The Second Wife – Episode 28
© Onyinyechukwu Mbeledogu
Monday, 20th December 2004
Oroma took out several five hundred naira notes from her purse, counted them and then handed them over to the cashier. Schools were on holidays and Biobele was preparing for the Christmas party at the orphanage with the other children as well as her first trip to Buguma to spend the Christmas with her paternal family.
In the last few months Biobele always ensured that her bags were packed on Friday morning ahead of her weekend with her father. Sometimes Oroma found herself jealous of the father-daughter bonding but then again wasn’t it said that every girl’s first love was usually her father? At least, if, God forbid, anything happened to her, Biobele wouldn’t be alone.
She was putting in extra time at work after school hours to make up for lost time. Thank God for an amazing boss! With Christmas by the corner, there was so much to do. She took delivery of her purchases and turned to leave, running into the woman who had just stepped in behind her.
‘I’m so sorry,’ she said as she stooped down to pick her bags.
‘No problem,’ a familiar voice assured her as the other woman helped her gather her bags, ‘I was on a call, I should have been more vigilant.’
‘See you later, darl,’ the woman quickly concluded her call.
Oroma looked up and her eyes widened in recognition as she looked into the face of the lady with the long red weave-on with purple highlights. Her eyes were large and brown, her nose pert and lips full and pink without makeup. She was dressed in a fitted aquamarine blouse tucked into long black skirt and as she rose to her feet, Oroma took note of the long slit on the left side of the pencil thin skirt revealing endless slim fair legs, more emphasised by her stiletto heeled shoes.
‘Hi,’ Eseoghene Ahwinahwi greeted cheerily when she recognised Oroma.
‘Hi Ese. Compliments of the season.’
‘Same to you dear. I love this particular holiday because it provides a minimum of three weeks’ vacation for me but the disadvantage is in not seeing all those wonderful children in my class.’
They had met for the first time in August when Ese had invited Bio to her home for an early supper, extending the invitation to Oroma. Naturally, Oroma had been cautious, not easily giving into the other woman’s charms and easy disposition. After all, she had to be sure this woman was legit and neither trying to take her place in Bio’s life nor using Bio to ensure a permanent place in B.B’s life. It had turned out that her fears had been unwarranted.
Ese was a graduate of Psychology and had a Masters in Child Education. She loved children and couldn’t wait to have a quiver full of them. She was the youngest of eight children and there was a nine year gap between her and her immediate elder brother Oghenerhoro. Unlike Oroma who was an only girl, Ese had three other sisters.
Oroma missed being the jewel of her family. One bad decision had cost her that place. Had she carried out an abortion, she would still be the pride of the Dike-Amaewhule clan. Her father was a hard man and a very proud one at that. She hadn’t seen him since Nlerum’s wedding in October. She had attended Nlerum’s wedding unseen and hadn’t bothered with the reception. Ovunda’s wedding was coming up in March 2005 and she would definitely be there. Hopefully, sometime in the nearest future, her family would welcome her back and accept her daughter. Until then…
‘I just want to pick up a few things,’ Ese was saying. ‘If you’re not too busy, perhaps we can have an early lunch together.’
So friendly, Oroma thought. In her shoes, she doubted if she would want to have anything to do with the mother of her boyfriend’s daughter. She would find the woman very suspect. Perhaps, Ese was so secure in B.B’s affection that she didn’t see Oroma as a competition.
Oroma was free and so she accepted the invitation.
‘Great,’ Ese said with her signature smile which Oroma knew without a doubt stole the hearts of all the children she came across. She wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the boys experienced their first crush with her. ‘Just give me a minute.’
Ese hurried off to the provision section of the supermarket and Oroma waited for her.
* * * * *
Wednesday 22nd December 2004
Soki stood at the waterside behind the creek road watching as other passengers boarded. She wasn’t sure she should be doing this but she didn’t have any choice. Dienye had cancelled their Christmas trip to Bonny although his parents and Priye would be travelling on the 23rd.
