The days flew by so quickly and soon it was Friday and Ochuko was dragging her suitcase out of the house. Her mother stopped her just before she left.
“Ochuko, how far now? Has Vuoke told you when he’s coming with his parents for the formal introduction?”
Ochuko shook her head. Vuoke hadn’t spoken to her since the night they’d quarrelled and she wasn’t ready to break the silence.
“Haven’t you asked him?” Her mother asked.
Ochuko shook her head again. Zainab had left the following day and since she left, Ochuko had felt a little relieved because her friend had been putting so much pressure on her to call Vuoke and make peace. She was still angry over the fact that Zainab had sent him a text message from her phone, begging for his forgiveness and this had placed a huge boulder between her and her friend.
Actually, Ochuko liked the peace and serenity her life offered since Vuoke stopped contacting her. For three days, she’d been saved from both emotional and domestic abuse.
“Why do you keep shaking your head? Are you a lizard?” Her mother asked.
“No mum, I just don’t have an answer to your questions.”
“Listen here girl, I have told all my friends at the market that your asoebi is coming out soon. Don’t do anything to spoil it.”
“I need to go mum, or I’ll miss my flight.”
“How long will you be gone?” She asked.
“I’ll be back on Sunday.” Ochuko said.
“Okay…Abuja is not far so, you can still call Vuoke and ask him when his family are coming to ask for your hand.”
Ochuko nodded and left the house. Contrary to what she’d thought, the conference was happening in Abuja and not in Addis Ababa as her boss, Fred had told her. She had come to the office the next day with her international passport and her employment letter and a whole lot of other documents only to find that the conference was to hold in Abuja.
She had stormed into Fred’s office not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
“You told me that it was Addis Ababa!” She’d flung at him.
Fred was busy at his desk but as soon as she came in, he looked up at her and flashed her a winning smile.
“I bet you didn’t sleep a wink last night because you were imagining the soft sand and the Ethiopian sea.” He said.
“Ohhh…yoooou…” She growled.
She had wanted to throw something hard at him but the way he’d stared at her so innocently made her laugh despite the situation at hand.
“I brought my international passport to work. I was confused as to the requirements for a visa to Ethiopia.” She said.
He kept on smiling like a Cheshire cat.
“Keep up this attitude and I might have to wait for you after work one day to punch you.” She’d said.
“I should apologize but I don’t want to. I played a prank and it’s so funny…”
“Fred, you shouldn’t pull my legs…it’s not nice.”
“I don’t know but to be honest with you, you are the only one in this office that I tease or joke with. I guess it’s because I feel that deep down, you are not as happy as you make the world believe.”
She looked at him, he was telling the truth. She had long forgotten how to be happy.
“Please go easy on those jokes of yours…I beg of you.” She’d said.
Now, as she got into the cab which was to take her to the airport, she breathed deeply, she didn’t care that the conference was holding in Abuja and not in Addis Ababa, she was more relieved that she would be away from the reality of her life for at least two days.
“Music, ma?” The cab driver asked.
“Please…and a good song too…God knows I need some happiness in my life.” She said.
Chioma made her way to her house, she was coming back home after dropping off her children at school. She opened the gate to her house and stepped into the compound. She made her way to her downstairs flat and rapped at the door.
“Open up, it’s me.” She said.
Her sister, Rose, opened the door. Rose had come to help her with the baby and she’d come with her mother-in-law as their mother couldn’t make it since she was ill.
“You’re back so fast.” Her sister said.
“Yes, tell me…did the baby cry?”
“No, he didn’t.” Her sister said as she opened the door to the house.
“Okay, I’ll just go in and feed him.”
“The baby is not in the house.” Her sister informed.
Chioma’s world stopped, she stared at her sister in shock.
“What? Where is he?”
“He’s upstairs with mama.”
“What do you mean by he’s upstairs with mama? Speak English.” She almost yelled.
“Your mother in-law took him upstairs to your neighbour’s flat, she’s the lady who has a baby who was also born on the same day as your son.”
Chioma’s dropped her bag at the door and rushed out. She hurried to the staircase and made her way to her neighbours flat. As she went, a lot of things went through her mind.
‘What if mama realizes that the baby looks like the neighbours? What if the woman recognizes her child? What if…’
She reached the door and knocked hard. The door opened and one of the girls who often gossiped at the back of her window stared at her.
“Where is my mother?” She asked, referring to her mother in-law.
“You can talk?” The girl asked.
“What is the meaning of that question?” She fired.
“I mean…sorry…I didn’t mean to ask…you that…please come in.” The girl said, opening the door wide.
Chioma entered the house and made her way to the sitting room. The lady, Lillian was there seated on the sofa and holding her baby. Chioma froze for a moment then rushed to take the baby from her. Lillian and Chioma’s mother in-law were surprised.
“Chioma!” Her mother in-law shouted in warning.
“Ma…” She replied, she cradling the boy to her chest.
“What is wrong with you? Why did you take the baby like that?” Her mother-in-law asked.
“It’s because…because…I thought the baby was crying…I…” She stammered.
