Daddy’s Little Girl
“I didn’t raise you like that, Use.”
I am having a father-daughter moment with my dad. Probably our last. The old man is dying and it is a heart wrenching thing to experience, so I’d rather believe that it’s not happening. To me, he’s seventy again and I’m his young twenty-year old daughter who has come to ask his advice over some boy issue. The boy in question is Jide. I have reported my misdeeds and daddy is giving me his counsel. He is very disappointed in me.
“I think we overindulged you. We gave you everything you asked for. And that is why when you can’t get the things you want the way you want them, you lose control.”
“But daddy, you know I’m not like that. It’s just that I’ve been hurt so many times. I can’t trust again. I just can’t.”
He tries to speak but strenuous breathing takes over. I hold his bony hand; it shakes in mine. The room is warm and smells faintly of my mother’s perfume. Years after her death and daddy still retains her essence. Her clothes remain in the closet, untouched, but dusted by daddy himself every other day. The bathroom slippers she had worn on the night of her death remains on the floor, on her side of the bed. No one had touched them. No one dared to. And now, I lie beside hin, where she used to lie; a place he had not given any other woman even though he had been lonely through the years.
“Buy him a new phone, go back and apologize to him.”
“But he lied to me. And I’m sure he cheated too.”
“And you can’t forgive him?”
I want to explain to daddy that it is not about forgiveness but I know he won’t understand. I just don’t want to continue with Jide. I’m in too deep already. It will tear me apart if he hurts me again; my heart is too fragile. It’s better I leave now that things haven’t gone too far between us.
“Somehow you think that when you eventually get married, it’ll be with a perfect man.”
“Yes. You were perfect for mommy. You always made her happy, despite all that was happening.”
He laughs, in a quiet and muffled way, to avoid going into a coughing spell.
“Erhinyuse,” he calls.
He laughs again. “My Honey.”
“You’re still a little girl inside. I’m wondering how you have made it thus far in this world with this mentality. Life is not those romance novels you read.”
“Trust is a two-way street. You have to meet him halfway. And as a woman, try to overlook some things, which would be difficult, but just try. Lastly, no more spying on his phone. Give the young man a break.”
“That’s assuming we get back together.”
“Don’t be as stubborn as your mother, Honey. That’s the part of her you took that I don’t like.”
He rubs my hand. I give him a glance to see a tired smile on his face. I should probably let him rest but I’m so scared that if I leave, he’ll get worse.
“You can go now, let me sleep.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“I’m fine, Erhinyuse.”
“No, I’m staying, daddy.”
“Go.” His hand leaves mine. I dither before I walk out of the room. I stroll to mine and fall on the bed. Jide naturally enters my mind. I hate the way I miss him. I am glad that I have reason to stay back here in Warri or I would have zapped right back to him without a second thought.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
I have gotten a new phone. I have made down payment for a new car. I have cleaned my house. And I have forgiven Honey.
I kind’a understand where she comes from. She has told me stories about her exes, assholes that screwed her over, so I get her like that. I also like that she’s crazy. Women who aim to please me, who always get it right, who always have their emotions together, tend to bore me. Passion, with a little bit of impulse is what I like in a woman. And Honey has it all.
Bobby agrees with me, that she’s perfect.
“If she doesn’t keep Jide on his toes, she’s not for him.”
Shady doesn’t agree, which is ironic because his wife is extreme, an emasculator.
“So wait, if she see you dey talk to another chick, she go burn down your house be dat.”
I laugh loudly. “No.”
“My own is that she bugged your phone,” Bright says. “Dude! That’s gangstar. Your babe fit dey work for CIA o!”
“Yeah, that shit scared me. I didn’t even know apps like that existed.”
“Them dey nau,” Bobby answers. “Plenty sef.”
“So you’re going back to her?” Shady asks.
“I never left her. She left. But I’m going to give her time to calm down. She’ll come to her senses soon.” I rise up from where I’m seated. “Who wants extra peppersoup?”
