Yenkat had never seen so many guns at once in her life. She felt like she had walked out of her normal existence into an action flick. The scene left her with intermittent spells of goosebumps. How was Kyenpia comfortable in this type of place?
The location was a house belonging to Leonel’s father. The man, popularly known as Captain, had been an ex-military officer of the highest ranking who was still highly respected in the army, and in places of power. His father, Leonel’s grandfather, had once ruled the country as the Head of State. Leonel, his brothers and cousins, grew up in military and political settings, with soldiers and guns, and a constant sense of enemy presence hovering over them. Kyenpia had known this before pledging her future and that of her unborn children to Leonel. Yenkat recalled asking her months before the wedding if she was certain that she was willing to commit herself to the type of life the Igwes lived.
“The bodyguards are annoying, I know,” Kyenpia replied, “but I’m doing this. I love this man, Yen. Don’t worry about me.”
Looking back now, Yenkat wished she had pushed harder and convinced her to reconsider getting hitched to Leonel. He was gone, but Kyenpia and Eliana’s lives were still in danger. So much that even Kyenpia’s domestic staff were trained security agents. Every one of them went about with a gun. Yenkat wasn’t sure it was the best environment in which to raise a child.
“Can you stop worrying about us?” Kyenpia’s soft touch on Yenkat’s hand took her away from her thoughts.
“The way you’ve been staring at Liana, like you’re scared for her.”
Eliana and Polaris were playing with Eliana’s poodle nearby. Both toddlers had bonded at first sight. They had been friends in less than half an hour of being with each other.
“She’ll be fine. I’ll be fine. We’ll get through this.”
It had been a month since Leonel’s passing. Today, his close friends would officially say goodbye to him in a ceremony organized by them in the home he shared with Kyenpia for just one week before his death. Tomorrow, his funeral would take place in the Igwe family villa. Invitation to the funeral was restricted to family members alone for security reasons. His friends were fine with the arrangement, and this was why they planned a preceding funeral for him. They had invited his business associates, members of the different alumni he had been part of, his employees, and other friends not in their circle. Everyone wanted to say goodbye. It was the only way they could get over the shock. A month had gone by, and it was still hard to accept that he wasn’t coming back.
They had all moved on with their lives, Yenkat inclusive. She had officially put up her company out there for buyers. She didn’t expect something big. If nobody wanted to buy her out, it was just as well. At home, Polaris occupied most of her time. She had fallen deeply in love with the child from that first day, and every day since then had been paradise. Polaris became a healing balm for her pain. She gave her the push needed to throw herself back into the business world. There were times that she doubted herself and felt unsure of the decisions she made, but somehow she navigated back into the light. She often wondered how Kyenpia dealt with her own pain. She had come prepared with questions for her today, but Kyenpia had made it clear that she didn’t want to talk about Leonel. Seated outside Captain’s lavish home, all she wanted from Yenkat was an update of how things had progressed in her life since her absence.
“So, gist me about Polaris,” Kyenpia requested after sipping some of the tamarind tea Yenkat brought for her. “The name is strange sha. Strange and cute. She’s so adorable.”
“Tell me about Omar.”
Yenkat spoke about Omar, and how the first week with Polaris had been challenging for him as a father. Without Yenkat, he would have given up. It was one thing to be a sperm donor. It was another to become a father. Polaris was as sweet as she was tiring. Bedtimes were usually the hardest to deal with, even for Yenkat who had miles on her parenting experience. It took team effort for them to make an impression on Polaris. By the second week, things started ironing out. But a curve was thrown into their progress with Aanu’s return. Nasir had organized a small family meeting to map out the way forward for Omar on his educational and paternal future. The meeting had turned out badly. Aanu, devastated by the news of Polaris, vented her anger on Omar and pushed them into the worst fight they probably ever had. Omar, himself, snapped, and walked out on all of them. When Yenkat tried to speak on his behalf, Aanu unleashed the second phase of her anger on her.
“She said I had influenced her son all his life to do as I pleased, that I was controlling him, and that it was time I left him alone for her.”
“And have you left him for her?”
There was a twinkle in Kyenpia’s grief-laden eyes.
“Is there a hidden question in that your question, Kay?”
Kyenpia smiled. “Do you have feelings for this boy, Yen?”
“Kyen, this is not the time to…”
“Talk about crushes because I just lost my husband?” She rested her hand on Yenkat’s. “Yen, I really need to forget. So, how deep is your crush for Omar?”
“How can you be asking me that type of question nau?” Yenkat retorted quietly but in defense.
“Because I can see it. The way you talk about him so passionately…”
“Stop being defensive. There’s nothing wrong with having feelings for him. He’s not a child.”
“He’s my best friend’s son.”
“And that’s supposed to stop you from feeling things?”
“But it hasn’t.”
“I hate you right now,” Yenkat said, smiling.
“Tell me what you’re not telling me.”
Kyenpia sounded a lot like Leonel. He had had the gift of knowing things he wasn’t supposed to about a person, and bringing those things out of them.
“I’m listening. You know I won’t judge.”
