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Teni drove into her estate and noticed a moving van parked right in front of one of the houses. It was the flat occupied by Austin and his mum. She got down from her car and walked towards the house. She didn’t know they were moving. Austin walked out of the front door wheeling his bicycle.
“Good evening aunty.” He looked somewhat reserved. Teni’s instincts told her all was not well.
“Evening sweetie. How are you?”
The child did not even smile
“I’m fine thank you.”
Something wasn’t right.
“Where’s your mummy? Where are you going to?”
His mother appeared as if on cue and yelled at him to place the bicycle in the van and go back inside. The kid did as he was told and went back into the house. Teni was confused.
“You’re moving. Is everything alright?”
“Mind your own business!”
Teni was taken aback. Sasha fierce much?
“Uh, you’re my neighbour. I’m just concerned. Are you in some kind of trouble?”
“I’m not in any trouble. Please leave me alone.”
Teni wasn’t convinced. She looked the lady pointedly in the eyes and the woman averted her eyes. Yes. Something was definitely wrong.
“Look, if you’re in some kind of trouble, you’ll just have to talk to me. I don’t want the police coming here and asking questions after you’re gone. You’re leaving so suddenly and that’s worrisome. You’re obviously tense. See the way you snapped at your kid. You have to tell me what’s going on.”
The lady ignored Teni and walked back into her house. Teni watched her leave but remained rooted to the ground. This woman was here when she moved in six months ago and she lived with her son. She always kept to herself and no one seemed to know much about her. Teni didn’t know much about her neighbours actually. She went to work early in the morning and came home late in the evenings, always minding her business, never paying courtesy visits. If she met them outside, she would greet politely but she was not close friends with anyone in the estate. Not until Austin came banging on her door the night of his mother’s labour. The woman seemed nice to Teni after she gave birth, well, at least until Teni mentioned her husband. She shrugged. Something wasn’t right.
Teni walked up the doorstep and knocked once before she opened it. The door wasn’t locked. The couches were gone. They had been replaced by two white plastic chairs. Most of the furniture was gone too. Teni took in the entire scenario and the lady appeared again with more items in tow and Austin behind her.
“Please you need to leave. You’re distracting us.”
Teni stood her ground with the firmest look on her face.
“Can you see your son’s face? Look how scared the kid is! What is wrong with you?!”
The woman turned to Austin and said.
“Take those things and go back inside your room. Stay with your sister and don’t come out except I call you.”
The child nodded and retreated. The lady dropped the items she held on the floor and took a seat as she gestured to Teni to do same.
“Please sit. My name is Tejiri. Well, you know Austin is my son. He told you his father was dead that day you asked when you were taking us to the hospital. Truth is, he isn’t.”
Teni was surprised but she didn’t show it.
Tejiri rubbed both palms together and went on.
“I married Austin’s father within four months of meeting him. Stupid, I know but I thought I was in love. He was stinkingly rich and we had a crazy romance for a short time. We got married and he changed immediately. He became a brute. He would keep late nights and beat me all the time. I lost a pregnancy once but I couldn’t leave. Each time I tried to complain, everyone said I was lying. In their eyes, he was the perfect man who could do no wrong. Somehow, I survived Austin’s pregnancy and as soon as I had the baby, I ran away. He did not bother to find me or anything. Then he remarried one of his mistresses and she couldn’t bear children for him. That was when he started looking for me. He wants to take my son from me and I can’t allow that
I could not tell Austin the type of man his father was. Why make a kid loathe someone he never met? I figured the best thing to do was to tell him his father had gone to heaven. In other words, he was dead. But he is still alive and he hasn’t stopped looking for us. It’s why we’re constantly on the move. A friend of mine called me last night to say he’s found us and is coming for us. I’ve booked a flight out of Abuja tonight. I’ve asked the movers to take these stuff to a secure location. Maybe when the dust settles, we can return.”
Teni could not believe her ears. The woman’s story sounded like a Nollywood script.
“You can’t keep running forever you know. You’re gonna have to face him sometime soon. And you should not have lied to your child. If his father is all you say he is, you should tell him the truth so when he’s old enough, he can decide for himself what he wants. Have you tried reporting to the police?”
Tejiri rolled her eyes as though Teni’s statement was utterly ridiculous
“It’s like you didn’t hear me abi? He’s stinkingly rich. How do you think he never got arrested all this time? He’s always bribing his way out of trouble.”
Teni was angry. She clenched and unclenched her fists as she looked helplessly at Tejiri.
“I’m really sorry. What can I do to help? Do you need some money?”
“Actually, I can do with all the help I can get right now.”
Teni thought for a bit before she spoke.
“Alright. Are you done packing? How do you intend to get to the airport? What time is your flight?”
“We’re almost done. My flight is in two hours. It’s the last flight to Lagos. I was gonna take a cab.”