Three Oliver Twists raise their hands. Useless guys. It’s just like old times. They’d always close from work and in the name of avoiding traffic, stop at mine, drink my beer, play my computer games, eat my food and leave my house messy. Luckily for them, my mom sent Oba to me with a huge pot of catfish peppersoup earlier. I let them each have a second serving and we sit to talk about Ibro and his wives. Noka, according to gist, has suddenly developed some backbone and is giving Ibro a hard time. Eno, on the other hand is rumored to have a boyfriend outside. It has not been confirmed but I trust the wives to dig into the matter soon and come up with the true story.
After Ibro, we discuss Reno’s philandering ways. All the wives have spoken to their husbands to beg him to keep it inside his pants. Peace is beginning to lose her mind. They say she can be heard talking to herself even in the midst of people.
“So why did he marry if he knows he can’t stay faithful,” I ask in annoyance.
“I wonder,” Shady replies. He is the only one who holds my values when it comes to men and fidelity. The others, including Bobby believe men cannot be monogamous, so they keep silent and it pisses me off.
“So una go just siddon allow Reno mess Peace up like dat?”
“Wetin you want make we do?” Bright asks.
“Una no fit talk to una guy?”
“Hin be pikin wey no know wetin hin dey do?” Bobby remarks. “The guy no cover his tracks well abeg.”
“Peace is not supposed to know his shit.”
I look at Bobby in disappointment. I have a nice comeback to his bullshit but I tell myself it is not the day for an argument. I will talk to Reno myself. It might not change things but I refuse to be herded into foolishness. Somebody has to sit him down and caution him like a child. Fooling around behind his wife is going to destroy him.
“Abeg make una talk another matter,” I tell them. Shady is only too glad to change the topic. He brings up something about politics. I eye him. It’s going to be a long night. People’s wives are going to start bugging my phone soon.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
I have just finished a conference call with Dele’s wife, Saratu and Kene. They were concerned about daddy’s health. I told them he was fine and promised to send their well wishes to him. They gave me comforting words and hung up.
Now I’m stretched out on my small bed. I can hear my elder sisters in the kitchen. The smell of banga wafts in and leaves me nostalgic in a sad way. My childhood was bittersweet. I had good memories and bad ones too. I have never really shared that part of my life with anyone because of the harrowing experience I went through in the hands of my siblings. They never accepted me because I was their half-sister. Daddy married my mom just a year after their own mother died. They never fully let mommy in as well. Mommy, on the other hand, didn’t make things easier for herself; she was a perfect example of an overbearing stepmother. Not that I blamed her. She was only twenty-six years old when she became a wife, marrying a man twice her age, whose first son was a year younger than she was.
My parents pampered me a lot but each time they were away, my siblings would maltreat me, especially Harry, our firstborn. That one particularly had it in for me. He would beat me over every little mistake and threaten to kill me if I told on him. Ergo, I shut my mouth and my parents never learned about my ordeal. Leaving home at an early age to work as a flight attendant was a way of escape.
I have never shared this part of my life with anyone, apart from Kene and Saratu. They alone knew how much I suffered in the hands of my siblings.
In those days Kene would comfort me by always reminding me about Joseph in the Bible and how his life turned out better than his brothers’ in the end. Well I can’t say my life is better than theirs (for instance, Harry is stinking rich) but I think I have done well for myself. I’m willing to forgive them and put the past behind me but I doubt that we will ever bridge that gap. That is why I don’t want daddy to die. If he does, who will I call family?
I feel so weighed down and want Jide so badly; but again, I don’t want him. I have tried dialing his number more than ten times already but discovered I’m actually a coward, so I always end up terminating the call before it connects. Not that I even have any right to call, considering I destroyed his phone so thoughtlessly. I feel really sorry now, after speaking to daddy. I went too far, I guess. I wouldn’t talk to me too if I was in Jide’s shoes. He probably hates me.
I hear daddy coughing. Maybe he needs someone to help him with a drink of water. I rush to his room and pour some water in a glass cup. He looks at me when I move to the bed with the cup. I help him up and place it in his shaky hand. He holds it for a second, then it slips to the floor, shattering into pieces.
“It’s okay,” I say. “I’ll clean it up. Just lie back while I get the broom.”
