Mariam Akin-Bucknor paid no attention to the teacher in front of the class. Mrs Yakubu was teaching something about Registers in English language and as much as she loved the subject and was a dedicated student, the phone she was holding at the moment, gripped her attention.
She knew she should listen, she knew she had to pay attention because she was the head girl and was expected to lay good examples. She knew she couldn’t afford to be caught by the teacher because she was the most popular girl at school and everybody saw her as some type of model who hardly did anything wrong.
But she couldn’t. The blog she was reading at the moment wouldn’t let her.
Her mother and grand mother had donated so much money to the school through PTA, inter house sports, school anniversary (and every chance they got to donate money and be relevant), that she knew even if she was caught reading a blog in class, she wouldn’t be punished – At least not seriously.
Kaycee had given her the phone she was holding at the moment. It was the new blackberry Q10 and as the only son to the second richest man in the country, Chief Obi Nwachukwu, he had access to anything he wanted.
He wanted Mariam to be his girlfriend and he had been giving her attention for weeks. As much as he was spoilt and rude, he’d been extremely nice in recent times and took his time to let her know the events happening outside school; the shows his father was hosting, the celebrity he was dashing money and every other thing revolving around the Nwachukwus’ society life.
But at the moment, she was more interested in other events.
The events including gossip in the outside world – Gossip which included her mentor Malika Aliu being connected to her parents rocky matrimony and her sudden disappearance from Zestville and how her mother was seen as the suspect.
Her heart began to race fast, anger suddenly boiling inside of her. She was disappointed. She loved Malika Aliu but was disappointed in the role she played in her family.
“Mariam! Hand over that phone” Mrs Yakubu called. She looked up at the teacher and slowly rose on her feet.
Malika poured herself a bowl of cereal and milk. She noticed that her favourite cereal was in the fridge and so was her favourite beverage, ice cream, brand of butter and biscuits.
She knew her mother had done this on purpose and she suddenly felt bad. The woman had missed her, wanted her to be home and prepared for her like the prodigal daughter. She could see that.
She loved her mother. She loved her no doubt but she had left home because she needed to. She had left home because she didn’t want to loathe her at the time.
Because she didn’t want to ask her why her only means of survival was to make other women cry, ruin their happily ever after and take away their men.
Because she had lots of questions to ask and she wasn’t sure the woman could provide her the answers she needed.
But even now that she sat on a stool in the kitchen and slowly ate her breakfast, she knew life was more complicated than she’d chosen to see it.
She’d found herself completely tied up in the Bucknor family issues when she hadn’t planned it and she was being hated for it by people who didn’t know her.
“She shopped for you for weeks. I didn’t see any sense in it but she missed you and she wanted nothing more than to see you again”
Malika faced her younger sister. The latter was standing by the doorway, her arms folded and her gaze fixed on her older sister. Malika knew Aaliyah was mad at her and she knew it was because she’d left home years before without even a goodbye. Aaliyah albeit rude had always been the understanding one. The one who gave everyone excuses, who put herself in their shoes and who was stronger. She was the one who loved with her whole heart and who hated when the people she loved walked out on her.
“She followed your work, bought every magazine that interviewed you, saved all your pictures in a folder, watched every show that had you on television. She loves you so much. Give her something back in return” Aaliyah added and left.
Malika felt worse, she could barely swallow the cereal in her mouth, she knew she had to forgive her mother. She had to. Maybe that way, she would feel better.
Maybe that way she would be able to lean on her family and pour out her heart to someone who truly cared. Someone who could shelter her from the people who claimed to love her and who didn’t.
She remembered Korede Kuti and her heart sank. That one she was beginning to love but who cared less about her.
Maybe it was a good thing her mother had her brought over by force.
This was home for her, not zest ville. This was where her family was. Here, in this house.
Korede looked from his sister to his mother. Honestly, he would prefer to be left alone. He had just learnt that Malika was his sister a day before and he was trying very hard to understand why life dealt some blows sometimes. He also was hoping and praying that she was fine wherever she was. It had been two days since she disappeared and he missed her terribly and longed to see her.
He’d fallen in love after a very long time with none other than his own half sister? Why didn’t his father just stop himself from making another baby outside his family? He needed to find the man and tell him how much he hated him at the moment.
