“I don’t understand how one would have a child, and then go ahead to treat them like shit all their lives. It makes no sense.”
“Well, not everyone is your darling mother.”
Hadiza smiled at her son and placed a hand on his to stop him from his present activity. “The pepper is soft enough, Nero.”
He let go of the pestle in his hand, realizing that he had been aggressive with it. This was all Cheta’s fault—she and her sad life’s story. He hadn’t been the same since she opened up to him about herself. He hadn’t spoken to her since then either. An entire month had passed. He was certain that this whole time, she might have thought him angry with her, maybe even insensitive, considering all that she had told him. But that wasn’t the case. Nero was buying time, trying to kill the resurrected thing in him that still wanted her. He was fighting himself to preserve his pride.
It wasn’t working, however. All he had to do was tell his mom about her and he was in that same place again, feeling her pain, desiring to swoop in to save her from a past she couldn’t change. He recalled how she had shown up at his house the morning after her great revelation to him at the Adeyanjus. That morning, he had been impolitely awoken by her incessant knocking on his front door. Tying a towel around his waist, he went for the door. When he saw her through the peephole, he took a moment to control the instant anger that came to him.
“What do you want?” he demanded, barring her from entering the house when he opened the door.
“I want to talk.”
He didn’t know much about her, but he could tell that she hadn’t slept. Her eyes were red and looked glassy. Her nose appeared as if she had cried all night. The rest of her was on point, though. She bore the appearance of someone who was set for the day. A denim top to match a pair of jeans was a stylish combo, accessorized with the white sneakers on her feet.
He let her in. She took out a mini face towel from her handbag and sneezed into it a couple of times. He stared at her before inviting her to sit.
“You have to make this quick,” he said. “I have an early start today.”
She nodded, just before she got into a sneezing fit. He stared at her awkwardly until she was done.
“I’m sorry,” she muttered. “I have allergies and they easily get triggered in Lagos.”
It occurred to him that he didn’t know anything about her. She had never mentioned to him in the past that she suffered from allergies. But Nero told himself that he didn’t care, that he should not care. He would spare her thirty minutes, at most, and then, she could leave.
Reality was different, however. When she began to speak, he knew it was going to take his entire morning. Cheta was emotional—something for which she repeatedly apologized.
“I’m not usually like this,” she would say, right after bursting into another spell of tears. He was no psychologist, but he could tell that her story was from a place of trauma.
“Why didn’t you tell your family that I was responsible for the pregnancy? Why didn’t you give them a name when they kept bugging you for one?”
She stared at the floor, shaking her head. “You don’t know my dad… He would have used his last breath to force us into a marriage we both were not ready for.”
“You could have just told me.”
This was the third time he asked her the same question and she had no definitive answer. Just another shake of her head and more tears spilling. He was emotionally disturbed. Her story had drained him. It was clear that she had experienced some sort of childhood abuse from her parents, mostly of neglect and emotional cruelty. Nero could not relate to this. He had come from a home of love and warmth.
“What exactly was your parents’ issue with you?”
“No, I need an answer. Were you adopted? Did you do something unforgivable? Why didn’t they treat you right?”
Cheta stared at the floor again. “It was mostly my dad, actually.”
“What was his problem with you?”
“I…was not what he wanted. My mom had difficulty with getting pregnant. It stretched for almost eight years after they got married. Dad got impatient and adopted a baby boy, my elder brother, Chidera. Four years later, Mom got pregnant with me. The pregnancy was so hard on her that she almost died. But she had me, and according to my aunt, my dad was not impressed. He had wanted a boy, and since the doctors said that my mom couldn’t have any more babies, all hope seemed lost.”
“But then they had another child. Your younger brother.”
“Yes. Their miracle child.” Cheta smiled sadly. “He came into our lives, and it was like I had stopped existing. Even to my mom. Finally, the shame had been lifted off her head. She was woman enough to bear a son. I lived in the shadow of my brothers, and it didn’t help that I was quite stubborn. I had a mind of my own that didn’t fit into what was expected of me as a girl. I wanted to do everything my brothers were doing, so that I could please my dad, but…”
“Your younger brother died?” Nero asked. He had seen remembrance posts she had shared of him on social media.
“An accident.” Cheta sighed. “My world crashed. He and I were so close… I felt responsible for his death.”
“I don’t know… I just felt responsible. It was during the mourning period that I discovered I was pregnant. Basically, that was the worst year of my life.”
“And you didn’t think I was capable enough to be there for you, Cheta? I told you how I felt about you.”
“I didn’t know you meant it, Nero. I didn’t even know you like that.”
“Didn’t you feel anything?”
“You must have felt something. I know you did. We didn’t just have empty sex. It was different and special. The connection was beyond physical. You felt it.”
“It was just sex and we were kids.”
Nero got off his seat. He had more questions. Things were still not adding up.
“First of, why did you lie to me about your name?”
“I… I always used Uzor on guys that I didn’t want to be with.”
He took her response bravely, even though it hurt to hear her say the words.
“And years later, after you were free from your parents and you made your own decisions, why didn’t you tell me about Obi?”
Cheta heaved and gave a shake of her head. Nero was impatient and restless. He walked about for a bit and stopped behind the couch he had earlier sat on.
“Answer my question…”
“I just… I don’t know—”
“That is not a reason, Chichetaram!”
“Fuck your sorrys! I need an answer! Why did you keep my son away from me?”
“No reason, Nero. I was fine with the way things were. I just… I have no reason—”
“Still not good enough!”
“What do you want me to say again nau?”
“Does he know that I exist?”
“He does. He doesn’t know your name or details, but he knows that his father is alive. He desperately wants to meet you.”
Pressing his palms on the backrest of the couch, Nero leaned forward. “Were you planning on letting me know about him?”
“If yesterday hadn’t happened, I would still let you know. I just needed time.”
