And so, the marathon begins!
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My darling son,
You’d be reading this after my burial, just as I planned it. I have so many things to tell you, but you would not let me come near you. I know you hate me, and that’s okay. I deserve to be hated. I have done things that I regret. I am not ashamed to let you know this now, although my pride keeps me from admitting the truth to your face or in public. I deeply regret all I did. I want to undo it all, especially the hurt I caused Charity. I wish I could take it all back.
The money I left with you, please split it in three parts. The one in the domiciliary account should be used in New Beginnings. It is ill-gotten wealth, and can only go back into humanitarian works. The second part of the money is for your unborn children with Charity. The third part of the money is for your siblings, their kids and Tabitha. All my landed property, scattered around the country, as listed in my will, belong to you alone.
Darling, I am so sorry that we lost the connection we had. So sorry for many other things. Please, live in peace with your siblings, no matter what. It’s more important than riches.
I love you, Luper. So, so much.
Luper folded Udazi’s letter in equal halves, and did so a second time, keeping his head bowed. Dugo saw tears filling his eyes. She was relieved that he was finally connecting with the pain he had held in for seven weeks.
They had received the news of Udazi’s passing from Terwe through a careless phone call.
“Mom’s dead,” he had said to Luper in the call. “You should come over so that we can sort the bills out.”
Luper had acted as if he had been told that a distant acquaintance had passed away. His mood remained that way as the days and weeks passed. Externally, he seemed okay, but when they were alone, Dugo suffered the consequence of his repressed emotions. He spoke less, drank more, and always gave excuses each time she tried to connect intimately.
Dugo didn’t let his aloofness bother her. She was as busy as he was, occupied with running New Beginnings and working with the foreign interest group that had approached them to help run a campaign against irregular migration. While she did this, Luper planned his mother’s burial. It was his desire to bury her quietly, but the backlash he received from family members and the community in Benin made him change his mind. Despite the fact that she had been a human trafficker, Udazi had gotten the respect of the people because of her generosity towards them. She had been treasured by the elders, loved by many. Her death was a blow to them. And this was sort of painfully ironic to Luper, as he found himself struggling to reconcile Udazi the demon to Udazi the angel.
“I don’t know why you don’t get it,” Dugo had said to him. “There are levels to this thing. Madam America was a high-class trafficker. She made sure all of her girls got into Europe, untouched. She was good at what she did. You think most of the girls she trafficked, she approached them herself? No. She had agents. If things go bad, nobody will blame her. If things go well and the girls make it in Europe, she takes the praises for sponsoring them abroad. And as for the rest of us she approached personally, she was nice. Very nice. Don’t be surprised that people loved her.”
Still, Luper wanted so badly to hate Udazi after her death, but his emotions remained loyal to her. His memories of her were that of a mother and son. Of love and warmth.
When her lawyer called him for a meeting to let him know beforehand what had been in her will, Luper had been knocked off his feet.
“She willed everything to me?” His palm slapped his chest.
“All you. She said you’d know how to disburse it. She also left a letter.”
“Where is it?”
“To be read after she is buried. Oh, and she said to bury her in your compound. She wants to be close to you.”
Udazi’s demands to be buried away from her village had not gone smoothly with her relatives. Luper was forced to pursue the burial rites in Benin without a proper laying to rest. Only then did his uncles permit him to take her corpse back home to fulfil her wish. Certain members of the extended family accompanied him. Friends came to show their support too. As the days wound down to the funeral, it began to occur to him how much he needed to rest and spend more time with Dugo. On the night before the burial, he held her in bed and apologized for being distant.
“I understand.” Dugo kissed his chin. He said nothing more, held her close and fell asleep. Sometime in the middle of the night, an angry knock woke them both.
Luper lifted his head from the pillow. “Tomorrow morning, please,” he murmured in Bini. Nenge responded. Luper left the comfort of Dugo’s body and dragged his feet to the door.
“Sorry for waking you up,” Nenge apologized when he got out. He recognized the familiar edginess in her tone.
“It’s two in the morning, Nen. This can’t wait until later?”
Nenge moved away from the door. “Is it true that Mommy willed everything she had to you?”
