Another morning. Another twist in the road. Leonel woke up with a sharp pain on the side of his head and the leg of a strange woman on his thighs.
He lifted his arm, which was resting on the nude body of the woman to have a better view of her. She was fast asleep, nestled beside him. Her body was curved like Kyenpia’s, the skin tone was almost like hers. He felt instant revulsion. He pushed her leg away and sat up. His head swooned for a moment and he stayed still to steady himself.
There was no single recollection of what had happened the night before, although he had scenes flashing in his head. It wasn’t new to go through this every morning. Same bullshit he had been putting up with for three months. It was exhausting.
He got off the bed and walked into the bathroom for a shower. He scrubbed his body, paying attention to his arms, mostly. They were both etched with tattoos that had been done without his consent. Every time he looked at them, he was reminded of how sick he was, how far he had traveled from the road of sanity. It was worse than death. He had thought nothing could be more painful than being dead to the people he loved until he began to have what little was left of his mind being erased.
Leonel brushed his teeth after his shower, and stood before the mirror, wondering if he should be thankful that he woke up this morning with only one woman in his bed.
He tried to recall what day it was. The last memory in his head was from Thursday, when he had gone at the Grantley Adams International Airport to pick up his aunt, Jamila. She had come over to visit him in Barbados. He recalled asking her if her visit was for a psych assessment or for filial reasons. She had laughed and placed her hands on both sides of his face.
“Just checking in on my favorite boy. I’ve missed you, Leo. Come back home.”
He hugged her, holding on tightly and refusing to go, until she forced herself out of his clutch. She held his hands.
Things went blank after that. He didn’t know how many days had passed since then. He was now used to the time lapses, and had stopped being dramatic anytime they happened. He was learning to move on from them. Fussing over why they occurred or what had gone on in his absence had not helped him.
Leonel heard voices coming from his bedroom. He rinsed his mouth and stepped out, wrapping a towel around his waist. John Doe was in his bedroom, speaking to the woman Leonel had spent the night with. She was now dressed in something that could be taken out of a fashion magazine. She had earrings that held tiny diamonds. The bracelet on her left wrist was diamond studded too. Around her ankles and on the nape of her neck were tattoos.
Her name was Brisa. Leonel had met her two years ago, when he visited Barbados in search of property to buy. Brisa had been flirty and wild and had a five-star hotel she was looking to sell. The chemistry between them was so strong that Leonel left before his scheduled departure, to avoid cheating on Kyenpia. Last month, he returned to Barbados and reconnected with Brisa. He made an official offer to buy her father’s hotel. They had drinks that night, after long hours of negotiations with the old man. Leonel woke up the following morning to Brisa trying to straddle him. Obviously, they had spent the night together and he could not remember the details.
It was clear that they had had similar nights since then. He wasn’t sure how often. Sometimes he found her in his bed in the mornings. Other times, it was a different woman.
“Hey, baby!” Brisa came towards him, stretched herself up and kissed him. He was stiff in her hold, but he smiled.
“This John Doe fella is some work. He brought another long ass nonsense to me, asking me to sign it. Another NDA.”
John Doe moved forward and thrust a document at her, along with a pen.
“Tell me you’re not behind this crap written here.” She pushed pouty lips at Leonel.
“Let me have a look, first.” He snatched the document from John Doe and gestured him out. The man made his exit.
“I read the whole thing,” Brisa said, pushing her curls to the back. “It’s ridiculous. I’m getting only five percent of all the properties you buy in my name?”
Leonel had a peep at the non-disclosure agreement.
“We’re never to be seen in public? I can never talk about you to anyone? No pregnancy? No marriage? Nothing?”
“Anything wrong with that?” Leonel asked. He walked away from her and sat on the bed. He wasn’t responsible for the non-disclosure agreement. It seemed like the work of John Doe, who was his lawyer, personal assistant and everything else Captain wanted him to be.
“Look, it’s not my fault that you’re dead in Nigeria and you’re hiding away from your wife. I’m sorry for your tragic story, but we had an agreement, Leo, and it is not written on those papers.”
Leonel was not sure of what she meant. He watched her walk to the nightstand. She picked a half-smoked joint and lit it. Beside her was a window; she leaned on the ledge. White voile curtains danced with the morning air, bringing in the salty scent of the beach. Soon, the room was pervaded by the strong fragrance of marijuana.
“Somehow, you sound very different when you’re deep inside me,” Brisa told him in a haze of smoke. “You’re so needy and adorable, that I fall for your sweet tongue. All the time, Leo! Every fucking time. Only to wake up to NDA’s and a constant reminder that you’re using me. I hope you’re happy that you have this whole place to yourself now.” She gesticulated, spreading her arms apart and looking around. “I sold my family heritage to you because I was dickmatized!”
