“Do you want to go on a road trip with me?”
Sunrise. Or the lack of it, because rainy morning. Cold bedroom. Dugo found her face nestled in his chest. It had been unfamiliar, at first, having a man reach out to hold her in the night as he did. Years spent being alone had gotten her accustomed to loving her solitude. Her body had almost rebelled against his. Her body also enjoyed being needed that way.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“Benin. I need to see an uncle who’s sick, and also sort out some of my dad’s property there. You want to come along?”
Dugo had other plans. She had wanted to visit her hometown for some time now, but had always found a reason not to. Maybe this would be a good opportunity to make the journey there.
“I play the best songs in my car.” Luper tried to be persuasive. “Plus, I can gist. And if you get tired of the trip at some point, we’ll look for the nearest town, pick a hotel and stay in all day and night, shagging.”
“Is that all you think of?”
Luper dragged her closer to his chest, his leg casing her in. “You’re all I think of. But is this too much? Me, getting all up in your space and wanting to be with, around and inside you every second?”
“It’s not too much. We’ll get tired eventually, no?”
“No.” He rubbed his nose against hers.
“We will. It’s how it goes. You do it a lot and then you get tired of doing it, and at night, you sleep, facing that side and I’m facing the other side.”
“We’d have had kids by then and they’ll be all grown up.”
“You’ll marry me, right?” He left the question in her eyes.
“Are you asking me to?”
“No. Not yet. Just wanting to know if I’m eligible to be your husband. You’re already more than qualified to be my wife.”
“Why do you think so?”
“Think so? I am certain, Ada.”
“Because I can’t think of anyone else I’d want to share my life with. Remember I’ve been married before, so I know what I want now. I know how to be a better husband. But it’s more about you. Your generosity to me. Your compassion. I mean, look at the business with Tabi. The way you handled it. The way you handled me.”
Dugo laughed, recalling her anger at him over his refusal to let Tabitha travel with her friend. It was Shipinen who had called and given her the information. These days, Shipinen was less bitchy.
Her phone call had come early some mornings ago, just before Dugo got out of bed. Luper was in the bathroom then. Dugo had burst in on him taking a dump and gone into scolding him. She told him he was making a mistake with Tabitha, reminding him that he was the only reasonable adult in her life at the moment. She also told him that he couldn’t run away from his responsibilities just because he wasn’t her real father.
“She’s your daughter. I don’t care that you hate your brother. She is your daughter and you will treat her that way! Do you understand?”
“You can’t even let me shit first?”
“Screw your shit. Tabitha is not Terwe. Don’t let her suffer for what her father did. You will sign the papers and she will go on that trip.”
His voice was as meek as his face. He looked contrite. “I’m sorry,” he apologized. She relaxed. “I thought I was protecting her.”
“You’re pushing her away.”
“Fine. We’ll go to the immigrations office for her passport today and meet Stella’s mom to have a talk about the trip.”
It took three days to have the necessary documents sorted out. The moment Tabitha got her passport, she threw her arms around him in excitement and told him she loved him and dashed out of the immigrations office. That evening during dinner, Luper asked Dugo if the child had meant it.
“I hear ‘I love you’ being thrown around on social media anyhow. It has to be that, right? She doesn’t really love me, does she?”
“And if I had been stubborn and not allowed her travel, she’d have hated me abi?”
“Don’t overthink it, handsome. See it as a good thing. She hated you before, now she’s saying she loves you. It’s a win, no?”
The excitement was turned down a notch the next day on Tabitha’s end, as if she had realized that she had shown too much of herself to him. Luper was more comfortable with her that way. But he was certain they had passed that terrible first stage that had initially kicked off their relationship. He consented when Dugo asked if she could take Tabitha shopping. He gave her his debit card.
“You don’t want to come along?”
“No. Just you girls. Besides I have to meet up with the investigator my mom hired to look for Terwe. The man says he has a new lead.”
Luper shook his head. “He just needs to sound like he’s doing his job.”
“And the police? Won’t they find something?”
“I have that handled already.”
Dugo wasn’t sure she knew this side of Luper. The side that could make his brother go missing and then act all normal about it.
“But you’re sure he is okay?”