I hurry out and return with a broom and dustpan. Daddy is still hunched over, coughing. On the floor, where the glass shards lay scattered, I see blood.
“Daddy?” I look at his face; blood from his mouth has stained his silver-grey beards. I try not to cry.
My eldest sister, Jessica walks in.
“Jessie…” I say helplessly.
“Give him honey when he coughs. It instantly makes him feel better.”
“Honey?” I ask.
“Yes, honey.” She points at a bottle on a stool beside the bed. When she turns away I pick the bottle.
“Give him honey,” I repeat as the irony of the statement hits me. I have been away too long that I have missed out my dad’s healthy years. He used to say, back in the day, “My Honey a day takes the doctor away,” just to tease me. I was always the light of his eyes. He had me shortly after he struck fifty. In my teenage years I jokingly called him grandpa. When my mom died, it took life out of him and he’d often tell me I was the only one who made him smile. When I became a flight attendant, we sort of drew apart. He never did like the job but he never gave me a hard time over it. Now I wished I had quit earlier and spent more time with him.
“Don’t do that.” I feel his thumb under my eyes, cleaning my tears.
“I’m sorry, daddy.”
“I know. But don’t feel bad. You had to live life. I had lived mine.”
I look into his eyes and see life, alongside death. He is ready to leave this world. His tired body can’t hold on any longer but I beg it to stay just a little while. I’m not ready to let go yet.
“My Honey a day,” he starts to say but I don’t let him finish. I bury my head on his bed and weep my heart out.
Daddy passes away later at night after a coughing fit that none of us can stop. The honey I give him only makes it worse, so I sit helplessly on the floor and watch him cough his life away. I weep, holding his hand until it turns cold. I can’t let go.
But they come and take him away. I wail and beg God to bring him back but all I get is the echo of my own cries.
“At least, he’s with mommy now,” my other elder sister, Jane says, wiping wet eyes. She was the only one who liked me and my mom but even then, she couldn’t show how much. It’s not changed now, after so many years. I can see she wants to hug me by her body language but she remains where she is. I stubbornly put my arms around her and we cry together while our brothers and Jessie begin making funeral arrangements. None of us sleep. We stay awake sharing stories of our childhood, of daddy. This is the first time I’m bonding with them and it’s priceless. At a point, we go silent and play music from daddy’s old gramophone. Most of the sounds are broken but we don’t care. It is comforting because it feels like daddy is in his room, head hunched over one of his books, reading under the light of a kerosene lantern, and stopping to hum to the music while tapping his feet.
The days that follow are filled with activity for all of us. My siblings don’t want to include me in the arrangements but I expressly remind them that daddy was my father as well and I would be actively involved in his burial rites. Knowing they can’t stop me, they decide to burden me to the point of exhaustion but I don’t mind. We all want daddy to have a grand exit. He had been a very respected and influential man in Warri, and hence many dignitaries are going to attend his burial. We make sure we put everything in place to give him the honor he deserves.
The day of his funeral comes and I find that I’m bereaved of all strength, having exhausted myself. Not even the surprise visit from Dele’s wife and Saratu uplifts my spirit. I am literally shivering as I sit with my siblings under a canopy and stare at daddy lying peacefully in his casket. I don’t realize that it’s a fever that has taken over my body. I am in bad form, physically and emotionally and God knows I need me some R&R and TLC after this ordeal. If only I hadn’t been a bitch to Jide.
“Who is that?” I hear Saratu whisper. She is seated directly behind me, so I’m guessing, by the way she leans over, she’s talking about the guy that has just walked in through the broken gate of my family home. I look at him through hazy eyes, as I have been looking at things and people for the past few days.
“Jide?” I say out loud without meaning to as I sit up and lift my sunglasses to see better.
“That’s Jide?” Saratu asks.
“Where?” Dele’s wife joins in. I don’t answer them. My eyes are fixed on him and I begin to feel warm inside as my pulse picks up speed. Swiftly, I spring from my seat. I dash to him with weak legs as he stands by the gate, uncertain if he should continue in or not. My long, white iro sweeps the red earth beneath me with each move. He sees me approaching and stays his stare on me. I’m caught in emotions which can only be expressed through tears that are all dried out. I take off my sunglasses and rub my assaulted eyes with the back of my hand. My strides lose tempo but not urgency when I’m just a couple of steps from him. He extends his hand and takes mine to enclose me in a bear hug. My heart strings pull together painfully; I hold him tighter.