“Don’t do this to me.”
“You badly want to tell someone about it. What happened between you guys? A kiss? Sex?”
“Sex? God, no. Abeg o. Aanu will kill me.”
“Then what happened?”
Yenkat told her about the first kiss, and the four weeks they had spent together, sharing the same space, being parents to Polaris, knowing each other in a way they hadn’t beforehand.
“Interesting,” Kyenpia muttered from behind her cup of tamarind tea.
“I can’t go back to seeing him the way I used to before.”
Kyenpia’s attention had been drawn to the girls. The poodle had wandered off and Eliana went after it, but tripped and fell to the ground.
“She hates falling,” Kyenpia mentioned, rising up. “She’s going to lie down there and throw a tantrum for no reason now.”
She went after her daughter and picked her off the ground. Yenkat watched them. Her heart went out to Kyenpia who didn’t look anything like Kyenpia. She was now thin, and the glow on her skin that Yenkat always envied was almost gone. Makeup couldn’t hide her grief; neither could the smiles she tried to put on her face.
“Is she okay?”
“Yeah. Just a little scratch. Her father would make a fuss about it when he sees it.”
Eliana’s father, Ishi, was doing fine, having just returned from the US, following a whole month of hospitalization to treat his injuries. Kyenpia was yet to see him. She had told Yenkat earlier that he was the only sign that made her believe God was still at work behind the scenes. “If he had died, Yen, I don’t know what my life would have become.”
Kyenpia returned to Yenkat. “How long do we have before we leave this place?” she asked.
Yenkat looked at her watch. “An hour. Aren’t you going to pick your calls?”
Kyenpia’s phone was in silent mode, but badgered by phone calls. She was not yet communicating with anyone. Yenkat had been the only person she had reached out to, and her text had come with a request, asking her to make her a full flask of tamarind tea, appending that a chauffeur would come get her from her home. She needed someone to accompany her to the funeral. She wasn’t sure she could handle her friends’ grief alone.
“Leave the phone jare. You were telling me about Omar. You said you couldn’t go back to the way you used to see him. Are you ready to lose your friendship with Aanu?”
“No. And that was why I advised him to go to school. He had told them that he wanted to stay back and take care of Polaris. That was what got Aanu very angry that night. Nasir was pissed too. So, the following morning, I sat him down and gave him reasons why pursuing his career was the best. Polaris is not going anywhere. She’s in good hands with me. He’ll come back and meet her.”
“And did he listen to you?”
“Yeah. He left this morning.”
“And you think Aanu was overreacting when she accused you of manipulating him?”
“I only showed him why it was better for him to pursue his career.”
Kyenpia hung her head to the left and right with a knowing look on her face.
“What?” Yenkat asked.
“You only did that to save you from yourself. You drove him away because you want to kill what you think you’re beginning to feel for him.”
“I hate you, Kay.”
Kyenpia laughed. “But you know you’ve really changed, right? The Yenkat I know would have hit that thing, cleaned mouth and moved on with her life.”
“Well, that thing is not like every other thing. It took me a great deal of control to keep my wildness contained. And he knows this. He knows that I’m taming myself around him. But Kyen, I really need the distance. The heat was becoming too much to handle.”
“Will you miss him?”
Yenkat wasn’t going to answer that. Some things were better left behind the walls of her heart. She recalled this morning, and how she had felt heavy. She had told herself that she felt that way because of Leonel. But it had been more than that. Thinking about how much she had let Omar into her life over the past month, she stood before the kitchen window with eyes fixed on the scaffolding that held the water tank. The tank was full, and a rivulet was pouring down. Omar walked in. He was wearing his favorite perfume. He had a collection of fragrances that Yenkat couldn’t keep up with. But this was the preferred one. It was floral, yet masculine.
She gave a side turn, away from the tea she was preparing. “You’re ready?”
“Sadly,” he replied. He didn’t look like he was going on a trip to the other side of the world. His choice of clothing was a combo of grey joggers, a grey t-shirt, black socks and Nike slides.
“Are you ready for the cold, Tobi? It’s winter.”
“Don’t break a sweat on my behalf, mami.” He peeped into a mixture of herbs she had in a bowl, the tea she was making for Kyenpia. When he leaned over, his beard rubbed against her chin. “That’s tamarind, right?”
“What’s the Hausa name again?”
“Don’t disgrace me, Omar.”
“I’m not Hausa nau. Just tell me. The name is somewhere in my head, but I’ve forgotten.”
“Tsamiya! You used to force me to take it with kunun shinkafa back then. I hated you at that time ehn! Always forcing me to eat.”
Yenkat lifted her eyes up at him. He was standing close. She nudged him away with her elbow. He got closer, put an arm around her waist and rested his chin on her shoulder.
“Say you’re going to miss me.”
This is normal, right? She had questioned many of his actions lately. He had not started doing anything differently from the way he used to. The hugs, the arms around her waist, the closeness and sweet words. This had been Omar for years. But now, there was something underneath each action, and yet, she couldn’t stop him. As long as we’re not crossing any boundaries… As long as he’s going away…
“I’m making this for Kyenpia,” she said, to change the course of discussion.
