Previously on THE RETURN…
27 Years Ago
The sun was an angry ball in the sky. It scorched, without restraint, those who were unfortunate enough to be moving about on the thoroughfares of Lagos without the shelter of a shade, a roof or the inside of a car. The sun beat down with a ferocity that made the man making his way through the market grateful for the sunglasses he had on, even though he could do nothing about the fine perspiration that filmed his face and dampened his armpits and back. He was however determinedly headed for his destination when he saw her.
The first thing that struck him about her was how vulnerable she looked, like some lost damsel waiting to be swallowed up by the inclement jowls of the metropolis. Following that observation was how good-looking she was. She was beautiful in an aggressive sort of way, in a way that demanded to be noticed, to be acknowledged. Her features – eyes that sloped at the ends and lips that swelled with tantalizing fullness – beckoned to him. They screamed at him: Look how good I am.
He stopped, turned to his right, and swaggered towards her
”You’re not stranded, are you?” he said in his best helpful voice.
She turned to him, arched brows that were naturally sleek and untouched by cosmetics. ”That’s a very bad pick-up line.” She was smiling as she said that.
”No, no, no,” he said, shaking his head as he did. ”You appeared really lost, so I thought I’d offer my help in any way I could.”
She dropped a slightly reflective gaze on him. Her smile still in place, she said, ”That’s very gentlemanly of you.” The smile broadened, revealed a sparkly-white set of teeth.
She is really beautiful, the man said, feeling the blast of that white-toothed smile like the punch of a sumo wrestler.
He nodded briskly in response, making an effort not to appear too excited, not to let her see how she affected him so. ”Chivalry isn’t dead,” he finally said. After a beat, he continued, ”So, in what direction are you going? I could drive you there. My car is right over there.” He pointed to a black Sedan, which was parked a few metres away from where they stood.
”I’m sorry but I can’t tell you,” she declined. ”I’m sure you have more important things to do. Moreover” – she lifted her left hand to flash her ring finger at him, upon which was encircled a gold band – ”help is coming soon.”
It was a not-so subtle attempt at discouraging him, one that he caught on but remained unfazed by. In fact, he found his interest in her suddenly increased.
Is that a challenge? he was going to ask the beautiful woman, but thought better of it.
”I’m not asking you to run away with me,” he joked. ”I’m just asking to help you’.’
”And I’m just saying I don’t need your help.” Her smile remained in place, and yet somehow, it didn’t take the sting off her refusal.
”So, I’m supposed to just do nothing while the sun burns this beautiful skin black?” His own smile took in a roguish glint as he raked her face with his stare.
She threw back her head in a short laugh, enough time for him to appreciate the long column of her light-skinned, unadorned neck.
”Do you always flatter people you’ve just met five minutes after meeting them?” she queried.
”Me ke? Flatter strangers?” he asked as if he couldn’t quite believe she’d ask him such. ”I do not flatter o. Ever!” He shook his head non-stop as if to emphasize his protestation. ”I only speak the truth. And the truth here is – the most beautiful woman I’ve ever come across does not deserve to suffer under this kind of sun.”
”You must not have seen many beautiful women then.”
”Oh, trust me, I have,” he replied with the conviction of one who knew exactly what he was saying. ”Oh, by the way, I’m Dare. And you are?”
As they drove in utter silence, thoughts and questions flew like bullets across the warzone that was his mind. James found himself tottering back to earlier that night. The words of Michael reverberated in his head all over again:
Just how naïve are you?
What kind of father hates his own son like that?
Did it never occur to you?
James felt something shrivel up inside him as Michael’s words slammed into him afresh. He expelled a heavy breath. Of course it had occurred to him – many times even. But he had shaken off the thoughts for as many times as they had come to mind. It couldn’t possibly have been true, he did not want it to be true! What teenager wanted to believe that he wasn’t supposed to be with the people who had brought him up? And so, he denied it, as if denying it would make it untrue, as if by not accepting it he could make void any chances of it being the truth.
He shut his eyes to calm his nerves, but instead, it was his father’s voice he heard in his head. The last words that came out of the old man’s mouth before everything became a blur.
You want to know why I hate you so much? It is because you are a constant reminder of the worst period of my life. Tell me, how is it possible that I could love you? How could I possibly love a bastard like you?
Maybe it was the use of the word ‘bastard’ that threw him into a blind rage. Or maybe it was the sneering way with which the man he’d known until then as father had spat his rejection at him. Perhaps it was the realization that his worst fears had become true. And the fact that he was unwilling to come to terms with it, whatever it was, had pushed him to do something horrible.
He killed the man he once called father.
James turned to face the woman behind the wheel of the car.
His mother! Could he even call her that? Was his entire life to unravel before him as a huge web of nonexistence and lies?
”Why?” he rasped. When she did not respond as her attention was completely on steering the car through the nighttime traffic, he asked again, this time raising his voice a few decibels. ”Why?”
She placed a foot on the brake in response, twisting the steering wheel until she brought the car to a screeching halt on the wayside of the main road. For a brief period, the silence in the car was broken only by the heavy breathing from James.
Cynthia still wouldn’t say anything.
And James, fired by her unresponsiveness, barked, ”I said, WHY!” His voice was strident.
Even though she’d sensed the percolation of his temper in the confines of the car, the harshness and volume of his words startled her, making her jump in her seat. A hand fluttered to her chest as she turned a tremulous stare to her son. Even there, swaddled with the darkness that was only broken by the occasional flashes of the headlights of the moving traffic around them, as she faced the man who sat next to her in the gloom, she could see the look in his eyes – a stare that pierced through the darkness with an intent, a manic intent.
And for the first time in a history of emotions that Cynthia had felt for her son, fear lodged its way into her heart.
She spoke in a low tone, careful not to agitate him any further. ”James, I’m your mother…” she said.
It was not an answer to his question, rather an attempt to placate him. But he was not her son, not really. He was someone completely different, someone that she now feared. And in that moment, all she could think of was to jerk open the door to her car and bolt into the night. But she feared what he’d do to her if he came after and caught up with her.
“Are you sure about that??” he spat at her.
“Well then, mother” – he put a sneering stress on the word – “why did you lie to me all these years?”
”James, I’m sorry –”
”Did you not think I’d find out someday, somehow? For all those years you watched me get punished for an offence I knew nothing of…”
”I’m truly sorry, my baby –”
”Why?” His voice was becoming overawed with emotion.
”I’m so sorry. I just –”
”Stop bloody apologizing!” he roared on top of his voice, simultaneously slamming the compartment that was right in front of his seat.
Cynthia jumped again, letting out an involuntary yelp in the process. Her heartbeat had begun a rapid acceleration, furthered even more as she felt him lean closer to her. She swallowed hard, and braced herself for the worst. It was a moment of acute relief when he simply rested his head on her shoulder and began to sob loudly. She felt his tears wet her shoulder.
“Why, mother… Why…” he sobbed, that plaintive wail hiccupping its way through sobs that seemed like they were being wrenched from his soul.
”Please, baby, forgive me, my boy…” she whispered as she turned to draw him into her embrace. “Forgive me, my boy… Forgive me…”
Written by Tobby