Mabel the cook brought in the last dish of the dinnerware set and placed it on the Italian Cherrywood veneer and bronze dining table. She straightened the golden embroidery edges of the folded table clothes and hurried back to the kitchen to fetch the ice bucket. It was about ten minutes to one in the afternoon. Sunday lunch was served at one.
“Is everything set?” Nike called out from the pantry. She was searching for one particular serving spoon.
“Yes ma.” Mabel replied.
Madam Nike had indeed brought change to their home. Before her entry, all Mabel had to do was cook and serve in plates. She already knew the portion every one usually had. The only time they set the table was whenever Otunba had guests. The woman treated Otunba like the royalty that he was indeed. She made sure she supervised everything done in the kitchen no matter how tired she was after work.
“Okay please call the intercom in Lade’s room and ask him to tell Otunba that lunch is ready.” Nike said.
The intercom interrupted their discussion. Otunba looked at his gold wrist. It was almost one. The two men were seated in the black sofa in Lade’s lounge right before the entrance to his bedroom.
“That must be your mother.” Otunba said.
Lade shook a bit. His step father could tell that all sorts of thoughts were parading the boy’s mind.
“I don’t think I can have lunch. She will see through me.” Lade said. He fiddled with his phone in anxiety.
“Take it easy. You have to calm down and stop being nervous.”
“I’m just seventeen. I didn’t plan it to be this way! I was just…she helped me out of all the hurt I was feeling and I was angry at my mother. So I got comfort from her. One thing led to the other…and she is a really nice person too. She was hurt by her ex and she has no kids. I wanted to reciprocate what she was doing for me…but I don’t know…I want her and I love her but I don't know what to do.”
Otunba sighed. This was the first time Lade was being this open with him. In fact, it was the first time Lade had a real conversation with him. He understood that the boy was scared out of his mind. But what shocked him more was that the ‘pregnant girlfriend’ was a much older woman.
“Lade, is this woman someone we know?” Otunba said. He was trying to suppress the suspicions that were clouding his old mind.
Lade shook his head unconvincingly.
“How old is this woman?”
“Err—uh---she is way older. A year older than mom.”
Lade looked at his step father. His heart beat was on a marathon of its own. He did not know if to confess or not that Aunt Toju was the woman in question.
“I don’t know what to do. Do I tell her to keep the baby or to get rid of it? She wouldn’t want to get rid of it. I don’t even want to kill my own child. But my mom would be mad and furious. I am not even in the University yet.”
The intercom rang again for the third time.
“We will discuss this after lunch. I don’t want your mom to come up here.” Otunba said. Lade nodded.
The older man rose to his feet and gestured for Lade to follow suit.
“I think I have a stomach upset.” Lade said.
“Come on. Let’s go for lunch.”
Nike walked into the dining area just about the same time her husband and her son approached the table.
“Something smells amazing.” Otunba smiled.
“We have special lunch today. I have rice, mashed potatoes, chicken sauce, curry sauce, fish and chicken sauce, ofada sauce, roasted chicken, fried peppered meat…”
“Wait…is it my birthday? No it’s not. And it isn’t your birthday either…” Otunba said.
“I have some news. Good news. And we are also expecting guests.” She was giddy. She rubbed her palms together then reached for her phone. She started to text hurriedly.
“Oh…they are at the gate already.” She said looking from her husband to her son.
“Who?” Otunba asked.
“Toju and her fiancé.”
Lade coughed. He was destabilized for a second or two.
“I didn’t know she had a fiancé.” Otunba said.
“Me too.” Lade said.
Otunba flashed Lade a look but then he shook his head as though he was brushing off a bizarre thought.
“Before they walk in here, I wanted to share this news with you guys first. I wanted Torera to be here first but she can’t make it till evening.” Nike said.
“You know I don’t like suspense. Have mercy on an old man.” He said.
“Okay,” She smiled. “I am pregnant.”
Toju was afraid. There was no doubt she was. She had told Lade that she found out she was carrying his baby. She did not want to bother him but she couldn’t keep it from him. She had made up her mind to keep this baby. She was over forty years old and this was the first time she was experiencing motherhood. Her ex-husband Sule already had six kids from two women and he made it clear that he did not want any more. Besides, their marriage had only lasted two years and five months.
She had deliberately been avoiding her best friend. She couldn’t face her without feeling the pangs of guilt. How would she explain to her that she had been toying around with her son whom she trusted her with? How would she look Nike in the eye? She thought of relocating to a different city or out of the country but she had her business interests in Lagos and she couldn’t afford moving ship. She did not have an idea of how long she would hide from Nike like a vagabond but she was taking each moment as it came. The moment came when Nike called her phone that Saturday morning. Toju refused to answer the calls. Then she heard loud banging on her door.
“Nike what are you doing here?!” Toju screamed in surprise seeing Nike at her door.
Nike hissed, pushed her aside and walked inside the house.
“Is there somebody in this house?” Nike was looking around. "Are you hiding something or someone?"
Toju rushed behind her, punches of guilt coming at her sides from all corners of her house. She rushed after Nike as though trying to prevent her from finding something.
