As Bisola counted the days till Fred returned, Ochuko relished the friendship that Fred offered and they grew closer during the time they spent at Abuja as they spent time together and had lunch and dinner together, throughout their stay. Chioma tried her best to avoid her new neighbours to no avail as it seemed that they trailed her family wherever they went, even to church. Thankfully, she and the baby hadn’t started going to church yet and the same went for Lilian who stayed home on Sunday while her husband and kids went to church. Imagine Chioma’s shock when after church service, her second daughter came marching into the house like a pirate and walking over to take a peek at her brother’s frame in the cot, she said in a loud voice.
“Damien looks exactly like our baby brother. They even have the same eyes and nose.” She spoke of the resemblance between her brother and their neighbour’s first son.
Chioma had rushed to slap the girl with such urgent intensity that her mother in-law gave her a very sharp stare.
“Why did you hit her like that? What did she do to you?” Her mother in-law raved, upset at Chioma for hitting her grand-daughter.
“She talks too much…she never thinks before she speaks.” Chioma said angrily.
“She’s not even up to six years old. What does she know?” Her mother in-law shouted.
“Mama, please…don’t come here and give me trouble in my own house. Haba! Can’t I beat my daughter again? Or is it an abomination?”
Chioma’s mother in-law was shocked at the tone Chioma had used to address her and so was Chioma’s husband.
“Chioma, what has gotten into you?” Nnamdi, her husband asked.
“Look, I won’t have your mother pry into everything I do. Haven’t I taken enough already? She’s been stating so many rules in my house and I’ve followed them and now, I can’t even beat my own child?” Chioma literally screamed.
Her mother in-law was speechless.
“Chioma, you dare to raise your voice at me?” She asked. “What wrong did I say by asking you not to hit the child?
“Yes, I dared to raise my voice at you and I will do it over and over again if you don’t respect yourself in this house.” Chioma yelled.
Her husband stormed towards her and Chioma stood her ground.
“What are you going to do to me? Beat me up? Ask me to apologize to your mother? Look Nnamdi, I have done what every good wife would do for her husband and that is to give you children, both male and female. Has your mother been able to do that? Use your brain.”
Nnamdi stopped and looked at her, he couldn’t believe what he heard.
“What wrong did I do to you, Chioma? I only told you not to hit your daughter and you turned around to insult me.” Her mother in-law cried.
“Call the whole world, gather the people of our village and hold a meeting with the topic, ‘my son’s wife has disrespected me’ and it won’t change anything.” Chioma shouted.
“I suggest that you keep quiet.” Her husband said sternly to her.
“No, I suggest that you tell your mother to keep quiet.” Chioma barked.
Her daughters looked at her and their father and then at their grandmother, they were very silent.
“There’s no need, I am going back to the village, first thing tomorrow.” Her mother in-law said. “If you think you can insult me since this is your house, I’d rather go to my own house and sit there peacefully.”
“Go na…who needed you to come here in the first place. My mother was supposed to come but she fell sick and couldn’t and that’s why I allowed you to come but I don’t need you.” Chioma shouted.
“Chioma, stop this immediately! You have no right to disrespect my mother!”
“And she has no right to dictate to me what I should or should not do in my own house. Hasn’t she lived her life? Did I meddle when she was raising you and your siblings?”
Her mother in-law shook her head at her and said.
“‘When the peacock begins to flaunt its feathers, you know that its beauty has gotten into its head. It doesn’t recall that it’s a bird and like all birds, it can do justice to a cooking pot and to a hungry belly.’ Bearing children of both sexes doesn’t make you a good wife, what makes you a good wife is the power to bridle your tongue and talk when you are supposed to and not when your tongue itches to speak.” She turned around and stormed into the bedroom.
“Chioma!” Her husband shouted.
“Nnamdi!” She shouted back.
“What…what has gotten into you?”
“Look, I really don’t have time for long talk. I will not accept any more insults in this house again. When I had all daughters, you flung it in my face that you wanted a son and I received all the disrespect from you but now, I have given you what you want so why am I still being disrespected? As long as I am concerned, I have the keys to this house in my hands and woe betide the human being who tries to pry it away.” She said and stormed off.