‘You promised Didilicious,’ she had reminded him last night after the lengthy and worthwhile Christmas party. She was trying to make a list of things they would be travelling.
‘I’m sorry babe. But we would have to take a rain check.’
‘Why don’t you want us to go to Bonny? It’s my home town now too.’
‘Let’s take a rain check, babe. I don’t feel like going to Bonny.’
‘Does this have anything to do with Nengi?’ she had asked, unable to help herself.
‘Nengi has nothing to do with us not going to Bonny for the Christmas,’ Dienye had told her last night. ‘But with the way you are acting, I am justified in my decision to stay in Port Harcourt. You should make do with being the queen of this manor.’
‘Let me guess. Her things are all over the place in your home in Bonny.’
‘Yes,’ he had replied. ‘And no, I’m not getting rid of them. I’ve taken everything belonging to her out of here but I will not do that to our Bonny home too.’
And so here she was. There was no way on earth she was going into the new year without at least one visit to Bonny. She had waited for Dienye to leave early in the morning knowing he wouldn’t be back until evening. If all things went well, she should be back in home before h returned.
The longest she’d done on water was about 10 minutes and that was to Tombia for a medical outreach organised as a collaboration between the JCI Chapters in Port Harcourt and which members of UST Collegiate Jaycees had been invited to be a part of. She had heard about the trip to Bonny being by way of a high sea unlike a river and the threat of pirates every now and then.
‘Unless you want to miss the boat, I suggest you join the one,’ she was told.
She took a deep breath and allowed the man help her into the boat and then took a life jacket from him. She put it on, holding it in place, silently praying for a safe trip. She had heard that the ride to Bonny was at least an hour and she wasn’t sure what she would be doing in all that time.
The young man with afro hair and knapsack seated beside her smiled at her and she returned his smile. He looked like he was used to being on this river – no, sea actually. If only Priye had travelled with her! But it was better like this. With Dienye’s parents coming in tomorrow this was the only day she had to get in and out of Bonny without arousing unnecessary suspicion.
To take her mind off the rough waters, she engaged in a conversation with the young man who was a theatre arts student at the University of Port Harcourt. And guess what? He was a Hart. Tamunosa Hart, Dienye’s first cousin. Was that a coincidence?
She breathed a sigh of relief when they finally made it to Bonny.
‘I missed your wedding,’ the tall young man about a year older than she was told her as they walked. ‘I was hospitalised at the time.’
‘Wow. I’m so sorry. What was the matter?’
‘Malaria. You can imagine how annoying it was to be on admission as a result of something seemingly small.’ He added with a smile.
‘I can imagine. I can’t recall ever being on admission but I know it would be really frustrating having to spend nights with the smell of antiseptics and other hospital smells. You should come around from school some time. We’d be glad to host you.’
‘I’ll take you up on that,’ Tamunosa smiled. ‘And remember that a hungry boarder has a very large appetite.’
‘Lucky for you, your cousin is married to a woman who loves cooking. So you won’t starve.’
Tamunosa laughed. The first stop was to his parents’ home on Abalamabie road. Soki was welcomed as a member of the family and she recognised Tamunosa’s elder sister Fila from her wedding. Everyone wanted to know how Dienye was doing and Soki informed them that she had come ahead of him to fix a few things in their Bonny home and she would be returning to Port Harcourt that same day.
‘You must have left before breakfast,’ Ayagogo Hart told her nephew’s wife.
‘I didn’t have one, Ma,’ Soki responded.
Soki was treated to a seafood breakfast and long conversation as she got to know Dienye’s relatives. When they were done, Fila and Tamunosa took Soki on a part-tour of the island, including St Stephen’s Cathedral, the first cathedral in Nigeria. The tour ended in Dienye’s house. Like the house in Port Harcourt it was also a bungalow but designed differently with part brick walls.
