Forgive my tardiness and enjoy this episode. Have a great week ahead!
Nero was out of the hotel before Cheta stirred. He didn’t expect her to be up, following the events of last night. Last he checked, she couldn’t move a leg. For him, it felt like he had been granted an express ticket to paradise when he opened his eyes this morning and found her lying beside him. She was so peaceful that he checked to see that she was breathing before he snuck out to the bathroom.
He got to the office as the clock struck nine. His clients were to show up in a bit. He was tired of their indecisiveness and was ready to drop them if they moved their meeting forward one more time.
Phone to his ear, speaking to Obi, Nero headed towards his office. But he stopped, just as he got to the door, and moved back a few paces. The office before his, on the other side of the hallway, was graced with the presence of someone he hadn’t seen in a while.
The person turned and smiled at him. She was Laura, his occasional business partner who ran her architectural firm in his building. Now and then, they worked together, but he brought the bulk of the contracts. Nero didn’t mind, though. Laura was a friend from school days. At some point, they had been close, almost ready to get into a relationship. But Joy made sure to destroy whatever romantic feelings Nero had for Laura. Thus, they remained friends and business partners. In hindsight, Nero was always grateful that he hadn’t dated Laura. The more he got to know her, the more he saw that they were like night and day on many issues. Most of their leisure time together was often spent in arguments. One of their biggest issues was religion. Laura had always been a Christian faithful. Nero, on the other hand, was the occasional churchgoer. But their friendship had lived through the worst moments, although Nero wasn’t sure that they were as close as they used to be. Like everyone else dear to him, Laura had disliked Joy, and she would stay away from Nero each time Joy returned to his life. She had also disapproved of his marriage to his ex. These were some of the disagreements that had driven them apart, but they were tight when it came to business.
“Nero!” Laura ran to him, throwing her arms out for a hug. Nero ended his call with Obi and hugged her.
“Wow! Look at you!” He pulled back, held her hand and twirled her around. “To what do we owe this freshness?”
She had gotten chubbier since the last time they saw. Being that she was struggling with her weight, he was kind enough not to mention it.
“Just tell me I’ve added weight joor.”
“No, you look good!”
“Are you serious?” She turned around again.
“You look amazing, babe!”
“It’s God o!” She blushed.
“So, how was your retreat?”
“Good. We thank God. It wasn’t a retreat, per se. I lied, and God forgive me for doing so, but it was actually pastoral training.”
Nero pulled back, folding his arms. “Iz a lie! You did it?”
“I did it!” Laura clapped her hands silently, almost jumping in excitement. Back in the day, she probably would be hopping from one foot to the other. She had been a happy child, then. She still was, but she was burdened by responsibilities these days and didn’t have the leisure to be her former self. Still, traces of her joyful demeanor lingered.
“So, should I call you Pastor Laura now?”
“Yes o.” Laura danced. “God did it!”
“Baddest chick! You don graduate from sheep to shepherd. When do we start collecting tithes and offerings?”
Her excitement dropped and Nero chuckled.
“Calm down joor. Person cannot play with you again?”
“On a serious note…”
“I know. You don’t like it. I’m sorry, Pastor.”
She flashed a small smile. “So, what have you been up to? Has Joy finally disappeared to the abyss she came from?”
“Laura, be kind.”
“That babe has no joy, but I know God will answer my prayers one day and make her completely disappear from your life. Say amen.”
“Amen. Maybe God has answered your prayers has already.”
“You’ve found someone else?”
“Yes, and I’ll tell you about her, but not right now.”
Laura stared at her watch. “I don’t have time for gist now. Service starts at ten. Do you want to come?”
“No. I have a meeting in a bit.”
“Nero, this is Christmas day, one of the days people like you manage to go to church. Try and repent.”
“I will. But first, let me make all the money that pastors would eat from me.”
“If I cuss you now, they’ll say I’m not a Christian. Let me sha be going. I came to pick my sister’s hard drive before she kills me.” Laura grabbed her handbag. “See you after New Year’s!” She strutted away.
“Laura! Laura!” Nero stared after her, admiring her form-fitting ensemble of a grey blouse, tucked in a black skirt, accessorized by a pair of high-heeled sandals. “Pray for me o!”
“As usual! 2021 is your year of being born again, Okiemute!”
Nero smiled and went into his office. His clients called him as he took his seat. They were in the building.
Nnedinma had received her call at 5:05 a.m., while it was yet dark.
“Roselle,” she murmured as she sat up, holding out her phone at a distance that made her sight clearer. “What do you want now?”
She cast a glance on Julius’ side of the bed and saw that he wasn’t there. She was sure he wasn’t in the bathroom either. Last night had been one of those nights. For someone his age, who had just survived a major illness, he was quite the blistering fool. She hoped that Roselle was calling to finally tell him that he had croaked on her.
“What do you want?” Nnedinma asked as she took the call.
“Just calling to let you know that your man has been a bad boy and I’ve left him at the mercy of Jesus, since today is Christmas day. If he ever makes the stupid mistake of trying to delay on sending me the money for his son’s upkeep, I will do worse.”
“So, what is my own in this nonsense now? What exactly do you want me to do?”
“Come and get your demon.”
“In one of his numerous houses in Lagos. Guess which one.”
“Roselle, I don’t have time for games.”
The line went dead. Nnedinma tried to call back but the automated operator informed her that the number was unreachable. She was angry. Pulling her body off the bed, she reached for the dress she had worn last night. First, she took a pee; then, she changed clothes and stepped out of the house. Bassey was already awake, washing the vehicles in the compound.
“Good morning, Mama.”
