Toni finally found the stomach to watch Mark’s videos. He had had so much to say, recounting their years together and how life had been for him when they fell apart. He didn’t give details about his marriage to Nkechi, but talked at length about being a father to Ruby and Duke. His biggest hurt, apart from losing Toni, was knowing his kids were going to grow up without him.
She stopped the video. There were three unwatched ones left. She was saving them for a time when her heart would be strong enough to handle them. She found that she was becoming mushy lately. The children made her defenseless to her emotions. But her newly found mushiness didn’t extend to the workplace. She had even become less pleasant with her subordinates. Maybe Andre could be blamed for her toughness. Certain projects and clients had brought them together, throwing them into extra office hours that sometimes had them working late nights. Toni discovered that he was a perfectionist and a better leader than she was. He drove himself hard but knew the right amount of push to give his team to bring out the best in them. He had become the favorite boss in a flash, knocking Christie off her unbeatable position. Toni was proud of him, but would sooner die than let him know how she felt.
He was also a cool colleague to work with. At least, that was how she chose to see his wicked manner of torturing her when they were alone at work. He always paid for the snacks they consumed during extra hours. He sometimes came up behind her chair to look over her work and deliver her a seemingly innocent shoulder squeeze. Last Friday, when she complained of a headache, he played soothing music, gave her an analgesic and then sat across the table from her, making funny faces that none of the other staff noticed. She had kept a straight expression for a long time, but ended up in laughter that left everyone else perplexed.
She liked that he was seducing her, but hated him for doing it.
The morning saw her in a lazy mood. It felt to her like her feet were a pair of concrete slabs, and her hands, lead weights. The curtains were open to let in the sun but she was drowsy and yawned every two minutes or so. She hadn’t slept well in days, thanks to Duke. His intermittent fevers had eventually given way to malaria the weekend before and had kept her sleepless and away from work through the week. She was to resume today after a stretch of a four-day absence. A full day’s rest would do her some good, but Easter was here already and she needed to catch up with her team.
She also blamed Leticia for her exhaustion. Last night, she had dragged everyone to the house for an all-nighter in church. To Toni’s amazement, she had found the service pleasant. The songs by the worship leader were soulful. They were supposed to be a reminder of the death of Christ, but to Toni, they meant more. They reminded her of her mother and Mark.
When they got home, she laid in-between Ruby and Duke and told them stories of their father they had never heard before.
“Aunty Toni, we’re not sad. Daddy is in heaven,” Ruby muttered.
“I want to go to heaven,” Duke said.
“Not today, Duky Duke,” Toni answered.
“I want to see my daddy.”
“Daddy’s dead,” Ruby told him.
“No, he went to heaven.”
“You know those sugar ants you like killing?”
“He died like them.”
“They killed him with sneakers?”
Toni didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
“No,” Ruby replied. “He died. He was sick. You saw him na. Why are you asking all these questions?”
“Aunty Toni, if I get sick again will I die?”
“No, darling. You won’t.”
“I want to die so that I can go to heaven. I want to see my daddy.”
“You’re not going to die!” Ruby retorted. “Stop saying that!”
“I’ll come back again. Jesus came back.”
“You’re not Jesus, and you won’t die. Stop it!”
Toni pulled Ruby closer, responding to the tremble in her voice. “Hey, it’s okay. Nobody’s dying. Not today. Not tomorrow, okay? You will both grow old and die at a good age.”
“And I’ll see daddy?”
“And we’ll come back and stay in our house with mommy and Ruby?”
Ruby burst into tears and clutched Toni. Toni enfolded her comfortingly. Duke sat up.
“I know you guys miss your daddy,” Toni stated. “I know it hurts, but trust me, everything’s going to be fine.”
“Mommy left daddy. She left us,” Ruby cried.
“She didn’t. She’ll be back.”
“I don’t want her to come back. She doesn’t like us.”
“Iz a lie!” Duke refuted.
“Shhh! Stop it, you two. No more arguments. Duke, lie down.”
The boy obeyed. Toni turned to her side to give Ruby her full attention. “Baby girl, it’s okay to cry. I miss your daddy too. We were very close. I understand how it hurts because my mommy died as well. I cried just like you. But look at me now. I’m doing okay. I miss her but I’m fine.”
“I don’t miss my mommy. She left us.”
“She didn’t. She’s going through some things right now. She’ll soon be back, okay?”
