The old things have passed away…
-2nd Corinthians 5
“You have no idea who this person is?” Papa twirled a gold-plated Mont Blanc pen around his fingers, an expression of annoyance resting on his face.
“No,” Love responded to his question concerning the video she had just shown him and Leye. They were in Papa’s home office. Najib was also present. Love was having a lunch of cheese and macaroni, cooked by Asher.
“This is good,” she commented. “Yummy.”
The duo of her husband and father-in-law looked at her. They both found it weird that she was not perturbed by the video or the fact that someone was after her. But then, she was Loveth. A different breed of female.
“You’re not bothered by this?” Leye asked.
“Bothered?” Love responded after a delay of three seconds, when it occurred to her that his question had been directed at her. “Why should I be bothered when I have you three taking care of me?”
“Of course, we’ll handle this,” Papa assured.
“But you have no idea who sent it?”
“No, Jeremiah. Clearly, it’s the same person that killed them.”
“What if somebody else found out about the affair and was recording it and witnessed the murders and now wants to extort you?” Najib theorized.
“It’s possible,” Papa agreed.
“But he or she said I was not the target.”
“I’m thinking it could be Jenewari’s wife,” Leye mentioned. “She may be the target. She’s rich.”
“You have a point.”
“Could you call and ask her if she’s been contacted as well?”
“I’ll call an investigator,” Papa said rising up. Najib, you will work together with him. We have to find out who is doing this.”
“You may leave.”
Najib made his exit. Papa walked to Love. “How is the little one doing?”
He gave her shoulder a rub. “You’re sure you don’t want to see someone? A therapist, maybe? That was some disturbing footage we just watched.”
“No, I’m good.”
“Yes, daddy. But seriously, Asher’s such an awesome cook!”
“It runs in the blood,” Leye responded.
“Omoleye?” Papa called.
“Let’s take a walk.”
Out on the long stretch of tarmac than ran through the estate the Omotoshos lived in, Papa and Leye took a lazy stroll under a sunless sky. They were both dressed in shorts and t-shirts. Anyone passing by could easily tell they were father and son.
“I heard you’ll be speaking tomorrow in church, after I do?” Papa asked as they took the road that went further into the estate.
“I’d like to ask that you don’t.”
“I have to. I need to explain that you weren’t’ responsible for Asher’s disappearance.”
“I appreciate that you’d do that, but you don’t have to. It’s time you stopped being responsible for my actions.”
Papa stopped, forcing Leye to stop as well. Papa held his son’s eyes. “I was a reckless father, and you stepped in and made decisions for me to protect my name, the church and the family. And you didn’t have to. My actions created this wedge between us, son, and I wish I could go back and undo everything. You grew up too fast and took upon yourself burdens that were too big for you to handle. I am sorry – for all you went through, for all you saw your mother go through.”
Leye continued walking. Papa followed him. The pace had increased. Leye was courting a frown on his face.
“We had a bad marriage, your mom and I, but I will not stand on that pulpit tomorrow to blame her, or let you take the blame for all I did. I could have fixed my marriage with a little more love and patience. I should have. But I didn’t, and everyone got hurt. It’s sad that it had to take a death threat for me to wake up. But I’m glad for that heart attack. I’m also glad I got another chance to make up for my mistakes. Please, let me right them all.”
Leye stopped again. He looked like he might say something but he didn’t.
“Thank you for being the head of the home all these years,” Papa went on. “I’m humbled and proud at the same time, to say that you’re a better man than I’ll ever be.”
“You know why most pastors’ kids turn away from the faith?”
“I have a theory.”
“Hypocrisy from their parents. Double standards. Pressure from the church members to live perfect lives because everyone assumes their parents are perfect. And in the midst of this, no one asks them what they want, who they desire to be. Everyone assumes the anointing runs in the veins. No one knows half of what they go through. That was my life, dad. I faced the heat outside, and inside, there was no comfort. I left the faith to find my own happiness, but I was drawn back to come and clean up your mess.”
“It’s time for you to stop. Let me be your father, Omoleye. Be my son again. Stop holding on to the past. I’ve let go.”
Leye pushed his hands into the pockets of his khakis. “You have a lot of catching up to do, old man. A lot of explanation.”
Leye hit the road again. “For starters, why do you like them young?”
Papa laughed, recalling Asher’s question which ran along the same lines. Both brothers were alike, poles apart from their sisters who revered him and hardly questioned anything he did or said. Papa knew Leye was going to make things difficult for him, but he was also certain that the bridge was finally being mended.
