“What happened?” I ask again, hugging Aunty Esther tight as her body is wracked with sobs. “Sorry…sorry…it’s ok…sorry,” I console as I hold her, patiently waiting out her grief.
Eventually, her sobs subside. Then she breaks away from my embrace and trains a red-rimmed gaze on me. “Is it true?” Her voice is husky with the strain of her crying jag. “Is it true? Please, don’t lie to me.” She looks pleadingly at me.
“Is what true? Lie about what?” I flounder, confused.
“That the woman that broke my marriage actually had kids for my husband? Is it true?” Before I can answer, she continues, “I heard all about the wedding, and I went to confront Donatus. He called the police on me. I ran away and came here straight. I’m very tired, and I don’t know who else to unburden my heart to.” Her lower lip trembles as though it is the thread strenuously holding another bout of weeping at bay.
“I’m so sorry about that,” I murmur, not knowing what to say that would be appropriate. “Let’s go inside now.”
She agrees with a nod of her head, and proceeds to walk in through the already open gate, while I get back in my car and drive in.
As I pull into the compound, I see Mercy’s car and I suddenly remember that my friends are already in the house.
“There are some people in the house o,” I say while climbing down from the car as Aunty Esther approaches. At the lift of her brows, I quickly add, “Just my friends, you can still come in.”
“No. I don’t want any strange person in my business,” she declares, shaking her head as well.
“That won’t be a problem. We can go into the guest room and discuss.”
“No,” she demurs. “Let’s just stay outside, in your car, or sit on the steps.”
“Alright,” I say. I reach inside the backseat for Gabby, who has dozed off. I gather him into my arms. “Let me just take him in. I’ll be back out in a minute,” I say to the other woman, before moving toward the front door.
“Welcome, welcome!” Mercy singsongs as I walk into the living room.
“Guess what,” Chinwe interjects almost immediately.
“What?” I ask.
“We agreed that this is a perfect time to pop that Chardonnay,” Mercy squeals.
Ah, yes, the Chardonnay – the wine we were supposed to toast her engagement with is now the wine we’d be toasting her successful break-up with. I chuckle at the irony.
“You guys would have asked me if I kept it,” I say as I settle Gabby’s weight more comfortably against my bosom. “When you all walked out of that eatery that day and left the wine stranded on the table, how would you know if I have it or not.”
“We saw it in the fridge,” Mercy chuckles.
“So, go and put that boy down and bring out your wine glasses,” Chinwe orders.
“Yes ma,” I rejoin, as I move past them toward the inner house.
Inside Gabby’s room, I deftly divest him of his school clothes and leave his singlet and under pants on. Then I set him down on his bed to carry on sleeping. I exit the room and go straight to the kitchen to rinse out three wine glasses. I set the glasses out on a tray, and stop over in the dining room to take the wine bottle out of the fridge.
“Here you go!” I announce as I step out into the sitting room.
“Correct!” Mercy cheers, rising to relieve me of the tray.
I hand it to her and go to close the front door, which I’d left open when I came in. I give a start when I see Aunty Esther sitting on the steps. I’d actually forgotten about her.
“Oh God!” I mutter.
“What’s the matter?” Chinwe asks.
“Nothing…I have a visitor – my husband’s aunt. You guys should go ahead and open the wine, let me attend to her.” Then I step out of the room, shutting the door behind me.
Aunty Esther turns and looks up at me as I approach her.
“So, have you thought of what to do?” I ask when I sit beside her.
“I want my children back,” she declares in a firm, strong voice. “Whatever I have to do to get them back, I will do it.”
“That’s a good idea,” I say, admiring the metamorphosis from the grief-stricken, undecided-looking woman of a few moments ago.
“You know, I have been praying for him to come back to me with our children,” she says wistfully, staring ahead of her at the top verandah of the house on the other side of the street. “I always prayed… But I never stopped to ask myself if I would be happy with him if that happens. And then I heard what happened at Ifeanyi’s wedding.”
