He received her email the moment his car pulled up in the garage. It was work-related, but just seeing her name pop up on his screen gave him hope. She was out of the country at present. Ace had informed him that someone close to her in Germany was sick and she went to be with the person. He had asked Ace if he thought there was still a chance for him with her.
“I can’t answer that. Rape is a huge thing for her.”
Luper knew that, considering all that Osarobo had told him about what both ladies had gone through in Italy. He knew Dugo’s life had been plagued with sexual abuse as a teenager. What he didn’t understand was why she hadn’t told him about it.
But that didn’t matter now. Would they get back together? Would she look beyond all he had revealed about himself and see him for who he really was?
He hated the silence from her end.
Luper sat in the car to read a few other emails before trying her number. The line rang out. Dugo did not take his call.
How was he going to prove to her that he was not the monster she thought him to be? How was he to handle the pain of losing her? He had supposed that his feelings were only on the surface. He was just realizing how deeply they had gone.
His phone buzzed. Udazi, his mother was on the line. He took her call.
“Can you help me get some turkey on your way back?” she requested.
“I’m already home, Mom,” he answered, stepping out of the car.
“I just feel like turkey tonight. I realize I haven’t had it in a long time.”
“I thought we were watching our weight,” he said.
“We are,” she replied, “but this old woman needs to indulge sometimes.”
‘Old woman’ was not a term she used on herself. She employed it only when she wanted to be manipulative. It had been worse at the time she had suffered some terminal illness. The former Luper would have gotten back on the road for the turkey. He had stopped bending to her urges a long time ago.
“Send your houseboy then,” he suggested. She terminated the call.
He entered the house to find her burrowed under a duvet. She had complained of a cold earlier, yet she couldn’t do without the air conditioner.
“Good evening.” Luper shut the door just as she rose up to sneeze. She added a second sneeze, and then tossed a full hair of weave to one side of her face. She wore a stylish silk robe with makeup on her face. Her hair seemed just made. It was a long, wavy weave that dropped all the way to her upper arms. The woman was sixty-one but looked nearly fifteen years younger. She had always been obsessed with her diet, skincare and appearance. She had seen a plastic surgeon’s table a couple of times – and maybe even recently. Luper didn’t recall her breasts being that perky and full. But she was a woman with natural beauty who had once modeled for brands like Lux soap and Pepsodent toothpaste. Luper had gotten his looks, height and all, from her.
She took her eyes off the television screen that had her attention for a second.
“I’m watching this… I don’t even know what I’m watching. This man just chewed glass and he’s swallowing it. What type of stomach does he have?”
Luper wasn’t interested in the gist. He started upstairs.
“You’ll eventually have to stop carrying that long face around, Lu!”
The long face was going nowhere. He wanted her out of his house and away from his life. She always came with trouble.
Luper changed out of his work clothes and went downstairs for dinner. There was a pot of white soup that had been in the deep freeze longer than it should, because she wouldn’t let him eat his own meals. She had come along with her cook who was also her personal assistant and driver. The young man, Irobosa, followed her around like a tail. He was manageably handsome, sturdy and well-spoken. Luper suspected that he was also a sex toy.
Tonight, Irobosa had Luper eating starch and banga soup. Luper found himself savoring the taste after the first three swallows.
“So, I have an announcement to make,” his mother said, causing Luper to pause in his meal. From experience, what usually followed that particular phrase wasn’t pleasant.
She threw off the duvet and stretched her feet on the table before her, sniffling.
“I’m getting married.”
Luper lifted his bent frame from the tray of food resting on a side-stool before him. “You’re getting married?”
“You know Pastor Ezekiel?”
Of course, he knew Pastor Ezekiel. He was his pastor. And if there was any such thing, the family pastor. They had attended the man’s church for years, starting off as members at the Makurdi branch… But Pastor Ezekiel was happily married.
“Well, I’m getting married to his younger brother,” Udazi revealed unconcernedly.
Luper would have choked if he had been chewing something then. “Pastor Keziah is…”
“Unmarried, a widower.”
