He was there when she got home. Waiting with a hug and words of comfort.
“I saw the news online,” he said. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
She told him that her world seemed grey, like everything was falling apart. It was an apocalyptic type of feeling. The end of all things good. She blubbered as she said this. The sobs came forcefully, and hiding her face with her hands couldn’t stop them. She didn’t want him to see her cry, but she couldn’t help it. She broke down completely when his body touched hers. His arms draped around her. He guided her to her bedroom. She lay on the bed. He lay beside her. When his hand touched her back, she resisted him, but gave in because he persisted, and allowed him pull her towards him.
He didn’t console her. Somehow, he knew that she didn’t want to be consoled. She wept until she felt drained. And then she rested on her back, looking upwards at the ceiling. He thought it was the end of it, but she started again, curling herself into a ball. This went on all day, and he was there with her all through. She took breaks only to use the bathroom or to have a drink of water.
When it turned dark, Yenkat went for a shower while Omar stepped out to see friends. After cleaning up, she entered the kitchen to fix something to eat. But she had lost her appetite again. An attempt to whip up dinner left her with burnt noodles and a smoky kitchen.
“Who the hell burns noodles?” she muttered in annoyance as she opened the backdoor. Oyin ran in, body wrapped in a towel, and soapsuds dripping from her arms.
“Ah! Aunty Yeni, what happened?”
“Nothing. I’m fine.”
Oyin knew when her boss wasn’t in the mood. She let her alone. Yenkat made herself spicy Indian tea and sat in the living room. She called Aanu and broke the news about Leonel. Aanu cried, asking all the questions Yenkat had asked, questioning the universe about the meaning of life and death. It was probably the saddest phone call ever shared between them.
“How is Tobi? Is he there with you?” Aanu asked, now tired of talking about the dead.
“No. He went out.”
“Shey you know he’s not talking to me?”
“No. What happened?”
“We fought. As usual. I think I might have said some things he didn’t like.”
“I don’t know, Yeni. I got angry and my mouth just started running on its own again. I think I need deliverance.”
“No, you need to control your temper, Aanu. You know he can’t insult you back, that’s why you keep doing this. But the day will come when he will give it back to you. And me, I won’t say anything. I’ll just be watching.”
“Just sha help me beg him to consider settling down in the States, even if he wants to be a chef. Nigeria is not the place for him.”
“As far as I know, he’s returning to school. And not in Nigeria. So, leave the boy alone, please. You and Nasir are really pissing me off.”
“We’re sorry. Anyway, I have rescheduled my return flight. I’ll be back in two weeks. The doctor thinks my leg would be good to go in a few days.”
“You’re sure you’ll be fine then?”
“I had better be. I can’t leave my business alone for so long. When I get in, I’ll come and stay with you small. You need me.”
“I do, actually.”
Aanu talked about Leonel some more before she said goodnight. Yenkat returned to her bedroom. Oyin had cleaned it and changed the sheets. She lay down once more. Her body craved her bed more than anything else.
Omar sent her a text, asking if he could come in. He had just gotten home.
“Enter!” she responded. The door opened and he walked in. She tapped on the wide space beside her and he lay there. They were both resting on their backs.
“Thank you for earlier, for listening to me.”
“I got you, mami.”
“I’m just getting to realize that you know a lot about me, Omar. Things you know that your mom doesn’t.”
“And that’s good, yeah?”
“The problem here is I don’t know you. As an adult, I mean. I know the boy version of you, but not the man you’ve become.”
“Ask me anything and I’ll tell you.”
“I don’t think it works that way.”
“Then how will you get to know me?”
“Am I really supposed to? That’s the question.”
He shrugged. “You’re the one who brought it up.”
Yenkat turned to her side. “Look at me.”
He turned as well. She studied the form of his face, the lines and curves, the precision in the carving of his facial hairs and edges, the scars on his temple from a car accident years ago.
“Omar, you have your entire life ahead of you.”
“Please, not the clichés…”
“This is not a cliché. It’s reality. You’ve not started living. You’ll meet people. Many different types of people, especially if you travel to other places in the world. Your experiences with them will, to some extent, shape the person you’ll become. And that’s going to be equal parts fun and scary. I don’t want you throwing that away to be with me. You should live fully, make all your mistakes while you can, because you’ll get to the point when the only option left is to do the right things, because you have grown from those mistakes.”