“Sorry for your loss, Honey.”
His voice is like a kiss from heaven. And right now I don’t care if people are watching us or how my brothers and sisters would feel.
“Your temperature is high,” Jide informs me, pulling away. “And you’ve lost so much weight.”
I can’t reply him because I’m on the edge of emotions. I have so much to tell him.
“People are staring,” he says. “We should join the crowd.”
Linking hands, we walk back. He takes a seat away from everyone else and I settle back into my mine to get some eye-lashing from Jessie. I slip back my sunglasses to ignore her.
The ceremony continues for an eternity. Finally, it draws to a close and daddy is taken to his final destination and lowered into his grave. The moment I see the coffin go down, my fever returns. I squeeze Jide’s hand to stay strong.
I am the last to pour earth over the coffin and just as I do so, it smacks me that I am now an orphan. Pain sears my heart but I hold myself and pay daddy his last respect. I feel my knees weakening as I step away from his grave. I haven’t eaten well in days and it’s taking a toll on me. The sun above is not helpful either as it adds to my faintness. Just as I feel my legs giving way beneath me, Jide’s strong arm wraps around me from behind. His mild male cologne invades my nostrils as I pass out.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
“Baby, open your eyes.”
Jide’s familiar voice wakes me. I blink so many times before I can focus on the faces around me. Jane, Dele’s wife and Saratu are there.
“Are you okay?” they all inquire.
“I fainted?” I ask.
“Yes,” Harry replies. I turn and see him standing at the door of my bedroom. He has an angry look on his face and I’m wondering what I have done this time. I look away and see that it is turning dark outside.
“For how long have I been out?”
“Three or so hours,” Saratu replies. “We tried to wake you but he said we shouldn’t.”
‘He’ is clearly Jide, and I can see her giving him side glances as he reads my pulse.
“You’re exhausted and I think, a little dehydrated,” he tells me.
“Let me get water,” Dele’s wife says and dashes out.
“You’ll take fruits?” Jane offers.
“Yeah, that would be great,” Jide replies. She leaves the room as well.
“I hope you’re not pregnant,” Harry says caustically. I look at him. Even at the age of fifty-eight he is still an asshole. Little wonder none of his two marriages worked. I was told he used to flog his wives as if they were slaves.
“Because I know you. You cannot keep those your two left legs closed.”
My eyes burn and I see Jide’s narrow as he turns to him. I choose to ignore the statement. Harry has always referred to me as a prostitute. It all started when he discovered that Kene had disvirgined me. That day he beat me senseless and chased Kene down the street with the same koboko he decorated my body with.
“She is not pregnant,” Saratu replies. I can see that she’s annoyed too.
“Good,” he adds and walks out.
“What was that all about?” Saratu asks.
“Just forget it.”
“They still treat you like this?”
I beg Saratu with my eyes. I don’t want Jide to know this side of me. But Saratu doesn’t catch on.
“What did you ever do to them for God’s sake?”
Dele’s wife and Jane return with my water and fruits. I finish the water at a go. Jane drops the fruits by the bed and leaves. I reach for an apple; Saratu stops me.
“What if they poisoned it?”
I freeze for a second and then brush off the statement with a smile.
“Jane is good people.”
“I’m just saying. Your dad is gone now. You better be careful around them.”
I bite into the apple stubbornly.
“Sugar lips, what is going on?” Jide deepens his brows. I look away.
“It’s not nothing,” Saratu responds. “Sit down let me gist you how your babe has been maltreated in this house.”
As she begins to speak, Dele’s wife shuts my door. I eat my apple in silence, trying hard not to cry as Saratu recounts the painful history that is my life.
“Honey, why did you paint this entirely different picture of your family?” he asks after she is done. I can see that he’s not happy with me.
I look at my friends. “Can you give us some time alone?”
They walk out of the room and I sit up, inviting him to sit beside me.
