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TUESDAY, 15TH JULY 2014
“Pauline, please open the door. I beg you in the name of God.” Mrs. Adesuwa stood outside Pauline’s bedroom, carrying a tray of food. “You have locked yourself up since you arrived yesterday and have not eaten anything. Do you want to die in my house?”
There was no response.
She turned to her husband who was eating his food and watching the television. “Come and help me talk to your daughter, please. Maybe she will listen to you. I cannot bear that she has not eaten since yesterday.”
Her husband glanced at her. “When she is hungry, she will come out.”
“You cannot just say that. You have to tell her to come out and eat now. She needs to eat. It has been twenty four hours now.” The disillusioned mother dropped the tray and sat down beside her husband of thirty five years. “Have you tried to call her husband? He has not been picking my own calls o! That foolish boy will regret doing this to my daughter.”
Her husband kept eating without saying a word.
Mrs. Adesuwa was agitated already, but the way her husband sometimes ignored her made her really annoyed. And sometimes she found it hard not to react. “Oko mi, I am talking to you now. Why do you always do as if I do not exist? As if what I say is nonsense.”
Her husband, obviously fed up, jumped to his feet. “This woman, what else do you want me to do? Should I go and break the door down, drag Pauline out and force the food into her mouth? You already said her husband did not pick your calls. Should I travel down to Lagos and drag him here so you can beat him up?”
“That is not how I mean it.”
“Then how else do you mean it?” He shouted at her, very tired of her troubles. “If Pauline had listened to me from the start, we will not be having this problem today. Sometimes when we old people speak, the young ones think we are foolish. When problems now arise because of their own foolishness, they start running back to us for help. Let her remain there and not eat. Like I said, when the hunger has nearly killed her, she will come out.” He sat down and continued eating his food.
Mrs. Adesuwa sighed sadly. It was clear her husband was not going to render any emotional support. She stood up and walked towards the bedroom again. “Pauline. Please answer me.”
“Mama, please leave me alone.” The voice on the other side of the door was clear but sounded weak.
“But you have not eaten since yesterday.”
“I am not hungry.”
“Okay. Just open the door and let me in. I even have some fresh clothes for you. You should change from that one on you.”
There was a bit of silence before the lock turned. Mrs. Adesuwa quickly picked up the clean clothes she had placed earlier beside the door. When she saw the state of her daughter, she almost cried. “Ah! Omo mi!”
“I am fine, Mama. Just give me the clothes.”
“But you don’t look fine. Maybe you should clean up and come outside for some fresh air. I also cooked your favourite food. See.” She pointed at the tray. “Yam and egg.”
Pauline looked at her mother, pitying her. The woman was trying all she could to make her feel better, but right now, nothing, no one could change what had happened. “Thank you for your effort.” She saw her father eating and ignoring them. “Good morning, Papa.”
“You are supposed to be greeting your husband this morning, not me.” He said in low tone, but clear enough for everyone not to ignore the sarcasm accompanying his words.
Her mother rose to her defense, speaking to her husband. “You are not helping the situation.”
“If you think I am going to pat and rub her back for her failed marriage, then you must be dreaming. She laid her bed. She must lie on it.”
Pauline could not say a word. She knew coming to her parent’s place would result to this. Her father would not stop letting her know how much it served her right to disobey him when she should have listened. She faced her mother, taking the clothes from her. “Thank you, Mama. Let me freshen up.”
“And eat too.” Her mother carried the tray and entered the room without seeking her permission.
“When you are done crying your eyes out, you will pick all you came with and return to your husband’s house where you should be.” Papa stared hard at his daughter. “You are not welcome under my roof.”
Pauline could not reply, stifling the tears in her throat as she closed her bedroom door. Why must Papa do that, make her sink lower than she already felt? This was the only place she could turn to, the only place she had thought she would find some comfort. And now, she was being turned away.
“Don’t mind your father. He is just being hard for no reason.” Her mother held her shoulders. “This place is your home too and you did nothing wrong coming here.” Her eyes strayed to her daughter’s scarred hands. “So, he and his new wife did this to you?”
“I don’t want to discuss this now, Mama.” Pauline started undressing.
“But you cannot hide from your troubles. We have to discuss and find a solution.”
“Not now, Mama, please.” The least thing Pauline needed now was her mother smothering her with possible solutions to a problem that could never be solved. Her marriage was over! Couldn’t Mama just understand that? Standing in only her underwear, Pauline handed her dirty clothes to her mother. “You should not waste your time bothering over what is lost.”
“But… but if only I can talk to your husband. He has not been picking my calls.”
“You have been trying whose number?” Pauline was furious. How could Mama do such a thing without her consent? “I didn’t ask you to. Do you want him to think I am begging him to take me back? He is the one that should be begging me instead. He is the one cheated!”
