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Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner
My mom flashes a loving smile when Honey and I walk into the kitchen. Under bright, white lights, Honey’s skin glows. I look for flaws on her face and find black dots like minuscule moles beneath her eyes and a scar on her lower lip. Weirdly, they add to her beauty.
“How are you, darling?”
“I’m good, mommy. How are you?”
“Good. Thank God.” The old woman pulls back a bit when she sees the flowers in Honey’s hands.
“She wanted them,” I explain. “So I let her have some.”
My mom approves. “Daffodils. They have meaning, you know.”
Here we go with the creepy part.
“They symbolize chivalry.” She looks at me. “And also rebirth and new beginnings. Some say they also symbolize unreciprocated love.” Her face changes but brightens again as she continues. “Honey, I’d have been worried if Jide gave you just a flower. That would have meant misfortune was coming your way. But a bunch represents happiness. And I pray you find it.”
“Thank you, mommy,” Honey says.
“Let me have the flowers. I’ll put them in one of my miniature vases, so you can take them with you.”
Honey thanks her again and she shoos us out of her kitchen. I take Honey to the sitting room. My father is just coming down the stairs with Kalu. Both men look Honey’s way and I see they want some form of introduction. She greets them. My father is standoffish in his usual manner; Kalu is more welcoming.
“Honey, meet my dad and my elder brother, Kalu.”
“Honey kwa,” the old man murmurs and adds in Igbo, “why don’t you just caress her in front of me so that I’ll know you have a woman now. My friend, will you introduce her properly?”
“Her name is Honey,” I reply in English.
“Hian,” he mumbles and walks away.
“You’re welcome, my dear.” Kalu smiles to make her feel at ease.
He also walks away.
She turns to me. “Did I do or say something wrong?”
“No. Ignore the old man. He means well.”
I offer her a seat. I want to disappear to my room until dinner is served but I don’t want any more harassment from the old man, so I sit with her and entertain her with old family photo albums. She’s wowed by my mom’s unfading beauty through the years and laughs at my afro and Michael Jackson obsession as a kid.
Against my wish, I find I’m charmed by her lighthearted way of laughing. But only slightly. I count the minutes to dinner time, not because I’m hungry but because I’m yet to feel comfortable with her. I don’t know why.
“So your elder brother lives here in Nigeria and his family stays in the UK?” she asks.
“He shuffles between here and there. His wife was raised there; he’s trying to convince her to move to Nigeria.”
We switch to silence until the maid comes to announce that dinner is served. We move to the dining area. Tola is there with Emeka; we act like total strangers. Following my mom’s sitting arrangement, Honey is put between Kalu and I, Tola between Emeka and Oba and my parents at both ends of the table.
“Jide, you’re the only one who hasn’t met Omotola,”my mom mentions. “I already told you about her. Say hi.”
“Nice to meet you, Omotola.”
“Pleasure’s all mine, Jideofor.” Her reply is cold as her eyes. My radar points to something being amiss. I also notice how she shifts her chair closer to Oba’s, leaving a noticeable gap in-between Emeka and herself.
My father says the grace and we begin our meal. There’s carefree banter, a little laughter and some stories from the past shared by the old folks. I catch myself stealing glances at Honey just out of curiosity. I notice she has a healthy appetite, kudos to Nne’s good cooking. I particularly observe the way she licks her fingers after each swallow. She’s being intentionally sensual and I can’t see why nobody notices it except me. After the third ogle, I turn away and catch Nne staring at me. She smiles. I look elsewhere.
Soup dishes are beginning to empty, dinner is drawing to an end and I’m about to silently whisper some thanks to God for a hitch-free ride when the old man commands everyone’s attention.
We all face him.
“I am happy to have all of my sons under the same roof with me,” he begins in his Igbo accent which he is so proud of. “We thank God for bringing Jideofor home after five years of prodigalization with prostitutes and lost souls.”
My brothers laugh; my mom frowns. The man doesn’t care. He continues. “I want to believe that it is his Honey that has brought him home.”