“Oh. The funeral thing. Is it a funeral or service of songs?”
“Well, since we can’t attend the main funeral, we’ve decided to do ours.”
There was a sound behind them. They both turned. Polaris was standing at the kitchen door with a pee-soaked diaper in her hand. Yenkat had begun potty-training her. So far, there had been progress.
“Da!” she said, looking up at Omar. It was what she called him. She had an impressive vocabulary of words, but daddy wasn’t one of them.
“Hi baby.” Omar went to her. He held her in one hand and the diaper in the other, and carried her into the house. Yenkat concentrated on rounding up the tea she was preparing. Kyenpia was suffering from a bad case of morning illness. Tamarind was perfect for the nausea. Yenkat filled two flasks with the tea and put them aside.
Omar and Polaris came back to the kitchen. Polaris was bathed and sparkly, looking like a miniature version of Omar. His Instagram was filled with pictures of them twinning. Yenkat had been their willing photographer over the past few weeks.
She pulled out her phone from the pocket of her robe now and took a fresh photo.
“Why don’t you want to take selfies with me?” Omar asked.
“Because I’m not a selfie person.”
“But you’re so photogenic.”
Polaris pushed herself down from Omar’s hold and went after one of her toys in the dining area.
“Omar, pictures are not on the list of things worrying me now.”
“Pictures like this?” He showed her his phone. He had just taken a shot of her. “See how you’re gorgeous. Early in the morning fa.” He set the phone at a high angle, put his arm around her and pecked her cheek before taking the shot. He let her go, but kept his eyes on her. “I don’t know how to thank you for this past month. The thing with my parents… You, teaching me to be a father to Polaris, and agreeing to take care of her in my absence… You’re more than an aunty to me. There can’t be two of you in this world. When I come back, I’m coming to build my life with you.”
Yenkat laughed. “Don’t be silly, Tobi.”
“I’m not joking. I’m coming with a ‘fuck the consequences’ attitude, so you’d better be ready.”
“I’m tired of telling you how this thing you’re fantasizing about will never work.”
“Just wait and see. Shebi it’s about getting you to fall for me? I’ll do it from faraway Europe.”
Yenkat laughed again.
“But seriously, thank you.”
“You should patch things up with your mom, though.”
Omar frowned. “I thought we said we weren’t going to bring this topic up.”
“You said. I didn’t. Please, forgive her. You know how she gets. And she’s just concerned about you.”
“Bayfast!” Polaris shouted from the dining area, interrupting him.
“I’ll make breakfast,” Omar said. “My last daddy duty before I leave.”
Breakfast was fully English. Sausages, bacon, mushrooms, eggs, toast, baked beans, tomatoes and bananas. Omar’s ride to the airport arrived in time. Yenkat cleared the table while he loaded up his luggage in the cab. He came back into the house to say goodbye. Yenkat tried to keep her emotions contained, but her eyes moistened when he came towards her.
“Be good,” she counseled. “Don’t get any more girls pregnant.”
“Me that I’m going celibate.”
“Stop deceiving yourself. Always use protection.”
“How about you? Are you planning on getting a boyfriend?”
“You know I don’t have time.”
“But things might change.”
He frowned. “Don’t miss me too much,” he said. “I’ll call all the time, so you’d better be ready.”
“Go.” Her tears beginning to spill. She didn’t want him to see her this way.
“I’m going to miss you.” He drew her into an unexpected hug that had one arm around her waist and the other on her back. He pulled back a little, but only to gaze into her eyes before slowly taking her lips. She wanted to stop him, and tell him this would be the last time their lips would be doing this, but she couldn’t find the will. The protest remained in her head.
“So, until September?” she asked, finally tearing herself away from him. Her pulse racing again, just as it had done with the first kiss.
“Da!” Polaris screamed.
They both looked down. She was staring up at them. Omar broke away and carried her in his arms.
“Remember I told you that I’ll be going away, Polar Bear?”
The child had gone unusually quiet. She began playing with his beard. They had both been preparing her for this moment for days.
“I’ll miss you, but I’ll be back, okay?”
“She doesn’t understand.”
Omar hugged Polaris tightly and left kisses on her head. He walked all the way to the door before passing her over to Yenkat.
He gave a peck to Yenkat and left the house. The moment he disappeared from view, Polaris burst into a scream.
“That seemed intense,” Kyenpia said in response to what Yenkat had just shared with her. “You guys already sound like a family.”
“I let him in so deeply, Kyen. So easily.”
“And how does that make you feel?”
“You’re judging yourself, but I don’t think you should. And I’m not going to judge you too, because I learnt long ago that human behavior is driven by situational factors. I prefer to look at things in context. I think you should too. That way, you focus on what’s important, and not on your emotions alone.”
“But how does he make you feel?”
“He doesn’t disrespect me at all. He makes me feel better than any man ever has. It’s confusing, walahi.”