“I don’t want her to come back. I want Aunty Ebere to come.”
“And who’s Aunty Ebere?”
“Mommy’s sister. She really likes us.”
“And where is she?”
“Is she married?”
“No. She’s in school. Can you tell her to come back, Aunty Toni?”
“I’ll do my best.”
Toni held Ruby’s pudgy cheeks and swiped her palms over her tears. She felt Duke’s weight on her back as he hoisted himself up to peer at his sister.
“Ru, are you still crying?”
Toni couldn’t help but laugh. Ruby caught the bug too, and Duke soon joined them. He had more amusing comments to entertain them with, but Toni forced them to bed after being made to share a story she conjured from nowhere. She stood at the door watching them afterwards. Leticia’s bedroom which had been converted to their personal space didn’t look like it used to be. The walls now had stickers of Duke’s favorite animation characters. Ruby had been given a small workspace where she kept her art tools. She loved to paint and enjoyed building all manner of things with Lego pieces. Toni saw in her a strong woman in the future, one that wasn’t going to let the pain of her childhood hold her back. She hoped to make an impact in her life and her brother’s with the little time she had with them. Some days, she didn’t feel like she was cut out to be responsible for them. Other days, it was smooth sailing.
When Toni retired to her room, she tried not to think about departed loved ones. Yet as the sun came up, she found herself reminiscing about Mark.
“Your kids miss you,” she said in the silence of her bedroom after watching the video. “I don’t know if you’re floating in space or you’re in heaven or you’re haunting this house… Just send love their way. They need to heal.”
Leticia entered the room, holding a live chicken that was probably unaware of its fate. It cocked its head this way and that, trying to have a sense of Toni’s bedroom. It made a cluck and tried to wiggle its way to freedom but Leticia held it tighter in a jerk. Toni took a photo of her. She struck an Amazonian princess appearance, complete with shredded khaki shorts, a bikini top and hair that was tied upwards in a scarf that seemed to be unsure of if it wanted to mix with the hair.
“Four chickens are going down this Easter.”
The one in her hand clucked.
“But your brother likes turkey. On your way to work, can you ask that our neighbor that sells turkey to send one over?”
“A live turkey?”
“I don’t get why you must go through the stress of buying these things alive, killing them and doing all that work when you can just buy them and cook them.”
“Toni, get off your ass and go to work, and on your way order my turkey.” Leticia looked at the chicken. “I enjoy slicing their throats.”
Toni dragged herself off the bed. “Somebody should just kuku kill me today. I’m so tired.”
Having delivered her instruction, Leticia returned to the kitchen. Toni had a cold shower and dressed up in a casual attire of black slim-fit jeans and a colorful blue tee, styling them with patent red leather heels. It gave her a casual-corporate look that hid the tiredness she bore. She also ditched her medicated glasses for contacts and dark shades. She didn’t feel like she would find the mood to fraternize with anyone. She was cranky.
It was on days like this she wished for a driver. She didn’t have the strength to drive. Hence, she ordered a cab and shared it with Khanyi who was also on her way to work. They managed small talk in the backseat of the car because Toni kept yawning every now and then. When they got to Covet, they parted ways at the elevator.
Toni arrived at her floor and nodded responses to everyone who greeted her. Pascal popped out from the place he always popped out from whenever she arrived.
“Good morning!” he greeted cheerfully, taking her laptop and handbag.
“Hi Pas. How are you doing?”
“Great. Do you want to know what happened last night?”
“No, I don’t want to know what happened last night.”
“How about the night before?”
“The one before that?”
They got into her office.
“Get me coffee. Blended. Not instant. No sugar. I need the grace of God to stay awake today.”
“How is the boy?”
“Duke?” Toni asked, taking her seat. “A lot better.”
“Who is at home with him?”
“Leticia. Now, go and bring the coffee.”
Pascal moved to the door.
“Wait…” Toni stopped him. “Is Kouassi in?”
“I need you to… No, don’t bother. Call his assistant on your way out.”
“He has one now, right?”
“Em… Yes. Yes, he has.”
“Good. Call her in here, please, and get my coffee.”
“I should call the assistant and get your coffee.”
Toni took off her sunglasses and gave him a piercing look. “Are you hung over?”
