Previously on THE RETURN…
Staying through the funeral to the end was a grueling task for James. The service was at best a bore and at worst unbearable. He tried not to let his ennui show on his face as the pastor, a balding, burly man with a leathery face and a somber voice, spoke endlessly about the vanity of life, and assured them all that Dike Obiorah was now in a better place.
If Hell is a better place, James thought to himself.
When the pastor was done, it was time for the eulogies. His mother, Cynthia, was the first to mount the podium. She wore a flowing, precisely-tailored, ankle-length gown that was as black as charcoal, draping over the woman in a manner that buttressed her countenance as the grieving widow. She gave a speech in a voice that was taut with pent-up emotions, speaking about a husband who, despite his many flaws, was the best she could have ever wished for. She loved her husband dearly, she said. He lived on forever in her heart, she added, and she would forever cherish the memories she had shared with him and the family she made with him. As she said this, her gaze fell and lingered on the four brooding figures seated in the front of the pew reserved for family. At this, Sandra took a handkerchief to her eye and dabbed at moisture. Michael sat, slightly slumped and staring into his open palms, beside his wife who had a comforting hand over his shoulder. And Joseph trembled, visibly shaking with grief that he was struggling to stifle.
Only James sat stoic and stony-faced as his mother delivered the emotion-laden tribute that attempted to make a saint of the devil he’d known.
Sandra, also clad in black that was more stylishly tailored than her mother’s outfit, was up next to talk about her father on behalf of his children. As she spoke in a strong clear voice of the man they had called ‘Dad’, James found himself wondering if she also saw him as one of her father’s children, or if she too – like Michael – had known all the while that he was the result of their mother’s infidelity. He felt uneasy. A glum reminder tugged relentlessly at his mind, bringing him to a constant awareness that he did not belong there, that he had no business being in this place at this moment, mourning a man he’d hated for most of his life.
Yet here he was. It appeared that even in death, his life was connected to the man he had once called father in more ways than he cared to admit. Murdering him had made certain of that.
Sandra’s speech was short and not as poignant as Cynthia’s, but by the end of it, James was sure everyone here was convinced Dike Obiorah had been a great, loving husband and father. And if his reality had not been different, he too would have believed the same.
Soon, the service ended, and as preparations were made to transport the deceased to his place of final rest, James stood on his own, apart from the rest of the crowd. He was a somber image, alone and lost somewhere in the commotion that was his mind. He felt a mixture of dark emotions batter at his mind – foreboding, anxiety, apprehension, and somewhat paradoxically, subtle excitement.
It’s really happening, he thought, permitting himself a wary smile. Soon enough, I’ll see him.
There was a dull ache at the left side of his head – one that escalated and eased just as quickly, at the most random of moments. It was his conversation with his mother that replayed in his head now. Francesca had warned that he should stay as far away from his family as possible without arousing any suspicion. She had advised him to stay only as close as need be. If he was insistent on staying back, he needed to be careful about it. So when his mother had called him a week earlier, right after the questioning he’d endured from the police, he had wrongly assumed that she was calling him once again to bother him with yet another talk about how distant he was and how that wasn’t helping matters. He’d ignored the call. She’d been saying the same things since after that night, and they weren’t what he wanted or needed to hear. He had tried unsuccessfully to obtain information about his biological father from her. Whatever it was she knew about him, she was not forthcoming with. And it had angered him – her apparent unwillingness – so he had resorted to simply ignoring her. He would find his father himself with or without her help. If not, he would simply leave the country as his girlfriend had advised. His dreams of reuniting his family had been crushed anyway.
But then, he had gotten a short text from her.
Please pick up. It’s about your real father, the message read.
That piqued his interest. And he picked up his phone immediately and dialed her number.
“My son…” Cynthia sounded hoarse over the phone.
James could hear the exhaustion in her voice. He felt oddly sad upon hearing her speak. It’s all your fault after all, he’d silently admonished.
“Mum, I’m so –”
“This is not a time for us to be at loggerheads,” she said, interrupting him. “We need to stick together now more than ever.”
James felt a flash of anger that she had clearly made him call her to hear the exact same things he didn’t want to hear. Then just as quickly as the anger spurted to life, it was extinguished under a sudden deluge of forlornness. His voice was breaking as he said, “These last few weeks have been awful, mum. I’m lost…I – I don’t know what to do…it’s all just so confusing…”
“I understand. And I do not hold it against you for avoiding my calls. I have no right to deny you the opportunity to meet your real father. Please come over. We need to talk.”
“I’m sorry, mum, but I can’t,” he demurred, suddenly remembering Francesca’s warning. He wanted nothing to do with that house, if he could help it.
“Why? Why do you refuse to see even me?” Frustration sagged in her voice. “Next week is your father’s funeral –”
“He’s not my father!” James said sharply. “He never was!”
He heard her take in a deep breath, before saying, “Whatever he was, you have to at least be there. There will be no excuse for your absence. The police are investigating his death as a possible murder, this you know. We have to maintain a united front.”
“I thought you wanted to talk about my biological dad,” James snapped, evidently now very angry. His earlier feeling of desolation was gone and his patience was running thin.
“It is. And he’ll be at the funeral.”
And she hung up then.
And now he waited.
A tap on James’s shoulder brought him back to the present. He turned around. The man standing behind him was only a few inches shorter than James. His skinny figure and dry skin was as dark as the hair on his head, which was sprinkled with grey, and the paper maché look of his face gave him a sickly appearance. But the face was fine; even through his unhealthy countenance, it was evident that he was a good looking man, and he stared at James with deep-set eyes positioned under eyebrows that arched thickly above them. The man’s stub nose rested above thin, dark lips. That and the pointy ears on both sides of his face were the confirmation that James needed.
I have his ears and his nose, he thought as his began to feel the thickening of emotion at the back of his throat.
James stared at the father he hadn’t known he had until recently. His eyes rapidly filled and dewed over with tears, and his heart was thumping a feverish beat beneath his ribcage. He opened his mouth and let the word that tormented him for so long drop out of his mouth.
“My son…” the man husked.
And not for the first time in weeks, James wept. But this time, they were good tears. Soothing drops that tasted of family.
Written by Tobi