“Where did you get that gist?”
Nenge looked into her brother’s eyes. He saw anger in her stare.
“Is it true?”
“Yes. But you’re not supposed to know.”
“Why? Why would she leave everything to you?”
“I don’t know.”
“How are we even sure it’s her real will?”
“And what the hell does that mean? What are you insinuating?”
“Calm down. I’m just asking a question…”
“You know what, Nenge? I’m tired. The lawyer would read the will and you’ll see for yourself. Goodnight.”
He turned to his door and opened it.
“I’m talking to you and you’re walking away?”
He shut the door. He was done being nice to his siblings. He was also prepared for whatever hell they wanted to bring down on him, ready to match their madness with his.
The next morning, Terwe drank himself to lunacy. It wasn’t because his mother’s corpse was making its final interment. His reason was solely that he had just found out about the details of her will. It had slipped from Nenge’s mouth to his ear.
When he barged into Luper’s bedroom after the burial, demanding to know why Udazi left everything to him, Luper shoved him out and dragged him all the way out of the house. He asked the gateman not to let him back in until he was sober. Friends and family begged on Terwe’s behalf, but Luper would not budge. It took a gentle word from Dugo to calm him.
Terwe was brought back in, held by cousins on either side, and asked to apologize. He did so and requested to speak to Luper.
“Not today,” Luper responded. “Sober up and talk to me like a man.”
The following morning, Luper called for a meeting with his siblings; a trusted uncle who sat in as a witness and Udazi’s lawyer were present. In the meeting, the will was read. A restrained Terwe was quiet all through, eyes on the floor, legs shaking. Nenge put up a weepy act that got on Luper’s nerves. No one bothered to console her. Towards the end of the meeting, she interrupted the lawyer and faced Luper.
“Why would she give you and even your unborn children everything?”
“Her body is still fresh in that grave outside. Just go there, dig her up and ask her.”
“Even your unborn children?”
“Nenge, I am not the one that wrote that will!” Luper shouted. “You will get your own share of Mom’s money, I promise you! So, stop fighting me! Stop being a bitch! I’m tired of all of you and the way you stress my life! Momsi has gone with her own stress! I don’t need more from you, abeg! Leave me the fuck alone!”
Nenge threw her face into the air and walked out of the living room. The lawyer ended the meeting a few minutes after her exit.
“The letter I told you about.”
He handed an envelope to Luper after he was done. It was addressed to him in Udazi’s writing. “She wrote it herself. She says you should read it in the presence of Charity.”
“And who is Charity?” Terwe asked.
“Adaugo,” Luper answered.
“Interesting,” Terwe responded, laughing to himself. “Luper, can we have that talk now?”
They went upstairs to Udazi’s former bedroom, now turned into a home office for Luper. Luper sat behind his desk while Terwe, hands in his pockets, walked around for a bit.
“Are we going to do this or not?” Luper eventually asked.
“What was going on between you and mom?”
“You and Momsi, what was the deal?”
Luper was confused. “The deal?”
“She left you everything, man. What was going on between you two?”
“I’m trying hard to understand your question here. Are you saying we were in some sort of business together? No, we weren’t. Heck, I didn’t even know she ran all these other business and had all this money–”
“That’s not what I’m talking about!” Terwe barked. He came to the desk and leaned over it. “Were you fucking her?”
The question threw Luper’s head backwards and left it suspended in an awkward angle as he sought his brother’s eyes to understand the meaning of his question.
“Were you fucking my mother?” Terwe repeated.
“Are you out of your mind, Terwe?”
Luper jolted up. “Get out of here before I kill you.”
“She had a thing for you from the start. It was always Luper this, Luper that. You got the best education, best cars, everything! And now, she left you all she had…”
“Terwe, just as I told Nenge, you will get your own share of the money, if that is your problem. But right now, get the fuck out 0f here before I kill you. I am not joking.”
Luper was surprised at his own calm, but more stunned at Terwe’s insinuation. His brother had finally lost it. He watched him leave the office, and then sat in shock for a while, before deciding it was best to spend the rest of the day at Dugo’s.