“Is that what’s happening to you right now?”
She sidestepped his question.
“I’m not the person you should be with, now or tomorrow. Please, forget about me. Forget about the kiss too. I loved it, it got my blood pumping over the sheer taboo of the moment, but that’s the end. This is just a phase that will pass.”
“It’s more than a phase, mami. More than a kiss.”
Yenkat sighed, laughing, as she pulled his ear. “You’re impossible. Why are you refusing to be on the same wavelength with me? Look, I love your mom too much to betray her like that. And I love you too much to let anything happen between us.”
“I know you love me, but it’s going to be more than that soon. You’ll fall for me. Hard. Really hard.”
“One thing I’m liking about this conversation is the fact that you’re no longer pulling the age card. That kiss fucked things the right way. There’s no turning back now.”
“About the age thing… It’s normal for boys your age to be attracted to women like me, but you’ll get older and start to long for girls in your age group.”
“Are you scared that I’ll leave you for someone younger?”
“Why are you so cocky?”
She reached out and touched his face. “I’m sorry.”
“For your childhood that was never there. We—your mom and I—didn’t let you have the full childhood experience because we were preoccupied with our own lives. We threw you into adulthood so quickly. I’m sorry for the times you saw me smoking weed or getting drunk or making out with a guy. And that morning you saw me naked too…”
“Let’s not remember that.”
“I think you were pretty much on the normal side, mami. It was Mom who scarred me, and I’d rather not go into the details of the things I saw her do while trying to put up all that religious front. You’re not the reason I have Mommy issues. She is. But you know what? It’s all good. No need to explain. I understand. You were both coming into age yourselves. You were hot girls. You still are. I don’t know about Mom, though.” He smiled. “But I understand.”
“I’m tired of you understanding, just to make us happy. How about you? What makes you happy?”
“You really want an answer to that?”
“Yes. Tell me, and I’ll make up for everything you lost in your childhood.”
He laughed. “This woman sha. I didn’t lose anything, but I’m yet to get what I really want. And I don’t want to talk about it. I’d rather we make popcorn and watch a movie. I know you don’t feel like it, but consider it therapy.” Omar sat up, “I’ll pop the corn and you’ll choose the movie from my hard drive. Is that cool with you?”
Omar left the room, returning shortly with his hard drive. It was with much effort Yenkat dragged herself away from the bed to get her laptop. And when she did, she wasn’t sure what movie she wanted to watch, because Omar had a lot in his collection. She lost the little strength she had marshaled and waited for him. He came back with popcorn and cake.
“You want me to pick the movie for you?” he asked.
He chose The Den. It was a horror movie. Yenkat complained when they began watching it, but couldn’t take her eyes away. It was a good distraction from her grief, although it didn’t help with her loss of appetite. She asked to see another movie after they were done. Something less terrifying. Omar picked drama this time. Yenkat rested her head on a pillow as it began. A few minutes into it, she fell asleep.
It wasn’t every day his father sent for him. The man was hardly in the country, let alone, in town. The relationship between them was superficial, centered on Nasir’s whims. He had a disposition to be selfish more often than not. If he didn’t profit from something, he didn’t invest in it. And this repeatedly affected what he had with Omar, leaving the boy to be the bigger person in their relationship.
Nasir was the lastborn of his parents. Spoilt and obstinate. Coming from a wealthy family hadn’t helped him either. He had had periods of being the prodigal son, but he always reappeared with the magic touch that turned everything around. In the family business, he often brought in the biggest investments and most profitable partnerships. He was also constantly responsible for taking the company to new technological heights. What he lacked in character and morals, he made up for in intellect.