“If you ask me, I think you groomed your perfect man, but that’s the most I can say. We’ll have this conversation again, and I’ll have enough information to say what’s on my mind. For now, I’ll advise that you keep doing what you’re doing. Your friendship with Aanu is important. How are things between you two sef?”
“She came to the house after Omar left. I told her that he had gone, and she could catch up with him at the airport. She broke down and started apologizing for the things she said to me…”
“I was not having it, abeg.”
“You sef. Calm down. It’s her son.”
“It’s not that. She’d said other stuff to me.”
“It had to do with me not understanding where she was coming from because I didn’t have kids of my own.”
“Yeah, Aanu and her mouth. It was painful. I just want to take a break from her for a bit abeg.”
“And Polaris stays with you?”
Yenkat didn’t want to tell Kyenpia that Aanu wasn’t the maternal type. She was a loving mother, but had struggled with being there for Omar. And Yenkat didn’t blame her completely. She had watched her suffer ridicule all her life. Her father never really forgave her for having a child out of wedlock or for marrying Nasir when she did, or for deciding not to marry at all. He still had a stronghold over her. He was presently trying to manipulate her into getting hitched to his friend, a widower. Everything Aanu did in the public eye was to please the old man. Omar’s life had to fit into his standards too. Aanu was in a difficult place, and the last thing Yenkat wanted was to make things worse for her.
“I keep wondering,” she said, “if the tables were turned and I find out that my son has a thing for Aanu, what would I do?”
“You’ll be mad pissed. It’s only natural. Also only natural to fall for someone that you’re not supposed to. But let me not say more. Let’s talk about other things.”
Kyenpia’s eyes were on the children again. They had gone farther away from them, having now reunited with the poodle.
“You want to tell me what happened that night?” Yenkat asked.
Kyenpia shook her head. Yenkat could tell that the memory was still too fresh, the wound still raw.
“I don’t know how I’ll face today and tomorrow, Yen. Everyone will be crying and talking about their best moments with Leonel… I don’t have the strength.”
Yenkat reached out and held her hand.
“How do I move on?”
Yenkat didn’t have the words to say to her. She had mentally prepared for this, but was now realizing how ill-equipped she was to console her cousin. Luckily for her, Captain had just stepped out of the house. She let go of Kyenpia’s hands and lifted her eyes up at him. He was intimidating in his bearing and his strides. His eyes seemed cold, as if they had come from someone else. There was a scar on his neck, and another cutting across his lips, disappearing into a neat beard that was short and grey. He was dressed in a white kaftan that complemented his dark skin. The body underneath the clothes was in good shape. No bulge in his tummy or slouch in his gait like many men his age. Yenkat didn’t know how old he was, but she was certain that he was older than he looked.
“Good morning, ladies.” He stood behind Kyenpia, his hand resting on her shoulder.
“Good morning, sir,” Yenkat greeted.
“Pops, this is Yenkat. The friend I told you about.”
“Yenkat Burja, right?”
Captain offered his hand for a handshake. “Met your dad once. A long time ago. Nice man.”
Yenkat didn’t like thinking about her father. There was a sore wound there that was never going to heal.
“Kyen, I have to rush off for a meeting. I’ll see you tomorrow at the villa?”
“Have a good day.”
He planted a peck on Kyenpia’s head and walked off, tailed by a buff female soldier.
“He’s so intimidating,” Yenkat whispered.
“Yeah, but he’s nice. Sometimes. Other times, I don’t know what he is.”
Yenkat had heard the rumors. Captain had been the most feared man in the military. And even now, grown men would piss in their pants at the mention of his name.
“I think we should be getting ready to leave too. Let me change Elem’s diapers.”
Yenkat reminded herself that Elem was Eliana. Leonel had named her Emem, after his late mother. Kyenpia’s friends then coined the name Elem to please both fathers. Yenkat hated it as much as Leonel and Ishi did.
Half an hour later, the ladies were on their way to Kyenpia’s home. It was hard for them to get a word in edgeways because the little girls couldn’t stop chattering the entire way through. The poodle had come along with them. It loved car rides, yapping in protest each time the vehicle stopped.
As they approached Kyenpia’s home, Yenkat noticed the change in Kyenpia’s demeanor. She rubbed her hands together a few times, releasing long breaths.
“It’s going to be fine, Kay.”
“I’m not ready for this.”
“It’s okay not to be.”
They drove into the massive compound. It wasn’t Yenkat’s first visit here. Kyenpia had brought her to the place once. Then, it had been empty, unoccupied. She had told her how Leonel had shown her a website with images of houses a couple of years before then. He had asked her to pick her favorite just for fun, even pretending to show her which he liked best. The one she chose ended up being a birthday gift to her. He had had the entire house built from scratch, with everything to her taste.
The car stopped at the entrance of the house. Yenkat took note of a collection of cars parked to their right. She recognized one of them as James’ car. Kyenpia’s friends were here.
A lady dressed in an all-black outfit stepped out of the house. She opened the door for Kyenpia, bowing a little to greet her.