After a short tour around the estate, they returned to the house. Love had gone home and Asher was alone, organizing his bedroom. Earlier, he and Papa had visited Imaan to officially inform her that he was moving out of hers to Papa’s. The woman had cried, explaining to Papa how much of a son Asher was to her. He was the only one allowed to call her ‘mommy’. The longest residing child in the orphanage. He had lived in her personal quarters from his teenage years. Letting him go was a painful affair for her.
“I’m still here, mom,” he assured her. “I’ll see you every weekend.”
“So they say,” Imaan replied with a playful frown, “and then you don’t hear from them again.”
Asher hugged her. “You know I won’t do that to you.”
“Call me. Always.”
Upon leaving, Papa handed Imaan an envelope containing a check. When she took a peep and saw how much the orphanage had been gifted, her jaw fell.
“Thank you, George.”
“It’s the least I can do.”
Her face went warm with recollection. “If there was anything Moji never stopped loving about you, it was your generosity. She said you had a good heart beneath the rubbles.”
Papa didn’t like the memory of Moji being dredged up. It always left a hole in his heart.
“Have a lovely day, Imaan.”
On their way home, Asher asked about Moji.
“Nothing you need to know, son. I’d rather talk about your biological mother. Ready to meet her?”
Asher answered in the affirmative but as the hours passed, he became increasingly unsure about meeting Phoebe. At the moment, he explained to Papa that he wasn’t ready.
“A lot has happened since yesterday. My head is still spinning from everything. You think that maybe we could wait until after church tomorrow?” he requested, taking out a pile of novels from a carton beside his bed to a reading table.
“We should get you a bookshelf,” Papa commented as he entered the bedroom.
“We would love to wait until tomorrow, Ash,” Leye stated. “But your mom…she’s unpredictable.”
“Volatile, you mean?”
“She might just go online with another interview. Or if she hears that you’re with us and we didn’t contact her…”
Asher leaned on the table. “What if I don’t like her?”
Papa turned. “She’s your mother. You have to like her.”
“But nobody seems to like her.”
“You will like her, Asher,” Papa repeated firmly. “What kind of car do you want? Or would you rather have a grand piano.”
Leye smiled and whispered to Asher. “He fusses a lot. Get used to it.”
Leye went downstairs and waited in the living room. He had few Saturdays like this which left him loafing about. Even his back to back lectures at the Lagos Business School had been canceled for the day. It would have been a perfect evening to spend in some hotel suite with Love, away from the stress, pampered by luxury.
But he had to accompany Papa and Asher to Phoebe’s, on Papa’s request. His presence wasn’t needed at the meeting but Papa had insisted. All Leye was concerned about was to see an end to the drama. He was also seeking ways to lessen the workload his wife heaped on herself daily. He was going to get her an assistant administrator. She would object, but he would be firm on his decision. He was scared of losing a second unborn child. He wasn’t sure if he would be able to handle another loss.
The sounds of Asher and Papa laughing as they came down the stairs pulled him away from the content that had taken his attention on the internet. He led the way out. Papa’s chauffeur in his efficient manner was ready for them. They got into the waiting SUV and journeyed to Phoebe’s. She hadn’t been told what the visit was about. Hence when she came to answer the door, wearing a scowl that matched the dull-colored top and sweater she had on, she came with an attitude.
“I’m not going back online to retract what I said,” she declared, turning away from them without a greeting. “You can start leaving if that’s why you’re here.”
“A wonderful evening to you too, Phoebe,” Papa responded.
She turned. “How may I help you?” Her manner slowed when she spotted Asher. She kept her stare on him a little longer and then faced Papa again.
“May we sit?” he asked.
The three men sat on a long settee in the tight living room. Long legs were drawn up to avoid hitting the center table. Phoebe threw another curious stare at Asher.
“Phoebe,” Papa spoke, “when I told you I knew nothing about our son, I wasn’t lying.”
“Let me finish. I knew nothing. And your suspicions about him being taken away from you by the persons mentioned in your great reveal online were true. I only got to find out about him yesterday when the truth was disclosed to me by Leye.”
Papa paused. He was expecting a reaction from her, but she was silent, eyes still on Asher.
“Our son is alive. I met him just yesterday, and yes, he’s the one you’re staring at right now.”
Phoebe gasped in a slow manner, hand to her chest.