Omar felt half as smart as Nasir. He was more of a creative, and had struggled with being a science student in secondary school. Yet, Nasir and Aanu had insisted that he continued with the sciences at the university. A year following his graduation, he got into the Ahmadu Bello University to study medicine, but dropped out after the first semester. His actions had caused his first clash with Nasir. Aanu, of course, had been in support of Nasir. Yenkat alone stood by Omar. Since then, father and son managed through their relationship, especially when it came to education and career decisions. They often fought over the littlest issues, but Nasir would occasionally try to connect with Omar on his own terms. And this included inviting him for parties organized by wealthy businessmen and women. Sometimes, it was just to hang out for drinks with his friends. This had happened mostly in the States where Omar had schooled. Nasir would call him up whenever he was in town, and it wouldn’t matter what he was doing. He would leave it and fly to wherever Nasir was, to honor his invitation. As much as Omar had personal reasons for doing so, he was deliberate in letting Nasir know that he was going out of his way to please him.
In principle, the man had not hurt him in any way. Hence, he was careful not to sever the weak connection they had. As a child, he had looked up to him. Nothing he did then could mar the image of perfection Omar had of him. But things started to change when Omar attained his teenage years and Nasir slowly introduced him to another side of his life that made Omar question the way he had venerated him. Nasir’s hush-hush activities ranged from drugs, prostitutes, and illicit businesses, specifically oil bunkering and illegal gold mining.
Dragging Omar into that lifestyle hadn’t begun overnight. It started on Omar’s fourteenth birthday, when Nasir arranged a call girl for him, rationalizing his actions with some silly story about how boys became men in ancient times, through rituals in which they lost their virginity to older women. Omar didn’t accede to Nasir’s wishes that night. Instead, he sat with the call girl, whose name was Star, and they spoke deep into the night until she fell asleep on the couch. Omar would later lose his virginity to her on his sixteenth birthday, and fall in love with her at the age of eighteen. Over the course of that period, Nasir never stopped trying to make his son mirror him in every aspect.
Today, Omar suspected there was a party somewhere that he wanted him to attend. There would be women, obviously, and drugs and wealthy men. It wasn’t Omar’s type of gig, but he was going to attend. If there was one thing he had learned from Nasir over the years, it was the importance of networking. At the parties he attended in the US, Omar habitually left his résumé in the minds of the people he met like breadcrumbs. The women always remembered him and called him for catering jobs. So far, he had dated three of them. None had been as young as his mother. But he had found those relationships exciting, even with the age difference. He had also found them empty, because the women had treated him like their sugar boy, paying him for sex. He had not cared for the money. Omar was in search of something deeper. Something only Yenkat could give.
But Yenkat was not his problem this morning, although she was a huge distraction. He was yet to find a way to ensure that his mind stopped inclining towards her while pondering on other important issues. Issues like the customized plate number on the Mercedes Benz S550 in his father’s parking lot at the moment. STAR was boldly written on it. The car belonged to none other but Star, his ex, the prostitute Nasir introduced him to on his fourteenth birthday.
Omar turned off the engine of his SUV.
Nasir’s Magodo home was an impressive piece of property he kept without the knowledge of his wife and other children. Only Omar knew about the place, having been given a spare key for his use whenever he felt like. But he had never been there. This was his first visit. As he stepped down from the car, he spotted a woman in a burkini at the poolside. She was definitely Nasir’s fiancé. Omar was yet to meet her. They were to be wedded soon. The Mustaphas didn’t approve of the relationship for reasons best known to them. Omar had stopped trying to keep up with their lives.
He looked away from the poolside and towards the direction of the house as he saw his father coming his way. The man was dressed in shorts alone with a towel around his neck. At forty, he was in his prime. Sex appeal oozed out of him without him needing to break a sweat. It was hard to keep the ladies away. Harder for him to stay committed to one woman. It was the type of life he wanted for his son. But Omar, having been a witness to the pain his mother and stepmother went through in the man’s hands, vowed never to be like him.
“You took so long,” Nasir complained.
Omar half-prostrated and greeted him, Yoruba style.
“How is Yenkat?” There was a teasing tone to his question. Omar sensed that he knew about his crush for Yenkat. Nasir and Yenkat weren’t best of friends.
“I’d love to introduce you to Aisha,” Nasir said, pointing in the direction of the poolside, “but the reason I called you here can’t wait. So, let’s do this quickly.”
Omar tailed Nasir into the living room. Upon entrance, he halted. Star was there, as he had expected, seated comfortably as though she owned the place. Omar hadn’t seen her in three years. Their last moment together had ended in a fight, with Star breaking up with him.