“It’s not like that.”
“Tell me what it’s like, then. Hmm? Tell me, Leonel!”
“Can I have this revised and I’ll get back to you?”
“I don’t care for what’s in those papers, lover boy. You promised me ten percent and shares in Charybdis.”
“And in turn, I use my name to publicly buy everything you want bought secretly. I think somewhere in there, we added that you would give me an Igwe child.”
“Are you fucking mad?”
“But I’m not crazy about babies, so, I’ll let that go. Look, I wouldn’t have convinced my dad to sell this hotel to you if you hadn’t made those promises. So, you had better make shit happen or I’ll find your wife and let her know that you’re alive and halfway across the world, fucking strange women.”
Leonel looked at her as the smoke cleared. Two years ago, when he came across her, he had known that she was trouble. Intoxicated with alcohol, wearing a sheer dress that didn’t hide her nudity underneath, she danced alone to the cracking embers of a bonfire at a quiet beach. He had been drawn to her while taking a walk along the shoreline. He stopped and sat before the bonfire and watched in fascination as she danced. Her body had sensuously moved to the rhythm of the song she alone could hear. Sometimes, she spurted out in laughter, making him laugh too. But he got bored after a while, having easily concluded that she was a rich, spoilt girl, who did crazy things to gain attention. He then got up and continued on his shoreline promenade. As he walked away, she ran after him, asking to know his name.
That night, he found out that she wasn’t as young as he had assumed. She was almost as old as he was, married, and from one of the wealthiest families in Barbados. Leonel had also discovered that she was intelligent, knowledgeable in a range of subjects, and was the business brain of the family. He had been stimulated, so much that he escaped from her the next morning to avoid being caught in her trap. She faded from his mind with time. She was not his type, anyway. He had moved up from women who loved to live close to the edge. Kyenpia was focused and stable, and had the right dose of wild to keep him engaged. So, how the fuck did he end up being Brisa’s mark?
“Are you done?” he asked her, after enduring her complaints.
“Yeah. Are you going to trash that shit or not?”
“I’ll call you.”
She over to him and placed what was left of the joint between his lips. She then licked the side of his face and left the room, barefoot, holding her sandals.
“Fuck!” Leonel flung the papers across the room. The joint fell to the floor. He picked it and smoked it until there was nothing left. He rolled another and finished it in the same manner. His migraine was gone now, along with the hangover. He was calm on the outside, but his mind was in turmoil. He drank a bottle of water and lay on his bed, eyes to the ceiling.
Someone came knocking.
“The door is open.”
John Doe returned. He had his usual harsh expression on, with a tint of arrogance that Leonel had come to hate.
“Why are you back here?” Leonel sat up.
“Breakfast is served.”
“I also want to have a little talk with you, sir.”
“The issue of security. So far, I have made twenty-three women sign non-disclosure agreements. Twenty-three, sir. Foreign women that have nothing to do with your life, but are out there with information on your whereabouts. Captain is displeased. He says you’re supposed to be dead, and not fucking around.”
“I live as a ghost, and ghosts don’t die a second time.”
“He also wants to know if you’ll be returning to Jaffa for his birthday party.”
“Tell me about this woman who just left here,” Leonel requested, walking towards his closet. He didn’t see the expression of exasperation on John Doe’s face.
“You mean Brisa Bautista?”
“She is the daughter to one of the richest businessmen in the Caribbean. She recently lost her husband in a car accident about the same time you died. You seem to have a thing for her.”
Leonel opened his closet. “Is that all?”
“There are rumors that she is responsible for her husband’s death. He was her second husband. The first was killed by assassins.”
“Is that all?”
“Her father owned this hotel. You already know that, of course, since you bought it from him last week. You already know all these things, which was why you insisted on the five percent as against the ten percent you and her agreed on. Is there a reason you’re making me waste my time, repeating them to you, sir?”
Leonel wanted to be sure he wasn’t missing anything.
John Doe made his way out. Leonel took out his ensemble for the day and dressed up. He found his way out of his bedroom to the living room, which had a small dining area. Idara and Jamila had begun breakfast without him. He greeted them and took his seat. There was silence for a while until Jamila spoke up.
“I was thinking that maybe we could go out today, see the sights,” she suggested. Leonel said nothing. “You don’t go out much, do you?”
“I’ve seen all the sights there are to see in Barbados,” he answered gruffly.
“Then maybe it’s time to come home?”