“Sixteen, almost seventeen years was not time enough?”
“I’m sorry, Nero.”
“Meanwhile, you scored an own goal yesterday at the Adeyanjus, after embarrassing yourself. You owe them an apology, by the way.”
“Laja’s letter? It said nothing about Obi. It was about some purported feelings he claimed you had for me.”
“Aunty Gbemi and Debola haven’t called you?”
“My phone was switched off for most of yesterday. They sent texts to find out if I was okay.”
“Well, you fucked up and you owe them an apology.”
“You’re saying that Laja didn’t mention Obi?”
“No. He had this stupid plan in his head that he could bring us together somehow with Laja Towers and by claiming that you were still in love with me. Clearly, he was mistaken.”
Nero hoped that he hadn’t sounded like he was giving away too much of his inner desire, which was to have her again. In spite of his anger, he wanted her.
“But I really want to know the truth. Did you give Laja the impression that you still had feelings for me, after all this time?”
“Well, you know Laja. Something enters his head and he builds a castle out of it, whether true or imagined.”
“So, you didn’t tell him that you still felt something for me?”
“Nero, I already answered you nau.”
“I need you to say it plainly.”
“I never told him anything of the sort.”
He could tell that she was lying, but he didn’t know why she was. What was she hiding? What else was she not telling him?
“Do you have anything more to confess? We need to wrap this up.”
“Nothing more. You know everything now.”
“Are you sure?” He looked into her eyes. She couldn’t hold his stare.
“Okay.” He crossed his arms. “I’ve heard all you told me.”
“I need time to process everything.”
She sneezed a couple of times. “And Obi? When do you plan to meet him?”
“Give me time. I’ll call you when I’m ready.”
But it took an entire month for him to make himself ready. First, he fell into some form of depression. It had nothing to do with unrequited feelings; it was more about Cheta’s flagrant disregard for him through the years. Had he shown her anything that made her decide not get him involved in his son’s life? What on earth had he done to deserve what she did to him?
Nero tried making excuses for her, but none of them made sense. This drove him insane and eventually into sadness that lasted for a while. When the brighter days came, it returned with his anger. He was mad at her, mad that she had taken sixteen years of their son’s life from him. It irked him that he wasn’t there for Obi’s formative years. How was he supposed to make up for that? Why had this woman felt like she had had the right to do this to both of them? Who the hell did she think she was?
He ignored her calls and texts. He also shut Basim down when he brought up to topic with him. Clearly, she had gone and told Basim what was going on—another reason to be pissed at her. Did she think that she could go softening the hearts of those close to him, to get them on her side? Was she mad?
Basim stubbornly brought up the topic again a few days ago while they sat for beers at a sports lounge near Nero’s house.
“This is not a matter that concerns you, Bas,” he said to him.
“I know, but…”
“She shouldn’t have spoken to you about it.”
“Trust me, I know very little of this whole thing. All I know is that she got pregnant and had your kid and hid him from you for sixteen years…”
“Seventeen. Almost seventeen years. Didn’t the boy recently turn sixteen?”
“Nero, calm down. Cheta is… She’s a cool babe. You need to get to know her.”
Nero sipped his beer. Wanting to ‘know’ Cheta was all he could ever think of these days. It angered him how deeply she was eating into his mind. Staying away from her was mostly for self-preservation. He had forgiven her already; he just didn’t like how his heart had so easily picked up the rhythm it discarded years ago.
“You need to meet Obi too. The boy is…brilliant. He’s into tech. He builds websites and is currently trying his hands on his first app. He plays basketball with friends every Saturday. Sundays, he’s at church.”
Everything Bas had just said, Nero already knew. He had done his own digging on Obiedika, as much as he had looked into Cheta’s past and heard her story. The more he sought information about them, the more he seemed lost. Yet, he felt like he had known them all his life.
“According to Cheta, he’s dying to meet you.”
Nero kept his eyes on one of the TV screens in the lounge.
“You should stop wasting time because she wants to get him to school outside the country.”
Nero looked at Basim with a frown. “When?”
“I don’t know.”
Nero went silent until Basim broached the topic of business, which ate into their time and somehow morphed into Basim’s current infatuation for Gold.
“You know this shit you’re doing with her won’t last,” Nero stated. “Why bother?”
Basim laughed. He scratched his chin. “The sex is good. No, it’s great, actually.”
“And after the sex?”
Basim shrugged. “We go our separate ways. We’re adults.”
“Does she know you already have a wife waiting?”
“Again, Okiemute, this is just sex. She doesn’t need to know shit.”
“Gold is not a child, Bas. She’s either in her mid or late thirties. Don’t waste her time…”
“Guy!” Basim laughed again. “Why are you so particular about this chick? You’ve never given a shit about the women I’ve fucked before.”
Nero gave it a thought. Basim was right and his question was valid. Why did he care about Gold?
“I’m just saying.”
“Gold and I are good. In fact, we talked about us last night and she understands that we could end at any time.”
Basim’s phone rang and he left the table to take the call. Upon his return, he announced to Nero that he had something important to which he must attend.
“Gold?” Nero asked. He had seen the name on his screen when the call came in.
Nero let it pass. They shook hands and Basim left. Nero picked his phone and went on Instagram. Joy hadn’t posted anything in a while. He was a little worried about her. Being off Instagram for this long was out of character. Despite his anger at her, he hoped she was okay. Calling her would be the expected move, but it would be a dumb one. He was starving himself of his addiction to her. It was time to let go for good.
He finished his beer, drove home and sat to watch a horror movie with his neighbor. Cherish was her name, and she claimed that she had moved into the neighborhood months before, but he had only noticed her recently, in the course of a morning walk. During the day, she taught ballet and Mandarin in some American school in the neighborhood. At night, she was a sex therapist to women. Nero found her attractive, yet, he had not thought about getting into anything with her. Presently, however, he was tempted to. Anything to banish Cheta from his mind.
