from school to see me? Enh?”
“You are sick,” she pushed past him, the air in the house was stifling. She could hear a car parking up outside and the tap-tap of footsteps. She stared straight at her uncle because she knew, it was Tony out there. She would run into Tony’s arms, the last few days forgotten.
“Tony, it’s Uncle Kola.” She yelled even before she had opened the door and seen who it was out there.
The sudden rush in her veins slowed. It was John. Not Tony.
“What! He is here?” John’s eyes bulged as he barged into the house. He stared at Uncle Kola who simply grinned. “It’s you. You are Uncle Kola?”