“Yeah. I just need him to fear God small. I feel sad for his wife, though. She’s doing poorly.”
Dugo went shopping with Tabitha afterwards. They had a good time, and bonded so much that the girl shared more than a couple of secrets with her.
“She has a boyfriend,” Dugo revealed to Luper later that night.
“What? A boyfriend? What does she need a boyfriend for?”
“It’s long distance. The boy is in Kano. They chat online.”
“And send nudes to each other.”
“Why do you always think of the worst thing?”
“Teenagers and phones? Hello!”
“No. No nudes. Just chats. Your daughter is smart enough to know that the relationship is nothing serious.”
“Did you do the sex talk with her?”
“Is it my job to do the sex talk?”
“Since y’all are bonding…?”
“Don’t be a lazy father, Luper. Get close to your daughter.”
“It’s harder than you think.”
And so he tried. He took Tabitha to the movies. They saw a movie together. When she got cold, he took off his shirt and wrapped her in it, left only in his undershirt. And when there was a sex scene, he looked at her awkwardly and asked, “Is this why you picked this movie?”
The girl shook her head, stuffing her mouth with popcorn. Luper put his hand over her eyes until the scene was over.
“After the movie, I told her we needed to talk about things like the sex scene we…I watched,” he said to Dugo when he got home that evening.
“And she said Stella’s mom already did that. And her great grandma too. She said the old woman’s lecture was very graphic. She was too ashamed to tell me what she had told her.”
Dugo laughed. “I don’t want to imagine.”
“She said, ‘no more sex talk, Daddy.’ And I said, ‘oh yes, there will be. Travel and come back first.’”
Dugo smiled at him. “I’m proud of you.”
“I’m proud of myself. The way I’m feeling now, I don’t want her to know the dirty business about Terwe. I’m fine with her believing I was trash to her mother.”
“I’m not fine with that. Maybe she’s too young to know now. But she has to know the truth. She has to know you’re a good man, Luper.”
“Am I…a good man?”
Dugo didn’t give him an answer that night. But she had one for him now. “You’re a good father. A good man.”
His kiss was needy. His arms around her, possessive.
“Let’s travel today,” she agreed, responding to his road trip suggestion.
“Ya. Do you have anything you want to do here today?”
Neither did she. “So, let’s go.”
“Una two don mad sha,” Ace said a while later when he saw Dugo loading up Luper’s car with snacks while Luper changed one of his front tyres. “When are you coming back?”
“Not sure,” Luper answered. “Five days tops.”
Ace looked at Dugo and nodded in the direction of the house. She followed him in.
“So you’re going to your village?”
“To do what exactly?”
“I don’t know. Maybe build something on my parents’ grave to remember them.”
“Is that all?”
“Why are you asking me these questions?”
“Because I don’t want you going back there and unearthing things that need to be buried.”
“My parents are not things.”
“I didn’t mean that. I mean you should leave the past where it is. Nobody in your village gives a fuck about you.”
“Ace, I’ll be fine.”
“You’ve mentioned getting back your father’s land. I don’t think it would be a good idea. People can be very wicked when it comes to land issues. I don’t want you getting hurt.”
“Trust me. I’m not doing that. I just want to see my parents’ graves and say hi to them.”
“Okay. Don’t go looking for the trouble of the village people.”
The trip was enjoyable, as Luper had assured. He kept to his promise of being a chatterbox. His collection of songs were great too. They rode all the way to Enugu. He would have gone as far as her father’s compound had Dugo not declined his offer. She wanted to smell the air and see the sights on her own.
“I’ll meet you in Benin,” she said, clinging to her backpack when she came down from the car.
“You’ll be fine, right?”
She pecked him on the cheek, and stood until he disappeared. And then she breathed in the air. There was the smell of progress and transformation, although not as much as she had expected. But it was still her Enugu. She was tempted to stay in the coal city just to see the sights. Home called her, however. She walked further into the park and picked a bus heading down to her village.
It was the wet season. The untarred roads were soggy with clayey soil that dominated the entire eastern side of southern Nigeria. The transformation she had witnessed in the city seemed to have filtered into the villages. One couldn’t really call them villages now. They were more like developing towns, with telecom masts towering over buildings that bore modern architecture. Banks and ATMs fringed the major street. There were more automobiles and shops. It was said that a sizable number of Igbos who had fled the north because of the constant upheavals had returned to continue their businesses. This had boosted economic growth and slowed down the exodus of young people to urban areas for a better life.