“I’m not yet done here or with the other places I plan to expand my business. I’ve only just begun.”
“Leo, if you bury your head in work as a means of escape from Spirit, you’ll only end up giving him reason to thrive. This life you want to build outside Kyenpia would be perfect grounds for him to fully subdue you and take over. You have to take control.”
“It’s a little more complicated than you think. You won’t understand.”
“Nothing you can tell me here would be too complicated for me to take. Idara has kept me updated on all that’s been happening with you.”
Leonel looked up at Idara harshly.
“We’ve seen you at your worst these past four months,” Jamila went on. “Is it the tattoos you got two months ago? Or the different girls you bring to your bed almost every night, not caring that any of them could be a security threat? Or is it Brisa and the stupid promises you made to her?”
“I didn’t make any promises to her.”
“She came to me a short while ago, Leo. What is your aim? Why are you trying hard to prove to Captain that you’re the son he wants?”
“Can we not get into this conversation this morning, Mama Jams?”
“Leo, I know that you want to fight this alone, but Kyenpia can help. She seems to be the balm that would keep healing you. Go back home and tell her you’re struggling with this. She will understand.”
“She will not understand!” he shouted, slamming his half-eaten toast on his plate. “You want me to go back there and live a lie?”
“For how long does this have to continue? All of my life, it’s been one deceit to another, and I am fucking tired!”
“Your life has not been a lie, sweetheart,” Jamila answered maternally.
“Yes, it has! And the lies began with you!” He pointed in her face. Jamila flinched. Idara picked her teaspoon and stirred her cup of coffee slowly, eyes on Leonel.
“What are you talking about?” Jamila’s voice was quiet.
“Let’s roll back time a little, Mama Jams, specifically to the night of my eighth birthday. You were there, right?”
“Gramps and Uncle Max, too. You three were the last to leave, that was before you gave Dave some cold medicine that put him to sleep because he had the flu.”
“I remember that, yes.”
“I’ll tell you what happened just after you left. In fact, it began as you were leaving. My parents got into their normal fight. Mom wanted to go home, but Pops was insisting that she stayed over. She was angry, kept trying to remind him that they were divorced and he didn’t own her, but he wouldn’t listen. He was trying to get sexual with her, as usual. She picked my penknife to defend herself and he tried to take it from her forcefully, and he stabbed her in the neck. It was a mistake. I watched him panic as she began to bleed. He told me to get kitchen napkins. I brought four of them, all the ones I could find, and he pressed them to her neck and gently lowered her to the floor.”
Leonel lifted his eyes at Jamila. “And you know what he did next? He left her there to bleed to death and crawled to a corner of the kitchen, talking to himself like a mad man. You, Gramps, and Uncle Max returned. I don’t know if you guys knew that something had happened or you had forgotten something…”
“I forgot my purse and your grandfather left his glasses behind.”
“Good. Now, this is where the story should have a twist, where you guys come in and save my mom…” Leonel shook his head. “But you were too late. I remember Uncle Max dragging me to my dad’s room, because I was screaming and refusing to be taken away from her.”
“You told me that she was dead, she was gone. Didn’t you?”
“But you lied to me, Mama Jams.”
“How can you say that? I would never lie to you–”
“And you’re still lying to me!”
“Leo, calm down,” Idara pleaded.
“Why are you sounding like this?” Jamila asked, upset.
“I watched Gramps and Uncle Max and the ambulance that came shortly after, leave the house. That was when I got out of the room. I saw Pops carrying my mom, wrapped up in a rug. You were with him, Mama Jams. I asked you what he was carrying and you told me to go back in. He got into his car and was about to leave, but I ran after him and stood in front of the car, blocking his way. He almost ran me over. I remember you screaming out his name and telling me to get out of the way. But he stepped down and carried me, because I had freaked out and just froze there. So, he put me in the car and we drove to the villa.”
“The family villa?” Idara asked.
“Yeah. Gramps wasn’t living there at that time, because they were still developing it, so it was surrounded by a lot of vegetation.”
“So, Pops stopped the car in some clearing, got out a shovel from the trunk and began digging a hole. It took like forever. When he was done, he threw my mom into that hole and buried her. He was crying when he did that, telling me it was my mom, and that she had gone to be with God in heaven. He told me he was sorry for what he had done to her, and begged me never to tell anyone what had happened. And you know what? I believed him.”
Leonel took his eyes off Idara and focused on Jamila. “And days after, while our family and hers were looking for her, you sat me down and told me never to tell anyone what Pops and I did that night. You pretended as if you had not been there when he and I left the house. In fact, you told me that you left with Gramps and Uncle Max. And this is the part where the whole story confuses me. Why did you lie?”
