The Second Wife – Episode 11
© Onyinyechukwu Mbeledogu
Wednesday, 24th March 2004
B.B Briggs & Co
B.B Briggs was on the phone with Dienye. As best man B.B was privileged to plan his best friend’s wedding. Soki’s bride price had been paid on the 28th February and the court wedding and white wedding were fixed for after the Easter holiday which was still close by.
It was weird being a major part of planning Dienye’s wedding given the fact that Dienye had been married to his only sister/sibling. Well, it wasn’t as though the Briggs family was expecting Dienye to spend the rest of his life as a widower. After all, he was still in his thirties and a young man. He had already spent four years mourning his late wife.
No day went by that B.B didn’t miss Nengi. However, her death without a child put pressure on him as the only surviving child of their parents to get married and produce grandchildren. Recently, with Dienye about to get married for the second time, the pressure had increased. They were age mates and Dienye was getting married a second time while B. B. was still a bachelor.
The door to the tastefully furnished office opened and his secretary, a woman in her early thirties walked into the room. She handed him a visitor’s slip. Still listening to Dienye, he looked at the name on the slip.
Oroma Amaewhule! Oroma Amaewhule! He ran the name over and over through his mind. It didn’t ring a bell. Oroma was a popular Ikwerre name but he wasn’t privileged to know anyone by that name, at least not personally. Perhaps she was a client.
‘Head of Chambers,’ he mouthed to Medina, returning the slip to her.
B.B. had been a lawyer for thirteen years and had established his chambers six years after he was called to the Nigerian Bar, after he had returned from his Masters’ programme. His Head of Chambers, Onajite Dehinde-Philips was nine years at the bar and highly competent; a first class graduate from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and the Law School, she also held a Masters’ Degree and was a certified arbitrator. He loved the way her mind worked and found her more than capable of handling things in his absence. She was Itsekiri but married to a Yoruba man.
He was surprised when Medina returned a few minutes later. He arched an eyebrow.
‘Visit is personal,’ she whispered.
Personal! Perhaps someone had sent her to him.
‘Five minutes,’ he mouthed to Medina who nodded and left the office.
‘I have a visitor, bro,’ he told Dienye. ‘If you can stop by the office later, great. If not, let’s meet at home and discuss further on the checklist.’
‘No problem. If you don’t see me in half an hour’s time, then that means we would be meeting in your house.’ Dienye told him. ‘And you had better have a hot plate of onunu waiting by then.’
Five minutes later, the door opened and a tall, slim, fair skinned woman stepped into the office. Her short curly hair and large round earrings reminded him of Soki. The woman was dressed in a pink long sleeved shirt and knee length jean skirt and a pair of black flat shoes.
‘Good afternoon B.B.’ she told him taking the chair he offered her.
He placed her age at somewhere in her mid-twenties.
‘Good afternoon, Miss Amaewhule, please have a seat.’
He rarely attended to persons he didn’t know when it wasn’t for official purposes. In his almost thirty six years, he’d had to deal with all sorts of women ranging from those who wanted to date/marry him to those who just wanted to have babies for him. He was careful so as not to be involved in a scandal especially given the fact that he had recently applied to be a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
‘You may not remember me. It’s been eight years,’ Oroma stated.
Come to think of it, she did look a bit familiar but he wasn’t sure how or where they had met. He wasn’t blessed with Dienye’s photographic memory. Dienye would most likely remember a person he had met for the first time as a toddler, B.B thought with a smile.
‘I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage.’ he told Oroma.
‘We met in Nsukka eight years ago, during Ibierefagha Daniel-Hart’s convocation party. Ibierefagha and I were friends although she was a few sets ahead of me in UNN.’
He had met a lot of Ibierefagha’s friends during the party. Ibierefagha was Dienye’s immediate younger sister and there was a five year age gap between them. She was presently married to her University Sweetheart, Tamunobarabinye (Abinye) Pepple and they had three children.
‘I’m sorry. I am still trying to place the face.’
‘I was called Christabel back then.’
Reflexively, B. B pulled back his swivel chair. There was only one Christabel that he knew and he had every good reason to remember that name even if he didn’t recall the face that went with the name.
Ibierefagha had introduced her younger friend to him and Dienye during her convocation party. Christabel was helping her attend to her guests. B.B hadn’t really taken much notice of the second year medical student, although she was pretty, simply because she was too young for him. She had been all over him, so much that Dienye had teased him about having a new crush.