“Not to worry. I’ll drop you. Let me just go change quickly. Get the rest of your stuff into the van and I’ll be back to pick you in a bit.”
She got up to leave and Tejiri held her arm.
“Thank you so much. You’re very kind. I’m sorry I didn’t open up sooner. It’s just, this whole thing has made me paranoid. I don’t know who to trust.”
Teni smiled and pulled her in for a hug.
“You’re welcome. I totally understand. I’ll be back in a bit.”
She walked out briskly and headed to her own house. Truly everyone had a cross to carry but some heavier than others. The story just reinforced her desire to never want to marry. Marriage was a crazy institution. People outside were desperate to get in and those who were in were desperate to get out.
Bobby sat in front of his laptop, looking but not really seeing. He was working late again this Friday. Or at least that’s what he told himself. But he knew the truth. He wasn’t working. He was just thinking. Thinking too much and he was tired. So maybe he was attracted to Ese. He didn’t mean for it to happen but she was just so vulnerable! Each time he thought of her, he was overcome by very strong emotions. Emotions he could not even define. He just knew he wanted to protect her. To be there for her. To hold her. To make everything alright. She was a strong woman. The kind of woman that could handle herself. The kind of woman that didn’t need a man yet the kind of man that would love her man and treat him with respect. It had been almost a month since she broke down in her house and she was doing a whole lot better.
She had gone back to her business. She had a fish farm somewhere in Gudu district and it was doing really well. He envied the way she seemed to pick her life and piece it back together. She was a woman of substance. How could Gabe have hurt her so much? Why did he not treasure her for all she was worth?
They had spoken every day after the incident at first and then slowly she began to withdraw. From several calls in the day to a call or two and sometimes just texts. He would call and she would say she was busy then ask to call later but most times she never returned his calls. He tried to visit her at home but she was nearly always out. He had his suspicions for why she was suddenly distant and it bugged him a lot. She was older. And ever since they made that discovery, she had begun to depend on him less and less. And she had begun addressing him like a younger brother. It upset him and made him very irritable but he could not protest it. She was 34 and he was 28. He could not believe it at first until she produced her driver’s license. She had such a small physique, it was almost impossible to believe. And he looked bigger than his age. They were in her living room that day talking about a lot of random things when the conversation managed to get to her marriage to Gabe. She said she married him because everyone was complaining about her biological clock and she was tired of being single. He asked how old she was when they got married and she said 30. He didn’t believe her. He wouldn’t even have thought she was up to 30, let alone older than that. When she asked him his age, he was reluctant to tell at first and when he told her, she wouldn’t believe him as well. He also had to produce his license to convince her.
He sighed. She had eaten into his mind in such a short time and the fact that she was withdrawing upset him greatly. At first he had thought it was all in his head but now he was more than certain and it had to be because of the age difference between them.
He picked up his phone and stared at it as he contemplated calling her. He checked his call logs. He had called her twice that day and she didn’t pick up. He checked the time. It was almost 7:00pm. He sighed again and pocketed the phone instead. He got up, shut down his laptop and carried the keys to his car. He needed to go home and sleep.
“You can’t keep lying to yourself o. Shey you know.”
Ese looked at her mother and shook her head. This woman was just a case. She would not stop bugging her over Bobby’s matter even when Ese had told her over a hundred times that there was no story where Bobby was concerned.
“Mum, you’re beginning to annoy me with this your talk o. Shebi it’s every time you’ll be talking to me about Bobby. I’ve told you. He’s nothing but a good friend who is six years younger than me. And do I also need to remind you that I just lost my husband? It’s not even three months since Gabe died but you’re already trying to replace him.”
“Which husband? The one that disrespected you all the time? The one that wasn’t there for you? I can see a young man that genuinely cares for you and you’re busy driving him away.”
Ese sighed. This woman would drive her crazy. It was only a matter of time.
“Mummy, I carry God beg you. Leave this boy matter, abeg. Jus leave am. Shuo! Which kain thing kon be dis one na? if you raise this boy matter again, I go drive you comot from my house o. No be play. Abeg, stop am.”
The older woman looked like she was going to say something but she thought better of it and kept quiet. They were in the kitchen and Ese was trying to fix dinner. She walked to the fridge instead and picked up a bottle of water to drink. Ese was so stubborn! She uncapped the bottle and took one full gulp and in seconds, her face changed. She rushed to the sink and spat out the entire content. Ese was startled.
“Mum! What is it?”
The woman looked alarmed.
“Wetin you put for there?”
Ese collected the bottle from her, read what was written on the side and burst out laughing.
“This is not water nau. This is vinegar.”
She continued laughing unable to help herself but her mother hissed and walked out of the kitchen
“Na me you dey laugh abi? Yeye pikin.”
Anita walked into the kitchen a few minutes later and wrapped her hands around her right leg.
“What is it my darling? Are you hungry?”
Anita did not make a sound. Ese stirred the stew and then turned to her daughter.