But underneath all of the upgrading, Dugo could still taste the sweet air of the home she left behind. The smells of palm fruits, local spices and thick vegetation. The sounds of different species of birds and other creatures from the towering trees. She could even hear the faint melody of someone playing the ijele, complemented by the sound of pestle against mortar, indicating that palm oil was in the process of being made.
As she trudged on a muddy road that once allowed only pedestrians and bikes through, she enjoyed the feel of the murky soil underneath her feet. She had bought a pair of flip-flops just for this purpose. To feel this, to be brought back to her life as she once knew it.
She cast her eyes on low-hanging branches of trees beside her as she walked. They were stained with red soil. Same as the walls of some of the houses. Back then, people didn’t paint their walls, so as to avoid the muddy stains, which usually came to be whenever it rained. Dugo noticed there were more painted houses now. Many of them having lofty gates and high fences. The elaborate designs on the gates, for some, told how rich the owner of the house was.
Dugo moved a little from the road, shifting towards the brush of weed on her left to let an oncoming vehicle drive by. The driver waved at her. She waved back. She wondered if the person recognized her.
Her father’s compound was still quite a distance. She didn’t care, though. She enjoyed the stroll, the walk past people; some of them whom she recognized but didn’t recognize her. She didn’t bear the strong features of her father’s face. Her looks were a blend from both parents, with more of her mother’s likeness.
“Are you not the daughter of Mazi Nkemakona?” a lady who had just dashed past, stopped and asked Dugo in Igbo.
“No,” Dugo responded politely, bring to a halt her movement.
“But you look like him. Are you not his second daughter? The one that married a Hausa man?”
The woman rested a hand on her waist in confusion. She had a basket on her head. She was taller than Dugo who was finding it hard guessing what the tightly-woven basket held. She thought she had just seen it move on its own.
“Idikwa sure?” The woman was insistent. Dugo laughed graciously.
“Okay.” She wiped non-existent sweat off her forehead and used the same hand to blow her nose into the bush beside them. “What is your name?” She switched back to Igbo.
Dugo thought about lying. She didn’t want anyone knowing she was back, although she wasn’t doing a good job of hiding the fact by walking openly on a busy road.
“Whose Adaugo are you?”
“Ganiru. Ugwuanyi Ganiru.”
“Ewooo!” The woman thrusted both hands upwards in the air and then dropped her basket to the ground. Dugo saw that it was layered with leaves bearing live edible worms.
The woman threw her arms around Dugo, welcoming her home, asking her where she had been, why she hadn’t come to bury her mother, where her brother was.
“You’re so beautiful now. Imagine! Are you married? Where’s your husband? How many children do you have?”
“I’m not married,” Dugo replied.
“Why?!” The woman cried. “As beautiful as you are? You haven’t found any man yet? Please, don’t tell me that.”
Dugo was laughing.
“You have to marry quickly. You know we women get old very fast.”
Dugo didn’t argue. She gave a nod.
“So, you are going to see your people?”
“Okay, go well. I will come and see you tomorrow.”
“Go ahead. Go.” The woman urged her on. Dugo continued on her journey. She looked back and saw the woman staring at her with what looked like a mix of admiration and pity. She saw her shake her head. Dugo smiled and kept moving. She was soaking with sweat, tempted to take out the small electronic fan she had come with. But somehow she enjoyed the heat. It reminded her of the days she stayed under the sun for hours, hawking okpa.
Another car was coming up ahead. She moved out of the way to let it totter by. There was no wave for her this time. Just a grumpy familiar face she used to know. The man that had chopped off some part of Chigo’s ear with his cutlass because Chigo had gone after one of his women. Following the car closely behind was a bike, festooned with blinking lights and painted in the colors of the rainbow. On it sat three young men, each of them with short dreadlocks. They were talking all at once, competing with the loud sound of Pheno’s music playing from the bike’s speakers.