Her mother in-law stood up from the sofa and took the baby from her. Chioma had no choice but to give the baby to her mother in-law.
“Mama don’t you think he’s too tender to be taken out of the house?” She asked with a slight stammer.
“What do you mean by that? He is more than a week old.” Her mother in-law said.
“Yes I know but…” She started.
“I am sorry if you don’t feel comfortable with having your baby in my house. It’s just that my mother came and she saw your mother in-law and they both hit it off.” Lillian said.
Just as she was speaking, Lillian’s mother emerged from inside the house with two plates of biscuits and groundnuts.
“Oh…hello…” The woman greeted Chioma.
“Good…afternoon. I mean, good morning ma.” Chioma answered.
“Do you know that our neighbours thought that you couldn’t speak clearly? When I met Lillian’s mother she was so concerned about you. What did you say to Lillian to make her think of you in that way?” Her mother in-law asked, dropping the baby on the couch and reaching to take some groundnuts.
“Me? I err…I guess I just woke up from sleep…when she came and I…was a bit distorted.” Chioma said.
The baby girl cried and Chioma watched her mother in-law rush to pick her up from her crib.
“I don’t know but this baby…she reminds me so much of my last daughter…she looks exactly like my daughter did as a baby…” Chioma’s mother–in-law said as she rocked the child.
“Just the way your grandson reminds me of my late husband.” Lilian’s mother said, taking the baby from the sofa where Chioma’s mother-in-law had lay him.
Chioma watched the two grandmothers hold their real grandchildren. She was the only one who knew the truth about the babies. She stared and as she did, she wondered what in the world she had gotten herself into.
Bisiola clung to Fred’s arm as they walked into the airport terminal.
“I’m going to miss you.” She said.
“Me too…” He said turning to face her with a smile.
“How are you going to live without me for the next two days?” She asked playfully.
“I will be back on Sunday, come on…” He said.
“When you get back, call me so that I can come pick you up. I love being your driver.”
They both laughed.
Ochuko walked into the airport terminal, even with the crowd of people, she could spot Fred standing at the airline checking area. She walked up to him, pulling her bag as she made her way to him. He was standing with a woman but smiled when he saw her.
“Look who’s here. Hello Ochuko…” He greeted.
“Hi…good morning.” She greeted and said hello to his companion.
“Hey…” Bisiola greeted icily.
“I came before you so I win the bet.” Fred teased.
“Oh c’mon Fred, there was no bet. I didn’t even know you’d be coming today. You told me that you would be joining us tomorrow.” She said.
“Well, my schedule for the weekend is free.” He said. “I hope we get the same seats because I need someone to talk to all through the flight.”
She smiled at him. Bisiola interjected.
“Why does she refer to you as Fred, aren’t you her boss?”
“Yes I am but we are friends too…isn’t that right, Ochuko?” He asked winking at her.
Bisiola didn’t look happy over the playful nature of Fred.
“Fred, you shouldn’t let your employees refer to you on first name basis besides, you shouldn’t be friends with your employees, they should know their place.” Bisiola said, staring at Ochuko in open hostility.
Ochuko wondered why the lady was acting strangely but she ignored her.
“Oh, I forgot to make proper introductions.” Fred said. “Bisiola, meet Ochuko, my employee and the brightest member of my staff who happens to be a friend of mine and Ochuko, meet Bisiola, my darling friend and soon to be girlfriend if she lets me.”
Ochuko nodded and smiled at Bisiola but Bisiola turned to Fred to remove an invisible speck on his shirt.
“I wish I could go with you but…there’s no one to stay with my son.” She said.
“I understand and I think it’s a good idea that you stay here or I might not concentrate at the conference.” Fred said.
“I’ll go and check in.” Ochuko said, dragging her bag with her.
“Let me see your seat number. I told the HR to book us business class seats and place us side by side.” Fred said.
“Business class? Are you serious? Is this one of your jokes, Fred?” Ochuko asked with a smile.
“Of course not. Didn’t you look at your ticket?”
Ochuko opened her bag and brought out her ticket, her eyes widened.
“Oh my goodness!” She exclaimed. “I’ve never flown business class before.”
Bisiola rolled her eyes and looked away.
“Well, we will both ride business class today. I need company.” He said.
“Enough of this talk…” Bisiola said quickly. “I don’t know who’s never flown business class in their life. Where have you been? The caves?” She addresses Fred. “Darling, I’ll wait till you board.”
Fred felt a little ashamed of Bisiola’s behaviour but he hid it so well. Ochuko proceeded to check in. As soon as she left them, Bisiola said.
“Just because we’re not a couple yet doesn’t mean you should get into bed with her at Abuja.”
“You guys are close…and she’s very attractive.”
“I do not date my employees.” Fred said, growing angry.
“I didn’t say you did, I’m just trying to mark my territory. She seems to like you and you know how desperate women can be.”
“Don’t be silly. Let’s change the topic.” Fred said.
As Ochuko checked in, she turned to look at the couple. What an odd pair! She thought.