“I know. But he’s…”
“Man enough for me.”
“Mom, he’s forty-something. You’re not mates.”
“Age is not the number I count when I’m with a man.”
“Of course, you count money.”
“Take your father, for instance, he was ten years older than I was…”
“Which is normal.”
“He was a relic, but that’s not the point. I’ve been single for a very long time and I need a man in my life. A young man who would keep renewing my fountain of youth.”
“Pastor Keziah is a man of God.”
“Non-practicing. Just a title they gave him because he’s the moneybag of the ministry.”
“I’m sure you know that light and darkness don’t mix.”
“If God can forgive your rapist behind, he can wipe away all my sins too. You and I are the same difference.”
This was why Luper didn’t want her around. They were like cat and dog, always at each other’s throats. And yet Luper was certain she loved him more than his siblings. That was if she loved anyone at all.
“The wedding is in two weeks.”
Luper’s mouth dropped open.
“It’s nothing big. Just family and a marriage certificate and dinner. No paparazzi. Your siblings are in total support. So is his family. They don’t like the age difference, but you don’t argue with the one that doles out all the money.”
She laughed. Luper frowned.
“Second announcement. Your siblings and their spouses and children will be coming into the country for about a month.”
“Wow. Nobody tells me anything in this family.”
But this wasn’t new to him. The rape incident had branded him the black sheep. His brother avoided him. His sister was the only one nice enough to keep the line open between them. They spoke once in two weeks, but he could tell that she was still as disappointed in him as she had been fifteen years ago. His mother alone stood by him. And he felt that it was only because she was worse as a person. He couldn’t get over the fact that she sold young teenage girls to be used as sex slaves. Founding and running New Beginnings was his atonement for both their sins.
“Keziah is flying them all in, as expected. So please, get a couple of maids or something to clean this place up.”
Luper lost his appetite entirely. He was craving for something alcoholic and strong enough to burn his throat.
“I just bought Idenyi’s organic cosmetic line.”
Idenyi was his ex. The woman he had raped.
“She’s shifting her focus back to corporate law. You know she’s a lawyer, but she dropped all of that to pursue cosmetology. Now, she’s going back to her other passion. She casually told me she was folding up and putting the business up for sale in the market. I made an offer and she loved it. I’ll be moving the business from Abuja to here.”
“Her business is dead. It died like two years ago.”
“I can see that you’ve been keeping tabs. That’s good. In addition, she is giving us your daughter.”
“Why the hell would she do that?”
“Because it’s your turn.”
“My turn? Hasn’t her great grandmother always taken care of her?”
“Tabitha is your child.”
“A child that nobody told me about!”
“And who is to blame? Am I at fault that Idenyi hates you for violating her?”
“Why must you keep reminding me of what I did?”
“Just telling you of your responsibility. She is your daughter. And you know what? If you’re tired of her, just toss her into a cab to go back to her great grandmother, who is turning senile, so that you can rest.” Udazi hissed. “Since you want to be irresponsible.”
Luper needed to swear so badly, but he held back his tongue.
“Raising a teenager is not hard,” his mother stated.
“Yeah, you would know that.”
“I agree that I was never around for you children, but trust me, it’s not hard. Just create boundaries and buy her all she needs. And kids of these days, they like the internet. Give her a phone and data and she’ll be off your neck.”
Luper inclined backwards on the sofa. He felt drained. “How long had you been in town before you showed up here on Monday?”
“More than a month. I was…fortifying my relationship with Kezi…”
“Kezi? That’s what you call him?”
“And wrapping up things with Idenyi. The truth is that we made a deal fifteen years ago that you would come for Tabi when she becomes a teenager. You’re a year late.”
Luper was speechless. “Why wasn’t I told these things, Mom?”
“What was your dumb nineteen-year old self in the UK supposed to do with a child down here?”
“I grew into an adult, Mom. I became a man. I should have been told.”
“Yes, I should have told you earlier, but you were doing well with your life. I didn’t want to spoil it.”
“Thank you for spoiling it now.”
