“Once upon a time…”
“There lived a boy who met a girl. They fell in love from the moment their eyes locked despite the differences they had. They loved each other so much they were willing to do what it took to make the relationship work. So when he felt the time was right, he asked her to marry him and she said “Yes”. Overjoyed he told his people, and wedding plans got underway. It was going to be the wedding to top all weddings, but above all that, he purposed that their marriage be even better.”
Two years had come and gone since this boy met this girl, and in that time he had decided he could not stay in a relationship with her. Amazingly, his reason for leaving did not have anything to do with being in love; he loved her very dearly, he just could not imagine staying with who she was becoming and he shuddered at the thought of what he would do if someday the light in her eyes were gone. In his words “Loving a woman does not have to be this rough.”
Quite frankly, we did not understand what he meant, and so thought he was giving hogwash excuses for breaking up something we all perceived as good, especially since they were having a baby together. That was until their baby came.
On the day the baby came, we had been with him playing games – I can not quite remember if it was draught or chess – when he was given the news on his nought-nine-nought phone. He got dressed in a frenzy, his shirt wrongly buttoned as he tore through the house on his way out. He left me behind to lock up when I was done, repeating the instructions on what to do with the keys after I locked up. “Don’t forget to switch off everything before you leave. And after you lock up, please give the keys to my neighbour.”
I had taken his car keys from him and so I drove to the hospital – no need for a birth and a funeral.
On the drive to the hospital he was grinning sheepishly, positively beaming! By the time we got to the hospital, his excitement was palpable – and catching. We smiled at everyone we passed, and I half expected him to break into dance at any moment. We were shown into the room where his baby and the mother were. After their greetings, he lifted his child out of the cot and did a twirl. He was still cradling the newborn in his arms when the door opened and in walked her ex.
I shivered as the temperature in the room seemed to drop a few degrees. I felt, more than saw, my friend got rigid. I walked up to him and laid a hand on his shoulder – a gesture that was meant to say “Let it go, I am here for you.” I felt him take a few deep breaths, and with each breath he relaxed as the tension eased from him.
Standing there as a spectator I was amused by the picture they cut, all four of them. Soni, the baby daddy lovingly rocking his child; the child, with eyes closed resting peacefully in her father’s embrace; Tiwa, darkened by pregnancy with that haughty air around her; Bayo, the ex and should-have-been-husband fretting and fussing over her. It took all of my restraint from breaking into a guffaw.
From that position of onlooker, I saw that Soni should not be left by himself because I had seen the game being played here: the Queen had more Pawns, a Knight and a Bishop (on the way) to do her bidding. Soni (my King) was only here with a Rook (his baby) and me (I was not even sure what piece I was on the board).
Her first move was brilliant, it was intended to undermine his position. After her bath, and with an audience of five present, she announced that she wanted to try and feed the baby and could he excuse her? To his credit, Soni played deaf. When she repeated the request, a little louder this time, he said “If you are going to feed the child go ahead and do so, otherwise can you please hand her here?”
She did neither and he did not press the matter.
When she got discharged the next day, she showed her hand again.
As he told it: “We were told she was getting discharged so we packed up her things. I had gone to pick my family from the hospital. Next thing I know, Bayo turns up and drives her home – with my child. I let that slide. Then we get to her place and after prayers, they all disappear into the room – Tiwa taking the baby with her, her siblings and Bayo too. They just left me sitting there in the living room looking and feeling like the nuisance relative. I considered going into the room too, since the ‘party venue’ had been moved, but thought better of it. After thirty minutes of ‘ignoramus’ waiting – “I called you to come and get me. So here we are” she said”.
Yes there we were, and there we sat together for ten minutes without as much as a squeak from the ‘people of the house’ – except for the ex who came to take a pillow from under Soni’s arm.
That was the height of it for me and we got up and left – after calling for her to witness our exit, lest we got accused of stealing the family silver.
The next time he went to see her, Soni asked me to come along as he was sure witnesses would become necessary in the future considering the current trend of things, and I agreed with him – Kike was invited too, a mutual friend and member of Tiwa’s initial support group.
From the moment Tiwa walked out of the bedroom, it was clear she had something up her sleeve.
“Good morning, how are you? Sleep okay?” Soni asked.