Cherish was clinging to his body, under the pretext of being terrified of the monsters in the movie. He allowed her lock his arm in hers, and he silently sniffled her hair because it smelled so nice. But it was all he could let himself do for now, even though he knew that all he needed was to give her that look and she’d be all over him. So, he walked her home when the movie ended. Her house was on the next street and she slowed the pace as they headed towards it. When they arrived, she asked him if he wanted to come in.
“I’m tired. Next time.”
“But I always come to your house…”
He smiled. “Some other time, Cher.”
“No morning walk tomorrow?”
She was small in his arms when he hugged her. He liked his women bigger. Cheta was the right type of ‘big enough’ for him, even though she had been slimmer back in the day.
He walked back home, coming up with a sudden plan to visit his mother in Abuja. He needed to tell her about Cheta and Obi and seek her counsel on what steps to take.
Here he was now, having opened up to her, waiting to know her thoughts on the present state of things as he watched her add pepper to her stew. She had always believed that pounded pepper gave meals a better taste.
“You’re not going to say anything about all I just told you?”
Hadiza stirred her stew and faced him, leaning on a single crutch. “Did I not have a talk with you about safe sex in your teenage years?”
“Mom?” he grumbled.
“Congratulations on being a father. How does that make you feel?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. Happy, sometimes. Scared, other times. But Obi’s not my problem right now.”
“Yeah, and I want to know your thoughts about the whole thing.”
“About her, you mean? Because what has happened has happened, and you can’t undo it. I know you’re smart enough to realize that, and this is why you hadn’t come to me before now. You took an entire month to let me know, because you needed time to sort out your feelings about her.” Hadiza looked her son in the eyes. “You still feel strongly about this girl?”
“This is not the first time you’ve spoken to me about her.”
“Is that a bad thing that I still have feelings for her?”
“No. I actually think it’s a good thing because it seems strong enough to break the hold Joy has on you. At the same time, I have this fresh worry that you might just be a hopeless romantic, that you’re too softhearted with women.”
“I’ve told you over and over that Joy doesn’t have a hold on me.”
Nero had no quick response to this. Hadiza pulled a chair and sat. She didn’t have a table in her kitchen; just a chair and a couple of low wooden stools. Nero sat on one of them.
“You said her father is a popular pastor.”
“Pastor Julius Azubuike…”
“Julius?” Hadiza’s brows slowly pulled together.
“Yeah, of Gateway Church.”
Her brows dipped deeper, bringing her face to a frown.
“You know him?”
She took a few seconds to respond. “Who doesn’t know Pastor Julius or the Gateway Church?”
Cheta’s father was famous. He was one of the old generation Pentecostal pastors around with a massive following across the country. He had been in Abuja for more than three decades, making him a spiritual father of sorts, not only to his members, but to other pastors and their members alike. Pastor Julius was a respected man of God.
“So, you went and got a pastor’s daughter pregnant?”
“I didn’t know she was a pastor’s daughter.”
“What else did you know about this girl while you were shamelessly erasing years of her home training?”
“Nothing. Like I said, she hid a lot from me…”
“No, she lied to you. Big difference.”
“Okay, she lied. But it’s all in the past now.”
“I don’t think so,” Hadiza said, slowly pulling herself up from the chair. Nero knew better than to help her stand. She hated unsolicited help.
He watched her stir the pot, hearing her sigh to herself as she did. The mention of Pastor Julius had ticked off something unpleasant in her. Nero was curious about it. As far as he knew, Pastor Julius was seen as one of the good men of God around. His church had a mix of the old and young, and even though they prided in sticking to the old time religion, they were modern in their mode of worship. The man was a known philanthropist, extending his generosity to the underprivileged, funding missions to remote areas across Africa, in partnership with American evangelicals. He was revered at home and overseas. Nero would have marked him off as one of the good ones if it weren’t for Cheta. His maltreatment of his daughter was not Christ-like and it was unforgivable.
“Do you think she was telling you the entire truth about her parents?” Hadiza asked, turning to Nero.
“Why would she lie?”
“Well, she lied to you about her name. Let’s start from there. She lied to you by not telling you that she was pregnant. She kept your son away from…”
“Mom, that has already been established. But about her parents, I don’t think she was lying.”
“You really want this girl?”
“She’s the mother of my child…”
“Just be honest to yourself, Oghenero.”
“Okay, yes. I want her.”
Hadiza smiled. It was a deep, indulgent smile that always began from pressed lips and spread to the corners to fill her eyes with light. The only smile she had retained from the life she used to have with Mazino. It was solely for her children and grandchildren now. Outside that, she was cold, dead to the world, bereft of emotions.
“I want to meet her,” she said to Nero.
“Yes. And Obi, of course. But Cheta more importantly. I want to know what’s in her that has held you this strongly after many years.”
“I don’t have any plans to act on it.”
“Same thing I said about your dad, and next thing, I was waking up every day with morning sickness.”
Nero knew she was referring to his biological father.
“But you didn’t feel anything for him,” Nero responded.
“I did, but it died a long time ago.”
Hadiza gave him a warning look.
“He was very mad at you for asking him to kneel.”
Hadiza turned to her pot.
“You know he’s very sorry, Mom. He’s spent years begging you… And you’ve spent years being angry at him and wasting your life behind closed doors…”
Hadiza’s hand stopped moving. She tightened it around the cooking spoon.
“When is it going to end?”
She let go of the spoon and looked at Nero again. Her default reaction in moments like this would be to scold him, but she did that only to his siblings. With him, she had a different type of respect. No one in her life had that much influence on her. Maybe it was because he had stood by her when her marriage to Mazino fell apart. In fact, he had been mad at Mazino, almost as much as she had been. He had even stopped communicating with him then and had fought his siblings for trying to make her reconcile with the man while she was still hurting. Years later, he and Mazino made up, and although he began to speak to her about letting the past go, he had never suggested to her to go back to Mazino.