“Asides that, Idenyi never loved the child. Tabi has been in her great grandmother’s care since her grandmother died. Idenyi couldn’t connect with her from the day she was born.”
“Yes. So what we’re doing is rescuing the child from her. She’s happy, actually. Oh, and there’s more…”
“She now owns the school in Makurdi.”
“I didn’t do that. Trust me, I’m not that stupid. Your dad did.”
“But in his will, it belongs to Terwe.”
Udazi sneezed into a tissue. “Your father had a separate will that does not revoke the original. It states that Idenyi can take over the school until Tabitha turns twenty-one, and then her shares there would be passed down to her. But this can only happen if she hands over Tabi to us as already agreed. This means that Terwe, whom the school is originally bequeathed to, would have to agree to share partnership with her.”
“Terwe doesn’t agree to this, right? Please, tell me he doesn’t.”
“You know your brother never cared for anything we did in this family.”
Luper hung his head in disappointment.
“He handed everything over to Idenyi. He is as stupid as your father. He feels we owe her as a family. Anyways, there’s still a plus to it. You remain in charge of all the schools. Idenyi still answers to you.”
“I don’t want to have anything to do with her.”
“You have no choice. Believe me, I don’t want her in your life either. Your penis caused this.”
“But I don’t understand why Dad would hand her the school he gave Terwe. Why not the one here? I’m the person he should be stressing, not Terwe.”
“Because he already gave that evil ex-wife of yours a share here. Seriously, your women are a huge problem to this family. I hope you choose wisely next time. We need an asset, not a liability.”
“And Dad wrote this alternative will when?”
“On his deathbed. You should ask Shipinen. She was probably sucking his dick when he was writing it.”
“I think so.”
Luper rubbed tired eyes. “Can you tell your houseboy to get us a bottle of wine? My head is spinning.”
“We’re back on alcohol again?”
“It’s just wine, Mom. Jeez!”
Udazi called in Irobosa. He entered the living room bare-chested, a t-shirt stuck in the waistband of his jeans. He had a film of sweat over his body.
“Which one is all this sweat? Are you working out or what?” Udazi asked. Luper watched her eyes run up and down the young man’s frame.
“Get us a bottle of wine from the collection I bought. And two glasses. Some ice too, please.”
“No ice,” Luper ordered.
“Just one then.”
Irobosa strutted off like someone on a fashion runway.
“So, Tabitha has been in this same town with me all these years?”
“Since she got into secondary school. Idenyi’s mom moved here years ago. Look, you’ll be fine, Son. Just be her father.”
“Does she know about…?”
“Idenyi is not stupid to tell her that sort of thing.”
“Idenyi hated me enough to keep her away from me.”
“No, Tabitha doesn’t know what you did to her mother. And don’t ever bring it up, no matter what type of holy spirit is pushing you to tell the truth.”
Luper hated the truth now. Hated that it had torn him away from Dugo. If only he had shut his mouth up about his past.
The wine arrived, served by Irobosa who strutted off as before. Luper downed his first glass and filled it again.
“Why don’t you have a woman in your life?” Udazi asked.
Luper grunted something inaudible. He sent his second glass of wine down his throat. He was going for the bottle again but Udazi snatched it away from him. He rose up.
“I’m going to bed.”
“Get a girlfriend, Lu. You’re getting old.”
He ended up in his man cave, intentionally getting himself drunk to enable a restful night. He hadn’t had one of those in a while. He thought about his father and why he had cut him away from the decisions he made; why he had not told him he was putting Idenyi back in his life; why he had made a separate will on his dying bed. There were things that didn’t add up.
Luper went to sleep, also thinking about Idenyi and the night he violated her. There had been love on that bed. Kisses, tender caresses from two teenagers… And then things went dark.
Church had been boring. It was one of those prayer services. Apparently, there had been a fast, as well. But Luper had not gotten the memo. Neither had he concentrated much because his thoughts were elsewhere the entire time. The instant he got the chance to make clean his escape after the service, he hurried out of one of the entrances. His mother would stay back, of course. He couldn’t wait for her.