“There are things in the boot,” Kyenpia informed her. “Take Elem and her friend in before they start running around.”
“Okay, ma. Your friends are already here.”
“I know. Thank you, Nelly.”
Yenkat came around from her side of the car and stood next to Kyenpia.
“This house is too big for me. I feel like I should sell it and go back to my former place.”
“Don’t even think about it.”
The front door burst open and Amaka emerged first. Kyenpia had sent a text to them the moment they left Captain’s, stating that she didn’t want tears, just hugs and soothing words. But it seemed Amaka didn’t receive the message.
“Kay,” was all she said before she began bawling.
“I told you not to do this, Maxy,” Kyenpia scolded, but spread out her arms for her friend. Amaka found comfort in her embrace. “It’s okay, Maxy. He’s in a better place. You know that.”
The other friend, Fiyin, came out next. She was crying as well.
“You too?” Kyenpia motioned her over. Loretta and Gina followed. They put their arms around Kyenpia and stayed that way until Amaka and Fiyin went calm.
“You’ve lost weight,” someone said to Kyenpia as they broke apart.
“Your eyes are so red.”
“Have you been eating?”
“How are the twins?”
“How have you been sleeping?”
This was what Kyenpia didn’t want, but Yenkat knew that she didn’t mind in the end. They were women who knew her more than anyone else. Yenkat was sure that their presence would strengthen her.
“Hi Yen,” Amaka greeted, coming forward to hug her. She and James had paid that condolence visit that James had promised, spending an entire day with her.
“I see you came with Polaris.”
“Yes,” Yenkat responded, her eyes following Polaris all the way into the house. “How body nau?”
Amaka’s hand instinctively went to her tummy. She was about three months gone. “We’re good.”
The moment Yenkat entered the house, she fell in love. It was grand in a way that was not in one’s face. The colors held a warm mix of his and hers, with serene femininity complementing aesthetic laidback masculinity. The type of home one shared with a partner. The living room was large and rectangular, with a delightful mix of slick and modern elements. One of the long walls was made of white glass, mildly reflective. The sofas were dark and comfortable to the eye, each of them having a different shade of black, except for the contrasting bright red Denny chair that offered a pop of color, bringing energy into the room. There were, of course, paintings on the second long wall, mildly bearing that same touch of red. And finally, putting the finishing note, was a navy-blue rug with a striking white geometric pattern that give the room focus.
“I’ve not even gotten used to this place,” Kyenpia stated, looking around. Holding her was Fiyin, who maintained a steady back rub. They led her to the kitchen where they were preparing finger foods for the funeral. The men were outside, setting up chairs and sound equipment. Kyenpia walked out to say hi. The instant she was out of sight, the ladies encircled Yenkat.
“Did she tell you how it happened?” Fiyin asked.
“No details? How about Ishi?” Amaka came closer.
“He’s fine. He’s coming.”
There was a general expression of relief.
“She’s so thin,” Gina commented. “I can’t imagine how she’s coping.”
“I’d die if James dies,” Amaka said. “I’ve been telling him not to ever think of dying. What will I do with myself if he goes? His mother will just kick me out of the house and take all the cars. Then everybody will be saying I killed him. God, what type of life is this?”
“What’s wrong with you?” Loretta, her elder sister, asked.
Yenkat tried not to smile. Amaka was funny even when she was sad. It wasn’t in her words alone. Her facial expressions were always hilarious. Presently, due to the pregnancy, she looked younger and prettier. She went red every five seconds or so. Yenkat found her cute.
“Me, I’m just saying what is worrying me. When last did you pray for your own man? Can’t you see that death is just killing people’s husbands anyhow? That skinny chick in church that likes dancing offbeat lost her husband. A week later, that woman that likes forming oversabi and wearing fake designers to PTA meetings lost her husband too.”
“Amaka, for heaven’s sake, I don’t know these people,” Loretta pointed out.
“But they are widows now because their husbands are dying.”
“Well, I don’t have a husband.”
“That’s an insensitive thing to say. So, we that have husbands should become widows, abi?”
“What the fuck is wrong with you, Maxy?” Fiyin scolded.
“You, shut up. You learn the F word and we won’t hear anything again. F this and F that bombs flying everywhere. My friend, go and check the somasa you left on fire.”
Fiyin gave her the middle finger and went towards the cooker. Gina handed Yenkat a glass of wine. “You’ll need this.”
Yenkat smiled in appreciation.
“I don’t understand how the world can just go on without Butter Babe,” Amaka continued. “This thing is no more a joke. He’d better come back.”
“You’ll get used to it,” Gina said. “She goes on and on.”
“It’s normal, I guess. We all grieve differently.”
Kyenpia returned, eyes filled with tears. “You girls didn’t tell me David would be here. I couldn’t face him. I felt like I had seen a ghost. Why didn’t you tell me?”
The kitchen went silent.
“I know I’m supposed to see him at the burial tomorrow, but I’m not prepared. I look at him and see Leonel. Is it fair? I’m not ready for this… I can’t do this.”
Amaka reached out to her, but she moved backwards.
