It is my birthday today, and I am so psyched about our get together at Oakland today. Even though my husband still travelled like he planned, he gave me some money to sponsor out meet. I am glad we made up.
I invited Nkaiso, Ijeoma, Chinwe and Mimi. Nkaiso is coming with her brood of four (her kids and their minder), Mimi is coming with her son and his minder, Ijeoma is coming with her swollen tummy. I know what I’m talking about. Her tummy at six months is as huge as a nine-month-old twins tummy! Lol! I’m exaggerating a little joor. Chinwe is coming with her pretty self. So, totally, we have five adults and seven kids, counting myself and Gabby.
Oakland is loads of fun! There is nothing like being surrounded by friends. We have suya and five alive berry blast. The kids have ice cream and cookies. We ride on all the swings at Oakland. I am exhausted and heady with excitement as I walk to one of the benches and sit down. Nkaiso and Ijeoma join me, while Chinwe and Mimi stayed closer, monitoring the kids as they play on the mown green grass.
As we sit on the bench, our gist move back and forth from Ijeoma’s already kicking foetus – and we take turns to feel her tummy for the kicks – to comparing pregnancy experiences and parenting tips, with Nkaiso giving most of the motherly advice from her wealth of experience, and Ijeoma and I drinking it up like fresh water to thirsty souls.
I chat about Gabby’s recent illness, and Ijeoma, remembering that I owe her the make-up gist, pipes up, “Ehen, how did the Onyinye matter get settled?” She realizes, just as she says it, that there is a third party. She slaps her palm over her mouth, with her eyes widening and her expression directed at me apologetic.
“Don’t worry,” I say, nodding at Nkaiso. “She knows.”
“OK. Oya, out with it,” she says, her relief evident on her face.
“Well,” I start, “I came right out and asked, and he said there was nothing between them. Or any other woman except me.”
They keep looking at me with expectant expressions.
“The end,” I said, shrugging.
“Just that?!” Ijeoma almost screams. “Just that? No explanation? What were they gisting and laughing about?”
“Does it matter?” Nkaiso answers her in her ever gentle voice. “He said there is nothing, she should take his word for it.”
“Hmmm?” Ijeoma looks disappointed. “At least, he should have said what they were talking about, so that she’ll be convinced enough to” – she makes quotation marks with her fingers in the air – “‘take his word for it’.”
There are a few seconds of silence in which I silently pray Nkaiso will not take offence at Ijeoma’s sarcasm. Nkaiso remains unperturbed.
“So, who is Wendy?” Ijeoma directs the question at me.
“I don’t know,” I answer, fiddling with my phone, silently berating myself for being too gullible. For accepting a simple explanation for something so complicated.
“Well,” she said, “we’re finding out right now.” I look up, to her outstretched arm, and wonder what she means. At the question on my face, she says, “Oh no! Don’t tell me you deleted Wendy’s number in total ‘taking of word’.” She makes those finger quotation marks again.
“Will you stop that?” I said, slapping down her hands. “You don’t care that you may be hurting someone’s feelings?” I looked apologetically at Nkaiso.
“No oh! No problems!” Nkaiso says with a sincere laugh.
“My apologies,” Ijeoma says, directing her contrite gaze to Nkaiso. Then, she looks at me again with her arm outstretched. I hand her the phone.
“Who is Wendy?” Nkaiso asks as Ijeoma fiddles with my phone.
“I saw a number written on a piece of paper, in Onyinye’s handwriting. The name on the paper is Wendy,” I explain.
“And you took the number?” she asks.
“That was wrong, right?” I say.
Ijeoma rolls her eyes. “That was RIGHT.” She stresses the last word. “What did you even save the number with?”
“Home wrecker,” I deadpan.
We all laugh, as Ijeoma dials the number. After several seconds she says, “Ahh! Not available. Let me try again.”
“Maybe we should just drop this. I will ask my husband about it when he com–”
“It’s ringing!” Ijeoma bursts out, holding up her index finger to shush me.
“Put it on speaker phone,” Nkaiso whispers.
We wait and the call rings out. No one answers.
I gently but firmly take my phone from Ijeoma. “Ozugo, biko, I don’t want to know who she is. I will ask my husband when he comes back.”
Mimi walks up to where we are seated. “I need to get home soon,” she says. “My husband will be back in the next one hour, and I haven’t made dinner yet.”
I look at my phone to check the time, as I did not wear a wristwatch. It is 3:02pm. Just then, my phone rings.
“Oh my God! Wendy is calling back!” I exclaim, flustered.
“Calm down, just calm down,” comes Nkaiso’s calm voice. “You have to take the call. Just be calm.”
I put the call on speaker phone. “Hello?”
“He-lloo,” comes a cheery female voice. “Am I speaking with Mrs. Adaku Ugwu?”