They walked right behind the house to the home of the Cookeys. Fila did the introductions.
‘It is so good to finally meet you, Mrs Hart,’ Mrs Cookey said, enthused, her full cheeks flushed red.
She was about Soki’s height and could be aptly described as ‘round’ but her countenance was very friendly and Soki immediately liked the elderly woman. Her husband was tall and thin and walked with a noticeable gait.
‘Please call me Soki.’
Mrs Fidelia Cookey insisted that Soki should have a taste of her famous chin-chin, adding that she had a full jar for Dienye.
‘Wow!’ Soki exclaimed as she tossed a few into her mouth, her eyes wide. ‘This is really delicious.’
The chin-chin was really delicious. Real Aka-oche (old school). Soki chewed a handful as they all headed for the house. She noticed a bit of hesitation on the part of the couple and a look they shared before leading the way with the spare keys to the house.
Mr Cookey unlocked the front door and handed Soki the bunch of keys for the other rooms. She walked into the large white and orange sitting room with the leather seats, dark marble floor, orange rug beneath the centre glass table, large flat screen television and…
A shrine for Nengi!
That was the only way to describe the area surrounding the television. There were large frames of Dienye and Nengi together depicting different stages of their lives and then there were lots of pictures of Nengi. Now she understood why Dienye had asked her to make to with being the Queen of the ‘Port Harcourt’ manor.
She looked around and understood the Cookeys’ hesitation and why Dienye didn’t want her here. She didn’t need anyone to tell her that Nengi had also designed this house. This was Nengi’s house. There was nothing to show that Dienye had remarried. Even Fila and Tamunosa were silent but Soki kept a straight face and walked into the various rooms in the house.
Keeping a straight face, she emptied the contents of her bags. She had brought some bed sheets, covers and pillowcases from Port Harcourt. She had already packed them on Monday and it felt necessary to bring them along with her. She had also come along with curtains which clearly would have to act as spares. She neatly folded them and placed them in the wardrobe in the master bedroom.
She chewed on Mrs Cookey’s delicious chin-chin, opening and closing doors and writing down a list of things she needed to buy for the house.
‘I don’t think we should have brought her here,’ Tamunosa whispered loudly to his sister who smacked the back of his head.
‘You think? It’s her home now. She was bound to find out with or without our help.’
Done with the interior, she stepped out through the kitchen door to the backyard with the neatly trimmed flowers, garden and of course the well-cared-for grave of the lady of the manor. Covered in white marble and tempting Soki to run her fingers over the headstone.
‘Please don’t,’ Fila said to her, catching her hand as she did.
‘Why not?’ Soki smiled. ‘It’s a beautiful grave.’
‘I think we need to head back to Nana’s place. Remember Daboye was supposed to do some shopping for you at the open market?’
‘Of course. Just give me a minute.’
Soki read the inscription on the headstone.
“Here lies an angel who walked in our midst
Tamunonyengiefori Sharon Daniel-Hart
She locked up the house and returned the keys to the Cookeys. Mrs Cookey looked concerned at the smiling young woman but didn’t say much. Soki wondered if everyone expected her to scream about Dienye having no right to retain his first wife’s things when he was now married to her. That was something she and Dienye would have to deal with when she returned to Port Harcourt.
She got the shrimps and crayfish from Nana before taking a speed boat back to the water side behind and then a cab home. Back home, she couldn’t stop thinking about her visit to Bonny. It had been great meeting Dienye’s relatives, at least the ones she hadn’t met during the wedding. However, what occupied her mind more was the fact that there had been nothing evidencing her existence in Dienye’s home. Not even their wedding photograph!
‘Shey if I make arrangements now for some movers to have Nengi’s pictures taken away from Bonny, they will say I’ve started.’
Considering Dienye’s reaction when she made changes to their home, she thought better of it. This was going to be a long holiday and she didn’t want to spend it quarrelling with him but something had to be done about it.
To be continued