“I’ve always been invested in you getting your life back, Mom. But nothing I said or tried has worked. This is beyond what was taken from you. I know you could have gotten it all back if you wanted, but it wasn’t about that. It was about a man you loved wholeheartedly who broke your heart in ways you could never imagine that anyone could.”
“It’s time to let him go. Forgive him, Mom.”
For a moment, he thought he had touched something in her, but when he saw her face harden, he knew it was another day of her lying to herself.
“If you’re talking about me having a man… I have Kadiri.”
“Kadiri is your sex toy. Your errand boy, bodyguard, and a reason to tell yourself that you have a man.”
“He’s my friend,” she said defensively. “And you’ll speak about him respectfully.”
“He’s beneath you.”
She touched her chest as she gasped. “Nero?”
“You’re a queen, Mom. An amazon. A force. You don’t need him to be who you want to be. You definitely don’t need Mazino or my dad or anybody else to help you climb back to the top. All you need is a new bill. Forget the past and start again.”
He knew of her depression, of the cocktail of pills and wine she took each night and every morning when she woke up. He wasn’t going to watch her waste away.
“I need to pee,” Hadiza muttered. “Put your eyes on the stew for me.”
She walked off to her room and he stirred the pot. He knew that his words had hit home, as usual. This was why he was always miserly with them and preferred spending time with her, instead, unlike his siblings who were mouthpieces for Mazino. Fajr especially.
Nero’s thoughts went back to Cheta and Obi. Basim had told him that they were a close pair. Again, Nero worried that he might not have such a relationship with the boy, especially now that Cheta was planning to take him out of the country. He believed that it was time to give her a call.
But he waited until after dinner, after Hadiza had gone to bed. He lay on a sofa in her living room and dialed Cheta’s number. A male voice answered. Nero froze.
“Hello?” the voice said a second time. Nero hung up. Minutes later, he saw his screen light up with Cheta’s name. He answered the call.
“Hi,” she greeted.
“Hi. I’ll make this quick. We need to see.”
“I’m in Abuja. When I get back…”
“I’m in Abuja presently. We could meet up tomorrow?”
“Sure. I will text you a place and time.”
He went silent, and then she said. “That was Obi, by the way.”
“He was the one who answered when you called.”
The setting was like one from her past. She had been summoned for a family meeting, and as far as Cheta remembered, no Azubuike family meeting had ever ended in a good note. The seriousness on the faces of the people present didn’t spell a good omen. In attendance were members of her immediate family, which included Obi, her parents, her elder brother and his wife, and her aunts and uncles from both sides. The only persons who weren’t family were a certain Pastor Austin and his wife who were close friends to her parents. Cheta was curious as to why they were present.
Her father, just recovering from his debilitating illness, commenced the meeting by claiming that he had invited them all to talk about the details of his will. There was a moment of shock from everyone, asides Cheta and her mother. For Cheta, it wasn’t that she had been privy to what he had said; she just wasn’t moved by the shocking things her parents did anymore.
Still, she asked her father, “Are you dying?”
“Wouldn’t that make you happy?” he responded.
“Honey, let’s not start this,” her mother said. “You too, Cheta. You both should behave this night.”
The old man continued with his speech, explaining that he had properties scattered around the country and others outside Nigeria. Knowing him, Cheta was certain that he was only telling them half of all he owned.
“I’m doing this because I don’t want anybody who didn’t sow in my life to come and reap all I’ve worked for when I drop dead.”
“God forbid!” Cheta’s mother circled her head a few times.
“It’s not a matter of God forbid, Nnedinma. You saw me slump to the floor last month. You were there when I almost died. I can die any minute…”
“Stop talking like this na.”
“Seriously, Dad, stop it,” Dera said. He had the same concerned look his wife bore on her face. Cheta was beginning to believe that thing about couples in love looking like each other after a while. But it was clearly not the same with her parents.
“All I’m saying is that I need to be prepared. This is why I invited all of you here whom I trust so much. Every one of you will get something from me while I’m still here with you. What you choose to do with what I give you is up to you. I’m not sharing any money, though. Wait for me to die first before that happens.”
Cheta’s favorite aunt burst into laughter. She had her attention on her phone while she did this, unaware that all eyes were on her.
“Kamharida?” Cheta’s mother called. She looked up from her phone.
“What he said was funny,” she responded in a British accent.
Cheta smiled. The woman was a problem. She was that cliché unmarried aunt who had lived life on her terms and still didn’t care about pleasing anyone. She looked good at forty-nine. She was rich on her own and didn’t care to have a man. The rumors about her was that she was a lesbian, but Cheta knew better. Kamharida loved penises more than she valued their owners. It never mattered how worthy a man was, all she wanted was to share his bed and send him off on his way.
“Brother, ignore me, biko. Continue whatever it is you were saying. But cheru… Wait, wait…”
Cheta’s father sighed impatiently.
“I’ve been meaning to bring this issue up.”
“Why are you interrupting me?”
“Brother, you’ll continue. I just want to throw in something real quick. Bear with me.”
“Thank God you’re talking about giving people things.” She rested a hand on Cheta’s thigh. “Your daughter here recently got a house and car from you, right?”
“And I have been told that it is the only thing she got from you.”
“Yes?” Julius’ tone turned defensive.
“Only those two things?”
“Can you get to your point, please?”
“I’m getting there. Be patient.” Kamharida cleared her throat. “If I recall very well, when Dera was about to get married, you deeded him up to four different properties, made him the CEO of your haulage company, and still gave him a top position in your church. Let’s not talk about the two cars you gifted him and his wife, plus the inheritance money that I can’t mention here.”