I make no move to correct his assumptions.
“God bless you, my daughter.”
Honey simply smiles.
“And then we have Chukwuemeka,” he continues, “who is also here with his own honey. She is carrying his child. Of course, without our permission. Children of these days, una no dey fear God again?” He concentrates on Tola. “Omotola?”
“You should have closed your legs.”
“Lawrence,” my mom cautions in a low tone.
“No, let me talk to them and tell them the truth. I don’t know where they are heading these days. Let me tell you children about your mother and I.”
“Here we go,” Oba murmurs.
“We had no physical contact before we married. We didn’t even hold hands, not to talk of kissing sef. Before I saw her brassiere, it was on our wedding day, and I didn’t even know how to remove the thing. Na so I dey there dey fumble and the woman no wan even help me.”
“Dad,” I mumble.
“All I’m saying is that you boys should practice some decency. Respect your women, for Christ’s sakes. If it’s sex, you’ll get tired of it.”
“Speak for yourself,” Oba murmurs again.
“But let’s not dwell on what has already gotten k-leg. Chukwuemeka and Omotola, wedding arrangements have to commence immediately. It will be a shame to this family if Omotola carries a bulging belly to church on her wedding day.”
Mother nods in agreement.
“That is the decision from your mother and I. Kalu, what do you have to say?”
“Erm…does it matter what say I have in this? Emeka committed the deed, not me. I think you should ask him what he wants.”
“What he wants ?” My father frowns. “He wants a child and that is why he put a bun in the oven.”
“Gbam!” Oba contributes. Emeka glares at him.
“Emeka, what do you want?” Kalu asks.
Emeka draws in a quiet breath and lets it out the same way.
“Talk nau,” Tola urges him. “Tell them what you told me. Ashiere.”
“What did you tell her?” I glower at him and he gives me an apologetic look. I shake my head in disappointment.
“We are waiting, son,” my mom implores gently.
“Tell them,” Tola stresses. I feel some pity for her. I don’t know if it’s the pregnancy but she has lost her oomph. Dark rings around her eyes covered by makeup reveal she is either losing sleep or is crying a lot.
Emeka sits up. “I…don’t want to get married – yet.”
Tola’s eyes fill with tears. “No, what he said was that he wants me to have an abortion.”
“Chukwuemeka!” my mom gasps.
“You did not tell her that,” Kalu points a finger at him.
“He did,” Tola maintains.
“Emmy, why?” My mom goes weak.
“I…I was just joking.”
“You were not!” Tola cries, a little too dramatically.
I reach over the table and snatch Oba’s phone off his hand when I realize he has been recording the scene.
“If I break that your phone ehn!” Kalu threatens. Everyone at the table is irate; well, except for Honey who has extracted herself from the drama and has her head bent over her pepper soup bowl, sipping the soup with so much concentration. Under different circumstances, I would have cracked up in laughter.
“Okay, I’m sorry, Tola.” Emeka takes Tola’s hand but she slaps it away. “I wasn’t thinking when I said those words.”
“You were! Mex, you were!” She faces my dad. “Daddy, that’s not all!”
“Oh good. There’s more.” My father pours himself some wine.
“He thinks I don’t know why he won’t marry me but I know.”
“You know what?” Emeka asks, fear in his eyes.
“I found out, Mex.”
“You found out what?”
“I found out about Yazmin.”
Emeka buries his head. So do I.
“Daddy, mommy, there’s a girl back in the States. Her name is Yazmin. She’s Mexican. Emeka got her pregnant too.”
“Oh God,” Nne pants, her hand to her chest.
“She’s lying,” Emeka puts out. I shake my head at him. I can’t believe he’s thirty-one years old and yet acts like he’s twenty.
“Oh, I’m lying?” Tola gets out her phone and flashes it in his face. “Yazmin texted me. The bitch got my number from my cousin, whom you also slept with!”
“Wait, what?” Kalu cuts in. “What did you just say?”
“Emeka also slept with her cousin,” my dad repeats.
“I did not,” Emeka states.