“Phoebe, meet your son, Asher. Asher, your mother.”
Asher stood out of respect and presented an awkward pose. He seemed unsure of what to do. But Phoebe was on her feet as well, taking dawdling steps towards him, as if she was scared that he would disappear if she walked faster.
When she was standing at just a breathing distance from him, she began to murmur speechlessly.
“Ash… Asher?” she finally said. “That’s your name?”
“It means laughter.” Her face broke into a smile that creased her eyes and forced tears down her cheeks. She held his face. “You’re so handsome and perfect. So wonderfully made.”
She went speechless again, pulling her sweater over her face to sob into it. Asher drew her in for a hug. He gave her comforting back rubs as she cried. But she broke away abruptly and went to Papa.
“I’m so sorry. I’m truly sorry. Please, forgive me.” She began falling to her knees before him but Leye picked her up.
“No need to apologize, Phoebe,” Papa replied. “You did what anyone would do. It was malicious but very human.”
“If you want me to go online again and say–”
“That won’t be necessary,” Leye cut in.
“Once more, I’m sorry.”
She gave Asher her attention again. “This is the happiest day of my life, baby boy.”
“Baby boy?” Asher laughed.
“Yes nau. You’re my baby.” She dusted something imaginary off the sleeve of his shirt. “I may not be as rich as your dad but I’ll take care of you really well. I’ve saved up some good money for you. We’ll be best of friends. Won’t we?”
“I’m soooo happy. I’ve imagined this moment many, many times. I said I would jump for joy, sing, dance… But you’re here now and I’m too overwhelmed to say or do anything. I’m gathering momentum, I guess.”
“My darling boy.” She brought his hands together and kissed them one after the other. “God is being so good to me right now. Lord Jesus, thank you. I don’t know what to say.”
Asher was also at a loss for words. He remained awkwardly standing. She embraced him again, resting her head on his chest, and from a broken voice she began to sing.
Papa sighed and said to Leye in a low tone. “This is going to take a while.” He stood up. “Em… Phoebe?”
Asher shook his head at him censoriously.
“Okay, then. I’ll be waiting in the car,” he whispered.
He made his exit, but just as he crossed the street to get to his SUV, Phoebe came running after him.
“Can Asher come and stay with me for a while?”
“And if I say no, you’ll go online and grant another interview?”
“George…” Phoebe pushed wisps of her weave off her face. “You probably hate me.”
“I was just making a joke. Asher is an adult. He can decide to do as he pleases, but God help you, Phoebe, that you poison his mind against me. I will unleash my wrath on you.”
“It won’t come to that.”
“You have everything you want now. Leave me, BCC and my family alone.”
“I will. Thank you, again.”
“I did nothing but bring him to you.”
“No, thank you for the most amazing chapter in my life.” She went doe-eyed, giving him a look that took him years back to when they had a thing. “Even though it ended abruptly and sadly. Thank you for giving me an amazing son.”
“You have to close that chapter, Phoebe. Let go of the past. I already have. Stop being the woman who can lift up holy hands in church on Sunday and backstab on Monday. The saint to sinner and back to saint thing again will destroy you. Asher has come to restore your laughter and all the years lost. Hold on to him with all your heart.”
“Good. Have a lovely evening. Please, tell them I’m waiting in the car.”
Phoebe returned to the house and Papa sat in the backseat of the SUV, waiting for his sons. They joined him after a short while, Leye sitting behind and Asher in the front passenger seat, holding a pink teddy.
“She gave you that?” Papa asked.
Asher responded with laughter. “She said she’s had it since she was pregnant with me. She thought I was going to be a girl.”
The vehicle went into motion.
“So, are you still wondering if you’ll like her?”
“I do. Weirdly. She’s…different.”
“I concur,” Papa said.
“She invited me for lunch tomorrow.”
“You should buy something for her. Your mom has been without love or family for a long time. She needs you.”
Leye lowered his head in the direction of Papa’s ear. “Alice is under the weather. The whole Phoebe thing has gotten to her. Wemi called. She couldn’t reach your line. The ex-wife of one of Alice’s former lovers exposed details of their affair on Instagram and one of the big blogs shared the story.”
“Good Lord.” Papa lifted his head and gave his chauffeur instructions to take them to Alice’s home. He returned to Leye. “Call up the lawyer. He should file a libel suit against the blog.”
“They weren’t the only ones that published the piece.”