As he headed towards the exit, he heard Shipinen calling after him. He ignored her. She caught up with him outside the building.
“Wait nau!” She was breathing hard, walking awkwardly in her stilettos. He stopped. “Na wa for you o. I thought we were not fighting again na.”
“I’m sure I told you I wanted to have a few words with you the other day and you told me you were out of town.”
“True, I traveled.”
“And you got back and didn’t call me?”
“Check your phone. I called you last night.”
Last night, he had been drunk. Same way he had been on Friday. He feared that he was going back to the addiction he struggled with after the unfortunate incident with Idenyi.
He checked his call log. Shipinen had actually called him three times.
“I got back into town yesterday night and tried your number immediately.”
“Were you drunk?”
He started to walk away.
“I can see the signs. Your eyes are tired and you have that lost look.”
“Not in a good mood. What do you want?”
“It’s you that wants to see me nau.”
“Yeah, true. But can we do this later? I have this massive headache. I want to go and sleep.”
“At least give me a ride home. My car is with the mechanic.”
Shipinen followed him to the car park. When they got into his car, she took off her suit. The chemise underneath it hung low, exposing her cleavage. He took his eyes off the sight.
“So, what’s wrong?” she inquired.
“What’s wrong, as in…?”
“You’ve been frowning a lot these days. Trouble in love paradise?”
Luper gave no answer. He started the car.
“Luper, we used to be best friends…”
“I don’t recall that.”
“We used to be. You know you can tell me anything.”
“Or nothing at all.”
The car eased out of the parking lot and to the street outside the church building.
“I know about your daughter.”
Luper looked at her.
“Mommy told me the other day when she came to the school. It was said to pepper me or something, considering my permanent childlessness.”
“I hate it when you call yourself that.”
“But that’s what it is. I’m childless and she was reminding me to make me feel bad.”
They came out to an intersection.
“So you really have a kid?”
“She’s fourteen. But you already knew this before me.”
“What are you talking about?”
“My dad’s second will. Weren’t you there when he wrote it?”
“I actually helped him write it.”
“So you knew everything.”
“Why are you pretending?”
“Wait… Are you saying that the chick he gave the Makurdi school to was not his sidechick and the child in question is your daughter?”
“You didn’t know?”
“The same daughter Mommy told me about?”
“When did this happen?”
“Remember that story I told you about the girl… The rape story?”
“The girl got pregnant. Tabitha is the result.”
“Tabitha! Yes! That’s the name in the will. That’s your daughter?”
“Pretty name. Wow.”
“She’s gorgeous. She looks like me.” It was the first time Luper was having tender thoughts towards his daughter.
“So her mother was the chick that came that day…?”
“The day Daddy died. I think the Idenyi person was the one that came to the house.”
“She was there?”
“Yes. They talked for a long time and then she left. That was when he told me to write the will. After I did, he told me to call Terwe in. They spoke for a while.”
The night his father passed away, Luper had been in a meeting. Every family member had been present. Luper got there to meet him dying. His father held his hand and then let go to touch his face. The last words he had said to him were, “I’m sorry.” His hand dropped from his face when he breathed his last.
“You’re sure it’s Idenyi?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
Luper passed Shipinen his phone.
“Get on my Facebook and search for her name there.”
Shipinen followed his instructions. When Idenyi’s name popped up, she clicked on her profile.
“That’s her! That’s the chick.”
Luper said nothing. Shipinen went through Idenyi’s photos.
“I can’t see your daughter here.”
“Why didn’t you tell me these things after the old man died, Shipi?”
“You and I weren’t exactly best friends then.”
“Did he tell you anything about why he asked you to write it?”
Luper steered the car to the left of the intersection. They came to a larger junction and stopped under a traffic red light.
“Where’s she though? This Idenyi chick.”
“Have you guys met?”
“We ran into each other a few times in the past. I’ve had her number this whole time but we never communicated. I haven’t seen her since this whole thing started sha. She thought it smart to keep Tabitha away from me all these years. She still hates me, I guess.”
