Chioma was on her way downstairs with her mother in-law and her baby when a familiar looking woman walked up the stairs. After what seemed like an eternity, they were leaving Lillian’s flat. Immediately the woman saw Chioma, she said.

“I know you…aren’t you the woman who registered for antenatal at our clinic and who gave birth there too?”

Chioma stared at her and remembered where she knew the woman, she was one of the nurses at the hospital where she had given birth, however, the woman hadn’t been there on the day she’d been delivered of her last daughter whom she’d switched for her neighbour’s son.

“Oh…” Chioma simply said.

“Is this your baby?” The woman asked, trying to peer at the baby in her mother in-law’s arms.

“Yes…yes…it is.” She said.

“Oh…congrats ooo…I see that you are coming from my niece’s place.” The woman said.

“Your niece?”

“Yes, I am Lillian’s aunt. Her mother and I are sisters, I am the last child of her grandmother.”

“Small world.” Chioma said quickly.

“I heard that you stopped coming to the clinic even after the birth of your child, did anything happen to make you change your mind about us?”

“No…it’s nothing…I just wanted to change.” Chioma said.

The woman flashed her a winning smile.

“There must have been a cause. I am sure something or someone upset you to change your thinking. You gave birth to your three daughters at our clinic if I’m not mistaken.”

“I just wanted to change hospitals.” Chioma said hastily.

“If you don’t mind, once I’m through at my niece’s place, I’ll come pay you a visit. You see, I always took note of your comings and goings from our clinic and even though I was on a short leave of absence when you had this baby, I would still love it if we could foster a great relationship regardless of the clinic you’ve changed to.”

The woman was talking too much and Chioma was growing uneasy.

“Thanks, I have to go now…my baby needs to be fed.” She said.

The woman nodded and Chioma hurried down the stairs with her mother in-law in tow. Once they reached the entrance to her flat, her mother in-law said to her.

“Chioma, are you okay?”

“Yes ma…I’m fine.”

“I don’t know if I’m imagining things but recently, you seem to be a bit insultive and aloof. This is not who you are.”

“Me? Insultive? How? When?” Chioma asked as she opened the door to her flat.

“I noticed the way you related with our neighbours upstairs and the way you kept taking your baby from them. I know that this is your first male child but the fact that he’s a boy doesn’t mean he’s more special than anyone else.”

“Mama!” Chioma said. “I am not doing that…”

“I understand you, I know that my son pressured you to give him a male child but we both know that we don’t give children, only God does. I don’t want you to treat your son differently from my granddaughters too because they are all gifts from God.”

Chioma looked at her mother in-law and said nothing.

“Look Chioma, I am a mother and I know how you are feeling right at this moment. It seems as though the birth of your son has wiped away all your tears but I can assure you that it hasn’t solved any of your problems. Problems will still arise in the future, bigger problems than these and you will have to face them. Don’t think that being blessed with a male child is a lottery ticket.”

“Ah ah…mama, why are you saying all these?”

“I am saying this because of your new attitude. You have changed and I can see it in your eyes. I am just warning you to watch the way you lay your bed now or you will regret it in the future.” Her mother in-law said and stepped into the house.

Chioma wanted to retort, she wanted to tell the woman that all her words were like garbage to her. She wanted to yell at her and tell her that she has secured a spot in her home by bearing a male child and that no one could take him away from her. Instead, she shut the door and walked into the house.

*******

Bisiola was unnerved, she wanted to take a flight to Abuja and be with her man. That lady at the airport had made her uneasy and something told her that their being together this weekend was going to draw them closer to each other.

She drove into her restaurant and stopped the car with a start. Standing at the entrance were her mother and her sister. Bisiola wanted to turn back, she wanted to swing the car around and flee. She couldn’t face them, at least not today. She sat in her car and stared at them silently, her mother stormed up to her car and rapped impatiently at the window, she could tell that she had been crying.

“What sort of drama is this? Today of all days.” Bisiola lamented.

She wound down the window and her mother’s angry eyes stared at her.

“Bisiola…my child! Bisiola!” Her mother shouted, holding her breasts and breathing heavily.

Bisiola made a mental note to warn the security not to allow just anyone into her property.

“How can I help you?” She asked.

“Eh…how can you wetin?” Her mother asked in disbelief.

“I am very busy as you can see…” She started.

“May God punish you! I curse you Bisiola, I curse the day I gave birth to you. I brought you into this world with a heart bursting with joy but what do I get in return? You left the house more than ten years ago and disappeared just like that. I mourned you, I prayed for your soul to find peace with God…only to find out that…that you are alive, you are well and you are living like a Queen.”

“Is that all?” Bisiola asked. “I really have to go.”

“You might look down on your poor mother now but I promise you, one day you will suffer as I have suffered.”

“Enough of the curses, they won’t affect me in the least. Look at me, I have made it. Should I tell you how much I have in my bank account or the assets that I own? Should I tell you? Poverty is not even close to my last name now because I am a success and it was no thanks to you and your shameless husband and family.”