Jamila’s head dropped. “I’m sorry.”
“Because I didn’t want to be involved with what your father did to her, Leo. Do you know the type of family your mom came from? The Kentoros, do you know them? If they knew that any of us, asides your father, was aware of what happened to Emem, do you have any inkling of what they could have done to all of us? Luke stabbed your mother. Not you, not me. He did it alone and he was to bear the consequence alone.”
“I don’t believe you. I believe something more sinister happened that night, and all of you were involved. You, Pops, Gramps and Uncle Max. All four of you knew exactly what happened to my mom, and you have lied to Dave and I, and the entire Kentoro family all these years! And if I don’t get answers in three days, I will risk everything and dig up the past! I know exactly where he buried her. Shebi he erected a statue of her there? I will open that grave and unearth the truth, and keep digging until one of you spills!”
“Leo… Please, don’t,” Idara cut in. “Your maternal grandfather is a man I’ve heard terrible things about. If he finds out…”
“He’s her father, Idara! He deserves to know what truly happened to her! I deserve to know what happened to my mom!”
Jamila left her seat and walked to Leonel’s. “Leo, Son, you saw what Kentoro did to your father after he couldn’t find your mom. We suspect that he is behind what happened to the family, to you and Ramsey and everyone else. He tried to destroy us. If you dig up the past and he starts to ask questions again, what do you think he’ll do?”
“I don’t care!”
“You truly don’t want to do this, Leo.”
Leonel pushed his chair backwards and shot to his feet. “Three days, Mama Jams. I’m tired of the lies.”
He returned to his bedroom. A housekeeper was cleaning the place. He sent her out and rolled another joint. Just as he settled, Idara walked in.
“Do you think your mom is alive?”
“No. There’s no way she could have survived that.”
“Then why are you asking all these questions, giving your aunt stress?”
“Because something is wrong. I feel it, Idara.” He got up. “It’s beyond her death. They are hiding something, and I feel that if I find out, it would unravel a lot about me. You should have seen Mama Jams that night, the way she stood outside and watched Pops carry that rug. It was as if she didn’t care, like what he was doing didn’t affect her. Or as if she had instructed him to do it.”
“But Leo, are you sure you want to go down this path?”
Leonel walked away from Idara, towards the window where he lit the joint. “I just want the truth.”
“I don’t understand, though. You just woke up this morning and decided you want to stir things up?”
“No. It all came back to my head in a rush. You know how your mind can protect you from traumatic events, by burying the details? That’s what happened to me, and now, it’s all coming back. But I feel lost, Idara. Lost! The person with you here is the Leo you know. The misbehaving son of a bitch that did these tattoos on my arms and sleeps around, trying to fuck my life up is not me! He looks like me, talks like me, and uses my body, but he is not me.”
He sighed and stopped speaking entirely, finding his respite in marijuana. Idara let him be because she was consumed by her own thoughts. Time elapsed, and he resumed, explaining to her how there was a daily struggle between him and Spirit that constantly drained him. He would wake up each morning, exhausted and frustrated, and even disgusted. Sometimes he found videos recorded by Spirit, chronicling what had happened to his body in his absence. The details left him hating himself, because he knew that Spirit was weak, but was strong enough to screw him over. Never had he been this vicious to take full control. In the past, he had compromised, even loving Kyenpia the way Leonel did. But not this time. He wanted their old life back. The freedom to do what they wanted without obligations. The freedom to control their heart and not let it be tied to a woman who had the power to crush them. This was his reason for making promises to Brisa he couldn’t keep. It was a rebellious act to destroy everything that mattered to Leonel.
Spirit was a coward too. He had always flourished whenever Leonel was at his weakest. His hospitalization after the gunshot injuries had been one of those moments. Spirit had returned stronger and more brutal, but Leonel was fighting him with cunning, having realized that the only way to win the enemy was to become the enemy. This was why he fought to remain awake during the therapy sessions with Idara. He followed the script so well that Idara was fooled. Many times, he had wanted to show her who he was, but Spirit had to be dealt with, first. And this could only be done if Leonel journeyed to the past and unraveled every mystery that was tying him down.
“Doc, he’s still here with me,” he said to Idara in conclusion, “and I am not going back to the woman I love, to my daughter and sons that require the best of me, just to mess their lives up and cause them more pain. I need the truth, because as they say, it sets you free. I want Spirit, or whatever his fucking name is, to leave me for good.”
Idara heaved. “I’m so sorry, Leo. I caused this…”
“You didn’t. You had those sessions with me alone.”