“And your point is?”
“My point is that for your daughter, you gave nothing.”
“But you just said I gave her a house and a car.”
“You gave her a house?” Kamharida looked like she was speaking to an imbecile. She moved the curls of her weave away from her face and took off her glasses. It was a sure sign that she wanted trouble. “One house? One small, miserable house, Julius?”
“Have you seen the house you’re calling small and miserable?” Julius asked.
“Brother, I don’t care if it is as big as Aso Villa. One house is simply not enough. She’s your only daughter and I hope you people will have a separate family meeting to address the inheritance issue, because this doesn’t make sense at all.”
“Thank you,” he replied in sarcasm. “But learn to shup up sometimes, Kamharida. I have plans for Cheta. A lot of blessings await her, only if she gets married…”
“I knew it,” Cheta mumbled.
“In fact, it’s the second reason I called this meeting.”
“Julius, this marriage talk again? Do you realize that it’s not by force to get married—?”
“You will not say those words to my hearing ever again, Kamharida!” he shouted in a frail voice. “Is it not enough that you have poisoned Cheta with your immoral ways? You want to finish her off by making sure she ends up like you? Old, unmarried and miserable, jumping from one sugar daddy to another? Abi is it sugar mommy sef?”
“Throw your stones at me o, Chidi! Throw them very well, Pastor Julius or whatever they call you! They are nothing but sticks to me! I have said what is doing me! In fact, I am done here!” She wore her glasses and got on her feet. “Can’t believe I showed up for this sham of a family meeting.”
“Kamhari, sit down,” Cheta’s mother pleaded.
“Mma Cheta, I will not sit here one more second and endure this nonsense again from your husband…”
“He’s your elder brother. Listen to him.”
“Why? He’s saying nonsense as usual!”
Julius smirked. “Let her go.”
Kamharida picked her handbag and faced Cheta, ignoring pleas from other family members that she should stay. “I’ll come find you in Lagos, luv. Okay?”
“Give us a hug.”
She bent and hugged Cheta, pecking her on the cheek.
“Obi’m? See you in Lagos, handsome.”
She turned around, gave her brother a nasty stare and walked out of the house, slamming the door hard.
She barged in again.
“Why can’t you just go?” Julius begged.
“This was the same way you seized all the lands Papa left for us! God will punish you, Julius!”
“Kamharida!” her elder sister scolded. “Are you cursed?”
Cheta smiled as the door slammed a second time.
“Can we go back to the issue at hand?” Julius said, looking at Cheta. “Chichetaram, like I told your silly auntie, there’s more for you, but you have to earn it. You have to become responsible and find a father for Obi, since you’ve refused to tell us who his real father is. It is unfair to make the poor boy live like a bastard. Give him a father and a home. Give him siblings. Give yourself a good name and take away the shame from our heads, Cheta.”
Her mother nodded in agreement, keeping a pathetic expression on her face.
“I hope you remember Pastor Goodwill?”
Cheta looked at the man. He was the most senior pastor at Gateway Church, a man Cheta respected.
“I remember him.”
“I invited him here because I take him to be part of this family, a friend that sticks closer than a brother.”
Pastor Goodwill nodded, bopping a full head of grey hair and beard.
“Well, I don’t know if you remember his son?”
Cheta already knew where the conversation was headed. She was beginning to get annoyed.
“I remember Chibunna.”
Both fathers broke into smiles.
“She even recalls his name!” Julius said.
“That’s good,” Goodwill stated.
Of course, Cheta remembered the uncouth Chibunna and the scar she left on his chin when she pushed him off a tree branch and he fell hard to the ground, breaking an arm and suffering a cut that had to be stitched. He had been staring up her skirt while she was climbing up the tree. His crime wasn’t the staring; it was that he had said the word ‘toto’ telling her that he saw it and it looked pink. That day, her mother had flogged her with a koboko for not wearing any underwear.
“Well, Chibunna has just returned from Norway and we—your mothers and both of us—feel that God wants you two to be together.”
“But he has not told me anything yet.”
“He will, my daughter,” Goodwill responded. “You know, we’re your parents, so there’s a hierarchy to these things.”
“Besides, it was what we’ve always wanted and we’ve been praying that God would bring you two together.”
“Yes. We’ve prayed for years, actually,” Cheta’s mother added.
Cheta knew she was lying. Chibunna was a fresh addition to their list of eligible bachelors for her. This was all Julius’ doing.
“We felt that we should speak to you in this manner,” Julius went on. “Because, well… We all know that we’ve had series of meetings with you like this in private about your marital status and it never turned out well.”
“And so you opted for public disgrace,” Cheta commented under her breath.
“What did you say?”
“Well, we have spoken to Chibunna and he’s quite interested, but he said we should talk to you about it first.”
“I think he’s afraid of you, because of the things he’s heard,” Goodwill added. “About how er… You can be quite strong-willed.”
“And it’s a good thing,” Julius continued. Goodwill nodded. “A man needs to fear his wife. Like your mother… As you see her silent like this? I fear her a lot o. She’s in control in this house.” He tapped his wife’s knee. Cheta looked at her mother who smiled uneasily and wouldn’t stare back at her. “Anyway, this is the very serious matter at hand, right now, Chichetaram. We want you to do the right thing and make us smile for once…”
“By marrying Chibunna abi?” Cheta asked.
“Is that all?” She was incensed, and it took a great deal for her to stay calm.
“That’s all we need from you.”
“Okay. Can I go to bed now?”
Julius’s face dropped. “But we’re not done…”
Cheta stood. “I think I’ve been disrespected enough…”
“Cheta,” her mother warned, embarrassed.
“Aunty Kamhari was right. I don’t mean anything to you…”
“Don’t say that.”
“If I did, you wouldn’t come up with this tiring marriage thing as a precondition for giving me what’s rightfully mine by inheritance.”