“I’d still hate you too.”
Luper eyed Shipinen.
“Hey, I’m not judging. Just saying.”
The traffic light went green.
“So how is Adaugo taking it? Or she doesn’t know?”
“She dumped me. You can go ahead and gloat. My life is shitty now.”
“Gloat? Luper, you know I’d never do that. I don’t like Adaugo but your breakup doesn’t make me happy or anything. I’m more concerned about you.”
“Would you have been concerned if I had not let you take control of the summer school?”
“Look, we can have our corporate issues with each other, but when it comes to your personal life, I don’t have any business with that.”
They drove on for a while, silence on both ends, until Luper asked a damning question.
“Did you ever have sex with my dad?”
Shipinen repeated the question out loud.
“Stop echoing me.”
She stared out the window. “I…”
“If you’re going to lie, don’t bother answering.”
“I didn’t sleep with him.”
“Were you in love with him?”
She kept her eyes outside. There was no response from her.
“You said if I was going to lie to you I shouldn’t bother answering.”
“So you had something with him then.”
“Why? I wasn’t good enough?”
“Are we really doing this on this fine Sunday afternoon, Lu?”
“Yes, we are. I need to know. I’m tired of my past coming back to haunt me. So please, tell me everything.”
“Okay, I felt he was a better man. Satisfied?”
“How was he a better man?”
“He was there for me. You weren’t. He cared for me…”
“He was old and sick! How could he have cared for you?”
“He listened. He always listened.”
“And I did not.”
“No. You were competing with yourself, trying to prove to yourself that you were better than yourself. It was all about you. I didn’t exist.”
Luper couldn’t argue with her. She was right. “Have I said sorry for all of that?”
“Okay, Shipinen, I am sorry. For what I put you through, for the pain I caused, for not listening, for not being there and for not being a better man. If I could go back, I’d do things differently. You deserved better.”
“Awwwn. I’m sorry too. And I feel like crying. Can we talk about something else now? Like your daughter. She sounds interesting.”
“Teenagers are not interesting.”
“But you are great with them in school. They love you, Luper. Kids love you.” Her voice dropped. “I wanted so badly to see you as a father.”
“We’re talking about something else, remember?”
“Yeah… Kids. They love you. Don’t sweat it. Tabitha would be blessed to have you in her life.”
“I was ashamed when I was first introduced to her, and I’m afraid that it’ll never go away. I feel like each time I look at her, I’ll be reminded of what I did to her mom.”
“But you told me you didn’t remember all that happened that night.”
“I passed out after I did it. Her friend heard her screaming and called the gateman. He broke the door in and woke me up. There was blood on the bed. She was crouched in the bathroom, crying.
“It was that bad?”
Memories filled his head rapidly. His thing with Idenyi had been teenage love. He was nineteen. She was seventeen. But they had been dating on an off since she turned thirteen. Her family and his were close. She was that one girl everyone kept saying he would get married to. But her family wasn’t that rich. Her mother worked in his dad’s school in Makurdi. Her father was a civil servant, stationed in Jalingo.
He was in love with Idenyi. At least, he believed so, although he cheated on her a few times. He had bad influence then. From his cousins and brother, Terwe, who was only eleven months younger than he was, but more knowledgeable about the world. He was also street-smart. Luper’s choices were influenced a lot by the others; and he, on the other hand, was quite stupid.
Idenyi was a virgin, desperate to have sex that night. She had just gotten admission into the university and she didn’t want to go there a virgin. She wanted Luper to be her first. He didn’t want to. He loved her too much to do it. But Terwe and his cousins had convinced him to give her what she wanted. And so, he invited her over to spend the night. Her mother had gone visiting her father in Jalingo. She was all on her own. His parents were out of the town as well. She came over to Luper’s, but with her friend. Luper could remember being annoyed with her for bringing the girl along, but in reflection, he was grateful that she did. The beast in him might have gotten up from his stupor and raped her a second time that night if the friend hadn’t intervened.