“There’s something I need to tell you both” his mother began, her voice calm, the way it was when she was about to drop some sort of bombshell.
She had another bad news and he just knew he wasn’t in the mood to hear another unpleasant news.
“Mum, I am not in the mood for another shocker.” He responded and got on his feet. Both of them needed to leave his house and let him be alone. He strolled to the window and stared outside, looking at nothing in particular but thinking about Malika Aliu all the way.
“At least listen to what she’s got to say”. Kofo said but he paid her no attention, Malika still heavily on his mind.
“Your father passed this morning” Alhaja Kuti announced.
His attention was immediately drawn to his mother. He hadn’t been expecting that.
“This isn’t even our business. We barely knew this man while he was alive. Why should we all go to his family house now that he’s dead?” Aaliyah quizzed, wanting to know why she was expected to go to Alhaji Kuti’s house now that he was dead. She had barely known the man, didn’t even like him, he was too full of secrets and mysteries and never really treated their mother well.
“We need to pay our respects” Lara Aliu told her younger daughter. Malika watched them both and said nothing. She hadn’t said anything since she heard of the man’s demise. She had nothing to say.
“I didn’t respect him while he was alive. I don’t need to pay any respect now that he’s gone!” Aaliyah spat and got on her feet. “Of all your decisions mother, this is the worst. Those people would want their pound of flesh. His wife and children! Why should we walk into their trap?”
“Because we were a part of his life as much as they were” Lara responded. “And because his lawyer asked for us to be there. According to him, that was his final wish”
Aaliyah scoffed. She couldn’t believe her mother sometimes.
“You can stay in my house in Zest ville. We can leave when you’re ready” Malika spoke. Her mother and sister turned to look at her, clearly surprised at her statement.
Malika managed a smile. She’d found out about Alhaji Kuti’s kids and the fact that the man who had been in her life at some point was their father.
All her life, she hadn’t been bothered about his children. Simply because she didn’t want to understand why he left them to be with her mother and then left her later.
When she’d moved into zest ville, she’d had no idea he was Kofo and Korede’s father. She’d have steered clear if she knew but then she hadn’t planned all the drama that stemmed out from that bar the night she met Akin.
Now she knew who he was and she knew who Alhaja Kuti was and how she’d treated her own mother.
She was angry at how much Kofo was like her mother and how she’d tried to ruin her life.
And she’d made a decision – she was tired of running. She was going back to Zest ville, she was going to be her real self and show them nobody really messed with an offspring of Lara Aliu. She was her mother’s daughter. A strong daunting breed.
“You must be out of your mind! That woman and her children are not stepping into this house and neither would they have anything that belongs to me and my children!” Alhaja yelled at the top of her voice. The lawyer had to be joking. What did he mean by Alhaji stated that Lola Aliu and her kids be at the reading of the will? Was he out of his mind?
“Ma’am I can’t do otherwise, it is what Alhaji Kuti wanted. It is either this or the will won’t be read.” The lawyer stated.
Alhaja Kuti was fuming, she couldn’t believe her husband dared do what he did. He’d been buried according to muslim rites and she’d expected the will to be read as soon as possible so that life would continue but then this recent development? She knew what she had to do.
“I honestly think this is a bad idea. This man’s will doesn’t concern us” Aaliyah said for the thousandth time again that night as she followed her mother and sister into the latter’s apartment in zest ville.
“He asked for us to be there” her mother gave her the same answer she’d been giving all day.
“We don’t have to honour it. He owes us nothing” Aaliyah responded.
“Actually he does” Lola Aliu responded. “He thought he was your father”
Her two kids stared at her in shock.
“You lied to him!” Aaliyah exclaimed.
“Not exactly. He believed and I didn’t correct him” Lola said to both children as they watched her still stunned.
Malika shook her head and headed to her room. She needed to undress, take a shower and get rid of the stress of driving a long distance.
Her mother followed her; afraid she might be taking it the wrong way.
When they both got to the room, the sight they saw threw them both off balance.
The two women stared in horror at the lifeless body of Alhaja Amina Kuti as it laid on the floor in Malika’s bedroom.