“Chichetaram, sit down,” her mother pleaded.
“Mommy, this is not the time!” she shouted, causing her mother to flinch. “And nobody else should tell me nonsense!” Breathing hard, she waited a second or two, daring somebody to try to stop her. “Daddy, I have had it up to here with your wickedness towards me! I don’t deserve this at all! I am your only daughter, for God’s sake!”
“And I love you, omalicha nwa, but—”
“But nothing, Daddy! Nothing! I have done nothing to you but live my life the very best way I know how! Sadly, that has never been good enough!”
She saw him almost roll his eyes. They had been in this place many times before—the constant fights that have led them both into having no regards for each other. Cheta was tired of it all and she was done with him.
“You know what? You win.” Her voice was strained. Tears ran down her cheeks. The last thing she wanted was for them to see her cry, but she couldn’t hold herself. “You can keep your houses, your money and whatever. I don’t want them and I don’t need them. In fact, I’ve hustled all on my own to get to where I am today. The only reason I’m retaining the house in Lagos is because of Obi. I’m deeding it to him. I want nothing else from you, Daddy. Seems like you’re even tired of me bearing your name, so you can take that one too…”
Dera and his wife sighed together.
“I’m leaving this house, and I hope you sit down to think about how much of an evil man you married and—”
“Cheta, will you shut up this minute!” Dera scolded. “Enough of this!”
“I thought I said nobody should talk!”
“Will you shut up, my friend? Are you mad? Is it me you’re talking to like that?”
“Yes, Chidera! I’m talking to you like that! This is between me and Daddy—”
“You must be insane!” He sprang up. “My friend, sit down there and show your father some respect! Every time, only you! You, you, you, you, you! Do you need deliverance or what? Or do we have to get you to see a psychiatrist? Sit down there!”
A long time ago, Cheta would have slumped hard on her seat upon his orders. She would have even apologized for her insubordination. But she was just realizing that he had done the barest minimum for her as an elder brother. He had only stood by her when it was convenient for him. The entire time, he had supported their parents. This realization brought fresh pain to her heart, and she stood there, staring at him through eyes that wouldn’t stop tearing up.
“Do you know who you really are?” she asked in the calmest of tones. “Has anyone told you where you came from?”
Cheta saw her mother shift uneasily.
“Cheta, I said you should stop talking and sit down. Behave like an adult for once.”
“You wouldn’t be talking to me this way if you knew who you really were, Dera.”
“Chichetaram!” Her other aunt exclaimed. She also got on her feet and grasped Cheta’s hand. Cheta snatched it back.
“Read my lips well, Chidera. You are not an Azubuike. Not by blood, nor by birth.” She tapped her chest. “I am the true firstborn of this family. And if we’re keeping it a buck, the only child right now.”
Dera turned and gave their parents a sharp glare.
“But that never mattered—clearly. So, enjoy everything, big brother, as you’ve always done.” Cheta picked her phone from the couch. “Obi, let’s get out of here.”
“Chichetaram,” her mother groaned and burst into tears as Dera stood at his spot, stunned. There was heavy silence as Cheta went up the stairs with Obi in tow. She hadn’t expected anyone to call her back; not that she would have stopped if they did. Her shocking revelation to Dera had been done out of malice, and she hoped that it would make him feel guilty for all that she had gone through. She had suffered a different type of trauma when Kamharida revealed the same information to her four years ago. It was heartbreaking to accept that she was never wanted because she was a girl and that her most beloved brother who wasn’t even blood had more rights than she did.
She tossed the few clothes she had come with into her suitcase and handed the suitcase to Obi who wouldn’t leave her doorway. She smiled when she looked at him. He was angry, and he looked a lot like Nero at the moment, with piercing eyes that couldn’t hide his emotions.
They went downstairs, and Cheta’s mother stopped them at the foot of the stairs.
“Where are you going to this night?” she asked.
“To a hotel. Then, I’m off to Lagos tomorrow.”
“I know I can’t make you stay, being that you’ve made up your mind to leave. But take this money and my car key…” She pressed a wad of a thousand naira notes in Cheta’s hand, but Cheta wouldn’t take it. “Chichetaram, you mustn’t always be difficult.”
Cheta walked away from her and stepped outside the house. She breathed in and out. Obi followed her with her suitcase and the car key.
“Mommy said we should take her Honda.”
Cheta didn’t have the strength to call an Uber. She waited for Obi to bring the car to the front of the house. She opened the back door and sat in, needing the space because she wanted to have a good cry.
Dera emerged from the house. “Cheta?” She didn’t look at him. She instructed Obi to drive away. “Chichetaram!”
Obi started the car and gunned for the gate. Cheta then turned and stared at her brother, noting that he was still shaken by what she had revealed to him. Her conscience returned and she went into fresh tears.
Obi picked a hotel in the neighborhood and drove there. Cheta paid for a room with a double bed and asked that two bottles of wine be sent up to her. When the wine came, she sat out on the balcony and drank while Obi slept.
“You’re such a cry baby, you know that?”
Laja was seated, facing her. He wore a blue bathrobe and held a cigar between his fingers. The destination was a resort in Maldives, and the year was 2016. Below them in the distance, there was a breathtaking scenery of a beautiful blue ocean, coasted by white sands on the shoreline. Even at night, it was a remarkable sight. She and Laja had been here three days already.
“You can’t be thinking about your parents’ cruelty all the time and be crying about it.”
“Give me a break. I just found out that my brother whom they love to death is not really my brother.”
“All I’m saying is that a time would come when you’d have to confront them and tell them to go fuck themselves.”
Cheta was forced to laugh. Laja and his no-bullshit pieces of advice. It was one of the things she loved about him.
“I love you.” She sniffled, looking at him affectionately. “I really, really, really love you, Adelaja. Don’t you ever leave me or my world would fall to pieces.”