“There is no but, Mama. I cannot even believe you would try calling him at all. Please leave me alone.”
Mama didn’t understand why her daughter would be angry at her. After all, she was only trying to help. “But I ….”
“Mama, I beg you in the name of God, leave me alone.” Pauline moved behind the door and opened it. “Go and meet your own husband and leave my life alone.”
Mama’s mouth was open wide in shock. What had she done to deserve this kind of treatment from Pauline? She moved towards the door with the dirty clothes in her hand. “A wise woman builds her own home, but the foolish pulls it down.”
“So now, I am foolish, abi? Please just leave. I see my coming down here is a mistake.”
As Mama got to the door, she stopped, looking very remorseful. “I didn’t mean it that way, ma binu. No marriage is perfect, child. I have been in it for almost forty years now and I can authoritatively say marriage is not an easy journey. Do you know how many times I thought of leaving your father?”
“So, what kept you waiting all these years then?” Pauline asked, getting impatient with this unnecessary talk.
Mama stared into her daughter’s eyes. “You.”
“The time I would have left was when that terrible incident happened to you. I could not add to the problem already plaguing our family. So I chose to say. Because of you. You needed me more than ever and I needed to put you first before myself.” Mama sighed deeply. “Don’t get me wrong. I do not regret my decision. But sometimes, things happen in our lives that will require us to make some hard decisions. Decisions like staying back to fight for what is yours.”
Her words sliced through Pauline’s heart like an arrow. Staying back to fight for what was hers? Was there anything left in her marriage to George that she really wanted to stay back and fight for? There was no child to bind them together. George did not even love her anymore, and she doubted if she did love him like before, but this same man had sounded very remorseful on the phone and had come to look for her in the hospital. Didn’t that count for something? That perhaps he wanted to make amends? She shook her head. No, he did not come to make amends, because if he did, he would have been patient enough to have waited for an explanation when he found her in another man’s arms. Instead, he had stormed out like an angry bull and told her never to return home. There was nothing for her to fight for.
“Thank you, Mama, for staying back for me.” Pauline tried to close the door. “But because it worked for you does not mean it will work for me.”
Mama just shook her head with pity displaced across her face as she stepped out of the room. As soon as she stepped out, Pauline dashed straight for her phone. She sat on the bed and scrolled down her contact list to a number she had collected from one of her colleagues in the office some months ago. She dialed the number and waited for the caller to pick.
“Good morning, please am I on to Mr. Stephen?”
The picker responded.
Pauline’s hand trembled lightly. “I understand your firm deals extensively with divorce matters. Please can you explain to me how I can start the process?”
Pauline’s heart beat faster as she listened carefully to the lawyer, each word sounding like a death sentence. “Okay, how soon can I sign the forms?”
9:30am – Lola Williams’ Office
“So once we are able to reach our target audience effectively with this social media campaign, the other parts will be a walk in the park.” The young Marketing Executive, looking immaculate in his navy blue suit, looked round the room checking for approval on the faces on the Committee members. He especially was interested in one face – that of the Director of the Company.
Mrs. Lola Williams snapped out of her reverie when the sound of claps stormed her ears. She looked up to see the expectant face of the young Executive fixed on hers as if he was expecting her to clap as well. Quickly, she fixed a smile on her face and the man relaxed. Truth was she could not recall his presentation. He had hardly started before her attention drifted. Since last night, she had been trying to reach Charles, but he never picked, only for her to wake up this morning to get a text message from him stating he would call her within the hour. That was four hours ago and still no call. Maybe he was busy, she kept telling herself, but with every passing minute, she knew he may never call at all. Every time her phone blinked, she would nearly jump out of her skin, thinking it was her son only for her to be disappointed over and over again. She desperately needed to talk to him, to beg him to come home, to tell him of what she had been hiding from him, of the disease that could take her life if he chose to ignore her plea.
“So, what do you think, Ma? Do you like the overall campaign strategy?” Rose, her Personal Assistant and Secretary in the Committee, whispered into her ears. “I think it’s a very good one.”
“If you think so, Rose, then it must be.” Lola replied with a wave of her hand. As hard as she tried to hide her lack of enthusiasm, she couldn’t. There was a heavier matter on her mind right now. She stood up with a forced smile pasted across her face. “Good job everyone. Let’s take a break and have a final discussion tomorrow, okay?”
The group dispersed, leaving her and Rose in the Board Room.
“Are you okay, Ma? You look like your mind was far away throughout the meeting.” Rose asked kindly as she packed up all the paper work.
“I am fine, Rose. Thank you.” Lola replied sweetly.
Her phone rang and she nearly screamed when she saw who the caller was. She immediately instructed Rose curtly. “Can you excuse me, please? I need to take this call privately.”
