“I hate that we’re bonding. I really hate it.”
Laika yapped in response to Ace’s words. He sat on his hind legs for a second or two, hopped up again and began skipping around.
“Chill. Your turn will come.”
Ace had his hands full with both dogs. Santos was in an old bathtub in the backyard, having his bath for the month. Unlike Laika who loved baths, he was grumpy about it. His droopy face didn’t hide the fact that he would rather be elsewhere, but he sat patiently, waiting to be hosed down while Laika kept on with his hops, demanding his own bath time. Suddenly, both dogs began to bark in unison, their heads craned in the direction of the gate. Ace could hear a car that didn’t sound like Dugo’s driving in. He rinsed Santos and rose up, rubbing his hands on a towel.
“Stay here,” he instructed, but Santos raised his forelegs and rested them on the ledge of the bathtub. Ace saw what was coming before it happened. The dog vigorously shook off the water from his body, leaving him in a wet mess.
He dumped the towel and started towards the front of the house. He found Idenyi at the front door, holding a box by its pull handle.
She lifted one side of her lips in a shy smile. He always enjoyed what his presence did to her.
“Is it raining in the backyard or what?”
“I was giving the dogs a bath. How are you?”
“Great. I came to drop off Tabi’s things. Her dad wants her staying here for a bit. Dugo told you?”
“Whatever you did to that child the time she was here that has her behaving herself these days must be magic.”
“We bonded,” Ace replied. Tabitha had stayed with him during the time Luper and Dugo were at Benin. Idenyi had been out of the country as well. Ace had used tough love on Tabitha, and spent quality time with her outside the house, doing the things she enjoyed. Stella’s aunt in whose care Stella was left, had a thing for him, so they would allow both girls hang out under their supervision while they indulged in dates. The aunt had returned to Owerri where she worked. Ace had had no real interest in her, even though she’d been all over him, blatantly seductive. The connection he ensured that they shared had made him come to appreciate Idenyi even more.
“Tabi says you’re the coolest uncle,” Idenyi mentioned.
“Did she? She seemed to hate my guts.”
“That’s Tabi for you. I’m curious, though. Does she open up to you about her personal life and all?”
Tabitha told him everything. With him she was comfortable discussing topics she was shy about in the presence of her parents.
“Yeah, we talk a lot.”
“Let me help you get that.” Ace picked Tabitha’s box and opened the door. They entered the house. He dragged the box to the guestroom while Idenyi helped herself with a glass of cold water. Ace took off his wet shorts and t-shirt and dumped them in a basket in the laundry room. When he returned to the living room, his almost-nude appearance left Idenyi uneasy.
“I should be going.”
“Or you could stay for dinner.”
“Dinner is about three hours away. And I don’t want Tabi to find me here.”
“Because she has this crazy thing in her mind about me shamelessly crushing on you.”
“Ace…” Idenyi averted her eyes and swallowed a smile.
“This thing is going to happen, right?”
“Why is your mind dirty like this, Denyi? I said us, you heard sex.”
She snorted in laughter.
“Are we going to get past this stage into something serious? We chat on Whatsapp every other day, we flirt… How long will it go on until we dive right into it?”
“It was you who didn’t want something platonic.”
“But it was you who broke us off.”
“Because you wanted more.”
“And haven’t I somehow made it clear that I made a mistake?”
“Somehow is not enough. Say it, Ace. Say you messed up for wanting my body alone.”
“I’m not going to do that. I didn’t want your body alone. I wanted you and your body.”
“Well, we’ll stay as we are unless you ask. You can’t just dive right into me.”
Ace pushed back a smile, but ended up laughing.
“Before I forget, I’ll be in your studio tomorrow for a shoot. I need new pictures for my profile. Is ten in the morning okay?”
He had an appointment for ten. He mentally canceled and slotted her in.
“See you then.”
Idenyi stepped ouide. He followed her out, but returned to the dogs. Santos had made himself at home on a towel. Laika was waiting in the tub. Ace stooped down to give him a bath.
“On a scale of one to ten, ten being the highest, how much do you think I’m being sure about Idenyi?” he asked Laika. The dog barked excitedly. “No woman has ever made me this sure of what I wanted out of her. She makes me want to try new things.”