“And you think they didn’t make Spirit stronger? You think he somehow slept through the whole thing every morning, unaffected by the role I played? Come on, Leo! You know how this works. Let me ask you a question. The first night I was here and you told me you weren’t Spirit, who was talking to me?”
“Exactly! It was you! But I went and brought him out and…” Idara broke off, rubbing her eyes in frustration. “God!”
“There was nothing you could do, and there’s nothing you can do right now. This is my fight. I want to do it alone. I don’t want to go back to Kyenpia, living a double life. I am tired of that shit. I need to win this.”
Idara sat on the bed, crushed. “Tell me about the blackouts.”
Leonel shrugged. “They’re more frequent now than they were initially.” He took a peep outside and straightened out his leg on the ledge. “I lose days now.”
“This isn’t your fault, Idara. It’s mine. I should have been honest with you from the start.”
“This means my work isn’t done.”
“You’ve done so much for me, Idara, and it has emotionally drained you. Go home. I’ll be fine.”
“Leo, Mama Jams is right. You need Kyenpia.”
“If I go back in this state, I will hurt her.”
“You could lose her to Ishi. Have you watched the videos of both of them…?”
“Why would you do that?”
“Or torture? Somehow, you blame yourself for what happened to you, for your present state, for Captain’s decision to declare you dead…”
“Like I said, it’s complicated, but I’m going to gain my life back. First, I need to expand my business to other places. Nigeria is failing. Charybdis Hospitality needs an external boost.”
“And you think using Brisa is a smart move to make?”
“It was supposed to be strictly business until he… Spirit has put us in quicksand, Idara.”
“It’s not too late to back out.”
“I can’t. Not right now. I’m sticking with her because I don’t have anyone else I can trust with business, and she’s good at it.”
“Leonel…” Idara called in defeat. “I’ve been depressed from the first day I got into that house in Tel Aviv. I was hoping that I’d find some way to disobey Captain’s orders and restore the man you used to be, but I was a coward, scared of what he’d do to me. Look at the consequence now. I feel like I’m a failure, Leo. I’m so sorry.”
Leonel returned to the bed and sat beside her. He drew her into his arms, resting his chin on her head. “I’m sorry too, Doc. I’m so sorry.” He gave her a forehead kiss. “You’ve been amazing to me through the years, and I’m grateful for all the times you abandoned everything to make sure I was alright. I’ll always be indebted to you. You’re one of the best psychotherapists out there, but this isn’t about you. Please, just let it go.”
He comforted her until she felt better.
“You should pack your things and get set for Tel Aviv,” he said. “We’re leaving tomorrow.”
“Are you done here?”
“Yes. For the meantime. The Bautistas still own this place until December when everything is officially handed over to me.”
“I’ll have John Doe book a flight from Tel Aviv to Nairobi for you…”
“I’m returning to Lagos. I no longer have a job or house in Kenya.”
“Come and work for me nau.”
“Occupational therapist, life coach, sexy ass arm candy.”
“Aaaah, Idara!” He worshipped her with his eyes. “Former crush of my life. Sexy sugar mama! I’d have killed Captain to have you then.”
“Don’t remind me. You were such a nuisance to my existence.”
“But seriously, work for me. Take Brisa’s place. I’ll pay her off for this deal and you’ll help me do the rest.”
“You just want to incur your father’s wrath.”
“There should be something called karma for all his actions. Don’t throw away my offer.”
“I’ll give it a thought.”
Idara rose up.
“That thing you said about Ishi stealing Kyenpia?” Leonel said.
Leonel shook his head. “It’s never going to happen. He’s only a fantasy to her, and he would soon fade.”
“Don’t be so sure.”
Idara left the room.
For her age, weight and present health status, ambling about in disquiet was not a good thing for Jamila, but she couldn’t help herself. She was distraught, so much that she hadn’t been able to perform her midday prayers. She was expecting a call from Igwe, who was presently in Scotland, having gone there to attend the funeral of a close friend.
Jamila tried his number for the fourth time. His aide took her call as he had done the previous times, explaining that Igwe was still unavailable. Jamila missed the days when Maxwell, her brother, held the same position. Then, she could reach Igwe at any time she so desired. On a couple of occasions, Maxwell had interrupted important meetings just to fulfil her wish of speaking to her father. She was his favorite and most trusted child. They held family secrets nobody else knew; including the one Leonel was seeking answers to. But Jamila held her own secret that Igwe wasn’t aware of. She was about to confess. She hoped he would forgive her.
She stopped moving and sat on the bed. The minutes ticked by, and Igwe’s call finally came in.