He dashed out from the office. She opened her laptop. The monitor displayed the homepage of her blog which was showing a white screen. Something had gone wrong with one of the plugins in the backend and she was at a loss on how to fix it, having tried her best with the little IT knowledge she had acquired from Tochi. The blog had been down for a whole day. Tochi had been missing for the duration of time she was absent from work. He hadn’t taken her calls. She was worried over his absence.
She clicked on a new tab and her email box popped up. Dear High Mistress emails from a synced account filled the first page. Her fans were still active, as was her blog. She was still High Mistress, but nowadays she picked particular emails to respond to, leaving the rest for the followers on her Facebook and Instagram pages. She specifically left the atrocious ones from sidechicks to the public, allowing people express their thoughts. No longer did she encourage man-stealing. Even the name and URL of her blog had changed to Dear High Mistress. It was all in keeping to the present person she was who believed in being faithful to one man.
She ignored the blog emails and concentrated on work-related ones. Pascal returned with her coffee.
“Did you call Andre’s assistant?” Toni asked.
“I called him. I mean I called…”
“Pick the phone and dial Andre’s office, my friend.”
Pascal did as she ordered, using the landline on her desk. He handed her the receiver.
There was a pause and Andre came on. “Hey, I’m yet to get that email you were supposed to send.”
“Lovely morning to you too, ma chatte.”
“Please, forward it to me.”
“You’re going to ignore my greeting?”
“Fabrice, please don’t start.”
“I’ll send the email and my assistant with a little present for you. Remember Easter weekend last year?”
“What about it?”
“That was when we started seriously seeing each other. I spent the holiday at yours. Remember our first time?”
Toni hadn’t forgotten. The memories of falling in love with him had returned without mercy at the commencement of the Easter week. She had tried not to get depressed over missing him.
“What’s your point?”
“Just reminding you.”
“Please, forward the email, Andre.”
She dropped the receiver back in its cradle.
“Pas, go to creative. I need the details for the Ciroc campaign. Are they done with them?”
“Get them in here with someone who can run through it for me.”
Pascal hurried out. Toni slurped on her coffee. When she put it down, her door opened and Tochi walked in.
“You can start going back to where you emerged, Tochi. Fake boyfriend that is not there for his chick, is that one fake boyfriend at all?”
“I’m so sorry, Toni.”
She lifted her head. He was smiling, coming towards her with a gift bag.
“What happened to you? I was worried.”
“Long story. How is Duke doing?”
“We need to talk.”
“Talk keh. Are you breaking up with me?” she asked jokingly. “Is that an Easter present for me?”
He placed the bag on her table. She pulled it towards her and peeked in. There was a photo frame holding a picture of her in the nude, her body illuminated by dim lighting.
Toni pulled out the frame. She couldn’t recall taking the picture.
“How did you get this?”
She turned the frame and found words in Andre’s writing. They were in French, asking her out for dinner.
“Why are you with this?” she questioned Tochi.
“It’s why I said we should talk. You’ve not been around all week… Andre hired me. I now work as his assistant.”
Toni returned the frame to the bag. She pushed her weave backwards. “What did you just say?”
“He approached me and offered me the job. I took it, Toni. I really need the money.”
“I’m confused, Tochi. Where and when did this happen?”
“I’ll spare you the details…”
“I don’t understand. When did you study secretarial studies to become his assistant? How are you even his assistant at all? It doesn’t make sense.”
Tochi rested both hands on the table. “First, calm down.”
“I… He…” Tochi straightened up. “Toni, I’m broke. Moving to Ghana didn’t help me at all. And I came back here to meet things worse than I left them. My younger sister is pregnant, abandoned by the baby daddy. She has no one but me. I have two other siblings in school who rely on me. I don’t know how Andre found out about all this. He called me up and offered me the job. Apart from what Covet is paying, he’s adding something from his pocket. Am I supposed to say no?”
“You didn’t tell me what you were going through.”
“You didn’t ask, Toni. You just assumed that I was doing okay because of the clothes I wear and how I look. This is all packaging.”
Toni appraised his outfit. He tidied up well, as always. His combo of a short-sleeved flannel shirt and blue jeans matched with brown leather boots reminded her of one of the reasons she liked him. His sense of style was always on point.
“I’m broke as hell.”
“And Andre knows this. That’s why he’s using you to get back at me. He doesn’t care about you. Once he’s had his fill of whatever he thinks he’s looking for, he’ll fire your ass.”
“Actually, he can’t. We signed an agreement that he can’t fire me until at least, after six months.”