Rose quickly packed what was left and hurried out of the room. If her boss just told her she was fine, the way she had reacted to that phone call proved otherwise.
Immediately Rose shut the door after her, Pauline clicked the green button. “Charles! Is this the ‘within the hour’ you promised?”
“Hi, Mum. Why the attack? I just got to the office now.” Charles did not sound pleased. “Why do you always make me feel like I make a mistake anytime I call you?”
“Anytime you call me? And who is supposed to be the one angry here? I have been calling you since yesterday and you refused to pick my calls.”
“I was on shift and had multiple surgeries to do. I didn’t even know where my phone was until this morning and the first thing I did when I located it was to send you a message.”
“Yes. That you would call me ‘within the hour.” Lola stressed the last three words emphatically.
“Well, I dozed off. I was very tired.”
“But why are you doing this to me, Charles?” Lola tried to hold back the tears.
“Doing what to you again? Mum, you know how terrible this place is, how I have to work tooth and nail to feed my family and the useless government. If I do not pick your calls does not mean that I intentionally did not want to pick, but that I am busy to even notice the phone ring.”
“But that’s terrible! That isn’t even a life. If you had listened to your father and I about your taking over the family business, maybe you would not have to work this hard to have a good life.”
“Oh! Drop this, Mum! Is this what your calling me is all about? To try again to convince me to give up my own dreams and continue my father’s?”
Lola cleared her throat. “Well, that is part of it.”
“Well, that one will not work and if the other part is to beg me to come home so you can see my face, I am sorry that may not work again. At least for now.”
Lola was confused. “But… but you said you would come home next month.”
“Well, I tried to work on my schedule, but I found out that my coming home next month may not be as possible as I thought. I discovered there are some major surgeries that have been booked next month and the people are relying on me. I cannot disappoint them.”
“But you can disappoint your mother?” Lola was disillusioned as she paced from one end of the room to the other. “I guess your mother isn’t as important as your patients then.”
“Don’t play with my emotions, Mum. You know how much you are important to me and how much I love you.”
“Then prove it.”
“Yes, I will. That is why I have called Aunty Ope to come and stay with you for a while.”
“You called your father’s younger sister to come and stay with me?” Lola hit hard on the wall with her bare hand. “Is she my son? And did I tell you I do not have enough capable hands to take care of me?”
“Those capable hands are not family. Aunty Ope is family. She will take my place till I visit. I trust her.”
Lola clamped her lips together, shutting off the lethal words that were at the tip of her tongue. How dared he call her in-law into this matter? She asked him for proof of his love for her and this was the best he could do? “Just as you called your Aunt the first time, you will call her again and tell her not to step a foot into my house, you hear me? I don’t want to see her in any radius of the house.”
“I don’t get you, Mum. You ask for attention and I am giving it to you. Still you are not satisfied. What else do you want from me?”
Lola could not keep the tears back anymore. They spilled down her face without control. “Never mind, Charles.”
“I hate it when you get this way.”
There was a moment of silence on both ends of the line as each tried to make some sense out of the jumble.
After over a minute, Charles spoke. “Mum, are you still there?”
“One of your kidneys.”
“What! I don’t understand.”
“You asked me what else I wanted from you. Can I at least get a kidney since I cannot get your heart?”
Charles burst into a bout of laughter. “You really are funny, mum. The way you weave our talk makes me laugh. I see why dad couldn’t do without you. You have a great sense of humour. Can I call you back later in the day? Something just came up.”
Lola cut the call abruptly, angry that her son would make mockery of her request. How more insensitive could he be? She laid her back against the world, breathing in and out deeply and fighting the pains of rejection she had just received from her own flesh and blood. She scrolled through her phone looking for the details of her lawyer. Once she got it, she dialed his number. It was time she did another amendment to her Will.
“I cannot take care of it. It is your problem.” A woman clad in a neck plunging blouse and skirt that did nothing to cover her nakedness held out a baby wrapped in a filthy cloth.
“You call the baby ‘it’ like she is not a human being?” A man looking very unkempt and disorganized at the news replied.
“If you had used a condom like every normal person, this would not have happened. I have done my part for nine months. It is your turn to do yours. I cannot even give her the life she deserves.”
“How am I sure she is even my child, considering your line of business? She can as well be hundreds of other men’s.”
“Don’t be ridiculous! She is your child. I got pregnant after I slept with you!” The woman dropped the baby carelessly on the bare floor. The baby started crying and she stepped further away from it. “She is your problem now. Don’t call me because you will not find me. I am leaving Lagos and not coming back. I don’t care what you do with her. She is none of my business.” She turned and started walking away.
“Wait, Lorita!” The man chased her. “Where do you think you are going? Come back here, now!”