“Morning, Bassey. Do have the key to any of these buses?”
“Yes. I have the key to this one.”
“Good. Tell the guard to open the gate, we’re going out.”
“Okay, Mama. Are we going to the place I took Daddy to yesterday night?”
“You took him somewhere yesterday?”
“Yes. One house like this. He said I should come and pick him up by seven. That is why I’m washing this bus.”
“Okay, that’s good. We’re going there.”
Soon, they were on the road. Nnedinma thought about the irony of using a bus labeled ‘Missionary’ to pick her husband up after his night of lasciviousness with his mistress. Her marriage was the century’s biggest joke.
Their journey saw them ending up in a mini estate on Isaac John Street in Ikeja. The place belonged to Julius and it was yet to be occupied by tenants due to some land issues with the state government.
Nnedinma asked Bassey to wait outside while she went in. Out of the twelve flats in the courtyard, only one had electricity. Nnedinma walked up to it and climbed a short flight of stairs to get to the front door. When she turned the handle, the door gave in.
“Julius?” she called, shutting the door behind her. She heard nothing. “Julius!” She walked further into the furnished apartment, coming to a door that was left ajar. She took a few steps into the bedroom and stopped. She stared at Julius for a long time. His mouth was open, but his eyes were shut. Splayed, he was, and nude. His wrists and ankles had been handcuffed to the cast iron posts at the head and foot of the bed. The room was freezing cold, just the way he liked it. It was dark, yet she could see the first signs of daylight fighting to make it through the black curtains that covered the window.
Should I rejoice now that he’s finally dead?
Nnedinma stood confused. She had imagined… No, dreamt and prayed for a long time for a moment like this when she would be free of this man. Now that it had happened, she wasn’t so sure she had the balls to stomach the full implications of what was before her. With a quivering hand, she reached forward and touched his right foot. She drew back as if bitten. He was still warm. What if he was still alive? But there was so much blood on his face…
She held her breath, expecting him to reply.
Nnedinma bit the knuckles of her thumb. The enormity of what she was looking at hit her. This was not how she wished their marriage would end. Not in an easy manner as death. No!
“JULIUS!” she screamed and threw herself on him with genuine tears. “Wake up! You can’t go like this! Wake up, Julius! Wake up, wake up, wake up!”
He gasped suddenly and opened his eyes. Nnedinma jumped backwards, startled. She clutched her dress as she stumbled to the floor. Julius tried to sit up but his restraints threw him back on the bed.
“Damn you, Roselle! Damn you to hell!” He spat into the air, spraying out blood and saliva. Nnedinma slowly picked herself from the floor, knees first, then one leg before the other.
“H-h-honey?” she called, keeping her distance. What if he had finally gone insane? His eyes look demonic.
“Are you going to stand there like the annoying woman you are or will you find a way to free me from this?”
Nnedinma’s face came to an instant frown. She crossed her arms.
“What?” She remained where she stood.
“Look for the key to these cuffs and come and free me. Do I have to tell you what to do?”
“I should come and free you?” she asked.
“Did I just speak in French? Woman, find the key!”
“It’s somewhere in this room! We don’t have time. We have to attend today’s Christmas service! How is my face, by the way? Did that bitch disfigure me?”
“Just a few scratches.”
“She hit me several times, Nnedinma. The mother of my son hit me. Why are you women devils?”
Nnedinma was quiet.
“Stop staring at me like an idiot and free me! Ah! I’m in pain here!”
“Pain that you like? Didn’t you tell Roselle to tie you up and scatter your face with blows?”
“Didn’t you hear what I just told you? She tried to kill me!”
“And don’t you think it would have been well deserved?”
Julius cast Nnedinma a stare so icy, she shifted backwards.
“Un-cuff me now!”
Grumbling, Nnedinma went about the bedroom, looking for the key to the handcuffs. She was annoyed with herself for taking Roselle’s call in the first place. She couldn’t believe the audacity on the woman. It wasn’t enough that she had been one of the loose ends Nnedinma hadn’t been able to tie, she had to drag her into her madness with Julius.
“Wait… Was it Roselle that called you here?”
“She told me she had an early flight to catch. I thought she was joking.”
Nnedinma dropped to all fours to peep underneath the bed. She spotted the key and stretched her hand for it, feeling a familiar pain in her lower back.
“Seen it?” Julius asked.
She gripped the metal frame of the bed to pull herself to a standing position.
“Have you seen it?”
“For God’s sake, Julius!” she snapped.
“Oya, hurry up and un-cuff me. I need to use the toilet.”
Nnedinma undid the cuffs on his ankles and went for his wrists. The moment he was free, he reached for a pillow and pressed over his face. The result was a less-bloody face but more pronounced injuries. Both lips were bruised, his left eye had a cut above it and his nose was broken. He got off the bed and looked into the mirror.
“It will not be well with you, Roselle.”
“It will always be well with her, because you’ll make sure she is comfortable and taken care of, no matter what she does to you or how she tries to ruin the ministry—”
“That’s enough!” Julius barked. “You’ve overstepped your boundaries, as usual. Let it end right now!”
Nnedinma sighed. Her life was back to normal, to her deferential position underneath a rapist and his whims.
“Get a towel and clean this mess on my face!”
They returned to Cheta’s house an hour later. In the guesthouse where they had lodged, Nnedinma treated Julius’ bruises.
“Thank you for coming for me,” he said tenderly. His words made no mark on her. “You’ve always been my hero. What will I do without you?”
“I’m sure you’ll fare well, Julius. You have Roselle and Ngozi. Both of them have children for you. I won’t be missed if I died tomorrow.”