As the war waged downstairs, Lilian’s baby girl was having a high fever, her parents hurried out of the house to the car and drove her to the hospital, as fast as they could.
Ochuko was eating a late lunch when her sister entered the kitchen and said to her;
“Someone’s here to see you…”
“Who?” Ochuko asked.
“Well…you’ll have to come with me and see.” Her sister said.
“Did you tell the person that I just arrived from a journey and that I need to rest?”
Her sister giggled and hurried out of the kitchen. Ochuko stopped eating her food and stepped out of the kitchen and headed towards the sitting room. She stopped in her tracks. Right there, flanked by her parents was none other than Vuoke and from the goody bags on the center table, she could tell that he’d bought things for her family.
Vuoke looked at her and flashed a smile at her. Ochuko didn’t smile back, she walked into the sitting room as though facing a firing squad.
“Hello baby…” Vuoke greeted, standing and walking to her to envelope her in a hug.
She didn’t respond.
“Say hello to your fiancé…what’s the matter with you?” Her mother asked.
“Look sis, your fiancé got me the sneakers I’ve been dying for.” Princess said with glee, dancing with the multi-coloured sneakers in her hands.
Ochuko barely spared a glance at the sneakers.
“You didn’t tell me you were going on a trip.” He said to her.
“It’s work related.” She said stiffly.
“Come…everyone, let’s give the lovebirds the space to talk.” Ochuko’s mother said, addressing her sister and her father.
Ochuko’s father was a very quiet man who hardly made long sentences and despite his wife’s overbearing and domineering nature, he found ways to express himself through looks, sighs or even one-worded comments. He saw that Ochuko wasn’t happy especially when she saw Vuoke and from what he knew, women mostly showed happiness whenever their boyfriends or fiancés came visiting. He gave his daughter a questioning look as he exited the sitting room.
“Come…sit down…” Vuoke said pulling Ochuko to sit beside him on the sofa.
Ochuko followed and when she’d sat down, she said nothing.
“Baby…don’t tell me you’re still mad at me. I saw your apology text and I must admit that I was angry so, I didn’t bother responding but…now, I’ve come to my senses.” He said.
“I never sent you any text message, Zainab did.” Ochuko said quietly.
His eyes widened as he looked at her.
“Oh! I didn’t know that.”
“What do you want Vuoke?”
He looked shocked at her question.
“What do you mean by what to do I want? I came to see my bride-to-be of course.” He said.
“Do you mean the one you almost disfigured with your beatings?”
“Hey…stop giving me that serious look. What has gotten into you? You’re acting strange.”
She sighed and pried her hands away from his grip.
“I really had a long flight and I need to sleep.” She said.
“Wait…you only travelled to Abuja right? That’s just forty-five minutes by air.” He said.
“The flight was delayed.” She finished and stood up.
“Wait…Ochuko, what is going on with you?” He said looking up at her.
“The thing is, I don’t think I can do this.”
“Marry you… I don’t think I can marry you, Vuoke.”
Vuoke shot up to his feet and grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her.
“What do you mean by that? You accepted my proposal, your family is over the moon with joy…what do you mean by you can’t marry me?” He shouted.
“Let go of me, Vuoke!” She yelled and struggled to free herself from his grasp. “Will you hit me here, in my parent’s house?”
Her words seemed to have an effect on him for Vuoke loved to be viewed by the world as a paragon of saintly virtues.
“Ochuko, what makes you say all of this?” He asked softly.
“Do I need to spell it out? I love myself Vuoke, and I don’t mind remaining a spinster for the rest of my life if it means that I’d live a happy life. I do not envision for myself, a marriage filled with dread because my husband may hit me or make me suffer.”
“Ochuko, I swear on my life that I will never hit you again…I swear it…please…don’t do this to me. I have told my family about our wedding and the introduction has already been set for this weekend.”
“You what? You told you to do that?”
