I groggily drag myself out of bed. It is Monday morning, and Gabby’s school is resuming today. The routine of waking up every week day at 5:30 am begins once more. The fact that EEDC hasn’t given us power for the past three days is going to make my work more tedious. Imagine how annoyed I would have been if I’d had the energy to make the pots of soup I’d planned to make on Saturday, only to face the consequence of no power for refrigeration.
The routine is to get Gabby ready in thirty minutes; then wake my husband up for morning prayers before feeding Gabby and packing his bag, finishing at 7am so I can drop him off at school by 7:30am, to return and settle my husband before he leaves for work by 9am.
Rubbing the sleep from my eyes and switching on my phone torch, I set about my task, silently giving thanks that this second pregnancy isn’t giving me morning sickness or undue weakness, the way Gabby’s gestation had been. I purposely refuse to think that the diminution in the physical demand of this pregnancy means it will produce a baby girl. I don’t want to jinx it. However, I cannot stop the yearning I have for a daughter, who I can bond with and visit the salon with to fix our hair and get some mani-pedis.
Ok, stop it, Adaku, you’re doing it again! I admonish myself mentally.
I sigh, just as the gentle whistle of the kettle alerts me to the fact that Gabby’s bathing water is ready. I proceed out of the kitchen to get my son ready for his day.
My phone rings just as I am concluding Gabby’s dressing. He is still sleepy. He obviously has to get used to waking up early too. A glance at the screen of my phone reveals the caller. It’s Ijeoma.
“Hmm, this woman that hasn’t been answering my calls,” I mutter, as I pick the call. “What is the time in your village?” I say in a low tone into my phone.
“Wake up joor!” she says into my ear, sounding very chirpy, too chirpy for 7am.
“Why are you awake…” I start to ask. Then I stop when I hear the hubbub of activity coming from the background of the other end. It is too much activity for a household. “Where are you?” I ask instead.
“At the airport,” she says breezily.
“Chere, ka m mee explain,” she interrupts. “You know I told you about that program my husband was applying for in the US? Well, he was admitted, and we are travelling today.”
“Heh? Er…hmm…uh…” I stammer, confused and scrambling mentally for a suitable response.
“So, God just worked one kain miracle for us, and the money came somehow. And guess what?” Her excitement seems to have dialed up a notch. “His office gave him study leave with pay for the whole of four years that the program will run –”
“Why are you just telling me this now?” I finally find my voice.
“Nne ehn, everything just happened in a blur. No vex for me, biko.”
“Ok. But I called you severally these past few weeks. Actually, I wanted to know when the child dedication will be. Your lines wouldn’t go through most times, and the few times they went through, you didn’t pick up.”
“Yeah, it was all bad timing. And I kept saying, ‘I’ll call you, I’ll call you’, and kept forgetting. I just didn’t want to leave the country without letting you know. Biko, iwe ewena gi, my sister.”
“Well…okay, ngwanu, safe journey. Congratulations oh! Send my regards to your husband,” I say tepidly.
“Which state are you people traveling to?”
In the background, I can now make out the sound of a female voice announcing flights through the public address system. I feel a wave of inexplicable despondency surge through me as I reiterate, “Okay, safe journey and congrats again.”
“Thank you, my dear. Don’t worry, my brother Obiora might be getting married in some months’ time. Amam ihe ya na oyi ya nwanyi n’eme di sef. Once the wedding is set, I will land back in Nigeria and we can catch up, inugo?”
“Ngwanu, I have to go now. I will call you once we settle.” And she clicks off.
A cursory glance at my phone at the just-concluded call informs me that it is ten minutes past 7am. I lift Gabby and take him to the parlour while I dial my husband to come out for prayers, all the while wondering why Ijeoma would keep such a thing as relocation to the US, however temporary, from me. I understand that some people keep such things secret due to the fear of bad people with bad intentions. But why would Ijeoma keep such good news from me?
She probably sees you as a possible bad person with bad intentions, I think wryly. The brief chuckle that escapes my lips at the thought dispels some of the hurt I felt after the call.
“Unu adigo ready?” my husband’s voice snaps me out of my rumination.
“Ehn,” I reply, firmly putting Ijeoma out of my mind. “Good morning, dear,” I turn to say to my husband, as he emerges into the sitting room.
Yesterday, Mercy invited ‘the girls’ for lunch at Celebrities by noon today. The girls would be me, Chinwe and Mimi. According to Chinwe, who called me to secure my attendance, Mercy wants to celebrate some good news with us.
Considering the fact that Mercy and Chinwe are working class, and that I have to go pick Gabby up at 1pm, I keep to time. Just as I am locking up my car door after pulling up in the parking lot of the eatery, I see Chinwe and Mimi greeting each other at the entrance to the building.