B.B had been facing some personal challenges during that period and had only attended the party because Dienye had dragged him to it, insisting on driving down to Enugu. There had been plenty to drink and B.B had taken advantage of this to drown out his problems, something he had never imagined he could do. And that had been his undoing! He couldn’t even recall what had happened before he woke up in the middle of the night in his hotel room with 18 year old Christabel in his arms. Considering their state of undress he didn’t need a seer to tell him what had happened. He had quickly dragged himself out of the bed reaching down to pull on his trousers, before waking her up, dragging her to a sitting position on the bed.
‘What have you done!’ He had shouted at her. ‘Get out of my room, now before I throw you out through the window!’
Acting mainly on instinct and anger, when she didn’t immediately move, he had dragged her out of the bed, pausing only to gather her clothes from the rug and pushed her right out of his bedroom not even thinking about her state of undress and what might happen to her on the long hallway. That was the last time he had seen her until now.
Dienye was the only one he had spoken to about the unfortunate incidence. And for the next few months he had waited with apprehension for her to come claiming that she was pregnant for him. When she didn’t show up he had simply forgotten about her.
And here she was!
‘You!’ he burst out presently.
She placed her handbag on her laps and leaned forward.
‘Yes.’ she agreed. ‘Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be here considering what happened the one and only time we met. I wouldn’t bother insulting you by apologising for what happened. However, circumstances demand that I see you.’
‘If it’s a legal issue, you should have seen my Head of Chambers as I instructed my secretary to tell you.’
‘I cannot afford your services,’ she replied. ‘Besides, considering the manner in which you discharged me eight years ago, I doubt if you would accept to do a matter for me even if I had the money to pay for your professional services.’
He arched his eyebrow. He didn’t want to remember the incidence of eight years earlier, at least what he knew of it.’
‘What exactly do you want from me?’ he demanded, getting impatient, wanting her out of his office.
She reached into her handbag and took out a half size paper which she handed over to him. He took it from her, looking suspiciously at the pink paper.
His eyes widened as he read the contents. It was a birth certificate for Tamunobiobele Ihunda Briggs, born to Tamunobiobele Briggs and Christabel Oroma Amaewhule. From the date of birth, the child had been born nine months and fourteen days after their meeting.
‘What is this!’ he blurted out, refusing to believe his eyes. This was a nightmare he needed to quickly wake up from.
‘What does it look like?’ she returned, taking the birth certificate from him.
She reached into her bag once more and took out a photocopy of the birth certificate which she placed on his table, and then a photograph of a seven year old girl. She handed the photograph to him. When he hesitated, she placed it on the book in front of him, scribbled down an address on a piece of paper and placed it on the photograph.
‘I do not have a phone but you can reach me at this address.’
B.B. was still in a state of shock when Oroma rose to her feet and left the office.
‘Wow!’ Dienye exclaimed as he looked at the photograph B.B had silently handed over to him.
‘There is no way she can be mine,’ B. B was saying, ‘or she would have reached out earlier. I won’t take responsibility for a child she had by another man.’
‘This girl looks exactly like Nengi did at that age.’ Dienye told his best friend. ‘Even down to the mischievous dimples. I wonder why her mother is just reaching out to you.’
‘I suspect foul play.’
‘So, what did you tell her?’
‘Well, you need to follow up on this.’
‘I hear. We have things to discuss now. I’ll deal with it later.’
B.B couldn’t concentrate after Dienye left his office. He couldn’t even work on the brief on his table. He didn’t want to believe that he had fathered a child with Christabel or Oroma as she called herself now. After waiting long minutes without achieving anything, he closed early and found himself driving in the direction of the address she had scribbled down.
He parked just before the gate and locked the car. He opened the gate and was greeted by a really long line of room and parlour apartments with a narrow walkway separating the two buildings facing each other. There had to be at least 14 apartments there. Oroma’s apartment was No 8.
Oroma wasn’t home. B. B wondered how people coped with living in such an enclosed place. He spoke to one of her neighbours who confirmed that she hadn’t been back all day. He didn’t bother leaving his name but thanked the man and left.
As he got into his car, one of the women he had sighted earlier within the premises approached his car.
‘You be fine man,’ she said, ‘but make I warn you, Mama Bio no be the kain person wey person like you suppose come find.’
‘She go use you like toilet paper, come troway you the way she dey take troway the other men wey dey come find am.’
B.B on a normal day wouldn’t engage in gossip but then –
‘She dey do ashawo work. She don even commot like three pikin since she pack come here two years ago. If you no take time she go carry belle come put for your head as I dey sure say she don take her pikin put for another man head.’
‘Thanks for the advice.’
‘Take am o,’ the woman warned seriously. ‘If you no wan catch the plenty disease wey she carry for body. If you be one of her customers, e never late to change mind o. Soon her pikin go follow her for her business. E dey am for eye too.’