Dugo was almost home at this point. She could sight the yam barn her father had built that once used to be verdant, but stopped being after he died. Her mother had not been able to continue with his farm because some relative had snatched it up from them. The barn remained bare for years. Presently, it was overrun by crawling plants.
Dugo stopped when her feet came to the entrance of her home. Everything had changed. A new building took over the former structure. Out of the three palm trees that stood tall in the compound, only one remained. The huge iroko tree that towered the compound was still there. Her mother’s local palm oil press was also untouched. It stood before the gate that led to the intimate part of the compound.
Dugo felt strong emotions overwhelm her. She shivered. Her eyes followed a family of chickens as they clucked past. She inhaled and exhaled more than a couple of times, before pulling her heart together and making the courageous journey towards the house.
She rapped on the front door. A tired female voice asked who she was. Dugo gave no answer. Soon after, the door opened and a tall man was standing before her. It was her cousin, the son of the uncle who had taken the compound from them. The only relative she still communicated with. She had found him on Facebook and had since kept the connection open. His name was Fidelis, fondly called Fide. He was happy to see Dugo. He pulled her to himself for a hug, bringing her into the house.
There wasn’t much to see in the tight space they called their living room. Apart from the three-sitter his wife was stretched on and a single chair and television resting on a timeworn wooden shelf, the place looked bare. Life had been hard for Fide. His wife contracted a lingering illness that had sapped every cash he had. Combined with the failing economy, getting by was a struggle.
Fide introduced Dugo to his wife. Her name was Nkoli. She looked like she was once beautiful. The frame that held their wedding photo hanging off the wall confirmed it. Dugo inquired about her health.
“I am tired, my sister. If God wants me to die, let him take me.”
Her husband rebuked her harshly. “Haven’t I told you to stop talking like this?”
Dugo was offered palmwine to drink. It was the only thing Fide claimed he had. His breath smelled like he had been drinking too much of it. He sat himself on a stool, his lower body covered in a wrapper. He fanned himself with a fan made of rafter while Dugo used her small electronic fan. The air was humid inside the house, but Nkoli was cold.
Fide had a lot to tell Dugo. Some of what he had to share didn’t matter to her, but she listened, nonetheless.
“Where are your children?” she asked after a long spell of being his audience.
“They are in Onitsha with Chudi.”
Chudi was his elder brother. The one who was rich beyond belief and rumored to have made his money by rendering his other brothers useless, just like their uncle in Benin. It was how these stories went. Nobody wanted to know that the rich ones worked hard and smart to make it in life; it was always that they were sucking someone else diabolically.
“You will sleep here, won’t you?” Nkoli asked, voice so frail that Dugo had to lean closer to pick her words.
“Yes, this is your father’s house. You cannot go and sleep somewhere else.”
Dugo didn’t tell her it didn’t feel like her father’s house anymore. She had plans to lodge in a hotel, but Fide and Nkoli won’t have it.
“Hotel kwa. Biko, stay here,” he told her in English. He held a bachelor’s degree in mass communication and had nursed dreams to be a political journalist. Business, however, had taken him to Enugu where he had stayed until Nkoli’s health rendered him broke.
“Alright, I’ll stay.”
They asked Dugo about life in Europe. Fide knew a few things about Germany from what he had read online. He wanted to know if he could ever get the chance to live and work there.
Dugo didn’t make any promises, but she assured him that she would find out if he was qualified. The sun began to set. Fide left the house to a friend’s to see if the man’s wife had prepared the soup he had paid her earlier to put together. He admitted that he was a terrible cook, and since Nkoli was too frail to do anything, he relied on the help of women in the community for their feeding.
After he was gone, Dugo went out to the backyard with the excuse to use the bathroom. The first thing her eyes rested on was the gravesite of her parents. Bricks had been used to mark off the area. Asides the raised earth to indicate that people had been buried there, one couldn’t tell. It seemed somebody was tending a small garden on the spot.
Dugo moved towards the graves with weak legs, her heart beating painfully as she recalled the day her father was lowered to the earth. How her mother had thrown herself on his grave every evening for a month and cried, how Dugo herself always went to the spot to pray whenever she faced difficult times.
She stood there now, and it was as if time hadn’t passed. A dove perching on the fence that demarcated the building from the land behind, touched down on one of the bricks surrounding the graves. It didn’t go away when Dugo shooed it off. It merely shifted and cooed.