“Then marry me.”
“We will both not be able to find your cock.”
They both laughed. Laja raised his glass of champagne. “To you having a brighter future, forgetting all that is behind you and pressing forward.”
Cheta raised her glass as well. “To us having a brighter future.”
When she brought her glass down, he was gone. A gentle breeze blew over her and she smiled. She downed the last drop of her wine and returned to her suite. Obi was asleep on the couch. She took a blanket and covered him.
“Some Nero guy called you,” he mumbled, eyes still shut. Cheta picked her phone from the bed and stepped out to the balcony to return Nero’s call. After they had spoken, she returned to bed, feeling lighter in mood. Nero was no longer mad at her. It was a weight off her shoulders.
She went to bed immediately, feeling more than a little tipsy from drinking two bottles of wine. She woke up with a headache, and for a second, wondered why she was on a strange bed that smelled of something citrusy. When she turned her head, she found Obi watching her with a teasing smile.
“Are you still vexing?”
Cheta yawned, cupping her mouth with her hand. She tried not to recall last night, but it filled her head with scenes of a family meeting that went to shits because of her.
“Should I order breakfast?” Obi asked.
“Okay.” He jumped off the bed. “You need anything else?”
He picked a car key from the nightstand and hurried out, not hearing her tell him to take money from her handbag. At his exit, Cheta eased her body to the floor and sat there, clinging to a pillow to fight the throbbing in her head.
“So not a good day for this,” she muttered. She couldn’t meet Nero in this state. He already thought her irresponsible or something.
She dipped her hand into her handbag and picked her toothbrush. Maybe she shouldn’t have drunk all that wine last night, and it shouldn’t have been in front of her son. What example was she setting?
She got off the floor and went for a cold shower. Upon return, she found her phone ringing. It was Nero. He wanted to know if she had a particular place in mind where she would like them to meet.
“Could you come by my hotel, please?” she asked.
“Hotel? You’re not at your family house?”
“No, but the hotel is not far from my house.”
“Okay. Can I get an address?”
“Sure. I’ll text it to you.”
After he hung up. She sat on the bed and downed an entire bottle of chilled water she found in the fridge. Then she texted the hotel’s address to Nero. He arrived before Obi returned. Cheta managed to give life to her face by applying light makeup. She wore a short Ankara dress—something blue and lively.
He was waiting for her at the hotel’s restaurant downstairs. He had chosen a table and sat before it, going through the menu, eyes behind dark sunshades. He looked up when he saw her approaching and dropped his eyes on the menu again.
“Hi,” Cheta greeted.
Nero put the menu aside and pointed her towards a chair. “Hi.”
Cheta sat. He pushed the menu to her, taking off his glasses.
“I em…” He cleared his throat. “I don’t have much time. We will just talk over breakfast and see each other in Lagos for a proper meal, at which time, you’ll introduce me to Obi.”
“Okay.” Cheta nodded.
“So, order something, let’s eat and catch up. I need you to tell me all about my son.”
“Gladly.” Cheta reached for the menu.
“By the way, I told my mom about you and she wants to see you.”
Cheta’s hand froze on the menu, but her heart began to pound. “Your…mom?”
“Yeah. If possible, today.”
“She’d love to meet Obi too.”
Cheta dropped the menu. “I…”
“Cheta, I know that this part of your life has been yours to protect for years. I’m not trying to take that from you. I’m just asking you to do the right thing here.”
“So, you’re open to visiting her?”
Cheta stopped herself from letting out a sigh. “Y-yes.
“Good.” Nero looked up at an approaching waiter. “A bottle of water first.” He brought his eyes down on Cheta. “Are you okay?”
He placed his hand on hers and she stared at it. “Don’t worry, Hadiza Abdullahi doesn’t bite.”
Cheta smiled to cover her nerves. Nero took his hand off hers.
“You smell sweet, by the way.”
She looked up to find his eyes in hers and she picked up the menu again.
Gold was thinking about a thing as a she watched Basim shower. Standing by the bathroom door, wearing nothing but his t-shirt, she thought she was living the best version of her life. She needed to make it last for a while. At least, long enough for her to heal from the belief that nothing good ever came to her.
Basim was a blessing, a dream from which she never wanted to wake. She was about to propose to him.
“If you keep staring at me like that, I’m going to fall down,” he teased.
Wrapping his towel around his waist, he walked to her. “Did you ever experience that thing where you walked past a group of girls, or in your case, boys, and you tripped because you couldn’t concentrate?”
“No, because my swag was always on point.” Gold undid his towel with a single tug.
“It so happened to me twice. First time, I tripped but didn’t fall. Second time, years later, I fell flat to my face.”
Gold smiled, drying off his hair with the towel. Basim took her waist with one arm and drew her to his body. He kissed her fiercely for a long time. When he was done, he was brandishing a hard-on. Gold moved closer to him, putting her arms around his neck.
“I have a proposal to make.”
“You have exactly two minutes to do that. Then we’ll do a quickie for three, maybe four.”
“Basim, I want to be your official, number one sidechick.”
He looked confused for a second, and then he erupted in laughter.
“I know you’re going to get married to some rich, Muslim girl and you’ll have other sidechicks… I don’t want to be left out. Retain me.”
“I should retain you?”
“Yes. I love what we’re doing here and I don’t want to let go. I promise you that I will never ask for more than what you give me and I will respect your marriage when the time comes…”
“Hmm…” Basim moved backwards. “Let me think about it.”
Gold refused to let go of him. “You’re sure?”
“Okay.” She kissed him. “Let’s do that quickie.”
“I’m already late. You could just drop by the office later and I’ll have you for lunch?”
He squeezed her bum slapping her pelvis hard over his now flaccid penis. “You’re cute.”
