“Why are you ashamed of me? Why do you treat me as if… as if something is wrong with me?”
“Fumike, we…” her mother feigned a smile.
“You don’t like to be seen with me. You… you don’t want people to know that we are related, why?” she cut in, tears streamed down her face.
Jibike glanced at her husband. He cleared his throat.
“It is not… We just want to…”
“I am fair and slim, why do you punish me for mother nature’s crime?”
“That’s not… Punish you?” Ajibade frowned.
“I watched you treat Foluke and Folake like eggs for years. You treat me like a parasite. It’s not my fault that I look different. You make me feel like I shouldn’t have been born.”
“That’s enough!” nose flared, eyes red. Her words reignited his guilt.
She exhaled with shakes, dropped her head, slouched her shoulders, she headed to her safe haven- her bedroom.
Jibike watched her. They had never been able to come to terms with the fact that she was their daughter. At times, she wondered if God was punishing them for something they couldn’t even remember.
Folake hissed and returned to the sitting room. She cared less.
She walked out of her Supervisor’s office feeling elated. The first chapter of her project had been approved. She hoped to defend her project before the first semester examination. That way, she would be able to concentrate on her studies and hopefully graduate with a first class degree. The vibration of her iphone got her attention. She pulled it out of her brown hand bag and picked the call.
“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you…”
She recognized his voice and started to laugh.
“How old are you now? How old are you now?”
“You sound terrible.”
“I am also a terrible singer.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
She giggled and climbed down the stairs. The white lace skirt swirled above the ankle length brown boots.
“How does it feel to be twenty-three?”
“Don’t know, nothing is happening. Except that my project is moving forward.”
“You sound like a girl.”
“What?! Heavens no! Hell no!”
Tummy aching laughter flooded her.
“I am a full blooded man. Can’t be sounding like your kind, emotional see-saw, wavery beings.”
“What?! Excuse me.”
“Your birthday gift is right here in Abuja.”
“Sinister,” she narrowed her gaze.
“Wicked is good.”
“Since when?” she made her way out of the building.
“When you come to Abuja, you will get your gift.”
“How is my girl?”
She sighed loudly, “Can’t wait to move out of that house.”
“I feel you.”
She boarded one of the cabs heading to the campus gate.
“I saw your sisters’ birthday pictures online.”
“You share the same birth month.”
Yep, but, different dates.”
“Oh… November children.”
She chuckled and alighted from the cab.
“My birthday is three days before Christmas.”
“Old man,” she walked towards her hostel.
“Twenty-nine is a bloke’s age.”
“I am a young…”
“Let me call you back,” she saw a black Range Rover jeep parked at the hostel gate. It belonged to her father.
She took a deep breath and approached the car. Her heart beat erratically. She couldn’t fathom the reason why he came. She hoped all was well.
“Here is the celebrant,” Jibike saw her through the side mirror and got out of the vehicle.
“Birthday girl,” Ajibade climbed out.
She stopped in her tracks when she saw her parents. It was the first time they were visiting her since she got admission into the school.
“Happy birthday!” they chorused and grinned at her. When her blank stare became awkward, her father cleared his throat and dangled a set of car keys.
“We got you a car,” her mother squeaked in excitement.
“A car?” she looked around and saw a deep blue Toyota Camry parked in front of her dad’s vehicle. She glanced back at them wondering if her outburst a few weeks ago initiated the sudden gift.
Were they trying to buy her forgiveness? They had a very long way to go. How do one make up for twenty-three years of neglect? She was glad that they were ready to at least try.
She loaded the bags into the navy blue Toyota Camry one after the other. She closed the boot and wiped the beads of sweat on her forehead with an handkerchief. She planned to drive home that day for the Christmas holiday. Her elder sister’s introduction ceremony, the traditional wedding and the Registry was taking place in two weeks. The twenty-five year old must be estatic. She smiled to herself, locked the car and sauntered into the hostel.
She heard her name and glanced back. The corner of her eye caught the sight of her sisters coming in through the gate. It was the first time that either of them had visited her in school.
She turned around and approached them. Both were clad in knee length sleeveless velvet dresses. The body hugging outfit emphasized their curves and revealed an unreasonable amount of cleavage. The blue, red colour matched their blue and red striped pencil heeled shoes.
Her light brown eyes turned green with envy. She coveted their physique.
“Don’t bother coming home for the holidays,” Folake stood akimbo. She directed her gaze at her younger sister.
“I don’t want my in-laws asking unnecessary questions,” Foluke chimed in. She threw a quick glance at her elder sister.
“Questions?” her puzzled stare met irritated dark ones.
“One look at you and they will assume the worst.”
The fact that her sister didn’t want her at her wedding broke her heart.
“Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately?” Folake eyed her, “You look like a sickle cell patient and dried up like someone with AIDS.”
Her lips parted in shock. She felt pained and fought back the tears stinging her eyes.
“Exactly, my in-laws will just conclude that we have a genetic illness in the family.”
She pressed her lips together and stared at them through blurred vision.
“Just stay off the grid, its my wedding, no one will be allowed to ruin it.”
She remained mum and watched them leave, cat-walking and swirling their hips with each calculative step.
She sat on the leather chair, wet face, red eyes.
“Dad it’s Funmike.”
“How are you dear?”