She still looked as exotic as he remembered. Slim, yet curvy, with unblemished skin. He had always wondered why she took to the runs lifestyle. He used to tell her she was too beautiful and intelligent to sell her body. He had thought he had succeeded in saving her from the trade during the course of their relationship, but he had been wrong. He discovered, a short while after she dumped him, that there had been other men the whole time.
“Hi.” She smiled at him now. He stared back, grim-faced. Long ago, that smile used to do things to him.
“Sit down, Omar,” Nasir instructed.
Omar picked the sofa closest to the door. He wanted to be as far from her as possible.
“So, how do I begin this?” Nasir leaned forward on the backrest of the sofa on which Omar sat. “Star came to me yesterday with some disturbing news.”
“Let me guess… She’s HIV positive.”
“Worse. She has a baby. A two-year-old girl.”
“Wow. That’s good news. Congratulations, Star.”
“Omar, the baby belongs to you,” Nasir revealed.
Omar slowly looked up at his father. The casual manner in which he had broken the news was typical of the man. Omar knew he wasn’t joking, but what he couldn’t comprehend was the news itself.
“Apparently, you scored one before you left for the States. You are a father now, taking after your very young, old man.” He laughed. “Congratulations, champ.”
Omar’s expression turned ugly. He glared at Star. “So, your madness has not ended.”
“What madness?” she bit back calmly.
“Aren’t you tired of lying? You don’t even have a child.”
“Dad, she’s lying. There was no pregnancy. Star, you told me there was no baby, that your period came back.”
“Well, I lied,” Star replied indifferently. She had a leg crossed over the other, looking like she would rather be elsewhere. “You were too young to father a child. You had no money…”
“He still doesn’t have any money,” Nasir chipped in. “And that’s a huge problem.”
“You were very juvenile…” Star continued.
“Not when I was fucking you.”
“Whoa!” Nasir sniggered.
“Anyways, since you’ve finished school now, I think it’s time you for you to step in and do your part as a father. Me, I’m traveling out for a few weeks and I’m leaving our daughter with you.”
“Are you mad?”
“Omar, I didn’t come here to be asked stupid questions, please. Just get ready to shoulder your responsibility. Me, I’ve tried.”
“You’re a cunt.”
“See how he cusses me?” Star said to Nasir. Nasir lifted his hands, removing himself from the fight.
“If you really have a kid, she’s not mine, and you know that. Three years, Star! Three fucking years, and you’re just telling me? Dad, you really believe this shit?”
“Omar, I took one look at that child, and I just knew she was yours. You’d agree with me too when you see her. Of course, we’ll do a DNA test, but I’m very sure of the results. Except Star slept with someone else in the family.”
“I did not.”
Omar couldn’t take the news in. He stormed out of the house. Having parked his SUV close to the entrance, he leaned on it and tried to still his nerves. Nasir came to him.
“Omar, that child is yours.”
“I’m not responsible,” Omar grumbled. His head was beginning to throb.
“It’s not the end of the world.”
Omar pushed his hands into the pockets of his denim jacket. “I didn’t ask for a child.”
“But you had sex without protection. What were you thinking would happen? Obviously, you didn’t learn from the mistake your mother and I made.”
“Star told me she wasn’t pregnant!”
“Calm down. That’s not the issue here. The issue is that you had sex without protection. With a prostitute.”
“She was my girlfriend.”
“Stop arguing with me. Are you a bastard?” Nasir asked in Hausa. “Don’t you have sense? You don’t sleep with a prostitute without protection. Now, you have a child whose mother is a slut. Think about that.”
“Okay, I was stupid to fall in love with her and to believe that I was the only fool in her life. But she was my fucking girlfriend!”
“Well, she’s your baby mama now. Do I need to tell you how much this is going to break your mother’s heart? I remember she warned you about her, but you didn’t listen. Now, we’re here.”
“But it isn’t right, Dad. I didn’t ask for a kid. First, she said she was pregnant. Then, she came and said she wasn’t. Now, she’s springing a child on me after three years? Who does shit like that?”
