Ochuko had barely closed her eyes to sleep when she heard one of the bedroom doors open, close and open again. She sat up and got off the bed. She wore the over-sized slippers that Fred had given to her. She stepped out of the room.
Fred stepped out of the room, his face was set like stone and his lips were pursed in a thin line. He was holding a camera in his hands and an album in another.
“For a moment, I thought someone had broken into the house.” Ochuko said to him.
Fred looked at her and said nothing, he made his way to the small office space beside the stairs, sat down at the desk and turned on the reading lamp. Ochuko was puzzled by his demeanour, she walked to the table and took a peek at the open album before him. She saw pictures of people she didn’t recognize.
“Fred, are you alright?” She asked.
“Yea…I’m just checking through something.” He said quickly.
“You don’t sound fine. C’mon, what is it?” She asked.
Fred took the camera and turned it on, then he scrolled to some pictures. He held out the camera to her and the smiling face of a young boy glared at her.
“Take a good look at this boy…” He started, and turning the album towards her, he pointed at the picture of another young boy but judging from the picture, the boy should be all grown up now because the picture was taken in the eighties. “And…then, this boy.”
“They look alike.” She said, struck by their resemblance. “Are they brothers or father and son?”
“So, you don’t believe it’s a coincidence.” He asked grimly.
“Coincidence? How do you mean? I don’t even know what this is all about.” She said.
“This…the boy in the camera is Bisiola’s son and the boy in the album is my eldest brother.” He said not taking his eyes off her. “I took this picture of Zed the last time we hung out together- I mean, Bisiola, Zed and I.”
Ochuko opened her mouth to speak but didn’t know what to say, at first, she knew that Fred had suspected that Bisiola might be involved with his dad and now, he was suspecting that her child was his dad’s? She didn’t know the words to say to lighten Fred’s sour mood.
“Even you can see it!” Fred said with pain in his eyes. “How could I have…how could I have gotten myself involved with a woman…who shares a bed with my dad? Oh my God! My dad and I are involved with the same woman. Isn’t this some sort of a taboo? And then again, Bisiola fooled me completely! To think that I ever thought of introducing her to my parents. I can imagine the look on her face when she sees my father.”
“Calm down Fred.”
“No! Don’t tell me to calm down! I am going to my house tonight and I am demanding an explanation from my dad!” He said with tears in his eyes. “How could he? How could he do this to my mum? How can he do this to our family?”
“In as much as I want to see your side, things like this happen. We are not responsible for our parents’ decisions. If indeed your dad is having an affair with Bisiola, well…you’re also involved because you are dating her but if the child is his, then, it’s your dad’s problem and not yours.”
“What are you saying? Ochuko! Do you know how much I respect my dad because I feel he values our family and my mother? Do you know?”
“Yes, I understand Fred but I’d advise you not to be the one to break this news to your mom. Let him take care of it. The real issue you have here is Bisiola. You just have to ask her if your suspicions are true.”
“This is not mere suspicion!”
Ochuko closes the album, she takes the camera from him and turns it off.
“Why don’t you go to sleep?” She said.
“I can’t…I can’t…sleep…I won’t be able to sleep. The clock in my head is ticking so fast. If I lie alone on that bed, I might go crazy with the thoughts going on in my head.”
“Okay, why don’t we try something? Why don’t we both take blankets and lie in the sitting room before the television. Perhaps you’ll be able to sleep.”
“You think so?” He asked.
“Let’s try it out.” She said with a smile.
“You’re God-sent, do you know that? It’s almost like fate played us into each other’s hands today. First of all, I rescue you from your wedding and now, you’re helping me stay sane amidst this obscurity…. thank you.”
“I should be the one saying ‘thank you’ to you, Fred.” She said with a smile.
Bisiola was lying on her bed, thinking of her grand plan which involved Fred and his father. Nothing was hidden under the sun and if indeed, Fred was Bruce’s son, it won’t be long for Fred to find out the whole truth. Now, she needed to be smart. Her mind was made up. She wanted Fred and not Bruce so, she needed to think of ways to snag Fred, even if it meant turning him against his dad. She was still deep in her thoughts when her phone rang. She looked at the caller ID and her heart stopped for a few seconds. It was Bruce.
“Hello…Bruce…” She stammered.
“Bisiola, how’s Zed?” He asked.
“Fine…he’s fine.” She said. “I…we didn’t get the chance to say hi to each other earlier this evening…errm…”
“What were you doing there?” He asked directly.
“Oh, errr…the lady in the house…she’s…she’s my friend.” She said.
“I know all your friends Bisiola, how come I’ve never met her.” He asked.
Bisiola winced at that fact. Bruce made it a point of duty to know all those close to her and for all he knew, Emem was her only female friend.
