Tosin walked out of her sister’s office, feeling empty. For the past nine years, everyone had thought that Bisiola was dead. At least, she had made everyone think that she was dead. What would her mother say if she found out that her first child was still very much alive and not just that, she was wealthy too. The restaurant proved it and the fact that everyone called her madam must mean that she was in charge. Her interview was over and she was supposed to leave but she couldn’t, she needed to speak with her sister. She walked into the restaurant and sat on one of the chairs, the television set was on but she wasn’t really paying attention to the Nigerian movie showing on the screen.
“How could she do that to us? How could she make us cry over her death? How could she make my mother suffer all these years while she’s here, living the good life?” She said to herself.
“Excuse me.” A young man in a uniform spoke to her.
“You are not allowed to sit here unless you are a customer and since this restaurant opens at night, there’s no way that you are a customer.”
It was at the tip of her tongue to tell the waiter to get out, anyway, her sister managed the place but she decided to keep mum. The sister she’d seen inside the office was a pure contrast to the one she’d always known. Yes, Bisiola had always been selfish and she could remember her mother, scolding her over her behaviour back then while she was still a teenager and Tosin and her siblings were still little children but she didn’t recall her being so selfish that she had no words of acknowledgement for her sister. She should have expected this from Bisiola, in fact, she should have expected anything from her. Faking her death and making everyone believe that she was gone forever was nothing but a ploy to get out of poverty.
“Sorry…” She said instead and stood up from the chair.
She picked up the worn out bag she had bought at ‘under bridge’ and slung it on her shoulder. As she made her way out of the restaurant, she looked at her shoes and sighed. They were second hand shoes she had bought at Aswani market for ninety-naira. She remembered how happy she had been to have gotten a good bargain for the pair. Now, the shoes were worn out and had holes, one at the front and the other, at the back. She had just stepped outside when she saw a powerful car pull up into the restaurant. She stood there, staring in wonder.
It was when a lady alighted from the car and handed her keys to the security that her heart pumped heavily in her chest.
“Sister Emem!” She shouted.
The lady turned to look at her and stopped, it seemed like she didn’t remember her.
“Sister Emem, it’s me, Oluwatosin.” She said.
The lady looked at her and suddenly, her eyes widened in recognition. She walked up to her.
“Tosin baby…” She called.
Tosin nodded, acknowledging the nick-name everyone had called her as a child.
“What…what in the world are you doing here?” Emem asked, not knowing what to say.
“I came to look for a job and imagine my surprise when I found out that my sister is not dead.”
Emem looked at her and didn’t know what to say. She gave her dress a disapproving stare as well as her shoes and bag.
“Have you had anything to eat?” Emem asked.
“No ma.” She replied.
“Errmm…” Emem started as she opened an obviously expensive purse and brought out some notes which she handed over to her.
Tosin accepted the money with thanks, she couldn’t believe the wad of notes that Emem had pulled out of her purse.
“Get yourself something to eat okay.” Emem said.
“Why did she pretend that she was dead?” Tosin asked, she sounded disappointed. “And why did you lie to us that you didn’t know where she is.”
“You know your sister and you know that she has never been happy with the life she led while in the slums. The truth is, there was really no proof that she died, the only thing is that she disappeared and everyone just assumed.”
“We asked you on countless occasions. I remember that my father asked you and you swore that you had no idea of her whereabouts.” Tosin said with tears in her eyes.
“It’s complicated Tosin, you can’t really blame us for the actions we took. We needed to get ourselves out of poverty.”
“At least, you took your family out of poverty and got them a decent place to live but my sister didn’t, instead, she made my mother suffer all these years, thinking that she is dead.” Tosin cried.
Emem didn’t know what to say.
“Do you know that when I went in for the interview, she pretended that she didn’t know me? If I hadn’t seen you, I’d have told myself that perhaps I am hallucinating and she’s not the one.” Tosin continued.
“Go home Tosin…just go home.” Emem said.
Tosin nodded, thanked her again for the money and left the restaurant premises.
Chioma was lying on the sofa when she heard the knock at the door. She thought it was the gateman since she’d sent him to help her buy bread from the shop not too far from their house.
“Adamu, na so you dey fly?” She said as she opened the door.
A woman stared at her with a smile on her face. Chioma froze. It was the mother of her child.
“Goo…goo…goo…” She stammered.
“Good morning…my name is Lilian and I am your new neighbour. Funny enough, your face looks so familiar, it’s almost like we’ve seen each other somewhere before.” The lady said with a smile.
Chioma’s mind flashed back to the hospital and her heart beat faster, at this rate she was scared that she might die of high blood pressure.
“I…I don’t…think…so…” She stammered again.