Before B.B could comment, the woman was sprawled on the floor from a punch from Oroma who had given her. She had been so engrossed in her gossip that she hadn’t seen Oroma arrive.
‘You can say whatever you want about me, Mama Rosemary, but the next time you utter such nonsense about my daughter, I will permanently shut that thing you call a mouth up.’
Talk about a lioness protecting her cub!
‘Na lie I talk? No be ashawo work you dey do?’
‘What I do with my spare time is none of your business.’
B.B noticed that she didn’t deny the prostitution allegation.
Sunday, 28th March 2004
Oroma stood by the roadside with Bio waiting for a taxi to take her home. They stood before the restaurant she worked in as a cook cum waitress. She worked there from 6am to 8pm every day of the week. The pay wasn’t much but this was the first job she had taken since she had given up prostitution a year ago.
She had made a lot of mistakes in her young life. Going after B.B Briggs years ago had set off a chain of reaction. She had ended up pregnant, alone and disowned by her family. She figured she could have easily solved her problem by having an abortion, after all a lot of females did that. If she had a successful abortion, no one would know, not even her parents and she would have completed her education. However, she had chosen to keep the baby, for reasons she still couldn’t fathom. But once Bio had been born, she had fallen in love with the baby and would do anything for her.
She had resorted to prostitution after Bio developed a medical complication as a baby and required a surgery she couldn’t afford. Her parents wanted nothing to do with the daughter who had brought disgrace to the family name. Had her grandmother being alive, she would have taken Oroma in and cared for her great granddaughter. But at the time Oroma’s choices had been limited. She had the choice of joining a robbery gang or becoming a prostitute. She didn’t even think about other forms of hustling at the time. She had gone in search of a job but the jobs were limited even for graduates let alone one who had dropped out of school.
She had gone into prostitution telling herself that once she raised the needed money she would stop. However, like every sin of the flesh, she had been drawn into the forbidden world. No matter the excuse she gave, she knew she wasn’t justified. She should have thought of more things to do. There were people in worse situations than she had been in who had never thought of prostituting themselves, or at least hadn’t actually done it.
For five years she had given her body to nameless men and been responsible for their pleasures. Several times she had contemplated leaving the profession but always gave in to the temptation until a year ago when she had been attacked by a violent client and almost lost her life. That had brought her to her senses. She had almost left Bio alone in the world. For the first time in five years, she had to reconsider her lifestyle and ask herself if this was the kind of life she wanted for her daughter.
The restaurant job had come as a blessing. Yes, the pay wasn’t it and she had to deal with the unwanted attention of some men but like a cocaine addict she was on her way to full recovery. She hadn’t been with a man in a year. She hoped to maintain that status until she met the man who would marry her despite her past.
She hadn’t approached B.B before now, for two reasons: the anger on his face when he had sent her out of his hotel room and secondly, she didn’t have his contact. She hadn’t seen Ibierefagha since her convocation. But she’d heard that the other woman was married and lived in Jos with her family. She knew about Dienye’s businesses but hadn’t been able to summon the courage to approach him for his best friend’s contact details. She had only reached out to him recently because Bio had come home from school asking about her father and why he wasn’t a part of their lives.
B.B had told her he wouldn’t accept any child from her but this was beyond any of them. She could hustle even if it killed her in order to care for her daughter without him but no matter how she looked at it, no matter what she did, every child needed her father whether there was money or not.
She sighed deeply. She had to put her life together. First was to get back to school and have a proper tertiary education even if it was here in Port Harcourt. She had saved some money from her days as a prostitute as the current job didn’t pay her much. Her rent wouldn’t be due for another three months. Thank God.
They had been standing for sometime when she thought it best to start walking home. It had rained heavily so there was probably traffic somewhere around the area which could be responsible for the lack of bikes and taxis/buses.
She noticed the man who had just unlocked the door of a black car. He tossed the bag containing the goods he had bought from the supermarket into the back seat of the car. She recognised him easily. He and Ibierefagha were so alike. This was Ibierefagha’s elder brother Dienye. She felt self-conscious in her sky blue t-shirt and faded jean worn over her old okrika shoes and wondered if she should call out to him. She looked at her tired daughter and decided to draw his attention. She hadn’t seen him in years and he might not even recognise her.
‘Dienye,’ she called out.
Dienye turned when he heard his name, surprised. His eyes took in Oroma and then Biobele who was watching him with curiosity. The woman looked familiar, though.
‘I’m Oroma. You may not remember me, but I was a friend of your sister Ibierefagha, I went by the name Christabel back then. We met at her convocation party.’
Dienye looked at the little girl properly and could see the resemblance to his Nengi. He smiled as he looked at Oroma. This was the shy girl who couldn’t take her eyes off B.B during his sister’s party, and who had ended up in his best friend’s bed.