Santos lifted his head, growled, and put it down again.
“You’re not welcomed to this conversation, grouch.”
The school bus brought Tabitha home at five. Ace and the dogs were clean and dried up by then.
Tabitha greeted as she came in. Ace threw his hand behind him and she slapped his palm.
The bulldog ran to her, but Laika stayed back. She picked Santos up, carried him to a couch, and slumped into it.
“Uncle Ace, how good is your physics?”
“Top notch,” Ace answered as he fiddled with the buttons on one of his cameras. “Trouble with homework?”
“And classwork. I’m so going to flunk physics and chemistry in WAEC and Daddy’ll kill me.”
“No, you won’t. You’re good at both subjects. What happened to my science girl?”
“I don’t know. I’m just not feeling school these days.”
“Because of Sadiq? Already having issues?”
“I knew I shouldn’t have told you. You’re now using it against me.”
“You’re such a teenager. I simply asked a question about your boyfriend and you said I’m using it against you.”
Tabitha put Santos down and stood. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“My friend, sit down.”
“Uncle Ace…” she whined.
She gave a resigned sigh. Previous instances had proven that she couldn’t win if she tried to go against his orders. She dropped into the chair.
“You know you have to tell your parents you have a boyfriend, right?”
“Yes. Your relationship matters to them.”
“Relationship? It’s not that deep, Uncle Ace.”
“It’s deep if it’s affecting school work.”
“Do you want to tell me about it?”
“Is it something an adult should know?”
“It’s not sex, Uncle Ace. Or drugs or parties. Or any weird shit. I just don’t want to talk about it.”
“Sadiq is a straight A’s student, but don’t let him distract you.”
“Me, I hate that I told you everything about me,” she grunted. “Can I go now?”
She stood again.
Her shoulders dropped.
“Your parents have to know about him.”
“So that Mommy would do her sex education thing again? The last one is still traumatizing me.”
Ace recalled the gist of Idenyi’s attempt at sex education and laughed. She had gotten two of the most horrifying vaginal birth videos and showed them to Idenyi without uttering a word about sex. The girl took a whole week to recover. When he asked Idenyi about it, she showed him the videos. There was poop, perineum tear, babies shoulders stuck inside their mothers and a whole lot of screaming.
“Well, I’m glad you got the message. Still, tell them about Sadiq.”
“The physics notebook?”
Tabitha opened her schoolbag and took out a hardcover notebook. She showed him her assignment for the day.
“Easy-peasy. Go and change your uniform and come back so that we can work this out.”
The moment she went in, Dugo entered the house. She came in with shopping bags and a tired face.
“Where’s your car?” Ace asked.
“You will not believe that I forgot that I went out with it until I bought all I wanted at the supermarket and pushed out the cart to the parking lot.”
“Wait, what?” Ace laughed.
“I left it at the office and used a cab to the supermarket. Can you imagine? I told you that I hate driving.”
Laika was up on his feet, hopping around her.
“Laika, not now biko. I’m hungry and tired.”
She took her shopping into the kitchen and dropped them on the counter. She refreshed herself with a glass of water on ice.
“Tabi here yet?” she asked Ace.
“Yeah, she just got in.”
Ace came into the kitchen. He picked a pack of green grapes from one of the shopping bags. “You remembered. Thanks, baby.”
She got a kiss on her shoulder from him and they both set about shelving the items she bought. Dugo talked about how her day went and how one of the men from the ad agency she was working with on the migration campaign was hitting on her.
“He was using weak lines, and he was calling me ‘dear’. I told him twice to stop doing it. Second time I told him, he said ‘so sorry, dearie.’ I gave up.”
A can of kidney beans slipped from her hand and fell to the floor. “Scheisse!” she swore and ran a long expletive in German.
“Okay?” Ace stood before her and peered into her face. Frowning, she pushed him away. “What’s wrong?”
“I’ve been a klutz today.”
“Is that all?”
“You’re PMSing, maybe? Or suffering from lack of being dicked?”
“Verpiss dich, Ace!”
“I am not fucking off. Talk to me, Ada.”