“Oh…yea…we’re like acquaintances…you see…errm…she owns the salon where I make my hair and we kinda hit it off.” She lied. “What of you? I didn’t know that your son was in town. Fancy meeting you at your son’s place.” She laughed nervously.
“Yes, one of my sons flew in some months ago. He’s Fred. He’s my last son.” Bruce said.
Her heart skipped a beat as she silently cursed fate for dealing with her this way.
“Oh, I had…no idea.” She said.
“I want this to be the last time you ever go to my son’s place again. If that woman is really an acquaintance from the salon, please keep your visits strictly to the salon and not at my son’s place.” He warned.
“Errr…I really didn’t want to go…she…errr…she called me…she asked me to come.”
“My son doesn’t know I have a mistress and I want it to remain that way. I don’t want my son to ever see your face again.” He said and briskly hung up.
Bisiola looked at the phone in her hands and sighed, then she hissed.
“Can you imagine? You don’t want your son to ever see my face again. Sorry boo, your son is my boyfriend and he’s for keeps. I’m never leaving Fred, so, you’d better deal with it and don’t mess with me, Bruce. I can ruin you with my tongue…so…don’t you dare mess with me!” She hissed again and tossed her phone to the side of the bed and buried her head under the sheets.
The next day was a Sunday and at midday, Ochuko made her way home, she had decided to stall a bit because church service ended at eleven pm and her family didn’t get home till about twelve or thereabouts. However, she shouldn’t have waited, because no one in her family went to church. Apparently, her mother couldn’t face her fellow women after they’d attended a wedding that didn’t hold.
Ochuko pushed open the gate to her father’s bungalow and stepped in, she had barely taken steps to the door when a loud shriek of delight was heard.
“Sis! Sis is home!” Princess’s voice pierced the air.
Princess’s bedroom window faced the gate, so Ochuko was certain she’d spied her from there. Ochuko braced herself for the worst as she neared the front door. No sooner had she reached the front door than it opened and her mother’s murderous countenance clouded her vision. She received multiple slaps on both cheeks that she had to duck to escape the heavier blows.
“You disgraceful ingrate! I am not your mother! I will never be a mother to a good-for-nothing child like you. Wait…did I just call you a child? No, you are not a child. You are an old maid who has brought nothing but disgrace to my home!” Her mother yelled.
Her sisters tried restraining their mother from beating her any further. Ochuko crouched to the ground and cried. She knew she’d made a wrong move by leaving her family waiting at the church without any explanations but she’d acted in the spur of the moment.
Her father stepped out of the house and made his way to her. He pulled her up and hugged her.
“Daddy!” She cried. “I’m so…so…sorry…”
“Thank God you’re alive.” Her father said.
“What?” Her mother’s high-pitched voice pierced the air. “Thank God she’s alive? She should be dead! She should be rotting six feet under!”
“Keep quiet! We should be happy and grateful that she’s home safe…not insulting her and wishing her dead.” Her father said to her mother.
“Home? Which home? Do you mean this house? Over my dead body will Ochuko step her feet inside this house. As far as I am concerned, she has already left my house. Since she didn’t marry, then, that’s her business but in my mind, she’s already married, it’s just that I don’t know if she’s married a ghost or a spirit.” Her mother spat.
“This is my house and my daughter is coming inside, whether you like it or not.” Her father said.
“Didn’t you hear when I said over my dead body? If you want her inside, fine, but I am leaving. I will leave this house for you and your disgraceful daughter.” Her mother fired.
“Mummy please…don’t start…” Princess started.
“Me? Don’t start? What am I to you? An engine? Look, you’d better shut up that small mouth of yours or I’ll bundle you out of my life as well.” Turning to Ochuko, she shouted. “You are going to pack your things and leave this house or I swear, I will burn your belongings. As far as I am concerned, you are not my daughter. I do not have a daughter named Ochuko, she is dead and buried.”
“Haba! What is all this for? If someone new came to this house, he or she would think that she’s committed an atrocity.” Her husband chided.
“Yes, she committed an atrocity. She left a very good man at the altar. She left…” Her mother shouted.
“Mummy, he beat me. I told you that Vuoke beat me…” Ochuko cried.
“So? If he beat you, didn’t I beat you as a child. Did you die?” Her mother fired.
Ochuko couldn’t believe her ears.
“How dare you say that? Have I ever laid my finger on you ever since I married you? No man has the right to lay a finger on my child!” Ochuko’s father fired.
“Look, I have said my own and that’s final. It’s either Ochuko leaves or I leave.” Her mother shouted. “The only way I will allow you into this house is if you call Vuoke and fall on your knees before him apologizing and begging him to take you back. If you can’t do that, then I’m sorry but you have no place in this house.”