“Then walk out on him. I’ll double whatever you’re getting as salary for the six months. I’ll upgrade you. Just quit.”
“I can’t. The agreement also specifies that I can’t quit the job during that time.”
“Are you fucking kidding me, Tochukwu?!” Toni pushed back her chair, springing up.
“Toni, it’s better than doing odd jobs here and there.”
“What do you even know about being a personal assistant or about the advertising business?!”
“I’m not just an assistant. I’m understudying Andre.”
“He’s using you to get back at me! Can’t you see that?! He doesn’t care!”
“Neither do I. I don’t care what’s going on between you guys.”
Tochi’s words stung Toni. “Did you just say that to me? You and I had a deal, Tochi. You are my boyfriend, and no well-meaning boyfriend goes to make a deal with his girlfriend’s ex!”
“I’m sure it’s in the bro code somewhere!”
Tochi let out annoying laughter.
“You went behind my back and ganged with the one person you’re supposed to make jealous! You’re not loyal!”
“Loyal when I have not even kissed you?”
Toni threw her face away.
“Look, Toni, this thing is between you and Andre. I know he’s using me but I’m not complaining. This job is not just paying me well. It’s opening doors for me. Yesterday, I met Jim Ovia. He, Andre, Raji and I sat on the same table and had drinks.”
Toni rolled her eyes.
“It means nothing to you but you have no idea what Andre is doing for my government right now. And if you’re a loyal girlfriend, you will not do anything to rain on my parade. And just to let you know, if it eventually comes to me picking sides, I will go with my boss.”
“Fuck off, Tochi! I’m having a word with your boss!”
She blazed out of her office and barged into Andre’s. But she found it empty. When she turned back to the door, Tochi was waiting for her.
“Andre stepped out for a bit. Do you want to leave a message?”
Toni diced Tochi with her eyes. He shut the door and took her hand. She tried to fight him but he drew her to him.
“You and Andre are no different from each other. You say he doesn’t care about my welfare, but you fail to see that he’s just a reflection of you. You didn’t care about me then and you don’t care now.”
“That’s not true. I do.”
“If you cared, you wouldn’t play with my heart a second time.”
His eyes came down on her tenderly.
“But I don’t mind that you play with it. Just keep being in my life.”
“I don’t have intentions to hurt you, Tochi. You knew me intimately once. You know when I’m being honest. I might be selfish but not deliberately hurtful.”
“Toni, I’m going to say this only once and you’re never going to hear it from my lips again. At the risk of breaking my already broken heart, I’ll ask you to just let go and love Andre. Stop holding back.”
“Did he pay you to say this to me?”
“You’ve never been a topic in any of our discussions. The rivalry is strong between us, but we don’t let it get into our business agreement.” Tochi looked up in thought. “No, actually, we spoke about you on the first day we sat and had drinks.”
“And when was that?”
“The day the Ebute kids were dropped off at your doorstep.”
Toni showed surprise.
“He called me that evening and asked to have drinks. I guess Leticia gave him my number.”
“And you didn’t tell me?”
“There was nothing to tell. He offered me a job. I declined. He said the offer was always on the table. I thought I wouldn’t need it until my younger sister moved in last two weeks, heartbroken, heavily pregnant and without a single dime. My brothers also called to remind me of my promise to send them money for accommodation and other stuff. I knew I had to swallow my pride and accept the job.”
“You should have come to me, Tochi.”
“I’m still going to help.”
Tochi shook his head. “Not now, not when I’m on the same level with Andre.”
“Same level, how?”
“When I accepted the job, I told him I wasn’t leaving you.”
“And what was his response?”
“He smiled and said ‘let the best man win’.”
“I’m really pissed at him right now, Tochi. And at you too. You guys think I’m some trophy to be won?”
“But I’ll forgive you in the spirit of Easter.”
“Does that come with a kiss?” Tochi’s hazel eyes caressed her lips with a hankering stare.
“If you play nice.”
Just then, the door opened and in came Andre. Tochi moved a step away from Toni.
“You guys need a room or something?” Andre asked.
“No, sir. I was just telling her you weren’t in.”
“See you later, baby.” Toni dropped a kiss on Tochi’s lips and returned to her office, barely looking Andre’s way. Her annoyance was yet to wane. It came with an instant headache and sore eyes.