Dugo lowered herself to the ground, just as tears broke from her eyes. She knew this would happen. She knew she’d feel this way, and yet she had come. Her emotions consumed her. She wept, asking her parents why they had left her alone in the world. Her mother’s death in particular shook her. It was more real to her now as she saw evidence of her passing.
Dugo didn’t care that Nkoli could hear her wail. “Mama, why? I told you I’d come back. I said I’d make you rich and happy. What am I supposed to do with all the money I have now? Who is it for? Why didn’t you wait for me?”
Agonizingly, she uprooted the plants on the graves. The dove fluttered up to the fence again to watch her, cooing as though asking her questions. When every last green plant was gone, Dugo’s tears stopped. She fetched some water from a tank that collected and stored rainwater from the roof of the house. After washing her hands and face, she returned to Fide’s voice calling her. He had come with egusi soup and with a few people who had shown up to welcome her home.
The evening was spent in laughter and palmwine long after the visitors were gone. Afterwards, Dugo retired to the room kept for her. It belonged to Fide’s children, having a sole mattress on the floor that faintly stank of urine. Dugo spread one of two wrappers given to her by Fide and lay on it, covering herself with the other. She spoke to Luper on the phone for a long time, and eventually fell asleep.
The couple of days that followed were spent visiting relatives and giving them envelops of cash, and also supervising the erection of a suitable memorial structure of marble over her parents’ grave. The man contracted to do the job was skillful. Dugo felt more than relieved when she saw the finished work. She ran her fingers over her parents’ names and kissed the structure. Fide was waiting to take her to the park on his bike. But before then, she had questions for him about Chigo.
“When last did you see him?” she asked.
“He doesn’t come here again. In fact, after your mother died, he visited only once. He hates all of us.”
“I don’t understand. He said he will fight for this land when he gets money. This is the only land our father had. The only thing he left for us.”
A look passed between Fide and his wife. Dugo caught the exchange.
“Why are you two looking at each other like that? Is there another land?”
“No,” they replied in unison.
Fide appeared uncomfortable.
“Fide, tell me what it is.”
“I’m not supposed to tell you. He said I should not tell you.”
“Please, don’t tell him I told you.”
“Tell me what?”
“You and Chigo have the same mother but different fathers.”
“What did you just say?”
“Chigo is not from this village. His father got your mother pregnant just before he died. Because the man was already married with children, the family refused to accept your mother’s pregnancy. Your father married her to cover her shame. Chigo was not his son. That is why he can’t lay claim on any land in the Ganiru family.”
The information overwhelmed Dugo. She became silent. She felt weak.
“Can we go?” she pleaded.
She followed Fide outside in a haze. She didn’t even give a proper farewell to Nkoli. At the motor park, she took Fide’s account details and transferred a sum of money that left his mouth agape for an embarrassing stretch of time.
Dugo started on her journey to Benin. Although she was going to be with Luper, she was nervous about the trip. Trudging down memory lane in her village and the revelation of Chigo’s paternity had sapped her. She was apprehensive of what the ghosts of Benin held.
After an emotionally-exhausting journey, she was standing outside Luper’s gate, eyes refusing to look down the street. The compound she had lived in still existed. Painted with a different color that was fading. She wondered how many times it had been repainted, if there was anybody in there that she knew, and who was now staying in the room where her mother had died.
The neighborhood had gotten a makeover with tarred roads and towering homes like the Torkumas. Some of the old houses were still untouched. It was Benin, after all. It had to maintain its ancient appeal.
The gate in front of Dugo opened. A young boy chewing something and fumbling with an earpiece stood before her. His eyes lingered a little. Dugo always had that thing about her melanin beauty that struck males at first glance.
“Good afternoon,” she greeted. “Is Luper here?”
“The man who owns this house. Mr. T?”
“Oh. Yes, he’s here. No, he went out.”
“Okay. Can I come in and wait for him? He’s expecting me.”
The boy moved away from the entrance, letting Dugo in. The house was the same. The water tap that had brought her and Luper together was still there. She could spot slight changes in the compound like the interlocked flooring beneath her and the collection of colorful flowers around the house. Dugo knew this was Luper’s doing. The arrangement was similar to the house he presently resided in.