‘Hi. It’s been 8 years.’
She didn’t look like the shy type anymore but this was Christabel all right.
‘What have you been doing with yourself?’
‘This and that,’ she replied evasively.
‘You’re through with school and service, right?’
He recalled her saying something about becoming a paediatrician in the future.
‘No,’ she replied, quickly asking, ‘How is Ibierefagha?’
‘Married with three kids.’
He crouched so that he was on eye level with the child beside Oroma. He stretched out a hand to her saying softly, ‘I’m Dienye and you are -?’
Biobele hesitated for a moment but Dienye’s smile assured her that it was all right to place her little hand in his large one. ‘I’m Biobele,’ she replied shyly.
‘My daughter,’ Oroma added wondering if he could see any of B.B’s features in child. If he did, his expression didn’t give him away.
‘It’s a pleasure to meet you Biobele,’ he said.
‘Do you have a little girl, too?’ Biobele asked him, smiling shyly.
‘No, but I am getting married soon and we hope to have our own little girl.’
If her memory served her well, hadn’t he been married back then? Oroma thought. Perhaps she was mistaken.
Biobele who didn’t take easily to men liked Dienye instantly. He was a rich man but he was still kind to her mother.
‘So where are you headed?’ Dienye asked Oroma.
Oroma told him.
‘That’s on my way. I’ll give you a ride.’
He got into the car, unlocked the passenger doors. Biobele sat on the back passenger seat behind Dienye while Oroma sat beside him. Dienye fastened his seat belt, turned the key in the ignition, lifted the hand brake and set the gear on Drive and they were on their way.
‘You went shopping?’ he asked.
‘No. I work at the restaurant close to the supermarket.’ Oroma replied.
‘Her madam is not a good woman,’ Biobele said. ‘She shouts and curses too much.’
‘Bio mummy!’ Oroma cautioned.
‘But the money is good.’
‘Really. How good?’
‘N10, 000, because mummy works from 6 to 8.’
‘6 to 8 for N10, 000!’ Dienye asked incredulously but the child obviously believed the sum was okay.
‘It puts food on the table,’ Oroma said in defence.
‘I bet it does. And your rent?’
‘Already taken care of.’
He said nothing until he dropped them off. He took out a complimentary card and quickly scribbled down something behind it. He handed the card to Oroma.
‘I have added Ibierefagha’s number in case you want to get in touch with her.’
‘Thanks so much for the ride.’
It wasn’t until she had entered her apartment that she realised that he hadn’t only scribbled down his sister’s number but also an address.
Heart of the Child Orphanage
115 East West Road, Port Harcourt
She didn’t have to be a university graduate to understand that he wanted her to apply for a job there.
She took permission from work and applied for a job at the orphanage. She submitted it and was asked to return the following morning for an interview.
She had to come up front about her history to Dienye after the interview. The orphanage was large with its own resident paediatrician and a sick bay. There was also accommodation for the staff.
‘I need you to be completely honest with me, Oroma. Is there something about your past I should know about.’
‘I submitted my CV as well as -‘
She realised at that moment that he must have found out about her past as a prostitute.
‘You already know about my past, don’t you?’
‘These children are special and we want what is best for them. I wouldn’t want anything to pose a threat to them.’ Dienye replied.
‘Then I am not the person for the job.’
‘Let me be the judge of that. Is there something you would like to share with me?’
She hesitated for a moment, wondering how much he knew and concluded that it was best she told him everything. She told him about getting pregnant at 18, being disowned and having to care for her baby alone. How she had made the wrong decision by becoming a prostitute in order to raise money to fend for herself and take care of her child, money she had used to ensure that her daughter had an education.
‘I did what I felt I had to do in order to survive,’ she concluded. ‘And if you think that makes me an unlikely candidate to take care of the children here, then I’ll leave.’
He adjusted his glasses.
‘Have you given up completely on prostitution?’ he asked but his tone wasn’t judgmental.
‘Since January 2003. And I have no intention of going back.’
‘Unless you have no other choice?’
‘I have given up for good. If you don’t -‘
‘I am in no position to judge you,’ he cut in. ‘You did what you felt you had to do in the circumstances, rightly or wrongly. You passed the interview and I will not deprive you of the job. Can you start immediately?’
‘Oh my God. Yes. Thank you so much.’
The job would give her time to be with her daughter. He asked her to meet Mrs Roberts to sign her contract of employment and discuss her monthly salary. The job, she found out, came with a fully furnished one bedroom apartment in the premises and the pay was far better than she could imagine. She figured Dienye loved the children so much that he ensured that the staff was well paid to avoid situations were persons were tempted into selling children.
To be continued