“First of all, I’m sorry, Jide. For our fight and for your phone and for hacking into all your accounts. Stupidest thing I ever did. Please, forgive me and take me back?”
“I’ve forgiven you but that is not my problem now. I want to know why you lied to me about your family. You always used to say ‘our mother’ so I thought…”
“I’m sorry. I tried to tell you but your family is so perfect…”
“And so you give the impression that yours is the same?”
“They’re just my siblings, Jide; they never really mattered.”
“But they still hurt you. Just look at the way your brother was talking to you. It’s unacceptable.”
I don’t want to be burdened by family drama. I just want to curl up in Jide’s arms and talk. I have missed him terribly. I’m dying for a kiss, one of those silent ones he gives me when we both used to sit to watch TV in his house. I can’t believe I wanted to let him go just like that. I guess losing daddy and the hassle of the past few days have set my thinking right.
“We need to get you out of here, jare.” Jide rests his hand on mine. “The air is too toxic.”
“I have to stay and mourn daddy.”
“He’s already resting, Honey, and you paid him his last respect. What else again?”
“I just have to stay.”
Jide discards my argument. “You have family waiting for you. Nne was so upset at the news of your dad’s death. She says to tell you that you have new parents now, that you’re not an orphan.”
A rush of tears attacks my eyes. Jide pulls me close and rests my head on his chest.
“But how did you people even know what happened?”
“Your sister, Jane tagged you in a Facebook post. It had an invitation to the funeral, so I looked up the address and told Nne I was coming.”
“Really?” I smile. “Thanks.”
“Don’t be silly jor.”
“After what I did…”
“Let’s put that behind us, shall we? What is paining me is that you didn’t eat the cake after I painstakingly wrote out that apology by myself.”
“I’m sorry.” I pull back and laugh.
The door barges in, interrupting me. I sit straight at the sight of Jessie.
“Erhinyuse, so you’re here playing love when guests need to be fed,” she says in Urhobo and then focuses on Jide. “Please, can you excuse her and join the other guests outside?”
I feel so embarrassed but I don’t want any type of incidence, so I get to my feet the moment she disappears.
“Jide, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.” He wraps his arms around me and gives me a full but short kiss that makes me feel a little better.
“I’m in a hotel not far away. I’ll check back later?”
I nod. He pushes his hands into his pockets, a sign that he is in a bad mood.
“Let me escort you?”
“No. I’m good.”
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
I sit in my car, listening to Jill Scott. Honey has introduced me to the woman and I’m hooked to her music. Where was I when she sang all these amazing songs? I am so going to buy every single one of her albums. She’s too deep abeg.
I open my door to let air in. The car still smells of new leather and my nose is not taking it well. I think I have a cold on the way.
Honey has no idea that I bought this car. She’ll be delighted because she has been urging me to overcome my fear of being behind the wheel again. Well, I drove all the way just to kill that fear and it felt good, to be honest. My speed demon that had been waiting for me to return, showed its rage the instant my foot pressed the pedal and I hit the highway. But the best part is that the car was bought in Honey’s name. Her birthday is just a couple of weeks away and I know it’s a huge investment but I’m known to take risks like that.
“What if as you’re paying for this car, she’s there screwing some other dude in Warri,” Ibro had asked when I was making the final payment for the car. I looked at him; I didn’t appreciate his words.
“Just saying,” he added.
“Not the woman I love.”
I paused. The word had actually slipped out of my mouth.
“Yeah, love. I love the woman,” I emphasize. “Now, write my receipt make I dey go abeg.”
Ibro had shaken his head and signed a receipt for me, then asked one of his boys to get the car out of the garage.
I can’t wait to hand it to her, even more so now that I know that I’m all she has in this world. I will do everything to erase her painful years—gifts, trips to colorful places and quiet nights alone with each other. I’m not in a hurry to put a ring on her finger. When I eventually do, it will be only because people will beg us to just make things official.
I check the time; it’s 11pm. I have been in my car for five hours, browsing the net and listening to Jill Scott on replay. I avoided my hotel room because it stank of local air freshener that my nose found offensive. I sneeze now, just thinking about it. I think I should search for a pharmacy around tomorrow to get something to stop this cold before it takes me.