“Right on time,” I mutter to myself, hoping that Mercy is already seated inside, so that we won’t waste too much time.
They spot me just as they are about to walk into the eatery, and stop for me to get to them. We walk in together amidst some chatter and laughter.
“I just called Mercy,” Mimi informs us. “She is about to leave her office.”
“Ok then, let’s sit and wait for her,” I say, spotting a free table and waving a hand at it.
“How is my Gabby?” Chinwe asks, as we settle into the chairs surrounding the table.
“He’s fine oh!” I say, beaming.
“That boy is so well-behaved,” she gushes. “I hope you’re writing down every detail of how you’re training him? I will need it for later.” She winks at me before continuing on at Mimi, “If you see the way he greeted Ebuka that night ehn!” Mimicking the tiny voice of a child, she says, “Good morning shaa!”
The two of them chuckle at Chinwe’s theatric, while I smile on.
“How old is he sef?” Mimi asks.
“He’ll be thirty-three months by the 12th of this month,” I reply.
“Did you keep him at NK’s again today?” Chinwe asks.
“Ha! No o!” I answer more sharply than I meant to. “I mean, their school resumed today,” I explain, modulating my voice.
“Why? Did you quarrel with Nkaiso?” Chinwe asks, picking up on my sharp denial.
“No. Not really sha.”
“Can I take your orders?” a waiter says just then.
We look up at the slenderly-built, uniformed young man who had materialized to our side.
“Actually, we’re waiting for someone,” Chinwe says, “but just get us drinks. Coke for me.”
“Coke for me too,” I say.
“Do you have that H2O Seven-up?” Mimi asks.
“Yes ma,” the waiter replies.
“Ok, I’ll have that.”
“Ok. I’ll be right back with your orders.” And he leaves.
“So, what happened?” Chinwe queries once the waiter is out of earshot.
“Well, let me run this by you guys, let me see if you can interpret it,” I start. At their nods, I continue, “So, as I was coming out of Nkaiso’s place that evening of Mercy’s birthday party, I ran into her husband. And Gabby refused to greet him, not even when I asked him to. Then immediately we went our separate ways, Gabby pointed at him and said to me, ‘He spoil it…he spoil bobo.’ Now, Bobo is his favorite teddy, which he took to Nkaiso’s house one of the days I dropped him off there, and he didn’t come back with it.”
“Hian! It’s just baby talk now! It doesn’t mean anything, biko,” Mimi pipes up.
“Abi?” I concur, before adding, “But then, it’s suspicious jaré!” Remembering another incident, I say, “Ehen! That same evening, before I left with Gabby, I was conversing with Nkaiso in the parlour, while her help packed up Gabby’s stuff for me. Her children were playing in the verandah. Then, like a flash, they all ran back into the parlour and straight out to their rooms. Before I knew what was going on, Nkaiso was all but pushing me out of the house, only for me to jam the oga at the staircase. And that made me think they are scared to death of him.”
The waiter appears with our drinks, serves them and leaves.
“Well, you may be right in thinking that,” Mimi starts, picking up the thread of our conversation. “Most kids are scared of their fathers, especially when the dad is a very strict person. Besides, what is a grown man’s own with a child’s teddy?”
“Hmm…” Chinwe hums. “I hope it’s not what I’m thinking o!”
“What are you thinking?” Mimi and I chorus.
“I was reading something on the internet about people that defile teddy bears. Tedophiles, they called them.”
“Chinwe!” Mimi gasps.
“No, seriously! One man was caught, on a teddy shop’s camera, defiling a teddy bear. The teddy was found on its side with semen trailing from its butt.”
“CHINWE!” Mimi and I say in unison this time.
“Biko, stop that joke joor!” Mimi says, laughing. “Inukwa! No be only tedophile. Super Ted nko?”
“Well, at least we know something worse than being gay or having a gay boyfriend,” Chinwe says, taking a sip of her drink.
“I hope you’re still not on about Mercy’s boyfriend,” Mimi warns.
Feeling a sudden premonition, I reach forward with my foot to stomp on Chinwe’s, in a desperate and covert attempt to warn her to keep her mouth shut.
“Of course I am! Ada didn’t tell you what she saw when she went inside to pee?” And that is when my foot finds her. “Ouch! What was that for?” she remonstrates at me.
“What part of ‘Keep it to yourself’ didn’t you get?” I snap at her, very vexed.
“Ewo! I thought Mimi was in the know,” she says, wide-eyed.
“Well, thanks to you, now she does,” I snap again, throwing my hands in the air.
“Ahn, relax now! She won’t tell anybody. Right, Mimi?” She turns to Mimi.
“Tell anybody what? What are you two blathering about?” Mimi divides a mildly curious look between Chinwe and me.
“Nothing, just nothing,” I say.