“I was told you wanted to speak with me urgently?”
The sound of her father’s voice gave her instant calm. It had always been this way. It never mattered what storm she had to face as long as Igwe was there with her.
“Is everything alright?”
“What’s going on?”
Jamila breathed in and out. “I have a confession to make.”
“Pa, I’m so sorry. It’s not my fault. Luke made me do this…”
“Go ahead, Child.”
“Pa, he’s alive. He’s not dead.”
Silence followed her confession. She gave Igwe some seconds to take the news in.
“Leonel is alive?”
“Yes. Luke said it was for security reasons. He was in a coma for a while, but he got better and Luke wouldn’t let him go.”
Igwe went silent again.
“Where is Leo right now?”
“Barbados. I’m here with him.”
“Is he alright?”
“Do you know the enormity of what you and your brother have done, Jamila?”
“After what happened in the past, I thought you’d know better. But here you are, allowing history repeat itself. How could you behave this way, listening to that lunatic you have for a brother?”
“I’m deeply sorry.”
She heard Igwe sigh. “I want details.”
Jamila filled him in on everything concerning Leonel, right from the moment he was shot until the present time.
“I think it’s rather stupid for him to think that he can choose to live this entire new life without Kyenpia and his children. He’s insane. I’m not going to let that happen.”
“Pa, there’s another reason I called.”
“Jamila, please, don’t tell me other family members that passed are still alive. I can’t take it.”
“It’s about Emem. He’s asking to know the truth about what happened that night.”
“He’s been struggling with himself, and this has awakened parts of him that have been dormant for years. Memories are beginning to surface, and that particular night has returned to him in detail. All the conditioning I did to him in the past has fallen apart. He’s demanding to know the truth about his mother. He’s given us three days to come out with it.”
“Then there’s only one thing left to do here, Jamila. I told you and Max that it would lead to this one day. I’m surprised that it took this long for the truth to be unearthed, but I’m glad that it’s finally going to be let out.”
“But I am scared, Pa. The consequences of this is too far-reaching. If Kentoro finds out…”
“That is not a problem. What’s important now is that Leonel and David get to know the truth. You should fly down to London. You and him. Come to the house in London. Luke must not know.”
“I have to go now.”
The line went dead. Jamila exhaled. She put her phone away and left her suite. She walked down a hallway and stopped at the end of it. John Doe stepped out of Leonel’s suite.
“Good afternoon, ma.”
“Good afternoon. Is he in?”
He opened the door, letting her in. Leonel was seated at the dining table, having just had a robust four-course meal. He arose and drew out a chair for Jamila as she approached him. When she sat, he lowered and spoke to her in a quiet voice.
“I’m sorry for shouting on you earlier. You didn’t deserve it.”
“It’s fine, Leo.”
“No, I was rude. I’m so sorry, Mom.” He hugged her and gave her a kiss on her shoulder. Guilt consumed her. She did not deserve his love for what she had done to him. She prayed that he would understand and forgive her.
He sat with her as she ate. He talked about his sons and the names given to them by Igwe.
“They’re both comforting. Somadina means ‘I am not alone’, and Uchenna is ‘father’s heart’. But I wish he had given them names befitting for identical twins. These ones are more fraternal, don’t you think?”
“Leo, your grandfather wants you to come with me to London.”
“Gramps? He knows I’m alive?”
“I just told him.”
“Jeez, ma! How many more people before Kyenpia finds out? You know how important this is to me.”
“Leo, call someone to get us on the next flight to London. John Doe cannot know about this. Captain can’t either.”
“What are we doing in London?”
“You grandpa asks to see you. He’s in Edinburgh. He’ll be there tonight.”
“Why does he want to see me?”
“You wanted to know the truth about what happened to your mom on your eighth birthday, right?”
Leonel went stiff. “Yeah.”
“Then, we’re going to London. Now, get up and find us two tickets.”
Leonel left the table, picking up his phone. Jamila watched him head into his bedroom. Her conscience continued to condemn her. She may have been a good mother to him and his brother, but she hadn’t been the best. There were a few things she wished she could go back in time to undo. That night was one of them.
She managed as much lunch as she could take and abandoned the meal. Leonel returned.
“I got us on British Airways. The flight leaves at five. We’ll get to London at six. London is five hours ahead.”
Jamila nodded. Leonel leaned on the table and took a sip of water. As he tried to turn away, Jamila rested her hand on his.
“Do everything you can to remain like this. I don’t want to get on that flight with you and end up in London with a different person.”