“I am good, thank you. I just didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.”
“Pele,” he said. “It’s to be expected while she adjusts to our notion of day and night. Pele. Can I see her?”
“She is sleeping.” She replied. “I would like to see her,” Soni persisted.
“I said she is sleeping.” The last part said as if she was talking to a really thick child. At this he got out of his seat and, giving her the benefit of his full attention repeated “I would like to see her.”
“What? What is it? Do you want to storm into my room? Lemme see you do it! Sit down! I said sit down!” She went off at him and, knowing that tone had never worked with him, I waded in and asked him to sit down. He very reluctantly did.
“Go and wash your hands o,” she shot at him as she walked toward her room. The look he gave her was one of bemusement more than anything else, for when he walked in the first thing he did was actually to wash his hands in the guest restroom. “Yes o, you better go and wash your hands!”
“He already did.” I told her, still playing the peace maker. When she handed him the sleeping form of his daughter, you could see him light up. And in that moment, everything was alright. He cooed and murmured; scratched and tickled her, and generally was like a little boy in a candy store – or something like that.
When she started making sucking noises and tried sticking her tiny fingers in her mouth, he returned her to her mum to be fed. Kike arrived just then and I invited both of them outside while we tried to impress upon Soni how important it was to maintain at least a civil relationship with Tiwa – if only for the sake of the child. It was then Soni shocked us with his next words. “Guys honestly, if she keeps this up I am considering the option of simply walking. She knows how much this child means to me and my family, and she’s using her as a mallet to beat my head in. I won’t have her do that.”
“No o! Don’t say that, please don’t even say that Soni.” Kike exclaimed.
“It’s not the best you can do in this situation, is it Soni?” I asked.
“See, I am not saying it is the primary or secondary option. I am just saying that it is an option on the table and I am considering it – really considering it.”
After fifteen minutes of going round in circles with a man whose mind seemed made up, I suggested we went back inside.
Inside Kike took the baby and handed her to her father who then went to the table where Tiwa was sitting. “What are your plans?” He asked. “Plans? For what?” She queried back.
“We were supposed to meet and discuss the way forward, right? So what are your plans?” He explained. “In case you didn’t notice, we have guests,” she said. “Well I am quite happy to discuss things with them here. You have any plans about the naming?” He asked.
“Well, I have to sort some things out and then get back to you on that.” She said. At this point Kike came and took the baby from him.
“I do hope you realise this child will be named at my family house…” “Lai lai!” She silenced him. “Not happening at all! You think you can just waltz in here and give me instructions? You have another thing coming! You this shameless, insensitive being. I see you are happy to air your dirty laundry in public. Announcing you have a child. You really must be crazy o! Don’t even try your madness here or I will put you in your place. Look at him o.” The last to no one in particular.
He flinched as if her words, like razor edged whips, lacerated his skin; the anger and spite from her core, like poisonous venom burning beneath his skin. With each word, he must have felt his flesh flayed, exposed, till he reached a point where grabbing hold of the chair back could not help him control his anger, nor contain his rage. I felt hot and hurt, and I was not on the receiving end of things.
Up he got, out of the chair. His features raw and peppered, he walked towards her. “You can not insult me like this,” he said lower at first. “You do not get to insult me like this!” His voice rising with each word uttered. By the time he finished, he had covered some of the distance between them then stopped. He remained rooted to the spot, but she would not let him be. She took a few steps toward him. At that point, Kike and I inserted ourselves between them. “Get out of my house!” She yelled, spittle flecks flying everywhere. “Get out!!” She repeated. Then turning to me she lowered her voice a little and pointing toward the door said “Please leave my house,” and then started crying. She went into her room while Kike and I tried to talk Soni out of any drastic action he may be considering. We eventually left, but not before security told us Soni was no longer welcome there.
His folks fixed a meeting with her family to discuss the way forward, since both of them could not seem to meet without going for each other’s jugular. Soni later told me how he was asked if he thought there was any chance of both of them getting back together. It was respect and common sense that kept him from laughing as heartily as he wanted. That out of the way, he was asked what then he wanted. And this is what he told them:
I met and fell in love with your daughter. My intentions for her were honourable and I was on the verge of asking for her hand when she showed complete disrespect for my family. I am big on family, so I will not take any disrespect on their behalf. I was made aware of a pregnancy that I have never denied. In fact, every month I have sent her an allowance, paid for the house help she got and given extra to cover her pre-natal clinic visits. I gave her money to shop for the baby, and another sum to cover the delivery. If we were married, I doubt I would have done more – judging by my pocket.