She was just returning from the gym when he drove in. He stuck his head out of the window and asked if she wanted to turn to a broomstick before she realized how skinny she was becoming.
Dugo playfully reached into the car and pulled his ear. She then leaned in and kissed him.
“I wasn’t feeling so good. I needed to sweat the fever out.”
“Any way I can help?” He had a glint in his eye that made her smile. Her cleavage was thrust in his face. He tried to reach over to kiss it, but she drew back and offered her lips instead. After the kiss, he drove in.
They showered together, had breakfast, switched off their phones and lay in bed, Dugo on top and Luper keeping a steady caress of her bum while they kissed. They were both aroused, but too lazy to make love. Soon they were both asleep. Luper forgot about the letter from Udazi he had come with until after a late lunch, which was had on the front porch as the sun began to set. He returned to the house, opened the letter and read it aloud.
“Are you okay?” Dugo touched his arm. He lifted his head and smiled at her. Dugo was disappointed that again, he had swallowed down his pain. She looked like she was about to say something, but he stopped her.
“Don’t tell me it’s okay to cry. I don’t want to.”
The next morning, he began making plans with Udazi’s accountant and his on how to get his siblings and their children what he felt they deserved from what Udazi bequeathed to him. He did this in his home office, having a physical meeting with his accountant, his lawyer and Udazi’s while Udazi’s accountant joined them via a phone call. The meeting lasted only over an hour, but to Luper, it felt like his whole morning was wasted. He was tired of his siblings and wanted them gone. Peace was better kept when they were away. He desired to build a new family with Dugo. He was already making plans to mention the subject of marriage to her. There was that gnawing nervousness in him about proposing to her. He feared that she would turn him down. She had already made it clear that she wasn’t crazy about marriage. He wasn’t either. It was more about ensuring that he didn’t lose her. The last time he did, he almost lost his mind.
Tabitha was in support of a happily-ever-after for two of them. The other day, when they had gone shopping for a few supplies for the house together, she mentioned something about it.
“She’s smart, rich, cool, sexy, dripping, and she likes me.”
“Dripping?” Luper looked up from his shopping list.
“She’s got drip.”
“And what’s that?”
Tabitha rolled her eyes. “She’s stylish, fashionable. Her clothes are always…”
“Fleek is not the word I wanted to say.”
“Those are not the reasons I want to spend the rest of my life with her.”
He was not in the mood to speak, but knowing Tabitha, she would keep pushing until he spilled something.
“Companionship, friendship… I want to grow with her. I need a support system. I also want a lifetime commitment from someone who wants to see me get better. Plus, I want to build a family and a legacy…”
“That’s cool. Hey, Daddy, did you say you needed a new cork opener?” Tabitha’s finger was pointing up at a shelf behind him. The marriage talk ended there, and Luper was glad that it did. At that time, he was still not in a communicative mode. Today, the topic was resurrected, but not by Tabitha. Shipinen visited to keep him abreast of the goings-on in the school since he had missed important meetings. After work discussions were had, they sat out at the back porch and engaged in a friendly chat as she refreshed herself with a glass of sugarcane juice. She told him about her pilot boyfriend, and how serious their relationship had become.
“I feel like he wants to propose.”
“Are you ready to get married again?”
“But he’s not always around.”
“That’s why I like the arrangement. I already told you I got used to being alone in a marriage because of you.”
“Can you stop doing that?”
Shipinen laughed. “But it’s the truth na. You ghosted me and I’m now used to it. I honestly can’t stand a man being there all the time.”
“And to think I’m the one who now craves companionship like mad.”
“We grow, we change.”
“How about Ada? Any bells tolling in your future?”
“I don’t know. I hope she sees me worthy to be her husband and the father of her children.”
“You guys are great together.”
“There’s another reason I’m here, Lu.”
Shipinen lowered her voice. “Terwe.”
“There were things Daddy told me about him. I’m not supposed to be telling you this, because I promised him that I wouldn’t, but Terwe called me last night, complaining about Mommy’s will.”
“He did, huh?”
“Yes. He told me to talk to you about it.”
“I already told them that they would get their own share.”