He helped her up and walked her to her suite. He asked to assist her pack her clothes, but she declined. She needed the solitude. After he was gone, she put her things together and stretched out for a nap. Leonel came looking for her when the clock struck four. She jolted up at the sound of his voice and hurried to the door to let him in.
“I sent John Doe on an errand,” he explained to her. “By the time he gets back, we’ll be gone. I told Idara I had an emergency. I didn’t tell her where I was headed. She’s leaving for Tel Aviv tomorrow.”
“Great job.” Jamila felt sad over his excitement. He had no idea what awaited him.
“Ready to leave?” he asked, rubbing his palms against each other.
Touchdown at Gatwick airport was at exactly twenty minutes after six. Leonel hated traveling. It always left him jaded. He longed to fall asleep immediately they arrived at the family house. Whatever Jamila and Igwe had to reveal would wait.
In the car, on their way home, Jamila asked if he was using protection with the women who had been in his bed. He wasn’t shocked at how the question had dropped from nowhere or the personal nature of it; Mama Jams wasn’t known for her elusiveness when it concerned discussions on sexual matters. Leonel and David had gotten their first sex education from her at the age of twelve, beginning with the issue of consent. When they turned thirteen, she sat them down, including Ishi, and gave them a detailed lecture, replete with visuals. Leonel might have gotten his first condom from Captain, but the specifics on how to use it had been from Jamila.
“Can we not talk about my sexual health?” Leonel responded to her nosiness.
“I just don’t want your life getting any more complicated than it already is. You don’t want to come out of this, having a child by some strange woman.”
“I suppose you mean Brisa?”
“That Bautista girl spells trouble. Even her name is a mouthful! I can hardly say Brisa Bautista without biting my tongue.”
“Then don’t say it.”
Jamila smacked his cheek with a finger. He held her hand. When he looked at her, he found her staring out. She had gone off again. This had been happening since they left Barbados. She constantly wandered off in thought. Whatever she was hiding from him was heavy.
Igwe was still asleep when they arrived at their Chelsea home. They were both shown to their bedrooms and Leonel soon fell into a snooze himself. He woke up at noon, had a shower and stepped out for lunch. A wide smile spread on Igwe’s face at his entrance into the sitting room.
“Afamdi, is this really you?”
A few things could rattle Igwe at his age, and seeing his grandson return from the dead wasn’t one of them. He called him over and Leonel went to hug him.
“I could kill your father for doing this, for taking you away from all of us, but I’m no saint, Son. It’s so good to see you.”
“Same here, Gramps.”
“I’m not going to talk about why Luke did this or go into the details of it until I see him. What’s important is that you’re alive.”
“Are you well?”
His question caused Leonel to laugh. He knew what he was alluding to, but the manner in which he had asked had amused him.
“Does it look like I’m playing with you?” Igwe said in Igbo.
“No, Gramps,” Leonel responded the same.
“Are you alright?”
“That’s good, although I don’t understand what these tattoos and ear piercing are for.”
“Moments of poor decision,” Leonel responded.
“I hope we don’t have any more of those.”
“Good to have you here, Son. Hungry?”
“Lunch is ready, prepared by my dear Chioma. I hope you have missed oha soup as much as I have?”
Leonel nodded. Chioma was Igwe’s only mistress presently. She was in her late forties, beautiful and lively. On their way from the airport, Jamila had described Igwe as being smitten by her, the same way he had been towards Jaiye’s grandmother. The old man had fallen in love thrice in his lifetime. The first two had been disastrous. Jamila hoped Chioma stayed true to their twenty-two-year old love. They had a daughter together; she lived in London with Chioma, studying Astronomy, Space science and Astrophysics. Amara was Igwe’s most beloved daughter, only after Jamila.
The family had lunch together under a cheerful atmosphere. This was largely due to Chioma’s liveliness. After lunch, she announced that she and Amara would go out shopping.
“Is there anything you want me to get for you?” Amara asked Leonel.
“No, Aunty Amara. Thank you.”
Amara laughed at the ‘aunty’ reference. He was only teasing her.
They took their leave and Leonel was left with Jamila and Igwe. They sat together in the sitting room as a serious air descended on them.
“Leonel, your aunt called me yesterday and said you were demanding for answers over what happened to your mother on the night of your eighth birthday.”
“I have not had peace since her call came in. There are things that should be left buried, because the people who desire it to be so continue to desire it that way. Do you understand?”
“No,” Leonel answered with a tight face.
“Let’s start from the very beginning, shall we? And don’t let this get boring for you. I have to go years back, long before you were born, so that you would understand every bit of this mystery I’m about to reveal.”
“I’m all ears.”