“Women. That’s what they do. Your mom did it to me. But all of that don’t matter now. The child does. I need you two to put aside your beef and come up with a plan. And that plan better have you as the sole guardian, because I won’t have my grandchild being raised by a slut. Do you understand?”
Omar looked away.
“Hey! Eyes here.” Nasir tapped his face back. “Do you understand?”
“I know you want to go to school, and you can still do so. In short, you don’t need to be around to be a father. You have your mom and that Aunty Yenkat of yours that can help you. And cousins and aunts who would be glad to take the girl from you. I just need you to take her from Star, so that you can focus on your future. And none of that chef nonsense. You need to do your masters in something profitable, like a short course in engineering or finance. But let’s not talk about that today. Right now, you have to go in there and make nice with Star. No cuss words, no insults. Just come to an agreement. Money always does wonders. Let’s know her price and do away with her.”
He walked back into the house. Omar went back in reluctantly. For a second time, he halted in his movement. His eyes had fallen on the adorable form of his daughter whom Star was carrying on her laps.
“Omar, meet your daughter, Polaris. Polaris, that’s your daddy.”
Omar didn’t try to say a word. Not that he could if he wanted to. His eyes were transfixed on Polaris. She was chubby and adorable. He didn’t need anyone to tell him that she belonged to him. From her hair to her skin tone, and facial features, she took after him.
“How could you do this?” he asked Star in a whisper. “You told me you weren’t pregnant.”
“I lied. I’m sorry.”
“You’re not sorry! You don’t know what it means to be sorry! You had a whole ass child without telling me! How does that make sense to you?”
She gave a nonchalant shrug.
Nasir walked towards Star and Polaris. “I think I’ll take this cutie here, so that you two can thrash this out.” He went for his grandchild who burst into a wide grin and thrust out her hands to him. “Try not to break anything while at it.”
The moment he walked out, the ex-lovers went at each other. Omar had never been so angry. It was unexpressed anger from the past, now coming to the surface. Three years ago, Star dumped him and moved in with some guy she had constantly told him not to worry about. And the guy hadn’t been the only man in her life then. Omar had gotten gist from her estranged best friend that there had been others. When he tried to confront Star about it, she blocked him from her life, starting from social media, to pretending not to know who he was when they bumped into each other at the mall. He left for the US not long after, and hadn’t heard from her until presently.
“You’re trash!” he was pacing around the living room.
“When you’re done shouting on me, you’ll calm down and listen to me,” Star stated resignedly, having tried without success to get Omar to see things from her side. “I’m tired of explaining myself.”
“Go ahead and talk! Am I stopping you? Can anybody stop you from doing what you feel like doing?”
“I’m sorry o, Omar! Okay?” Star was still seated, arms folded over her chest. “I just had to do what I had to do.”
“And that was?”
“My ex wanted to settle down. He was mature and rich, and he loved me. So, I thought that if I could pin the pregnancy on him, it would be a good way to stop fucking around.”
“And did you?”
“The money was good. And hey, stop judging me. My dad is not Nasir Mustapha. My family doesn’t own oil blocs. We are poor. I have six younger ones that I’m responsible for. My dad is a civil servant. I didn’t choose poverty, but I had to work to survive. So, yes, I sold pussy. Big deal! Your entire family steals from Nigeria. But they’re better than me because I offer a service they give freely, plus money to the women they fuck? Dude, abeg!”
Omar had stopped moving, but his anger wouldn’t get a break.
“Anyways, my ex was hardly around. He wasn’t even there for Polaris’ birth, which made it hard for me to stop what I was doing. I was very secretive sha. I separated my work life from my love life. But nothing hides under the sun, I guess. People started telling him things and he started asking questions. I always lied sha.” Star brushed her weave to the back. Omar saw Polaris’ name tattooed on her wrist. “Anyways, he came back four months ago, so that we would start planning our wedding. Things were going well for a while, but all of a sudden, he said he wanted a DNA test done. I tried everything to discourage him, even using emotional blackmail, but it didn’t work. We sha did the test and it came back negative. That was how he dumped me. I’m not pained, though. I’ve given up on the marriage thing. It’s time to go back to school. One cannot be doing ashewo forever. I’ve gotten another good guy, and I swear, I’m willing to change my ways…”
“Didn’t you just say you have given up on marriage?”