“He has this idea in his head that you somehow manipulated your mom into handing everything to you, and that got me really pissed, although I didn’t say anything to him.”
“So what did the old man tell you about his unfortunate son?”
“Terwe had unnatural feelings towards your mom.”
Luper’s response was a sharp stare at Shipinen. “I don’t understand.”
“Daddy once caught him peeping into her bedroom when she was dressing up. Terwe was a teenager then. At other occasions, he said he saw him looking at her in a way a son shouldn’t look at his mother. He talked to her about it and she brushed it off. Daddy believed she knew before he mentioned it to her. He was mad at her for doing nothing about it. It was one of the huge issues they had in their marriage…”
“Wait, you’re saying Terwe, my own brother had sexual feelings for our mother?”
Terwe’s attack on Luper two days ago began to make sense, but what bothered him particularly was Udazi. Was she complicit? She might have been one of the worst people to ever walk the earth, but did she abuse her own son?
“I just feel you should know this. Your brother is a beast, to be honest.”
“Thanks for telling me.”
Shipinen downed her juice and stood up. “I have to rush back to work. Are you going to be okay?”
Luper arose to give her a hug. He walked her to her car and waited until she was gone before he returned to the house. Nenge, seated in the living room, walked up to him when he came in. They hadn’t spared each other a word since the day after the burial.
“I’ll be leaving by the weekend,” she informed him. “I hate leaving the kids in the care of nannies.”
“Okay.” Luper refused to look at her. He kept his eyes in the direction of the kitchen, but he had noticed, from a casual glance, that her face was puffy from too much crying. He longed to comfort her.
“Luper, I’m sorry for…”
He started to walk away. “No need to be.”
“Please, let me apologize. I’m sorry for how I’ve treated you in the past. Yes, I believed that you raped Idenyi.”
He stopped moving.
“I hated you for it for years. She was my friend, and my juvenile mind became scared of you. I was scared that you’d rape me as well.”
“I know.” Her eyes moistened up. “Stupid thinking. I should have just asked you.”
“I still would have told you I did it.”
“And that would have been a lie. Why didn’t you tell me it was Terwe when you found out?”
“It didn’t matter. I was the bad one, the rapist. Terwe, was your angel.”
“Angel?” she said with rancor. “Terwe is a monster.”
Luper crossed his arms in curiosity. “Really?”
A cousin, just coming down the stairs, greeted them both.
“Let’s go up to your room and talk.”
Luper led the way. He opened his windows when they got in.
“Last night, Idenyi told me what he did to her. She called me up and asked us to meet and she told me everything. Luper, I am so sorry. I’m sure Daddy was sorry too.”
“Can we not bring Dad into this now?”
“Anyway, I came back and confronted Terwe and he said he did it. I don’t know if you heard our voices last night.”
“Well, he was drunk, Lu, and he told me other stuff.”
“Like how he wanted…” Nenge stopped. Tears poured down her face. She sat down weakly on the bed.
“How he wanted what, Nenge?”
“He said he had been in love with Mom all his life.”
Luper gave a silent sigh. Nenge looked up at him.
“I just found out.”
“What kind of person do we have as a brother, Lu? What will we do with him?”
“I don’t know. I just want to give him his own share of the money and stay far away from him as possible.”
“He’s a monster. He shouldn’t be allowed near anyone. I called Catalina and told her everything. I couldn’t keep it in. Now, he’s threatening to strangle me. Lu, can you just give him his money and drive him away today? I can’t stand him. I hate him so much right now.”
Luper sat beside his sister. “I know how you feel, but just be patient so that the money details would be sorted out. And it’s a good thing you’re leaving. You don’t have to put up with his ass anymore.”
Nenge looked at Luper. “I am sorry.”
“Stop crying,” he replied in Tiv. “You’re too beautiful to hurt yourself like this.”
She put both arms around him and he lifted an arm to hold her.
“I’m going to miss Mommy so bad.”
Nenge was in the dark about the details of Udazi’s death. As far as she knew, her mother slumped and was rushed to the hospital where she died a few days after. Luper prayed that Terwe stuck to the story. He had promised to cut off his tongue if he told Nenge the truth. He wasn’t bluffing with his threat.