She followed the boy to the verandah, and she could swear that she almost saw the younger Luper standing there, waiting for her.
She was led into the house. The intimidation that consumed her that first time was gone. It was just another house to her, except that photos of Udazi were on all four walls of the living room. The décor was simpler and more modern now, but the aura was unchanged.
“Please, sit down.”
Dugo stared at the chair the boy pointed at. There was a throw pillow on it with the words ‘Terwe Weds Catalina’.
She sat. The boy disappeared and returned with a bottle of water.
And he was out the door, leaving Dugo alone with her curiosity. She got off the chair and headed upstairs slowly, as if expecting to be caught at any moment. She arrived at the top floor, walking straight to Luper’s bedroom. She remembered the journey up here that first time. He had held her hand as they walked, asking her if she had been in a house this grand before.
“No,” she had answered.
“One day, you’ll be able to afford this.”
She had disbelieved.
“You don’t believe?”
He had opened the door as she did now.
“This is my sanctuary.”
She didn’t know what sanctuary meant then. All she knew was that it was the most expensive room she had been in. Dugo almost laughed, recalling her thoughts and how much she had changed from the girl she used to be. Luper’s bedroom had also undergone major changes – from the presence of a wallpaper to more masculine furnishings that replicated his current bedroom back home.
Dugo basked in the warmth of the room, as if Luper was there with her. She kicked off her sneakers and drew herself into the bed. As soon as her head touched the pillow, she fell asleep. When she opened her eyes again, it was near dusk and she had somehow in Luper’s clutch.
“I thought I was dreaming that you walked in.”
“Looks like you didn’t get enough sleep these past three days. You didn’t even budge when I drew you close.”
Dugo yawned into his chest and then breathed in his scent. “I missed you.”
“You did?” He went lower to kiss her. His lips were warm and tasted of something sweet. She got on top of him and kissed him softly. She always enjoyed the infatuated look he often bore for her.
“Is this lack of sleep in your eyes, Ada, or did you cry a lot?”
“Don’t spoil the mood.”
“How was home?”
“You want to tell me about it?”
She shook her head like a little girl. “I’m just happy to be here with you. Can we go back to that first day and do everything like we did? I think that was the day I fell in love with you.”
“Well, it didn’t start with you being on top, if I recall. I offered you wine and you said you hated the taste.”
“And then you kissed me and I thought I was going to explode.”
“I feel like doing some exploding right now.”
“Really?” She pecked his nose.
“I want to pee.”
Dugo got off the bed to use the bathroom. When she was done and stepped out, she was snatched away by Luper who was standing just outside the bathroom door. He seized her by the waist from behind, lifting her feet off the floor, making her yelp. His lips brushed over the nape of her neck and her earlobe.
“I’m hungry. Can we eat?” she requested. His other hand was beginning to unfasten the buttons of her shirt. He stopped at her request and held her neck to run his lips over it, all the way to her jaw while his hand left her waist and sought her breast.
“You’re looking for trouble, Lu,” she said in a breathy tone. “Big trouble.”
“Let’s eat.” He stopped. She whirled around, took his face and brought her mouth up to his. The setting sun, peering in through the window, shared the moment with them, casting a glow on their faces.
“I hope we don’t have to cook?” She palmed his butt.
“I bought food.”
Somehow, they managed out of each other’s clutch and found themselves downstairs. Together, they laid the food Luper bought on a small glass table stationed at the veranda, surrounded by wicker chairs.
For a while they ate without speaking. Luper fed Dugo a couple of soft chicken bits dipped in sour sauce. She sucked the sauce off his fingers, and laughed when she saw him staring at her with thirsting eyes and parted lips.
By some miracle, they succeeded in finishing the meal without having a go at themselves right there on the table. But they made love under the shower. And on the bed, and downstairs in the living room when they returned to watch a movie.
“I’m so not going to get tired of doing this,” Luper told her. She was spooned by him. Her eyes were heavy. He played with her belly button, relaxing her. Soon, she was asleep. She didn’t know what time it was when he carried her upstairs and laid her on the bed. She didn’t know for how long she slept for, but morning came for her with the ringing of her phone. Ace was calling to know how she was doing.