“I actually meant anyone that works.”
“Star, why do you lie like this?”
“How does that question help anybody’s situation now? I’m traveling out and that’s all that matters. This new guy helped me get my Schengen visa, so, I’ll be visiting him for three weeks.”
“To come back when?”
She looked at Omar as though he was a dunce. “I just said three weeks.”
“Your mouth is moving, saying one thing, but your eyes are saying another. When are you coming back, Star?”
“When the fuck are you coming back?!” Omar shouted.
“Stop shouting on me! I don’t know! He said I should come and stay with him permanently!”
“There you go!”
“It’s not my fault.”
“It’s never your fault, Star. It’s everyone else’s fault that you’re poor and a hoe and a liar!”
“Stop shouting nau.” Long lashes fluttered as her eyes became wet. “I was scared to tell your dad the truth.”
“So, you’re going to leave your kid here until God-knows-when?”
“I’ll visit during Christmas. I’m not going forever.”
“Does this guy even know that you have a kid?”
Star pouted like a little child.
Star began to sob, turning her features rather ugly.
“Shut up. This was the exact thing you did when you dumped me. You blamed my age, my lack of money, and interestingly, my unhealthy attachment to Yenkat. It was all my fault and not yours. You cried so much that day that I wound up believing I had treated you badly for just being myself.”
“You won’t understand, Omar. You have everything going for you…”
He started towards the door.
“Polaris’ things are in my car,” she informed him, sniffling. “Somebody will bring the rest to you tomorrow. My flight leaves in the evening.”
Omar turned, astonishment on his face. “So, you’re really going?”
“And did you ask yourself what leaving Polaris with me would do to my life? I have to go to school, Star.”
“How many schools do you want to go to? The one you went to is not enough?”
“As I said, fuck off.”
He left the house and sat in his car in silence. He tried not to get angrier than he already was, but he couldn’t help it. He resorted to music to calm him. Star came out, walked all the way to her car and brought it to where his SUV was parked. She began to transfer Polaris’ belongings from hers to his.
On her third trip, he said, “I really, really loved you, you know.”
She stopped. She had just dumped a toddler-size polar teddy in the trunk. She slumped on the backseat, breathing as though she had done a hundred kilometers. “You didn’t. You thought you did, but you didn’t.”
“I guess we both had our different definitions of what love was.”
“Yes, but I think we can also both agree that Yenkat is the love of your life. You always talked about her. Yenkat this, Yenkat that. Did she know that behind her back, you referred to her by her name, like you were age mates?”
“Does she know how you feel now?”
Omar frowned at Star through the rearview mirror. She no longer had the right to know things about him. “No.”
“You should tell her. Maybe she feels the same way. Age is nothing but a number.”
“And yet I wasn’t mature for you.”
“You were mature for your age, Omar. Even guys in their twenties didn’t think like you did.”
“I just wasn’t ready.” She jumped down. “Kiss Polaris for me. She’s really friendly. You won’t have issues with her accepting you.”
Omar was tired of being dazed by her behavior. He didn’t turn to watch her leave. He stayed in the car until Nasir returned with Polaris. Aisha was with them.
“Aisha, meet my first son, Omar. The one I told you about.”
Aisha was beautiful. She was dark and had comely eyes. Omar instantly felt comfortable around her. He also pitied her. Nasir was going to break her heart faster than she would say Alhamdulillah.
“Hello Omar. You look so much like your dad, it’s scary.”
“Yeah, he got all the good genes. I can’t say the same about his ugly brothers.”
“Nasir?” Aisha scolded mildly.
“We’re going out for lunch. Would you like to join us?” Nasir asked Omar.
“No, I’m good.”
“Then, I have to hand your load over to you.” He thrust Polaris at Omar who stared back at him. “Daddy 101 entails that you learn how to fix the child seat.”
“I’ll hold her. Get busy.”
Omar inclined his body backwards. Star had placed the child seat without securing it to the backseat of the car. He looked at his father for help.
“I don’t know anything about it.”
“You have four kids.”
“I’ll help.” Aisha offered. “I’ve watched my sister do it.”