I start the car and drive to Honey’s family home, parking outside. I walk into the huge compound which is now empty, save for some teenagers under a water tank, discussing loudly. I aim for the entrance door to the house and knock, even though I find it wide open. Honey, who is carrying some toddler in her arms, spots me and smiles. She drops the child on a couch and hurries to me. She looks exhausted. I’m guessing she hasn’t had time to rest since I left.
“Hi,” I greet.
I shake my head.
“Okay. Let me wear my slippers. I’m coming.”
She disappears and returns in not just her slippers but a change of clothes, some short dress that reveals smooth thighs I’ve missed.
“Where are your friends?” I ask.
“They’re staying in a hotel. I didn’t even properly introduce you guys.”
“Saratu did a great job of that. She was like, ‘so you’re the Jide. Nice to meet you. But I’m not a fan, just so you know.’”
“The other one was friendlier.”
“She always is. Let’s go this way.” Honey points towards the water tank and takes my hand. We stroll there. The moment the teenagers see us, they respectfully leave.
“Harry and Jessie’s kids,” Honey explains. I don’t care to know. I just want to kiss her. And I do so, not giving a damn who might be watching.
“Jide, stop,” she says in a blush when our lips pull apart. I let her finish speaking and then go for her mouth again. I don’t even know why she’s complaining when she is kissing me back. Little pretender.
“What is going on here?”
I stop and turn to the person who has just spoken. It’s the man of the house, Harry. He’s standing outside a door that I guess is the kitchen backdoor. Honey moves a step from me.
“Good evening,” I greet.
“Good night, you mean?” he retorts. “Erhinyuse!”
“I want to see you now! And you, young man, this is an ungodly hour! You may leave!”
What in the world! Does he realize Honey is a grown woman? I look at her. Does she know this herself?
“Jide, please go. I’ll come and see you first thing tomorrow morning.”
She wheels away and hastens towards him. Two of them walk into the house and I hear him yelling at her in their dialect. The only thing I pick out is, “and look at what you’re wearing!”
I am incensed. I want to storm in there and give that old fool a piece of my mind.
I hear Honey reply him but her voice is laced with a sob. No, Honey, don’t let him get to you. He doesn’t have that power anymore.
“You must be an idiot!” He rages. “Bastard!”
Honey dares to reply and the next thing I hear is a slap. Shockwaves course through me.
My feet spring alive as I storm into the house uninvited and find Honey holding her cheeks and staring at her brother like he had just raped her. I lose my mind instantly.
“Did you just hit her?!” I charge at him. Honey immediately steps in my way. “I’m asking you like a man! Did you just hit her?!”
He is taken aback by my unexpected appearance and action.
“Jide, it’s okay, please,” Honey begs.
“No, Honey. It is not okay!” I free my hand off hers and face the coward squarely. “You do not hit a woman, younger sister or not!”
Other family members begin to gather. At the sight of them, he regains his foulness.
“Imagine this small boy o! You come to my house to fight me?” He claps his hands like a woman. “Erhinyuse, see what you have caused? See the insult and disrespect you have brought upon your family?”
“She has done nothing!”
“Young man, please leave,” the eldest sister says firmly as the others watch in silence.
I have a lot more of my mind to give them but Honey’s arm on mine reminds me that I might be going overboard.
“Treating your own sister like a nonentity when your father’s body is still warm in his grave?” My voice is laden with the same pain Honey must be feeling. “Disgusting!”
“I said get out!”
I turn to Honey. She begs me with her eyes to leave. I pretend I don’t understand her.
“Let’s go,” I say.
“Jide, I can’t. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Please. Just go.”
I walk away, scared for her. Scared that they might want to hurt her after I leave. I drive to the hotel and stay awake for a long time until I get a text from her.
Worst night of my life. They just told me that my dad left everything to me and it’s in their care but they won’t give me because I was not his legitimate daughter. I’m so confused Jide.
I pick my car key and leave my hotel room. I’m getting her out of that house for her own good. They can eat the inheritance. Honey won’t need to worry about money in her life again.