“I don’t want to be here.”
She started towards the door.
“Kay?” Amaka called.
“Leave her alone,” Loretta said.
They watched her hurry out of the kitchen and towards the staircase, but a familiar voice coming from the living room stopped her.
“It’s Pastor Ishi,” Amaka muttered. She began in the direction of the door, but again, Loretta stopped her. “It’s Pastor Ishi,” Amaka repeated. “We have to go and tell him sorry.”
“Maxy, this is the first time they are seeing each other since the incident. Can you give both of them privacy? He’s probably the only person that can get through to her. She’s in immense pain right now. He alone can understand her.”
Having said that, Loretta shut the kitchen door.
“I think we all have stuff to do.”
“Ishi lost someone too?” Yenkat asked.
“Not someone,” Gina answered, passing her a bowl of mashed plantains. “Four of his family members. His father, sister, half-sister and stepmother.”
“God is probably not the person you should be calling right now. What’s the essence of his existence if he can’t be there for those that are faithful to him?”
“Gina, not today, please,” Amaka murmured.
“Abeg, don’t start with your ‘God gives and God takes away’ bullshit. He did Ishi dirty, and y’all know it, but because y’all so scared of thunder and lightning, you keep pretending that he’s all good. He is not! There! I said it! God is overrated! Waiting for that thunder now.”
“O chi’m ooo,” Amaka lamented.
Yenkat concentrated on her glass of wine. She thought it tasted like chocolate.
Kyenpia opened the windows in the upstairs sitting room to let in sunlight. The room had been Leonel’s favorite in the house. Unlike the living room downstairs, this one reflected his love for dark places. He had looked forward to quiet evenings here, reading a book or spooning Kyenpia on one of the wide, comfy couches. He had been able to do only the latter before he passed. Kyenpia could recall every detail of that evening as she took the couch facing the one they had lain and made love on.
Ishi was seated there now, one leg on the couch and the other on the floor. Like Kyenpia, he had lost some weight. He was from the light skin side of the Igwe family. The hairier side too. He never used to fancy the idea of keeping a beard, but he had a full, unkempt one on now, making him look like a younger version of his late father. The only difference would be the glasses. Ishi was still shortsighted. And maybe that was the only thing that was the same about him. Kyenpia could sense that he was not the man she used to know. But who else was the same these days?
“So, she left you?”
“In my hour of need.”
Kyenpia didn’t find the smile on Ishi’s lips funny, but it wasn’t the smile that upset her. It was what he had just told her. Stephanie, his fiancée, had dumped him while he was recuperating somewhere outside Nigeria. She had done this via Whatsapp.
“I know you’ll say I told you so.”
“That’s the last thing on my mind, Ishi. I’m angry at her, not you. How could she?”
“Well, in all fairness, getting married to an Igwe is like signing your death warrant.”
Kyenpia exhaled. Leonel had told her the same thing, but in different words. They had lain on that couch two days before their wedding.
“You know what you’re getting into?” Leonel asked, making circles around her navel.
“You’re marrying an Igwe.” His finger ventured downwards. “We have enemies everywhere. I could be randomly shot on a street.”
“You almost sound excited.”
“I’m not scared of bullets or of dying. I’m scared for you. If I die…”
“Leonel, stop talking like that.”
“It’s a reality every Igwe wife-to-be must come to terms with.”
“I’m not accepting that.”
“If I die, I want you to move on, sunshine. If the pain of losing me is so much and you see some guy that gets you horny…”
“Leo?” she reached behind and smacked his face.
“Fuck him. If you fall in love after six months or a year, don’t let anything hold you back.”
The memory faded with a sharp movement from Ishi, trying to save his phone from falling. He had said something about showing her screenshots of Stephanie’s breakup texts. He got up and passed the phone to Kyenpia. She read the messages, shook her head and handed it back to him.
“You lost almost everyone in your family and you were in the freaking hospital, Ishi. Couldn’t she wait?”
Ishi walked to the window. “She was scared. She said she couldn’t sleep at night, because she feared that people would come after her.”
“She wasn’t even in that hall, Ishi. Stephanie didn’t experience the horror we all did. Stop making excuses for her.”
“I’m not.” Ishi took off his glasses. “I’m just trying to understand where she’s coming from. Every single person that marries into this family carries our cross. You, for instance.”
“Let’s not talk about me.”
Kyenpia was angry over everything. She had been angry since Leonel died. It wasn’t a constant thing, though. These days, it was fading away. However, coming home to the space she briefly shared with him and seeing her friends mourn for him, kicked off the emotions again. Life had been unkind to her from birth. Leonel was supposed to be her sunshine after the rain, her proof that gallant men still rescued damsels in distress and rode off with them into sunsets for happily-ever-afters. The only mention of death in her fairy princess story was to be at the end, with her and Leonel dying in each other’s arms after a life well lived. Who the heck tossed in this twist and callously took her prince from her?
“You think we’ll ever heal?” Ishi asked. “Emotionally, I mean.”