“Mummy, I know I did wrong not to have broken off the engagement long before the wedding but how could I when you were the one who accepted Vuoke’s proposal on my behalf? When Vuoke asked to marry me, I recall stalling him because I didn’t want to accept him but all of a sudden, he informed you about it and you called me with the news that you’ve gathered all your friends at the market and have given them details of the asoebi. Yes, I was at fault, I should have stood my ground and left him but how could I, when my mother keeps reminding me that I cannot get anyone better than Vuoke at my age? Vuoke almost killed me and I ended up at the hospital and every ounce of me wanted to leave him but I couldn’t erase your constant worries of how the wedding planning was going even while you were there at my bedside? I left Vuoke at the altar, not because I had planned it but because there were so many factors stopping me at every turn and guess what, you contributed to over ninety percent of those factors. I will leave your house, because God forbid that I am the reason my mother left her home and because I am old enough to stand on my own irrespective of my status, be it single or married. I just hope that you stop thinking about yourself first and what the society would think and learn to put the happiness of your family and loved ones first before conforming to societal standards.” Ochuko cried. “I’ll go pack my things.”
Ochuko stormed into the house while her mother stared without saying a word. Princess and Amanda hurried inside to help her pack and Ochuko’s father followed them closely. Just when they’d all gone in, Ochuko’s mother brought out her phone from her baggy trouser pocket and dialled a number.
“Hello, Vuoke…Vuoke…! Can you come over? Ochuko is home…and I am sure that you can convince her to marry you…if possible, today!”
Fred was seated in Bisiola’s sitting room when Bisiola, Zed and Emem returned from church. They were stunned to see him there. As soon as the nanny took Zed to his room, Bisiola was all over Fred.
“I know you love me so much…I knew you’d come back…” She said hugging and kissing him.
He pulled her away from him, she stared at him.
“What is it darling?” She asked. “Why are you acting so strange?”
“I need a yes or no from you.” He said, staring at her unflinchingly. “Are you sleeping with my dad?”
Bisiola looked at Fred, she breathed deeply.
“Answer me dammit!” He yelled.
Emem was standing behind the staircase, she was watching the events unfold in fear.
“What is it? Can’t you speak?” He asked. “Can’t you talk? I was expecting to see him here. He’s the reason you never wanted me to come over on Sundays, right? He comes here on Sundays, am I right?”
“Yes!” Bisiola said in anger. “Yes, I am sleeping with Bruce but I never knew he’s your dad.”
Fred looked away and closed his eyes in anger.
“What else do you want to know?” She asked.
“Zed is his son too, am I right?” He asked with a gnawing pain at his heart.
“Yes, Zed’s his child.” She said, calmer now.
“Thanks for telling me the truth.” He said and turned to go.
Bisiola reaches out and takes his hand in hers.
“Let go of me, this instant!” He fires.
“There’s more to the story, please listen…” She said.
“What do you want to tell me? How the two of you make love or how you conceived Zed? What…” He yelled.
“Fred, you deserve to know the truth but if you can be patient and listen to my side of the story, you will realize that this is not what I wanted for myself.” She cried.
Fred looked at her and looked at the house.
“This…”He waved at the large, well-furnished sitting room. “This is not what you wanted?” He laughed mirthlessly.
“Yes. It’s not what I wanted for myself. The truth is that I am an orphan. My parents were very rich but they died in a plane crash. I was their only child and I was sent to live with a relative. From then on, my life became a living hell, Fred, a living hell!” She cried.
Fred was looking at her and when she was satisfied that she had his attention, she continued.
“For many years I suffered in my relative’s care, I was physically and emotionally abused till one day, I ran away from home. That was how I met Emem and I found out that she was working as a cleaner in a company. She was my age and I wondered how she had gotten the job but she told me that she had lied about her age in other to get work. That was how I started cleaning the company and then, one day we were recruited by an agency where we were posted to bigger companies for cleaning jobs.”
“Your story doesn’t explain anything…” He started.
“It was while cleaning the company that I met your dad. I found out that he was the owner of the company and…and…after sometime, he began to take interest in me. I was still so young and I didn’t understand what that meant. I refused to be his plaything but he persisted. Fred, you have to understand that I was barely nineteen years old back then…and he was a very mature man who was interested in a little girl like me. I refused his advances because to me, he was old enough to be my father but he continued to pursue me. One day, I was working late at the company because he requested that I clean the office again at the end of the day, it was as though he was punishing me for not giving in to him. We…we…were the only ones…in the …office…and…and…he …” She broke down in tears.
Fred looked at her in shock.
“Are you telling me that my dad, forced you to…have sex with him?”
She nodded and sobbed.
“That was how I conceived Zed.” She cried. “I had no choice Fred, I had no choice…I was a child but your father…he deceived me…he made me helpless…he took advantage of me…”
Fred couldn’t believe his ears, he stared at Bisiola in disbelief.
Emem stood behind the staircase and closed her eyes in pain. Her friend had gone far, too far. She thought.
To be continued…