“Your father was epileptic as a child. He was plagued with constant seizures. I know you don’t believe in spiritual attacks, but that was what it was. A curse, if we want to be more honest.”
“Our family is cursed, Afamdi. You think what you’re going through is normal? But that’s a story for another day. So, your father…in order to cure him, doctors had to perform a calloscotomy on him.”
“Split brain surgery.”
“Yes. They severed the main connection between his brain’s left and right hemispheres, and that left him sort of…different. It was like having someone with one brain but two conscious minds. He appeared normal, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I got him the best therapists and ensured that he studied hard. Not a day went by that he wasn’t found reading a book. This was to ensure that there was some sort of integration between both sides of his brain. He seemed okay for a while, save for youthful deviance and the regular madness that plagues the males in this family.
“But I began to notice a pattern of behavior in which his left hand did things his right was not aware of. I won’t go into specifics, but it was disturbing. His condition was what pushed your aunt, Jamila, to study psychology. She had aimed for psychiatry, but didn’t quite make the grades, so she chose psychology. She wanted to help her brother. And she did, years later. She found a working formula that could make her relay any type of information she wanted into his brain from one side and make the other act on it. This wasn’t for selfish purposes, of course. It was to make him feel better. She was so good at it that Luke always sought her help whenever he was emotionally or psychologically down. He would ask her to take him away, to remove him from whatever present situation beset him.”
The pieces were beginning to fit in Leonel’s head. Jamila had written her dissertation on the dark side of manipulation, mind control and priming. She had mentioned a certain patient she had worked on that spurred her into the art of manipulation. That dissertation had singularly goaded Leonel into abandoning his plans to read economics to pursue a career in psychology instead. Had Captain been the patient she mentioned? Had she manipulated his mind all these years? If she had, and he still turned out this depraved, had she been responsible for who he was or had she been there to make him forget all the atrocities he committed?
“One of such situations was the occasion of your eighth birthday,” Igwe continued. “You remember that night, right?”
“Divine intervention was what caused your aunt to forget her purse and I, my glasses, which made us turn back to your house. It was God, else your mother would have died.”
Igwe’s words came to Leonel slowly. He didn’t get them at first. They hit him seconds later. He fixed his eyes on Igwe. “Did you just say…?”
“She’s not dead, Son. Your mother survived that night and she is still alive.”
Leonel looked from Igwe to Jamila. She shifted her eyes from his stare.
“No nau.” He got up, looked at both of them again and walked off to the end of the sitting room. He leaned on the wall. “You can’t tell me shit like this, Gramps. No.”
“Your uncle and I rushed her to the hospital while your aunt stayed back to attend to your father. She made him believe that he had killed your mom and had her wrapped up in a centerpiece rug…”
Leonel laughed in disbelief.
“You know the rest of the story. Your mother is alive. She went away for her own good, because she was scared for her life. Your father, from the first day he laid eyes on her, was a thorn in her flesh. He raped her constantly and messed with her emotionally. He wouldn’t have divorced her if I had not forced him to. But even after that, she knew no peace. He stalked her, threatened every male he saw her with, and pushed her into deep depression. She had to get away from his clutch and we had to help her.”
Leonel didn’t realize that tears had slipped from the side of his eyes. All he had just heard was making him go crazy. He slapped his forehead with the heel of his palm several times, to put his thoughts together.
“Are you ready to see her?” Igwe asked. He stopped.
“You mean now? I-I can see her n-now?” he stuttered.
Igwe angled his head in the direction of a door behind him. Leonel’s pulse quickened. “Emem?” Igwe called.
“Oh God,” Leonel muttered, doing a full turn in restlessness. He lifted his t-shirt over his face to wipe his tears. When he dropped his hands, his eyes fell on his mother. She was there in the room, alive and breathing, standing behind Igwe.
She had the same soft, translucent eyes that had haunted his dreams; they now bore wrinkles at the edges. The same full hair, with specks of grey. Her slender form had not added a single pound after all the years; neither had her skin gotten fairer or darker.
She smiled, tears streaming down her face.
“How could you?” he whispered, unable to get his voice out.
“I’m sorry,” she mouthed, signing at the same time. Leonel was taken to his past, causing a flush of memories that overwhelmed him. Everything unknown about her instantly vanished, and he rushed to the other end of the room, into her welcoming embrace. For a moment, it didn’t matter that she had chosen her happiness over his or that she had had all the time in the world to return to him, but didn’t. She was still his mother, the first love of his life, the proof that angels walked the earth.
He hugged her tightly and wept.
®Sally Kenneth Dadzie @moskedapages