“Every blog then. All of them. I don’t care about anything they wrote on me. But everything on Alice must be brought down and whoever wrote it, including their webmasters, sued.”
Papa turned grim-faced. Alice was more valuable to him than he let on. He was upset with himself for putting her in the line of fire. She had a weakness when it came to situations like this. Her reputation was golden. Having worked hard to erase her past, she had done a good job of creating a personality many young people looked up to. She was virtuous and honest, and viewed life only through the lens of right and wrong, black and white. There were hardly any grey areas for Alice, and it was one of the reasons Papa loved her. She was his moral compass. The thirty-three year difference between them never stopped her from putting him straight whenever he erred. She was invaluable to him, which was why it angered him that her name was splashed all over the news.
When they arrived at her apartment, he walked in alone, instructing the chauffeur to leave with his sons. He found Tara washing her clothes outside. She abandoned the activity and curtsied before him.
He gave a half smile and sauntered in. The scent of Alice’s unique perfume welcomed him as he walked towards her bedroom. The door was open. He knocked and went in. Alice was in the company of Wemimo and some other woman whom he immediately identified as a nurse. She had just pulled out a digital thermometer from Alice’s mouth before Alice bent over to vomit in a bucket held in front of her by Wemimo.
“Good evening, Papa,” Wemimo greeted.
“Good evening, sir,” the nurse threw a look his way. Papa nodded.
“How is she doing?”
“It’s malaria,” Wemimo answered. “And she’s not been able to put anything down. She just threw up the drugs and food she took.”
“Her temperature is rising,” the nurse revealed. “Alice I have to give you injection o. At least, to lower this fever.”
Alice protested with a groan. Papa was amused. He knew Alice was scared of needles.
“Nurse, is there no other way you can lower the fever ni?” Wemimo asked. “Because we’ll enter drama now with this injection thing.”
“She has to take it.”
“I don’t want to,” Alice griped.
“You have to.”
Wemimo took the bucket to the bathroom.
“Sir, can you give us a minute, please?” the nurse requested politely.
Papa retreated to the living room where he made a phone call to the family lawyer to confirm if Leye had reached him. The answer he got was favorable. Emails would soon be sent to the webmasters of all the blogs with warnings over possible libel suits if the publications about Alice weren’t taken down.
“Keep me updated,” Papa instructed and hung up. Waiting outside Alice’s door was Wemimo. Papa looked at her inquiringly. The last time she was this close to him, she was making a foolish attempt at seduction by stripping for him.
“Alice is losing her mind,” Wemimo revealed. “I’m glad you’re here. Please, talk some sense into her, Papa.”
“What do you mean by she’s losing her mind?”
“When you go in and meet her you’ll understand what I mean.”
Wemimo left his presence at the same time the nurse emerged from the room.
“You can go in now, sir.”
“Will she be able to eat or take her drugs?”
“You’re welcome, sir.”
Papa knocked on Alice’s door. He got no answer but went in. He heard the shower running. He sat on her bed. The room was in all ways feminine and cozy. It conveyed a sense of softness and nuance. It was a boudoir of pink and black, with scalloped bedding, tasseled pillows and an asymmetrical chaise at the foot of the bed that conveyed Alice’s distinct way of being understated, yet chic.
The bathroom door opened and Alice emerged, body covered in a towel.
“You’re a sight for sore eyes,” she said, as if just seeing him. He went to her, putting his arms around her. “What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I told her not to tell anyone.”
“You wanted to hide this from me?”
“I’ll feel better in a bit.”
She walked to her closet to get a nightshirt which she slipped into. Afterwards, she sat on the bed. Papa sat with her.
“How are you doing?”
She shook her head. “Terribly.”
He put one leg up on the bed, bending it by the knee. “Look at me.”
She turned. A sad gaze met him.
He touched her cheek, running his finger down and then gently pulling her face to his.
“Everything will be over soon. I’m sorry you have to go through this,” he spoke, lips over hers. She kissed him softly. Her mouth was warmer than normal, as was her skin.
“You should rest.”
She kept her face on his.
“I can’t do this, George,” she said.
“I meant us. I can’t continue.”
Papa broke the connection, moving away slowly. “Because of what’s happening?”
“George, the whole world thinks we’re fornicating.”
“No. The whole world does not think that. And once I announce our engagement tomorrow…”
“It won’t change anything.”
“It will, but who cares about what people think is going on here, Alice? What we have is between us alone.”