She walked away from him to stow away a bag of boneless chicken cuts and gizzard in the freezer. She slammed the freezer door shut and saw Ace going for the last shopping bag.
“Not that one!” she almost shouted, diving for it. Ace held mischief on his face as he lifted the bag in the air. She grabbed it, but he held tightly. She went for it a second time and the bag fell back on the counter, its contents spilling. Dugo froze. Ace looked at her.
She rested her eyes on the home pregnancy test kits and the pack of Pregnacare vitamins for expecting mothers.
“I don’t know. Yes. I think I am. I’m not sure. No period last month. No period right now.” She shoved the items back into the bag. “Luper can’t know.”
“Why? He’ll be happy.”
“Don’t tell him.”
“I won’t, but you wanted the baby, right? I remember you were supposed to have your IUD inserted before his mother died and then you changed your mind.”
“You caused it with your ‘make him happy’ speech. And so, I made him happy a few times and now, period gone!”
“This is good news.”
“Iz not.” Dugo hurried out of the kitchen. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“You have to.”
“You have to.”
“No!” She entered her room and shut the door in his face.
“After dinner then,” he said. She told him to fuck off a second time. Tabitha came out of her bedroom.
“Uncle Ace, are you ready?” she asked.
Dugo had a restless night. It wasn’t one of those in which she had nightmares of her past abuse. In this one, she was with her family again. Her mom and dad. Chigo was absent, but it didn’t matter. She was back home in the village with them. Her dad had her on his laps as he shared stories from his childhood while they chumped on aki and ukwa. Her mom was roasting yam in the corner of the compound, under a huge avocado pear tree that spread out like a canopy. Earlier, Dugo had helped in pounding the pepper they were to use for palm oil sauce that would go with the yam. It was a happy but weird dream. She wasn’t a little girl. She was grown and pregnant, although her parents didn’t seem to notice this. Her mom still called her a baby and her dad sang to her songs she learned in nursery school.
They never got around to eating the yam. Her dad sent her into the house to get him a cup of water. Upon return, she didn’t find him or her mom. Dusk had quickly turned to darkness, and the compound disappeared as she stood right in the middle of it, calling out for them.
Dugo opened her eyes and tears quickly filled them. She clutched her pillow. Her lips quivered as a sob forced its way through. She cried for a long time. Sleep didn’t come easy, and when it did, remnants of her dream lingered in her subconscious. A phone call from Luper woke her.
“Thinking about you,” he said in his morning voice. “Did you sleep well?”
“Just a little worried and I don’t know why. I want to come over, say eleven, twelve? Is that okay? I’ll stop by the office for a bit.”
“I know I’ve been distant since my mom died. I’m sorry about that.”
“Don’t apologize. I’ve been there. I understand.”
“Still, I’m sorry. Thanks again for taking Tabi in. I don’t know how long Terwe’s going to be here. I don’t want her near him.”
“Anything for you, handsome.”
“What do you want me to bring for you when coming?”
“Your sexy ass, and please some schwanz. I’m starving.”
She heard him laugh. It made her smile.
“Gotta run.” He left a kiss and hung up.
Dugo dragged herself out of bed and to the bathroom. The pair of home pregnancy test devices, which she got the day before, was waiting for her in her drug cabinet. She took one out and spent some time reading the instructions. When she finally summoned the courage to take the test, it was with a wildly beating heart. She walked in circles around her bathroom, holding the test stick, scared to look at it. Coincidentally, Ace was knocking on her bedroom door at that moment. She rushed out to let him in. She shut the door and handed the electronic device to him.
“Tell me what it says.” She held her breath, biting her nails.
Ace looked at it. “Should I do this with a drumroll or just say it?”
“Just say it.”
“Positive? As in…?”
“You’re pregnant, Ada.”
He showed it to her. She peeped at it and exhaled.
She turned towards the bathroom. “I’m taking a second test. Thank God I didn’t pour away the pee.”
“There’s pee on this one?” Ace dropped the device.
Dugo ran a second test in the bathroom and the result came out like the first one.
“What were you expecting?”
“Let’s go to a lab or a hospital for a real test.”
“Deedee, these ones are accurate.”