“Darling, I promise to change…I swear that I will change. I will make you the best husband in the world…just don’t…please don’t leave me or I won’t be able to bear it. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me and you are the longest relationship I have ever had.”
Ochuko looked at his pleading eyes and remembered all Fred’s words to her at the hotel and even as they had parted at the airport. Ochuko wanted to forgive Vuoke and take him back but she’d be lying to herself if she said that she felt even the slightest feeling of love for him. All she felt for him was pity.
“Ochuko…please…I am begging.” He pleaded, falling on his knees before her and holding her hand. He began to cry. “I know that I have been terrible but you can’t just leave me because of that. Remember all we’ve shared…”
Ochuko’s heart melted at that instant, she might no longer feel love for Vuoke but they’ve been dating for almost three years and she knew him as well as he knew her.
“Okay…” She whispered.
His eyes brightened as he jumped to his feet.
“Okay?” He asked hopefully.
Ochuko nodded quietly.
“I accept your apologies and yes, we can have the introduction.”
Vuoke whooped for joy and hugged her tight but as their bodies clung together, Ochuko couldn’t remove Fred’s smiling face from her mind. He was her friend but something told her that she was growing so fond of him and that had nothing to do with friendship.
“I am on my way!” Bisiola said in glee and dropped her phone. She was so ecstatic. Fred had called her and informed her that he was back in Lagos and she was on her way to meet him at the private club where he was having a few drinks.
“Where are you of to?” A heavy masculine voice said to her.
Bisiola was shocked, she startled and stared at Bruce who’d come into the sitting room without her knowledge.
“Oh…darling, I was err…errrm…going out with Emem. She’s the one who called.” She lied.
“Are you sure? You never sound excited when you have to hang out with Emem, you guys practically see each other every day.”
“Wait…are you saying that I’m lying to you?” She asked.
“No I’m not, I am just worried that you are heading out when today is the only day we dedicate to spend time together with our son.” He said.
Bisiola looked at the old man she’d tied herself to all because of money, power and influence and said.
“Well…we can do it next Sunday. I mean…there’s no big deal if we skip out on this Sunday.”
“I’ll tell you a better idea, why don’t Zed and I hang out with you and Emem?”
“Yes, Zed and I will hang out with you ladies.”
“What of gossip? You are always careful to go out with me in public because of your profile and your family. What if someone sees us together?”
“Bisiola, you always insist that we go out together and you don’t care if I’m spotted by friends or family or not. Why this sudden change?”
“Change? Who? Me?”
“Is something going on?” He asked.
“No…I mean…of course not.” She said.
“Are you sure that you are actually meeting up with Emem or is it someone else?”
“Someone else? Why would you think that?” She asked.
Bruce paused and gave her a silent stare. When he spoke, he said.
“You are a very beautiful lady and a lot of men would be flocking at your feet but remember that I picked you out of nothing. You were malnourished, underfed and very poor when I brought you into my life. Don’t make me destroy all that I have worked for by giving you this house, luxurious cars, a beautiful life and setting up a restaurant business for you which cost me millions. Remember that everything is in my name and I can take that away from you in a snap.” He said.
Bisiola looked at him, she had never expected Bruce to ever speak to her in such way.
“Are you threatening me?” She asked hotly.
“No on the contrary, I am telling you what you stand to lose if you ever decide to become foolish.”
“Mind you Bruce, we have a son together and whether you like it or not, you can never leave his mother penniless.” She hissed.
“Zed is mine, he carries my name and if it comes to the time where I have to make a decision concerning you, I will claim him and there’s nothing you can do about it.” He said, then smiling at her, he swiftly changed the topic as well as his countenance. “Are we meeting Emem at the club or are we spending the day together as a family?”
Bisiola looked at him sourly and said.
“I’ll pass on both offers, I think I’m about to come down with a bad headache.”
She turned around and hurried out of the sitting room, so angry that tears began to spill from the corners of her eyes and her teeth clamped together so tight, she was scared that they might break into little pieces.
To be continued, next week….