“Whatever it is, I hope we’re telling Mercy,” she returns.
“Sorry to keep you ladies waiting!” a voice interrupts, causing us all to startle.
“Hey! You’re here!” Chinwe finds her voice first with a smile too bright.
“Yes, I am here,” Mercy says, “and I brought this…” – she takes her hand out of her hand-bag, producing a bottle of Chardonnay – “to celebrate my good news.” She sing-songs that last part as she takes her seat at the table.
“Wow!” Mimi enthuses, taking the bottle of wine from her and examining it. “What’s this good news?” she asks, her eyes still on the bottle.
“Boom!” Mercy says, displaying the fingers of her left hand.
Absolute silence instantly descends upon us as we beheld the huge rock on her third finger. It is quite the sparkler, a gold band upon which is nestled a small crest of tiny diamonds. I catch sight of the horror on Chinwe’s face, and suspect the expression must be duplicated on mine.
“If you guys had waited for the dance, you’d have seen it happen,” Mercy prattles on, oblivious to the sudden tension eddying around us. “Immediately after the dance, Dubem got on his knees and…” Her voice and smile fades just a little as she observes us.
“You guys don’t look happy,” she says accusingly.
“We are!” Chinwe chirps. “We’re just surprised, you know…pleasantly surprised.”
“No. This…” – she gestures at our faces – “is not the look of surprise. It’s more like fear or alarm, not surprise, and certainly not the pleasant kind.”
“We have to tell her!” Mimi declares.
“No…” I hiss in a low tone.
“We have to!” Mimi’s eyes begin to sparkle with righteous indignation at me.
“Tell me what?!” Mercy almost screams, drawing the attention of the occupants of the surrounding tables.
“No, Mimi, don’t do this,” I warn.
“Chidubem is gay,” she goes ahead to blurt. “Ada says she caught him.”
A few seconds of stunned silence sag down at the table.
Then, Mercy turns a seething expression to me. “Ada, right? Of course, it had to be Ada!” Her voice rises by the decibel with every sentence. “It had to be you! Where and when did you see him? You are just a jealous bitch! Guess what? You cannot spoil my happiness! And to think I invited you to come celebrate with me!” Her voice breaks then.
Mimi rushes to her side to rub her arms comfortingly. “Mercy, I think you should hear her out, and then decide if she’s lying. You can’t just conclude like that now!”
“Where did you see Dubem?” Mercy says waspishly to me.
“I… I…” I clear my clogged throat as my eyes suddenly begin to fill with tears – tears of anger, fear and betrayal. If only Chinwe had kept her big mouth shut! Gathering my wits, I continue in a stronger voice, “Whether you believe me or not is immaterial. But I saw him with Chetanna when I was looking for the restroom.”
“You saw them doing what?” Mercy snaps. It is clear from her expression that she is looking desperately for some denial to cling to.
I exhale and proceed to snip those last threads. “I saw them kissing.”
Mercy’s eyes flutter shut and a visible shudder runs through her body.
“But why would you hide such a thing from your friend?” Mimi instantly turns on me. “What kind of friend are you anyway? So, you’d let her go ahead and marry a gay man, because of what, eh, Ada? Truly, I am disappointed in you. Your kind of person can be poisonous!”
“My friend, shut up your mouth there!” I round on her, my eyes flashing. “If you don’t understand the history and geography of something, just shut up your stinking mouth, you complete suck-up!”
Mimi draws back, the force of my rebuke startling her out of her indignation. Even Mercy opens her eyes to stare at me, momentarily surprised out of her grief. A few faces from the other tables turn toward us with decided curiosity.
At the silence that ensued after my outburst, I continue with muted fury, this time addressing Mercy, “Chidubem sent me a threatening sms on Saturday.” Fiddling with my phone, I say, “Madam, shebi you know your boyfriend’s number? Well, here – take and read!” I shove my phone to her face.
She takes my phone and her eyes skim the digital page for a short moment. Then she drops my phone with a clatter on the table, gets to her feet and stomps out of the eatery. Mimi scurries after her.
“Well, that happened,” Chinwe says some moments after their departure, as she reaches for the wine bottle.
“Yeah!” I reply, my eyes shooting daggers at her. “All thanks to your big mouth!” Hissing, I rise to leave.
The waiter rushes to our table. “Aunty, please, who is paying for your drinks?” he asks.
“Don’t worry, I will pay,” Chinwe cuts in, reaching for her wallet.
“Whatever!” I say curtly, before making my own exit from the eatery.
GLOSSARY: Chere, ka m mee explain – Wait, let me explain
Biko, iwe ewena gi – Please do not be angry
Amam ihe ya na oyi ya nwanyi n’eme di sef – I don’t even know what he’s doing with his girlfriend.
Unu adigo ready? – Are you ready?
Written by Adaku J