“Who’s talking about death here? Ha-ahn. Banish those thoughts from your head. They’re not edifying at all.”
Nnedinma became silent. Later, she complained to him about the usual headache as an excuse not to go to church. He gave her the look he often gave whenever these headaches came. As she had expected, he said nothing. His response would have been different if Roselle’s situation hadn’t happened. He was giving her a pass for rescuing him.
He entered the bathroom for a shower, and before long, he was done. She lay in bed as he dressed up for the Christmas service. After he was through, he stood in front of her and asked if she approved of his suit.
“It’s fine,” she said.
He made his exit. Nnedinma remained on the bed until she was sure that he was gone. She stayed a little longer to be certain that the occupants of the main house had also left for church. Only then did she leave the bed. She secured her kimono around her and walked to the main house in search of breakfast. She was happy to be welcomed by silence. The kitchen was a mess and she fought the urge to clean it. She couldn’t stomach messy places, but she was going to let this pass.
A sound behind her made her turn. She looked at the entrance of the kitchen and saw a retreating form, hiding away in the shadows.
“Jacinta, stop hiding,” she said.
Seconds later, Jacinta emerged and stood at the door. “Mommy, good morning.”
Nnedinma didn’t respond to her greeting. She took a long, hard look at her. “Why are you still pregnant?” she asked.
Jacinta inhaled sharply. She hadn’t anticipated the question.
“We had a deal. You were supposed to get rid of it once the wedding was certain.” Nnedinma cast a furtive glance at the entrance to be sure no one was listening. “Why did you go back on your word?”
“Mommy, I c-can’t do it.”
Nnedinma let out a sigh. She was drained. She should have followed up on this case as she did the others, but she had lost the will to fight, the strength to keep whitewashing Julius’ sins.
“You do realize what it would mean for you to bear this child, right?”
“Then why do it? Why try to destroy my family?”
With her head bowed, Jacinta replied, “I’m sorry, ma. I’m not trying to destroy your family.”
“Just leave. Get out of here, abeg.”
Jacinta curtsied and hurried out. Nnedinma gripped the edge of the kitchen table with both hands, breathing out.
Just a little longer. You’re almost there.
Fiery tears burned her eyes and she blinked multiple times to stop them from spilling.
“Why didn’t you go to church?”
Nnedinma was startled by Kamharida’s sudden appearance. She looked up and saw her at the door. In a swift movement, she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
“I have a headache.”
Kamharida picked the hot water kettle and filled it with water as Nnedinma opened pots on the cooker to find a meal. “They seemed to have finished everything.”
“There’s cereal.” Kamharida turned on the water kettle. “You want tea?”
“No, thanks.” Nnedinma sought for a clean dish for her cereal. She placed it on the table after obsessively wiping clean a spot with a napkin. She stopped and looked at Kamharida. “How long do you intend to stay here?”
“I just want to make tea and return to my room.”
“No, I mean… Here, in this house, with Cheta.”
“Oh. You want me to leave?”
“No, no… I actually want you to stay,” Nnedinma said in her soft-spoken manner. “I wish you could be with her longer.”
“Nothing. She really loves you, you know. More than she likes me… She needs a mother in her life, and I haven’t been…” Nnedinma stopped, staring down.
“You haven’t been what?”
“Don’t make me say it. All I ask of you is that you always be by her side.”
“I’ve always done that, Dinma. What sort of nonsense talk is coming out of your mouth this morning? Are you trying to commit suicide?”
Nnedinma wished she could explain further, but her heart would burst out of her chest first before she let out her secrets.
“I know I’ve said this many times before, but I need to repeat it one more time,” Kamharida spoke in Igbo. “You need to be ashamed of yourself, Nnedinma. Very ashamed. And no amount of suicide you attempt would save you from God’s wrath. He and the world will judge you for the things you have done and refused to do. You don’t deserve a daughter like Chichetaram, honestly.”
Nnedinma was silent. Everything Kamharida said was the truth. Cheta had always deserved better, and she would make sure to see that happen.
Both women made their breakfasts in silence. Nnedinma left the kitchen first and returned to the guesthouse. She turned on the television and let it run as she began to eat her cereal, but she couldn’t get past the first four spoons before she got tired and set the dish aside. Restless, she lay down and stared out the window.
Suicide had always been an option, but she hadn’t considered it as a way out of her hell. But just what if…? Wouldn’t that be a better way to wipe the pages clean? Wouldn’t it be nice to go to a place where she was oblivious of the many vices of her husband?
You’re abused, and you need to get out of that marriage as quickly as you can, Dinma.
Hadiza had been the first to see the signs. Even Nnedinma hadn’t noticed anything wrong with Julius then. But by then she was falling for Hadiza.
Concerning her sexual orientation, she had known about it from childhood; and as the good Christian girl she was, she tried to pray away the gay. But it didn’t help when she found herself in an all-girls secondary school. Not that she had any choice then. Boarding schools in those days were never mixed.
Nnedinma struggled to stay chaste, forcing herself to be religious at all times. But she fell now and again and was all too happy to graduate from secondary school with a body count of less than five girls. When Julius approached her for marriage while she was in Form 5, she accepted, believing that it was God’s way of cleansing her from her reprobate ways. She didn’t mind that on their wedding night, he had been forceful for no reason. She had entered her new home, willing to give herself to him. But he pushed her to the bed when he should have kissed her, and ripped her underwear before she could utter a word.
The sex had been excruciating, of course, but Nnedinma accepted it as God’s will, that he had used Julius’ penis as a tool for her purification. When she saw the blood on the bedsheet after Julius was through, she muttered, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.”