“Yes you are. Who are you?” I ask, bracing myself to sound antagonistic.
“This is Wendy, calling from 92.5 Dream FM, Enugu. Today is your birthday, right?”
The woman on the end immediately launches into a rendition of ‘Happy birthday to you’, with a male voice in the background making it a duet.
Mimi screeches, “Oh my God!”
Chinwe and the kids come running to know what is going on.
“Thank you!” I singsonged when they are done. I am getting excited.
“Your husband says to tell you happy birthday, that he loves you. He says to tell you that you are the best thing that ever happened to him. He also says to tell you thank you for being there for him.”
“Oh…” I mumble, speechless. Tears are beginning to prick the corners of my eyes.
“So, how do you feel, Adaku?” Wendy asks.
“I feel so happy, and special, and important, and loved. I am here with my friends, and they heard it all…” I sniff. The tears are dropping in tiny driblets now. “I just feel so special…” I laugh briefly through the tears, and sniff again. “In short, I don’t know what to say…”
Wendy chuckles. “You’ve said plenty already.” She laughs again. “Happy birthday once again, Adaku. Have a pleasant day.”
“Thank you,” I say, and the call ends.
My friends scream in delight at the same time, and as I am about to get up, they knock me back on the bench with a group hug, amidst peals of laughter. When we sober up, Nkaiso looks at Ijeoma pointedly and says, “Well, now you know who Wendy is.”
She joins Ijeoma and me in another round of laughter, and yet another round, this time at the question marks popping out of Chinwe’s and Mimi’s heads.
Chinwe says she has to go. Mimi too. Ijeoma also has to get going, as her house is the furthest. Since I have nothing to do at home, and my husband is away, I allow Nkaiso to convince me to follow her to her house.
Nkaiso had offered to help bathe Gabby along with her children immediately we got to her home. Thankfully, I had packed an extra set of clothing for him, which he changes into after the bath. He plays with Nkaiso’s kids in their room, while my friend and I chat away in the kitchen as she prepares dinner, with her help darting in and out of the kitchen on small errands.
We eat a delicious meal of moi-moi, made with coconut milk and wrapped with leaves. It is 5:30pm, and Gabby has fallen into an exhausted slumber. I announce my intention to go home. Nkaiso takes me to the guest room and shows me the gift she got me for my birthday, a black sequined top. She makes me wear it home, because, according to her, it fit me so much, that I should not have to take it off just yet. I decide to humor her.
As I drive into my compound, I wearily think of a nice soak in the tub and bed. I get into the house through the kitchen door, carrying Gabby’s half-asleep form in my arms, and I go straight to his room, where I unclothe him from his street clothes, and dress him in his night wear.
I am on my way to my bedroom, when I hear a song playing faintly in the sitting room. I try to remember if I left the stereo on before leaving the house, as I make my way to the parlour to switch it off. I step in, and feeling along the wall, I flick on the switch.
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” comes a chorus of voices.
I blink with no small amount of startle. Then I look around at my surrounding, at the smiling faces, at the two identical bags on the dining table – one of which, I will later discover contains the cake – surrounded by a tray of fried chicken, bottles of wine and a number of wine glasses. Standing behind the table and grinning mischievously is my husband. There are six other people – Nkaiso and her husband, Ijeoma and her husband, and Onyinye standing and grinning beside a young man who looks eerily like her.
My surprise gives way to laughter, as I move quickly to my husband and hug him.
Then I turn to Nkaiso and Ijeoma with mock annoyance. “You guys couldn’t even give me a hint! You both can kill a man without spilling blood, you know?”
They laugh as we hug. I turn to Onyinye, and introduce her to them. Nkaiso greets her first, with an open smile and a hug, and I watch in amusement as Ijeoma’s face betrays her inner battle on whether to greet the other woman warmly or curtly.
“Adaku – Adaku Chukwudobe…”
All attention is drawn to the voice. It is that of the young man with Onyinye.
“Who told you my maiden name?” I ask, incredulous.
“You don’t remember me, do you? Nnamdi Okeke.” He grins widely.
Memories come flooding back instantly. I attended Command Day Primary School for two years before I was transferred to University Primary School, because of the car pooling our neighbours back then did. My parents thought it was safer going to school and coming back with someone that also had something to lose in the event of an accident behind the wheels, than going with a school bus. Nnamdi was my seat neighbor in both Primary 1E and 2E, and I used to call him ‘slow poison.’ He was full of pranks and practical jokes, but until he played one on you, you’d never believe that he could hurt a fly. I really disliked him back then. We heard that he had a twin – Onyinye, who was in Primary 1B, because their parents preferred that they stay in different classes.
Presently, the first thing I think to say is, “Ooohhh! So that us why you look so familiar?”
Written by Adaku J.