“What did my husband do to you? Didn’t he love you as he would his daughter? Didn’t he defend you and take care of you?”

“He is not my father! I don’t need him to do that.” Bisiola spat angrily.

“May God reward you for the wickedness that you are dishing out to your poor mother, may God bless you for it.”

“I thought you were cursing me before, why are you blessing me now?”

Her mother looked at her and shook her head. Bisiola opened the cubicle in her car and brought out a wad of notes which she handed over to her.

“Take this and leave my property.”

Her mother looked at her, it was a look of disappointment and dismay.

“I don’t need your money, I will never touch your money. I sell moi moi for a living and I am not hungry. I just came to see if what your sister had told me about your being alive is true and now that I have seen it, I am satisfied.”

Bisiola scoffed and took back her money.

“From today hence forth, I reject you, Bisiola, I am no longer and I will never be referred to as your mother.” Her mother said and turning to her sister, she said, “Je kalo…”

Bisiola watched her mother and sister leave through the review mirror of her car. Their clothes were like tattered rags as the maids in her house dressed better than they did. She wound up the window of her car and felt tears tug at the corners of her eyes. She angrily brushed them away and starting her car, she reversed and drove away.

*******

Ochuko was already in the hotel reception, she was staring at her phone while Fred was speaking to the lady at the reception. Her phone rang and she answered, it was her mother.

“Hello mummy, I just sent you a text message. I have arrived Abuja.”

“Ochuko, why didn’t you tell me that you insulted Vuoke’s mother?” Her mother’s voice pierced through the phone.

“What?” Ochuko asked, she was totally caught off-guard.

“I just called him right now and what he told me really broke my heart.”

“Mummy! Are you for real? You called Vuoke? Why?”

“Why shouldn’t I call my future son in-law? Listen and listen good, I expect you to call Vuoke now and beg him for forgiveness. How can you insult your future mother in-law?”

“Point of correction mom, I didn’t insult her…I did not…” Ochuko spat, not realizing that her voice was quite loud and that she was drawing the attention of some guests at the hotel.

“I don’t care what explanations you have. Ochuko, your wedding is long overdue. It’s almost as though you’re possessed by some Ogbanje spirit and have vowed never to get married. You must get married this year whether you want to or not. I have made a covenant with God and it’s been signed and sealed. You’d better beg your fiancé for forgiveness so that he can come for the introduction.” Her mother spat and hung up.

“Mom…mom…” Ochuko called but the phone was dead.

She took the phone away from her ear and turned, only to find Fred watching her intently.

“Errm…have the rooms been sorted out yet?” She stammered.

“Yes, you are in room 306 while I am in room 309.” He said handing the keys to her.

She nodded and stooped to pick her bag. They both made their way to the elevator following the bell boy who was walking ahead of them.

“Are you okay?” Fred asked, looking at her in concern.

“Yes…I’m fine.” She said.

“If you ever need to talk to anyone, I’m here.” He said.

She nodded and looked away. Her phone beeped and she clicked on the text message icon, it was Zainab.

‘Babeee…do you want your good luck to pass you by? I just spoke to your mom now and she’s been crying. Please get things fixed with Vuoke, for your family’s sake and peace of mind. Your mom is distraught, she thinks that you’ve blown your chances of getting married.’

She read the message and sighed. Fred stared at her, he had read the message too.

“If you don’t mind my asking, who’s Vuoke and what’s going on?” He asked.

The elevator door opened and they stepped out.

“If you don’t mind, it’s none of your business.” She said icily and followed the bell boy to her room.

********

Emem stared at her friend in wonder, she couldn’t believe what she’d heard.

“Your mother came to your restaurant and you ignored her?”

“Hey, stop speaking too loudly or my domestic staff could hear you. You should have seen the way she was dressed, like a market woman who’s spent the entire day grovelling through mud.” Bisiola said, biting into her waffles. “Didn’t Tosin tell her that she was coming to the highbrow area? Couldn’t she have dressed better?”

They were in Bisiola’s sitting room, the television was on but placed on mute and the sitting room had a rose scented smell.

“Bisiola! Why did you do that? What has gotten into you?”

“Nothing! I’ve been dead to her for so long I don’t think it makes any difference that I am alive.” Bisiola said.

“Picture this, what if Zed does exactly what you’re doing to your mother to you in the future?”

“And why would he do that? Haven’t I given him everything?” Bisiola asked. “Don’t compare me to my mother.”

“You obviously don’t know anything. Aren’t you the same person who’s thinking of dating Fred? Is Fred, Zed’s father?”

“Don’t you compare the life I had with my mother with the life I’ve built for my son. My mother destroyed a perfectly formed family when she brought in that lunatic of a husband and started bearing children for him. In my case, I am dating a married man and I have a son for him and if I decide to date Fred and marry him, I will be creating a perfect family for my son. Don’t you think that Zed needs to have a father figure always around him?”