“Hmmm,” I hum, not sure what to say, but agreeing with her train of thought.
“Biko, what does a woman want to do with that pig? Tufia!” she spits out.
“No, you don’t need that kind of man at all,” I murmur in concurrence.
“Anyway, thanks for your audience,” she says, suddenly rising and dusting out her behind with her palms.
I rise too.
“I will start looking for a good lawyer,” she says with a deep sigh. “The fact that he’s a lawyer has been a real source of discouragement.”
“There have to be bigger lawyers than him now. I will ask around,” I say, remembering that Chinwe is a lawyer.
“No, please,” she interjects with a quick shake of her head. “I don’t want you to have issues with the family, especially with your husband.”
“Why would I have issues with them? Do they not see what has been going on? Are they not even supposed to help?” I ask, feeling a spark of annoyance at the family that had left this woman to suffer Uncle Donatus’ abuse for so long without any firm interference.
“Hmmm. Nne, there is nobody in that family who supports any woman married into the family o! Not even their women! The men are something else all together!”
Nuh-uh! I think to myself. Not when you count the hawk-nosed woman who exposed Leticia… Well, except she was doing it in the spirit of being mean to the woman about to be married into the family sha.
“…thank your God that your husband is just very different from the men in the Ugwu family character-wise,” Aunty Esther is still speaking. “However it didn’t stop him from taking his uncle’s side when our issues started.”
I stare at her, dumbfounded. I’d had no idea this happened. “Maybe he didn’t know the whole story…” I intone in a bid to excuse my husband.
“It doesn’t matter. What matters is that he is good to you.” She pauses for a heartbeat and stares intently at me just then. “He is good to you, isn’t he?”
“Of course he is!” I affirm. “I am even surprised that he’d support such wrongdoing.”
“Well, like you said, maybe he didn’t know the whole story. But please, don’t tell him I came here or what I said. I can’t risk him exposing my plans to his uncle.”
“No problem. But be rest assured that I will stop at nothing in helping you find a better lawyer than your – er…than Uncle Donatus.” I reach out to squeeze her hand reassuringly.
“Ok. Thanks for everything, Ada. I mean it. You seem to be the only person I can talk to right now. God bless you, my sister.”
“Amen. God bless you too.” I wonder what exactly I have done for Aunty Esther, and subsequently determine to do something to deserve the blessings of God she just invoked on me.
She starts to walk away, and says over her head, “Go and attend to your visitors. Don’t bother with seeing me off.”
I stand and watch Aunty Esther’s retreating behind. I can’t help but say a little prayer for her. I shudder afresh at the thought of the misery she has been through, primary among them being not seeing or being with her own children for years. I swear silently at the monster that Uncle Donatus is.
Slowly, I turn and walk back into the house.
Mercy and Chinwe are pulling their best Beyoncé moves and they shimmy to the tune of Single Ladies playing out of the tiny speakers of Mercy’s phone.
“Hian! Even Chinwe is putting her hands up!” I jeer.
“Ehen! Chinwe is a single lady na!” Chinwe replies, dropping to a seat and breathing hard as Beyoncé wraps up the song.
Mercy turns off her playlist as the opening strains of another song follows after, and she goes to sit too.
“So, what’s up? Why was your husband’s aunt here?” Chinwe asks, lifting her glass and sipping wine.
“That was Uncle Donatus’ wife – or should I say, soon-to-be former wife,” I reply, giving Mercy a meaningful look.
“Who is Uncle Donatus?” she responds with a quizzical expression.
“Uncle Donatus now!” I say with the forcefulness of one trying to jog another’s memory. “Uncle Donatus that got implicated at Ifeanyi’s wedding –”
“Oh my God!” she cuts me off with her exclamation as realization dawns on her.
“Who got implicated? Girls, give me gist joor!” Chinwe interjects.
In a matter of minutes, Mercy and I bring her up to speed on the events of Ifeanyi’s wedding.