Kyenpia sighed. She was yet to comfort him over the deaths of his family members. He had comforted her a short while ago, holding her while she cried. Everyone’s attention was on her. How about him?
She suddenly didn’t feel like speaking to him. Heaviness had dropped on her as it usually did. This happened several times a day. Sometimes, she found somewhere enclosed to cry. Other times, she just switched off and shut everyone out.
“I’ll be going back after the burial,” Ishi mentioned as he moved away from the window. He wore his glasses. “My mom needs me.”
“How is she coping?”
“She lost her only daughter. How do you think?”
“Are you coming back?”
“Yeah. I’m staying for only three months.”
“Only three months? Why nau, Ishi? Elem needs you.”
“I know, but Momsi is not stable right now. And I also need the time alone to see what direction my life is heading towards when I get back.”
“I don’t understand. You want to change jobs?”
“I want to change everything, Kay. Every single thing.”
“Well, we’re going to miss you.”
“I know. I’ll miss you too.” He sat next to her. “If there’s a way I can take away your pain, Kyen…”
She hooked her arm in his and rested her head on his shoulder. “I’ll survive. We’ll survive. This is not the end.”
The heaviness took over again. Kyenpia rested her body on Ishi’s lap. They stayed in silence until Gina showed up to inform them that the service was about to begin.
Someone made black t-shirts for everyone, with superlatives on the back of each, describing Leonel. Kyenpia alone had a white one. The ladies gave her face a mild makeover and helped her change in one of the guestrooms. She had suddenly lost the energy to do anything. Loretta’s boyfriend, Bem, who was her doctor, was called in to check on her. He ordered her to eat and gave her a shot that brought her temperature to normal.
“If you can’t do this…”
“I can,” she assured him and her friends.
“I have my eyes on you.”
She was led downstairs. Outside, a substantial crowd gathered. The service was to be held in the backyard, in the space Leonel had marked out for barbecues and outdoor parties. It was completely covered by a well-tended lawn. Somewhere at the end of it was a flat headstone Kyenpia hadn’t noticed earlier. Black and marbled, with bronze edges, it had been placed in memory of Leonel. She stopped to have a look. The words etched on it went blurry as her vision was taken over by tears. She had come with flowers, but her hands shook, unable to bring herself to lay them down.
“Let me do it for you.”
It was David, Leonel’s twin, who came forward. He took the bouquet of roses from her and stooped to rest them on the headstone. When he arose, he clasped her hand and led her to the sitting area. They sat together, with Ishi on her other side, carrying Eliana.
“I apologize for earlier,” Kyenpia said to David. “The way I bolted after I saw you.”
“It’s okay, Kyen.” He tapped her hand. “Do you want to come and stay with us?” He asked as the service began. “Peggy and I would be glad to have you and Liana.”
“I’m fine, Dave. Thank you.”
Kyenpia felt a tap on her back. Amaka handed her a hanky and pair of sunglasses. She wore the glasses and shut the world out. A coping mechanism she had mastered over the past month, especially when she felt all cried out.
She closed her eyes behind the glasses and recalled the night before the incident. Leonel had come home late. He had stayed longer than normal at the resort, welcoming family members that had flown in for the reunion. When he walked into their bedroom and threw his tired weight on the bed, next to her, she slipped her hand underneath his shirt and stroke his back.
“Can we just bone this reunion shit and go on our honeymoon?” he pleaded.
“No. I want to see every single Igwe child and grandchild.”
“Not all of them would show up. But every year, we get to find out that we have a new cousin.”
“Gramps is a gift that keeps on giving.”
Deep laughter erupted from Leonel’s throat. He lifted his head and took her hand. “Come here, sunshine.”
His lips were soon between hers as his hand tugged her closer.
“I’m sleepy.” Kyenpia scratched a certain spot at the back of her head that always brought her comfort.
“You’re so cute when you do that, but sha sleep with me.”
“Don’t you get tired? Maybe I should let you have your mistress back, because I can’t cope with this your energy.”
“This person with you here, right now, is your husband. Don’t go and resurrect that man that keeps mistresses.”
His kisses on her neck weakened her, yet made her alive. He had known her body so well. Her mind and heart too. Where was she to find another man like him?
Ishi touched her. She looked at him, coming back to the present. Everyone had their eyes on her.
“You’ve been called to give your tribute,” Ishi whispered.
Kyenpia straightened out her t-shirt as she got on her feet. She had prepared for this, written out something on a piece of paper. But she had forgotten it at Captain’s.
David escorted her to the small makeshift dais that faced the crowd. Her legs wobbled as she walked. She asked him if she could sit. He took her handkerchief and spread it over the top of the dais. She sat and he stood by, like a soldier guarding her. A microphone was placed in her hand.
“Hi guys,” she began. She took off the sunglasses, and the first face her eyes fell on was Anna’s. Leonel’s former side thing and personal assistant. Obviously, someone who had no knowledge of Kyenpia’s history with her felt they were honoring Leonel’s memory by inviting her over.