“Why are you still lying?!” Tola screams, slapping him everywhere her hand can reach. “You slept with my cousin! You slept with our neighbor! You slept with that girl that works at the phone shop! You even slept with your boss!”
A silent chill settles over all of us. Loud thunder blasts from the skies, adding effect to the dark atmosphere. My dad has a familiar look in his eyes that usually comes before he does something crazy. In his hand is his glass of wine which makes a non-stop journey to his lips.
“Chukwuemeka,” my mom calls. Her voice is weak. Emeka looks in her direction but not in her face. “Tell me all I just heard is not true. Tell me Tola is lying.”
Emeka, for the first time, has no words.
“Chukwuemeka.” Nne’s voice now shakes.
“She’s not lying. It’s all true.”
I look at my dear, old mother. She is on the edge of heartbreak. I want to strangle both Emeka and Tola for spoiling a beautiful dinner. The least they can do is wait until they are alone to hash out their issues.
“If you’ll all excuse me, I need to recover from this rude shock,” Nne says as she stands.
Emeka also gets on his feet. “Mom, I’m sorry…”
She raises her hand, stopping him from walking towards her. “Just stay there. I don’t want to see your face right now. Stay there.” She looks at Honey. “My dear, I am so sorry for what you just witnessed. It usually isn’t like this. Please, forgive us.”
“It’s okay, ma.”
My mom leaves the room and we fall back to silence.
“If anything happens to your mother, Chukwuemeka,” my dad says in Igbo, “I will kill you. I brought you into this world and I will gladly take you out if what you want to become is the son of the devil.” He picks his glass of wine and makes his exit as well.
“Give me a minute,” I tell Honey and hurry upstairs to my parents’ bedroom. My dad has just walked in. I breeze past him to my mom who is sitting in one corner of the bed, dazed. She looks at me as I sit beside her.
“It’s just a phase, mom. You know Emeka is not this person. Maybe he has some issues he’s dealing with. Just don’t let it stress you.”
“Just a phase, Jideofor? He has two girls pregnant for him and you say it’s just a phase?”
“Something is wrong and I’ll have a talk with him.”
“Jide, I’m beginning to feel like I did something bad as a mother that I now deserve all this punishment. When you left here and we started hearing stories about you and all the girls, I felt my enemies were at work. I blamed it on them but now, I don’t know what to think. Maybe I was a bad mother to you people.”
“No.” I take her hands in mine, broken at her words. “You were and still are the best mother in the world, Nne. Please, don’t ever say those words again.”
She moves her head from left to right in helplessness and begins to cry.
“Why are you crying?” my dad asks in annoyance. “If that useless boy wants to give belle to the whole Nigeria, let him go ahead. Why shed tears for a Billy goat?” He hisses and takes his side of the bed.
I wipe my mom’s tears and beg her to stop. It takes a while before she listens to me.
“I’ll pray for him,” she finally states. “God will sort things out for him. I will not give up.”
“That’s the spirit, ma.”
She holds my face. “I prayed for you every day, Jidenna. Every single day. And God heard me and brought you home. I thank him for what he’s doing in your life and I’ll keep praying that what he has started in you, he’ll be faithful to complete it. But I do hope you don’t have some nasty surprise waiting somewhere.”
I laugh. “Surprise? Like what?”
“Like some people being pregnant for you,” my dad replies.
“No. Nothing like that.”
“Please, help me beg Emeka to start using condoms,” my mom requests. “I can’t stop him from having sex but he should protect himself. Talk to him.”
“And apologize to Honey once more. Make sure you take her back to her hotel. Don’t put her in a cab, biko.”
“Yes, ma.” I turn to my dad. “I’m not comfortable over your silence in this matter. It’s not a good sign.”
“Just go home, Jideofor.”
“I know you’re planning something that would affect Emeka adversely. I pray it doesn’t tear you guys apart. No matter what, remember that he’s still your son.”
“Good night.” His tone carries a bit of his hidden anger. I hug my mom and call it a night. Downstairs I find only Kalu and Honey. Oba, Tola and Emeka are gone.