Andre burst into her office after a single rap on the door. Toni gave him an eye before settling into her seat.
“If you’re here to exult in your latest act of childishness, save it for someone who cares.”
Andre laughed at her words.
“You’re not happy I hired your boyfriend?”
“Andre, I have a busy day. I’m not going to entertain your madness, so unless you’re here to talk work-related stuff, I’d rather not be disturbed.”
“I take it that you’re not having dinner with me tonight?”
He pinched his nose and sniffled; a sign that he had a cold. “It’d have been great to celebrate what we have or rather, lost.”
“I am not celebrating anything with you, Fabrice.”
“Well, if you change your mind, the time is 8PM. You know where to find me.”
He pulled open the door and held it, letting his eyes adore her.
“Come without underwear.”
Toni kept her stare on him until he disappeared. She reached for her phone and called Leticia.
“What is it?” Leticia asked above the noise of laughter coming from her end. Toni could also pick out loud music.
“What’s all that noise?”
“The people talking there.”
“It’s no one. Just the radio.”
“Okay… It was supposed to be a surprise but Tayo and Lade are here.”
“Yeah. Dapo is here too. It’s a full house. I don’t know who even went to invite that Daisy of a human being. She carried her long tummy and showed up.”
“I can hear you o!” came Daisy’s voice faintly. Toni threw her head back in laughter.
“Anyway, the house is full. Do and come back.”
“Give me four hours.”
“Why did you call?”
“Nothing. I was just checking up on the kids.”
“They’re fine. I’m hanging up now. My turkey wants to burn.”
The line went dead. Toni felt relieved that she had a genuine reason not to go on a date with Andre. Her phone call to Leticia was to ask what outfit ideas she could come up with for her date with Andre. But she had changed her mind with the news of family being around. They would be her excuse for staying away from Andre.
The office door opened to let in Pascal and someone from the creative department. Toni shut her mind from Andre and family and concentrated on work.
Cyrus Junior didn’t feel like a twenty-year old. He felt older; like maybe he was in his thirties. He hadn’t had time to throw a party in a while. His head was either buried in books or lost on the internet where he ran the social media accounts for an e-commerce website. He also had a girlfriend that had recently gotten pregnant and carried out an abortion without his consent, throwing him into an emotional whirlwind. At first, he had gone through the troubling phase of having been told he was going to be a father. And when he was starting to accept it and was seeking ways to break the news to his parents, he was then informed that the baby was non-existent. His girlfriend had carried out the abortion on her own and continued with her life. They had a fight over it, and although they didn’t split, he felt wounded by her actions. Add this to his parents’ split and Cyrus Junior was carrying a mountain of worries on his shoulders.
The evening before, he had spent time with Christie and Tamilore. He had been worried about his mother from the moment she called him and explained that her marriage was going through a difficult phase. She had blamed herself, but he would have none of it. He was mad at Folarin for not getting past what Christie did.
“Are you and dad getting back together?” he had asked her yesterday as they sat in her small living room, conversing about a myriad of issues. Cyrus Junior hated the apartment, and he didn’t think it was fair for Folarin to have the main house while Christie moved into an arrangement that wasn’t up to her status.
“This is temporary,” said Christie in answer to his question.
“Mom, you can talk to me.”
Christie smiled. “It is temporary.”
He began to pat Tamilore’s back who was sleeping on his chest. “Remember when you caught me eavesdropping on you and dad talking about divorce?”
“When was that?”
“I’m not talking about Folarin.”
“Oh, with Cyrus?”
“That was a very long time ago, CJ. I remember. You were hiding behind the drapes, crying.”
“And you promised me that you guys were never going to separate, that you were just joking about it. But a month later, I woke up and saw all our stuff packed. You put me in the backseat of your car and we never went back to that house.”
“This is different, CJ.”
“The pain of separation is not different, mom. Vanessa knows what’s going on.”
“I shielded her away from it.”
“But her grandmother didn’t. She overheard her speaking with Aunty Mosun about it the other day.”
“That old woman knows nothing about what’s going on.”
“Maybe Aunty Mosun told her. Maybe dad did. But it doesn’t matter; Vanessa now knows. She called me over and I had to go there to tell her that you guys aren’t getting a divorce. She thinks she’s responsible. You guys have to talk to her.”
“And you guys have to get back together.”
“I cheated on your dad, CJ.”
“He should forgive you already, mom. I know you’re sorry.”