She had not expected love from him from the beginning, because she had not deemed herself worthy of any man’s love. So, when Julius showed that he didn’t feel anything for her, she accepted it. God was still working in her to purify her soul, because her mortal sin was stubborn. But at night or whenever she was alone, she still thought about women. Unfortunately for her, Julius walked into her bedroom on one of those nights while she was deeply immersed in her weakness. He caught her spread on her bed, hand between her legs. In her hand was Rubyfruit Jungle, an erotic lesbian novel.
Not saying a word, he picked the novel and left her in her embarrassment. She sought his forgiveness for an entire month, but he did not respond to her. After six weeks, he called her into his bedroom and questioned her over her sexuality. She confessed her past to him, but assured him that she was done with it.
“Everyone has their secret sins, Dinma,” he said, lifting her chin up. She had knelt before him throughout her confession. “But yours… is simply too despicable before God.”
“I know.” She dropped her head. He lifted it up again.
“You and I will pray and fast for seven days. After that, we will rededicate our marriage to God through holy intercourse and pray that God blesses us with a child. Understood?”
“You may leave.”
Nnedinma stood from the floor. “About my admission…”
“Yes. That still stands. Maybe if you go out into the world and meet…men, you’d adjust.”
“I don’t want to have anything to do with other men.”
“I am not asking you to do anything with them. I want you to be exposed a little. That boarding school did you no good.”
“As for your book,” he reached for the novel by his bedside, “you should keep it. Let it stand as how strong God’s word can be against every form of evil. It would be your temptation, but you will master it. Do you understand?”
“You may leave.”
Whenever Nnedinma recalled the events of those nights, she was certain that Julius never wanted her to become a heterosexual. He wanted her to continue in her ways, as this also allowed him live out his vileness. She often thought that he would have let her keep a lover, now and then, if the woman didn’t threaten his control over her life. But Hadiza had happened upon her like a hurricane. Their love was quick and fiery and it hit Nnedinma so hard that she was willing to throw everything and be with Hadiza. When the honeymoon stage of their relationship fizzled, after they had made love in all the places they could find to lay their hands on each other, Nnedinma found the guts to accept that what she felt for Hadiza was real. By then, she had begun to defy Julius. He called her behavior “little disobediences” and would always mock her, stating that, for a childless woman, she was supposed to remain submissive to him.
“And to my penis, you should bow!” he would say. “I’ll teach you to submit!”
Everything he told her, she told Hadiza.
“You owe no man no submission,” Hadiza would say.
“Maybe if I had a baby for him—”
“You can’t. If you do, your life would be ruined. Think about it well, Dinma. Would you be able to take his baby away from him?”
At that time, they had begun to plan to elope. All they needed was the money to make good their escape. Hadiza’s uncle had promised to help her.
“He wants to sleep with me sha,” she confessed to Nnedinma one day after their morning lectures. Nnedinma stopped walking and looked away. Hadiza held her hand. “I’ll do anything to be with you, baby. Same way you’re protecting yourself from pregnancy, even with all the shame you’re facing. Please, understand. I’ll never sleep with a man out of love. You’re the only one my heart beats for.”
Nnedinma had tried not to show a smile. Hadiza had a way with words, and a way of shamelessly expressing herself.
“I love you, baby.” She rubbed her arm.
“Stop it. People are watching.”
“Let them watch na.”
During their next lecture, Hadiza wrote her a love note. She slipped it into one of her notebooks without informing her. That night, as Nnedinma made dinner, Julius sat before the television, reading the note. She walked into the living room and he began to read the note out loud.
“Your smell is like the sweetest garden of roses. I want to lie in that garden all day and taste all your nectars as you open up your petals to me…” Julius laughed mockingly and looked at her to ask in Igbo. “Who is Diza?”
The tray of food in Nnedinma’s hands slipped and fell to the floor.
“You have not started breaking things o. Who is Diza?” he bellowed.
That night Nnedinma’s world crashed. She lost Hadiza, her education, what little respect she had, and her peace. Her mental state began to deteriorate too, but she didn’t realize it at that time. She stopped caring about anything and anyone but Hadiza. Many nights, she thought of running away. A few times, she tried, but she couldn’t get past her bedroom door. She had no money, and without Julius, she was no one. Hence, she remained in the marriage, a prisoner in her own home. As time passed, she began to realize that her mind was ill. It wasn’t something she could put in words, but she knew that she wasn’t the person she used to be. For this reason, and the hate she bore for Julius, she chose not to bring a child into the world. One day, though, Julius brought his son home.
“Since you want your fellow woman to impregnate you, me I have decided to go and get another woman pregnant. Nnedinma, meet Chidera Divine Azubuike. He is my first son.”
“From a woman who loves me enough to give him up to you. Let’s call her Hagar.”
But the other woman wasn’t named Hagar. She was Ngozi, a sister in the church, who chose to remain unmarried, despite the number of bachelors on her case. This was due to her longstanding affair with Julius, which would see the birth of two other children outside Nigeria sometime in the future.
Those were not the gravest of Julius’s sins, however. The first time Nnedinma found out that he was raping one of the maids was when she saw the girl crying in the backyard at night, following an encounter with him. After a long session of interrogation, the girl confessed to what Julius had been doing to her.
“I want to go,” she begged. “But I don’t have anything. No money, nothing…”
Nnedinma went into the house and came with some cash for her. “Take this and go.”
It hurt her to lose the girl because she had just birthed Cheta and she had entrusted her into the girl’s care while she concentrated on her spiritual life. Her shocking hate for Cheta the moment she was born was what pushed her to seek God. Her existence was beginning to lose meaning and she felt herself falling into a hole she couldn’t come out of.