“Please, I need to see a doctor.”
“I just came in to check on you, though. You didn’t have dinner last night and you went to bed really early. Talk to me, baby. How are you feeling about this whole thing?”
“I still don’t want to talk about it.”
“Alright. At least, come out for breakfast.”
“It’s just six.”
“And so? Come out and take cereal.”
Dugo followed him out. Tabitha was in the kitchen, already dressed for school. She was having breakfast of toast and tea. She greeted them both. Dugo dropped a kiss on her head.
“How are you, hasi?”
Hasi was Dugo’s pet name for Tabitha. Hasi meant bunny. Tabitha loved the name.
“I’m fine.” Tabitha placed her cup of tea on the table. “I made something for you.”
“For me?” Dugo asked, taking out a bowl for her cereal. The smell of Tabitha’s toast made her realize how hungry she was.
The girl unzipped her schoolbag. “I stopped by in art class yesterday and my friend made me design a notebook for you.”
Tabitha dipped her hand into her schoolbag and took a few books out before she found what she was looking for. When she pulled it out, something came along with it, falling to the kitchen table. She froze, eyes popping out.
“Whoa!” Ace exclaimed as his stare fell on the packet of condoms that had tumbled out of her bag. Dugo gently put her dish down and focused on the girl.
“It’s not… It’s not what you think. It’s not mine. I…”
“It came out of your bag, young lady,” Ace said. “You have to start explaining right…”
The sound of a horn outside interrupted him.
“The bus is here,” Tabitha mentioned, zipping up her bag. The condom pack remained on the table.
“You’re not going anywhere until you give me an explanation, Tabitha.”
“I can’t.” She held fear in her eyes.
“What do you mean you can’t?”
“Are you having sex?” Dugo asked.
“No. No, I’m not.”
“Please, don’t tell my dad. Please, don’t.”
“Tabitha, you’re not saying anything,” Ace stated.
The girl clutched her bag and dashed out of the kitchen.
“Leave her,” Dugo murmured.
The front door slammed. Both adults continued to stare at the condom pack.
“Do you think she’s lying about not having sex?” Dugo asked. “Sadiq seems like a nice guy.”
“I think it’s time we told Luper and Idenyi about him.”
“But is it a bad thing if she’s having sex at her age?”
Ace’s sharp glare at Dugo almost had her laughing. “No daughter of mine is having sex until she is at least, twenty-five.”
“She is not your daughter.” Dugo picked a box of cereal. “For me, I think it’s okay as long as she uses protection.”
“Can you hear yourself, Ada? You better not say this in Luper’s hearing.”
“No father would want his daughter having sex at this age.”
“She’s not a baby.” Dugo filled the bowl with cornflakes.
“She’s a minor.”
“Idowu, there’s nothing any of us can do to stop her from having sex. The best we can do is to encourage her to do it with the right person and to use condoms. You and Luper can shout from now until tomorrow, but a girl will do what she wants to do, especially if she likes the boy. We cannot stop her.”
“We should not encourage it either. Don’t you know that once she becomes sexually active, she becomes a target for abuse?”
“Looks like you have no idea how much girls, sexually active or not, virgins or not, are targets for abuse. The best thing to arm them with is sex education.”
“I support sex education. I just don’t think it’s right to encourage a minor to have sex.”
“I’m not encouraging her to do it, if she’s already doing it. I’m simply saying ‘use protection.’”
“I’d rather say, ‘don’t do it.’”
“Okay, let’s not argue over this.”
“I am so upset with her. She promised me she’d wait until she was eighteen.”
“She just told you she’s not having sex. Can you trust her?”
“Trust a teenager with hormones? I just hope that the idiot is not putting pressure on her.”
“We have to talk to her about that.”
“All four of us. I’m telling Luper and Idenyi.”
The talk came to an end. Dugo poured two spoons of powdered milk over her cornflakes and added some water.
“No nausea?” Ace inquired.
“You’ve not vomited?”