“No one is here. What is wrong?” Toju spoke at the top of her breath.
“I have been calling you endlessly!” Nike said, turning to face Toju. “You have been ignoring my calls. Are we fighting now?”
Toju managed a weak smile. “No. How can we?”
“Then why are you avoiding me? Did I do something?”
Toju shook her head.
“Are you okay? Is everything alright?” Nike asked.
“You don’t look so good, babes. Are you fine?”
“Yes.” Toju said.
“Okay. I’m a little tired I need to rest a bit before heading home. Came out to support my church group bake sale at Shoprite.”
“How’s everyone? Otunba, your step daughter…” She said.
“Everything is going okay. Torera is good but she moved out. She says she needs to get herself together.” Nike said.
“Oh…is she okay?”
Nike sighed. She wanted to say something but then she hesitated.
“Yes she is perfect.” She said.
Nike looked around the living room.
“Where’s your charger? My battery is out. I need to make a call to Lade.”
“Um—yeah…it’s in my bedroom.” She said and started to walk upstairs. Nike waited for a few minutes for her to return. In a short while she hurried up the stairs and joined Toju in her room. Toju was clearing her bed.
“Really?” Nike raised a brow.
“You scared me!” She screamed.
“Were you not supposed to bring me your charger?” Nike said.
“Yeah! I just wanted to um---clear the space…” Toju said, still searching for anything that may belong to Lade since he often spent a lot of time at her place.
“Okay. You are acting weird though. I need to use the bathroom.” Nike said and walked towards the bathroom, pushing open the door.
Toju hurriedly tried to search again with her eyes, hoping to leave no clue. She knew then that she did not have the courage to break it to Nike that she would be a grandmother and a mother-in-law of some sort to her. Nike would cringe! Lade promised not to tell his mother but she knew he was young and already panicking. She did not have a choice. She would have to move base.
Nike opened the door and kept her eyes glued to Toju. Toju turned around.
“What’s up?” Toju said.
Nike folded her arms across her chest. Toju had never seen her best friend look so expressionless.
“Toju how could you do this?!” Nike raised her voice.
Toju’s heart started to thump. Did Lade leave something in the bathroom? His boxers? His toothbrush?
“What are---you tal—talking about?” Toju stuttered.
“Stop playing dumb with me, Toritseju!”
“Nike…I can explain please…”
“I am disappointed in you.”
“You are pregnant and you did not tell me about it. Toju I don’t even know who is responsible for it. What is going on? Are we drifting apart?”
Toju exhaled. She didn’t know what to say. She started to cry.
"I saw the sticks in your waste bin."
"Oh God---" Toju cried.
Nike moved closer and hugged her.
“It’s okay…I’m just mad you didn’t tell me. But we need to talk about this--- Who is the father? How many weeks or months are you gone?” Nike said.
Toju sniffed and wiped her face with the back of her hands.
“Five weeks.” She said.
“I am happy for you. I know you always wanted a child.” Nike said softly.
“How is the father taking the news? Who is he? Someone I know?”
Toju shivered a bit.
“Yes. No! Um...he is surprised too. But I don’t know...”
“Why? Are you still seeing him?”
Toju nodded. She wanted to shake her head but she nodded. She did not know why she nodded.
“Invite him over for lunch at my place tomorrow. Let’s all have lunch. I am not taking no for an answer so you have to cajole him to come with you. Maybe it’s time for marriage number two. And just so you know, I am pregnant too.” Nike smiled and stood up to leave before Toju could congratulate her on the baby or find more lies on why she could not come with her fiancé.
“I work with a bank as an internal auditor.” Mark said, sipping from his glass of water.
“Oh…” Otunba said, nodding.
“Lots of financial work right. My husband is into finance as well.” Nike said. She did not mean to brag.
Mark smiled. “Of course everyone knows Otunba Adenekan Tafa.” He said. Toju had told him what Otunba did for a living and he remembered he had sent his CV once to Otunba's firm for a job opening but he never made it to the interview. He had his chance now to directly speak with the boss over lunch. Was Toju worth blowing this chance?
“So how did you and Toju meet?” Nike asked again.
Lade was barely eating his rice and sauce. He was picking at it. He was obviously uncomfortable. Toju could hardly eat too. Only Mark, Otunba and Nike did most of the eating.
“I met her---” Mark started.
“Childhood sweethearts.” Toju interjected. “We grew up together but then he left the country. We recently sparked things up again.” She lied. The man was a neighbour's older brother who did nothing for money all week. She bought him a nice suit and paid him a hundred and fifty thousand Naira to play along.
“And now you’re having a Mark junior or a little Toju. I hope she picks your brains.” Nike teased.
“Congrats again, Toju.” Otunba said. He looked at Lade who was fuming on his seat.
“Lade won’t you say congrats to Aunty?” Nike said.
“Yeah. Congrats. Excuse me I need to use the bathroom.” He said and excused himself.
They were through with lunch and Mabel and the other kitchen staff had come to clear the table. Mark thanked them for a great time and commended Nike for the lovely meal. They were heading outside with Mark and Toju walking hand in hand when Lade joined them and asked to speak with Toju. He said he wanted to run some business ideas through her. Nike went outside with Otunba and Mark to continue their discussion.