In a little while, a new maid replaced the other. But this one was from the church, an orphan that had been under the auspices of one of the elders. Julius announced to the congregants, during a Sunday service, that he was going to be the girl’s new father.
“In fact, my wife and I have discussed about cases like this, and we have decided to single-handedly sponsor these girls. It is tough being a woman in a man’s world, you know? Why don’t you give a resounding applause to my wife! This was all her idea! I’ve always said it that when a woman becomes a mother, she becomes a mother to all!”
The congregants went up on their feet in deference to her while she looked Julius’ dead in the eyes. That week, they moved into a bigger house with many rooms for Julius’ strays—girls that he would rape and she would take care of. They didn’t always come at a go, because he didn’t want to be careless. In fact, in a year, he could have two victims in the house, at the most. Nnedinma believed that he carried on his atrocious acts elsewhere. Initially, she didn’t want to find out who these other girls were, but her spirit would not give her rest as the years passed.
Therefore, when he came up with the idea of the Alabaster Circle, she smelled a rat. He wanted her to work out a blueprint for the unit and claim that it was all hers. To this, she agreed. Her plan, therefore, was not only to establish the circle, but to use it to infiltrate the tightly woven clan of pastors and leaders in the church. She knew a lot was going on behind the scenes that she wasn’t privy to. She was also aware of the loyalty of the other pastors towards her husband. If they could cover up his sins and continue to revere him, then they were equally as filthy as he was. There was no other way to look into that filth without creating an enabling environment for it.
The Alabaster Circle began as she had planned, with Roselle being her first mole. In those early days, Roselle reported everything her eyes saw and ears heard. Even when Julius began to make moves on her, she let Nnedinma know. But on the evening he pounced on her in his office, she kept the information to herself. Months later, however, she came with news of her pregnancy.
“It’s your fault,” she said, boldly looking into Nnedinma’s eyes, something she had never done before. “You knew that your husband was a rapist, but you sent me to him! Is that what the Alabaster Circle is about?”
“Pastors raping young women?”
“Not at all.”
“And their wives enabling them?”
“Well, maybe if it pleases you to know, your husband is the only rapist pastor, as far as my investigation goes. A few of the pastors are aware, but who has the guts to confront him when even you cannot do anything about it. And that is why you dragged me into it!”
“Now, look at what you’ve caused!” She slapped her tummy with both palms. “It’s your cross, and you and your husband will carry it!”
“You can still take it out…”
“Mama, I will keep this baby o!” Roselle laughed threateningly. “And no demon on this earth can do anything about it! Tell Julius that he cannot rape me and toss me aside at the same time. Lai-lai!”
“Roselle, please listen to me.”
“No!” She opened her palm. “Mama, I need some money for my upkeep.”
If Nnedinma had never felt trapped before, she was now. She tried to dissolve the Alabaster Circle, having failed to accomplish her mission, but her plans fell apart. Roselle’s pregnancy soon began to show, and it became the hottest gossip in church. According to church tradition, she was to be punished for her fornication, but after a long fight with the Azubuikes, they decided to settle for making her the leader of the Alabaster Circle and giving her an insignificant punishment for her sin.
The following Sunday, Julius himself announced her impending promotion, but also revealed to the church that she would not take the position until she served as a lay church member for six months. This was her chastisement for getting pregnant out of wedlock—a joke, compared to what women before her had undergone. He then talked about showing mercy to single ladies like her, who were weak in the faith and often got carried away by the serpentine tongues of wanton men. After the service, he asked his most trusted pastor to take her to her new home, where a car was waiting. She became his mistress from that moment.
Nnedinma was tired of Julius by now, but Cheta’s presence in her life kept her going. She knew that she was doing a terrible job as a mother, and she felt helpless about it. Each time she had tried to connect with her in the past, there seemed to be a wedge somewhere that kept them apart. It took her years to discover that the reason she couldn’t have a relationship with her own daughter was because she couldn’t love herself. It was hard to love someone from a heart that felt unworthy. This was not to make excuses for not being there for Cheta financially; it was something she wished she could take back. She tried to explain why she had not catered to her while she was in the university, but Cheta didn’t give her the room to explain herself.
“All I know is that you both had me and decided to hate me,” Cheta said. “Please, don’t change the script. I have accepted it and I will stick with it.”
A couple of weeks later, Nnedinma convinced Julius to give Cheta one of their big houses in Lagos.
“I need money to furnish it. She also deserves a car.”
Lying on his sickbed, Julius made an ugly face.
“Kuku tell me to give her all I own na. That useless girl deserves nothing.”
He was keeping to a promise he made after Cheta was born. First, he had denied that she belonged to him. When it became obvious that she was his, he told Nnedinma that he already had three sons and he didn’t need a daughter who would become like her mother. He promised to do only what the law obligated him to do for her. But Nnedinma was done letting him have his way.
“Julius, I will take that pillow your head is lying on and press it over your face until you die!” she screamed at him for the first time in their marriage. “You will give your daughter a house and a car, and God help you that you don’t write her into your will! Me, Nnedinma,” she tapped her chest, “I will expose you for all that you are!”
It was the only time she gave a clue as to what she was planning for him. Today, she kept a safe somewhere, replete with every information about him. There were receipts, photos, letters, printouts out chats he had tried to bury. The cherry on top was the manuscript of her life’s story she was working on. It was almost done; all she needed was Hadiza’s blessings to approve the chapters that delved into their love affair. She didn’t have the mind to reach out to her, being that she had ghosted her after Julius caught them. Hadiza sent letters to her for three years, but she never responded to any of them. She was yet to summon the courage to go to her.