“Are you ready to go?” I ask Honey as I hand the vase of daffodils to her.
“Yes. Is mommy okay?”
I hear footsteps.
I turn. Tola is standing at the foot of the stairs. “A minute?”
I stroll towards her and she leads me to the door that connects the kitchen to the dining area. She hands me my confiscated belongings.
“This was all a big mistake. I’m sorry.”
I give her no reply as I search through my wallet to make sure all is intact. I still feel pity for her, though. Her eyes have gone blood-red and her face puffy after all that crying.
“You still want to get married to Emeka despite everything?”
“Yes.” She sniffles. “Why not? He may be an idiot and may not be as good as you in bed but I love him.”
I don’t get women. A man blatantly, without remorse cheats on you and you still want to stick with him.
“I wish he was you, though. After that night with you at Kate’s wedding…”
“Stop, Tola. Please.”
“Just letting you know how I feel. Good night.”
She strides back upstairs. I turn around and I see Oba in the corner watching me.
“Plot twist,” he mutters and gives me this look like he has one over me. Like I care.
I join Honey at the front door and we leave the house. Following my mother’s instruction not to dump her alone in a cab, we walk out to the street and stop the first cab that comes our way. It’s raining now, heavy raindrops that hit the car furiously once we get in.
“Can I apologize once more for what happened back there?”
Honey shrugs my apology away. “It’s normal, Jide. Every family has their own share of drama.”
“Not like mine.”
“Trust me. Worse than yours. Let me tell you about mine. My uncle is a randy, old man who loves tapping all his nieces’ asses.”
“My grandmother walks around with a koboko. If you don’t hear her when she speaks, she whips you with it. And if she doesn’t hear you, she whips you. Mind you, she’s hard of hearing.”
I laugh some more.
“Then my sister…” Honey sighs. “Kleptomaniac.”
“As in, it’s bad. So bad her husband hides stuff from her. I don’t even know if I should call her a klepto because she steals only what she uses. She will steal it and then hide it for a while and then decide to use it one day, in front of the person she stole it from.”
“For real. And she’ll keep a straight face. If you confront her, she’ll get bitchy and remind you of all the many ways she was there for you. But she’s generous sha; she can give you the clothes on her back just to make sure you’re comfortable.”
“Well, that should compensate.”
“Abi. Everyone’s given up. We love her the way she is. In fact, her husband knew about it before they married and he still married her.”
“It has to be.”
I don’t say anything more in effect to that. As if planned, we both look out our windows. I’m staring at the rain absentmindedly and marveling at how little by little, something is chipping off at the awkwardness between us.
“So you didn’t tell me yours,” I say as I tilt my head in her direction.
“Your own thing. You just told me about your sister and grandma and uncle.”
“My own thing,” Honey repeats, caressing a daffodil petal. “Erm…this is embarrassing.”
“Just say it.”
“I can’t cook.”
My brows shoot up. “Seriously?”
“Seriously. I can’t cook to make heaven.”
“My mom spoiled me as a kid. I was the baby of the house, so cooking was out of bounds for me. I grew up that way and in the university I bought all I ate, except for the occasional noodles or pap I made. Immediately I graduated, I got the air hostess job and never had the time to learn how to cook till date.”
“Aren’t you bothered that it might wean out certain men from your life?”
“It has, actually. With my exes, I was never around and when I finally had their time, I just couldn’t handle the kitchen. I got dumped. A lot.” She chuckles and goes back to caressing her flowers.
“How about you?” She looks up. “You didn’t tell me yours. Your thing.”
We both laugh. “Do I have a thing? I do, actually. So many…things.” I try to be sly. There’s no way I’m telling her that Emeka has nothing on me when it comes to body count.
“Just tell me one.”
“Um…I’ve never traveled out of Nigeria before.”
“Yes. Everyone in my family has – several times. But I’ve not even visited Cameroun.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Because I’ve not had any reason to travel. But maybe soon.”