She got into the backseat, and in a few minutes, the child seat was in place.
“Ba ko mi. You have a beautiful daughter. I hope to see more of you guys.”
Nasir placed Polaris in the seat. She made a fuss, but stopped when Omar unfastened his key holder and handed it to her.
“I’ll be around until the end of January,” Nasir told him. “We should hang out more often than not.”
Aisha looked at him weirdly. It wasn’t every day a father spoke to his son in that manner. There was a lot she was going to learn about Nasir soon. Again, Omar felt sorry for her.
“And just in case your mother kicks you out, as I know she would, you can move in here.”
Omar started the car. He backed up from the driveway and made a turn for the gate. Polaris was singing a song as he eased out of the compound. She seemed pleasant. At least, for the moment. He wondered what her triggers were. He wondered if he could cope. Would he be a good father? What did it even mean to be a father?
The entire situation was still unreal to him. He was just twenty-two for fuck’s sake! He had his life planned already. How was he to fit an entire human being into his space?
He peeped at Polaris through the rearview mirror as the car stopped under a red light. Her mouth was quiet now, but that was because it had decided that the key holder was a snack. He was scared to interrupt her. He noticed that she was yet to acknowledge him. She might do so and burst into a cry. That had to be avoided at all cost. He just wanted to get her from one part of town to another.
But too late! Polaris lifted her eyes, had one look at him and panicked. Before she burst into a wail, she gave her environment a sweep. Having satisfied herself that it wasn’t in a familiar setting, she protested with a shrill cry.
Omar cringed. She called for her mother after flinging the key holder at him.
“I’m sorry, Polaris. Your mommy isn’t here.”
She paused at the sound of his voice, but his words hit her on the wrong spot. She screamed louder, trying to get herself out of the seat. Omar caught a policewoman standing by, peeping into the car.
“Calm down,” he pleaded. “We’ll get home soon.”
“Mommy!” Polaris screamed.
“Jeez! For a baby so small, your voice is so big.”
The traffic lights switched to green. He slammed his hand on the horn, noticing the policewoman becoming interested in Polaris. The car in front of him moved and he followed suit.
“You like music? R&B? Rap? Trap Music? I don’t have baby songs. Hey! Stop trying to get out of that chair!”
His words could have been spoken to ghosts for all Polaris cared. She wanted her mother and she wanted her at once. Omar continued to use every trick he had seen parents use, but being limited to the confines of the driver’s seat, there was nothing he could do.
“I’m your dad. I know you’ve never seen me before, but we’re going to be good friends.”
“I know. I want my mommy too, but you don’t see me crying. Crying doesn’t do shit. Calm the fuck down.”
He got agitated as he noticed traffic congestion ahead. How was he to control the situation without other road users thinking he was a kidnapper?
He spotted someone selling biscuits. He called the vendor over and asked more than Polaris would need. Anything to shut her mouth. He opened a pack and handed it to her. For a second, she seemed like she was going to take it, but she shook her head and added volume to her wails.
“Where im mama nau?” the vendor inquired, still waiting for his money. Omar eyed him. “You for no carry am. You know say to dey carry pikin no be man work.”
“How much be your money?”
“Na five you take. Five hundred.”
Omar paid him and moved the car forward. Luckily, the congestion was light. There was movement. Omar turned on the radio. Some chick was singing. He looked backwards to see if Polaris was captivated by her voice or the song. She wasn’t.
“Stop screaming nau! Jeez!”
The journey was hell. She cried all the way to Yenkat’s house. She had gone from calling for her mom to repeatedly saying words Omar couldn’t recognize. The moment he freed her from the chair, she pushed herself down and tried to shove him out of the way. He held her hand and helped her down. She looked about her, went around the SUV.
When she got no answer, she took up her tears again. Omar went after her, but she broke into a sprint. Screaming and running. He stopped, not to catch his breath, but to have a good laugh. For a minute, he forgot the circumstances surrounding her sudden appearance in his life.
Yenkat came out of the house, just in time to catch her in her arms.
“Tobi, what on earth is going on?” she asked, lifting her up. Polaris rested her head on her shoulders and lowered her screams to whimpers. Omar drew back in surprise.