The present plan was to ruin Julius, but only after ensuring that he signed over half of his wealth to Cheta and Obi. More than anything, it was what mattered to her most. Her mental state and what lay ahead for her were of no consequence. The day of recompense was coming, and she could feel it in the air. She wasn’t sure what would become of her, but certain that Julius would not make it when she was finished with him.
It was the gown, for Cheta. Her mother’s gown; not Jacinta’s. It was black and stunning, but in a sad way.
“That’s good, Mama! Hold her hands and bend your head a little! Yes! Just act like you’re praying for her!”
Cheta watched from the foot of the stairs as the wedding photographer took a beautiful shot.
“Mama, one more!”
A few more clicks and Nnedinma’s part was done. She quickly let go of Jacinta’s hand and started towards the front door. Cheta gathered her gown in her hands and went after her.
“What was that all about?” she probed.
“Well, Jacinta asked that I stand in place of her mother.”
“Everyone knows her mother is dead na. Do we need to tell a lie?”
“Well, we raised her, so…”
“Mommy,” Cheta called as she stopped moving. Nnedinma continued towards the guesthouse. “Mom!”
She stopped. Cheta looked into her eyes. “Are you okay?”
“Are you sure?”
“Why are you suddenly worried about me? Were you not the one who left me to go and be with a man?”
“Well…” Cheta caught up with her, holding onto her arm. “This guy means a lot to me, Mom. I need you to really, really, like him.”
“Let’s see him first.” They continued walking. “When is he coming for the wedding?”
“He’ll be at the reception.”
“Mommy, whatever is making you annoyed, let it go.”
“Do I look like something is worrying me?”
“Yes. It’s all over your face, spoiling your makeup.”
“Okay, I’ll calm down.”
Nnedinma stopped again and gave Cheta a thorough stare. “You’re the one who seems off.”
“You’re acting too sweet. You often do that when you want to do something…bad.”
“Bad.” Cheta laughed. “How?”
“Chichetaram, if Obi’s father is somebody’s husband or he resembles an ape or is a criminal-looking person with dada and tattoos, kindly tell him not to come.”
“Hian!” Cheta laughed again, clapping her hands. “What’s all this one?”
“I mean it o. I can’t deal with any drama today, biko.”
“I’ve heard you, nne’m oma. Relax. You’ll like him.”
“Are you sure?”
“Okay. I’ll trust you.” Nnedinma pulled Cheta’s gown up. “This your breast that is showing everywhere.”
“Me and my small breasts again. Mommy, leave it like that, biko.”
“Oya, come in and say hi to your daddy. He’s been asking after you.”
“Chichetaram, just go in and greet him.”
“That man is old. What if he dies tomorrow?”
“Is he sick again?”
“No o. I just want you to always have us in mind. We’re old. We could die anytime and you’ll start saying, ‘Had I known…’”
“Iz okay. Let me go and greet him and hear word.”
Cheta entered the guesthouse. Her father, seated in the living room, was not dressed for the wedding. It wasn’t a strange thing. He was often the last person to get ready for church.
“Good morning, Dad.”
Julius lowered his glasses and looked at Cheta. “How are you?”
“All right.” He pushed his glasses back in place.
“I’ll see you guys in the church.”
“You’re wearing that to church?” Julius asked as Cheta tried to turn around.
“With all your breasts, trying to spill out?” he asked in Igbo.
“Okay nau. Go and seduce the pastor, so that he can fall from the stage while preaching.”
“Well, he’ll first fall when he sees Jacinta’s breasts. Ask Mommy how they’re just bouncing everywhere.”
“Cheta, it’s okay,” Nnedinma said. “You can go.”
Smiling to herself, Cheta left the guesthouse. She was in the mood for mischief this morning, even though her shocker to her parents was coming much later in the day. She felt it was a good thing to be in character beforehand.
She went into the house and climbed upstairs to her bedroom. Naza, Uncle Before-Before and Kamharida were set for the wedding. Cheta announced to them that she was ready to go. She picked her hand fan and purse from her bed and started out. Uncle Before-Before caught up with her.
“Gimme ya car key.”
“Ya car key. I want to drive.”
“I’m the only man nau. How cool will it be if I’m not driving?”
“Uncle, it is going to be very cool. I have AC in the car.”
“Just allow me to drive, baby girl.”
Cheta sighed and handed him the key to the car.
“Daz my girl!”
Together, they left the house and got into her car. Once he sat in, he made a sound akin to a sexual moan.
“Uncle, biko…” Cheta laughed.
“You don’t understen. If you enter a good car, it will be as if you’re doing bad thing!”
“You know how if you’re doing ooh, aah, when the thing dey enter well-well.”
“No, I don’t know.”
“Something that you’ve been doing these past few days. You think I don’t know? Stop pretending, baby girl!”
Cheta understood him. Great cars were sometimes as pleasurable as good sex.
Nero paused his game of FIFA as his phone rang behind him. He looked at Joy’s name on the screen and hissed.
“Who’s that?” Basim asked.
“Witches and wizards.” Nero continued the game.
“Let me guess. It’s Joy.”
“Being on brand, as usual.”
“What does she want, this time?”
“I tire. That babe is really driving me nuts.”
“No be you go fuck am?”
“That was like goodbye sex na. Nothing serious. And it was totally bland.”
“Does Cheta know?”
“No, she doesn’t. We weren’t even dating then, but it’s none of her business.”
“FUCK!” Basim shouted as he missed the chance to score a goal. He jumped backwards, throwing his legs into the air.