“I care what people think.” She carried an edgy tone. “Just go online and type in Alice Monoyo and see what comes out. How about the teenagers and single sisters I’ve been coaching? You think they’ll believe I haven’t been sleeping with you for three years?”
“We are getting married, Alice. That should be all that matters.”
“Marriage won’t change anything.” In frustration, she moved away from him, pulling herself into the bed. “No one would believe we love each other. I’ll still be seen as the gold digger that married an older man for his money. I don’t want to carry that label on my head, George.”
“Don’t carry it, then. Duchess, my God! You have to grow up. Have a tough skin. A little squall blows and you fall like this?”
“This is more than a little squall, George.”
“Because you are making it so. Nobody’s opinion should matter but mine. I’m the one who loves you here. Not the world out there. They don’t factor in this. In what we share. It’s time you realized that.”
“I’m thinking that we probably rushed into this relationship and we’re rushing into marriage too.” She held Papa’s eyes as she spoke. There were no shifting looks; just wet, sad eyes that conveyed the gravity of her words.
“Alice, what’s happening to us right now is ephemeral. It will pass.”
“Then let it pass. Let the squall blow and the dust settle, and then we can think about us again. Right now, I sincerely cannot continue.”
Papa didn’t argue further. He let in a short bout of silence that ended with a thoughtful nod. “I understand. As you wish.”
Her face broke and fell into a fresh snivel. He pulled towards her and held her in a pacifying hug, her face pressed to his neck. She was comforted with gentle words which broke her further.
“I love you,” he said, “and I’ll be waiting for you.”
When he disengaged from her, she tugged him back for an intense kiss. Afterwards, she lay down and requested for a prayer.
He held her hand in his and stroked her fingers as he prayed, resting tender eyes on her.
“Amen,” she murmured when he was through. He bent over her for one last kiss. It was delivered in pauses. Between each gap, Papa whispered a message to her.
In the living room, Wemimo and Tara were seated, watching something on television. They looked up at him curiously when he stepped out.
“Request me an Uber, Wemi. Tara, get me a glass of freezing water.”
He sat. Wemimo’s eyes remained on him in a questioning look as she engaged in the activity of requesting an Uber taxi.
“There’s one around,” she announced. “About two minutes.”
“Thank you. Request in cash.”
“Please, let this be on me, Papa. I’m only too happy to be a blessing to you.”
He gave a cheerless smile. “Thank you.”
Tara returned with a glass of water. She offered it to him.
“Your friend is going to tell you that we’re no longer together,” he stated. Both ladies stared at each other. “It’s the truth. Please, don’t scold her.”
“You guys broke up?” Wemimo asked.
“I told Alice not to do this. I told her not to. Papa, please don’t take her seriously.”
“I am. She’s upset. Understandably.”
“It’s not serious, sir,” Tara remarked. “It will come and pass. Just ignore her. We’ll talk sense into her.”
“No, please, let her be. She needs to do this. She needs to be alone to sort out her feelings and grow a tough skin or else this relationship won’t mean anything to her. She needs to fall in love with me, all on her own. So, let her be, no matter how long it takes. She’ll come back to me.”
He chugged down his water.
“We’re not happy, Papa,” Wemimo stated.
“Neither am I, but it’s fine.”
Wemimo’s phone rang.
“The Uber is here.”
Papa stood. “Have a blessed evening, ladies.”
They walked him all the way to the gate and stood like two lost puppies as he got into the Uber and disappeared into the darkness.
“That girl must be mad,” Wemimo said in annoyance, trudging back to the house. “She’ll hear it from me this night.”
Tara hurried after her. “You heard Papa. Leave her.”
“I just want to talk to her.”
“Leave her, Wemi.”
“You don’t understand.” Wemimo stopped. “Papa’s the best thing that ever happened to Alice. To me, too. Their relationship has given me hope that good can still come out of a shitty life. You don’t get a second chance like this. And yet she’s throwing it away because of what exactly?! What stupid reputation is more important than a man like Papa?! Like let me just go in there and slap her head back to sense!”
“But why is Alice doing like this? Ehn? Me, I think her village people just woke up from sleep o.”
Tara didn’t want to laugh, but she couldn’t help it, not when Wemimo meant every word she said. She burst into mirth, covering her mouth to stifle the sound.
“It’s not funny!” Wemimo continued towards the house. “I’ll fast and pray for her. This is not ordinary at all! Nonsense and reputation!”
Tara fell into more laughter.