“Please, don’t tell me this is what I’m thinking. She had better be your half-sister, because she looks like you spat her out.”
“Long story, mami. First, do you have food?”
“Yes. This baby needs a diaper change. It’s probably why she’s crying.”
“Yes. The diaper is soaked. I can feel the poo seeping out on my hand.”
Omar showed disgust.
“You better follow me and get your first lesson in fatherhood.”
“I think I already did.”
Yenkat made her way in. Omar followed.
“How come you automatically assumed that she’s my child?”
“Because men stopped shocking me a long time ago.”
“I’m the one who got the shock of my life. Star showed up from nowhere and sprang her on me.”
“What’s her name?”
“Why would anyone name their child Polaris?” Yenkat entered her bathroom and lowered Polaris into the tub. “It’s okay, darling. I just want to clean you up. Omar, did you come with diapers?”
“I don’t know? Star dumped a bunch of things into the SUV…”
“Go and check.”
Omar hurried out, returning briefly with a pack of diapers and a change of clothes. Polaris had stopped crying. Yenkat was singing a nursery rhyme to her that had her in giggles. Omar almost didn’t want to spoil the moment.
“I want to hear the whole gist,” Yenkat demanded.
As she changed Polaris, Omar gave her the compressed version of his day with Star and Nasir.
“Your mom will kill you.”
“She’ll think she failed as a parent. I have to advise you before time. Say nothing in your defense. Take it all in. You having this child is very personal to her.”
“How about me?” He looked at Polaris who was crawling from one end of Yenkat’s bed to the other, eyes on her charging phone. “I didn’t plan for this.”
Yenkat dashed towards her phone. “Well, you can’t un-cum her. She’s here, and you have to take a crash course in toddler parenting. You’ll have all the time in the world for the rest of her life.”
“I’m supposed to be in school.”
“And you can still do it, baby boy. I don’t mind taking her off your hands for you to pursue your dreams, but think about it. Okay?”
Omar went after her. She tried to move away, but he grabbed her hand and hugged her from behind. “How can I not love you like this?”
“First, love this one.” Yenkat pointed at Polaris who was standing on the bed, trying to poke her finger into an electric socket on the wall. Yenkat dove for her. She shrieked, dodged and ran off, falling dangerously close to the edge of the bed.
Omar had seen her fall coming, and he went for her. Half of her body fell into his arm. She looked up without any sign of panic, and gave him a smile that brought butterflies to his tummy.
“You went and brought me a Terrible Two. We need to childproof this house ASAP,” Yenkat stated.
“Up!” Polaris lifted her hands into the air, wriggling her fingers. Omar carried her, bringing her to giggles. Yenkat took a picture of them.
“Please, let that picture remain in your phone, mami. If Mom sees it…”
“Don’t worry, she won’t.”
“Can I take Polaris to the kitchen, so that you can sit down and let this all sink in? I don’t think it has sunk in.”
“It hasn’t.” Omar sighed heavily.
“If you need to take a few days off to think about what you want to do, it’s fine. You don’t need to worry about me and Polar.”
“Come here, baby.” Yenkat stretched out her hands to Polaris. The child tended towards her. She took her away.
Omar sat on the bed. He tried to think, to go deep into his present situation, but he couldn’t. The weight had been lifted up, even though he knew the burden of raising a child was going to hit him hard in a little while. Yenkat had waved her magic wand as usual and taken most of the present fears away. She knew how to make the most difficult things look easy. How could he not love her? How could he walk away from her?
His phone beeped, alerting him of an SMS. His father had sent him some money. A lot of money, specifically. More than he had ever given him. Accepting it would mean agreeing to live his life on the man’s terms. School abroad, study engineering or finance, leave Polaris behind to be cared for by someone else, and then, get involved with the family business. He was the firstborn son, after all. He had to set the pace.
But here he was, loving a woman who was so out of his league it broke his heart every time. He was smart enough to know that what his father was offering as regards his future was going to turn out well. Where the uncertainty lay was in his own plans, which had just presented an option for him to stay back in Nigeria and build his dreams from the scratch for the sake of his child.
Now, the question was, was Polaris a good reason to stay?
®Sally Kenneth Dadzie @moskedapages