“What the hell is that? Who is that man?” Lade yelled in whispers.
Toju looked around, telling him to quit yelling.
“He is my man now.” She said, looking away.
“So that’s how you use people and dump them. You just take what you want from them and toss them in the bin yea!”
“Yes now. Like you dumped your ex-husband too after collecting money from him. Is that what you want to do with me?”
Toju was livid. She raised her hand and hit the boy in the face. He held his face and laughed.
“What is going on here?” Otunba said.
His suspicion was confirmed. Toju was the older woman. He overheard their conversation.
Toju froze with guilt. Lade opened his mouth ajar as he sighted his step father.
“I am extremely disgusted and disappointed in you, Toju.” Otunba said. “I don’t know what this rubbish is about but Nike must never get to know! I won’t let you hurt her!” Otunba said angrily.
“I must never know what?” Nike said, joining them.
A year and some months after
Torera had moved on. She needed some space and some self-evaluation. She decided to move out of her dad’s mansion to a serviced flat in Lekki although the property belonged to her father as well. It had been over a year and she decided to stay single. Being single was not a death sentence. It was a stage in life. She was getting close to thirty but she was trying not to get bothered by her relationship status. Yes, it got boring a lot of the time being all alone. She had very few friends. She paid visits to her dad and Nike and their new baby boy sometimes but that wasn’t enough to fill the loneliness. Almost everyone around her had a baby. Even Nike who was in her forties.
She had joined an NGO for children with autism to fill up her time. She just wanted to volunteer for a cause. She donated funds to the group and also tried to help with admin and registration on her free weekends.
Enitan now had a baby too. A handsome young man who was almost turning two years old. He was the exact carbon copy of Bami although he had Enitan’s gra gra attitude. She and Enitan still got to hang out a lot.
That Saturday, Torera decided to drive over to Enitan’s. She would be bored being home alone anyways. Sometimes she really missed her sister and wished she came home. She was the next closest person to her.
“Quentin stop it!” Enitan yelled, pulling the TV remote from her son’s grip. Quentin was her twenty one month old who had a habit of putting every object and item into his mouth.
Torera laughed. She was helping Enitan set the table for lunch.
“Do you guys really have to call him Quentin? Please just stick with Moyo.” Torera said.
“No. My baby is a high quality baby.” Enitan stuck out her tongue.
Torera laughed again.
“So, babe. Have you given what I said a thought?” Enitan said, looking at Torera.
Torera raised her hands up.
“I told you I don’t want to be with anyone for now. I just want to breathe, please. I---I am just tired of jumping in and out with different people.”
“Forget those smellos you dated. I had my fair share too but you have to move on. It’s been over a year. Almost two.”
“Sis, I know you are worried about me but I am fine. God’s got my back. Besides not everyone must get married.” Torera said.
“Ehn –ehn. That’s what I don’t like, please. Which one is that one now?” Enitan said.
Bami opened the door and walked in. He hurried over to Quentin and picked him up, kissing his chubby cheeks. He later handed him to his mom and encircled Torera in a full breathless hug.
“Finest. How are you? You haven’t been here in a while. What’s up?” Bami said to Torera.
“It’s work and the NGO too.” Torera said.
Someone walked in too. He had obviously come with Bami. Enitan said Bami had gone golfing with his friend. This was probably the golfing friend. He was a tall and broad chested dark skinned man with a full beard and a little afro. He was carrying a little girl who was about two years old. Behind him was a little boy struggling to get in.
“Folizzle!” Enitan rushed over to him and gave him a hi-five. She took the little girl from him and kissed her face.
“Stacey is a pretty little princess…” Enitan teased the baby. The little girl smiled revealing a set of incomplete tiny teeth. Quentin started to jump. Enitan laughed and dropped Stacey in the play pen with Quentin.
“Have you met Fola before? He was at the wedding.” Bami said to Torera.
Torera continued to look at him. She had seen him somewhere before but she couldn’t place it. And it was not at the wedding. She had been too busy trying to make sure her now ex Rotimi was comfortable. She had even started to introduce him to a few people. Rotimi had told her that Timi was still in love with him and he didn’t have the heart to leave her to herself for fear of bearing the guilt if she killed herself. Torera had not said a word. She had only grabbed her purse and walked out of his apartment and his life. She blocked his number from her phone and lived happily ever after.
“Do you volunteer at the Slow-kids-are-still-smart NGO?” Fola said.
Enitan answered for her cousin immediately.
“Yes she does!”
Bami cleared his throat and dragged his wife into the kitchen with him.
Torera realized this was the Fola that Enitan had been trying to hook her up with. He was a fine man but she wasn’t sure she was ready for any more drama. Besides, the man had two kids. His wife had died during childbirth. She had given birth to twin girls but one of the babies had died, leaving Fola all alone to take care of two children under five. The entire situation spelt drama and she didn’t think she was ready for any more.
Please read, drop a comment and do well to share.
I apologize for the late post. It’s been such an overwhelming month! Phew! Look out for the concluding episode(s). Tell me what you think of this episode in the comment section.