“How did Momsi take it when you told her that you were flying back to Lagos this morning?”
“How she want take am before? She was acting like e no matter. But she was on my case about my drinking beer. That I’m becoming a drunk. I told her to look in the mirror o. She come tell me sey e dey hungry her to slap me.”
“Popsi nko? Was he happy that you were leaving?”
“Abeg, leave those two people o. They don’t need us jare. I dey notice one kine spark between them.”
“You think they’re getting back together?”
“I don’t know, but I know say that Kadiri nigga is steadily hitting Momsi’s—”
“Don’t say it…”
Basim looked at him. “Pussy.”
“What type of person are you?”
“The-type-that-is-about-to-FLOG-YOUR-PUSSY-LOSER-ASS!” Basim scored his third goal and jumped off the couch. “That’s payback, bitch!”
“Sit down, abeg.”
“Fucking payback!” He looked at Obi who had just stepped out of his bedroom. “Who’s your daddy?”
“Shut up,” Nero told him.
Basim sat again. “Are we going for this wedding or what? E don tay wen I chop party jollof.”
“We’re going for the reception by four.”
“So, what do I do until then? You don’t even have beer in this house.”
“About that beer thing… Momsi is right, Bas. You have to ease up on it.”
“Fi mi sile!”
“I mean it. Chill.”
“Your phone dey ring.”
Nero picked out the sound of his ringing phone and hissed. “Joy, abeg, free me!” He cast an eye on the phone and saw Gold’s name on the screen. “Oh.”
“Um…” He paused the game, pointing his control pad at Obi. “Son, come and do a Nigeria versus Brazil on your uncle.”
“How nau?” Basim retorted. “How? Come here, small Okiemute. Let me flog all you people’s generations.”
Nero walked towards the front door with his phone, pinned to his ear.
“Hey,” he answered in a low tone. “Where are you?”
“I’m outside. Your gateman won’t let me in.”
Nero stepped out of the house and motioned to the gateman to let Gold into the compound. He waited until she entered and walked up to the front door.
“How are you doing?” he asked.
“So, as I um…told you, I called you here because I feel like you and Bas should talk. I mean, it’s about time.”
“Nero, I only came here because of you. I don’t want to see him now.”
“I know. But he needs to see you. Bas hasn’t been himself since you left him. I feel like the way you guys parted left many holes. You need to come clean with him, because he senses that there’s a lot you’re hiding.”
“I’ve told him everything.”
“I know about Giri road, Gold.”
Gold nodded. “I know that you know. I’m so sorry…”
“It’s fine. Just give him a chance to say what’s on his mind. You too, talk to him. Okay?”
“Go in, he’s inside.”
Nero opened the door and Basim froze at the appearance of Gold.
Cheta was reminded of why she hated weddings. After four long hours in the church, her feet were beginning to hurt. She was angrier at herself for not taking a pair of slippers than she was annoyed at the pain.
She tried to reach Nero for the fourth time, but his phone rang off.
“Is it time for the reception?” Naza, equally tired, asked her.
“Let’s be going, abeg. Where’s Aunty Kam?”
“She followed a friend already.”
Cheta had been smart enough to park outside the church premises this time. Bracing the pain, she took a long walk to where her car was waiting. Uncle Before-Before was already there, taking pictures beside the car. He called to Naza and Cheta and stood between them. The photographer took multiple shots on Uncle Before-Before’s prompting. Afterwards, he paid the man who promised to give him the photos at the reception.
“Can we go?” Cheta pleaded.
Uncle Before-Before got into the car and they drove to an eatery nearby. Cheta bought lunch for them, but settled for a glass of water. Her dress was too tight to let in room for food.
After lunch, they drove to the reception venue. An usher recognized Cheta and led them to the table reserved for family.
“I’d rather have a different table,” Cheta said. “We don’t want to sit with my parents.”
“Okay. How about that one?” The usher pointed at a table a few feet away. “It’s still reserved for your family.”
They followed the usher to the new table and sat. The hall was barely occupied, but in a short while, guests began to arrive. Finally, her parents came in, accompanied by Dera and his wife. He spotted Cheta and waved, gesturing to her to come over to their table. But she shook her head. They went back-and-forth until he walked up to her.
“Why are you here?” he asked.
“I don’t want to be near the couple. You know me, I’ll soon escape.”
“True, though.” Dera looked at Naza. “How are you, fatty bum-bum? You don’t used to greet again.”
Naza hissed. He pinched her cheek, she slapped his hand off.
“Uncle Now-Now,” Dera greeted.
Dera nodded as Cheta and Naza laughed. Both men despised each other for reasons they alone knew.
“I’ll see you guys later-later.”
“Let it be never-never,” Uncle Before-Before retorted.
Dera walked away.
“Anuofia,” Uncle Before-Before cussed.
“Hey,” Cheta nudged him. “That’s my brother.”
“Do you know the term bitch ass nigga?”
Naza laughed so hard she almost fell off her chair.
“What did Dera do to you?”
“Ask him. Cock-blocker.”
“Oh!” Cheta and Naza said in unison.
“Was she hot?” Cheta asked.
“As hell!” he answered, making an air figure-eight with his hands.
“Who is she?”
“Let’s not talk about thet for now.”
Cheta’s phone began to ring. “Nero.”
“See how she’s smiling.”
“Bhet of course,” Cheta said before she answered her phone. “Hi.”
She blushed harder at her new pet name. “Sorry, I missed your calls. I was driving. We just got to the reception. Where are you?”
“In the hall. I was calling you to help me get my slippers in your room.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. Can you come out and meet me? I don’t want to come in alone.”