“Sweetie, are you okay?”
Anita shook her head.
“What is it? What do you want?”
Ese felt the sharp pain in her chest but she ignored it. She’d been talking a lot to her pastor. She had been told to expect things like this, especially from Anita who was the more reserved one.
She rinsed her hands under the tap, dried them on a napkin and then stooped to face the child.
“Daddy can’t be here sweetie. Daddy is in heaven. With Jesus and daddy doesn’t want you to be sad. He wants you to be happy. Okay?”
Anita shook her head.
“But I want to see him. I want him to buy me ice cream.”
“Don’t worry; you’ll get ice cream tonight. And chocolate cake. Will that make you happy?”
The child nodded and finally smiled.
Ese hugged her tight then drew back and pulled her cheeks.
“Who’s mummy’s brave little girl?”
Anita giggled. Ese tickled her and pulled her cheeks some more then plastered her tiny face with kisses until she laughed really hard. Anita tried to ward off her mother’s kisses with her tiny fingers as she continued laughing.
“Stop mommy. I’m fine.”
Ese chanced one last kiss on her forehead before she finally stopped.
“Where’s your sister?”
Anne appeared in the doorway like an apparition
“No I’m not.”
She walked past her mother and sister and tried to reach for the soup spoon that was on the table just above her head. Ese laughed. These children were light of her life.
“What are you doing?”
Anne had on a serious look that said ‘you people are not serious here so I want to go about the cooking business.’
“I want to turn the stew.”
Ese laughed. Anne was just a drama queen. She obliged the little girl and placed the spoon in her hands then lifted her so she could turn the stew. When she put her down, she drew both her daughters close and hugged them tight.
“Please go and get me my phone Annie.”
She turned off the gas cooker and proceeded to clean the table top. Annie returned seconds later and handed the phone to her. Without thinking twice and before she could change her mind, she hurriedly keyed in a text message and hit the send button.
Hi, you would be crowned hero in my home tonight if you could please show up with some ice cream and chocolate cake. Hard time with the girls, please oblige me. I’ll refund when you get here. It would mean a lot to me. Please. Thanks
She got a reply in two minutes.
I’ll be there in 30mins
Teni was driving at 140km/h. She was anxious for Tejiri to not miss her flight and Kachi was waiting for her as well. The day had certainly been a busy one for her. She had rushed through all her tasks and had gotten home to freshen up before meeting up with Kachi but now she was running late. She had sent him a text to say she was helping a neighbour with an emergency and would be there as soon as she could. The yeye boy had not even shown up in town within the two weeks that he had said when he first called. It took him almost a month. She shook her head. Kachi was a workaholic; he redefined the term busy.
Her phone rang and she took her eyes off the road to see who was calling. It was Benjamin. They had gone out a few times and she had enjoyed herself. She picked the phone and wedged it to her ear, still focusing on the road.
“Hey you! What’s up?”
“I’m alright dear. I want us to go clubbing tonight. Where are you?”
Teni thought it was a bit odd but she kept her tone light.
“On my way to the airport. I’m dropping someone off.”
“Really? You didn’t mention that.”
“Yeah. It wasn’t planned.”
“Alright. No problem. When you get back then.”
“Oh no, that won’t be possible. I’m meeting up with my best friend tonight. We haven’t seen for ages and he just came into town.”
“You didn’t tell me that.”
Teni was a little surprised. Why did he sound annoyed?
“Uh, Ben, can we talk later? I’m driving now. Let me call you from the airport.”
Ben hung up and Teni looked utterly surprised.
“Ahan. Na wa for some people o.”
Tejiri turned to her and asked
“I think so. Just some guy I’ve been out with a few times that is suddenly sounding like I’m married to him.”
“Men! They’re so possessive!”
“That one is for his pocket o. I’m not anyone’s property to possess.”
They were at the airport in less than ten minutes and Teni parked and walked towards the Arik terminal. There was an ATM machine there. She withdrew sixty thousand naira, money she had been saving up for a rainy day, and handed it to Tejiri.
“This isn’t much, I’m sorry. But just hold on to it for the time being. And here’s my card. Call me if you ever need anything.”
Tejiri had tears in her eyes as she hugged her.
“Thank you! God bless you!”
Teni smiled. She walked over to where Austin stood by the pram with his baby sister. She took his hand
“Be a good boy dear. And make sure mummy doesn’t get into any trouble.” He nodded and smiled.
“I’ll see you sometime soon yeah?”
Teni felt a little emotional as she turned to leave.
“Please let me know when you land yeah?”
Tejiri nodded and Teni walked away. She got to her car and kicked the engine to life. She thought of Benjamin and decided to text instead. That one had issues.
We’re gonna have to talk later. Just dropped off my neighbour at the airport and I’m racing to meet up with my best friend. Cheers.
Whatever was eating him would have to wait. And if her suspicions of him trying to be possessive were right then he had a huge storm coming his way.