“Good. I’m coming home today.”
She picked out something odd in his voice.
“Are you alright?”
“I think I have malaria.”
“Have you taken your drugs?”
“I’m going to my mom’s for agbo please.”
“Agbo is herbs, right?” Dugo reminded herself.
“Yup. Um… I have to go. A client is calling on the other line.”
“Okay. See you later.”
The connection went dead. Dugo’s ears picked out Luper’s voice from the hallway. He was shouting at someone, probably on the phone. She slipped on a shirt and headed out of the bedroom. She hadn’t taken more than three steps before she realized that Luper was not alone. Standing with him at the staircase was Udazi.
Dugo skipped a breath at the sight of her. She felt bile and the taste of nightmares from her past crawl up her throat. Dugo balled her hands to keep her emotions in place. It would be a shame if Udazi got a rise out of her. She no longer had the power to, she was dead to her.
“Luper?” Dugo called.
Mother and son turned. Dugo shifted her stare from Luper to Udazi. Their eyes fell into each other’s. Dugo couldn’t read what she saw. The woman was unreadable. Fifteen years later, she still bore the same look.
“Charity.” She smiled.
“Madam America,” Dugo responded.
“You’ve grown into a beautiful woman. Wow. You look so gorgeous.”
“Thank you.” Dugo smiled. “And you look like you should be dead by now.”
Udazi was hit by her words. Her chest heaved. She looked at Luper. He said something to her in Tiv and began downstairs. She redirected her stare to Dugo who remained on her spot.
“Adaugo. My name is Adaugo. And I will never forgive you for what you did.”
Dugo hurried back into the bedroom before the barrage of insults she had at the tip of her lips spilled out. As she sank into the bed, the tears came. And they flowed so heavy she was helpless to stop them. Flashbacks of Udazi and a nurse forcing her legs apart on a tipsy doctor’s examination table came at her. Her fifteen year-old self had panicked just at the start of the abortion of the fetus she was carrying, and the women had been instructed to hold her down. As the doctor invaded her body, Udazi humiliated her with words. She slut-shamed her. She threatened to kill her if she went near her son again. How could this same woman have the nerve to smile at her now?
The dam had been broken. More tormenting memories took over Dugo’s mind. She hadn’t anticipated that just an encounter with the galling woman would bring the past on her head with such a force. She dashed to the bathroom to seek strength underneath the shower. Luper came in. He leaned by the door and observed her, concern knotting his forehead.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
He waited until she was done. He handed her a towel.
“Something’s faulty with the AC in my car. I want to go to the mechanic to fix it. Do you want to come with me or…?”
“Alright. I won’t take long.”
He left. Dugo dried her body. She picked a pair of underwear from her backpack. Someone knocked on the door. She knew it was Udazi, even before the woman called her name.
Dugo went to the door. She opened it. She stood inside the room guardedly.
“Adaugo, I know I deserve death, as you said. I also know that you’d be justified if you killed me right now.”
“I’m not a killer. You’re the killer.”
“Listen…I’m just here to talk. Please, hear me out. Can I come in?”
Udazi lifted her eyes upwards, sighed and brought them down. “I hate to tell you this way, but your mother died in my arms, Adaugo.”
Dugo’s body became rigid. “You’re lying.”
“I don’t know what your brother told you, but she didn’t go peacefully. Your mother killed herself, Adaugo. I’m sorry, dear.”
“Your brother came looking for me too late. By the time I got to your house, she was almost gone. I couldn’t help her…”
“I’m not lying. Pick up the phone and call your brother.”
“It’s a lie.”
“I’ll call him myself and you can speak to him and hear it from his lips.”
“It was you who killed my mother,” Dugo said breathlessly.
“No. Chigo did. He told her you were dead and then she drank something and killed…”
Dugo took a step backwards and slammed the door in Udazi’s face. She couldn’t stomach one more word from Udazi’s mouth. Overcome by shock, she continued to walk in reverse until her legs hit the bed and she slumped hard into it.
The ghosts of Benin was stronger. She shouldn’t have come here or even gone on the trip with Luper in the first place. She should have listened to Ace and left the past where it belonged.