“You should. There’s life out there.”
My brain is beginning to register peculiar things about her, like how her voice drops at the end of sentences into a near-whisper.
“But what you just told me doesn’t count for bad behavior,” she goads. “I want something juicier, scandalous.”
“Honey, angels will lose their wings if I share that part of me with you.”
“It’s that bad?”
“Oga,” the driver interrupts, “e be like say we don enter wicked traffic o.”
I realize we are at a standstill. The rain still rages and a gridlock puts us in the middle of nowhere. Information has gotten to the driver via phone call that a tanker and a bus collided farther down the road and major access is blocked.
“No worry, e go soon clear,” I assure the cabbie. But I have predicted wrongly. An hour later, we have roughly moved the distance of seven houses. The traffic is indeed wicked. The cab driver is beginning to whine; he wants more money than originally bargained for. An idea comes to mind. I turn to Honey.
“My house is just at the next corner. I’m thinking we could stop there until the traffic clears, that way we save up on cash and avoid the stress. I’ll take you to your hotel after the rain stops.”
She looks at me uneasily. I think I must have sounded like a rapist or something.
“I’m not planning anything funny. It’s just a suggestion…”
“No, no, no. It’s a good suggestion. It’s just that…” She bites her lower lip and turns down her voice a notch. “I’m on my period and I don’t have change of tampons.”
I smile away her nervousness. “Is that all?”
“I’m a midwife. We always have sanitary towels and disposable underwear on standby. So, have no fears. And stop cringing. Your menstrual cycle cannot gross me out.”
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
I’ve just returned from church with my family. It was a most uncomfortable experience because everyone was moody. I had learned that in my absence last night, my dad instructed Emeka to return to the US to bring Yazmin home. The old man wants the baby born in Nigeria and a DNA test carried out to make certain the child is Emeka’s. On the other hand, he stands by his decision to have Emeka get married to Tola. Only God knows what the girl told him to make him take her side so easily.
I push away the morning’s events and think of lunch as I rummage through my virtually empty fridge. As I do this, my phone rings. I answer the call; it’s Shady.
“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego,” I say.
“How far, guy?”
“Na wa o. Na so you no take show yesterday.”
He’s referring to some wedding of an acquaintance I missed.
“Omo, family dinner and other things.”
“Guy, you miss o. The wedding was out of this world.”
“I know. People just dey make noise about am for Twitter.”
He goes on to tell me how the groom gave them VIP treatment and about the souvenirs they received. I’m not interested in the gist until he diverts abruptly into a different topic.
I break out of my distraction. “Wetin you just say?”
“Why you kiss Mary? Wetin dey do you sef?”
Shit. I can’t believe Mary told on me.
“Who tell you say I kiss Mary?”
“Why you kiss the babe, Jide?”
“It was just an innocent kiss, na play we dey play with each other. But how you take hear dis gist sef?”
He relates that at the wedding, after a sizable amount of alcohol had been consumed, the topic of me being single was brought up and a plan to hook me up with someone new emerged. But Mary foiled the plan by making a huge confession about how she had been in love with me for years and how our kiss had made it clear that I am the one for her.
I laugh at the ridiculousness of the story. “Mary in love with me?”
“Yes o. Na wetin she tell us.”
“Abegi! She just dey play jor.”
“Play keh. The babe been dey yarn with tears for eyes o. No be small matter. Na so the women come agree say dem go do everything to make sure dem hook two of una together.”
I cackle in a strange voice; I can’t believe what I’m hearing.
“I just say make I give you heads up because dis evening na the plan be dat. Celia dey open her bag of tricks for you, so beware.”
Ah. Celia and her bag of tricks. The woman, first of all, loves to throw house parties for no reason. And then, she enjoys making grown men and women play all sorts of games that will make them look silly. She’s a sweetheart, however, and her parties have brought couples closer.