“I’m not sure that I have the strength to say all I planned to say here today. I just want to thank you all for coming, and to thank my friends for putting this together. Leo would be appreciative too, I’m sure. He valued friendship. Every one of you meant something to him.”
Her eyes rested on Anna again.
“I know you’re all curious to know what happened that night. I can’t give you the details, but I can assure you that Leonel died saving me. It should have been me, but he took the bullets for me. He was my hero. In life and in death. In life, he made me believe that fairytales do come true. In death, he gave up his life for me so that I can keep on living. I stand here today to promise you that Leonel’s dreams will never die in my hands. I’ll cling to, nurture and grow all that he started. Including his unborn babies. They will grow up to know that their father was one heck of a man. When they think of him, it would not be with a sense of loss. There would be pride and joy. And that’s what I want you all to feel from now on. You all know Leo. He won’t let you carry on in sadness. ‘Cry for me small,’ he’d say, ‘but just fucking live your lives.’”
There was mild laughter from the crowd.
“Butter Babe…” Kyenpia looked up into the sky and brought her eyes down to a giant graffiti of Leonel’s face on the fence surrounding one side of the house. “I miss you. God, I miss you so much. It’s so hard to live without you, but I’m going to try. I’ll keep your legacy. I’m going to make you proud. So proud that you’ll think of many ways to come back here. If there’s a way you can, though, please, do. Bribe God or an angel or something… You always find a way. You always…”
She couldn’t go on. David put his arm around her, rubbing her arm. “It’s okay, Kyen.” He passed on the microphone to the person in charge of the service and led her back to her seat.
“I want to go and lie down. I’m really tired. Thank you, Dave.”
She started back towards the house. Her entourage of friends followed her in, but she asked to see Bem. She requested something to help her sleep. He administered a shot after taking her vitals.
“Can I go upstairs now?” she begged. Her friends would not go away. They all bore marks of worry on their faces.
“Kay, we’re scared for you,” Amaka said.
“Maxy, darling, I’ll be fine. I just need to rest. My head is spinning.”
“Should we get you food? Water?”
Kyenpia smiled at her friend whose tears were spilling as much as hers. “I’m good. And don’t worry, Nelly has a spare key to my room, in case you don’t hear from me after some time.”
“We’re all sleeping over tonight,” Fiyin told her.
“That’s fine. Thank you.”
She walked away from them and followed the stairs, all the way to her bedroom. She stopped outside the door. She hadn’t been in there since the morning of the incident. She had asked her domestic assistant not to clean the place. Kyenpia wanted it the way they had left it.
She got in and locked the door. Leonel’s trainers caught her attention first. They were beside the bed. She recalled the little fight she had with him over leaving them there.
His clothes and hers littered on the bed. His laptop and hardly-ever used phone were on a couch by the window. Everything was the way she remembered. It was amazing how well the brain retained captured images.
There was a fusty smell of dust in the air. It tickled Kyenpia’s nose, but she didn’t mind. She sauntered to the bed, sat on it and picked his t-shirt. She buried her face in it and wept. Her heart was dying within her again, just like that night and the nights that had followed. Was there an end to this pain?
She heard a faint tap on the door. “Please, go away.”
Everything in Kyenpia halted. She pulled herself up. Anna? What did she want?
Kyenpia returned to the door, feeling heavy on her feet as the sedative began to work on her system. She opened the door. Anna stood in front of her, slim, pretty, and with fiery eyes behind thick glasses.
“Can I come in?”
Kyenpia stepped out and shut the door. “What do you want?”
“Look, I know you hate me…”
“Can we not bring up the past, Anna? I don’t even know you except that you were Leonel’s assistant and he was fucking you. But that’s all over now, so, I’m begging you, don’t mess up my memories of him.”
“I’m sorry. All I just wanted to say was that I heard you back there, saying that you’ll keep his legacy.”
“Well, if you’re going to do so, you’d better start immediately.”
Kyenpia crossed her arms. “Why?”
“There are people who will destroy everything Leo worked hard for. They will ruin his entire business and run it to the ground if you don’t act fast.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You’ll know when you take your seat as the rightful COO of Charybdis Hospitality. You know Charybdis, right? That’s the company that runs Leon Hotels and Eliana Resort and Hotel.”
Kyenpia knew Charybdis Hospitality, but she had no idea what Anna was talking about.
“Yeah, Chief Operating Officer. That’s what Leo made you. It’s in his will and testament.”
“I wrote it down myself. He also made you sole executor of his estate. That means that everything now belongs to you.”
“Sorry, when did he write this will?”
“And you wrote it?”
“Yes. Look, I have to go. I just came to tell you that you have to act fast, and to also let you know that you’ll need me if you want to keep Leo’s legacy. You can’t do it alone.”
“Yes.” She pushed her glasses further into her face. “When you’re ready, call me. I’m sorry for your loss.”
And with that, she walked away, leaving Kyenpia perplexed.
®Sally Kenneth Dadzie @moskedapages
kunun shinkafa – (Hausa) rice pudding, mainly made with rice and groundnut paste
O chi’m ooo – (Igbo) an expression of exasperation “my God ooo”