“It’s not that easy to forgive that type of thing.”
“Then why are we Christians if we can’t forgive?”
“CJ…” Christie sighed, rising up. “Your dad and I will get through this.”
“Put Tami in her crib, so she can sleep well. She’s been fussy all day. Are you sleeping over?”
“You want me to?”
“I’m fine, CJ. Go home.”
Cyrus Junior and Christie had become close after he rescued her from being raped by her brother. The same brother whom he was told was his biological father. Cyrus Junior had not regretted stabbing the vile man to death. From that night, he vowed to protect his mother from anyone who tried to hurt her. Folarin was no exception. The man was beginning to get on his nerves.
“Let me carry her.” Christie bent to give her son a forehead kiss before taking Tami off his hold.
“I’ll need you to get me some things from the house, though. You’ll bring them to Mosun’s tomorrow. That’s where I’m spending Easter.”
“Mom, that old woman is there.”
“She’s my mother-in-law, CJ. Your grandmother.”
Christie smiled. Cyrus Junior jumped to his feet. “Let me be going. What are the things I should get?”
Christie made a list after she put Tamilore to bed. She passed it to him. He held her in a comforting hug.
He drove to the family house, discovering too late that he didn’t have the key to the front door. Folarin wasn’t home and driving back for the key was not an option as he had spent more than an hour on the road. He called Folarin who informed him to wait another hour for his return. That wouldn’t have been a problem for Cyrus Junior if he hadn’t made plans to watch a certain football match. He jumped into his car again and drove to a hotel in the neighborhood which had been his favorite spot to hide whenever he wanted to indulge in the occasional cigarette and beer.
When he arrived there, he chose the lounge bar, ordered a drink and caught up with the second half of the game which had just begun. Forty-five minutes went by in a flash and he left the bar rather annoyed at the outcome of the game, which had both teams coming to a draw.
But he was going to have something more to be angry about. In the parking lot of the hotel, his eyes caught a scene that set his teeth on edge. Folarin and a woman he didn’t recognize were standing beside Folarin’s car, hands in each other’s, faces brought too close for comfort. The lady was giggling, Folarin was saying something to her. And then she reached up and kissed him. Cyrus Junior felt a literal cessation of his breath when this happened. His fists balled, his eyes went red. But he didn’t move from his position or make his presence known. Folarin entered his car and drove away.
Cyrus Junior took his time, studying the woman’s face as she made past him, back into the hotel. He got into his car as well and followed his father home.
“I thought you were waiting here,” Folarin said to him when he made his entrance.
“I just went down the road to buy a few things,” Cyrus Junior replied tersely, refusing to look Folarin in the eyes. He was burning to confront him with what he had just seen, but was scared at the same time. The man inspired both fear and respect in him. The person he had seen at the parking lot of that hotel was not the father he knew.
“Come in and get the stuff.” Folarin began towards his bedroom and Cyrus Junior followed.
“How are you doing, though?” he asked.
“Good,” the boy answered.
“How’s your dad?”
Folarin unbuttoned his shirt. “You’re okay?”
“You need money? Anything?”
“I’m going to shower. Pick whatever you came to get.”
Folarin disappeared into the bathroom while Cyrus Junior filled a bag with the items Christie needed. When he was done and found that he was still alone, he picked Folarin’s phone. A password prevented him from getting access. He put the phone down and continued to fume.
Folarin stepped out, clad in a towel.
“Dad, what’s going on between you and mom?” The question brought Folarin’s movement to a halt.
“Nothing.” Folarin stuck a finger in his ear to dislodge trapped water.
“I’m not Tife. You can tell me if you guys are getting divorced. I can take it.”
“Divorce?” Folarin walked to the closet. “Nobody’s getting a divorce.”
“Then why are you here and mom is in some stupid room and parlor somewhere?”
“Cyrus, it’s complicated.”
“I’m not a child.”
Folarin slipped into a pair of shorts. He gave the boy a sideways stare. “We’re having some issues which we feel would be best settled with a brief separation. That’s all. We’re not getting divorced. I love your mom too much to let her go.”
“Then why don’t you just forgive her? What she did was stupid, but she is sorry.”
Folarin gave his stepson a puzzled look. “What are you talking about?”
“I know everything.”
“She was having an affair with Uncle Raji. I know.”
“But I know she’s sorry. She and I spoke. She explained everything to me. She’s sorry, dad.”