The cry of the baby became louder and the man had to stop chasing and walked back to the baby. She looked very dirty like she had not been bathed for days. He bent down and picked her and she wailed even more, the splitting sound causing some ache in his head.
“You little imp!” He spat on the child. “You have come to make my life a living hell. You will regret this.”
As if on cue, the baby cried the more and the man thought about leaving her on the lonely, dark road to die. The slut had claimed the baby was his, but he knew that was one in a thousand chances.
“I will keep you for one day. Just one day. And if I find you are more of a trouble than you are already, then I will kill you myself.” He placed the baby on his left shoulder and walked down the street, hoping no one had seen the exchange and regretting ever walking into an hotel ten months ago and meeting the baby’s mother. The woman whom he would never see again.
Bola’s eyes shot open at the voice. She had been having the usual dream she always had. The dream about her mother and how the woman had left her with Baba. Though she was not sure exactly how it happened, but she had pictured it over and over on her mind that it began to look real and had begun to dream about it too. Sometimes she wondered if her mother ever regretted that decision, if she missed her little girl and would ever want to return into her life again. She had said in the dream she would never return. And for many years Bola had waited for her. She never did return. She never would.
“Aunty Bola! You have a call.” Tomiwa handed the ringing phone over to her.
Bola sat up straight on the balcony where she had spent most of the morning, thinking about her life before she eventually fell asleep. “Who is it?” She asked.
“I don’t know.” Tomiwa replied and didn’t wait for more questions before he dashed from the balcony back into living room.
Bola looked at the details and was a bit afraid when she saw ‘no number’. She placed the phone against her ear. “Hello.”
There was a heavy breathing on the other line. “So you think you can just walk away and go scot free, right?”
“Excuse me? Who are you?”
“Your unfinished business.”
Bola tried to stand on her feet. “I don’t know you. Who are you?”
“I sent you to deliver a package and you mess everything up for me. Worse still, you have the police chasing me up and down. You are a fool, girl and you will pay for it.”
Bola stammered, fear completely overtaking her. “Bo…. Bo… Bosco?”
The man laughed sarcastically. “You mean the Bosco you put in the police cell? No, I am not Bosco. I am his boss.”
“Well, some people call me that.”
“What do you want from me?” Bola’s voice trembled. What would this man want with her? She had only met him once at the party Bosco had dragged her to and was not even aware he was also involved in the drug deal. Bosco never mentioned him.
“This isn’t just about what I want from you, but also what you need from me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“My contact told me you were taken into the house of a rich woman, in fact, one of the wealthiest families in the country. Am I right?”
How did he know that? Bola could not imagine how he got to know. “I don’t care what your contact told you. What are you calling me?”
“That means I am right.” The man spoke slowly as if he was in no hurry to end the call. “You see you have something I want and I have something you need.”
“What are you talking about? I don’t have anything with you!” Bola yelled into the phone.
“Are you sure about that?”
“Please leave me alone and don’t call me again!”
“Why don’t you stay calm and listen to what I have to offer.”
“You don’t have anything to offer me. In fact, you are disturbing me right now.”
“Really? How about I tell you that I have your father with me and will kill him right now if you do not do what I need you to do.”
“What!” Everything stood still for Bola. “What… what are you saying?”
“Your stupid father has been captured by my men and is here with me. I will kill him unless you do what I say.”
“You are lying! My father is not with you. Your threat is not going to work.”
“You took what I wanted. Do you know how much that drug exchange would have brought me? Nothing less than N30millin. You hear me, N30million! And you messed everything up for me. If you ever want to see your father again, here is what you will do.”
Bola could hardly concentrate. “I don’t believe you. My father is safe away from you.”
“You think so? Why don’t you speak to him then?”
Bola could hear her heartbeat in her ears. This was not happening at all. To think that when her life was beginning to have a meaning, something like this would come up.
“Bola! Bola!” It was unmistakably Baba’s voice. “I don’t know these men. They just came to pick me up this morning at the beer parlour. Please do whatever they tell you to do. They said they will kill me. Please I don’t want to die.” Baba started crying. “Please…”His voice trailed away.
“You heard him, didn’t you and is he your father or not?” His captor smirked into the phone. “Now, this is what I want you to do if you ever want to see your father again. You hear me??”
Bola visibly trembled as she took in his words one after the other. The sheltered world she thought she finally had began to crumble one brick after the other until everything turned into sinking sand. She clamped her hand over her mouth to shut the shriek at the tip of her tongue. Why would the world turn against her again? Would she ever be free of her dark past? Bitter tears rolled down her cheeks. No, it appeared she would never be free. She would forever be haunted like a fugitive. And after what she had been asked to do, she was afraid she could be more. A fugitive and worse, a traitor to those who she had begun to love.