Cheta started towards the closest exit. She then went to the parking lot where he was waiting. She spotted his white BMW and waved. He stepped out of it, looking like he had shown up to outshine the groom. His agbada was a present from her. Same as Obi’s. The boy had just come down from the car as well. Cheta stopped moving and motioned to them to remain as they were. She stood at a perfect angle and took a photo of them.
“Awww,” she said, walking to them. “My men.”
She gave Nero a shameless kiss.
“I’m sorry that I didn’t come with your slippers.”
“It’s fine. How would you have known?” Cheta looked at her son. “Hi handsome.”
“Go in. We have a table reserved for us.”
Obi made his way in while Cheta stood beside Nero for selfies.
“We do look cute together, don’t we?” he asked.
He stared at the hall. “I can’t wait to do this with you.”
“You don’t have to say anything. Let me be the one to speak it into existence.”
“Well done o, prophet.”
“Another kiss before we go in? Or do you want to get into the car and do a sharp one first?”
Cheta was tempted, but she needed to get the moment she had made plans for out of the way.
“So, I got a gift for the couple,” Nero mentioned. “Is that me too extra?”
“No, no. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.”
“Awesome.” He reached into the car and took out a wedding gift.
“You’re so sweet.”
“Tell me that later tonight. Let’s go in.”
Arms in each other’s they started making their way to the hall. But Cheta stopped as she saw her mother emerging from an exit, eyes in their direction.
“That’s my mom.”
“I know,” Nero said. “She looks more beautiful in person than in photos. Now, I see why my mom would be carried away.”
Cheta tried to laugh, but her tummy had just gone up in knots. She wasn’t as ready for this moment as she thought she was. And why did her mother have to come out now? She hadn’t planned to do a double introduction. She wanted both parents together.
“Why is your mom not smiling? She doesn’t know me, does she? Did you reveal my identity already?”
“Okay. Let’s walk up to her and say hello. It can’t be that bad na.”
Cheta gripped his hands as they approached Nnedinma. They stopped when they were just a handbreadth away from her. Nnedinma gasped.
“Good evening, ma.” Nero bowed his head.
Cheta pretended not to notice her shock.
“Mommy, this is Oghenero Okiemute, my boyfriend and Obi’s father.”
Nnedinma had been rendered speechless. She continued to stare at him as if he were a ghost.
“Nero, meet my mom.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am.” Nero bowed again.
“Mommy? Mom?” Cheta touched her hand and she flinched.
“Oh, um… I’m sorry. I… Your face… You look so familiar.”
“Oh, his mom is someone you might know,” Cheta continued. Gone were the butterflies in her belly. She was enjoying this. “Her name was Hadiza Husseini back then. She was running for governor of Kogi state in 2004, I think?”
At this point, it seemed like Nnedinma was going to run out of breath. Her face lost it’s color, save for the rouge on her cheeks. She exhaled and gave Nero one of her plastic smiles. She then gripped Cheta’s arm and tugged her away from Nero.
“Mommy, what are you doing?”
“Stop talking and follow me,” she answered through clenched teeth as she released her grip on her.
“Shut up. People are watching.”
She took her to a huge tree out of sight and let out a long breath, fanning herself with her hands.
“Mommy, are you okay?”
“You can’t marry that boy.”
“What boy? Nero?”
“Yes. You cannot marry him.”
“Chichetaram, you just can’t. Biko, please… I can go down on my knees for you. Any man but him.”
“I don’t follow. What’s this about?”
“You won’t understand…”
“I will, if you tell me.”
Nnedinma sighed. “Cheta, please, find another man.”
“But he’s the father of my son.”
Nenedinma covered her eyes with a shaky hand as tears filled them.
“Mommy, talk to me nau. What is it?”
“Just, leave him. I beg of you, my darling Eden, Mommy’s light and love. Please, find another man.”
Cheta was done with the game. “Mommy…”
Nnedinma kept speaking.
“I know about you and Hadiza Abdullahi.”
For the second time in ten minutes, Nnedinma went into shock.
“You loved each other before Nero and I were born. Yes, I know that story. And yes, I know it didn’t end well.”
“Who told you?” Nnedinma’s voice was a whisper.
“It doesn’t matter. What matters is your past being behind you and my future with Nero, being ahead of us. Nothing can separate us, Mom.”
Nnedinma was quiet. Her tears spilled generously as she gazed at her daughter.
“Cheta, I have so many questions.”
“Not as much as mine.”
“You met him seventeen years ago?”
“Mom, we won’t do this here. Not now. Let’s go in and enjoy the reception.”
Nnedinma’s lips moved without words.
“And please, stop crying… I don’t even have a hanky sef.” Cheta pressed her fingers on her mother’s face and wiped off the tears. “No more tears, okay? You’re lucky you have good makeup on.” She held her hand. “Let’s go back in.”
As they returned to the reception hall, following Nnedinma’s pace, Nnedinma tried to get more answers from Cheta, but Cheta ignored every question she asked.
Nero was still waiting at the entrance when they neared the hall. Nnedinma withdrew her hand from Cheta’s and straightened her posture with a skill that could have only been gotten from years of practice. Nothing on her face betrayed her mood.
“Go ahead. I’ll come after you two,” she said.
Cheta began to walk away but Nnedinma pulled her back.
“I think it would be a good idea not to introduce him to your father today.”
Cheta laughed. “Mommy, just have fun. Leave your husband to me.”
Smiling at Nero, Cheta walked up the stairs leading into the hall.
®Sally Kenneth Dadzie @moskedapages
Fi mi sile! – Leave me alone (Yoruba)
Anuofia – wild animal (igbo)