“I was a monster, Shipi. No excuses.”
“No wonder you were so gentle with me on our first night. Always asking if it was okay to kiss me and stuff.”
Luper didn’t miss the tenderness in Shipi’s tone. “Stop.”
“You’re a good man. I hope Adaugo knows that.”
The mention of Dugo made him sad. He chose not to talk for the rest of the trip. Shipinen was happy to do all the talking. From time to time she would chip in subtly that she was available for him. He acted like he didn’t know what she was up to. When he stopped his car outside her home, she invited him in. He declined.
“Thank you, though.”
“Alright. Take care.”
He went shopping for foodstuff, and then home, after that. His mother had Pastor Keziah over. Luper stopped for a bit to greet the man before heading for his bedroom. He lay on his bed, under the full blast of the air conditioner. Sleep came speedily, but it lasted only a couple of hours before he was awoken by a loud knock on his door. He heard Udazi calling his name. He slipped into a bathrobe and opened the door.
“Tabitha is here. She wants to see you.”
“She came with Idenyi?”
“No. Alone. She took a cab. I’ve asked her why she’s here, but she won’t say. She insists on seeing you.”
He stepped out, but Udazi stopped him. “I’ll send her up. Keziah is still here.”
Luper waited for Tabitha. He heard the girl coming up the stairs. He tightened his bathrobe. He noticed her probing down the opposite end of the hallway.
“Here!” he called.
She walked to his door.
She was a fashionable young girl. He hung around enough teenagers to know that her outfit was keeping with the trend of the day.
“Hello Tabitha. You want to see me? Where’s your mom?”
“I don’t know. She wasn’t in the hotel when I left.”
“Mommy got grandma a new house but they’re working on it, so we’re staying in a hotel for now.”
Luper was picking up that she wasn’t shy. She had spoken to him with her eyes on him.
“So your mom knows you’re here?”
“You want to come in…?”
“No,” she answered hastily, shaking her head, her foot going a step backwards.
“Okay. So you want to talk?”
She stared down. His eyes followed hers. She had on a pair of blue unisex sneakers.
“Is it true that you raped my mom?”
There was a sudden heavy feeling in Luper’s tummy. His muscles went rigid.
“Who told you that?” he asked with a controlled voice.
“Grandma did. Is it true?” Tabi was fiddling with the strap of her purse. She was looking at him now. He couldn’t take his own eyes away.
“Tabi, it was a long time ago. I…”
“So it’s true?” Her voice went thin.
She looked at him like he was trash, turned around and broke into a run.
She hurried down the stairs and out of the house. Luper went after her, but caught her getting into a taxi that zoomed off as he approached the gate.
He returned to his bedroom. Udazi followed him upstairs. Luper tried Idenyi’s number. He dumped the phone on the bed and put it on speaker as he slipped into a pair of joggers.
“What happened?” Udazi asked.
“She knows,” Luper answered.
“She knows what?”
“She came to ask me about me and Idenyi.”
“Idenyi told her?”
“No, the old woman did.”
“For heaven’s sake! Why won’t that wrinkled, old rat just drop dead? Have you called Idenyi?”
“That’s what I’m doing. She’s not picking.”
Luper tried Idenyi’s number a second time. “What type of stupid taxi man allows a teenager into his taxi sef?” he muttered to himself.
The call went through. Idenyi came on. “Luper, hi.”
There was some background music on her end.
“Hi Denyi. Sorry to disturb but Tabitha just left here.”
“Where? Your house?”
“Can you go somewhere less noisy? I can’t hear you.”
Luper picked up the phone and switched it off speaker.
“She came to see you?” Idenyi inquired.
“Yes. She asked me about what happened between us. Her exact words were ‘is it true that you raped my mom?’”
“She said your grandma told her.”
Idenyi groaned “And what did you answer?”
“I was trying to and she just ran off.”
“You should have lied.”
“I didn’t get the chance to. Where are you now? I guess you’re not at home…or the hotel.”
“No. I went for a wedding.”