He left the bathroom and she took off the t-shirt to have a shower. By the time she was done, he had left for work. She found a shopping list for toiletries waiting on his bed. When she checked her phone, she noticed that he had transferred her some money. Last night, they had discussed stocking up the house with food items. The money he sent to her was twice the amount she asked for.
Gold wore the clothes she had come with and left the house to the mall, using Basim’s spare car. She shopped for more than an hour, had breakfast at one of the eateries, and picked thoughtful gifts for Cheta and Obi. On her way out, she spotted a familiar face in a computer store. Gold slowed in her stride, following the movement of the person as he browsed the aisles in the shop.
Suddenly, he stopped and turned in her direction, catching her unawares. She took a step back and bumped into someone walking by. The person shoved her out of the way, causing the man in the shop to laugh at her.
“Ozzy,” she whispered, refusing to believe that it was him. If it weren’t for his lips and the hazel tint in his eyes, she wouldn’t have recognized him. He appeared taller, buffer and more masculine. Gone was his long hair; he now kept it short. He also retained a neat beard.
“Stay there,” he said inaudibly. “One minute.”
He picked an item, paid for it, and came for her. Swooping her off the floor, he hugged her tightly.
“I’ve missed you so much, my little goldfish.”
She didn’t feel the same way. She stopped missing him a long time ago.
“How have you been?” He smiled warmly into her eyes.
Gold was tongue-tied. She didn’t make any attempt to hide the annoyance that was growing in her.
“You don’t want to answer me?”
He had an accent. She couldn’t tell what it was.
“Okay, I’ll tell you about me.” He scratched the under part of his chin, tugging down collar of his turtleneck a little, revealing a tattoo. “I have been out of the country for a while. Australia, precisely. I’m back now…”
“You didn’t come for Laja’s funeral.”
Ozzy exhaled. “I know… I really wanted to, but…” He shrugged. “He would have hated me being there, though.”
“Is that your excuse?”
“You know we ended up badly—”
“No, you walked away from all of us, Ozzy. You abandoned me because of money.”
“I know, and I’m sorry.”
“Sorry?” Gold shook her head. “You fucked up my life, you idiot. And now, you’re here with your stupid tight hugs and the endless lies you want to start telling me.”
“Well, I hope you enjoyed every last cent of that money. I know you could never have used it for anything good…”
“I lost it, actually.”
Gold was going to keep on speaking but she stopped at his words. “You lost it?”
She crossed her arms, staring at him in disbelief. “How?”
“Just know that I went to jail because of it and because of Cheta. I did seven years behind bars.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Can we go sit somewhere and talk?”
“No. Tell me everything here and now.”
Ozzy scratched his neck again. “Hadiza Husseini. She came after me.”
Gold covered her mouth in shock.
“Yeah. She followed the money and found me. Okay, not her at first because she was still in the hospital. It was some malo-looking guy. They held me up for six months, beating the shege out of my body. I still have the scars.” He tugged down his turtleneck collar a little, showing her a scar that had been inked on. Gold suddenly began to shiver. “Then they took me to see her. By then she was out of the hospital and the news of her divorce was everywhere.”
“Y-y-you didn’t tell her about us, did you?”
Ozzy gave a sarcastic laugh and Gold shook her head.
“How could you?”
“They wanted to kill me. I had to mention names.”
Gold balled her fists, unsure if she should hit him with them or punch the glass wall beside her.
“Relax.” Ozzy made to touch her but she smacked his hands away. “Relax. I took the fall for all of us…”
“What fall? You told her our names!”
“And I still ended up in prison over robbery charges while the rest of you continued to live your lives without consequence. Cheta, especially.”
“Don’t even think of twisting what happened that night. It was a mistake. We could have died if Cheta didn’t swerve.”
“Well, she did, and she rendered the woman useless, destroying her life and career.”
“But you stole the money.”
“No, Goldie. You stole the money.”
Gold jabbed his chest with her fists this time. He laughed as he staggered backwards.
“You haven’t changed,” she accused.
“You too. What’s up with you these days?”
Gold wasn’t listening. Her thoughts were on Hadiza. Why didn’t she come after them after finding out the truth? What did it all mean? Was she keeping a grudge, waiting for the right time? And Cheta…
“Oh my God!” Gold said, reaching for her phone in her handbag.
“Leave me alone, Oswald.” She found the phone and searched for the WhatsApp message she received from Cheta earlier, informing her that she was going to Hadiza’s for dinner.
Gold dialed Cheta’s number but it rang unanswered.
“Goldie, who are you calling?”
She ignored him and tried the line a second time. Still no response.
“I think Cheta is in trouble.”
“She’s going to see Hadiza today. I want to warn her not to go. Maybe it’s a trap.” Gold was restless. “I don’t even know…”
“Why is she going to see the woman?”
“Ozzy, it’s a long story.”
“I need to know. I went to jail because of that Cheta bitch.”
“Long story short, Cheta hooked up with Hadiza’s son not long after what happened and she got pregnant for him. She’s hidden their child for almost seventeen years, but he’s aware now. He wants the boy and Cheta to meet Hadiza, and I think they’re going today.”
“Whoa! Hol’up! Hol’up! Come again?”
“I can’t repeat myself, Ozzy.” Gold tried Cheta’s number a third time.
“You’re saying that our dear Cheta, pastor’s daughter, after trying to kill a woman, still went ahead and fucked her son while she was in a coma?”
“Long and short.”
“Wow! Your friend is a coldhearted bitch.”
“Well, you’ll have to call me that as well because I’m fucking her second son too.”
Gold grasped her shopping cart and began pushing it towards the exit, leaving Ozzy stunned.
®Sally Kenneth Dadzie @moskedapages
Koboko – Cane
Cheru – Wait
Shege – Madness
Shalaye – Unnecessary explanation, especially if one is guilty or perceived so