“Am fine. Daddy, Foluke doesn’t want me at her wedding.”
“Oh… well, you know, it’s her wedding. She is allowed to do whatever makes her happy.”
Her jaw dropped in shock. She couldn’t believe that he would support Foluke, “But I am her sister.”
“Yes, you are, but, you know the way people react when they see you with us.”
She closed her eyes. The ache in her heart magnified.
“My family once accused your mother of having extra marital affairs. The DNA test you did vindicated her.”
She opened her eyes and sighed.
“If our in-laws see you, they might get unnecessarily apprehensive.”
She frowned, “How long are you going to keep hiding me from the world?”
He groaned, “I will credit your account today. Just go on a vacation, okay?”
Her chest tightened in pain. His refusal to acknowledge her before their in-laws and the whole world gnawed at her. It was worse than her elder sister’s rejection.
She sat on her luggage and folded her arms across her chest. She had heard of the harmattan period in the north, but the dry biting cold was worse than she had thought. The thick jean jacket she wore over the long-sleeve red blouse barely kept her warm. Her stiff feet made her eye the red boots with disdain. How did cold air seep in?
She raised her head and saw him walking towards her in a jeans and a white long-sleeve sweat-shirt. He was more handsome than the first time she saw him face to face. The mere sight of him took her breath away.
Dantenimu hurried to her side and helped her up. She looked fairer, prettier and her long big brown shoulder length braids gave her a royalty look. Were his eyes deceiving him? The curvier hips and noticeably fuller bosom meant one thing. She had added a little weight.
He had been ecstatic when she called and asked him to pick her up at the airport. She was in Abuja on vacation. God had indeed given him an early Christmas gift- Funmike Williams.
They got out of the white Jaguar and strode towards the white and brown five bedroom mansion. The compound reminded her of home. She frowned. Her father’s house was far from being a home. It was more or less a roof over her head, a necessary habitat she hoped to leave as soon as she graduated.
Dantenimu opened the door and helped her to carry the bag into the house. She followed him in. The hallway was decorated with framed family photographs.
“Come,” he reached out for her hand, “I think my parents are still awake.”
She met his excited dark eyes. Her tummy turned over in fear. What if they don’t like her? What was a twenty-eight year old man still doing in his father’s house?
She stilled her emotions and allowed him to lead her into the first room in the hall. They sauntered into a beautifully furnished sitting room. White wall, cream curtains, brown rug, coffee brown leather chairs arranged in a semi-circle facing an 80 inch curved flat screen TV. She smiled in appreciation. She liked the room.
“Dad, mum, meet my friend, Funmike Williams,” he held her by the hand.
Two pairs of eyes observed her. She felt like a lab rat under a microscope.
“You are welcome dear,” the dark skinned lanky elderly man grinned at her.
“Thank you sir,” she smiled back at him. He was an older version of Dantenimu.
“How are you doing darling?” the dark skinned slim elderly woman broke into a smile.
Her initial fear disappeared, “I am fine ma.”
“Let’s go girl, goodnight folks,” the curiousity in his parents’ eyes made him grin. He could tell that they wanted to ask questions.
“Goodnight,” she waved at them and allowed him to whisk her out of the room.
“My apartment is behind this mansion,” he carried the luggage outside.
“Really?” she met his gaze.
“I almost moved out years ago, but, I decided to build a house on this land, so that I can watch and take care of my parents.”
“I see…” she wasn’t completely sure of what he meant. She walked behind him, trailing his long strides along the flowery pathway.
“We used to live in Jos.”
Her eyes flew up to meet his distant look. He held her bag in one hand and opened the door to the three bedroom bungalow with the other. She walked in after him.
“We relocated to Abuja many years ago after a life altering tragedy.”
The sad glint in his eyes tugged at her heart.
“My siblings went to church one evening. I had a tummy ache, so I couldn’t go…” he swallowed spittle.
Her concerned gaze remained on his face.
“They… they… a group of Jihadist locked everyone in the church and set the building on fire.”
Overcomed by sorrow, she covered her mouth with both hands and tried not to scream.
“No one… no one survived,” he dropped the bag and staggered to the seatee.
Funmike settled on the chair closest to her. She held his gaze and wished she could make his pain disappear.
“My mother lost her marbles and my father… my father…” he gave a shake of head, tears flowed.
She got up and went to his side. She couldn’t imagine what they must have gone through.
She sat beside him and gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze, “I am so sorry,” she blinked back tears.
“Thanks,” he wiped his wet face with the back of his hand, “We bought this land when we came to Abuja, established Nice Baby Limited and tried to move on.”
She thought she had issues. It dawned on her that Dantenimu and his parents were dealing with something worse.
“We are learning to lean on God and trust in him. He has remained faithful every single day.”
She nodded with understanding.
“How long will you be staying?”
She shrugged, “Maybe till after the wedding.”
His puzzled stare settled on her unhappy face, “Why?”
“She doesn’t want me at her wedding,” she choked with tears, “My parents inclusive,” she began to sob.
“Even if the whole wide world cast you away, God will never, ever leave you or forsake,” he wiped her tears away.
She sniffled and looked back at him.
“I am not going anywhere either,” he smiled at her, “I have two guest rooms, you need to pick one,” he helped her up.
…To be continued