“Can I have the hotel’s address? I want to see her.”
“I doubt that she’ll be there. She’ll be at her friend’s house.”
“You let her go anywhere she likes without supervision? Who even gives her cab fares?”
“The guy is my cab guy. And please, stop judging me.”
“Give me her friend’s house address and the hotel’s address.”
“I’ll text them to you. Please, Luper, I’d advise that you ignore her. Tabi can be quite rude and wild.”
“Don’t worry about that. I know how to handle teenagers. Send me both addresses.”
The line went off. Luper wore a t-shirt. He left the house. Idenyi’s text dropped in as soon as he got into his car. He went to the hotel first, which was the closest to his location. Tabitha wasn’t there. He drove to the friend’s house next. It was in a gated estate. He was restricted from entering, but luckily for him, Tabitha and the friend emerged from the estate at that moment.
Luper came out of his car. The instant Tabitha saw him, she pulled the hood of her sweater over her head and hastened her steps.
“Tabi!” he yelled, going after her. “Stop!”
Her friend stopped but she continued on.
“Tabitha! Hey!” He grasped her hand. “I’m talking to you!”
“Don’t touch me!” She brought her movement to a halt, swiveling around. Luper lifted his hand. Her eyes regarded him in defiance. Luper knew she was trouble, but it didn’t stop him from asking her friend to give them privacy.
“Look…. What your great grandma told you about me is true. I did what she said. You were never supposed to find out. There’s no day that I think about it that I don’t regret it. And I think about it a lot. You have every right to hate me. I hated myself too. But that’s my past, Tabi. I’m a different person now. I’m changed. And I really want you to give me a chance to become your father…”
Tabitha rejected his proposal with a vigorous shake of her head.
“It’s never going to happen. I hate you. It’s because of you Mommy never wanted to be around me. She looks at me like I did something bad to her! How is it my fault?!”
Luper didn’t see coming the tears that swamped Tabitha’s eyes. They came in a rush.
“I hate you! I don’t want you to be my dad! I don’t even know why you decided to appear from nowhere! I hate you! Go away from my life! Leave me alone!”
“Leave me alone! Leave me! Leave me!”
One of the security men at the gate came towards them. “What’s going on here?”
Luper wasn’t pleased with the intrusion. “Nothing. We’re just having a talk.”
“Mr. Man, who are you and why are you harassing these young girls?”
“I’m her father,” he replied, pointing at Tabitha.
“He’s not my father! I don’t know him!”
“Tabi?” her friend scolded in a low voice. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I’m her father,” Luper reiterated.
“He’s lying!” Tabitha insisted. “I don’t know him!”
She stomped back in the direction of the gate.
“Tabi!” Luper called. “Tabitha!”
Her friend looked at him apologetically before going after her.
“Sir, I suggest you leave before we call the police,” the security guard advised. Another car had pulled up. An elderly woman poking her head out of the window demanded to know what was happening.
Luper returned to his car and sat behind the wheel a broken man. He picked up his phone and drew up courage to dial Dugo’s number. He needed her desperately. She had a certain calm that no woman in his life had ever possessed. There was something comforting about her.
“Hello?” she answered.
Her voice was like a flicker of sunshine after an endless storm.
“Ace told me your line was roaming. I just wanted to try. How are you doing?”
“I’m fine. I’m…” He heard her whimper.
“Are you okay?”
There was a break from her end. He thought the line had gone dead.
“Ada, are you there?”
She answered with a sob.
“Hey, what’s wrong?”
“I lost him.”
“You lost who?”
“He died, Luper. He’s gone.”
“My ex. He’s gone.”
“Aww, I’m sorry.”
He listened to her cry, forgetting his own pain. He was pleased to be there for her. In some weird way, her tears gave him the comfort he sought for. It made him feel wanted.
“Are you still there?” Dugo asked.
“I’m right here.”
“Please, don’t go.”
And she broke down again. He put the car in motion, listening to her weep her heart out. They were just two people in pain, comforting each other. For that moment, it felt right. Nothing else mattered to him.