She ate as if she was famished. Ace sat beside her and kept busy on his phone. Two hours later, they were in the back of a cab, heading to a clinic in the neighborhood. Dugo dropped a compliment on Ace’s outfit when they arrived at the clinic. He made no mention about seeing Idenyi in a bit. He held her hand as they made their way in. At the front desk, he introduced himself as Dugo’s husband. It was something he enjoyed doing each time they went out together. The nurse at the desk smiled at them and asked them to have a seat. They were kept waiting for half an hour before Dugo was invited in to see a doctor.
He asked her basic questions and sent her to a lab for a blood test. The result was the same as the ones she took at home. She was pregnant. She wasn’t sure how she felt about it.
“Yesterday, I was stressed over it, not because I see the baby as a mistake. No. I’m too much of a grown woman to do that. I have everything I need to take care of a child.”
“Then, what’s the problem?”
“I don’t know… I don’t think I’ll be a good mother.”
“I am scared to make a mistake. Ace, a baby is a whole human being. Spirit, soul and body.”
“You’ll do great. No parent came into this world with a manual on how to be a perfect parent. They are not perfect. They make mistakes. They learn. They grow as their kids grow.”
“You know I was doing plenty babysitting for Mila. God, I love those perfect little things,” she said, smiling. There is a feeling that happens to me when I’m with them. I can’t explain it.”
“You feel your ovaries.”
“Oh, it’s deeper than that, Ace. Deep. I just want to hear them laugh. Sometimes, I can be away from them, doing something, and I remember them and I badly start wanting to leave what I’m doing to go to their house and tickle them, just to hear them laugh.”
“Okay, this is really deep.”
“They make me forget my pain. They remind me that there is still good in the world, you know? Children are special and real. You tell them about monsters and angels and they believe you. They don’t judge you. They take you as you are. You can be feeling your worst and looking like shit, but they like you like that. They take you away from stress. And I don’t care how messy they are or that I have to scream sometimes, I just love them. I want to love and I want to be loved back.”
Ace took her hand. “That is beautiful. I think you’re ready to be a mom. Of course, it’s much more than all you just said, but I feel you already have a grip on this. You have a huge heart, Ada. I’m already jealous of this baby.” He touched her tummy. “I think my excitement is yet to kick in. It will soon.”
“You that you have a baby on the way.”
“Sebastian’s baby, you mean?”
“What if it’s yours?”
“We’ve had this conversation already, Ada. I don’t believe Joana, but if that baby is mine, I’m taking it from her.”
“So, you will do a DNA test?”
“No. What you don’t know won’t kill you. But let’s bone that yarns abeg. I’m more interested in our little Torkuma here.” He spoke to her tummy. “Hi baby. In eight months, you’re going to come out of an award-winning vagina.”
Dugo nudged Ace away.
“Your mommy has fans all over the world. Many of them so want to get it.”
She slapped him off. “You’re already a bad influence on my child. Satan, be gone.”
Ace turned serious suddenly, but bearing a tender look on his face. “I am happy for you, Ada. You’re not the same woman I met last year. You’ve grown.”
“You changed my life massively, and you asked for nothing in return. And to think I seriously wanted to get into your pants at that initial stage.”
Dugo giggled. “I did. It was in your eyes always. If I’d just given you the green light ehn!”
“You think that we could have made a great couple?”
“Naa. Some of us were meant to be just friends.”
“Ouch. I’m not boyfriend material?”
“You are, but see finish will kill the relationship. Apart from that, I don’t have feelings for you.”
“Yeah…” Ace looked up ahead. “Same here. I tried to have, but it wasn’t coming. No butterflies, no mushy thoughts. But then I love you like mad. I can killed for you, baby.”
Dugo grinned. “I love you too, Ace.” It was Dugo’s turn to have a serious face. “Do you think Luper would want this baby?”
“Why wouldn’t he?”
“We never talked about having one. He used to jokingly tell me to have his babies, but it wasn’t serious talk. And I’m worried that a baby is not in his plans. He’s the type of person that plans everything.”
“Deedee, relax. I know my guy. He wants this baby.”
“He’s dreamt about this baby. In short, before it was formed in your belly, he knew this baby.”
They laughed together.
“Trust me, he’ll be thrilled.”
Dugo held tightly to Ace’s hand as though she was holding on to assurance. Becoming a parent was a scary thing. She needed all the support she could get.