I was at her place to discuss the baby’s immediate future, and to make her an offer. But we did not make it past the naming.
My offer was, and still is: a monthly allowance for the baby’s upkeep; a health care scheme for the baby paid for by me; a travel plan for mother and child for the near future. My requests are: unrestricted visit to the baby; access by my siblings only after reaching an agreement with Tiwa on when and duration; a once a month visit to my parents – this when the baby is old enough to stay away from her mother for a few hours; and that the naming be done at a place of my choosing according to my people’s custom.
Her Uncle, the family spokesperson commended him and applauded his proposition. He said it was rather generous. That was until Tiwa’s older sister, the other spokesperson, opened her mouth. The entire ‘summit’ broke down and negotiations were stalled. Everything went to hell in a wicker basket from that point. She left the issue on ground and got personal and petty, attacking the persons of Soni’s entourage, even accusing Soni of going to Tiwa’s place to beat her up, he and his people got up, thanked them for their hospitality and left.
Two days later we heard Tiwa had gone ahead to name the baby – at her place with the father absent. Soni almost suffered a breakdown, but thanks to his friends and family, he made it through. Time has passed, and although Soni still pays the allowance into Tiwa’s account, he has never made a move to go and see his child or ask after her – only because while she seems happy to take his money, she would not invite him to be a part of his – their daughter’s life.
These days my friend is wary of womenfolk, especially womenfolk with a certain mix of variables going for them. I look at my homeboy and, though he looks better and is back to his old self, I can still see the shadows lurking in his eyes.
As he reached the end of this tale, his voice became almost a whisper. The words caught in his throat. And NEPA chose that time to restore power, the sudden transition from near darkness to bright light causing everyone to blink as cries of “Up NEPAaaa!!!” rang out throughout the neighbourhood.
“Chei, even the moon has taken shelter behind the clouds,” he said. “Let us call it a night and pray for good fortune on the morrow.” With these words he got up and walked back into the house, leaving me to roll up the mat. He turned back to remind me to shake the mat properly lest I brought soldier ants, or worse, into the house. In that instant, his eyes caught the light from the solitary electric bulb dangling from the ceiling, and I thought I saw them glisten. There was something else there, a sadness I had never before seen.
Standing out there on the veranda, mosquitoes buzzing overhead, a gecko hanging upside down on the ceiling drawn by the veritable feast the insects dancing around the light bulb presented, it hit me like one of Mama’s famous ‘meat-pie handed’ slaps! I watched my Uncle’s receding figure down the corridor and my heart ached for him and the hardship he had had to endure. For even my not fully formed seventeen year old mind saw through the ruse that was the character “SONI”. He had just shared an intimate part of his life with us, and I wondered if any of my siblings and our neighbour’s children listening had also seen through his smokescreen.
I was listening to a number of Tim McGraw songs yesterday and I thought of my Uncle. Four years ago, we went to church for a thanksgiving service. The baby had grown into a beautiful young woman. Although she has her mum’s good looks, she inherited more than her dad’s brains. She had inherited his common sense, and his big heart. It had been a tearful occasion when she finally “came home”. There could not have been a better end game.
They say whatever does not kill you only makes you stronger, but I think that’s just a ‘rubbish’ cop out.
I find myself in an almost similar situation and I can not think what I would do, or how my life would be if I was kept from seeing my boy. I will not think about it because I know there is nothing I would not do! For I know that no matter how many dogs I have, I still like to do my own barking. Carrying on would only be the last item on the list.
PS: Some women leave and come back eventually. Others leave and endure a painful consideration. Still others leave with such boldness, they never look back.
PPS: To all fathers out there who have made sacrifices, are making sacrifices, will be called upon to make sacrifices, I pray God bless your hearts and your efforts. They will not be in vain.
Family, walk up to your fathers today and give them a hug. Or u can call them up. Or simply send up prayers for them. Or like my Editor, you can just buy them TomTom and see that they get it sometime soon.
Happy Fathers’ Day!!!