“So she’s the lousy swine’s wife?” she asks, an expression of disgust etched on her face.
“Yes,” I reply. “She’s now ready to fight for the custody of her kids.”
“Ehen! It’s now that she’s behaving like a mother!” Chinwe declares. “In fact, I am adopting the case as my official pro bono – if she hasn’t found a lawyer yet, that is.”
“Really?” I burst out, excited. “Because she said she is looking for a good lawyer. You know her husband is a lawyer too. So, she needs someone who can stand up to him in court.”
“Our Head of Chamber, who happens to be a woman, is a senior advocate. She has gone through a divorce and custody battle herself, and these kinds of cases are one of her specialties. Is your aunty’s husband a senior advocate? I’m sure he isn’t. Biko, we are the lawyers for her.”
“I don’t know if he is o,” I say. “But your firm sounds like the best fit for her.”
“It’s easy to find out if he is,” Chinwe says, reaching for her handbag. “What is his full name?” She begins rummaging inside the bag.
“Donatus Ugwu,” I answer. “I don’t know if he has a middle name.”
Chinwe retrieves a diary from the bag with NBA inscribed on it and flicks it open. “It doesn’t matter. What are the chances that there will be more than one Donatus Ugwu who is a lawyer in Enugu State?” She begins to trace her index finger down a page of the diary.
“He is practicing in Ebonyi State o,” I say, wondering what exactly she is looking for in her diary.
“Oh snap!” she heaves, closing the diary. “This list is only for registered lawyers in Enugu State. I would have checked his year of call. Anyway, I’m sure he’s just a local champion, threatening the poor woman with his wig and gown.”
“So, I should call her to come and see your boss?” I ask, feeling very hopeful.
“Yes, please. We’ll be happy to represent her.”
“Are you okay, Mercy?” I turn to ask, just then noticing her quietness.
“I’m just realizing how blessed I am,” she responds in a low voice. “I would have married someone who would cheat on me with a man. How painful would that have been?”
“Very. And don’t you ever forget that whenever you want to start feeling sorry for yourself,” Chinwe says. “All these men sef! Ike gwuru o.”
“Talking about men” – I turn to Chinwe with a slight smile – “what’s up with Ebuka?”
“He’s fine oh. I was supposed to see him yesterday, but I had to cancel because of Mimi. He has been calling since today, but please, I’m still in the hospital. He should give me a break.” She rolls her eyes as she huffs in exasperation.
“Don’t let what you see around discourage you oh!” I admonish. “There are still good men out there.” I divide a look between Chinwe and Mercy. “And Ebuka appears to be one of them. And blowing him off is not fair. It’s better for you to tell him that you’re not interested.” I arch a brow pointedly at Chinwe.
“Don’t look at me, biko!” she says with a laugh. “It’s not that I’m not interested sha o! He actually checks like 80 percent of the boxes for me. But, he’s getting too serious too fast. I’m not ready to marry like today and tomorrow biko.”
“I’m serious, Chi –” I start to say.
“Biko ehn, can I have his phone number?” Mercy interrupts me to ask, wagging the fingers of her right hand at Chinwe.
“Tah! Gerrarahia!” Chinwe storms with a laugh. “Did I say I was done with him?”
“So, you like him then,” Mercy says with a knowing smile. “Why then are you treating him like this? That guy is serious about you oh! And do you know how I know that?”
“How?” both Chinwe and I say in unison.
“Because he didn’t even spare a glance at me that day at the hospital, upon all my flirting with him – I mean, look at me now.” She draws her shoulders back, giving her head a slight toss. Chinwe and I begin to chuckle as she continues, “Any man who isn’t noticing me because he’s into another woman must be serious about her. So, my dear, better don’t miss out on your Ebuka o.”
“Okay, okay!” Chinwe capitulates with a laugh. “I will call him. Y’all can get off my matter.”
Written by Adaku J.