“Okay, maybe it’s my imagination.” The lady said. “I didn’t see you when my husband and I came to say hello and introduce ourselves.”
“Oh…yes…sleeping…I …was…” She stammered.
The woman looked at her, she was puzzled.
“I heard that you have a new baby and errm…I was wondering if we could go together to the local health centre close to us and see if there are any vaccines or immunizations that our babies need.”
Chioma blinked, there is no way that she would let her son’s mother see the boy or she might recognize him.
“I…have…not…go…to…see…anything…I will…speak…to…husband…” She stammered in incoherent English.
The woman nodded, feeling quite uncomfortable. She looked at Chioma and wondered if everything was alright with her.
“I think I should go now, it was nice meeting you.” She said.
Chioma slammed the door and rested her back against the frame. She placed her palm against her chest and heard her heart beat ‘thump, thump, thump’. She closed her eyes and began to cry.
Later that day, just as she was done breastfeeding the baby, she heard the two gossips from Lilian’s flat speak to each other as they spread clothes at the back of her window.
“Ehyah….and the lady’s girls are so beautiful ooo…” One was saying.
“It is well. We all know that most imbeciles give birth to the most outstanding kids.” The other said.
“Auntie Lillian said that she couldn’t even make a complete sentence. Chai! Her husband must love her so much to have married her.” The first one said.
Chioma knew that they were referring to her and she closed her eyes in grief, her neighbours thought she had some sort of mental problem.
Emem shut the door of Bisiola’s office and glared at her friend. She had had to wait till the interviews were over before walking in.
“Emem, what’s up?” Bisiola asked without looking up from her laptop.
“Are you done with the interview?” Emem asked testily.
“Anything spectacular that I should know about?” Emem asked.
Bisiola looked up at her and shook her head.
“Why the questions?” Bisiola asked.
“Don’t you think that you should mention to your best friend about your sister’s sudden appearance at your restaurant?” Emem asked.
Bisiola looked at her sharply, then refocused on her work.
“I don’t have any siblings…” She said.
Emem walked over to her table and slammed her fist on it in anger. Bisiola looked at her in anger and shouted.
“How dare you slam your fist on my table? Do you know how much it is worth?”
“I can slam my fists wherever I want to. You seem to have forgotten that I am a part of your success story.”
“Is that what you think?” Bisiola fired.
“Tell me Bisiola, did you ever regret leaving your family worried about your disappearance?”
“What do I care?”
“This attitude of yours will only lead you back to where you came from. How can you speak like that?”
“Nothing will ever take me back to the gutter. I have cut all ties with my past.” Bisiola shouted.
“Did you take a good look at your sister? She looks hungry, poor and wretched. Didn’t you feel sorry for her? If she looks as miserable as that, have you thought of your mother?”
“I do not care. They are not my responsibility. The only person that I am responsible for is my son, Zed.”
“How shallow-minded you are!” Emem spat. “You should help them out now that you have enough.”
“My mother made a choice when she decided to remarry after my father passed away. I was my parents only child and even though we didn’t have enough, we were happy. All of a sudden, her second husband came and he wanted to take my father’s spot in our lives. She married him and gave him three children and what was I to her? Nothing! She replaced my father’s memory with that man and she replaced me with those other children. I can never forgive her for that and I do not care if she dies of poverty or hunger.” Bisiola spat.
“You are speaking as though I wasn’t there when this all happened. We have been friends since we were three years old because we lived in the same compound.” Emem said with tears in her eyes. “I watched you suffer after your dad died and I watched your mother suffer as well but it took her five whole years to love again and she decided to marry her second husband so that you could have a father-figure in your life. Even as young as you were, you never loved that man and you never respected him but he tolerated you. You insulted him most times and your mother punished you openly for it in order to show you that it is wrong to disrespect your elders, least of all, a man who wanted to love you as his daughter. When the other children started coming, you refused to acknowledge them as your siblings but they loved you with all their hearts and called you, ‘big sister’. You vanished from home at seventeen and never looked back and even though I left with you, I have been taking care of my family since then. No one knew of your whereabouts except me but I had to lie to my parents whenever your mother came crying and asking of your whereabouts. Haven’t you punished her enough? Is it her fault that your dad died? Is it her fault that she had to remarry and re-live her life?”
“I have to go and pick up my son from school.” Bisiola said standing up from her chair.
Emem watched as she placed her tablet, iPhones and gadgets into her bag.
“Did you at least give your sister the job?”
“What job? This is my establishment and I choose whom I want to work for me.” Bisiola said. “Excuse me.”
Emem watched her friend leave and wondered if she really had a beating heart or a heart made of stone.
Ochuko walked into the three-bedroom bungalow she shared with her parents and unlocked the door with her spare key. She had worked so late and was getting home at eleven-thirty pm. She had just entered the house when she heard a loud scream.