“Thanks, man,” I say to Shady as an idea forms in my mind. He rings off. Holding my fridge open, I laugh to myself. Mary, in love with me for years? Yeah, right. I refuse to believe it. Some things are best not pondered on. All the same, I won’t fall into their plans. I straighten up and go through my call log. I find Honey’s number and dial her after a brief moment of contemplation.
She answers with a sleepy tone. I apologize for waking her up. She tells me it’s fine.
“Honey, I was wondering if you’d like to go with me to a party this evening?”
I hold my breath. She’s the best option to foil Celia’s conspiracy.
I breathe out. “Cool. Thanks. I’ll come pick you up by seven?”
“No problem. What sort of party is it?”
“Just a house party with a few close friends.”
I end the call, smiling.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
I’m still smiling when I get to Honey’s hotel suite and she comes out looking flawless. I’m standing there staring at her and thinking this girl must have guys falling at her feet at every turn. She’s wearing this floral print skirt and a lacy crop top that fits her form. I’d like to describe how she looks but words will fail me. I can’t wait to see the faces of my friends when I show up with her.
“Hi.” She grins.
“Hi.” I maintain a low key; no need sounding like an awestruck teenager. “You look beautiful.”
We leave the hotel with her arm in mine. I don’t know how that came to be; it just sort of happened. When we get into the cab I came with, I straightaway tell her why I’m inviting her over to Celia’s party. I leave out the bit about Mary.
“You want me to pretend to be your girlfriend?”
“Just for this evening.”
She goes quiet, making me uncomfortable. I fear that my request has not been met with an open mind.
“But if you don’t want to…”
“I do. It’s fine. I just thought you asked me out because you wanted to spend some time with me, you know…after last night.”
I recall last night and how we stayed up till late drinking wine and talking about almost everything. She didn’t make it back to her hotel until this morning. We had a great time but it meant nothing serious to me. Nevertheless, I find the perfect words to fix up my mess.
“Honey,” I lift a leg up to rest on the car seat as I turn to her, “if I want to spend time with you alone, it would be with you alone. No friends, no family. Just you and me.”
I guess my reply seems to be sufficient because a smile lights up her face. We talk the rest of the way to Shady and Celia’s. When we step out of the car, I give her a last minute warning about my friends.
“They are loud, meddlesome and vulgar, especially after a few drinks. Watch out for Celia, in particular. She’s very sneaky.”
“It’s fine. I can handle them.”
I doubt that she can.
“Let’s go in,” I say and put my arm around her waist. It’s weird how she fits right into my frame without me needing to lower my arm. We walk up to the front door. Loud, boisterous voices tell us how far the party has gone without us. I knock and seconds later, Shady is at the door. He raises his hand for a handshake and leaves it hanging in the air when he sees Honey.
“Oh. Hello,” he says with a voice he uses for gorgeous women.
“Good evening,” she replies coolly.
“Welcome, welcome. Come in.”
He lets us in. We follow a small passage that leads us into the living room where the others are. I walk in first and they all cheer at my appearance. I pick out all the familiar faces. Ibro, Reno and Bright; and the wives, Peace, Ojonoka and Bimpe. The hostess, Celia, is absent.
And of course, there’s Mary, beautifully made-up, wearing this short, blue dress that does wonders to her hour-glass figure and leaves me with cocked eyebrows.
Surely all that dressing is not for me.
The cheering and hailing dies abruptly and I notice their eyes are all in one direction. Honey’s. She moves closer to me and links her fingers with mine. Mary’s eyes drop to our held hands.
“Honey,” I claim her waist again, “I want you to meet my friends.”
I mention their names one after the other.
“And guys, this is my girlfriend, Honey.”
If there was prickly silence before, then what follows is worse. It feels as if someone has pressed the pause button over everyone in the room. Not even a breath is inhaled.
My lips are closed but I’m grinning widely behind them. I feel Honey snuggling closer into me due to unease.
I hear a sound and turn my eyes. Celia is standing there with a look on her face that shows she knows what I’m up to.
Nice one, Jide, I hear her voice say in my head.
This time, behind my lips, I laugh. I can’t wait for the drama that will unfold. Bring it on, Celia.