“Then why don’t you just forgive her?”
“It’s not that easy, CJ,” Folarin replied, facing the closet again.” And please, I don’t want to have this discussion with you.”
“She’s my mom.”
Folarin stopped and turned. “Cyrus Junior, end it. I’m sure you have better things to do right now. Go.”
Cyrus Junior gave him a defiant stare.
“Are you cheating on her?”
“Are you cheating on my mom?”
“What’s gone wrong with you sef? Why are you asking me these questions?”
“Because I don’t understand why you want to stay away from her. I’m sure it’s another woman!”
“You do not come in her and raise your voice at me, young man! If you’re done with what you came for, leave!”
Damning words hung on Cyrus Junior’s lips but he was still too scared to let them out. He picked the bag he had filled and stomped out of the house. He went home, turned off his phone and nursed his anger until sleep found him.
His girlfriend came over in the morning. She made him a meal and asked for transportation fare to travel home for the Easter. He gave her some money and turned her down when she wanted to show gratitude by giving him a blowjob. He locked himself indoors after she left, running a major online Easter campaign for the company he worked for. When he stepped out, the sun was setting and his friends were waiting for him at a local joint not quite a distance from his house. He joined them, spending a stretch of two hours, drinking. Christie cut short his time there with a phone call demanding to know where he was. He picked his car key and staggered to his car. He hadn’t realized that he had drunk beyond his limit until he sat behind the wheel and waited for more than five minutes for the car to start itself. But somehow, he managed his way to Mosun’s house.
There was a strip of cars parked outside, indicating that the house was filled with the Adedirans. He wore a frown at the thought of being cordial with them. He despised them for the way they had treated his mom in the past. He could not forget the insults she endured from the family matriarch and her daughters, the Nollywood-like wickedness she had passed through in their hands and the constant reminder to Folarin that Cyrus Junior was not his heir.
Courting his anger, he picked his mother’s bag and made it into Mosun’s compound.
He wouldn’t look at her. Not even when he stood a few inches away from her and she handed over Tamilore to him. He kept his eyes away. She sensed something odd, different from the friction between them.
“We’ve missed you,” she said to him as he covered Tamilore’s face with kisses. “I miss you.”
The sound of a blender, coming from the kitchen, tried to drown her voice.
“When will you come around so we can talk over dinner?”
“Give me a date,” he answered.
He still wouldn’t look at her. There was a lot more she wanted to say but the environment wasn’t encouraging. Family members occupied every space in the house. Folarin was always being dragged away by one sister or one cousin. Christie couldn’t wait for the Easter break to be over. Her lonely two-bedroom apartment was heaven compared to being with her in-laws. Everyone now knew she had cheated on Folarin. Judgmental eyes followed her everywhere she went. They managed small talk with her, but were also so quick to walk away from her like she was too much of a stench to stand close to. With them, her status and influence meant nothing. She was simply what she was – an adulteress. Nothing could be done to change the image they had of her.
So she wore her shame like a crown, smiling when she ought to, and keeping her poise at moments when all she wanted was to dash for the exit and never return. She did it all for him. Not for herself. She had given up trying to please them. She didn’t care anymore.
“Uncle Fola?” A teenage girl came by. She took Folarin’s arm, dragging him off. He followed like a zombie, as if happy to be elsewhere.
Christie sensed these things from him. He didn’t need to speak for her to understand his thoughts. She was glad that the connection was still there, but worried about the widening gap between them.
“Christie!” Her mother-in-law’s voice dragged her to the kitchen. The old woman was in the company of Aunty Tinu and Aunty Remi, her troublesome daughters. Christie stood by the door, hands in the back pockets of her jeans. Aunty Tinu was dishing out amala from a huge pot that had just been brought in from the backyard. The dying embers of the firewood hob on which it had been cooked took Christie’s attention. Her eyes preferred to stare out. She sensed the old woman’s heat coming for her.
“Come and give your husband food, so that at least, you can say you helped around here today.”
A tray was placed in Christie’s hands by another teenage girl. Folarin’s meal was laid on it. Not the way he liked it, but Christie didn’t make a comment. She thanked her mother-in-law and stepped out to the dining area. Folarin was there with Vanessa. They were both entertained by Tamilore. The scene almost made Christie smile.
She rested the tray on the table just as Tamilore began to seek her attention with a whine. She took her from Folarin and instructed Vanessa to join her cousins for dinner.