Ochuko startled and wanted to scream in fear but she saw her best-friend, smiling at her.
“My goodness! Zainab!” She laughed as she hugged her friend close.
“I would never miss planning your wedding for the world.” Zainab said.
“Shut up jare, how have you been?” Ochuko asked with a smile.
“As happy as ever.”
“When did you arrive?”
“Six pm ooo…and imagine that it took you almost six more hours to get home.”
“My dear, work boku…” Ochuko said. “Is everyone asleep?”
“Yes, since nine pm but I’m guessing that your youngest sister, Princess is still chatting on her phone, I can hear her giggles from her bedroom.”
Ochuko smiled, thinking fondly of her teenage sister.
“I’m guessing she already has a boyfriend.” Zainab said.
“I doubt that…besides, I didn’t have a boyfriend at her age.” Ochuko said.
“Perhaps she’s starting early so that she doesn’t end up like you. Imagine, you’re still single at thirty-one.”
“And when did that become a crime? You nko? Aren’t you still single and you are one year older than I am.”
“Well, I am betrothed to someone special.”
“That’s what you always say.” Ochuko laughed.
“I’m serious ooo…or didn’t you see his picture?”
“That’s the same picture you had as a child. Do you even know how he looks now?”
“I know that he’s studying in Cambridge and when he gets back to Nigeria, I will be waiting.”
“Continue to keep your destiny on hold, darling.” Ochuko said sarcastically.
“Dat one concern you.” Zainab said.
They both made their way into Ochuko’s bedroom and they sat on the bed.
“So give me details of the proposal. You remember that you didn’t give me the juiciest details.”
“There’s nothing to talk about.” Ochuko said sounding bored.
“Ha! You just got engaged. You should be over the moon.”
“Zainab, to be honest with you, I really don’t know whether I want this or whether I am accepting this because I am being pressured.”
“Who’s pressuring you?”
“You of course, and my mother and her numerous friends who can’t stop asking about my wedding date.”
“Me? I am not pressuring you ooo…at all.”
“Vuoke hit me last night and my face hurts.”
“Did he hit you with a stick or with his hands.”
“Does it make a difference?”
“Yes it does. If he hits you with his hands, then he loves you but if it’s with a stick, then you must have done something really terrible.”
Ochuko looked at her friend and shook her head.
“Sometimes, I wonder how I became entangled with a friend like you.” Ochuko sighed.
“My friend, I know that you are hurt but many Nigerian and African men hit their women and do you know the worst part? Most of them are broke-asses with zero ambition. Look, you can never have it all in life. Vuoke is a hard-working, smart, well-educated and financially stable individual who loves you and who doesn’t cheat on you. His only problem is the fact that he hits you. A lot of women will jump on that offer.”
“What if he kills me?”
“Kills ke? Vuoke is no killer.”
“I have read of men who killed their women or wives.”
“Vuoke is not like that.”
Ochuko’s phone vibrated.
“Is that him? If it’s him, please be gentle with your tone. Don’t be harsh.”
“It’s a text message.” Ochuko said, bringing out her phone from her bag and opening the text.
The message was from Fred.
‘Hey Ochuko, it’s Fred. I am sorry for disturbing you at this time especially after you’d worked so hard at the office today. I just want to call to your attention, the marketing conference which comes up this weekend. Tessie was supposed to attend but since you’ve taken her spot, the baton falls on you and on me as well (just kidding) It actually falls on you. Well, I would breeze in for the conference on the second day as I have an engagement on the first day. Oops, did I mention where the conference would hold? It’s happening in Addis Ababa! This means, Sand, Sea and Sun! So, get your bikini ready cos you’re going to swim and holiday while working. Sounds like fun!’
Ochuko burst into laughter.
“What’s up? Did Vuoke crack you up? To be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve seen you smile at Vuoke’s jokes and it’s obvious that there’s still a spark.” Zainab said with a smile.
“It’s not Vuoke. It’s my new boss.”
“New boss? Wait…does he know you are engaged? Why is he sending you a message at this time of the night?”
“It’s a work message but he’s so witty that I can’t help but laugh at his jokes.” Ochuko said.
Zainab didn’t look interested.
“So, have you spoken to Vuoke today?” She asked.
“He hit me and he should be the one to apologize.”
“That’s where you got it wrong babe, you should do the apologizing.”
“You provoked him or didn’t you?”
Ochuko got off the bed and made her way to the bathroom.
“Look, I am really tired and I need a shower.”
Zainab watched her enter her bathroom and as soon as she shut the door, she picked up Ochuko’s phone and began to compose a message to Vuoke.
To be continued….