“You don’t see my point do you? Don’t you see that in the future, Zed could resent you for a lot of things?”

“Please stop talking rubbish. I have a valid reason for cutting off from my mother and her family.”

“With the way you speak so hatefully about your step-father, if I didn’t know him, I’d say he abused you or molested you.”

“God forbid! I’d have castrated him if he did that.” She said still eating her waffles. “Please, let’s change the topic.”

Emem looked at her and said nothing.

“In other news, there’s this pretty lady that Fred introduced to me today as his friend and his staff. You should have seen the way she was batting her lashes at him and trying so desperately to get him to notice her. I honestly wanted to go to Abuja with them so that I can stake my claim on my man but I had to stay back because of my restaurant and because of Zed.”

“Hmmm…does Fred know you own the restaurant?”

Bisiola shrugged.

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“It’s nothing…I’m just asking…” Emem said.

“You know how to spoil a good conversation; I don’t know what’s wrong with you.” Bisiola hissed and walked out of the sitting room.

“Your attitude, Bisiola, is so bad that I fear it will destroy you.” Emem said to herself as she watched Bisiola leave.

*******

Fred had just finished a Skype call with his mother and was about to put on his shoes when he heard a rap at the door. He walked to open it and he was surprised to see Ochuko.

“Hey…” She greeted. “I’m sorry for being rude earlier.”

“It’s okay, I should learn to stop poking my nose into people’s business.”

“No, don’t say that…you have been so nice to me and I consider you a friend, I guess I was so tensed that I blurted out those words and I am sorry.”

“Want to come in?” He asked, opening the door wider.

She stepped into his room and walked to sit on a chair beside the bed.

“The conference doesn’t start till two which means we have about an hour thirty minutes to kill.” He said. “Do you want to eat anything? We could go down to the restaurant.”

“No, I’m not hungry.” She said.

He sat on the bed and wore his other shoe in silence. Ochuko didn’t know when the words left her mouth.

“I am in a relationship with an abusive boyfriend.”

He seemed stunned and straightened up to look at her, he didn’t speak so she continued.

“It started three months after we officially became a couple and it has continued ever since. Do you remember the day I walked into your office with a swollen face and claimed that I fell on the stairs? It was Vuoke. He beats me for no reason at all and I don’t know what I feel for him anymore.” She said as tears slid down her face. “The last time he hit me was early this week and I think that I am a bad person for being relieved that he hasn’t contacted me since then. I have felt so much peace without him and…I feel that I am a terrible person for that. He proposed a few weeks ago and I didn’t want to accept but I was pressured to do so. My family feels that I am growing older and that…I should accept whatever proposal comes my way…”

Fred stared at her, he couldn’t believe what he’d heard.

“I am…I…don’t know what to say.” He said.

“Don’t…worry…forget that I told you.” She said.

“No, how can I forget that you bared your heart to me. I am so shocked to hear this.” He said, not knowing whether to go to her or remain sitting on the bed.

“I don’t know why I told you but my heart tells me to trust you.” She said.

“I…I am glad you did. I would never have imagined that you are in an abusive relationship.”

She nodded and said nothing.

“You know what you have to do right?”

She looked at him and began to cry, he walked over to her and took her hands in his.

“Look at you, you are a mess. You don’t even have his ring on your finger. What does this tell you?”

She looked at her bare fingers and realized that he was telling the truth, since Vuoke had given her the ring, she’d never put it on.

“It tells me that I want to be…free from him. I don’t want to commit myself to someone who would make me miserable for life.”

“Good. You need to get yourself out of the toxic relationship fast and I think you have to tell your parents too. The more you hide this from them, the more they think that you are the one at fault.”

She nodded.

“You are beautiful, Ochuko and you deserve a man who would respect and love you. You don’t need a Mike Tyson at home who would rearrange your face any chance he gets.”

“Yes, you’re right. Funny enough, your advice is the best I’ve received so far.” She said.

“And how many people have you told this to?” He asked.

“My friend, Zainab.”

“And what did she say?”

“She says that Vuoke loves me and that most African men beat their women.”

Fred shook his head in disbelief.

“That’s not true, I am an African man and I’ll never hit a woman, my brothers are African men too and a lot of my friends are African and Nigerian, we don’t hit women. I refuse to believe that most African men hit their women, it’s just what people say to make you accept crap.”

She smiled at him.

“Thank you Fred, thank you so much.”

“You have a friend in me anytime…it doesn’t matter that you are my staff but I like you a lot and I know that we can be great friends.”

She smiled.

“I don’t think your girlfriend thinks that.”

He rolled his eyes.

“Don’t mind Bisiola, I think she was being a bit too intense.” He said, recalling the incident with Bisiola earlier, he too didn’t like the fact that she’d been quite insultive. “We just became close and I am thinking of getting serious with her but before we do that, she has to understand that I make room for friends, both male and female and it doesn’t mean that there’s more to it.”

Ochuko nodded, she felt more relieved than she’d ever felt in a long time.

 

To be continued….

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