“CJ is drunk,” Folarin mentioned.
Christie pulled a chair and sat. “I noticed. I scolded him when he came. I don’t know when he started that nonsense. I told him to sit at the verandah until the high wears off, before he’ll start embarrassing somebody here.”
Folarin tugged his meal towards him. Christie could tell that he hadn’t the appetite to eat from the look he bore on his face. He picked his tray and returned it to the kitchen, explaining to his mother that he had some tummy troubles. Christie heard her tell him that she wanted a private session with both of them. Folarin tried to make an excuse for why the talk wouldn’t be necessary, but the old woman scolded and shooed him off to the living room, following closely behind.
“Oya, Christie, come and sit down,” she said as she made herself comfortable on a seat.
Christie left the dining table and took up space beside Folarin on the three-sitter. The old woman began to speak. Her voice was deliberately loud. Christie sensed she was drawing attention because her speech was gearing towards the direction of trouble. Neither Christie nor Folarin were in the mood for it, but they both sat in silence and allowed her talk about how both of them had failed in their marriage.
“I knew this would happen. I warned you, Richard, but you were too in love to see reason in what I was saying. Oya, look it at now. Just look where you are.”
To occupy her thoughts, Christie wondered to herself where Mosun often drew her inspiration to decorate her house. One couldn’t quite call the décor tasteful, but it wasn’t unpleasing to the eyes either. Christie found it interesting and reflective of Mosun herself, who was a woman that easily got bored of people and situations. The colorful ensemble of ornaments and furnishings showed that things around her needed to be constantly engaging and charming or she would lose interest. But the overall look had an undertone of retro coziness that sometimes reminded Christie of her family home while growing up.
“Christie,” her mother-in-law called. She returned her attention to her. “What I’m about to say to you, you will not like it, but I have to say it because it is the truth and the only way out for two of you. My dear, it would do you well to grant my son a divorce.”
Christie’s face immediately fell into a frown.
“Yes. After what you did, do you expect that he would stay with you? My dear, you cheated on him with his best friend. As far as I’m concerned, the marriage is over…”
“With all due respect, mommy, that is a decision Folarin and I would make on our own.” Christie looked at her husband, wondering why he was quiet. His face was set in blankness, eyes on the wall facing them upon which photo frames of family members were hung.
“I know it is your decision to make. I’m just telling you that you should free him. It’s better you are both divorced than this stupid arrangement you both have that has you living in different houses. Do you know what it would do to my granddaughters? Have you any idea how a broken home affects children? Christie you should know better. Look at your son, CJ.”
“He came here drunk! His whole body smelling of alcohol. He walked past me and his aunties without greeting. Mannerless boy! But I won’t blame him because he grew up being tossed from one parent to another. There was no proper home training.”
Christie felt her blood boil.
“I don’t want that for my grandchildren. So, please, divorce my son, let him remarry and build a proper home for the girls. And so that you too can find your peace. Being chased out of your husband’s house is clear enough sign that you are no longer needed.”
Christie glared at Folarin in shock. By now, he would have had his mother’s neck with words, but he sat there in quietness, fingers tapping the armrest.
“That is all I have to say. Meanwhile, that boy should not enter this house until he–”
“Do not talk about my son like that!” Christie yelled, losing her cool. “Enough, mommy! Enough! What is your problem sef?! Haba! What did I ever do to you?! Why are you so wicked to me?! You insult me! You berate me! You pull me down every chance you get! And as if that is not enough, you bring my son into it and you want me to sit down and be watching you like a fool?!”
“Christie, calm down.” Mosun barged in.
“I’m not calming down, Mosun! Leave me alone! Ah! Nobody should tell me anything! When she was talking, did you stop her?! Abeg, leave me alone joor!”
The voices of Aunty Tinu and Aunty Remi in chorus, retorted in anger, trying to shut Christie up, but she rose to her feet and expended years of held resentment in a rant that almost brought the house down. Her words cut through each person like a sharp sword, bringing them to the same muteness that had fallen upon their mother. Aunty Tinu had her hand to her chest in shock while her sister’s jaw seemed to have fallen to the floor.
“Face your miserable marriages and lives! LEAVE MY MARRIAGE THE FUCK ALONE!”
Done with her tirade, Christie marched off with a screaming Tamilore, leaving them to fester in the heat of her words.